HELLO, MY NAME IS BILLY

And I think I’m an alcoholic. I glance around the circle of faces as I say it. At the slurry tramp with the fag-stained beard who ate nail-polish remover on bread, at the skull-headed sparrow-woman with pock-marked skin who’s trying to get her kids back, at the forty-something salesman in a tie that says World’s Greatest Dad who throws empties into the field behind his house then goes back in the dark hunting for dregs, at the redhead with the cleavage who says she’s tired of giving herself away, at the twitchy bald bloke who never looks up and won’t say what he’s done, at the smiley old grey-haired black gadge with the gold front tooth who’s been dry for thirteen years, at the pin-and-ink teardrop lesbo with no fingernails who beat her girlfriend unconscious with an ironing board, at the redhead with the cleavage, who smiles a smile that says Go on then, say it… I feel myself take a breath... I came here because I want to stop drinking. I haven’t had a drink for two days… A burst of applause soft clatters around the room like starlings leaving one tree for another. I take another breath… I’m stopping drinking for my kids. They need me. I glance around the circle again as I get another smattering of applause… And for yourself Billy, says the black gadge, nodding sagely to a dull hum of agreement that bluebottles around the room. Tell us your story, squeaks the sparrow-woman. The dull hum bluebottles the room again. My palms are sweaty. I clear my throat… Things turns to shit when I drink. My wife wanted me to stop ages ago. She says it makes me different. Like I’m a different person... The bluebottle dull hums, and I’m surprised at how much I want to say these things... I get sad. Like life has no sunlight. Then I drink even more. Get angry. Sadder. I end up hurting people... The bluebottle dull hums again. I look at the shoelace on my left shoe. It’s undone… Go on Billy, says the redhead softly, Tell us. My hands are twitching in my lap. And for some reason I see Nannan’s hands, knitting needles tap-tapping, a quick tug to loosen more wool from the ball by her feet, tap-tap, tap-tap. I clear my throat again. I can feel everyone watching. I want to say more things so I pretend no one is there… A couple of years ago, I went to see Nannan in hospital. She was really ill. I’d fell out with my mum and dad. Still have. I said some things to them when I was drunk. I’ve done it loads of times. I guess they’ve had enough. Anyway, my dad rang me to tell me Nannan was sick. That it didn’t look good. That I should go and visit her. But to be out of there before my mum and him went. He said my mum couldn’t cope with seeing me. That she was too upset. So I caught the bus into town. Had a few before I went to the hospital. And when I got there I was pissed. And late. I only had twenty minutes before my mum and dad were due. I fell over a waste-bin in the hospital corridor. Got into a row with a nurse. And when I finally got to Nannan she was asleep. Inside this big plastic tent thing. She had a plastic mask on too. The noise of it was fucking awful. I sat down by her bed and just looked at her. She looked so old. And I couldn’t make my mind up whether it was because she was so sick or... or because I hadn’t seen her in such a long time. And then, she just woke up and stared at me. And I think she tried to smile but I couldn’t really tell. I held her hand. She just kept looking at me. And all I could think about was wanting a piss. So I let go of her hand. Told her I’d come straight back. But I didn’t. I went to the pub instead. She died that night. I didn’t even say goodbye. And now... now every time I think about her I just hope to fuck she were too fucking sick to even know I was there, because, because the thought of her laid there waiting for me to come back is... I can’t say anymore to these people. I’m crying, and I feel like a twat. I look at no one as I stand up and leave. And from the top-deck of the bus I watch the houses go by as I drink the half-Bell’s. I feel little tickles all over me like I’m rising up into the air, but inside it feels like I’m falling.