Nicola sits at her kitchen table, with a bottle of cheap vodka and an ice cube tray fresh from the freezer. Needing to feel something, she touches the hard plastic of the tray and her soft skin adheres, ever so slightly, to the ice. She feels the coldness start to burn and holds on until discomfort becomes pain. Only then does she slowly withdraw her hand and watches in fascination as the skin peels away, the ice a jealous lover who refuses to give up its hold on her. She prods the newly released fingers with her other hand and they don’t feel like they belong to her. Now those fingers are numb, just like the rest of her.
It is 9.57 in the morning and she is waiting for the digital clock to reach 10 o’clock. Nicola has only a faint idea what a yardarm is but has recently decided that this is the new time for the sun to be over it. Occasionally she can resist taking her first drink until later but not today. 9.58. Nicola is struck by a twinge of guilt as it is a Wednesday morning and she should be at work. Nicola has a migraine, or so she told her boss at the call centre, and they’re becoming more frequent. When sober, she worries that he will comment on these increased absences and what she would do if she was confronted and lost her job. 9.59. Nicola drums her fingers impatiently on the rustic oak table, then runs her fingernail along the grain whilst fighting against the voice inside her head which yells, “POUR THE DAMN DRINK NOW!” 10.00. Nicola deftly unscrews the lid off the bottle and pours a generous measure of the clear liquid into a glass. She adds three slippery ice cubes and sips steadily, fighting the urge to gulp. By her second drink, the voice has calmed and her worries have started to fade.
Ignoring the ice cubes which are forming little puddles of meltwater in their compartments, Nicola takes the half-empty bottle to the sanctuary of her sofa and flops down. She doesn’t have to go out today as she has six bottles of vodka, with names like Cossack, Romanov and Gulag, from a variety of supermarkets. She lies with her head propped on cushions at a suitable angle for sipping. There are many worse things to be addicted to, she thinks, gambling for one, or heroin. At least her vice doesn’t harm anyone but her.
Nicola drove along the road shouting at the Today programme. Evan Davies was interviewing Michael Gove who was spouting his usual nonsense about education. There had been a lot of traffic that morning as it was raining heavily so cars had been crawling down roads she’d usually zip along. She steered the car sharply into a residential side street and congratulated herself on knowing a few sneaky shortcuts. An electronic beep interrupted her tirade about Gove being Cameron’s ventriloquist’s dummy and Nicola rummaged in her capacious handbag whilst trying to keep one eye on the road. She tapped the screen of her new Samsung Galaxy a few times and her eyes flicked between the text message and the road ahead. Bugger. Ali had cancelled on her again. How was she going to get fit if her gym buddy kept bailing? In frustration, she threw her phone back in the bag but missed and it slipped down the side of the passenger seat. Worried that it might have been damaged she felt around in the small gap, ignoring the fussy little voice in her head. She grasped the phone triumphantly and was just checking it was OK when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. A lad of about 8 wearing tell-tale white iPod headphones darted out between the parked cars without looking and Nicola didn’t have time to swerve, let alone stop in time. She hit him squarely and watched as he was propelled up the bonnet where his head hit the windscreen in front of her with a sickening thud, before he slid to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Nicola stalled the car and stared open-mouthed at the tracery of cracks in the glass with a smear of dark blood and matted hair at its centre.
The boy has lain in a coma for the last fourteen months, his parents and sister unable to move on with their lives. Convicted of dangerous driving, Nicola spent ten months in jail and lost her licence for a year which is irrelevant as she’ll never sit behind the wheel of a car again. She couldn’t continue working as a teacher, as no-one would employ her with a criminal record and anyway she couldn’t bear seeing all those kids day in, day out. In a bid to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, she moved to a different part of the country, away from all those who crossed the road to avoid her and huddled in whispered enclaves. She will never escape the events of that day and will carry the regret with her forever. With a blank expression, she draws a little smiley face in the condensation of her empty glass before wiping it away and pouring another drink.