Flowers On The Brain

I do not know when it will hit me, or if it has already.
    The trouble with Everything is it happens without end.
    There is a beauty in the sound of the word finality, like a sea mammal breaking the surface of a calm ocean and going back under, yet when I put the phone down—a bulbuous red circle—I sat and sighed because outside of my window it had turned deep & dark. There was this newmoon-shaped tear that clung to my lower right eyelid and it was, by that point, cold to the touch; but touch I did! Stroked away, I did. My voice broke at one point during the chat, but I righted it, quietly proud that it was only once. It just sounded like I was dragging my voice along the floor.
    Allow me to ponder the underside of my cat’s chin. I paused.
    I took my time. She took my money. My Ex took my intentions. H— took my state of mind.
    ‘Just don’t think about it,’ he said, and I thought—‘That’s why your children go to therapy.’ My mother was drunk and telling me she loved me, over & over. She recalled that she had thought about her own mother—my grandmother—at church earlier that day and wept. ‘This time of year always reminds you of your parents.’ Her father had died at Christmas when she was nine and in a foreign country, you see. ‘I love you.’ Laughing—‘I know. I love you.’ When I was with my Ex, I had taught myself not to say ‘too’ at the end of every ‘I love you.’ Saying ‘I love you too’ made it sound like it came with terms & conditions. ‘Even though you smashed me at Scrabble,’ she looked up from her extended hand that she kept suspended in midair as if resting on something invisible—‘Where’s…?’ and she called my cat’s name.
    Tuesday had it in for me, but I knew that it would. Every hour that passed felt as though it were a victory against a hectic schedule, and so I told myself—‘Another one down.’ I arrived an hour late at a meeting in South Kensington. Already the building’s innards were dim, everyone gathered around fluorescent tubes and fancy biscuits. The architect made something of my arrival but I had known him a decade and did not mind, announcing my exhaustion with a sharp sigh and desperate rifling through my bag. In spite of December, I was warm and a thin line of perspiration coursed down my temple. ‘Can we not feed the flowers through a trench here and then route it up the partition?’ I asked. Everyone looked at me and furrowed their brow. ‘Flowers?!’ asked a builder. ‘Ah, shit,’ says I—‘There was a woman on my way here… walking slow… she was carrying these two huge bouquets of flowers and blocking my way!... I got flowers on the brain.’
    May all your Christmas dreams come true!
    TO R—
    FROM NAN xx
    I emerged from the large townhouse and, for five seconds or so, gathered myself on the pavement and cursed. In the steam of west London affluence, Christmas trees sparkled and rich women walked their dogs. Instead of curtains, there were African tapestries. Instead of unmade beds and kids TV, there were marble mantles and towering easels. I rubbed my hands together. Children poured out the museums. Tourists made dinner reservations on the platform. My headphones ran out of battery. There was no one for me but I knew where I had to be.
    All the side-effects were enough to make one nervous: swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat; itching, irritation, blistering, red, dry or tender skin or a burning sensation; inflamed hair follicles, hair loss or changes in hair texture; increased tear production, skin rash and dry skin; a change in the way some things taste, eye irritation, acne, dermatitis, flaking skin, blistering and oversensitive reactions; hair discolouration and hives. I counted on my hands how many I had already—eight—and smeared it on the soft inside of my arm before I applied it to my face; none of which were in the directions of use. Truthfully, my skin has few places left to go. My guard was lowered when I noted the ‘u’ in discolouration; from then on, my mind was made up.
    The next evening, against my better judgement, I went out with the office. It was the penultimate Thursday before Christmas. The small bar in Clerkenwell was busy and an unpleasant heat, inebriated & thick, rose off everyone indoors, squeezed between the window condensation and three-deep orders. No one was speaking to me and for several minutes I assured myself that it was not so bad. Not even two drinks in, I took off in a flash, hoping to exit secretly until I was outside and a friendly man spotted me, shouted good-bye. With a tremendous sense of relief, I breathed my chest swollen and steam off teeth. The train home had no heating. It was quiet, unusually so. A man side-on was a perfect profile, his beard well-manicured, all whiskers brushed neatly, a strong nose, too, full lips, a strong brow; he was indeed terribly handsome, I thought, and he listened, apparently sober, to a drunk colleague with whom he kept a distance safe from fumes & spittle. It was while I watched him that a woman walked past. She had long dark hair that fell in waves, rippling beneath strange light, and as she walked the length of the carriage she put her hands on the passing chairs. It was graceful, almost like a dance down an avenue, but she, too, was sober. Her hands were perhaps the most exquisite I had ever seen, tipped with cherry red varnish, slender, flawless, tenderly tense and then limp as she trailed them along the dusty upholstery. How fortunate, I thought, that in such a quiet place one can still find such beauty.
    When I got home, I drank myself sad and forgetful.
    Then there was another lot of side-effects to consider: feeling or being sick, worsening of a disease called systemic lupus erythematous, headache, pericarditis; heartburn, vaginal infection; anxiety, difficulty in swallowing, skin reddening, a ringing or buzzing noise in the ear, soreness and itching of the rectal and/or genital area, inflammation of the bowel, increased pressure in the skull, damage to the liver, abnormal liver function tests, discolouration of thyroid tissue, loosening of the nail from the nail bed after exposure to the sun, increased levels of urea in the blood, jaundice, upset stomach, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, stomach pain, darker patches on your skin. This time, the word that I liked the most was diarrhoea. So many letters appearing without any discernible order, like children rushing through school gates. The same can be said, I think, of the word manoeuvre.
    Went the week weaning myself off drink in preparation for the strong antibiotics. The language in the leaflet was not as strong as I had anticipated, but a week’s sobriety, my longest since May, involuntary or otherwise, would probably be sensible. O, for some red wine! for no infections! Allow me, though, to measure my good fortune against the list of side-effects and their absence so far. Sober me might sleep tonight, might dream, might rest.

Various Screenshots from ‘Test Drive 4’ on PS