So, where do people who are drinking alone, drink alone? Do they go to the club? Or the bar? Who knows, and Alex certainly didn’t, but he wasn’t going to let that ruin his night. He had his newest jacket on, and his newest trainers and his cleanest jeans – these jeans weren’t crisp clean, but they were tidy enough to be worn. He came down the stairs of his parents’ house and opened the door and was straight away hit by the wind that was growling outdoors. This wasn’t going to stop him. Not today.

He walked down the street, the street that had become his new home. It was what you would call a ‘new estate’, his parents had moved there when Alex had moved out 4 years back. They clearly wanted to save the good stuff for themselves, so they stayed in the family home for 24 years, waiting for him to leave. This new place – bigger, warmer, cleaner – was a step up in the world and Alex, secretly, quite like living there. The street was your classic, English middle-class street. All bends and curves, houses and garages each side, no pavement to speak of but driveways that fit 3 cars – the standard middle-class amount of cars.

The streetlights were moving in the night and the reflection on the floor swayed and bobbed, as if Alex was in the club already. The cold of the evening made him walk quicker, faster, to the beat of the music in his headphones.

The decision had been made by Alex to go to a bar called The Lighthouse, his new beacon of alcoholic hope within the current shitstorm of both his life and the outdoors. It was a 20 minute walk or a two-minute drive. Alex didn’t fancy the “did you see the game today?” and “this weather is dreadful, isn’t it” from a taxidriver who would no doubt end up asking what Alex’s situation was. A conversation that would go something like this:


“Hi mate, where to?”

“The Lighthouse bar down the road, please”

“Ah yeah, no problem. Can do. So, had a good day? I don’t suppose you saw the game? Damn, the Reds really blew it didn’t they?”

“Na, I didn’t see that particular game. (or any game, for that matter, Alex would think) Erm, yeah, my day’s been alright thanks, how about you?”

“Yeah, just been on the job most of the day. So, that your house? Lovely house, that, mate”

“Erm, no, that’s my parent’s house. My house is, erm…”

“Go on son, spit it out, your house is..?”

“It was set on fire this week”

“Jesus, I bet you lost everything. I would hate to have lost everything, mate”

“No, yeah, I bet. Can we stop this conversation please, kind of trying to avoid it all really”

“Alright son, I was only asking.”


As you can see, getting a taxi wasn’t ideal (as that conversation would happen, verbatim), so walking it was. Alex thought about his life on the walk, where to go from here and what to do. He was currently homeless and hadn’t got much by the way of prospects. Although he wasn’t poor, he was barely well off. He didn’t have enough money to buy a house, but couldn’t stay with his parents much longer. The house he was previously in – the one with the fire – was rented so he was essentially homeless. The insurance covered his possessions so he could get a little bit of money back, but he was essentially starting his life again. His parents had said to him that “you’ll be better for the experience, Al” which, even though that’s kind of what they’ve got to say, is massively unhelpful and a little bit cliche. As though there’s a benefit from his situation. His parents had just made him mad and he hadn’t even seen them today.

By the time Alex had chance to calm down, he was at the bar. If there’s one bonus from having a mini-breakdown in your mind, it’s that it really passes the time on a walk. So things were beginning to look up. Alex passed a bouncer as he walked into the bar who looked at him like he knew he was drinking alone. The joke is on you, Alex though, because you’re working alone, and that’s worse. Alex knew that was a terrible burn, even if it was merely in his head. Good job he didn’t say all of his thoughts out loud, because life would be much less funny and his ego would probably be much more deflated than it already was. Tonight wasn’t a night for laughter, though. It was a night to forget things. All things.

Moving through the crowd that seemed to be forming near the door, Alex directed himself towards the bar right away. There was a queue, but it wasn’t too bad. The thought that he didn’t have to buy a round for anyone else but himself made him happier than it probably should have done. And although the music was loud (wasn’t it always?) he was enjoying the vibe: stinky vodka Redbull with a hint of sticky floor. Nothing screamed ‘English high-street bar’ like these two attractive features. It helped him know he was on a night out. A stinky, sticky night out. Excellent.

From the look of things, Alex was next to be served. This made him happy, and he decided that tonight was a gin and orange juice night. Was this what Snoop Dogg was rapping about on the track Gin and Juice? Ordering drinks for yourself in a stank-filled English bar? Probably not, but still.

As the barman was about to head towards Alex, he got a tap on the shoulder. If this was the bouncer and he had somehow read his mind from earlier, that would be just rotten luck, he thought. And well in line with how this week had panned out. The only known man with telekinetic powers spotted in Ormskirk, Lancashire, after smashing young loner’s head in. That would be classic.

Alex turned around and flinched, automatically. It was a girl. It was a girl. Who the hell was this girl?

“Erm, hello? Do I know you?”

“No. Do you wanna buy me a drink?”



Alex had no clue what to feel, this was new territory for him. Sure, he had been dumped, binned off, ghosted and just plain rejected before. Ah, plain rejection. What a sweet, sweet feeling that would be. The clean cut of plain rejection. Lovely. This was rejection, but a different kind. It wasn’t plain. It was full of gross additions. And these weren’t additions that could be taken with a pinch of salt. These were additions Alex was allergic to. Nothing was plain. Nothing was simple. This rejection was full of shit.

The wind whistled and blew and caught the open window of Alex’s living room which slammed shut, scaring Alex half to death. “Fuck off”, he said, as the wind and the window caught his attention and he spun round to take a look at what had shuck him from his rather depressing daydream. It was only at the sound of the window closing that made him realise that day had now turned to night. A plain transition, light to dark. Nothing like Sarah’s decision to leave him for another man. No, cut that out, he told himself. Stop running in circles.

The clock was ticking and tocking and passing time when Alex realised that it was 7.35pm, he hadn’t eaten a bite. He was hungry, he was thirsty but he also had absolutely zero appetite for food. His mind wandered. What did he have appetite for?

There was nothing good in the fridge, he thought. Nothing like pasta or chocolate éclairs or leftover enchiladas, nothing that he really, truly wanted to eat. What did he have appetite for?

There was no cordial in the cupboard of fizzy pop in his room, so there was nothing he wanted to drink. What did he have appetite for?




This word drink caught his wayward attention. He had prodded and probed at his thoughts, his brain, like it was a piñata until SMASH, it fell open when he dug out the word ‘drink’. And what was to fall out but ideas of getting pissed, getting fucked up. Ideas beyond his station, really. Alex wasn’t a drinker. He wasn’t an anything-er, really. But then that’s how all of this started, being a nothing-er. Plodding along in a job, doing nothing, trampling through life, doing fuck all. Waiting, wondering, daydreaming every day. Daydreaming his life, his relationship and his aspirations away. It’s as Sarah said:

“We’re sitting around, drinking gin and watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine reruns.”

Well, he wasn’t going to sit around anymore. Well, not tonight anyway. Alex had made his decisions. This Thursday night, he was going out on the town; Drink, kebab, taxi home, the lot. Fuck you Sarah, thought Alex. I can go out and I can be a normal, functioning young person with the best of them. Just you wait and see. Now, who else was out?

Fast forward 30 minutes and Alex soon realised he was alone in this plan to ruin his Friday morning because his only other friends, the friends he has that weren’t Bill, were working tomorrow. Like real adults. They were adults, with houses that hadn’t set fire, and hadn’t been given leave from work and weren’t totally fucked. Well, more fool them. He wasn’t going to let this stop his fun. Alex was going out alone. A night on the town, on his own. Let the good times roll.


Alex was frozen by fear. Not the type of fear that scares you on the spot, the fear that you shake from, the fear that becomes a memory after the next conversation or the next meal or the next thing to break the spell of fear. This is a dull, long-term fear. Something that continues through the night on to the morning, then the night and then the morning once more. It’s like a steam train travelling across a continent without any warmth and little direction. This train, old, slow and full of uncertainty, is rickety and lacks basic safety. It’s a lonely train, one that stops only after weeks of travel. And Alex has only just boarded this train.

You would think that the stark perspective of death that has been dealt to Bill and passed on to Alex would carry weight amongst the current problems of Sarah running off with another person, but it hasn’t really. Did Alex love Sarah? Well, he didn’t know. But this doesn’t feel too nice yet the phone call had only taken place a few minutes earlier. A burn will hurt worst right after the scald. Maybe this achy pain will go away soon too? Yeah, maybe. Maybe it will! Alex got excited but was soon dragged back to his heavy body by his realistic mind: maybe it won’t get better. Yeah. Maybe it just won’t. Alex once more felt excellently underwhelmed by his subconscious’ ability turn into his consciousness, then to ground him. And what an ability this was. Damn.

Whilst he sat there, thinking of the future, the sky outside was beginning to fall greyer. A wind was picking up. It sounded like a storm was brewing. Was this to be the final disappointment of the week? After all that has come before, was Alex – alone, in his parent’s home – about to be blown away. Picked up and dragged from the ground, just like that guys house from the film ‘Up’. Yet, this wasn’t going to be through choice, to transport Alex to a tropical paradise underneath red balloons. No, this was a vicious, short-tempered wind that would swoop him up because, as we all know, things come in threes and as Sunday night approached, fate was running out of time to shit on his biscuits once more.


“Hi Alex, have you got a minute?”

If there’s a group of words that can make up both a conversation and huge anxiety in equal measure it’s these words. Short of “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed”, these words run around your mind like a wild animal – aggravated and confused – as the most worrying type of sentence ever to be uttered by a boyfriend, girlfriend, family member or just-friend. What could this mean? Well, let’s take a look:

1.       Someone’s dead. When people need a minute, someone is always dead. Why is someone always dead? And why only a minute? Someone being dead is always going to take longer than a minute. Is that all they were worth, just a minute? Either that or the person requesting a minute is very poor at time-keeping. Someone dead is always going to take longer than a minute.

2.       Someone’s done something extremely terrible. They may not be dead, but they might have killed someone. That’s usually the scale of “have you got a minute?” news. Again: not worthy of merely a minute. If you’ve killed someone, you need a minute, not me.

3.       I’m leaving you. It’s an “I’m leaving you, really sorry!” classic move, the old “have you got a minute?” Leaving me, are you? Well I’m going to make sure this takes longer than a fucking minute. I’m taking 7 minutes max. 6 minutes of crying and 1 minute of “fine, get to fuck, I never liked you anyway”. Yeah, take that, you.

4.       There isn’t a fourth point. There’s never a fourth, more positive point. Hold on to your hat.

“Hey, Sarah. Erm, yeah sure. Go ahead.”

SMOOTH MOVE ALEX, PLAY IT COOL. You’re supressing this anxiety exceptionally well. 10 points to Gryffindor.

“I’m not really sure how to say this. It’s a bit of a tough one.”

There’s an impressively small amount of time between the sentence above and the sentence below. We’re talking split seconds.

“I mean, you could always just blurt it out, I’m beginning to get worried.”

Alex, what happened?! You were playing it so cool 10 seconds ago, then you blew it.

“This is hard, Alex! I really like you, Al. But, you know.”

“No, I don’t know, why don’t you explain it, because this isn’t cool.”

Operation Smooth Dude has fully fallen through. Operation Smooth Dude is an old, rickety bridge that was due to fall any second, then a storm came along and blew it right down the river. Alex and his cool persona are washed up in the stormy river. Things have escalated.

“OK, well. Here goes: there’s someone else. I’m leaving you, Alex. I mean, we were never together, but I’m leaving whatever the hell this was. Sorry.”

There’s a silence for about 12 seconds. You know, the type of silence that really feels like someone has hung up the phone, whilst both callers really, genuinely think the other has hung up until someone has to say:

“Are you still there, Alex?”

“Yes, I’m still here. I’m not sure what you want me to say. Why? Why’s this happening?”

“There’s too much gone on. Too much going on! And we’re going nowhere. We’re sitting around, drinking gin and watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine reruns. We’re one more duvet day away from literally turning into Charlie’s family before him and Grandpa go to the chocolate factory.”

Sarah’s trying to be funny. There’s a time for pop culture, Sarah, but now isn’t that time. Put the pop culture down Sarah, and step away. Leave Charlie where he belongs.

“I thought. We were having fun. We…”

“Yeah, we were. But now I’m not and I’ve got someone else. It’s…different.”

“We can do more. I can do more, if that’s what you want. Let’s go out. Yeah! Let’s go out. Today. We’ll go, I dunno, to the zoo?”

The zoo, although an excellent place to go, is a terrible place to take a vegan on a date.

“Alex that’s my nightmare, I’m a vegan! What a terrible place to take a vegan on a date!”

Told you.

“OK, well somewhere else, somewhere…”

“Listen, it’s over. I’m sorry but I really need to go now. We’re going around in circles. Keep yourself well, Alex. I’ll see you around.”

And then, without the chance to reply, Sarah was gone. Alex loved Sarah, but Sarah didn’t love Alex. She didn’t love the zoo and she didn’t love Alex. She put down the phone with a total knock out. Alex was dazed. He was out for the count. What a terrible phone call to add to a terrible few weeks. Surely nothing further could go wrong. Alex looked at his phone.

It did not ring.

Well, thank god for that.

The shit-storm in a shot glass that was Alex’s life had taken a drastic and horrific turn. The storm had finished but the wreckage was all over the village. Alex had washed up, alone and far from home. The phone call and the fire. What a week.


The days that followed Bill waking up were interesting. For reasons involving drugs and probing, Bill was very, very moody. His short fuse only made worse by the fact that recovery was a tiring and mainly boring process. He had smoke still sculling around in his lungs but through this near-death experience Bill had a new fire in his eyes that meant all he wanted to do was get out in the world, to see things and feel things and create memories. The first memory he wanted to recreate was a decent cup of tea, something that clearly wasn’t a strong point of the talented NHS staff. Saving a life is a daily routine, but they’ve unfortunately not managed to master putting a tea bag in a cup before the milk, not after, he thought. Nice to see Bill was excellent in his new found perspective.

Visitation times in the hospital were between 1.30pm and 7.30pm each day, which meant that anything after this period seemed ample time for Alex to get time alone with Sarah. Now that Bill hadn’t, well, died, it seemed like the next thing on the agenda could be their previous attempt at a romance of sorts. This was what Alex thought at least, and it was to his dismay that it wasn’t at the top of Sarah’s wish list right now. The thought of “but your brother survived a giant house fire so maybe we should see this as a chance to live life to the full!” stayed as just that – a thought – and even though that’s how Alex felt, it’s probably one of the least romantic and poorly constructed forms of emotional blackmail of modern times. One of the best pieces of advice never given was choose your times of emotional game playing wisely. That approach was rightly left in a box at the back of Alex’s mind.

Since the fire at the house, Alex had spent his days living with his parents. He had been given a generous amount of leave from his boss at work – “feel free to take as much time as you need, although having you back a week Friday would be suitably ideal..” – but it was the mammoth task of completing admin and phone calls coupled with realising the next two things that made things very hard work:


1 – The financial term ‘life savings’ is one that doesn’t stretch across the whole of your life if you do indeed need them for something as important as buying your entire life again.

2 – Losing everything is really, really crap.


Alex’s day was just the above two thoughts over and over again every time he turned on his parents TV, every time he looked at his phone and every time he opened his eyes. One day the commercial for Jurassic World flashed up on tele. After his interest had peaked, he realised that there was literally no point in buying it because he didn’t technically own a TV, DVD player or anywhere to really watch it. This, Alex thought, must be what it’s like to have been a young adult during times of hardship and war. What, with no technology or options but with the ‘house has been on fire’ situation included there for equal measure. Being an orphan to a private disaster was clearly taking its toll on Alex, and even he wasn’t sure how long it would take for things to even hint at normality. This situation was Alex at peak amateur dramatics. No girlfriend, no house and no real prospects, things were really looking grim for Alex. Things could only get better, surely? And then the phone rang. The caller was Sarah.

“Hi Alex, have you got a minute?”

Great: ominous and polite. That’s usually a cocktail for dropping a massive bombshell.


The morning entered the room, the sun forceful on tired eyes. It was a Saturday but there was to be no sleeping in today. There was to be no hanging on to the covers and the quilts and the sheets. The hangover that took hold of Alex was more to do with a lack of sleep and a lack of cordial than it was to do with booze. The fire and the emotion had dehydrated his throat and caught on to his mind much worse than any amount of gin and tonic might do. Although, I’m sure Alex would have liked to test out that theory. Not today. Not any day soon. The centre of attention was Bill, and there need be no other thoughts today.
Bill was, luckily, breathing. The doctors had told Alex and Sarah that there was still danger – very real, very daunting danger – that Bill could “take a wrong turn” in the next 24 hours – a euphemism that was as appreciated as it was blatant, given the time of the morning and the state of mind the pair found themselves in.
“What the fuck happened last night?” said Alex, as though the answer might change from what was about to be spoken and from what actually happened.
“There was a big fucking fire, pal. Bill’s nearly dead and we slept on the floor.” said Sarah.

“OK. I thought so. What a mess.” said Alex. “How..?”
Sarah turned and looked, the change in direction of her stare spoke for her.

“OK, I’m just asking. Was he alone?”
The questions were getting silly now, and Alex knew it. But there was little else to say and besides, his house was burnt toast and he could do with some answers. Even if the answer was:
“I haven’t got a clue, and we mightn’t know for a while.”
Great. Alex had woken tired and grumpy and, yeah, OK, it’s really selfish to be grumpy when you’re in the best position out of three people who are in a really chaotic position, but there’s no rule book entitled Reacting To Having Every Last Thing You Care About (Human Included!) Becoming Fire Vol 1. Answers were needed here, Sarah. And we’ve got time to waste as of right now and the only person who has the answers for sure isn’t conscious.
And then there were coughs.
“Bill!” – a chorus of reaction beamed from the faces of the only two people who weren’t in hospital beds in the corridor. The sensible part of Alex hadn’t quite forgotten about wanting answers from the night before, but the emotional part of his brain had told that particular train of thought to “fuck off” for a few hours, because his best friend was alive and coughing. Sweet, painful, disgusting and beautiful coughing. Bill was, for now, with us.
The nurses of the ward heard the commotion and quickly rushed in the put cold water on the excitement, telling Bill he needed to lay back and keep calm. As though he hadn’t just survived an actual, literal fireball. Nurses and their practicality.
“How do you feel?” said Sarah, already sounding more awake, more alive in herself with every last breath Bill gave to the room.
“Not well. My chest hurts” said Bill, which is probably the best reaction anyone could have hoped for this side of death.
“That will be the smoke” – Alex’s words were sincere but always, always came across as sarcastic. As though it was never worth saying anything valid because it always had the opposite effect, like he was too clever for the basic words he speaks to genuinely be that stupid.
The room stood still for what felt like another night on the floor, until Alex started crying. “I thought you were fucking dead, you prick.” this was not a joke, and inconsistent with his usual sarcastic tones, this was very real, very true and very much a moment that stuck in the air, twisted and still. There was a huge relief around the bed, and whilst tears did flow, they were a lovely mix of happy and sad, furious and so, so overwhelmed.
“I’m as glad to be alive as you are for me, mate” assessed Bill, who seemed unusually chirpy for being half-baked inside. Like this was a joke, a prank, a TV stunt show. Yet I suppose breathing good, clean air will do that to you; make sure chirpy. I suppose being alive will do that to you. And what a time to be alive it was.

Untitled: Part Three

Alex walked across the road and looked at his house. His house was a hot mess and his life was about to unfold into a flaming disaster. It was only Friday yet the unravelling of that night had lasted a lifetime. What is next? Surely there can be nothing else. His items; his lovely, expensive, cheap, old and new items had been ejected from life because of a fire. What do you do when your lovely, expensive, cheap, old and new items become fire? That’s a reality Alex is currently facing.

Alex got in the taxi that was sat waiting for him at the end of the road. The driver wound down his windows and with an appropriately long glance towards the hive of activity behind him, tore through his words. “What the fuck has happened there?” As though living through it wasn’t enough, Alex was supposed to annotate the disaster to passers-by and nosey night people.

“Over there? That used to be a house but now it’s a space that caught fire and ruined my life and possibly killed my best friend” – that will teach you to be fucking nosey thought Alex. Get back in your box and drive me away from here.

The taxi driver clearly regretted the whole journey because he never spoke another word until he reached the hospital. The only words he said then were “don’t worry, you can have this one on me” which, as far as conventional pity goes, was actually fairly handy because Alex only had a £20 note and the journey was £4.93 and the change would have weighed heavier than his current existence in his pocket.

The walk through to reception at St Mary’s Hospital felt an effort. How could a three second walk be taking so long? The night was beginning to catch up on his body, not just his mind and time was becoming an elastic band stretched back to breaking point.

“My friend, he is here.”

“I’m going to need more than that. Sorry” spoke to receptionist, with pointed truth.

“His name is Bill. Bill Stevens. He is here. He’s probably in a bad way.”

The nurse stood behind the receptionist looked up and spoke gently:

“OK, go down the corridor and take a left, then see the nurse in that reception area.”

And just like that, the elastic time sprung right out of its tight tension into the face of Alex. Into his smoky, tired face. The time-lapse that was is now being played outright and the floor is running away from him in record time.

The closer to reception Alex got, the more he realised that life was about to change in real time, and the human consequences of the massive, dancing flame was about to come about. Alex – scared, smoky Alex – was about to open his mouth and ask for directions to his friend when across the room he saw Sarah, Bill’s sister and Alex’s most recent phone call. Involuntarily, Alex stopped moving. He was feet away from his best friend who could, possibly, be dying, and his best friend’s sister who he loved and was dying to hold. Alarm bells were ringing in his head and Sarah must have heard because she swung around urgently. Her elastic, too, had been released from its coil.

“How is he?” said Alex.

“He’s inhaled some smoke. He’s inhaled quite a lot of smoke.”

“Might he die?” was Alex’s reply.

“He might. But he has a chance” said Sarah.

The pair were still across the room from each other and clearly both felt it to be weird because after snapping free from the conversation, Alex approached Sarah. There was a still vibe to the room, one that held more history and weight than was on show. Now wasn’t the time for romance.

“What now?”

“We’ve got to wait and see. He’s being taken care of by a man whose name I don’t remember” whispered Sarah. Maybe that would have been a bit funny if the situation wasn’t grimly depressing.

Yet that is what the night had become. Sarah and Alex were supposed to have gone out. Drinks were ready to be drunk and life was supposed to change for them. For them, for the better. Not like this. Not for them. Not for Bill. Sarah took Alex’s breath away, but it was the fire that took Bill’s away and now all they could do was be together and hope for the best. Hope for a new best.