Some years ago, too many years ago, I was arguing with my then partner over breakfast. I no longer remember exactly what prompted it or where it went from there. I had arrived somehow in my thirties - a good way past the stain of the big "3-0" - without hitting the panic button, and I couldn't summon the energy to do much more than grunt.
We were sat at the table - me in my boxer shorts, she in my boxer shorts too - and the grey light shone like a beacon through our tenement window. The table was big and round, dressed with some kind of cloth to protect the faux teak, and for all our squabbling the setting was fairly civilized.
"Listen," she might have said, "you are turning into some kind of old fart."
"Well," I retorted, "You can gripe all you want. If I don't wash the dishes and occasionally drag the hoover around we would be up to our knees in shit."
Perhaps she had returned back from a night out with her friends to find me darning a hole in my jacket pocket. That might have torn it. That, or the fact I was content to do my drinking at home.
The last gasp of punk rock. Mending holes. Needlepoint.
The words were washing over me when I noticed a lump on my thigh. I prodded the raised flesh, immediately fearing the worst, moving back in my seat to shed a little light on it.
"Sure," I said. "Uh-huh. Whatever you say, dear."
Actually. Bar the music burbling from the stereo, we more or less fell back into the not quite truce of silence. Each with our separate ashtray, a carcinogenic his and hers.
Well. I poked at my leg until I was all but certain it was merely a boil. I dug my fingers under it and bore down until I felt something give.
It did not so much erupt as ignite like an indoor firework. As fascinating to behold as these inocuous little brown pills which, when lit, keep going until they leap up out the box and hang like ripe intestines. As big in diameter as a plug of toothpaste.
"Dear Christ!" I exclaimed. "Just look at that thing!"
My partner got up and left the table with a dignified little snort of contempt. I did not give a fig. I felt only a peculiar sense of liberation. As if the accumulation of a decade or so of bad karma was being exorcised inch by inch. Drained out of me by invisible shamans. Operating at ceiling height, somewhere in the cornicing.
Chemicals, certainly, but more than that. Arrows. Slings. Toxic mutterings from an industrial zone in deep space.
The minute it was done, I jumped up and danced into the bathroom to splash what passed for iodine over the evacuated area. Oh, I was light headed; cleansed. And only the tiniest of indentations. Not even the trace of a scar.
Our cat, Biff - a gentle old tom who could be found most nights under the tables of the free house three doors down - lay grooming himself on the floor as I bathed the wound. Owlish, alert, but quite disinterested.
Of course. By two or three o'clock that same afternoon, I was back to pouring all that bad shit in, I did not hesitate or waver. What started out, quite benignly as some kind of karmic zit, quickly mutated into something more entrenched.
Subcutaneous. Learning to conceal itself, slyly burrowing deeper.
What did you expect ? A happy ending ?