Maggie stumbled and fell. Her knees smashed onto the flagstones.
As she knelt on the pavement, rain fell onto her bare shoulders, breasts, and thighs. Goose pimples sprung up on her body. Her blonde hair stood in spikes against the wind. Blood dripped onto her thighs from the wounds on her arms.
It was 12 o’clock on a cold, autumn night. The noise of the London traffic was reduced to a drone until a siren pierced the quiet. Lights flashed like a cool, blue beam from a lighthouse. Maggie heard footsteps stomp towards her. A blanket came round her shoulders. She looked up into the face of a policeman. He frowned.
‘What’s your name, love?’ he said.
‘Your name, love. What’s your name?’ he repeated.
‘What’s yours?’ she said and giggled again.
‘We need your name. We’re going to take you to hospital. Do you understand?’
‘Maggie,’ she said. ‘My name’s Maggie.’
She was guided to a white van parked by the pavement. I’d love a beer, she thought as she noticed the red line that ran its length. It reminded her of a can of Red Stripe. She giggled and snorted. The snort made her laugh hard.
The side door was open. She stepped up into the van and sat down.
‘Move over, love,’ the policeman said as he climbed into the van and sat down next to her. ‘Who can we call? Is your husband home?’
She couldn’t give them Doyle’s name. Not because of his arrest record – that was bad enough – but because of his threats. He’d cut himself. That’s what he’d said. He’d cut himself if she did that again. She shook her head.
‘No one,’ she lied.
The sway of the van lulled her into a black out. Having swallowed half a bottle of Southern Comfort on top of Seconal, she remembered little of the journey to the hospital.
Coming round to the smell of disinfectant and cabbage, she found herself lying on a bed. It was hard. A tall machine stood on the floor by her side: its face dark and its tendrils falling to the ground. Blue curtains surrounded the bed. There’s always a hook missing, Maggie thought as she looked at the space where the curtain sagged. Her arms were bandaged.
She could hear two women whispering.
‘How’s Mr. Kent?’ one asked.
‘Doctor has increased his medicine,’ replied the other.
‘And we have a new one?’
‘Wait till morning?’
‘Okay. You heard Jamie’s having a party?’
Maggie listened, as the whisper became a cackle.
‘I know. Any chance to show off her big house and her husband’s money.’
‘Snooty cow. You going?’
Maggie looked up at the stained ceiling tiles.
She thought about Doyle. They had been married for five years. It’s his fault I’m unhappy, she thought. If he wasn’t always drunk, I’d be okay.
It was about six months ago when Doyle had threatened to cut himself. The day had started, as usual, with an argument. Then, he’d gone out with some friends and left Maggie alone in the flat. She had hoped he would never come back.
The flat was on the first floor of a Victorian tenement block. From her usual spot on the stained, floral sofa, Maggie looked round the front room.
The floorboards were grimy and aged. A square of concrete sat at the foot of the chimneypiece where the hearth used to be. To the right of the fireplace was a wing-backed, Chesterfield armchair: Doyle’s throne. Red and gold swirls dipped between worn patches and dirt. The seat sagged.
A tatty bookcase leaned against the other side of the fireplace. Between the paperbacks, nestled a radio. Boy George sang out, ‘Karma-karma-karma-karma karma chameleon…’ Funny bloke, Maggie thought.
The air in the room was stale from tobacco and sweat. Maggie got up and crossed the room. She pushed open the window. The rusty pulley crane on the warehouse over the road reminded her of Bill Sikes: she imagined hearing the creak of a rope as he swung from the end. What a way to go, she thought. I wonder if it hurts.
The door that led into the kitchen was open. Maggie eyed the draining board piled up with dirty plates and pans. They’d argued about that earlier.
‘Can you do the washing up?’ she had asked.
‘I’ll do it in the morning,’ Doyle had replied.
‘No you won’t. You’ll forget. Do…’
‘I’ll do it in the fucking morning,’ he snapped.
‘You never do anything,’ she snapped back. ‘I’m always the one that cleans and cooks and washes. I’m sick of it. Just go and…’
‘You are such a fucking nag. You’re always on my case. I said I’d do it in the morning and I will.’
And on… and on…
She went into the kitchen and filled the kettle. A shoop of gas crept up her nose as she turned on the stove. When the kettle whistled, she made a cup of tea. She threw a handful of Valium in her mouth and chewed.
She was in bed by the time Doyle came home. It was about one o’clock in the morning. She stirred as The Bold Fenian Men screamed out from the front room. Irish rebel music. That was as far as Doyle’s Irish rebellion went. Oh God, she thought. How long is this going to last? She heard murmurs. Doyle had brought someone home with him.
Maggie crawled out of bed. The moon shone through the window. A cold blast of wind shot through the broken pane. Fumbling around for her dressing down, she found it and wrapped it around her shoulders. She hesitated a while. She didn’t want a fight. Sitting on the end of the bed, she listened.
As the music got louder, she went out of the bedroom and dithered in the hallway. She looked out of the window at the council estate across the car park. A single lamp lit the scene below.
A harmonica wailed from the front room.
She pushed open the door.
Doyle was sitting on the floor hunched over a mirror with a razor in his hand. Opposite him, sat crossed-legged on the floor, was a fat man playing the harp: Doyle’s mate, Terry.
Doyle looked up at her. He was like a hyena snarling. His mop of black hair unfurled above his long face. A scar on his upper lip shivered as he gnawed on his cigarette. Beneath his blue shirt, silver flashed from his necklace. It was a moon and star hung from a bootlace. He always wore it. Maggie thought how wonderful it would be if it caught on something and he would sway in the wind, like Sikes.
‘Can you turn that down?’ she asked.
‘I can hardly hear it,’ Doyle answered. He pulled the cigarette from his mouth and swigged a mouthful of whisky.
‘I’m trying to sleep,’ Maggie replied.
Doyle turned the knob on the boom box.
Maggie returned to the bedroom. She sat in an armchair, in the recess, by the bed, and looked out of the window opposite. Her hand tingled as she remembered the time she smashed it through the glass. She could still hear the music from the front room.
Returning to bed, she pushed her head under the pillow. She managed to doze off for a while only to be woken by the sound of arguments. She jumped out of bed and stormed into the front room.
‘Please be quiet; I’m trying to sleep,’ she shouted.
Doyle and Terry looked up at her through lowered lids.
‘Okay! Keep your shirt on,’ Doyle said.
She went back to bed and lay there looking at the ceiling. Doyle’s voice droned on next door. Anger rose up from her stomach like vomit. She didn’t know what to do.
‘Fucking hell!’ Doyle said as Maggie stumbled into the front room. Blood streamed down her face. She slumped down onto the floor. He staggered over to her and looked at her.
Images of what she had done flitted through her mind like an ancient black and white film: flickering with shadows and stains.
Walking into the bathroom, Maggie picked up Doyle’s razor. She sat on the toilet opposite the sink and looked at it for a while. With her thumbs on either side of the cartridge, she cracked it open and pulled out a blade. Blood dribbled from her thumb.
She stood up and looked in the mirror over the sink. Slowly, she pulled the sharp edge down her cheek. Red beads broke through and followed the metal down. She did it again. It hurt.
After following the blade’s track down her face for the sixth time, she heard a vague voice in her head. You ought to stop now. You’re scaring me. She placed the weapon down on the ceramic sink. It was then that she had lurched into the front room and freaked Doyle out.
Doyle stared at her for a while. Then, he swayed to the kitchen and came back with a checkered tea towel. He put it on her face.
‘Hold this,’ he said.
As they waited for the ambulance, he told her that from now on, if she cut herself again, he would cut himself too.
A twinge of pain in her arms brought her back to the present and the hospital bed. She was lying on her side, playing with the edge of her blanket. She turned on her back and looked up at the ceiling. Some of the tiles were cracked.
If Doyle wasn’t such an idiot, I would be happy, she thought. If he helped around the house and was not an embarrassment to my friends, all would be good. She didn’t take him out with her friends any more. In fact, she really didn’t have friends any more.
A few years ago, her ex-boyfriend had died. She had taken Doyle with her to the funeral.
The wake had happened at David’s home. It was a terraced house on a street that ended at a bend in the road. Trees lined the road that, a few weeks ago, had flamed red with autumn leaves. Those same leaves now crunched black and dusty underneath their shoes. A queue had formed at the front door, as guests filed past David’s family. When it came to her turn, Maggie hugged his mother’s small frame. She had not seen Meg for some years and was taken by how white her hair was. ‘Sorry for your loss,’ she said and followed the other visitors down the corridor into the front room.
Two windows filled one side of the room and looked out to the street below. The wallpaper was covered in pink flowers and the carpet was navy. Vol-au-vents and French Fancies sat on an oak table in the middle of the room. People whispered to each other and clasped their hands together, as if in prayer.
Maggie stood in the corner of the room with Doyle. She knew he was already high. His breakfast has been a handful of Tuinal, washed down with bourbon. It wasn’t long before he left her side and flounced over to the drinks cabinet on the other side of the room.
As the day wore on, Doyle became loud. He shoved her friends as he weaved around the room. He swore and made crude jokes. Maggie saw Meg look at him and roll her eyes. Eventually, he stumbled his way to the bathroom.
Maggie followed him into the room and slammed the door. ‘You’re just so embarrassing! All my friends are here and you’re drunk.’
Doyle lent over the toilet and threw up. He wiped his face with his shirt.
‘I need you… I need you to help me.’ Doyle pulled his jeans down and sat on the toilet. ‘I can’t find my weed. I put it down and it’s gone. One of those fuckers has nicked it.’
Suddenly, Doyle jumped up off the toilet. He shoved Maggie out of the way. ‘I’ve had enough! I’m going home!’ he said and opened the bathroom door.
He pranced towards the kitchen with his trousers around his knees. Maggie grabbed him. He turned and tried to push her away, but fell over instead. He shook in a puddle of giggles. Maggie’s face felt hot. People were watching. Vomit fumed in greens and yellows on Doyle’s shirt.
‘Don’t you fucking judge me—you and your snooty friends—like you’re better than me. They’ve nicked my weed. They’ve fucking nicked my weed,’ Doyle shouted.
He tried to get up off the floor. His trousers kept him from being able to get the leverage he needed. He collapsed in giggles again and then shouted.
‘Fucking hell! Let’s go. Let’s get out of this shithole. Get a taxi!’
Maggie shuddered. Helping him up off the floor, she tried to pull up his trousers. He pushed her away and heaved his jeans up over his arse.
‘Where’s my fucking weed?’ he shouted at a couple of people who were staring at him. ‘What you fucking looking at? Wankers!’ He stumbled back off to the toilet with his shirt poking through his fly.
Maggie entered the kitchen. It was stuffed with people; some looked up, but most continued their conversations. She looked around the room for a phone. There was a table in the middle of the room. Along the wall were worktops and cupboards. On a bench, in the far corner of the room, she saw a phone.
As she made her way over to the phone, Doyle called out, ‘Maggie!’
She ignored him and pushed on through the throng of people.
‘Oh, Maggie!’ he sang. Heat rose up her face.
‘MAGGIE!!’ His demand exploded in her guts and tears pricked her eyes.
She pushed back through the crowd and headed to the bathroom.
‘What?’ she muttered as she entered the room. Doyle was standing by the toilet.
‘Where were you? Why didn’t you stay with me? I can’t pee. I need to pee. I can’t pee. Help me get my flies down. I need to pee. Help me.’ His words drilled into her.
Maggie started to help him, but he urinated down his trousers and on to the floor.
‘I want to go home. I feel sick,’ he moaned.
‘Stay here and I’ll go phone for a taxi.’
‘All right… I feel sick… I think I’m going to be sick.’
‘Put your head over the toilet.’
Doyle threw up on the floor and over the bath. Maggie sat down on the end of the bath. Tears poured down her face.
‘I need a tissue. I’ve got it on my face.’ Doyle grabbed a fleecy towel and wiped his face.
‘What you crying for?’ He dribbled spit down his chin. ‘What you fucking crying for? I’m the one who should be fucking crying. I’m sick and someone’s nicked my weed. I should be fucking crying.’
Maggie wiped her face with her hand. ‘I’m going to phone for a taxi.’
‘Stay here till I get back.’
Another round—another bout—another endless round was over. Until they got into the taxi and the driver told them to get out. Until they got home and Doyle wanted to listen to Irish rebel songs and open a bottle of Scotch. Until the next day, and the next, and the next.
The sky had grown light as Maggie lay in the hospital bed. She continued staring at the ceiling tiles. There was one with a hole in the middle of it. What’s that stuff they’re made of? she thought. Oh yes, polystyrene! She giggled. Oh bondage! Up yours!
The curtain rustled and parted. Maggie watched as a nurse look in. Her blonde hair was trapped under a small, white cap with two hairpins. Retreating, the nurse said, ‘She’s awake.’
Maggie heard another woman answer, ‘Who?’
‘The suicide bird. The one who cut up her arms.’
Maggie saw a hand came around the curtains and pull them open. The nurse pushed a metal trolley in. It was covered in bowls and instruments wrapped in plastic. Ripping open the plastic wraps, she placed a needle and a pair of scissors on a kidney dish.
Another nurse entered the cubicle. She pursed her lips and took up the needle. Her full figure pushed the curtains wide as she circled the bed.
They did not talk.
Standing either side of her bed, they removed the bandages from her arms. They dabbed her wounds with antiseptic wipes and started to sew.
A tear dropped down her face. This hurts, she thought. Maybe they’ve forgotten to numb me. Maggie tried to move her arms, but the nurses pressed down hard. Tears poured down her face.
The nurses ignored her and continued to sew.