‘So, who do you write like?’
‘Bukowski? You write like Bukowski? Ha!’
‘No, I drink like Bukowski.’
‘That’s why I’m here. So who do you write like?’
The doctor unzipped his black bag and raked around inside.
‘Why do I have to write like anyone? Why can’t I write like me?’
‘Everyone has influences. I aspire to attain the heights of some notable surgeons, in time.’
‘Hemingway? You write like Hemingway? Don’t kid yourself.’
‘No, I drink and fight like Hemingway.’
I coughed as the stethoscope was placed at various points around my back. I looked at the cigarettes on the table.
‘What about your poetry?’
‘Rimbaud? You …’
‘No, I drink like Rimbaud but I’m not French or gay.’
‘You’re going to die like Rimbaud.’
‘There is a heaven after all.’
‘No, seriously. The alcohol is killing you. You’ll have to stop.’
‘No going back.’
‘I can’t make you but as your doctor I’m telling you, you’re going to die, and soon if you don’t stop.’
‘If you don’t stop? Weeks, months. I can’t tell unless we open you up.’
‘You’ll stop? Really? Just like that?’
‘Do I have a choice?’
‘No, not unless you want to die. However, you still haven’t been published so it wouldn’t even be a very good career move.’
‘Well, I sold a story and one article.’
‘That’s good but you’ll have to do more and to do more you’ll have to stop killing yourself.’
‘Doc, take that bottle of grappa. It’s a good grappa and I don’t want it.’
‘Sure, I’ll take it. Thanks.’
‘Doc, there’s some good wine in the kitchen, take it, give it to your wife or your secretary.’
‘OK, thanks. Remember, there’s no going back. Falling off the wagon is not an option, you’ll die.’
‘No going back. Sure doc.’
He got his things together, wrote out an illegible prescription and told me to get my ass down the pharmacy. I passed him a bag with the bottles as we stepped out and I shaded my eyes from the low winter sun. He clanked his way to his car. I pulled a couple of envelopes from the mailbox.
‘No going back,’ he reminded me as his car coughed blue exhaust smoke into the cold air.
Back in the kitchen I tore open the post. My head swam from the hangover. For once it wasn’t a bill. It was the agency, they’d found a publisher, a real publisher who wanted to publish me. Me.
I opened the cupboard under the sink, reached behind the bin and pulled out a bottle.
‘No going back,’ I said, to no-one in particular as I toasted myself.