Three hours of shallow sleep, propped against the big cushion like a rowing boat, a tide of nausea lapping at my edges. 4:00 AM. Bolt-awake in the colourless half-light of a midsummer dawn, bed is surely tilting, body a bucket of slopping water. Queasiness enfolds me, octopus-like, tightens one slippery, muscular tentacle around my midriff, reaches another down my throat, twists, pulls, oh no, here we go… Clutching my belly, I feel my way down the stairs to the kitchen, fumble above my head, below my knees, drawers clattering, door hinges creaking, dog confused, jolted from her slumber. Plastic bowl, paracetamol, tap water.
Pills land bitterly in sulphurous stomach. A provocation too far. Back up they come…
In my abdomen is a live thing, a livid thing that tenses, leaps, lurches, all muscle and fury… then is still.
Has it exhausted itself? Surely…. take a sip of wa–NO! Out, out, out! Nothing! No water, not a bead, not a millilitre, I must be scoured dry! No respite, it seems, until my digestive tract has purged itself of every last dribble of acidic bile.
Never have I experienced sickness like this! I am at the mercy of this bucking bronco inside me.
Intestines will not strop writhing, I cannot take in enough air, I am scared. I need someone to stroke my hair.
(Can I really have brought this all upon myself?? Surely and by some callous coincidence, a virus has sailed the current of my digestive juices, is cruising my innards. This cannot be the fallout from just three-and-a-bit cocktails. Can it?)
No more sleep for me. Can’t lie down, can’t even shut my eyes without the room bobbing and thrumming like a hovercraft. Certainly cannot read. Just sit, then. Sit, and hug your bowl, and wait upon the clemency of the clock, tick, tock, tick towards reprieve…
Eleven a.m. and all is calm, at last, in the territory between thighs and throat. Just the after-hum of nausea, accompanied by assertive hunger pangs. Oh no! No food, not yet… I have a hunch my sullen tummy will be unreceptive to any conciliatory advances. Even a brioche roll will, I suspect, be met with revulsion.
What a waste of day, a WASTE!! So, so CROSS with myself. When I think of the lovely and useful things I had planned… It is Sunday! A day to do with as I please. Coursework, writing, time with a friend, fresh air. I was going to be both productive and leisurely, it would surely, surely have been a most satisfactory day!
Instead, here I am, wedged between the arm of the sofa and my dog’s rear end, warily sipping Pepsi to boost my blood sugar. ‘What an absolute waste of a day!’ I mutter again. Aloud.
But I don’t want to think that…
Is it? Is it really such a waste?
A flicker of curiosity, like a glow-worm. I place my hand where I think my liver is. Busy, busy, clever liver, assiduously expelling toxins. ‘Thank you, liver.’ Patting, affectionate. I’m sorry. I won’t do this to you again… How truly wondrous our liver is, how diligent and loyal, and how we take it for granted!
And what is this: a whiff of gratitude to my combative gut? After THAT skirmish? I’m not apologising to it, even though it was my fault.
Bella’s fur lies in wet tendrils where she has been licking. Her ribcage inflates, deflates, inflates like stuttering bellows. She sleeps. I realise I have been idly stroking the curve of her belly for some time now. Spending my day in much the same way as Bella. Wholly contained within my body. Resting on the sofa. Doing nothing much apart from breathing and sighing.
How does it feel, to BE Bella? This other living being, here, beside me. Warm, flesh-and-blood Bella, her eyes, once tar-black, now two oily puddles; her silky, pliable ears, her rasping lungs; her heart skittish as a wild rabbit beneath my hand. For a few seconds, there is a hazing of the lines that demarcate us. I can feel each individual dog hair beneath my finger.
The window is open. People come and go outside. Footfall, snatches of conversation, car engines, the voile curtain panel wafts in the breeze. Everything drifting. Everything soft and easy, an arm draped over the side of a dinghy, fingers skimming cool water.
How extraordinary these ordinary things are. Intellectually, of course, I know this. From fringe to toenails, I ‘know’ this. Now I feel it, beneath the skin, marrow-deep.
Perhaps not such a waste of a day.
Not quite sure how one can waste a day, other than by scurrying by without acknowledging it.
So often, too often, as I pack the day away at dusk, I am folding up regrets, briskly smoothing them. I have let myself down, underachieved, not imbibed the day’s potential, not scooped up and buried my nose in those fragrant armfuls of possibility! Failed to still the clanging bell that swings between good day, bad day, good day, bad day… Balancing the days with counterweights of promise and productivity. Just let today be a day, and notice, notice!
Salt required. And toast. I need Marmite on toast! Mmmmarmite, the most comforting toast-topper that ever there was…
I open the fridge door. My stomach lurches at the garish sight of three cans of Amstel lager, loitering on the middle shelf. Not mine. I hate canned lager.
Toast is ready. Glides up out of the toaster slots, showman-like. One almost feels one should applaud. I never tire of that slow-lift mechanism.
Decades ago, when I was in a bar in France, a French guy told me he just couldn’t comprehend the whole Marmite thing. ‘It tastes like it’s already been eaten!’ he exclaimed. It sounded even wittier in French. We all laughed… I picture him now, clear as day, a polished piece of sea glass among the flotsam and jetsam of remembered things.
I’ll not forget this hangover!! But I will also remember what a great night out it was, and the memory will catch the light just so. As has, unexpectedly, this not entirely wasted day.