Martin had been sober for fifteen days and he was putting up shelves. Not an easy task when he needed four good hands and only had two bad ones. Still, at least they did not shake.
He was alone. The room, like the rest of the flat, was devoid of cheerfulness. Flat pack furniture, magnolia walls, a threadbare carpet. He didn’t mind. It was a fresh start. When the estate agent had shown him round he seemed surprised Martin had taken the place, although whether that was because he was surprised a shaking wreck could afford the rent, or surprised because no-one wanted the place he did not know.
Martin had taken the flat because of its high ceilings and wide windows, south facing, affording him a great deal of light. It had little else. But at least he felt safe here, from himself and from others. The first week he sat and shivered. Little by little, he ventured out tentatively into the street below.
The neighbourhood was a quiet one, with plenty of local shops. The chicken shop sold pizza, the glass and mirror shop had broken windows, and the hardware store sold next to nothing at all. Martin found himself in here one day being overcharged for a shelf.
That was the thing about money. Like people, when you drank, it went away.
He thought about Sarah on his way back, thought about how much he wanted to see her. But he couldn’t. She couldn’t be a part of this. Not now.
She still had his toolkit and his drill and his heart. He’d have to put up the shelves without any of these things.
Like everything else in his life, the shelves came flat pack and in dire need of some structure. They came with twenty two screws and a miniature screwdriver. They were made of floppy, cheap pine. Martin estimated the weight of the things they were supposed to hold. His books, a few boxes, some papers, some notes. A box full of memories and a box full of identities — old love letters, old passports, medical records that felt like the report cards he used to get in school. Doesn’t pay attention. Must try harder.
He paid attention alright. It was just never enough.
By the eleventh screw his hands were sore. He was determined to see this through. The shelves wobbled, unsteady. Both he and they were in danger of falling apart.
His phone rang. The special ring he gave to Sarah.
“I’m kind of in the middle of something right now,” he said, holding the shelves with one hand, it was all he could think to say.
“Fine. I’ll just call back later then,” said Sarah. Even through the telephone he could feel her spitting rage.
“I’m sorry I…” he said, but no-one was there.
It was true, though. He was in the middle of something. And he didn’t know what was on the other side of it. This house, this place, it was dry. But you couldn’t hide from the tornado when you were the tornado, you could only temporarily try to live in the eye of the storm, moving, always moving, from place to place to place.
He’d make money again. He’d make friends again. He’d start again. Sarah would forget him, and he would forget her. There would be another girl, and she would be another way of hiding, for a while. The drink always found him out. The drink always found him.
Such fatal thoughts, he thought. He noticed that the Sun had gone in. It wouldn’t do. Later that day he would invite Sarah around, he would cook for her, and they would laugh. The shelves would stay up. Everything would be fine. And even if it wasn’t, he could still enjoy these moments.
Today, he was alive.
Al Allday is a copywriter and journalist based in London