A short story by Pablo Saborío
It takes days to cure oneself of a bad hangover. Especially when you were drinking to annihilate your self. By the second day of recovery you venture to the outside crossing by crowds of strange humans, all dealing with their petty crimes against humanity. Some are sweet-voiced, others are confined to a wheelchair, further down the same street there’s someone eating out of a china-box within a photo booth. Then you sit next to a frisky little bunch in the metro, they’re sipping their beers patiently, almost indifferently, while I experience a resurgence in my desire to drink again, which I had considered dead, at least for the next two weeks. But no! They sip, yes sip and not gulp, their beer, degrading a liquid so awkwardly powerful and intense that it is capable of mounting you on heights hardly reachable by healthy means. They sip and get out on the next stop; I in the meanwhile savagely thirsty and guilty; will I obey the exhortations of this struggling body or should I return, intoxicated, to a realm of divine recklessness?
By midnight I am gulping down my fourth wine, talking, or more accurately, listening to a 50-some Swedish painter, he discusses art, mafia and Ikea. He runs a gallery, his gallery with his naïve art, and sells 80 Euro bottles of Italian wine. He treats me first to red, then white, then red wine again. But I am bored, he speaks in muffled English, he is clumsy and I still feel sick from the alcohol.
I leave the Swede and turn to dark over-crowded streets, the hours careen by me and the beers in my hand evaporate in my mouth. The punks’ dogs stare at me, but I am no threat; not to them at least. In limbo, between melancholy and ecstasy, I buy a bottle of Jägermeister, then stare up, the half-naked moon, two stars as bright as the reflection of the sun on a watery eye.
What happened then is gone, obsolete, erased from the face of the earth. I awake like a victim of an overnight Holocaust: dehydrated, poorly fed, muscles aching, dazed, tired, sick. I don’t attempt to recall the events of the night, too painful to think. I crawl to the bathroom, shirtless, with one sock, my genitals soaked in their own piss. I drink and drink water but the nausea is too deep to be quenched, so the water tawny by a mixture of gastric acids flings out as fast as it was coming in. I dare look into the mirror and to my feigned surprise there is dried vomit on my hair. I begin to fill the bathtub with boiling water, remove my worn-out sock and sink into the swelling water. Sinking was like a freefall, falling endlessly, disintegrating, as if losing limb after limb, organ after organ, bone after bone, until I am nothing more than a feeble heart thumping, aching, despairing — this wretched hangover, is all I am thinking of. It will be my prison, my womb of pain, for hours that seem like ongoing déjà-vu’s, but the pain, discomfort and depression are bearable only till nighttime, when a mountain of sleep comes over you but you can’t sleep out of anxiety, out of the fear that you will never wake up again. Right then you promise yourself you will never drink again, a vain promise of course, only because the venom is still in the body but without its transports and sedations; consciousness and the body are momentarily one, in the struggle to heal. Next day, or two or three, past the agony of hangovers, the venom will have a different name and will seduce consciousness to intimate with it, while the body is left alone again to filter and cleanse the body during the recurring hours the mind, enraptured, feels free and invincible, drained no longer by a venom but instead invigorated by an elixir.
After the long half-awake sinking, throwing up seems like the only immediate relief. So I puke right in the tub, too weak to step out and dry a shaking body. With my feet I release the sock that served as a water plug. I climb over the white surface to reach for a towel, then without a moment to react I keep falling, this time to the ground. My ribs break the fall, a pain that only shyly overshadows the general evil of the hangover.
Food seems like a good idea. Even when appetite is alien to me, I swallow a banana without chewing much of it. I stare outside the window, more windows, more lives each with their subtle discomforts and agonies. I don’t feel jealous or even eager of a healthy lifestyle, the apparent serenity of dull hours seems a terror more strangely inacceptable than my current curse. Movies, dates, books and uninterrupted sleep represent louder hells than the buzzing of an irremediable headache.
The afternoon sways back and forth like a drunken ship. I am lying down, face up, thoughtless at times and then thoughtful at others. No regrets, no abomination. Just a wait, a slow healing which seems never to come. Hollow thoughts, flashes of memories
was I robbed? The money I have left is astoundingly low, couldn’t have possibly spent that much. Was I robbed? The twinkling raptures of a foregone night, the heights and hymns of eternity, but now, my soul empty and debacle all within me. Had I been robbed in sleep, had I been punished for entering worlds not accessible to animal Man?
The thought that a Sprite can appease my rolling nausea conjured strength in me to go outside. Big mistake. Day one of a hangover, stay home, keep low. Crossing the street, lights too sharp for eyes so weak, cars and people, children and dogs. Sundays are for those that think the whole world was made for them, they are careless hand-in-hand, while creatures like us are hidden away recovering from our rebellions. A stream of panic overcomes me, what if they hurt me, what if they attack me in my weak state. I stumble as I walk and families pull their children close. I vomit at the entrance of the small shop, but the old man is not visibly offended. He must be one of us or used to be in youth. I pay for the Sprite and tip him for the mess. I run, as fast as I can, home, sweet cave of mine.
It is normal to feel this way, I keep repeating myself. It is normal and it will go away. The torture comes in waves, both physically and mentally. The best you can do is crumble up in fetus position and wait.
The dread of night arrives. I could have been sleeping all this time but I refused. I wait till midnight, one, two, the eyelids are heavy from the denial of their function. There is only one last thing I must do. I must take a long crap, eject the putrid contents of my bowels. The trip to the bathroom lasts long as I was nearly defeated by sleep. Short and heavy steps, deep breaths, very slow and laborious heart beats. I squat, the intestines twist and turn and a blob of nondescript matter is sunk.
Lighter and victorious I can return to bed. The thin sheet serves as a mother, embracing her wretched child. Thoughts are cloudy, random images are appearing, yes, sleep is finally here and tomorrow this will have become a nightmare and no more. The beauty of time! Sinking and disappearing, nearly at the entrance of the first dream, I gasp violently for air and sit up. The first attempt to sleep is never easy. Before actually falling asleep, three or four times this was repeated. Gasping for air as I was drowning in sleep that felt like a cold lake. I could have died, I think, I could have never returned.