January 17, 2011


One of the things about writing is that every now and then, a character just comes to you. You didn't plan for him or her to appear, you had no idea that the character even existed, and here they are, waving at you and saying, "tell my story, hey, hey, you, I'm over here, are you listening, tell my story, okay?"

Such was the case with Misty McColl. She simply decided to enter my life as she entered the life of a young watchmaker, and she is sweet and real, and she does have a hangover the size of Texas when we meet her.

Chapter Two

It was a miracle, for instance, that a young waitress named Misty McColl had even made it out of bed this morning, for this particular day was her day off, leading to an unusual but rather amusing night out with her friends, which in turn had led her to have a hangover roughly the size, if not entirely the shape of Texas.

Why hangovers very often chose the size and shapes of American states, regardless of where they appeared around the world to punish you for an evening out, was one of those mysteries best left unexplained. Last I heard, a scientific team at one of the smaller universities in Wales had attempted, quite unsuccessfully, to get to the bottom of it, by which I mean that they had gotten to the bottom of every available glass filled with every available kind of alcohol known to man (and some I'm pretty sure were or at least should have been unknown) in a rather good-spirited attempt to catalog all the sizes and shapes of hangovers.

There had been hangovers the size of Alabama, Connecticut, Nevada and South Dakota, described with thick tongues still tasting the previous evening, remembered by pained minds still lost in the fog. There had been hangovers the size of California, and some of them looked a lot like the shape of Montana, and in one case the hangover had decided to come down on one of the scientists in the size of Rhode Island, which meant that it was yelping inside his brain like a little dog, angry that it couldn't have been any bigger.

Anyway, the hangover in question here was roughly the size of Texas, although it had not been scientifically measured. It came with dry heaves and a dry tongue that made it hard for Misty McColl to swallow when she woke up in a little flat she shared with three others, all of them dreaming, not merely now – in the dawn's early hours – but generally dreaming, and dreaming of bigger things.

There was Leonard, the dreaming poet and writer down the hall, who snored loudly and cursed through a closed door every now and then, be it from exhaustion, bitterness or the acceptance that nobody had waited for his genius. He rarely ventured out and was only a face in the mornings, a grumpy one at that, on his way to some kind of job or another that would barely cover his part of the rent, and he would most certainly lose in a month or two, the way he had so far ma-naged to lose any and all jobs in the real world.

There was the Akiko, the ballet dancer who never ate, at least not in public, a thin and thin-skinned girl who looked much younger than her years. She resembled the tiniest, most fragile of birds, perched on the back of the kitchen chair, with a hot cup of tea in her hands, never better and always welcoming her flatmates with a happy smile that hid both hunger and fear, her tiny heart beating far too fast as it was cranked up on caffeine and cigarettes that had been her preferred choice to substitute proper food.

There was Christopher, the economics student, who had calculated that sharing this part of his life with the others in this flat would be, well, most economical. He was certain, however, that as soon as he would get a job in The City – which was quite a different beast from the city of London and only allowed the most economical people to populate it – he would never share his life with anybody else again. He was the most charming of Misty McColl's mates, in the way that snake oil salesmen were charming, and although it can be said with quite some confidence that this young man had never and would never sell snake oil itself.

And if I only give you their first names here, it is because they were all on a first name basis here, in this.

Together with Misty McColl.

A resume would have told you the facts. That she was 22 years of age and a photography and philosophy student. That she had supported herself the past three years as a waitress, of which there were many in London, so that holding to that job, any job, was of the utmost importance to her. It would have told you that Misty enjoyed people, had the appropriate skills and would be flexible enough.

All of which led to a certain phone call from the coffee shop she had been working for the better part of the past year, because it was closer to home and paid a little bit more than the other jobs she had worked. Not a whole lot more, of course, times were tight for everybody, but still enough to have one or two more nights she could go out to enjoy life.

"Mmmh?" she growled sleepily into the phone.

Her eyes, had they not been still closed, would have seen that she was holding the phone upside down, her cheeks hugging the flat, hardened surface of its display like it was the tiniest, most uncomfortable pillow.

And even when she did notice her mistake, not hearing any reply and switching the phone around, she did her very best not to open those eyes, because, remember? It was indeed the size of Texas, and just like the US state Misty McColl's hangover didn't like to be messed with.

"Mmmh?" she repeated, even more quietly than before, and listened to the voice at the other end of the line, who told in her things that cut through the fog inside her mind.

"Mmmh," she said one more time, before formulating her first proper sentence in the early morning hours. "No, don't worry, Bruce. I'll be coming in as soon as I am awake."

The voice at the other end of the line said something.

"No," said Misty McColl, sighing and rubbing her face, going through her hair with tired fingers, the eyes still closed, the mouth opened to a silent yawn. "I'm definitely not awake. You're talking to my brain's answering machine, Bruce. You can leave a message after the beep."

Another reply came, like the others before it spoken into a phone just like this one, merely a few blocks away and almost in shouting distance, but instead being broken down into bits and bytes, bouncing around the planet quite a lot before returning back down.

The most human of all – talking – turned into a complicated and costly business venture, this was. A miracle as well, you may say, and not necessarily a small one, since it involved building satellites and call centers and gave jobs to hundreds of thousands of people with nothing better to do than call at the most inappropriate times to tell you about their new offers, their new plans, their new incentives.

Bruce Newman, while not being one of those, nonetheless now had the ability to intrude on his employees' private lives, and – like every other boss, really – saw that not as a problem, at least not as his problem. His voice, always a little whiny, was even more so on the phone, so much so that if voices had a shape, his would be that of an annoyed midget with a balding head.

"Yes," Misty told him as she forced her eyes to open, staring at her bedroom's ceiling, with its three pronounced cracks. Every morning Misty looked at them with a sharp eye, always wondering if today was the day the ceiling would collapse on her. It never had done that yet, though, and the handymen brought in by the flat's landlord had assured her the cracks were merely a minor blemish and likened them to wrinkles in the face of an older person. Somehow, this wasn't a very reassuring thought to Misty, because now she had the feeling every time she woke up that the house itself was frowning at the very thought of somebody like her living inside it.

She half expected it to roar at her and demand for her to get off the lawn. Or out of the flat. Or to do something else that old folks required younger ones to do when they were visibly displeased.

"I will come, Bruce," Misty said. "But if you keep on talking to me, I will come to murder you, okay?"

Misty switched off the phone. It beeped, like a disappointed pet that wanted more attention.

Then, in a quite surprising turn of events, it released a snor-ing sound, breath interrupted and loudly released into the early morning air. It had never done that before, and it was that sound that snapped Misty fully awake.

"Oh God," she whispered. "You have got to be kidding me."

Now, while it cannot be disputed that God had a quirky sense of humor, I can tell you the only one kidding in this particular situation was Misty McColl, and she was kidding herself, for what had happened the night before, only lost in memory and slowly returning to her like a gleeful child shouting Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! had not been God's fault.

Well, at least not completely.

I mean, in a sense everything that had happened since the dawn of creation had been God's fault in one way or another, but I've been told by a rather reliable source that the dawn had been a nice one, had come with a warm light and only a small chance of light rain showers in the early afternoon, which in God's way of looking at time and things was still somewhat in the future of mankind. I must also stress the fact that at the time of Misty McColl's unfortunate actions (which did start at roughly one in the morning, with a repeat performance at three, thank you very much) which had her question the balance of creation, God had been nowhere near her.

Instead, he had appeared in a burnt toast jumping out of a cheap toaster, bought at a discount store near Philadelphia, giving an old spinster by the name of Edwina Hoffmeister the religious equivalent of what Misty McColl was experiencing physically at roughly the same moment.

Didn't I say that God had a quirky sense of humor?

So, if God not been to blame, perhaps it had been the Devil, for it is said he can often be found at the bottom of a bottle, and while there had been many bottles involved in the previous evening's entertainment, both of the beer and wine variety, to blame the Devil would also have been unfair.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Misty McColl once more, as people often do when they want to convince themselves that what they saw couldn't possibly be true.

What couldn't be true was occupying the good side of Misty McColl's bed, hogging a good chunk of the bedding and one of her many pillows.

It wasn't that it was an entirely unpleasing sight, at least not a first. The shape under the duvet covers, still naked and remarkably white in the early morning light, had been the result of a great deal of care and three days of working out every week.  The face was boyish enough to still be carded when asking for anything stronger than an apple juice, and the hair was a shock of pitch black locks, unkempt, and had been tugged and pulled on during the night.

"You have got to be kidding me," said Misty McColl a third time, because third times are a charm, and perhaps – if life was indeed a series of small miracles – this would be the one where the man in her bed would magically disappear, if not in a cloud of smoke then at least to his own room down the hall, where he belonged.

"Christopher?" she asked into the room's silence, a gentle snore answering her. "I mean, are you serious?"

Christopher, who was always serious and would soon accept the offer to an internship at a small investment bank, where he would made some serious money, seriously, had been the last man that Misty McColl had ever wanted to spend a night with. Not even when the world was about to end, and her flat mate would have been in fact the very last man. All of which were good enough reasons to assume on her part that the world had already ended last night. That this had to be judgment day, and boy, would she be called on for that one, if anybody else found out.

"Get out of here," Misty said, most to herself, but in the hope that the sleeping chunk of male meat, a rather lifeless thing with the exception of an occasional snore as proof of its con-tinued existence, would be hearing her as well.

"No, there's no way that I could have never been that drunk," Misty whispered, holding her head between her hands, be-fore questioning not only her sanity but herself. "Could I?"

To appreciate the level of drunkenness that would have to be achieved Misty McColl to consider intimacy with Christopher, here are some of other things Misty would have (and in some instances had) done before even considering such a relation, however brief.

At the bottom of such list, for rather probable, was drunken singing, preferably in a pub on the way home, together with her mates. There had been a great many number of those late nights, and every now and then they had ended with an improvised staging of various West End musical numbers belched and belted out, with the passion of a professional performance.

One summer's night it had grown to singing and dancing, and while there were surely better people to interpret ABBA, that particular performance of Mamma Mia's grand finale would not be forgotten, at least by the residents of Camden, who had perhaps not been the most welcome of audiences, but were still forced to listen. Off key and certainly off center, the lyrics came out proud and true, with that nostalgia of loves lost and hopes found.

Here I go again,

Slightly more improbable, but still a possible outcome of any drunken stupor was the experimentation with your sexuality, now so more than before. Maybe it was merely something never written about in earlier days, and if you did, it most certainly was never something you'd write home about, but the phrase I kissed a girl, and I liked it had become no longer a thing exclusively exclaimed by excited boys in their early (or late) teens. Misty McColl's experimental phase in that area had involved a little bit more than kissing, there had also been groping and the occasional licking, all of which would have very likely excited boys even more so, if they had been witness to such sexual exploration.

Unfortunately for all boys (let me tell you, it was unfortunate indeed), these adventures in free spiriting were a thing of the past, and if you did not count last night, there had been a considerable dry spell for dear Misty McColl when it came to romps, be they in or out of the bedroom.

Again, that must be counted as a small miracle. She was, after all, a woman of considerate beauty, with features passed on through generations and having originated in the highlands of Scotland. Her frame, heavier than what would pass as perfection in the modern world, was made to wear a ball gown. Her face, a freckled mess of extraordinary complexity, fea-tured clear, green eyes that lit up when she laughed, something she did quite often, her mouth being kissable even when its lips weren't stretched for a smile. On top of it all, quite literally, was a rusty waterfall of hair that gushed past her face and gathered in puddles of red hair on her white shoulders.

So, if there had been nobody in Misty McColl's life, it wasn't for lack of men or women offering themselves up to her.

Which made last night's mistake, and it was a mistake, make no mistake about that, even more of a mistake, and one that Misty knew she would have to answer for, the moment the other two of her mates were to find out about what she had done.

"Oh God," moaned Misty as more memories came back to her, the way memories did, in little pieces that slowly made up a puzzle, and this particular piece was remembering that she had moaned those exact words, albeit it in a different context, more than once during last night's encounter. "Oh my bloody God."

"Wake up," she said to the prick that was next to her, all six feet of him, of which only about six inches deserved to be called that, at least anatomically speaking. The other five feet and spare change were merely attached to the actual thing, also deserving to be called that name, but for quite different reasons.

"Christopher?" she asked, shaking last night's mistake by his shoulder. There was a groan, not much of a raise, because opposed to popular belief, not all pricks began the morning by being responsive to the slightest of touches. "Get up! Hey, Christopher, get the hell up!"

"No sugar, honey," came the reply, which sounded like an order that Misty McColl would fill later in the day, but in fact had been one of those things that people say when they are still dreaming and don't wish to be disturbed. It may not
come as a surprise to you that in his dreams Christopher was ordering somebody around to do his bidding, and the smile on his sleeping face was that of deep content. Dreams of people in economics were like that, for they lacked the imagination to dream of anything that might be less, well, economical.

"No sugar," Christopher repeated to his imaginary personal assistant, who did not look at all like Misty McColl but resembled more or less a boy's constructor's kit version of every current supermodel, with various parts assembled in not quite the right way, the way these things happen in dreams. "Just you, honey."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," said Misty McColl.

She pushed him harder, pushed him out of her bed, duvets and pillows following him as he fell down on the floor, his dream coming to a sudden end, but without the severance package that he expected.

"What the hell?" asked a very awake Christopher.

"Go," said Misty McColl, who dragged her own body out of the bed, her naked feet passing him as he looked up to her, covering up all the parts that she had already seen and had not been impressed with all that much.

"Go away," Misty clarified. "Go home. Just go. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

"I am home!" protested Christopher.

And – technically speaking – he was correct about that. That is the problem with technicalities, see? They never tell you the whole tale. And while the flat was technically his place of residence, just as it was Misty McColl's, that residence no longer applied to her room inside her flat, nor did it apply to the even more personal spaces, like her knickers.

"To your room," said Misty McColl. "Go to your room."

"Who are you?" Christopher asked. "My mother?"

"Oh, you wish!"

"What did I do?" Christopher asked, knowing full well what he had done and not regretting any of it in the slightest. See, there were men who knew what weaknesses to exploit in a woman, and the charm, slick but mostly oily, that would en-sure Christopher's rather meteoritic rise in the world of high finance, had been used well on a lonely and increasingly frustrated Misty McColl. Words that were like a massage, laughter and the right amount of understanding, faked but nonetheless effective, had led from a chat to a walk to a kiss to a more adult action.

"Nothing!" Misty said. "You did nothing. I did nothing!"

"Not the way I remember it," Christopher said, who had a full recollection of the nothing they done, having had considerably less to drink that Misty McColl.

"Yeah," Misty said. "You remember it wrong."

She got a new set clothes out of a drawer, hoping that they wouldn't have his smell of sweat or the taste of boozy kisses that at this moment she feared would follow her around forever.

"We did nothing!" Misty said.

"I didn't get drunk," said Christopher, not even bothering to hide anything, neither his body nor the sly grin that he would employ so many times more in his future employments as an investment banker, indicating he was happy to have screwed somebody.

Misty stared at him, willing him in that single look to simply die, and to do so slowly and with as much pains as possible. That didn't happen, because you see, we are talking about small miracles here, and that would have been a big one.

"Just saying," said Christopher.

"Don't say it," Misty snapped, looking for socks and boots, the latter of which had been thrown away carelessly in last night's desperate, lustful fumbles and tumbles and now were far too close to the bed, too close to who and what was in that bed, so Misty chose some simple sneakers. And hoped she would be able to sneak out on them.

"Don't say anything. Just shut up. Not a word. Not to me, not to anybody, okay? Nobody! And when I am back from work later this afternoon, you will be gone. Out of here. Gone. Away. Which means somewhere else. Not here. Nowhere near here, and by here I mean the bed and my room and any place, really, where I might be at that time."

Already fully dressed, Misty nodded to herself, quite confident that this was all there was to say about the situation, making her way out of the door for a daring escape from her own four walls.

"Can't we talk about this?" Christopher asked. "Misty?"

"There's nothing to talk about," Misty said. "Nothing. Zero. And you know why? Because this didn't happen!"

"Misty – "

"It! Didn't! Happen!" repeated a very angered Misty McColl.

But I am here to tell you that it did happen, and while Misty McColl – seen here rushing out of the flat to get some fresh air, some moment to think and perhaps a good cry on her way to work on her day off – didn't know it yet, and would have not believed you if you had told her, it was a good thing that it happened, too.

Because of it, of all the little choices, all the small miracles, of all the little impossibilities, there would be a big miracle later that day. For timing was everything, and the little things, they mattered, because put together, they would often amount to something bigger.

Granted, on most days that something bigger might just as well be a big pile of crap, but not on this day.

No, definitely not on this day.