Copyright Oggbashan December 2020

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.

I had been celebrating New Year with my friends at a city centre public house. I had drunk excessively and the night air had affected me so much that I was weaving drunkenly down the road to my city centre basement flat. My friends, who lived in a suburb, had been collected by a long-suffering father with his MPV.

Two years ago, on New Year's Eve, I had been hit by a drunk driver even though I was on the pavement. Fortunately for me, the impact had been at slow speed but it took weeks for the bruises to fade and almost the whole of January had been painful.

Last year, even though I was wearing a hi-vis jacket with reflective stripes, I had to jump out of the way of another drunk driver. This year I was wearing a head band with a bright light at front and a flashing red light behind. Around my upper body I had a string of battery-operated fairy lights. I hoped the lights would protect me for the couple of hundred yards I had to walk.

But apart from the passing police cars with their blues flashing, and ambulances, all the other drivers seemed as drunk as ever. They were weaving all over the roads, going much faster than the 20 mph limit, and a menace. I stayed as close to shop fronts as I could. It didn't help that the night was foggy with that sort of fine wetting rain that doesn't seem much but soaks everything.

I had about fifty yards to go when I spotted another walker ahead of me. I thought it might be female. It was slight and wearing an ankle-length black padded coat with the hood up. It, or she, was weaving even more than I was. We were on a one-way street walking in the direction that would traffic would take, but the pavements were very narrow.

Suddenly the person tripped over a kerb and fell into the road and stayed there unmoving. The body was in the shadow of a bus shelter and almost invisible. Despite the risk to myself, because I was lit up like a Christmas tree, I stepped into the middle of the road. Any vehicle coming must surely see me and stop even if they couldn't see the person on the ground.

I staggered towards the body. The person was groaning but making no attempt to get up. I picked her up, now I could see it was a her, and slung her across my shoulder in a fireman's lift. She wasn't heavy but my balance was impaired. I made it to my basement flat, grateful that a previous occupant had installed a ramp so it could be accessed by wheelchair. I staggered into my living room and put the woman down on my settee. She was still moaning but not really aware of her surroundings. She had a black handbag slung across her body. I opened it to see if I could find out who she was.

There was an envelope immediately obvious. It had been opened. I pulled out the contents to find a receipted bill for a small credit card amount. But it took me a few seconds to register that the address was familiar. It was my sister's house. The addressee was a Miss Anita Jones at my sister's house.

My sister and her two friends, Carol and Susan, had been buying the house near the university for the past five years since they started at university. It had been slightly cheaper than renting because the three women's parents had provided a significant deposit. They had all graduated and were working locally but they had been renting two bedrooms to university students. Presumably, Anita was a current tenant.

When I had gone out this evening I had emptied my pockets except for my house keys and cash. My mobile phone was on charge. There had been several recent street muggings and New Year's Eve would be a likely time for more so I had taken the minimum. Even if I had had my mobile phone with me, I wouldn't have rung for an ambulance for Anita. They would have been very busy and the ER department would have been full of aggressive drunks.

I tried to arouse Anita but she was too far gone. I brought a plastic bucket and moved a coffee table close to the settee. On the table I put a plastic jar of water and a disposable plastic glass with two aspirin tablets in their foil wrap.

I went into the kitchen, picked up my mobile and rang my sister Janis.

"What do you want at this time of night, George?" She asked.

I could tell she had been drinking. Her words were nearly as slurred as mine. She and her fellow householders had planned a quiet women-only New Year's party.

"Have you got a tenant called Anita?" I asked. I had to repeat myself. My voice was so indistinct.

"Yes, George, why?"

"I found her lying in the road near my flat, Janis. She is even drunker than me so I brought her home."

"Oh shit! She's supposed to be with her boyfriend tonight. There was no one else around?"

"No. She was alone, lying in the roadway."

"I can't do anything. Neither can the others. We've all drunk too much to drive."

"So have I..."

"I can tell, George."

"I won't be able to drive probably all day tomorrow, Janis. I suppose, if she recovers, I could call a taxi in the morning."

"But until then, you'll look after Anita? And not take any liberties?"

"Janis! You should know your brother better than that! I don't assault unconscious women, or even women who are unable to consent."

"Sorry, George. I'm worried. Why was Anita on her own, and that drunk? She should have been with her boyfriend and safe, not lying in a road."

"I know. I can't get any answers out of her. She is just about conscious some of the time, but couldn't tell me anything."

"How about a hospital?"

"I'd rather not. I think she's just drunk and you know what the hospital will be like tonight. I'm in no state to defend her or even to look after myself in a crowded ER facility full of drunks."

"I think you are probably right. That's why we were having a quiet party at home. Please look after her and ring me tomorrow morning -- not early. We'll all be suffering tomorrow morning."

"So will I, Janis, but possibly not as bad as Anita. There's not much of her and she's drunk far too much."

"OK, George. Please look after Anita. She's not just our tenant. She's our friend."

"Will do, Janis, as far as I am able to when I'm this drunk. I'll make myself some black coffee even if I think I'm too far gone for that to have much effect."

"Thank you, George, for Anita. Hear from you tomorrow."

Janis rang off. I started making the coffee and went to check on Anita. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully. I brought a few blankets from the bedroom and covered her. I would have liked to take her coat off her but it seemed to have stopped the rain penetrating, so I left it. Apart from disturbing Anita, I wasn't sure I had the manual dexterity to ease her out of the coat. Even making the coffee was at the limit of my abilities.

I hung up my wet coat in the hall. I went back into the sitting room and sat in an armchair facing Anita. I sipped the coffee before wrapping myself in another blanket and settling down for the night.

+++

Something woke me up about four am. It took me a few minutes to become aware of where I was. I could see blue lights even through the curtains. I peered out. A car had crashed into the bus shelter, demolishing it. There was an ambulance and several police cars. Vaguely I thought, if I was capable of thought, that if Anita had still been in the road she would have been killed. I shut the curtains again.

Anita was stirring and mumbling something. I went across and knelt down beside her.

"What is it?" I asked.

It took Anita three attempts before I understood she needed the toilet. I helped her up and into the bathroom. I heaved her long coat out of the way before lowering her jeans and panties. I had to wipe her. Her hands were useless. I tried to dress her again. While I was propping her up she adjusted her panties.

"You're not very good at putting panties back on," she slurred.

"I haven't had much practice -- except at taking them off," I retorted. I could hear that my speech was nearly as slurred as hers.

"Come on, Anita," I said, "back to the settee."

"You know who I am?" Anita asked.

"Yes, Anita."

"But who are you? And why am I here with you?"

"Anita, I am George, Janis' brother..."

"My landlady Janis?"

"Yes, Anita. She knows you are here."

"But where's here? And why?"

"Here is my home near the city centre Anita. As for why? You were lying unconscious in the road and could have been run over at any time. I picked you up and brought you here."

I took me considerable effort to say that much. Anita shook her head as if she couldn't absorb what I had said.

"Like some coffee?" I asked.

Anita shook her head and winced.

"Not yet. Water, perhaps?"

"By the settee."

I almost had to carry Anita back to the settee. She took a couple of minutes to take her coat off. I went and hung it in the hall. When I returned Anita was sitting up and sipping some water. She was wearing a tight sparkly top that emphasised her assets. Under that big coat I hadn't appreciated how attractive Anita is. Anita took the two aspirins.

"Thank you, George," she said, "But please can you say again how I got here, and where here is?"

"OK, Anita. I will say it slowly."

I told her my address and that I had found her lying in the roadway near my flat. I had picked her up and brought her in because she was in no state to be left alone. Apart from being at risk of being run over, any passing man might have taken advantage.

"But you didn't George?"

"Of course not. You were in no state to consent and anyway I was too drunk to do anything except perhaps stay upright..."

"You're drunk too?"

"Not quite as much as you, Anita, but yes."

"But why was I in your road? It doesn't go anywhere that I wanted to go."

"I don't know, Anita. All I know is that you were in my road and that you fell over, drunk."

"My head is spinning too much to take anything in, George. Can I stay?"

"Of course, Anita. We can sort out what to do next in the morning. You're safe here. Janis knows you are here."

"Thank you, George."

Anita settled herself down and pulled the blankets around her. I went back to sleep in the armchair.

+++

About nine am I woke up needing the toilet. I splashed cold water on my face and went into the kitchen to make coffee. I also made myself some porridge. My mouth felt like a dustbin and my head was still spinning. I sat at the kitchen table and took very small mouthfuls of porridge, washing them down with coffee.

Anita came into the kitchen. She looked as bad as I felt. She declined any food but grabbed a cup of coffee as if it was a lifesaver. After the second cup she looked at me.

"George? You are George, aren't you? I seem to remember that much."

"Yes, Anita. I think I am George, even if I am not convinced that I should be alive. I feel awful."

"You too? I want to forget last night but I remember you said something about picking me up from the road?"

"Yes, Anita. You were unconscious in the roadway, almost invisible in the shadow of the bus shelter and wearing your black coat no one might have seen you. Later last night some idiot drunk driver demolished the bus shelter. If you had still been there, you would be dead."

Anita shivered.

"OK, you are George and I think I'm still Anita, but I'm not sure. How do I know a George?"

"You don't. What I told you last night was that I am Janis' brother and that she knows you're with me. But why Anita was in the road outside my flat? That I don't know. Do you?"

"I'm beginning to remember. I was running away..."

"Running? You were weaving, staggering but running? No."

"OK, But I was getting away, anywhere away from my boyfriend, or now my former boyfriend, Alan."

"What happened that made him former?"

"Last night Alan and I were with a group of friends in the nightclub. I was Alan's designated driver so I was drinking orange juice. At least I thought I was. What I didn't know at first until I started to feel woozy, was that Alan and his friends had been buying me orange juices with a double vodka in each and whenever I wasn't looking, they had been topping up my drink with neat vodka. I was drunk before I knew it. I'm not very big and a few vodkas make me drunk quickly."

"I'm not surprised. When I picked you up last night I was amazed at how light you were."

"And that means my alcohol capacity is limited. Two double vodkas and I'm well over the drink-drive limit, or even perhaps one double would be enough. But when I realised what they had done I had drunk eight or ten doubles. I was very angry. If I had driven? I would have been a drunk driver, might have crashed and killed Alan and myself or possibly other people as well. Even if I had been stopped by the police I would have lost my licence and therefore my part-time job as well. But Alan and his friends thought it was funny."

"They were stupid idiots. That could have been dangerous. Even without the driving they gave you so much alcohol you could have been seriously ill."

"I know. I feel dreadful. But I'm alive, thanks to you, George. I can understand some of Alan's friends thinking when they were already drunk, that it would be a joke to get me drunk, but Alan? He was my boyfriend. He should have been protecting me, not egging the others on which he had been. I shouted at him, threw his car keys at him so hard that they cut his face, and stormed out. Once I was out in the night air, the alcohol really hit me. All I wanted was to get away. If there had been a taxi I might have taken it, but there weren't any. I just wanted to get as far away from Alan and his friends as possible."

"And then staggered and collapsed in my road, Anita."

"And was picked up, literally, by my hero George. Thank you."

"Hero? No. It didn't take much to pick you up and bring you in. I was thinking: 'what if this had been my sister?'. I would have hoped someone would look after her when she couldn't look after herself and I know there are too many assholes around who might take advantage, even if only by stealing your handbag. But far worse could have happened. It didn't even if we both have hangovers."

"We have. I think I might be able to manage some porridge now, George."

"You're sure?"

"No. But I should try, please."

It took Anita a long time to eat her porridge. We had sweetened tea with it because we thought we had already drunk enough coffee. By lunchtime, both of us were feeling more like ourselves if delicate.

"One thing I can't understand. Anita. Why were you still at Janis' house? The university is on vacation."

"It is. But my parents had decided to go on a Christmas and New Year cruise in the Mediterranean and I thought I could spend the holidays seeing Alan. Until last night? I was happy with him. After last night? I don't want to see him ever again."

"I'm not surprised. He risked your life."

"And if I hadn't noticed that I was drunk and tried to drive? Perhaps his life as well -- stupid bugger!"

"OK, Anita, but what do you want to do now? You can stay as long as you want, or we could get you back to Janis' house. I couldn't drive you. I'm still over the limit. So are Janis and her friends. But we could get a taxi."

"It's ten miles. I don't think I could go that far in a taxi without being sick."

"OK. How about this? You stay here until tomorrow. I should be able to drive then. In the second bedroom there are a chest of drawers and a wardrobe with women's clothes. I think Janis' clothes might fit you except that the jeans would be too long."

"You're sure?"

"Why not? Janis and her friends often stay with me if they've been to a theatre or a night out. That's why they have left some of their clothes here. I've got a new, unused toothbrush in the bathroom cabinet. You could shower and change and spend the night. How would that be, Anita?"

"That sounds great, if it's not too much of an imposition, George?"

"No. My sister's friend is my friend too, and that's what you are, Anita."

"But I can't repay you, George. Apart from feeling like death warmed up, I'm feeling wary of all men after last night."

"I'm not surprised, Anita. But as far as I am concerned you are my sister's friend and I will treat you just like I would treat her- as a pleasant companion and nothing else."

Anita stood up, came beside my chair, and ruffled my hair.

"George, you are great. But you are right. We should remain as friends. I'm hurting and I need time to reassess my relationships. Janis and the others are friends, and now so are you. They are people I trust -- unlike that asshole Alan. I thought I could but..."

"Not everyone is like that, Anita." I said.

"I know. You're not. But, now I'd like to shower and change. I feel mucky and used."

We went into the second bedroom and Anita chose some clothes. In the bathroom, I produced the new toothbrush from a pile of cheap ones. When Janis and friends come they use a new toothbrush which gets thrown away afterwards. From a pound shop they are a pound for five, so not expensive.

Half an hour later Anita walked into the kitchen where I was preparing vegetables for the evening meal. She was wearing one of Janis' tops which looked a bit loose on Anita and a denim skirt, midi-length on Janis that was ankle-length on Anita.

"That is better, George. I almost feel human again; a delicate human, but a functioning one."

"You look better too. " I said.

"How about I take over the meal preparation so you can have a shower too?"

"Sounds good, Anita. Thank you."

+++

Twenty minutes later I walked back into the kitchen. I felt almost human, having shed the clothes I had slept in last night. Anita was talking on her mobile phone. I realised she was talking to Janis.

"Hang on a second, Janis. George is back."

Anita put the phone down on the table.

"George, I had forgotten, but today my sister is coming to take me out for a restaurant meal tonight. She rang Janis before getting on the train. She hadn't been able to find a hotel room. They're all full, so she had rung Janis to see whether she could stay there."

"Your sister is taking you out for a restaurant meal tonight? In the town centre?"

Anita nodded.

"Then it would be far more sensible if she stayed here, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, George, it would. I hoped you would say that."

Anita picked up the phone again.

"Yes, Janis, Moira's going to stay with George. Thank you."

Anita ended the call.

"You sister's name is Moira? Moira Jones?"

Anita giggled. I didn't understand why.

"No, George. She's my half-sister. Her father was killed when in the Army and my mother remarried. Moira is Moira Smith. For years friends have called us 'Smith and Jones'.

"Moira Smith? And she knows Janis?"

"You're getting warm, George." Anita was smiling broadly at me.

"And she stayed with Janis when she was at university?"

Anita nodded.

"And for a time was your girlfriend, George. I hope it won't be awkward to meet her again."

"No, Anita, it won't be. We parted as friends because we were going to be so far apart and at the time neither of us could afford to travel. I had just started buying this flat and I was broke. Moira was starting a new job on a trainee's pay. Now? I'm financially stable."

"And so is Moira, George. She's an office supervisor and she told me she'll be promoted in the New Year. She has a car but she thought it was a long way to drive, so she's coming by train. I'll meet her at the station."

"We'll meet her at the station, Anita. You might not know your way back here."

+++

Moira's train was due to arrive at eleven-thirty. Anita had texted her to say she would meet Moira at the station. She hadn't mentioned me, or that Moira would be staying in my flat tonight.
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Pub: Dec 29 2020 11:31 UTC
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