Ice and a Slice, page 1
Table of Contents
About Della Galton
If You’ve Enjoyed This Book…
Also Available: Shadowman
Shadowman - Chapter One
Also Available: Meltwater
Meltwater - Chapter One
Also Available: Ten Weeks To Target
Ten Weeks To Target - Chapter One
Also Available: ‘Daily Della’ - Short Story Anthologies
Also Available: The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed
Also Available: The Novel Writer’s Toolshed for Short Story Writers
Also Available: How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim
Published by Della Galton
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Copyright 2013 Della Galton
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For all the other SJs out there
About Della Galton
Della Galton is a freelance writer and tutor. Ice and a Slice is her third novel. She is also the author of How to Write and Sell Short Stories, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed and Short Story to Novel – Moving On.
She is a popular speaker at writing conventions around the UK and is also the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum.
When she is not writing she enjoys walking her dogs in the beautiful Dorset countryside where she lives. Her hobby is repairing old cottages, which is lucky as hers is falling down.
Find out more about Della, her books, and her speaking engagements at DellaGalton.co.uk
The first thing she noticed was the tinny metallic taste in her mouth. And then came the thirst. The thirst was so bad it had got into her dreams and forced her awake. No, not awake, aware – a slowly growing awareness which was coming, sense by sense.
Like sound. She could hear an echoey blur of footsteps and voices, which rolled in and out of her head. Closer by, something electronic beeped. Beep, beep, beep – steady and rhythmic – beep, beep beep.
Where was she? She opened her eyes and was hit by a wall of light. She shut them swiftly. She felt as though she was made of crystal, cool and brittle. She was a thin glass person who could be shattered by the slightest touch.
After a while she tried opening her eyes again. This time the room swam in various shades of light, but she managed to squint long enough to focus. To her left was a tall metal stand with a clear bag of fluid clipped to the top. To her right was some kind of machine, which seemed to be the source of the beeping. Close to her cheek was the edge of a thin blue woven sheet, but it felt more like a tablecloth than a sheet. She shifted a little to get away from its roughness and her head spun.
“So you’re awake then?” A blurred face leaned over her. She made out red lipstick, a thin line of a nose, kind eyes.
“Drink?” she gasped.
The face moved away, then loomed back in and she was aware of a straw close to her mouth. “Take it steady.”
Ignoring the advice, she sucked greedily and her throat was suddenly awash with coolness – the wonderful coolness of water – and then she was retching, choking, drowning. A firm hand supported her back. “Easy does it.” She tried again, more carefully, and this time with more success.
“You’re in ICU,” the voice went on. But she wasn’t really listening, didn’t really care; there was nothing more important than water; the need for it blanked out every other sense, every other feeling.
It was about thirty seconds later that the pain kicked in.
There was a deep, deep ache in her lower back, sparked off by the movement of leaning forward to drink. She moaned and the voice returned. “Gently does it, love. Slowly, slowly…”
The other voices – the further away voices – were still rumbling in the background and now she could make out odd snatches.
“She’s in a very weakened condition – I really wouldn’t advise visitors.”
“I want to bloody well see her. Tell him, Jim. Tell him we want to bloody well see her now.”
Oh God, that was her mother. What was her mother doing here? And why was she swearing? She never swore. Something bad must have happened. Something very, very bad.
Beneath the awful aching her heart began to thump harder and the beep of the machine sped up to keep time.
Then all at once they were there; the lumbering shadows of her parents sliding into the light. Her father bulky and silent – he never said much, he couldn’t get a word in edgeways most of the time – and her mother in her Evans black and white knitted jacket.
“Oh, Sarah-Jane, whatever are we going to do with you? Whatever are we going to do with her, Jim?”
Her mother’s usually ruddy cheeks were pale and she didn’t look as though she’d combed her hair lately. She was shaking her head now, a frown creasing her forehead, and her face was reproachful.
“It’s okay,” Sarah-Jane began, desperate to reassure them, but she only managed the very first bit of the ‘it’ so her voice resembled that of a mouse – a very small mouse caught in a trap – and the hand she’d meant to lift to calm her mother seemed to be attached to a wire. She glanced at it, which turned into a painful and rather shocking moment as there was a needle in the top of her hand which led to the wire which, in turn, led to another machine that looked like an old fashioned typewriter.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh…oh…”
“What’s she saying, Jim? Do you think we should call the doctor?”
Something niggled at the back of her mind. It was something to do with a party. Had she been at a party? A snapshot of memory drifted in. Herself draped on a chair watching someone walk across the terracotta carpet. They were carrying a tray of mushroom vol-au-vents.
“SJ, love, can you hear me?” The kindness of her fathe
She couldn’t speak and she couldn’t bear to see the pain on his face. Shutting her eyes again she let herself drift backwards into the soft black space of her mind.
The next thing she was conscious of was someone lifting the wrist that wasn’t wired to the machine and taking her pulse.
It was the nurse who’d given her the water. She had tiredness lines around her eyes and spoke gently. “How are you feeling?”
“Quite bad,” SJ said, hearing her voice come out hoarse and unused.
The nurse nodded and wrote something on a clipboard. “You’ve got a visitor if you’re up to it.”
As she spoke another woman slid into SJ’s line of vision. She was small and serious-looking with bobbed hair and Yves St Laurent glasses.
“Hello, Sarah-Jane. I’m Doctor Maria Costello; I’m from Clinical Medicine. I’d like to have a little chat with you if I may?”
SJ nodded, although her consent was clearly not required. The doctor had already pulled up a chair.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“No. Have you come to tell me what’s wrong with me?”
“Would you like me to tell you what’s wrong with you?”
“Yes please.” SJ lay back on her pillow, exhausted with the effort of speaking. Everything still hurt and she could smell antiseptic hand wash. It was beginning to make her feel sick.
She watched the doctor’s face through half closed eyes. Shadow memories lurched at the back of her mind and suddenly she wanted to say, “No, stop, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to know.”
But it was too late. The doctor’s mouth was moving again, her words crisp and precise. “You are suffering from alcoholic poisoning. On Sunday your husband found you unconscious at home and he called an ambulance. If he hadn’t acted as quickly as he did, you wouldn’t be here now. The quantities of alcohol we washed out of your stomach were more than enough to kill you.”
SJ covered her face with her hands. The memories were taking form, becoming less shadowy, forcing their way up to the surface.
There had been some terrible argument with Tom. She’d been trying to stop him leaving the house. She was holding tightly onto his arm and he was trying to shake her off and his face had been grimmer than she’d ever seen it. As if he really hated her. As if he couldn’t bear to be married to her for a moment longer.
She could feel herself starting to shake, in a place deep inside. Because there were other images coming too, only these were more detached. She was watching herself from a distance. She was watching herself cross the hallway of her house, go into her lounge and unclip the gin bottle from the optic behind Tom’s bar. She could see her own hands getting out glasses and lining them up – a long line of glasses on the bar.
Four crystal tumblers, two pewter tankards, five little shot glasses Tom used for whiskey chasers if ever he was in the mood, and one commemorative wine glass with the words Sarah-Jane and Tom, on their wedding day, May 2009 inscribed on the side.
“I did this to myself,” she said, closing her eyes.
The doctor’s voice was very serious. Almost cold. “Are you conscious of the danger you placed yourself in? Last Sunday afternoon you drank almost a full litre bottle of gin. I’d like you to tell me why.”
Two Months Earlier
The terrifying part was pressing the button on the intercom system beside the grimy frosted-glass door. Before that she could have been any other office worker on the busy Soho street with nothing more important on her mind than where to go for lunch: Daddy Donkey for a burrito or Malletti for a slice of pizza? Oh, what she would have given to have been making a choice like that.
She could still run away. Phone up later and say she’d been ill or had to work. She probably needn’t even phone. These kinds of places must get loads of people who made appointments and didn’t turn up. No doubt they were used to it.
Her legs were too rubbery to run anywhere. She glanced over her shoulder. No one was paying her the slightest attention. Thank God. Her outfit, overloud floral leggings and her hideously expensive Monsoon jacket, red for confidence, had been a mistake. She should have worn a wig and dark glasses and one of those great big overcoats so no one knew whether she was male or female. On second thoughts, that would have attracted a fair bit of attention in the June heat – everyone else was in summer suits or mini dresses. A few hundred yards away two bare-chested council workers had coned off a section of kerb and were digging up the road. The faint smell of tar mingled with traffic fumes on the summer air.
Taking a deep breath, she stabbed at the intercom button, which she missed first time because her fingers were shaking. Now she was committed – please let them open the door quickly before someone she knew strolled by and spotted her.
A buzzer indicated the catch had been released and she hurtled inside and found herself in a hallway with a discreet sign, S.A.A.D – that was appropriate – and an arrow pointing upwards. A guy in a baseball cap was coming down the stairs. He smiled and she smiled back and hoped he’d mistaken her for a counsellor.
Her shoulder length dark hair was pinned up in a look which aimed to be grunge, but she had a sneaking suspicion looked more ‘dragged through a hedge backwards’, and she wore the Miss Dior Tom had given her for her birthday. She was not a shambling wreck. She hadn’t even had a cigarette before she came – well, one quick one when she’d got off the tube – but she’d had three mints since then.
Another man carrying a file met her at the top. He smiled too, and she gave him what she hoped was a friendly nod. Pretend you’re here for a doctor’s appointment – nothing to worry about. Just a routine visit to the doctor – no, not a good idea: she hated going to the doctor. She realised suddenly that he was speaking and she hadn’t responded.
“Sarah Carter?” he repeated.
“Yep, that’s me.” Her face blazed with embarrassment. She’d always been hopeless at lying.
“Hi, I’m Kit. Go straight in – door at the end. I’ll be right with you. Can I get you a coffee?”
“Thanks.” She escaped into a cell-like room, furnished with a two-seater settee, an armchair and a small table, which was home to a box of economy tissues and a wire tray of leaflets. On the wall was a Van Gogh print, one corner peeling away from the frame. It showed a small child, supported by his mother and heading towards his father on tottering toddler legs. It was titled First Steps. Well, even she could see the wry aptness of that one. In any other circumstances she would have smiled.
A spider plant spilled out of a pot on the table. The earth around it was bone dry. Poor little plant must be desperate for a drink. Oh God, perhaps the spider plant was some sort of in-joke between the counsellors. That couldn’t be right. They shouldn’t be taking the piss. They were supposed to be sympathetic and nice. She remembered the sign downstairs – so it was an acronym, but it was pretty appropriate.
Shuddering, she chose the armchair by the table and picked up a leaflet from the stack. How to get help if you or your family is suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse.
Oh crap! She crammed it back in the stand, opened her bag, switched off her mobile and tucked an escaping Tampax back into its compartment – why was it that anything embarrassing in your bag always gravitated towards the top, ready to fall out and humiliate you next time you opened it? Fleetingly, she considered escape, but before she had the chance to move, the door opened and Kit reappeared with two mugs.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” He put them on the table and she thanked him numbly
Kit sat opposite her on the settee, looking relaxed - no closed body language there. She put her bag on the floor so it looked less like a shield and made a conscious effort to unclasp her hands, uncross her legs and look natural. She knew all about body language. They wouldn’t get her on that one.
Having rearranged herself she turned her attention back to Kit. He looked a bit like a young Bryan Adams, dark eyes and a craggy lived-in face. It had been a waste of time dressing up – he wore jeans and a white T-shirt. Still, at least he wasn’t some shrink in a suit with a load of psychobabble to throw at her. She wondered if Kit was his real name. Probably not. She had a feeling people who worked in these places didn’t give clients their real names in case they turned out to be nut-cases. Well, Sarah wasn’t her real name either. So they were on an equal footing. Hah!
“Anything we discuss in this room is completely confidential…” His voice was Bryan Adams too – gravelley from years of smoking. “…And won’t be disclosed to anyone else without your permission.”
She nodded, relieved he didn’t have a notebook or pen. She didn’t want anything she said recorded and kept on some central government database – far too many people had access to government databases these days.
“So where would you like to start, Sarah?”
“Where do you usually start?” Her voice sounded normal – hey, she could be at the doctor’s discussing her blood pressure. Good job she wasn’t; it must be sky high. She could feel her heart pounding away in time with the faint sounds of the drill, which had started up again outside the window.
“You said on the phone you were concerned about your alcohol consumption. So how about you tell me how much you usually drink?”
“Sure.” She picked up her bag, more comfortable with it on her lap. “Well, I don’t drink at lunchtime – apart from the odd Sunday if we go out for lunch. I don’t drink in the day at all, actually. In fact sometimes I don’t have one until nine or half past. I’m too busy, you see.” So far, so good. In a minute he’d start asking her why she was here and she could say she wasn’t sure, it had all been a mistake – a phone call made after a particularly bad night when she was feeling depressed. But that was probably more age than excess. Everyone got hangovers when they got past thirty-five, didn’t they?