The Pursuit Of It

William James Somersby lay in bed one morning; the cold, muddled sheets bothered his loosened old skin, whilst the brightening morning sun threatened to intrude through the thin green curtain covering the window. The room smelt musty, the air thick with dirty laundry and damp dog. A bird twittered outside. Somersby half-opened one sleep-encrusted eye, peered towards the warm body of his confidante George Gordon (a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with long velvety brown ears) huddled at the foot of the narrow bed and asked, ‘Was that really ‘It’?’, before closing the half-opened eye forever more.

Some hours later, George Gordon woke and attempted to rouse his master with a series of affectionate nudges, first to the man’s bony shins, then upwards to his ribs and finally his stiffening face. Upon receiving no response, George Gordon pined for a short time before the gnawing in his belly got the better of him. He leapt from the bed, raced through the cluttered kitchenette and out the window left ajar for his comings and goings. He decided once and for all to move in with a family in the next street from whom he had been begging for food with increasing regularity over recent years.

Somersby, for the most part, had been an optimist. One of those creatures who weave through life, believing the best, or at least better, is yet to come. Born to a humble couple in a small village in the north of England, his alleged destiny was prophesied before his birth. His mother, foretold by a travelling woman who read the cards, that her then unborn son would be blessed with genius and the best fortune. Upon his arrival, this decree was hung about the new babe’s tender head like a noose. And he was a brilliant babe, enchanting with reflective, dark green, inquisitive eyes lined with dewy black lashes. As he grew, he became accustomed to all peering at him in wonder and adoration, already bowing down to the child’s foretold fortune. He peered at them all with forbearance through the hazelnut locks that waved around his cheeks in a similar fashion to the Spaniel he would befriend over half a century later. His intellect won him a scholarship at a notable boarding school in the south. There he was shaped and shined, the dreary dialect of his lineage beaten out of him, the burdens of privilege (that eluded him in stark contrast to his peers) beaten in.

Somersby was a likeable young fellow. His charitable position at school was known though tolerated as he was amiable and accepted the genius epithet with humility. He was understandably coy about his origins, quickly learning to deflect the focus of conversation away from himself and onto others. Mastery of this trick of feigned interest into his companions allowed them to believe Somersby was the most interesting and mysterious ally. This particular social skill above all others may have been what delivered him safely to old age

However, when the young Somersby returned to his parents for the holidays three times a year, he found his cramped, flakey painted home not his own nor anything that he wished to sully himself with. At the dinner table he found himself burning with annoyance and shame that his parents did not know how to dine properly, amidst their hearty knife-licking and absent-minded chatter through mouthfuls of soggy pie and lumpy mashed potatoes. He felt something akin to disgust, often muttering, “Oh for pity’s sake!”, at the walls and silently questioning whether he had truly been born of this primitive stock. Amongst his relatives and childhood friends, he found himself displaced. Whilst he was woefully aware he would never be accepted as one of the genteel boys of his school, he found he had risen too high for the Neanderthals he encountered in his village. He grew scornful of them and the unremarkable futures they appeared to have accepted for themselves. He cursed his meager beginnings and resolved to associate with only the best in order to rise up and grasp the destiny that had been decreed his before birth. He locked himself away in his bedroom, writing copious words, essays and random imaginings whilst he plotted for himself a grand future.

‘Audaces fortuna iuvat’, the motto under the crest on his donated school blazer reminded him, and so in his sixteenth year he began a correspondence with one of his mother’s cousins, a man whom she had never met, though had talked and read about often. In his youth, this distant uncle had sailed the seas of Atlas to the land of the free and there, where the constraints of birth and class were not as terminal as in the Old World, had created an illustrious business making photographic cameras with self-developing film. Somersby politely introduced himself to his uncle by mail, claimed he had been following his career for some years and hoped that one day he might become an apprentice or similar within the business. The boy had no intention of doing so, having earmarked for his future the loftier position of poet. However, he hoped that if the old uncle believed him to be worth educating, he might help fund a university degree. The first ten months of correspondence were one-sided, during which time Somersby had written a total of twenty-two letters to various departments and care of addresses within the company. Finally his mother received a letter from the uncle himself, attempting to verify the authenticity of the boy and his wishes. It was news in the Somersby household, and having raised such prominence, the boy had to divulge his university ambitions. His parents, abashed they had no way of realising the dreams of their only child themselves, agreed that requesting the uncle’s help would be prudent. Over further reciprocal correspondence and careful cajoling the uncle agreed to sponsor Somersby’s higher education. The only task left to the boy was to pass the entrance exam to his chosen college, which boasted an alumni of revered poets and literary masters. This he did effortlessly. He then took the summer months to write two booklets of poems and one epic saga in verse that would remain locked in the writing desk in his mother’s house for a number of years.

It was an auspicious start to his career. When he entered the university he made it his mission to seek out two advantageous groups, those who reigned the literary circles and those of considerable wealth, thereby fanning the flames of his creative energies, whilst also devising an insurance policy for a comfortable existence. School years had taught him the greatest difference between himself and his comrades was that, bar his distant uncle, he did not possess the luxury of an obviously valuable kinship.

At university he cut a remarkable figure. Athletics had streamlined his physique and he became a keen dieter, partly for economical reasons, but mostly to ensure his few clothes lasted and hung from his frame at their best. He soon discovered a love for rich fabrics and quaint garbs of dress that he had not had access to before. He was not shy to borrow choice items from friends – a silk patterned scarf, a velvet-lapelled jacket, a short tweed cape. He would then wear these items to death, taking special care of them to ensure their longevity. He cultivated a thin, pencil moustache, not fashionable at the time, though he felt it leant his face a more decadent air. Whenever he spoke, he leaned into his listener ever so slightly closer than comfortable, looking him or her – pity her – straight in the eyes. When others spoke he listened intently, appeared to devour their words, toying with them luxuriously in his handsome head before smiling enigmatically and offering sparse words in response: ‘Marvellous’, ‘What a triumph’, ‘How terrible that must have been for you’, ‘How fascinating. And then what happened?’ Whilst some initially mocked, Somersby displayed such nonchalance that soon his close circle began emulating his quirks. None could quite carry them off with the same aplomb however, they had been cast too firmly in their birth-given moulds. And there was an extra inimitable element to Somersby’s allure, the gnawing hunger for greatness blazed intensely through his dark green eyes. It was a condition his peers had no reason to ever possess; their youth and social position provided little reason to ever come into close contact with such fervour. Somersby’s college peers regarded him as an eccentric – exotic and compelling, thrilling to know. The promise of drama hung about him, invisibly though somehow noticeably, breaking up and scrambling random atoms whenever he entered a room. People’s postures changed, corners of eyes were refocused towards him, personalities suddenly became larger, overly eager to impress or at the least be noticed, either by Somersby himself or by those surrounding him.

And of course whilst Somersby devoted disciplined energy to his social life, he spent every other spare moment writing his poems. They received regular publication in the university magazine and some small literary journals. He became something of a local celebrity. When introduced to families of his peers, the mothers and sisters were quick to fawn over him, checking that he had the best seat at Sunday dinner and tittering over his stories or asking him to recite some of his latest work. Rumours of Somersby’s genius wafted in the air wherever he went and he discovered how much he enjoyed it. He found that his pre-birth prophesy had a life of its own and was snaking around his being, becoming entwined with every waking thought; there was diminishing distinction between ‘himself’ and the growing greatness of Somersby the boy genius. They were becoming one.

Somersby and his set became known in the college town as the local bards. They formed a little crew of over-dressed, under-slept, gregarious types; polite and affable up to a certain point in the evening, thereafter the last to be asked to leave the drinking dens and causing a ruckus around the town. They were young and their rakish behaviour created unsupportable whispers amongst polite folk. But they were such romanticists, it did not seem possible that dear young Somersby could be causing the trouble, he wrote such heart-searing words of love and beauty that most people go a lifetime without experiencing. Surely not Somersby. Perhaps some of the other boys, but not the chief bard himself. So the boys’ antics grew wilder. There was scandalous talk involving the housekeeping girls, a certain college master’s daughter, even one of the set’s widowed mothers. But this was all hearsay, none of it substantiated. But then there was the police caution. Followed by the incident of the opiates and the expulsion of two boys, which caused one of the student’s fathers to step down from his seat in the House of Lords. It was all rather embarrassing, but thankfully none of it touched Somersby directly, he didn’t seem to be the root of any dishonor and in fact the stories served to fan the heat of his appeal wider.

One afternoon during the days nearing his final examinations at university – graduation and the glorious freedom of summer dangling in sight – Somersby was called to the office of his tutor Professor Heddon. He had only recently woken in his room having spent the previous evening with a pretty girl who had a lovely figure and a long Grecian name that escaped him. His clothes smelt of tobacco and a sweet perfume, his skin smelt pinkish, he had yet to bathe. He sauntered into the tutor’s office and waited to be asked to sit before doing so. Heddon was a tall, frail, bespectacled gentleman with long bony fingers that crept back and forth along the shaft of a black pen with a gold rim on the pen cap. He stooped behind a large oak desk and peered at young Somersby through the slit of eye above his thick spectacles, his pale irises distorted and magnified through the lenses. He had a grave face and a grave tone when he began speaking slowly, explaining he had received a letter for the attention of Somersby. The genius bard found his heart racing uncomfortably as he wondered what slurs would be thrown against him. He couldn’t possibly have come this far to not graduate for simple bad behaviour. He would have to deny whatever was in that letter, he decided. Nothing was going to keep this prize from him. The professor cleared his throat and then read aloud the contents of the letter in a phlegmatic monotone. It was crudely written with terrible grammar and colloquialisms. Somersby flushed as he listened to the dictation, the poor quality of language heightened when uttered from the mouth of his ancient professor. It was written in the hand of one of Somersby’s former neighbours in the village. There had been a fire, a tragic accident. His family home was no more, both his parents had perished in the blaze. There were some small items that had been salvaged and had been included in a box with the letter. There would be no funeral, however a memorial service would be held the following week. Would the boy be able to attend? Professor Heddon stopped reading to look at Somersby, he took off his glasses and rubbed them with a beige handkerchief which had a black embroidered monogram in one corner. Somersby was staring at the shabby wooden box sat on the plush olive carpet by the desk. He had not noticed it before now and its shabbiness looked horrendous in contrast to the fine oak of the desk. He knew this was the box in question and felt ashamed that such a thing should sit on such a good carpet. This box was where he had come from. It was all that remained.

“Well, Somersby, shall I send word that you will attend the service?”, Professor Heddon asked again, his feeble voice sounded strange reverberating inside the sudden hollowness in Somersby’s head. He could hear the words and clearly see the old man sat in front of him, but he couldn’t associate himself with the news and its implications. The memorial date clashed with one of Somersby’s final exams. Professor Heddon began to say perhaps an arrangement could be made owing to the special circumstances, but Somersby shook his head, saying it would not be necessary, he would attend the examination. He asked to be excused, reached to take the shabby box from the floor and left the room. When safely back in the confines of his room he inspected the contents of the box: a small book of photographs, a biscuit tin with small toy figurines and worn out woollen baby shoes – his own. The letters from his uncle in America and scraps of rudimentary rhymes and riddles he had given his mother when he was a boy. His father’s rusty cigarette box and some hairgrips of his mother’s with tawdry rhinestone embellishments along the edges. He searched again to check but there were no manuscripts that he had written, his booklets of poems and his epic saga – the only real treasures that would have been worth keeping – they were not amongst the odd pieces. He removed the letters from his uncle, flipped through the little book to find just one photograph of himself with his parents that he did not find offensive and put these in his desk. The remaining things he threw back in the decrepit box and trekked to the kitchens to deposit it in the large refuse bins. He then went to visit a local public house where he had recently struck up an intimacy with one of the serving girls. He did not return to the college for two days.

When Somersby returned to university to complete his exams, he passed with honours. News of his orphan-status suddenly afforded him greater worth in the eyes of his friends’ mothers, and his uncle sent him a large sum of money as commiseration. When the college closed for the summer, the young man was taken into his friends’ different homes for months, each time reinventing himself a little more, becoming the Somersby genius he had been told he would become. He found that without any living existence of his past, he could finally be the person he had always dreamed of. And yet, the more distance he created between his new self and all traces of the boy he had once been, something else started crawling around with him. It was barely notceable at first, but it left a slightly ashy taste in his mouth whenever his memory attempted to revoke anything from his youth. As months went on, he started to feel awkward lodging in his friends’ homes. They had all taken him in so willingly at first, but he recurringly started to feel his presence was not entirely welcome. And so he moved on to the next friend, and then another. The friends all had various reasons for suggesting it might be time Somersby moved on; some were starting work in their father’s businesses, one or two were getting married; they were all just getting on with their lives, lives that had been mapped out for them.

And then there was the fact of his diminishing funds. Somersby had written to his uncle on a number of occasions asking for further assistance, but had received replies asking when he was planning on making the journey to take up a position in the camera business. Somersby greeted the idea with indignance, he knew he was meant for greater things than to take up some mercantile job on the other side of the world. He declined and realised his years of receiving alms from across the ocean had been spent. He found himself borrowing small funds from the friends he was staying with. At first they obliged their friend and then the reality of his situation began to sink in. Somersby, who had been so glamorous to have about, had no access to any means. He became aware of his plummeting stock and bitterly noted the meanness of his fair weather set, politely closing doors on him when he needed their help the most. It was over a year of uncomfortable ’moving on’s before Somersby realised he would have to seek paid employment.

Luck appeared to be on his side still as he was recommended for a position as a junior reporter at a London broadsheet. This job seemed somehow bearable as he would still be practising his craft and perhaps connecting with the right people. News of his genius however did not make it to his new colleagues, who spared little time for the many rookie writers. One of them however, helped him find accommodation, renting a room above a bakery in the centre of the city. Whilst it was far from the splendour he had grown accustomed to in recent years, his address meant he could allude to nearby townhouses and give people the impression that he was living a very fashionable bachelor’s life.

When he saw his old friends at parties in their beautiful homes, he appeared to be living an enviable life. Whilst his friends were becoming more serious as the years progressed, he effervesced with youthful opportunity and promise. He shared infamous scandals that the paper had decided not to print, what semi-celebrated characters he was constantly colliding with at various functions and he recited endearing lines from his forthcoming book of verse. The prettiest and simplest of women fell for it all. A surge of pride stirred within him when he noticed their eyes become slightly glassy, a familiar effect that he remembered fondly from his younger days. For several years, he courted numerous elligible young women, only up to the point where they insisted on either a more formal comitment or on seeing where he actually lived – whichever came first. Both events, he had resolved, were to be avoided at all costs.

There was one young woman he allowed to see the room above the baker’s shop, Elsie Dubois. She was the younger sister of one of his old university crew, a girl he only vaguely remembered from close to a decade earlier as being brown haired and covered in a thin layer of puppy fat. She had emerged from her adolescent shadow at a party, her pudginess had redistributed itself favourably around the most succulent,  gravity-defying parts of her body. Lightly floral-scented, dressed in a long black gown with a single string of pale pink pearls knotted in a loop, her dark waves of hair hung around a sweet face with dark green eyes, mirroring Somersby’s own, only rounder. Somersby immediately gravitated towards her and proceeded to court her for a number of months, taking liberties wherever he could. After some time she claimed she already knew where he lived because she had followed him home after work one evening. Miss Dubois was so fragrant and bright Somersby believed her and took her to his lodgings. It was far worse than she had expected but she vowed she loved the man regardless of his situation and would exchange her comfortable little life to join his in a heartbeat, if he would be so gallant as to ask her to. Somersby pondered this. Up to this point he had had no intention of settling down with any woman, but perhaps the time had now come, Elsie was a fantastic match, and apparently she loved him enough to live with him in what she must consider poverty. And actually if he married her, surely her family would help them and it could be the luckiest strike possible, he could stop working and fully commit himself to his poetry. Ah, it was ingenious. In a soft moment, Somersby plunged one knee to the ground and asked if Elsie would do him the honour of being his wife. She was elated, accepted and overly eager to express her passion and joy. Days later Somersby received a visit from Elsie’s brother advising to stop all contact in exchange for a significant sum of money. Somersby considered this new turn of events. Whilst it was not an enormous sum, it would easily finance a small print run of his book – an attempt to rewrite his old lost poems. He accepted the money, much to the disgust of his former friend who left the room above the baker’s shop with harsh words and a slammed door. Somersby seethed, “The wealthy are astoundingly two-faced in their morals; I’m an embarrassing thorn in the flesh if I refuse the agreement, and yet I’m a brute for politely accepting. This is insensible.”

Nonethelesss, Somersby cut off all ties without explaining why to a heartbroken Elsie and simply thanked his stars once more. He was convinced this new windfall was another sign he was blessed, and put his book of verse into production. He managed to orchestrate a glowing review in his own newspaper, but only one other paper mentioned it and not in such a kind light. He sold a few copies of the book to local shops, but many were returned and sat on the bare floorboards in pristine, unopened cardboard boxes pushed against the wall in his room.

Years and years seemed to crawl on for Somersby. His position at the newspaper improved slowly, which meant he could at least afford to move from the baker’s shop to a small flat in an old mansion block in West London. It was small and dirty and nothing worked very well, but he had one room to sleep and work in, with a kitchenette built off it and his own small bathroom. He survived on his modest annual salary and borrowed now and then from the few remaining, though interchangeable, friends and fancy women who still held some belief in his talents. Somersby was adept at creating tales of impending success for his audiences, these days merged with the hardships of a struggling artist. His audiences would often give him small amounts of money in support of his art and in sympathy for his impoverished state. They would then feel outraged to witness Somersby drinking away their handouts in the most exclusive champagne bars as if he were a lord. Somersby went through these friends and associates as he did his champagne. And he was changing. His poor diet had started ruddying his complexion, tiny capillaries appeared on his face and his nose had an increasing vibrance about it. There were creases about his eyes, made more noticeable by the small pouches underneath them, and slight hollows were taking residence in his cheeks. And there was a certain unpleasant smell of dissatisfaction creeping about him. He began looking upon the wealthy and seemingly successful as animals, bovine, abhorrent cretins who deserved to be leached and sucked dry.

And yet, he still wanted to be a part of it, that elusive glittering world he felt eternally on the periphery of. One year he became near-obsessed with another of his old friends from school who he not so accidentally knocked over in the theatre district. Somersby had heard rumours the old friend had chosen his wife from a gaggle of Hollywood girls, promising to bankroll her career. The couple were minor stars amidst the grey stone buildings of London and Somersby took great pains to be present wherever they might be. At first the seeming coincidence of his ever-presence was amusing, but then rapidly morphed into annoyance and later suspicion. Why was Somersby always hanging around and always by himself and always with such an air of stale, sweaty keenness? The sometime Hollywood wife quizzed her husband and the reacquaintance was severed quite dramatically one evening after a party at Claridge’s Hotel. It was possibly that very evening that a wretched cloud of misery moved into the flat in West London with Somersby and decided to stay.

None of Somersby’s old set had any interaction with him, all had moved on. Every so often he still managed to blow smoke in the eyes of young impressionables he met at parties, either through the newspaper or when he attempted to be seen at old evening haunts. Somersby relished in gloating about what he was working on and with which notable people he was rubbing shoulder pads with. Women over a certain age had stopped giving him audience, but to the young ones, after a heady cocktail or three, in a certain dim light that shaded his thinning, receding hairline and the jowls sloping down into his throat, Somersby still seemed reckless, toxic and fun.

But the years were not kind to Somersby, nor was he to himself. He could no longer hide his age, the wizening of his once beautiful face, the lack of meat on his bones, the pinched nose which had once been so perfectly shaped. His eyelids had started to droop over his eyes which had lost their deep reflection and seemed more washed out and not a little reptilian. And his keen intense stare that had served him so well in his rosy youth, now seemed to deposit a slimy residue on all he proffered it to. When he bestowed young women with overly flowering flatteries, they laughed nervously and tried not to dwell on thoughts of his thin wet lips kissing their powdery skin. When he boasted about his vague social connections and the heights of his artistic career, he was politely tolerated. People were civil and though they had never heard of him, his minor celebrated aquaintances or his failed book of verse, they guarded themselves from the heavy gloom that slithered before him wherever he went. His health started to fail, he wheezed when he spoke and he saw wretchedness in everything. He was released from his position at the paper two years before official retirement which seemed to quicken the onset of his demise. Up to that point he had always managed to convince at least one young fool to fund his excesses, but at last there was no one left. He had used up every last kind soul and had long lost the charm needed to attract more. It was around this time that he befriended the King Charles Cavalier in Green Park. Somersby went every other day for a walk and to reminiscence about his youth in the bars and resatuarants close by. The dog was there often, collarless and alone. One particularly grey day, Somersby sparked up a conversation, “Hello old boy, you’re a rather handsome fellow. You remind me of an old friend.” The dog yelped and brushed his small head against Somersby’s leg. It was the first physical contact the old man had had in some weeks. And that was that. Somersby invited the dog home, named him George Gordon after one of his heroes and occasionally fed the dog scraps from his scanty meals. It was not the grandest of affairs for the cavalier, but it was a better option than sleeping rough.

One day, when Somersby was ambling around the streets of Piccadilly, an older and more elegant Elsie Dubois nearly knocked him over whilst getting out of a cab. She apologised profusely, regarded Somersby’s haggard appearance and, after a moment’s thought, offered to take him for lunch. Ashamed but hungry and believing perhaps his fortunes may be turning once more, Somersby accepted. They were both surprised to find the experience pleasant as they recalled their time together half a lifetime ago. Somersby found it within himself to mumble apologies for the way he had ended their short engagement, but Elsie had moved on a long time ago. Her figure had filled out slightly from motherhood and age, but her face still had the same pretty radiance, her green eyes still shone with warmth and happiness. A flicker of a thought furrowed her brow – her life could have been very different had fate and family not stepped in to change its course. Graciously, Elsie accepted Somersby’s apology and started to order more food and wine for the table, hoping to somehow help this poor man she had once thought she loved. She talked evasively about her life since that time, not wanting to gloat too much in the face of his deprivation. Somersby however, sat back in his chair, his chest slightly puffed, glad to be pandered to once again and by such a well turned out woman. He looked around at the other lunch guests and hoped they thought he and Elsie were a married couple, it was once almost true. He smiled at her with an air of past ownership. Elsie suddenly bristled at this smile, and began talking about her three children and young grandchildren. She moved her hand to her face as she was talking, the clear white diamonds on her fingers flashed in the light. In that moment, Somersby stopped smiling as he stared at the largest diamond sat in the centre of her engagement ring. He would never have been able to buy her that ring. He was suddenly painfully aware of the difference between them and what might have been really never was. The resentment started to rear its head again and he silently scorned the rich woman sat in front of him. He began to eat lustily, more than he had done in a very long time – he deserved this meal, it was the least she could do for him. He said very little to Elsie but she continued to talk, mentioning her brother who had also retired and moved to the countryside. There was little access through Somersby’s hardened shell and he had irritated her; steeled by a two large glasses of Barolo and three quarters of the way through a heavy pudding, Elsie leaned forwards and said in a low voice, “The trouble with you, William, is that somewhere along the way, you lost your soul. You believed in the hype of yourself and so you lost it all. You let all the genius and talent you may once have had wither away to leave you being… mediocre. Do you know that? You’ve always been trying to catch something that just doesn’t exist.” Somersby’s drooping eyelids were closing and he had a peculiar grin on his face, he was reclining in his chair and his chin was jabbing into his bony chest.

“William, are you listening to me? Your real trouble is that you’ve always been too self-obsessed and proud. You always found fault in everyone around you but you never looked to yourself to see that the world was just reacting to you and your behaviour, heavens! As it does to all of us. That is our experience, we create our own worlds, we have to take responsibility for our lives. And you never really seemed to. It’s as if you think the world owes you a life, but you have to actually take some ownership of it. You do realise that don’t you? And I know deep down you hated all of us ‘damned filthy rich’ if I remember your words correctly… William?”

She looked at Somersby and a small bubble of saliva popped out one corner of his mouth. He was drunk and asleep. Repulsive. Vile man. Had she really loved him once? Nearly thrown away her life for this, this disgrace of a man? She called the waiter, paid the bill and left with a stiff back and crawling skin, relieved to have made such a swift escape twice in her life. As for Somersby, he came to and found three waiters struggling to help him into his weathered coat. Outraged at being so manhandled, he looked around for Elsie before realising she had gone, ‘Typical,’ he mumbled, ’Bloody inconsiderate old hag.” The waiters looked at him shocked that he should be referring to such a regal woman in such harsh terms. Somersby merely tightened his lips and stomped out the door.

As Somersby staggered outside into the afternoon sunlight, his heart heaved. He had heard parts of what Elsie had said, that he had lost something of his former self, but he wasn’t sure what and when this might have been. He pondered for a moment whether there was anyone left to ask, but knew there was no one. He had once been brilliant, that he was sure of, but now there was nothing. There was nothing to look forward to, his fortunes definitely were not turning, there was nothing but old age and more disappointment left. He remembered when in his prime, he thought he would die young and beautiful of an exotic disease after having published a great work. But he had never completed such work. It was a loathsome admission. As Somersby trudged home, he walked passed a corner shop, found himself walking in and handing over all the money in his pocket, which was just enough for two bottles of nondescript vodka. He heavily pulled himself up the stairs to his flat and then sat on the edge of his bed, surveying his small dirty, dusty room. George Gordon barked and came to rest by the relative warmth of his master’s threadbare besocked feet. Somersby opened one of the bottles and poured a long slug of throat-burning vodka into his mouth. He heaved but managed to swallow. He considered how much of the vodka he would have to drink to do himself any fatal damage. He took off his socks, clambered under the bedsheets and took another swig. George Gordon barked again at his master and paced a little around the floorboards in an invitation to engage. He barked again, but Somersby was already snoring, fast asleep.

Somersby woke once that night to visit the bathroom. As he walked back in a daze to the bedroom, he realised he was regrettably still alive and had not even succeeded in drinking himself to death. “Rotten luck, Somersby,” he told himself. At least George Gordon was his only witness and that sorry dog was the most faithful, non-judgemental, all-forgiving friend the man had ever had. Somersby was thankful for this saving grace. He climbed back into bed and slept soundly until early morning, when a bird outside started singing to welcome in a bright new day.

Copyright 2018 Joon Haque. All rights reserved.

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