He’d been quietly staring at that bloody door for nearly two hours when I decided that I’d finally had all the shit I was prepared to take from him.
“Paul … PAUL! Look at me, you bastard!”
I shoved him hard. Nothing. I shoved him again, only harder, this time toppling him from his already precarious position on the edge of the bed, and down on to the cold, hard wooden floor. As he landed awkwardly on his coccyx, his glazed eyes turned to me, not quite able to focus, lost almost. I didn’t care; he deserved it. He’d ruined everything. Thing is, I care now. Because now he’s dead, too.
“Wh-what?” he stammered. He looked down towards the floor as a little saliva trickled to his chin. His lips slurped against his teeth as he clumsily wiped it away with the rear of his hand, then turned vacantly back towards me.
“You’re scum,” I shot. “Fucking scum!” Suddenly I was on my feet, standing over him and shouting at the top of my voice, hands turning to fists, the seemingly endless buzz beginning to get the better of me. “Just who the fuck! … yeah – just who the FUCK do you think you are, hey? She was my … friend, m-my lover … Oh, Christ – it’s not important what the bloody label is, she mattered to me, you know! And now, thanks to you, she’s gone. Forever!” I looked down at my boots, and thought how strong they seemed. Stronger than me. I spat, “Shit.”
“Look, it wasn’t my fault, Niall, and you know it. I told her it was bad karma for her to go down there, and you told her she’d be bat shit crazy to go down there, too, but she wouldn’t listen to either of us, man. Besides,” He was pointing now, “You never once really mattered to her. And you know that, too.” He was right. I did know that. I knew all of it; I just didn’t care is all. Thing is, I care now.
I resented him. “Alex always said you were full of shit.” But that just made Paul laugh.
“Face it, man – she was a slag, and you’ll have forgotten all about her by tomorrow.” He swayed heavily as he stood up, forcing me back, out of the way, then started to walk over to the sink. I stepped forward again and, swinging my leg, caught him behind the right knee, bringing him down with a crash. As his leg gave way, he teetered to one side and fell, twisting downwards, his eyes wide and distant. I heard the dull thud of his head hitting against the washbasin, quickly followed by the smashing of the side medicine cabinet as it crashed heavily to the floor, dislodged by his flailing arms. A million glass shards first hung suspended in the air, a myriad of beautiful tiny spectrums, each reflecting and scattering the dim light in the room, then fell in one violent flush down on top of Paul, who now lay on his back, his feet pointing towards me.
It was the loudest thing I had ever heard. Surely just about everybody had heard it, hadn’t they? There was no way they couldn’t have. Shit. I just knew he was dead – my heart began to beat a little faster as I began to panic – only I could see he was still breathing, so he wasn’t dead really. No such luck. I relaxed, and let out the breath I had been unconsciously holding. Slowly, I crossed over to him, and dropped to one knee. Brushing away Paul’s hair, I looked closely at the wound on his head. It wasn’t a large cut, and it was only bleeding slightly, but by now was beginning to swell and bruise, so I got up to wet an already damp towel I had noticed earlier in the sink. As I rose, Paul began to stir.
“Aargh, shit!” he moaned, as he raised a hand to his bloodied head. His tobacco-stained fingers made contact badly with the laceration, and he winced. “What was that for, you fuck? You could have killed me.” As I soaked the towel under the cold tap, the sudden desire to see him finally dead came running at me from out of the dark, like some grotesque avenging angel, remorseless and demonic. Eyes of black pits set deep in dusty grey hollows raged at me, tugging relentlessly at my elbow, forcing the knife deeper into the wound, turning and turning until the flesh became ragged and twisted beyond recognition. I gripped the towel until my knuckles turned white, then, turning back towards him, dropped the sodden rag full onto Paul’s face. I stumbled backwards, and flopped down onto the bed in a heap, panting. “Fuck you, Paul. Just fuck you, OK?”
I sat in silence, staring once again at the strength that dripped from my boots as Paul padded gently at his wound with the wet and by now bloodied towel, thought about how great everything had once been, and how it was now laid around us in tatters. How really good it had been.
When I first met Paul, it was at one of Lucy’s infamous parties. I was on enforced leave and needed somewhere I could decompress in relative peace and anonymity. Not in that up my own arse minor celebrity sense, you understand, it was just that my recent trip to South America hadn’t exactly gone well, I really felt it, and I didn’t need anyone I knew particularly well asking me about how I felt every five bloody minutes. Not that anyone was supposed to know where I’d been in any case, but I’d not been as tight-lipped about it as perhaps I should have been. I figured that was waiting to come back to me with a vengeance, so in the meantime I leapt at the chance when the party invite came.
Lucy’s parties were always riotous occasions – beautifully wild and uncontrolled, intoxicating in their own right. I remember he was sat on a pile of beer cans, stacked up in a kind of Neptune’s throne affair, leaning back laughing. It was difficult to work out whether he was laughing at the guy who was trying desperately to talk Lucy into taking him to bed, or at the two men who were just about to discover the more embarrassing points of being body-painted by Colin, a pretentious but talented art student cousin of someone I can’t remember. All I know is that everyone was having fun in a world without care. It was just what I needed. Without ever stopping laughing, he turned to me with sparkling eyes, and winked as though sharing a brotherly secret.
“You must be Niall”, he said, and threw me a beer from his throne. It came at me fast, but not so fast I couldn’t have a hand waiting for it to land.
“Nice catch, man.”
“Is your arse not frozen?” I heard myself say, as I pulled it open and began to chug.
“Fuck yes! Give a brother a hand?”
I held my arm out, and as he climbed down off his tin throne, he took my shoulders, drawing me near, and whispered quietly in my ear, “You look like you could use a proper drink. Step into my office”.
Paul had finished wincing and was now examining the smashed cabinet. I could see that my outburst had surprised him into what for him was a somewhat awkward state, alien almost. He leaned forward, though not too closely, looked into my eyes and stepped back, crunching glass as he did so. He turned and looked at me sideways.
“Are you not down yet, Niall?” His large eyes seemed to begin to smile.
“No”, I snapped, “I don’t think so.” I felt the urge to grin, “Although I do think I’m starting to mellow a little.”
“Next time, a little less gin with the acid, perhaps?”
We looked at each other for a brief moment, then began to laugh – slowly at first, but then with an ever rising madness until we finally descended into peels of uncontrollable hysterics, tears streaming down our cheeks – just like we used to when we were all much happier much more often. Just like we used to when all of us were still alive.
Now, for one brief moment, I fully remembered how good it had been but never would be again.