I've just been for coffee in Boscombe with Emilie and Claire. Bad enough, you might think, and on a good day you’d be right.
But this morning was an altogether different kettle of fish.
“Come out with me, darling,” said Emilie, “it’s a beautiful day, and your swelling has gone.”
I knew she was lying.
Amazingly, Claire failed to notice it. This thing that has persecuted and oppressed me and driven me to the brink of madness and occasionally beyond over the last 48 hours. You might say: “hey, it’s just a swelling,” but your perception of reality would be so twisted as to be laughable. It is so clearly not just a swelling. It’s an abortion; it is evil manifested; its sole purpose has been to undermine my life situation. It is a swelling with a purpose. It has its own Machiavellian agenda. It is My Swelling. It is the Monkey on my Chin.
Or perhaps Claire did notice the swelling - I mean, she’d have to be pretty fucking blind not to - and just chose not to say anything. Yes. That’d be her style, alright. She’s always played her cards pretty close to her chest, that one.
So here I am sitting in Boscombe with Emilie and Claire, both of whom copiously avoid making any reference to my growth, trying not to upset the table with it and make an exhibition of myself, avidly monitoring the people who pass by for signs of deformity and affliction with which to soothe my rampantly escalating self-obsession. There’s a guy with a huge boil sprouting from his forehead on one of the tables outside Cappuccino’s; the trouble is that he’s the kind of a bloke that a boil looks good on, the kind that suits a boil; in fact he looks like the kind of bloke who if he didn’t have a boil sprouting out of his forehead you’d think there was something terribly wrong.
There’s a morbidly obese woman in leggings, bawling and slapping her snot-ridden child.
There’s an ignorant looking white supremacist with no shirt on walking his retarded looking dog. Should white supremacists even have dogs? Should fat-headed white supremacists in leggings be allowed to breed? Dogs, I mean. Of course, I’m talking about dogs. Far be it for me to make judgements about anyone else’s unassailable and God-given right to have as many children as they conceivably can; or their inherent right to shame and abuse said children in the street.
Suddenly I can feel the people on the next table looking at me sideways. I’ve felt that look before. It’s the kind of look Muslims feel on the tube. It’s the look of suspicion; it’s the look of hatred and fear. It’s the look that accuses you of carrying a bomb.
Of harbouring a swelling.
Part of me knows I am not thinking right. This level of self-absorption can mean one thing and one thing only:
It flashes redly in the mind like one of those signs on a train that tells the guard you’re hiding in the toilet:
It has nothing to do with my ludicrous carbuncle; with my Desperate Dan chin. It has nothing to do with the Islamophobes on the next table, with the hideously stuffed leggings of the fatty or the skinhead with veins in his teeth. It has everything to do with my own spiritual status, and my insidious backward slide into
My phone rings. It’s Al. Some guy has just phoned the helpline and needs taking to a meeting. Can I call him back?
I don’t even need to think about it. At some point this just became what I do. Because I honestly want to. Because I have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body. Because I have been given not only freedom from alcohol but so, so much more. It’s only natural that I should want to share it.
So I phone the guy and there’s crying and talking and laughing, and he knows that I’m like him. I tell him I’ll meet him in an hour or so and take him to a meeting.
We pay for our coffee and leave. The sun shines down on Boscombe - playground of the mad and the roaringly insane – and my cup overrunneth with fullness and grace. Suddenly I become aware: it’s a beautiful day, and my swelling has gone.