by Gavin Boyter
There are only so many ways you can reorder your record collection, Adam Harper realized. Once you’ve tried alphabetical, rainbow patterned, random, chronological, then painstakingly rearranged your vinyl by genre, that’s pretty much it. Harper would need another distraction strategy when the cravings came, as they inevitably would.
He had been abstinent for four months, unemployed for two and single for three weeks. Only the first of those abandonments provided relief.
Covid-19 had rendered him jobless, once the government furlough scheme came ended and his employer, a publisher of sheet music, “restructured its workforce”.
Joanna had tried to stick with Adam through these life transitions – kicking the booze and experiencing the joys of Universal Credit and shopping at discount stores. But she loved her Cabernets and Martinis just a little bit more than she loved Adam. And adhering to any sort of compromise between his abject poverty and her barrister’s salary proved unworkable. Adam was too proud to let her pay for everything and Joanna didn’t see why her social life had to be brutally curtailed. In the end, their differences in temperament became more and more apparent. They split with fragile good graces. Neither had wanted kids; there were no third parties to consider – separation was painful, without proving catastrophic.
Three weeks into his renewed bachelorhood, Adam was battling the urge to drink almost daily. With so little else going on in his life, it was proving difficult not to give in to the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol. Instead, he took his anti-depressants, went for long runs and began reading the pile of books on his bedside table. When he found his mind racing and refusing to settle, like a butterfly unable to decide which weed to settle upon, he would rummage through old cardboard boxes containing the detritus of his past.
Old gig tickets, comics he drew in his teens, bad poems written for girls and discarded and disassembled stamp collections. Occasionally something seemingly inconsequential would ambush him with associated memories, such as a dried-up piece of orange peel that he was given by an ex-girlfriend (in the form of an actual orange), the day she left him. So many leave-takings.
Here were a couple of marbles Adam had won in a game with a schoolfriend when he was about eight years old; here was a photo of Adam and his sister, with faces painted as sad clowns; here was a photo of his parents, impossibly youthful, taken from their courting days – how had that slipped in there? At Adam’s age, his parents had two teenage children. Adam had rootlessness and regret.
Ah – there it was – an inevitable discovery his subconscious must have known he would make. The miniature whisky bottle from his friend Tom’s wedding. Bunnahabhain – nearly twenty years old now. Could he? He really ought not to and yet he wanted so much to savour that crisp peaty, burning sharpness on his tongue. Adam lifted the bottle out of the box and headed to the kitchen, where he found a small, stubby glass. He dropped the miniature, unopened, in the glass and rolled it around, contemplating all that he might lose if he were to crack open the seal. With an effort of will, he managed to put the glass down on the counter and return to the box of memories. He’d pour the whisky down the sink later.
Back amongst the relics, Adam found a small Ziplock bag containing a half-dozen old coins. Nothing too ancient – the earliest an 1868 penny, rubbed almost down into a smooth disc but still recognisably bearing the head of Queen Victoria. Actually, some of these coins, although almost black with dirt, looked in rather good condition. There was a threepenny bit too, a twelve-sided brass coin he was sure the millennials who lived in the flat next door would not believe had ever existed. A quick Google search revealed some of these coins selling on Ebay for up to four hundred pounds! He might have a couple of thousand quid’s worth here, provided he could clean them up.
Back in the kitchen he opened the fridge to find that he was out of HP sauce, a classic coin cleaning agent. Needless to say, he had no vinegar either. He could pop to the corner shop for a bottle of Coca Cola but that would necessitate wearing more than his bathrobe and would result in his possessing the makings of a whiskey and coke, and that could never end well. There was only one safe and fitting solution. Adam poured the coins into the glass, unscrewed the cap of the Bunnahabhain and hesitated. Just a sniff to remind himself, perhaps a sip?
He poured the amber restorative over the old coins, drew up a chair and for the next half hour Adam watched the whisky eat away at the grime of ages. It was both heavily symbolic and resonant with a kind of irony as the alcohol returned something aged to the condition of its immaculate youth. There was no way he was going to swig back the turgid contents of the glass once the coins within were renewed. Adam could only guess how many fingers those pennies and halfpennies had passed through. Merchants, mothers, urchins, gamblers, gentlemen, ladies of the night… all had touched these pieces of alloy, now gleaming perfectly amongst a grimy suspension.
Adam poured the whisky down the sink and rinsed the coins off with soapy water, drying them with the a hand towel. They looked beautiful – pristine and near-perfect. He wasn’t sure now whether he’d sell them. Perhaps the two threepenny bits would make interesting cufflinks, should he ever need cufflinks again.
More importantly, he had faced down the venomous enemy and he had not been bitten. Pocketing one of the pennies for good luck, Adam decided to drop in on the Monday night AA meeting in his local church. It would be nice to have some good news to relay for once.
* * *
Gavin is a Scottish writer and filmmaker living in London. He has published two travel memoirs about running ludicrously long distance, Downhll from Here and Running the Orient. The latter, published in August 2020, charts his 2300 mile run from Paris to Istanbul, following the 1883 route of the Orient Express. Gavin’s stories have recently been accepted for publication by Constellation, Blueing the Blade, The Closed Eye Open and The Abstact Elephant. He is also writer-director of the 2015 independent film Sparks and Embers.