Tomorrow. By Martin Friel.
Andy sat down heavily at the table and sighed. He took a half-hearted sip of the lager and placed it back on the table; the heartburn kicked in immediately. It had been a rough couple of days and he was paying for it now, but it had been worth it, as it always was. His nostrils felt as though they had been stripped clean; he heard a faint but distinct wheeze in his chest every time he breathed in; his guts were in turmoil.
It had started two days before, on Friday night nightclub, after party usual stuff. Saturday had brought the football and the curer that inevitably turned into another full-on drunk nightclub, after party etc. and now it was Sunday, at last alone. Time to come down and ease his way back into the harsh reality that Monday always brought. It was 12pm, a quick pint at the local before he turned in to rest, to repair the damage that his body had endured.
He picked up a newspaper from the table next to him. He flicked through the sports pages but his eyes refused to focus properly. It was just a blur of lines; he tried to close one eye to help with the focus but it was no use. The coke and the pills were still in his system somewhere, gradually working their way out. He dropped the paper back where he found it and looked around.
No music, no atmosphere. Just a broken, disinterested barman and a couple of old drunks dotted around. He was about to go back to his pint when he noticed a guy who must have been in his fifties at the far end of the room, sitting under the dartboard. He looked familiar. He couldnt place him but he was strongly familiar. He concentrated hard on him, trying to force his mind to click back into gear and get the memory working again. This lasted for a good minute and just as he was about to look away, the old man looked up and caught him staring: What the fuck are you looking at? he shouted across the room. His voice shattered the dusty silence but no-one looked up. They all seemed engrossed in their own loneliness and misery, all holding the same mid-distance stare, oblivious to their surroundings. The barman stirred slightly, but only just.
Andy hesitated. His deterioration over the weekend had left him exposed and uncertain. Nothing, sorry. I just thought you looked familiar. Must have been thinking of somebody else, he finally replied.
He felt his guts churn as he saw the guy rise slowly and walk towards him. Fuck, he thought. Now Im going to have this old bastard twittering away in my ear.
The guy shuffled towards him, looking a bit unsteady on his feet. More than just drunk. He looked like he had put his skinny frame through some punishment over the years. There was no meat on the bones, his eyes were hollow shells and his clothes hung off him. A pathetic specimen, but not an unfamiliar sight around these parts.
As he got closer, Andy started to straighten up in his seat ready to fend off the impending conversation. As the stranger reached his table he looked Andy straight in the eye:
Of course you know me ya wee dafty, he said in a shallow, rasping voice.
Eh? Andy replied. Naw, naw. It was a mistake. I thought you were someone else. Sorry. I didnt mean any harm.
Are you no listening? the old guy replied. I said, of course you know me.
Listen, I mistook you for someone else. I was wrong. I dont know you, you dont know me. Look, Im sorry. Let me get you a drink, offered Andy.
The old guy ignored him and sat himself down at the table. The smell of stale fags and whisky washed around Andy as he did so. Stale sweat too. This was all he needed. A comedown is bad enough without some old drunk talking shite to you.
Look at me, instructed the drunk.
Andy tried to ignore him.
Look at me, he demanded, physically turning Andys head towards him with a cold, clammy hand.
Andy resisted but the man was surprisingly strong; his grip was final, unrelenting.
What the fuck do you want, shouted Andy. The barman twitched slightly in the distance; the rest remained disconnected.
I told you. Look at me, said the old guy.
Andy relented and looked him in the eye, at first under duress, but after a few seconds he became mesmerised. He felt dizzy. The pills were still working their way through; faint flashes of yellow appeared in front of his eyes. He did know this man. Finally, gradually, he realised who he looked like. He looked like.. himself.
He was his doppelganger, albeit a good fifty years older, but definitely the older double of himself.
Jesus, spluttered Andy as he pulled away. Who the fuck are you?
Who do you think I am? the drunk sneered.
How the fuck should I know? Andy replied. You look like me. Fuck sake, you are the double of me! Older, but the double.
Theres your answer, the guy sighed.
What? What are you talking about? Look, just piss off. Heres a fiver. Get yourself a couple of drinks and leave me in peace, Andy pleaded through a front of bravado.
Cant do that boy. Youre here for a reason. You were meant to meet me. Look at the nick of you. Youre a fucking mess! Cant be any older than 23 and you look like a bag of shit, he mocked.
Give us a break. Ive had a long weekend, know what I mean? Andy said.
Of course I know what you mean. Ive been there. You think I always looked like this? He looked down and gestured to himself; cheap, stained suit hanging off him, short at the sleeves, nicotine stained hands, stubble like wire wool.
Whats your point old boy? Weve established I look like shit but guess what? I look a site fucking better than you do!
Really? the old boy asked. Thats the fucking point ya jumped up wee shite. Can you no see the link? Use your fucking head man.
Right, thats it. Fuck off. I dont care who you are or what you want, just piss off and leave me alone.
You dont care who I am? You should you know. Take a good fucking look boy. It might be all fun and games just now. No lasting damage, just a bit of fun eh? Wrong ya wee prick. Look at me, he said with increasing aggression.
Look at me, the old guy insisted. Andy ignored him. Fucking look at me! the old boy screamed. The barman stirred in the distance.
Andy turned reluctantly. He was getting ready to twat the old bastard.
Look at me carefully. The old guys eyes were looking watery. Look at me closely. Look at what I have become. I am you. You are me. We are one in the same.
At that Andy got up, brushing the guy aside.
Youre fucking mental. Ive had enough. Barman, Andy called. You want to keep an eye on this old bastard. Hes mental.
The barman looked up and studied the guy who was still muttering, I am you, you are me, over and over like some demented mantra.
Never seen him before, said the barman. Fuck all to do with me. He went back to his paper.
As Andy turned to leave, the old guy made a desperate lunge for his coat.
Dont you understand? I am you. You are me. Look at me! Youre destroying me. I dont want to be like this anymore. Stop it. Just stop it. This is not what I wanted to be like, neither do you, but it happened. Its not too late. Change. Save us both. We are one in the same. This isnt just about you. This is about both of us! he screamed.
Andy pulled away and watched as the pathetic figure dropped to the floor, arms raised, hands open as if in exaltation desperation oozing out of him.
Andy barged through the door and out into the harsh sunlight
He jogged down the street towards his house. He looked over his shoulder a couple of times but there was no sign of the guy. When he got back to the house, he headed straight for the living room and slumped down on the sofa.
Fucking hell, he thought. Need to get my act together, need to sort myself out. Thats fucked up.
He told himself it was just that he was in the grip of a comedown but the guy had freaked him out nonetheless. He went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. He looked pale. His eyes were sunken and his cheeks were drawn. He thought back to the pub and the guys face. He felt a shudder run through his skinny frame. That guy was the double of him. The fucking double! Just older. The state he was in, Andy looked a good few years older too.
I am you. You are me. The guys words kept running through his mind. His head started to spin again; the drugs having a last kick before they disappeared. His jaw was tight. He felt weak, like his insides had been stripped of any kind of nutrient, any hint of health. His mind started working overtime as he stared, transfixed, into the mirror. Was that old guy really him? Had he had some kind of insight into his future? Fuck off, he said out loud to his reflection. Get a grip man, its just the drugs.
Still the words kept echoing in his mind. I am you. You are me. I am you. You are me. I am you. You are me. I am you
Andy ran through to the living room and threw himself down on the sofa. He felt like he was finally losing his mind. The guys image haunted his thoughts; the mantra repeated itself.
He felt in his pocket and found the remnants of last nights gear wrapped carefully in a piece of cellophane. He looked down at it and the old guys last words came back to him We are one in the same.
Jesus that guy was a pathetic excuse of a man, he thought. Would he really end up like him? Was that old drunk really the future embodiment of himself? He thought about it for a bit, staring at the coke in his hand. It was possible. Stranger things had happened to people. Had they? He was sure they had. Alien abductions; ghost sightings; time slips. They were all reported with some frequency. Surely some of them really were true. Perhaps he had experienced a time slip into the future. Maybe that guy in the pub was an insight into his own sorry future.
He thought about it for a bit. Looked at the coke. Thought about it again.
Right thats it, he said out loud. Im wrapping it with this shite!
He got up to go to the kitchen to dump the gear. Maybe it was just the comedown. But it could have been a warning. Maybe he had really met his future self an old, useless, friendless hollowed-out shell of a man. He hesitated as he held the coke over the bin. He grew more and more convinced that he had had some kind of vision, some kind of visitation.
His hand hovered over the bin, hesitating.
It would be a shame to waste it, he thought. Fuck it. Ill just horse this and that will be it.
He walked back into the living room and sat at the table. He emptied the content of the wrap onto the tabletop and started to chop it with his bankcard. He deftly made two lines and sent one shooting up each nostril. He sat back on the couch as he felt the rush hit. Thats it, he thought. Thats the last. He was fully aware now and was relaxed with the idea that the man in the pub had been sent as a warning; he had met his future self. He was going to change. No way was he going to end up like that old bastard. No way. He had plans he was going to be somebody. Just as soon as he figured out what that was. But he had the potential. Of that he was sure.
As the coke started to make its familiar journey through his body, he went to the fridge to get a beer. As he sat back down on the couch, he took a big swig from the can, clearing the back of his throat of the coke residue.
Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow Ill stop. Tomorrow Ill stop being that guy.
With that, he took three large gulps of the lager and settled down to building a nightcap joint.
No point wasting it. Might as well have a final fling. Tomorrow Ill stop. Tomorrow.
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