He’d been gone three days. At first, she’d cried, then phoned her mother, but at some point she stepped outside herself. She did the same things every time, wailing, twitching with each phone buzz. But that was other her, old her, so she stopped.

Instead, she pulled the house apart. She filled the woodburner with porn, competitive images sent into smoke. She found the first bottle wedged down the side of the sofa, an insult, so barely hidden. She should have known it was there, but she hadn’t known about the bottle in the wardrobe, the case of cheap whisky in the bottom drawer of his desk, another in the shed.

She stood them on the kitchen counter, then on the table when that was full, a few months’ rent in liquid form. She walked back into the lounge. She hadn’t meant to … the house was a mess before but now it looked like it had been ransacked. Would he notice when he came back, if he came back? She couldn’t think about tidying, so she went back to the kitchen and picked up the vodka bottle.

Once she’d started pouring, she had to finish. She watched the swirls as the no-brand whisky twisted down the plug hole. She hesitated over the unopened bottle of red. Her friends had brought it when they came for dinner once, when she had friends, when they had people over for dinner. The corkscrew was too slow, so she smashed the bottle against the side of the sink and watched the splashes run into drips down the wall.

She had to leave the kitchen then, and lay on the sofa, eyes closed. She didn’t think she’d slept, until the front door clicked as he came in, stubble-faced. He stank, he always stank after a bender, but this time it mingled with the smell in the house. Her hands smelt, her shirt was splashed, and she tugged it away from her as she followed him through to the kitchen.

“I’m only trying to help,” she said. “I’m doing my best …” She stopped, hating herself more with each sentence. They were past words. He was staring at the hoard of empty bottles. Alcohol stench filled the room, until she could taste it. There were red splashes everywhere. If she was going to break something, it should have been the vodka bottle.

He swept an arm across the counter. Bottles fell, smashed, and the cupboard handle dug into her back as she flinched away from him. He swung round to the back door. “I’m going out”.



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