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The International Writers Magazine: Fiction:

Alan Stokes

I'm all over the place. Too much is happening in my head. I need to slow down for a bit. I've told them that - shouted them that - but they just won't listen to me. They think I'm okay.

I feel crazy. I haven't felt this crazy for years. In fact I don't think that I've ever felt this crazy. I mean I feel like stripping naked and running down the street, you know what I'm saying here. Shooting someone. Maybe the fucking barman because he's really getting on my nerves now. It's like a prison in here. This is a bar, for fuck's sake. If I wanted a prison, I would have stayed at home.

The man on my right has pissed his kecks. Should I tell him that?

I consider that for a moment. More than for a moment. I think about that - telling him that he's pissed his kecks - for ages. An hour, maybe. Maybe for the entire afternoon, who knows. I mean one minute I'm thinking about that - telling him that he's pissed himself - then the next thing I know the bar has closed and I'm on the street and I'm leaning against a wall and I'm puking my guts out, you know what I'm saying here.

Normally Trish doesn't say anything to me the next day. But in the morning Trish came into the bedroom and announced that she wasn't happy with me. In fact she wanted me to leave the house. She'd had enough now. It was too much, it really was.

I met Trish a couple of years ago, when I was teaching in prison. Trish was a teacher there, too. She was married at the time so I didn't think anything would happen between us. Then, I don't know, six months later ( I'd left prison by this point) I bumped into her in a bar and she informed me that she was no longer married and I just went for it.

But I never, I repeat, never intended to move into Trish's house. One morning I woke up, went into the bathroom.
Move in with me! Trish shouted.

And that was it: the decision had been made. I sat down on the toilet, had a shit ( it was huge, I remember. Like a lobster) then went back into the bedroom and announced that I would come around after work with some things and Trish rolled onto her stomach and began punching the mattress and wailing like a demented kid. Jesus, she was so happy.

And, yeh, I guess I was happy too. I say guess because all this happened a long time ago now. It's difficult remembering what I did yesterday, you know what I'm saying here. I have to think about it, really give it some thought.
Anyway. Whatever. So there I was lying in bed, hungover. It was Tuesday and I wasn't due back in work until the following Monday. I was officially sick but, of course, there was nothing the matter with me. My mobile went.
- Hello?
- Hey, Dent. It's Carl. How you doing?
- Fucked.
Laughter. Carl was always laughing.
- Listen, I'm meeting Mad Mike for a pint at lunchtime. D'you fancy it?
- Where?
- Same place as last night.
I told Carl that I would be there around twelve and went back to sleep.

What to do, what to do. A nightmare of a decision, there's no question of that. Not exactly the biggest decision I've had to make, okay, but that's besides the fucking point. The point is I have to make a decision here. I can't just - Carl shouts to me, pointing to his glass; I ask the barman to pour another - carry on as normal, you know what I'm saying here. Trish has expressed - what has Trish expressed exactly? Unhappiness? I mean real unhappiness, like she absolutely cannot continue living with me? Or is she just pissed off that I came home late?

I take the drinks back to the table, sit down and announce that Trish has asked me to leave her house and Carl bursts out laughing.
- I told you, he says. Don't you remember me telling you that?

I look away, shaking my head. There's a woman sitting by the door and I study her. She's around fifty and is reading a magazine. Her hair is long and grey. She's thin, almost skeletal. No make-up. When I entered the pub, she smiled at me.
Carl taps my arm and asks what I'm going to do. I turn and stare at him.
- Stay at mine. I'll square it with Helen. She won't mind. She likes you, he says.
Carl's married with kids now. He reckons he hasn't changed but he has. Last night was the first time I'd seen him for months. All my friends have kids now. It's depressing.
- Trish doesn't mean it. She's always saying that, I tell him.
Again, he laughs.
- She loves me, I tell him.

Finally Mad Mike comes back from the toilet and sits down and rubs his face. I can't say I know Mad Mike. I've met him many times over the years but he's still a total fucking mystery to me. Carl reckons Mike's an okay bloke but Carl says that about everyone. Carl doesn't like to discriminate. Unlike me. I mean, Christ sake, sometimes I think I hate everyone, you know what I'm saying here.
I sip my beer and study the woman again. She's still reading her magazine.
- When's this place going to get going? Mad Mike says.
- Patience, Carl tells him.

It's around seven now. We've been drinking all afternoon. When I met them at lunchtime, well, the pair of them just decided that they were not going back to work.
- Have you called Helen? I ask Carl again.
- I don't need to call Helen. It's okay. Don't worry about it, he says.

Then the next thing I know I'm in the toilet and I've taken speed and Mad Mike's laughing and slapping my back and telling me to go easy and then I've left the pub and Carl's behind me and the street's dark and packed with people and I tell Carl that this is crazy because it's only Tuesday and Carl laughs and says it's Saturday and then we're walking down my street and I spot a fire and I laugh and say probably that's my stuff and then we're next to the fire and I recognise one of my boots and then a T-shirt and then a book and I tell Carl that they are my things and Carl jumps into the fire but I tell him not to bother and turn and look up and I see Trish in the bedroom window waving to me and ...
© Alan Stokes June 2008

College in America: Weed 101
Alan Stokes

I found Flyn in our dorm, smoking a joint. There was a kid with him. I asked what his name was and he said his name was Zack. It seemed incredible but I let it go.

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