The air was cold and foreboding, not adding to a poor mood. Matt zipped his coat up to the collar as he quickened his pace down the road to Alex’s flat. As he made his way inside and up, he fumbled around in his pocket for the spare key he dug up. Opening the door, he thought his heart might pound its way right out of his chest.
The room was black. When Matt opened the door, the stream of light cut into the shadows, the air stuffy and particles of dust filling space without fail. He took a single step through the doorway where the pungent scent of cigarettes, pot and God knows what else, hit him like a tonne of bricks.
‘Al?’ he called. He had stopped by, opening the door with a spare key. He had been worried - so so so so worried - when Alex had stopped responding to texts and calls.
Only a week after he and Alexa had their less than amicable split, Alex’s father had been caught in a terrible car accident and suddenly died. Matt, as the rest of the band and Alex’s friends had offered their support, of which he took - up until a few days ago when he hadn’t answered any calls. Of course, it would be expected to give someone in such a predicament some time to themselves, but five days was long enough. A little too long, in Matt’s opinion, to go without any word from a best mate.
‘Alex, are you here?’ he asked once more, flicking on the light switch. The source of the acrid scent was now apparent. Discarded papers littered the floor, and where there lacked Alex’s crumpled scribbles, there were empty takeout boxes or bottles from different kinds of alcohol. There were at least four empty Marlboro cartons lying on the counter, cigarette butts and burn marks embellishing the surface. Matt thought it to be wise to keep his trainers on, as he took one step into the flat and heard the crunch of glass under his feet. Matt swallowed hard; he’d never seen such an awful mess in all his years. Among the cigarettes and trash in the kitchen, Matt picked up a partially burnt piece of notebook paper. The scrawl was knife-like, nearly illegible. He dropped the piece of writing as if it were red-hot and hurried to Alex’s room. He grasped the doorknob, turn, click… it was locked. He found it hard to breathe.
‘Alex!’ he yelled, his face pressed to the door with his side slamming into the wood. ‘Alex, you open the bloody door right now!’ He backed up a foot, and pushed his weight into the door once more. ‘Alex?’ His voice heightened in desperation. He wiggled the doorknob, his grip tightening and strengthening, forcing his weight on it for what seemed like hours until he heard an ugly noise associated with the faltering of the knob. Pushing the door open, he gasped for air.
‘Alex?’ he said, still panting, turning the light on. The room was in even worse state than the rest of the flat. There was something that appeared to be vomit on the floor. Broken frames with old photographs were strewn about. Matt turned sharply towards the adjoining washroom, where a pair of feet on the floor caught his eye. In the washroom, was Alex, with a greasy head and eyes closed tight, lying on the floor next to the toilet. He was covered in his own sick, arms crossed tightly over his stomach.
‘Oh God, Alex,’ said Matt, panicking. ‘Alex, are you alright?’ He nearly slapped himself; of course he wasn’t alright. Alex murmured something short and incomprehensible. Matt bent to help him off the floor, careful not to breathe over the vomit filled toilet. Alex’s body was absolutely limp, his head lolling back and forth as Matt lifted him. Picking him up as best he could, he brought Alex to his bed. The sheets were strewn about but he laid him down on the mattress before he pulled off his rotten clothing and turned him on his side. Covering Alex with a blanket, the feeling of inconsolable guilt hit him like a tidal wave.
‘M’ sorry,’ mumbled Alex, his eyes still closed as he shifted underneath the blanket before falling still. Sitting on the floor by the bed, Matt let out a deep breath.
‘I’m sorry too, Al,’ he whispered. ‘I never should have left you alone.’
‘Mum? Mum! What - what’s going on? Mum!’ asked Alex, his voice cracking. ‘Where’s Dad? Wh - where…’
He’d tried drinking. Hell, he was a drinking expert. A margarita here, a margarita there. It evolved into an entire pack of beers, then to as much vodka as his stomach would hold. It had been enough, on the last legs -damn near perfect legs, she had - of what was Alex and Alexa. He’d always smoked, maybe he’d smoked a bit more now. It didn’t seem like enough. He felt like his mind was strained, he’d tried pot again for the first time in years, and sure it got him writing, but it wasn’t worth it. It had been enough, in a way. But the day dear daddy was sent away, well, nothing was enough. It had rained on his funeral, more cliche than sad. Alex felt like he was five, on his first day of school, clutching onto his mother’s hand so tightly it might’ve lost all circulation. She didn’t feel much like Mum as he walked away from her, craning his neck to get another look. Mum didn’t cry. Alex couldn’t remember a time when his family had been so broken apart. When he had been so broken apart.
“These are nice pictures of us,” Alexa said. He hated it though, because she always sounded sick to him. She used the word ‘us’ more than she drank water. We. Our. Together. Alex hated those words when she said them. Out of her mouth, they sounded like the fake, plastic noise of wet galoshes being pressed together.
Alex finally made her stop, sitting listlessly next to a full ashtray.
‘I just… I don’t love you anymore. I’m so sorry, Alex.” she said, looking at him though he wouldn’t look at her. ‘One morning I just woke up and it felt different. Being next to you, I mean… you don’t know how much I wish things hadn’t changed.’
Drinking didn’t help anymore. It took some of the edge off things, but mostly, it just made him angry. In a drunken haze, he’d shattered most of the picture frames containing photos of Alexa and himself. Some of the disposables he’d lit on fire with an emptying lighter. He’d even burnt her face out of one with a cigarette. When he’d sober up, he’d order ridiculously expensive amounts of food, down it in half a second and throw it all up. He’d begun to look positively terrible. He’d stopped calling Matt, Jamie, Nick, Miles, even his mum. Nobody could see him like this. And he couldn’t see anyone, either. He’d talked to Josh, or someone, and gotten some stuff a few days before. Stuff he’d known not to fuck around with. He didn’t care much these days, though. He pulled a belt taut around his upper arm like he had been for the past couple days, fastening it until it became uncomfortably tight. With everything set, he bent his arm and took the syringe, the metal biting through skin with the ease of poking through butter. Alex took a sharp breath, teeth clenched. He felt a pinch as he pulled it out and placed it on the table.
His mind reeled through memories like a flipbook. His skin felt like velvet. The usually glacial flat felt so warm, as if someone had wrapped the whole world in a blanket. He reached around for a notebook, a pen, something. He closed his eyes for a moment, and opened them with both items in hand. He began to write little notes, lyrics maybe, something, and then crumple up the page and toss it about. It was a ritual. Paper covered every space there was to cover. Time blanked again, and Alex found himself in the hall. Wandering into the bedroom, he reached around in the dark for a bottle. Upon grasping one, he shook it around for a familiar sloshing noise. Successful, he took a swig. It had been mostly full, but in no time at all, it had become empty. Slumped on the floor against his bedframe, he felt his eyes closing slowly. His bones began to ache, and the chill of reality came back to him. He moaned loudly, just before his stomach made a dejected gurgle. He lurched forward, his body heaving, and became sick.
‘Fuck,’ he groaned loudly, crawling to the bathroom.
His body ached terribly, and his throat burned. He cried, puking in between sobs, until he felt completely empty, as if he had coughed up his lungs. He collapsed, hitting his head on the side of the toilet, and lay, looking and feeling dysphoric, sickly white with swollen red eyes. He lay on the floor for a long, long time - what seemed to be days, even, before he heard a loud banging. Alex was still so weak he had barely reacted to the noise. Someone shouting? His vision was blurry.
Somehow, he found himself in his bed, covered by a decently clean blanket, murmuring incoherently to someone he could hardly make out. But even though he had little to no idea as to what was going on, he felt so naturally comfortable - a feeling he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Matt walked into the room, mindful not to step on anything. The smell of cigarettes had become so much more powerful, he figured it must have stuck to his clothes. Crossing over to open up a window and air out the room, he caught sight of Alex shifting slightly in bed. He felt awful. Ever since him and Alexa had split, he’d stayed away – having been friends with Alex for so long, he knew that he’d needed his breathing room. But when everything started going on with his family, he had been clueless whether to offer more support or give more space. He had wanted to get in touch, but it never seemed to be the right time. Looking at his best friend now, he felt a bit of himself wither; he could never recall a time when Alex had looked so brittle.
He bent to clean around the bed area, where broken glass and stains roamed free. Shifting his position, Matt felt something crack underneath his trainer. Upon further inspection, it was a framed photo, already broken apart. Inside the shattered frame was a disposable photograph of Alexa. Matt sighed as he pulled the photo from the broken frame. He turned it over and placed it in the nightstand drawer. This was no way for anyone to live.
Matt turned to leave the room – he’d finish here. He closed the door behind him quietly, careful not to wake Alex and hung his coat on the hook in the hallway. Stepping into the kitchen and searching in the cabinets, he found a few large trash bags and set out to work. It stunk horribly, but it had to be done. He hadn’t cleaned a room so rancid – well, since ever. What might’ve come close was the mess that could accumulate within his tiny flat when they had first started the band.
He cleared broken glass into a bin which grew full quickly. He felt his stomach flip with every empty bottle from an alcoholic drink he touched. The very thought of stomaching this much in so little time made him dizzy. He stacked up boxes and trash, compacting them as best he could into the bags. The room was looking better already. He washed the dishes that had been spared from Alex’s drunken ire. Swept dust from the floor, scrubbed countertops, tossed dirty clothing into the laundry. What came most difficult was the scrubbing of the floors, which had been marked by rubber, carelessly discarded cigarettes, and what appeared to be vomit.
After cleaning the heaviest of dirt from the room, he went to open a window to air out the place, which still reeked horribly. Walking up to unfasten the window lock, Matt felt yet another object crunch under his foot. He sighed, having thought he had picked up all of the trash. Stepping back, when he caught sight of what he had stepped on, his eyes widened in worry most considerably.