George woke up suddenly. A glow around the edges of the shutters signalled it was light…. morning, day, afternoon, whatever. Usually early morning, because George nearly always woke prematurely, tormented out of sleep by his troubled thoughts. But this time he woke blank. Pure consciousness, without a history or a name; as it was in the beginning, consciousness waste and void. Am without an I. Blank Is-ness dumb. Being without Identity. A lens admitting no image, nothing but light.
‘My God,’ he eventually said aloud, ‘who am I and where am I?’ He recognised the voice. It was his own, he knew now, but he still couldn’t remember the name for that particular segment of reality. Then it came to him that his particular patch of existence wasn’t a very happy allotment. Misery was perhaps its name, the word came to him and he spoke it. ‘Misery. Pure fucking misery.’ The sensation that the voice he heard came from his own mouth was reassuring, so he repeated the words over and over. ‘Misery. Misery. Pure fucking misery.’ An Irish accent: he must be Irish. And there was some connection, elusive, hard to pin down, between misery and being Irish. Irish Misery. Sounds like the name of a horse. Or was it Irish Mist? No, that is the name of a drink. Early Mist was the name of the horse… When the lemmings were finally given their freedom, they voted to do what they had always done by instinct; destroy themselves. Now that was a subtle kind of thought. Where did it come from? And where has it gone now? ‘Little thoughtie woughtie, come back here,’ he crooned.
By this time it had become common knowledge that his name was George. A subtle thing, like tradition; there was no identifiable exact time at which the name had been established. It was simply taken for granted now, like the fact that there was an unfinished bottle of whiskey on the locker beside the bed. From which he took a deep slug.
Silence in the room was to be expected, of course, but it was not altogether welcome. There was a touch of absence about it. On the other hand, it was good to be in control, to be the sole arbiter of what noise was to be made and when. Like now: Lousy bitch. Spoken slowly, lowly, with venom.
When you’re not entirely in control of the sounds in a room, some of them can be unpleasant, things that you don’t want to hear, such as I couldn’t sleep last night because you were snoring like a pig. This pig image doesn’t sit well with a man’s self-esteem. Yes, I am free, said Sartre, but my freedom is a kind of death. Where did that come from? Same as Donne the other day, only Donne’s woman hadn’t walked out on him; she was carried out in a coffin. Not like that harridan going off and leaving me here alone, on this of all the days of the year.
Nobody had said a word about it, but it was Christmas Day. It just was. So: things are coming together. But the shape they are taking is not pleasant, and calls for more whiskey. I must have missed the Three Spirits last night, otherwise I’d be up dancing around the yard like a bi-polar on the turn, telling the landlord I’d be upping his rent as a Christmas present, smearing the very walls with meat as recommended by St Francis, so that even inert matter could partake of the feast as a fit celebration of this holy and glorious day. The Franciscans are the lads for uncommon recipes: Baste well, then rub against the walls.
Christmas Day. To be spent alone, in the arsehole of rural Italy. Such a large chunk of reality to arrive in one go. Couldn’t be swallowed, not without some whiskey to wash it down.
His eyes had grown accustomed to the dimness. He was sitting up in a large double bed, the sole occupant. He was sitting there surrounded by double bed, surrounded by wardrobe, chest of drawers and two small bedside cabinets, one on each side of him; surrounded by absence. On the marble top of the cabinet to his right there was a lamp; likewise on the cabinet to his left. On the cabinet to his right there was also a glass containing his false teeth, and the whiskey bottle which he now held in his hand had spent the night there, beside the false teeth. Outside the bedroom were the empty bathroom, the empty small bedroom, the empty living room. No one was out at the cooker, graciously brewing taken-for-granted coffee, being gracious about brewing coffee and about being taken for granted, in a saffron dressing gown.
And outside that again, on the third and all the other circles of hell, were Italy, Europe, the World, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, the Universe. The greatest pain was in the first circle, of course, the circle of the bedroom, the desecrated refuge of deepest intimacy. Desecration had not been alluded to until now, but although the word was unspecific, it was suddenly quite certain that there had been a desecration of considerable magnitude, and there was a lingering trace of vomit attached to the vagueness of the sacrilegious act.
Better to drag oneself out of the bedroom, at least, into the less resounding emptiness of the living room. He brought out his clothes and dressed hurriedly: subconsciously, the idea was that the more ‘external’ he looked, the less painful it would all be. Looking out the window as he buttoned his shirt, he had mixed feelings about the soft sunshine. On the one hand, he could walk himself to exhaustion, and outwit the suicidal theme that was already announcing itself discreetly in the jangled symphony of his desolation; on the other hand, the sweetness of the weather threatened to hone a sharper edge on his loneliness. But there was really no choice here: one last swig of whiskey and Via! – away with him before the devil caught up.
From A Year's Midnight, Ciaran O'Driscoll, Pighog Press, 2012