The city seemed as desolate as his heart; the only sign of life was the black dog that had been following him since the incident in the park. He lifted the bottle of vodka to his lips, letting the last of it cascade down his gullet, to mingle with the ball of hatred in his gut. He looked at the empty bottle and snarled, then launched it overhand across the churning chocolate water of the Themes. It splashed down and vanished.
"Bitch," he slurred, as he looked down at the water. The bitch in question was, of course, Missy. A stupid name, for a stupid girl he thought, rummaging in his soaked jeans for his phone.
Still no messages.
He and Missy had been going out since he'd started studying sculpture at The Heatherley School of Fine Art, well a month after he'd started really. That was nearly a whole year of going out! Except the summer; he hadn't seen her during the summer, but they had been texting all the time, and skyping! Nearly a whole year! Tonight, he’d turned up at her flat, like he did most Tuesdays, and she dumped him, right there on the doorstep, didn't even ask him in.
He stalked away from her as she slammed the door. What the hell had just happened? He couldn’t really remember the next few minutes, he must have been in shock but by happy chance he found himself on the steps of a pub. A drink was exactly what he needed. Right the way through his first pint of Heineken, he was convinced she would charge in and fall into his arms. By the time his second pint of Heineken was empty, rage filled texts were flying. He called her every name under the sun, and a few more besides. His third pint of Heineken did something to dampen the flames of anger, which triggered the begging. He called her a couple of times, pleading to be taken back. Alright, he called her eleven times, before she stopped picking up. Since then, he’d sunk into a bottomless pit of despair, fuelled by several more pints of Heineken, and a natural bent for the over dramatic.
After leaving the pub with a half bottle of vodka in his pocket, he decided a Kebab might make him feel better. After all, he didn’t have to look after his figure any more, did he? He ordered at the first grease-soaked chipper he could find, then plonked himself on a bench in the World's End Estate. He took half-hearted bites, crying in between bouts of uncontrolled rage. He eventually flung the half-eaten Kebab away and a little black terrier raced out of nowhere to devour the stick mess.
He stood unsteadily and shuffled off but the little dog trailed behind him, clearly hoping for some more treats. Since then, he and his furry shadow had wandered the streets, drinking the vodka and mumbling gems of drunken wisdom. That was how he ended up on Battersea Bridge in the middle of the night with nobody but a stray dog for company.
He grabbed hold of a lamp-post and hauled himself onto the balustrade. He stared down into the swirling water and wondered what Missy would do if she happened to come along right now. Have a heart attack, probably. Her stupidity could have killed the love of her life; now that was something she deserved to know. Holding on to the lamp with his left hand, he speed-dialled her with his right. He held it to his ear and listened to it ring twice before he was rejected and a cold female voice that said.
The person you are trying to call may be out of coverage, or have their mobile powered off.
"BITCH!" he roared at the phone. In the same instant, a crash of metal and a symphony of little dog yelps made him jump. He nearly slipped off the edge and threw both arms around the lamp post. In the process, he dropped his phone into the boiling mass of water. Laid out on the foot path was a mangled bicycle, its wheel still spinning, and an old man. Peter could hear the little dog crying as it vanished into the distance.
"Ah you flaming hooligan! You tried to kill me!" cried the old geezer, as he tried to push the bike off himself.
"Not bloody likely, if anything, you nearly killed me," slurred Peter, still hanging on to the lamp.
“If screaming at the top of your lungs, at innocent cyclist, is not thuggery; I don't know what is. And, you're pissed!"
"I’m not!" said Peter, trying to sound sober.
"Yes, you are. Why else would you be up there?"
"None of your business."
"I’m not a Hooligan."
"If you're not, get the hell down from there and help me up."
"Oh…right…yes," he said, realising that he was still holding on to the lamp. He dropped onto the bridge and took the old man’s arm. He pulled but the old guy screamed and stiffened in agony.
"What now?" he said, dropping the arm. After a bit of facial yoga, the man gasped. "It's my back. It's gone out."
"How do you know?" he asked.
"God, you’re an idiot," snarled the old man.
"What should I do?" he asked, reaching toward the man.
"DON'T BLEEDEN TOUCH ME!"
"Alright, alright," said Peter, backing away. "Should I call an ambulance?" he asked, then realised his phone was somewhere near the Channel Islands by now.
"NO! No. It's happened before. I just need to lie here for a bit. Move the bike, will you?"
He took the bike in his hands but in his drunken state he nearly fell on top of the old man.
"Careful, yea piss head!"
"I'm not a piss head! I wish you'd stop calling me names," he said, eventually untangling the bike from the old man's legs.
"Look, whatever your name is, get my phone from my pocket. I need to tell my misses what's happened."
Peter patted the man's pockets and found the phone. He searched the contacts until he found one labelled, 'Home'. He pressed the green button and held it out.
"I can't move my arms, dumbass"
"My name is Peter, not dumb ass, piss head or hooligan."
"Peter!" the man said, with barely controlled rage, "hold the phone so I can talk to her."
Peter sat on the ground and held the phone to the old man's ear, while it rang in some far-off place. Eventually, Peter heard a tiny woman's voice say, "Hello?"
"Dotty, it’s me," which was followed by silence from the man, and a lot of angry squeaking. Peter watched the guy’s face go red; he was clearly being given an ear bashing by his missus.
"No, I am not still in the Legion. I was on the way home when an idiot knocked me off my bike."
"Peter," he slurred, causing the old man to scowl at him.
"No, I'm not alright! My back is flaming out again!" roared the old man into the phone, which was followed by a long silence, and lots more tiny angry lady sounds from the phone.
"Sorry Dear," said the old man quietly, followed by another long pause.
"Yes, sorry Dear," he said again, even sorrier, if that was possible.
"Battersea Bridge. Yes, yes, I will," another pause, followed by a final "Sorry. Bye."
Peter ended the call and smiled smugly at the old man before saying, "It seems I'm not the only piss head on this bridge tonight."
"Rubbish, I only had the one."
Peter pulled up his sleeve and looked at his watch, "Till half past four in the morning?"
"I'm a slow drinker."
"Tell it to your missus," said Peter with a knowing smile, pushing the man's phone back into his pocket. The old man tried to sit up but his back spasmed and he eased himself back onto the pavement.
"Is she coming to get you?" asked Peter.
"Yea, in a bit," growled the man, his mood not improving in the slightest. "Don't let me keep you, I think you were about to jump into the river."
"No, I was not," said Peter, but he still went a little pink in the cheeks.
"Listen, chum. I know a jumper when I see one, and you were a jumper."
"Look, I told you I wasn't going to jump into the bloody river."
"Lost your bottle? Knew you were a wuss," sneered the man.
Now it was Peter's turn to get angry, "I'll have you know, if I had been going to jump, I most certainly would have!"
"Keep your wig on, dingbat," said the old man, smiling for the first time. "Well if weren't jumping, what were you doing up there?"
"I was calling my girlfriend, actually."
"Why would I lie?"
"Why would you be screaming 'Bitch' at your girlfriend?"
"That's personal," replied Peter, sulkily.
The old man gave a stern look and said, "If she had any sense, she'd send you packing, talking to a woman like that?"
"She dumped me, if you must know. How long will your missus be?" said Peter, not liking that the man had seen the core of his misery.
"Ah! Good girl herself, I like her already."
"You're not very nice, do you know that?" said Peter, taken aback at how caustic this crumpled little man was being.
"At my age, I'm allowed to be a bit grumpy, and that's before some teenage headbanger knocks me off my bike," said the old man, very satisfied with himself.
"If you keep calling me names, I'm going home. My arse is getting cold sitting in the wet."
"It would be a lot colder if you had ended up down there," said the old man, flicking his eyes toward the edge of the bridge.
"I really wasn't going to jump," said Peter, sounding sad.
"One thing I've learned, Peter, is that things nearly never seem as bad in the morning as they do at night."
"You called me Peter," said Peter.
"I must be losing my touch," said the old man. "I think my back is a bit better now, let’s try getting up again, but easy this time."
Peter stood and took as much of the old man's weight as he could. Inch by inch, the old man sat up, then, just as a car approached, he managed to get to his feet. The car slowed and pulled up on the road beside them. The driver’s door sprang open, and a beautiful girl wearing just pyjamas and runners dashed to the old man.
"Are you hurt, Grandad?" she asked, taking his free arm across her shoulder. Her long blond hair fluttered in the breeze and Peter got the faintest smell of shampoo and warm bed, floating across his nostrils.
"It looks worse than it is, Simona," the old man said, taking a hobbling step.
"What on earth happened?" she asked.
The old man paused, he glanced at Peter out of the corner of his eye before saying, "A dog knocked me off my bike."
"Come on, let’s get you into the car. Thanks for helping him," said Simona to Peter. Her eyes were light blue with a sprinkling of diamond dust through them. Even though the light was dim, they twinkled like stars on a clear winter’s night.
"It's no problem, I was just hanging around," said Peter, which caused the old man to stifle a guff remark. Once they had eased the old man into the back seat of the car, Simona asked her Grandad what she should do with his bike.
"Tell Peter to take it home, it’s a dirty night to be walking. He can bring it back in the morning. Give him the address," said the old man, trying to make himself comfortable in the back of the car. Peter stood the bike up, it looked in working order. After a few moments, Simona came around the back of the car and handed him the address, written on the back of an old receipt.
"Do I know you? You look familiar?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.
"I don't think so. I'd remember meeting you," said Peter with a cheesy grin.
"Charmer," she said, taking the complement with a smile. "Seriously, were do you work?"
"I don't. I'm a student in Fulham," he said.
"That art college place," she said, “I do know you. You come into Costa Coffee, it's just down the road. I work there."
"Really?" said Peter, rubbing a lock of sopping hair out of his eyes.
"I look different in my hairnet," she giggled. "Next time you're in, the coffees are on me." She was about to get behind the wheel of the car when she paused," My number is on there, in case you have trouble finding the house."
With that, she was gone. Peter tucked the receipt safely into his inside pocket before throwing his leg over the bar of the bike. Just then, the first rays of morning started to lighten the sky in the east. Peter paused and smiled, "Things do look better in the morning," he thought and rode for home.