By Andrew Wolczyk
On the morning of his fiftieth birthday Alan Roome wakes with a sense of excitement and anticipation. He has great plans for the day.
He rises, showers and dresses before his wife, Alison, wakes and he has toast on the grill and the coffee pot gurgling before she comes downstairs.
“Morning,” he says brightly.
“Happy birthday,” she says and kisses him lightly on the cheek. She smells faintly of something Alan can’t quite put his finger on but finds distasteful. “I’ve left your cards in your chair.”
He pours her a cup of coffee and offers her toast which she refuses.
Going through into the living room he sees a pile of cards in his chair. At least six. He eats his toast and drinks his coffee before opening them, savouring the anticipation.
Out of duty he opens the one from Alison first. He recognises it by her small tidy handwriting on the front. Inside she signs it “Lots of love” and there are three kisses. The next two are from his children; Aleshia, who is studying at Edinburgh university and hardly ever comes home and Alfie, who now works in Bristol for a large engineering company. Aleshia has written a little note inside her card that tells him to have a lovely day and that she loves him.
That’s nice, Alan thinks and throws the empty envelopes in the bin.
The next card is from his parents and includes a twenty pound note and an entreaty to “get something nice,” and the following one from his in-laws with a ten pound note and no message just an admission of who the card is for and who it is from.
The final card is from Barry, his brother, who lives just under five miles away and who Alan hasn’t seen since Christmas. His card has fifteen pounds in it.
Fifty pounds, Alan thinks, toting up the money, I’m rich. He doesn’t know what he’ll spend the money on. He doesn’t need anything.
“I’ll take you out for lunch,” Alison says, “You’re birthday treat.”
“That will be nice,” Alan says. “I can pay though, I have the money here.” He waves his birthday money at her.
“Don’t be silly, it’s your birthday.”
When Alison goes upstairs to get ready Alan logs onto the computer and brings up Facebook. There are no birthday messages for him because, years before, he had adjusted the settings so no-one could see when his birthday fell. He had done this after spending one of his special days thanking people for their good wishes, people he had never even met. It takes the pressure off.
He spends a pleasant hour sharing amusing memes and witticisms and catching up on local gossip and media lies. He had learnt a long time ago not to believe anything that was written.
When Alison comes down she looks nice.
“You look nice,” Alan says. He appreciates the effort.
They go to the local pub, a quaint oldy-worldy building with lots of low oak beams in the ceiling and with a reputation for excellent, cheaply priced food. Alison has the house salad and Alan has fish. They make small talk while they eat and decide not to have dessert.
Alison has plans to go out with her friends that evening. They are going for a meal then on to see a Vivaldi opera. Alison says she has to watch her weight, eating out twice in one day, which is why she has chosen the salad.
Alison had been mortified when the only tickets they could get for the opera fell on the same day as Alan’s birthday.
“Don’t worry about it,” Alan had said when she had told him a couple of weeks earlier. Alan didn’t like opera.
That afternoon he takes himself off to the supermarket. He doesn’t need much. He walks the aisles slowly, savouring the complete isolation. He looks at clothes he has no intention of buying and contemplates getting a new set of pyjamas. He could use his birthday money, he thinks, then decides against it. The pyjamas he has, a Christmas present from Alison, are perfectly fine.
He gets some washing up liquid because he had noticed the previous day they are running low. He also puts some paracetamol and some beans into the trolley before deciding to indulge in a carrot cake. It is his birthday after all. Deciding to be decadent, he pushes the boat out, and buys a full bottle of brandy, not the half bottle he usually favours. He chooses a brand name instead of the supermarket special and feels a sharp thrill, like a naughty schoolboy setting up a prank.
“Can you drop me at the station?” Alison asks later. She is getting the train to Leeds where she will meet her friends. She plans to get a taxi back later. She looks stunning, in a powder blue suit that highlights her slim waist.
“Course I can,” Alan says.
“You sure you don’t mind me going?” Alison asks again as he pulls into the station car park.
“Of course not,” Alan says. “Go and have a good time.”
“I feel so guilty when it’s your birthday,” she says.
“Don’t be silly,” Alan says, “go enjoy yourself.”
She gets out of the car and smiles at him. “Don’t wait up for me,” she says.
“I won’t,” he smiles back.
Driving home he thinks of his carrot cake and bottle of brandy and feels the excitement begin to build.
As he enters the house the phone starts to ring.
“Hello?” he says.
“Happy Birthday, dad,” Aleshia says, “I hope you’re having a wonderful day.”
“I am,” Alan says. “Thank you for your card. It was very sweet.”
She talks animatedly for a few minutes filling him in on her life and what she is up to. The weather in Edinburgh is particularly good she tells him. He is glad she has phoned. It is nice of her to make the effort.
He has beans on toast for his tea. He doesn’t need a big meal after the fish at lunchtime but he does treat himself to an extra large portion of carrot cake. It was the luxury brand with walnuts and extra thick topping. He watches some television then, a mindless drama he finds difficult to understand. His mind keeps wandering. He wonders if Alison is enjoying the opera.
Despite having showered that morning, Alan decides to have a long luxurious bath, with lots of bubbles and some of Alison’s scented oils. She will never miss the little drop he uses. He wants to smell nice for later.
The time for his birthday treat is getting closer now, so close he can almost taste it.
He fetches a large tumbler from the kitchen and retires to bed early with his bottle of brandy. Cracking the seal, he licks his lips in anticipation. He pours an extra large measure and smells the heady aroma and his mouth waters.
He has waited so long for this moment, planned it even. It has a nice symmetry to it having landed on his birthday. His fiftieth birthday treat.
He breaks out four of the paracetamols and gulps them down with a large chug of brandy. The alcohol burns his throat as it goes down and makes his eyes water. He stifles the urge to cough. It tastes so nice. He fully intends to drink the whole bottle and hopes he doesn’t pass out before he gets the chance. He empties another four tablets into his hand. He has read somewhere that overdoses are not the best way to go, there is a lot of pain involved and possibly vomit. He hopes to negate that with the alcohol. He takes another large swallow. He feels the effects of the brandy start to kick in as he empties a third lot of tablets into his hand. It is probably because he is not used to drinking; Christmas and birthdays usually. Well, today is his birthday. It is his birthday treat. This is going to be the party to end all parties. He empties the rest of the packet into his hand and gulps the tablet down with brandy. The room is starting to swim a little now and he is nowhere near finishing the bottle. He drains his glass and with a slight tremor refills it. He only spills a little drop. That won’t matter, he thinks.
Quickly he drains the second glass and starts on the second packet of tablets. The supermarket had a limit of two. He is half way through the third glass when the alcohol really starts to kick in. His vision is very blurred and he has serious trouble refilling for the third time. He thinks he manages to get most of it down his throat but he is not really sure. He is not sure how much alcohol is left in the bottle and he has lost all sense of time. It might be minutes or it might be hours. He has no way of knowing. How many large glasses does a bottle hold? Alan lies back on the bed and lets the alcohol and drugs take him. Let the party begin, he thinks as he closes his eyes.