I press the button and two double espressos come spitting and splurting into the cups. The alluring aroma of coffee fills the kitchen. Placing the cups on the table, I shout down the passage. “Janine! Coffee!” Not expecting an answer and not surprised when one doesn’t come. I walk to the bedroom; it’s dark, the curtains are drawn. Janine is still in bed, eyes open. It’s been this way for weeks. “Are you going to lie there all day?” I say, harsher than intended. She rolls away, not saying anything. Walking around the bed and kneeling down close to her face, I whisper, “Janine,” while reaching out and touching her hair. She moves her head away. I’ve tried everything besides physical force to get her up; hard words and threats go nowhere. She only responds to gentleness. Sometimes.

“Don’t touch me, Alistair,” she says, briefly making eye contact.

“You have to get up. What are you doing?”

“Jesus. I’m waiting to be with Jesus.”

“Janine. You can’t just lie here waiting to die.”

“I want to die. I want to be with him. Forever.”

I sigh as I hear her words. She needs help, I know she needs help, but from where? She doesn’t have any friends; she hasn’t spoken to her family in years; she’s avoided me meeting them, she doesn’t even go to damn church. I don’t know what to do.

“Leave me alone, Alistair, go away, you’re not him. Go away.” Her words hurt, like they do every day. I’m here; I’m real; she should believe in me. I stamp out the room to the kitchen and pour her coffee down the sink, slamming the rinsed cup into the drying rack, chipping the rim. “You are going to die,” I say under my breath, “We’re all going to die.”

The swirling snow blowing in the backyard hypnotically holds my attention as I sip my coffee. Helpless. I also don’t have any friends, just my mates down at the pub, and they wouldn’t understand. The energy in the house is suffocating; it’s time for a walk.


Outside, the freezing air sticks to the fine hairs in my nose, but the cold blasts me awake, grounds me. This is not a movie, not some depressing artsy-fartsy piece of cinema; this is real. What am I going to do? I love her, or at least I used to love her; I don’t know any more. Should I just leave? Pack my bags, go back home? At least the weather would be better.

In the park, the pond has not yet frozen over, and a lonely duck is swimming on the water. It paddles over to me, quacking, hopeful for a meal. The thought of being in the water in this terrible weather causes me to shudder. Getting the duck a roll from the bakery crosses my mind, then I remember Janine saying bread is not good for birds; something about the dough swelling up in their stomachs. “Better luck next time, mate,” I say. It quacks at me one last time, then swims away, its green feathers glistening in the dull light. A male duck, a drake, I think they are called. Lonely like me. I wonder if his mate left him for the duck version of Jesus. A mirthless, sardonic laugh leaves my throat as I picture a duck Jesus with green feathers nailed to a cross, quacking up to Heaven, being force-fed soggy bread. “Loaves and fishes, mate,” I say out loud, “Loaves and fishes.”

I ramble around the park a while longer, then head home, but the dreary, brooding house is not where I want to be. I head to the pub. I can’t deal with Janine right now.


In the bar, my entire body shivers; I’ve been wandering around outside for hours. The warmth cheers me up a little; so does the first beer. It’s still afternoon, although it’s getting dark and the usual Saturday crowd won’t be in for another hour or so. The beer slides down like smoke, dissolving the weight in my chest. The second beer clears the black liquid swirling around my head in place of blood, and an idea forms about Janine. I must take action. Tomorrow morning, I will find someone on the Internet, a psychologist or psychiatrist or some such person, and make some calls on Monday. I have to speak to someone before I go out of my mind. The third beer’s got me feeling gregarious when Doug arrives; he’s normally here first and surprised to see me. “Dougie!” I say giving him a broad, lopsided smile.

“Alistair! You’re here early; spot you a drink?” I nod, still smiling. Two beers later, Doug and I are swapping stupid jokes and making fun of politicians and pop stars. A little while later, Jeff arrives, and the party begins. Loud and jovial, making the most of our short-lived Saturday night freedom. Someone produces a joint and we go outside and get proper fucked. Back inside, Doug, with his arm around Jeff, tells him in explicit detail what he would like to do to his sister; Jeff smiles, he’s heard it before, knows it will never happen, “Yeah,” he says, “when that happens, I will wake up the next morning with two penises.”  Doug roars with laughter and claps Jeff on the shoulder.

“Yeah man, one for the front and one for the stinky.”

“But I don’t want four testicles,” says Jeff.

“No,” agrees Doug with fake seriousness, “Having four balls is shit.”

We all laugh; it’s my round, so I ooze to the bar. My drunken well-being has turned into a surreal, swimmy delirium, and on my way back, I lose my balance. The weight in my chest and the blackness have returned. I sway and spill beer down the front of some guy: bald head, pink shirt. “Jesus Christ!” he snaps. Shit happens. I shrug. “Jesus,” he says again, annoyed at my nonchalance.

“Yeah…Jesus,” I say, starting to laugh, putting the mugs of beer on the table in front of me.

“You think this is funny?” he says, grabbing me by the shirt. I say nothing but ram my head into his chest. Taken by surprise, he steps back. All the frustration inside me bursts to the surface and I hurl myself at him. But this time, he is ready for me. He pushes me off and slaps me hard in the face. White and yellow flash in my head; I spin around but stay on my feet.  Doug and Jeff are quickly beside me; Jeff leads me away and I hear Doug say: “Sorry about that, mate, let me buy you a drink.” I turn and see mister pink shirt still glaring at me, but Doug says something and he smiles. I think he knows Doug; everybody knows Doug. Jeff hands me my jacket.

“Fuck that guy,” I say.

“Go home man,” says Jeff, “the fresh air will do you good.”


I leave, stumbling through the park on my way home. I stop, leaning against a winter bare tree. The night is crisp and clear. I breathe in deeply, looking up into the sky. I am tired of the loneliness, the loneliness of this cold, uncaring universe. I breathe in deeply again and the poison inside of me evaporates to hang in the spaces between the stars. I am suddenly aware that the one side of my face is stinging from the slap; I rub it with my hand and think of Janine, filling with resolve to find help.

At home, I slip through the back door. Quietly stripping off in the passage, I slide into the bed. In the dim light, I can make out her prostrate body, the curve of her hips under the duvet. I gently stroke the hair around her ears; she murmurs. “Shh…it’s alright,” I say, “I’m here.” She sighs. “I’m so happy you finally came, I’ve been waiting for you for a long time”. I put my arms around her; she moans softly. “I love you Jesus.”

“I’m here to save you, Janine,” I say, kissing the back of her head and closing my eyes.