The wine glass slipped from her hand, bounced once on the carpet before rolling a couple of times on its base. Bending down, Linda took the thin stem between her fingers and stood up. It was eleven in the morning and she was drunk. Her glass needed filling.
Linda had been drinking for two days. She couldn’t be sure though because there was always the chance she had blacked out for a day. Black outs were not memorable occurrences. As soon as Linda emerged from a black out, she threw up burning bile, blood, and alcohol. The tears of pain were soon replaced with the necessary intake of fresh alcohol and it was if the black out never happened.
Today, the sunlight made her eyes feel dirty; she needed to take them out, wash them in pure glacial water, and then return them, cleansed, to their gaping sockets. Her eyes fascinated her. She would stare into them in her hall mirror when the early self-reflective stages of a binge still remained. Some times if she stared for long enough her features and her flesh would disappear until all that was left in the mirror were the white bone of her skull and the greeny-grey of her eyes looking back at her. A man had once stared into her eyes for the whole time they had made love; she had been convinced that he had seen her skull. She had faked an orgasm so he would come and leave and she would never have to be near him again. It was a weakness she didn’t want to share, an inescapable fact that meant she was only biology and she would die some day. The wine tasted sharp and gave her agonising heartburn. Her eyes watered and her stomach cramped eventually she smiled as she felt the alcohol enter her blood stream.
Linda could no longer live in the world she inhabited. The darkness that filled her heart would never lighten; the arms that longed to hug and the skeletal body that longed to be hugged would never do so. The flickering images on the TV screen were her only company. Today, she would sing songs by Slade and drink fortified wine until she forgot the words and her body gave up.
A car pulled into the drive sometime later that day. A man got out and picked intensely at the dust on his suit before walking up to Linda’s front door and knocking. Linda was slumped in her sofa with her legs tucked underneath her; they had gone dead some time ago. Hearing the sharp noise, Linda swung around and tried to stand up but crumpled straight to the floor. She was forced to crawl to the door like one of those soldiers in films who had just had his legs blown off. The effort and pain were considerable. She extended her hand up to the door handle and threw back the door, falling over to the side as it came open. The man in his thirties with the suit grinned down at her.
“Good afternoon, madam. My name is Paul and I am here to help you fill that space that, correct me if I’m wrong, exists in your life. I am a guru, a businessman, a chef, a personal trainer, and a designer extraordinaire all rolled into one. I can make you, mould you, and give you what you want. In other words, you are everything and anything you want me to make you.”
His hypnotic monotone made her feel sick. What was this prick selling? She had no money; surely he could see that and wasn’t it blatant that she wasn’t the kind of prim-slut housewife of his fantasies that would suck his cock just because she was so ‘bored’. She slurred something resembling: “No money. You can’t make me cock- sucking uhrhrrh”. Her vomit, deep red and flecked with lighter threads of blood, splurged out onto the doormat and all over his shiny black shoes.
He pulled her cardigan from her skinny arms and used it to efficiently wipe his shoes clean. He then dragged her to his car, dumping her into the backseat. There was no patter.
Linda became aware that she was awake some time later. The sun hit her eyes brighter than ever. It was hot, she was sweating, and death, she thought, couldn’t be for off if this wasn’t it already. Pain spread out through her limbs like tapeworms flexing. She couldn’t move and only slowly were her eyes beginning to focus. A room she didn’t recognise appeared in frayed strokes before her eyes. It was bright with light, not from the sun, but from violently white spotlights hanging from the ceiling. Wires curled all around the floor, the swirling patterns made her feel sick. She was sick again, this time more painful and solid than before. Slumping forward, she tried to get out of this nightmare.
All of sudden Linda’s body was forced rigid. An attractive blonde began viciously wiping the sick from her face whilst clamping the back of her head with manicured hands. In front of her, in neat little rows, were hundreds of people all fidgeting and pointing and talking. Her vision suddenly tunnelled, zooming in on a figure coming down some stairs amidst the legions of cackling faces and clapping hands. And then a voice exploded from out of the walls, lights, faces, and colours.
“Hello and good afternoon, I’m Donovan Merriweather, and welcome to another tragic and painful show. Today, we are joined by Linda. Linda is a forty-five year old alcoholic that was sick just moments before we went on air. A pitiful reminder to us all of the physical damage this mental disease can cause. Welcome, Linda. Thank you for being here, I imagine it must have been hard, thank you.”
The clapping again and the cackling faces and the bright light. Linda lifted her head and ingested it all, hoping that it would make her sick again and allow her to wake up away from this place. It didn’t work.
“Now Linda, tell me in your own words how you came to be in this position, this saddening state.”
Linda opened her mouth, tasted the vomit coating her teeth, and….
“It says on my card here, Linda, that, interrupt me if I’m wrong, you started drinking when your husband committed,…uh, took his own life five years ago. Now that must have been devastating. Yet all of us here have lost people but not all of us here today in such a unique and desperate way. Tell us about it….”
Linda couldn’t take this, she needed a drink or she needed to die. This was a bad dream, just a bad dream that would end, must end,
“I want this to end.”
“Linda, “I want this to end!” brave brave words from you. A brave brave woman. You want this addiction to be gone, all the pain to end, isn’t that right? I have to say that is remarkable, only twenty minutes ago you were being sick, I hate to say it in such clinical terms, but you were expelling the contents of your stomach, in the grips of this most evil of addictions and now you have found it deep within yourself to say ‘THIS WILL END’. I think I speak for all of us when I say, you are the most courageous, troubled woman we have seen on this show but at the same time the most likeable. Give her the respect she deserves…Come on….”
The cackling faces, the colours, and the limbs exploding through the light – the applause sounded like gunfire, there were screams and whoops, cheers and sobs. Linda began to cry uncontrollably and the noise only got louder; it was unbearable. Why did they cheer her tears? The blonde woman came back and dragged Linda away from the lights,
“That was brilliant, Linda. They love you, you’re going to be a star …a…a .. ….Celebrity! Paul was right all along, he knew you had what it took!”
Linda found her self in a small room alone. The silence was remarkable. She looked around for a bottle, there wasn’t one. Whatever had just happened to her had drained the last fragment of energy from her. All Linda could do was slump in the corner and wait.
People dragged her up, passed her along, touched her, poked her and pushed her out into more and more bright light. People she didn’t know preened and dressed her. Experts in smart clothes talked her to. All in one continuous production line, always with the bright light and the gunfire applause. She hadn’t had a drink in what seemed like years, the pills they gave her helped with the pain but not with the need that was talons digging into her brain and ripping at her belly constantly.
Paul often came to see Linda when the need was really bad. He repeated his little mantra, “Make-over morning, talk show afternoon, cooking game show evening”. It made little sense to Linda who now knew all she had to do was just grin and nod into the bright lights until they went away and she would be alone. They called her Linda, the celebrity ex-alcoholic. It was those words exactly, printed in a neat simple typeface that sat across the top of the letter she had just received. It read,
You have been selected to take part in Celebrity Rehab V: The Drinkers. Your agent Paul Smith has informed us of your delight at the opportunity and we are glad that you accepted our offer. On receiving this most wonderful news we would like to extend our welcome and gratitude to you.
For the next three weeks, Linda was sick several times every day and lost what little weight she had. Her eyes sunk further into her face and the darkness of her heart began to seep out through her sockets. She always saw the same ugly people and spoke to the same experts with the same bright lights. People told her it would be alright and that she was winning. She knew she wasn’t alright and that she wasn’t winning. She was never alone. The day finally came when it stopped, complete with the brightest of lights and the loudest gunfire.
Linda hadn’t had a drink for as long as she could remember. Her eyes weren’t as dirty or sunken; she ate food and drank smoothies for breakfast. Even Paul seemed delighted with her and now had a little man who followed him around, occasionally picking dust off his suit. Linda was reformed. The people loved her for her courage, her silent strength.
Linda opened her eyes. Her head and shoulders were outside her front door. With all the strength she had she pushed herself up onto her knees and fell sideways into the house. She remembered little of what had happened apart from some dream that trembled somewhere deep within her throbbing head. She crawled over to the TV set and switched it off. Then feeling a sense of relief, she fell backwards onto the carpet. Above her on the ceiling was a strange black unit with several lenses twitching within it. She remembered the man with the suit. So this was what that prick had sold her. She didn’t even remember paying for it. It was all too much to deal with. How long had she been blacked out for this time. She ached and cried and wretched and reached for a glass half full with fortified wine. A million viewers around the globe simultaneously began to cry. She wouldn’t win the cash prize. She hadn’t made it.