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by Christopher P. Mooney

I ought to have done something about it sooner but, a typical mule-headed man, I had ignored the warnings. I had chosen the drink. And now the bill was due. My mouth was like a bastardised spigot. Blood poured forth from it; liquid at first, then great big globs that could be chewed on and stuck between the teeth.

The emergency dispatcher asked if I was dying. I said I didn’t know.

Almost three hours later, the paramedics arrived. Right away they knew me for what I was and treated me with the required contempt.

The sirens seemed distant, surreal; like the sound was being played under water. I held on tight. There was one other poor bastard in there with me. He looked at me and I looked at him. We were both wondering which one of us would make it.

That big bus cut through the traffic and the noise kept on, announcing my peril.


I must have blacked out because the next thing I remembered was being on a wheeled gurney in the hospital itself. Two orderlies in near-white coveralls picked me up and put me on a bed. It had a hard mattress and the sheets reeked of someone else’s stale piss. One of them stuck me in the arm and, not for the first time, the world went dark.

I was awoken by a scream, the like of which I had never heard before and have not heard again since. It was a scream of pure terror. Terror of what, I didn’t know. It lasted for a full two minutes; never diminishing in volume or intensity. It came from the mouth — scabbed, with swollen lips — of the old man in the bed across from mine. His whole body, and the bed, shook from the force of what proved to be his death rattle. He drew in one last breath. Then he was gone.


It was three days and nights before I saw a doctor.

“We can’t do anything for you, Mr Tootle,” he said. “You should have seen someone about this at least several years ago.”

He walked away, then turned back around. He looked at the floor when he said, “I’m sorry.”

He had the nurse give me a bag of pills and a long list of what I should and shouldn’t eat, what I should and shouldn’t drink. Strictly no booze was the only thing that registered.

Then I left.

I dumped the pills and the piece of paper with the lists on it in a garbage can just outside the hospital and hit the first bar I saw.

I ordered up a cold one and drank it down, then ordered up another.

“Keep ’em cold and keep ’em comin’,” I said, “’cause I sure don’t have long.”

Christopher P. Mooney was born and brought up in Glasgow and spent two years living in France. At various times in his life he has been a supermarket cashier, a shelf stacker, a barman, a cinema usher, a carpet-fitter’s labourer, a foreign-language assistant and a secondary-school teacher. He would rather be a writer. He writes poems and short stories and is working on his first novel. He currently lives in a small house near London, where he spends a lot of time at his desk, reading, writing and alternating between hot coffee, cold beer and red wine.