The sirens signalled the end of the night. At least for Greg Marconi. He was thrown onto the bonnet of the police car and his arms were pulled behind him. The constables usually just dropped him home to his missus, but tonight, he went too far.
Greg had officially been arrested a couple of times, been charged once, and had been a pain to his family for years. He knew they didn’t like his drinking, but he did it anyway. He couldn’t stop.
Constable Perry pushed Greg into the empty cell. He stumbled around, fell to his feet and laughed. There was nothing they could do to him. It was a small town and drinking was everyone’s favourite hobby. Of course things would occasionally get out of hand. But when Greg woke up the next day and there was no indication he would be released, he started to think differently.
‘Did ya call me wife?’
The officers continued their work; one on the phone and one clacking at the keyboard.
‘Did ya call me wife? She’ll be worrying,’ he called out, louder this time.
‘Oh shut up, Marconi,’ sighed the officer at the computer. Greg knew he should learn their names and about their lives, it would make these stays easier. But his memory wasn’t as good these days and he didn’t have room for stuff like that.
Greg glared at the officer who still hadn’t looked around. His pounding head wasn’t helping the situation. Greg lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes. They would come get him later.
He heard her voice before he saw her, and winced. Suzie had arrived and she was not impressed. Greg sat up slowly, waiting for the cell to stop spinning before the onslaught. She hated picking him up, said it was an embarrassment.
‘I told you I didn’t want to do this anymore,’ she said as she stood on the other side of the bars.
‘I know,’ Greg replied.
‘I told you things had to change.’
‘So why in God’s name are you in a cell?’ She yelled.
Greg looked up at her, no judge would ever have the same effect as Susie, and the officers knew it. It’s why they let her yell at him while he was still locked up.
‘You are not to go drinking anymore,’ Susie started in a lower voice.
‘But I,’ Greg tried, but Susie put her hand up, telling him to be quiet.
‘If you drink anything again, I’m gone. Do you hear me?’
Greg nodded, not wanting to open his mouth again.
‘I mean it. You obviously don’t know when to stop so I am telling you, you will not start. I’ve already talked to Bill at the pub and he’s gonna put your face on the wall so everyone knows not to buy you anything.’
‘Oh Sus, did you have to do that?’ Greg moaned. He knew the sober wall, and he laughed at everyone on it. They had no place in this town.
‘Like I said, if you knew when to stop this wouldn’t be happening. It’s your own stupid fault,’ Susie knew how to make a point, and she had just done it. ‘I spoke with constable Perry and he and the boys will keep you on track. If they spot you with any alcohol in your system, they’ll bring you straight home and you can deal with me,’ Susie said as she stared Greg down. She was a full foot shorter but was scary when she was like this.
‘Alright boys, you can let him out now,’ Susie called to the officers who promptly came to unlock the cell.
The ride home was quiet as Greg pondered his new task of staying sober. He was still thinking when they pulled up outside the two bedroom fibro house that was starting to look more like a shack. He looked up at it. He had promised to clear the gutters and repaint the front face of the house. But first, he needed a beer. Greg walked inside and opened the fridge. There was nothing on the top shelf, which he usually kept stocked with cans of bourbon and coke and stubbies of Toohey’s New. Greg straightened up and looked around at Susie. She had a smug look on her face.
‘Already going for more, huh?’
Greg grabbed a Coke instead and said nothing.
‘I knew you wouldn’t last,’ Susie said to herself as she walked away.
Greg tried to mow the lawn and get started on the gutters that day, but his head pounded in the heat of the sun. He wanted a beer. All he could think about was drinking. He knew it would fix the headache, but Susie had taken everything out of the house.
The real test came on Friday night. Greg pulled up outside the pub and took a deep breath. Everyone would know he couldn’t drink because of his picture on the stupid sober wall. He didn’t want to go in. What was the point? Everyone would laugh at him. They wouldn’t want him around. But in a small town, everyone went to the pub and for the men, it was the only way they could socialise.
Greg walked in, a determined look on his face. He sat on a stool at the bar and waited.
‘Evening, Greg. What’ll it be?’ Asked Bill, who was already smirking.
‘Give me a can of Coke,’ Greg replied in a grunt. He had drunk litres of the stuff throughout the week, but it wasn’t the same. And it didn’t ease the pain that still lingered in his head.
‘Ah don’t be like that. You’re still welcome here,’ said Bill as he opened the can.
‘Oy Bill, three more beers thanks,’ called Steve from around the pool table. ‘Oh look, Greg’s here.’
Greg swung around on the stool before getting off and walking to Steve. Steve and the fellas were having a chuckle at the can in Greg’s hand, but he was going to have to cop it eventually.
‘Steve,’ Greg said with a nod of his head, before nodding to the others around the pool table. They all looked back at him. No one said a word.
Bill brought the beers on a tray for the guys and they took one each, swapping them for empty glasses that were still clutched in their hands.
With fresh beers in hand, each man took swigs, downing the amber liquid in a couple of throws. Greg watched with envious eyes. He wanted that beer, not the sugar water he was now forced to drink. After a few more silent minutes, Greg got the message. He was no longer welcome around the guys he thought were his mates.
Greg turned without a word and walked to the bar to put down his almost empty can of Coke. He left the pub and drove his car back to the house.
Susie was set up in front of the television. ‘I’ve got my programmes on tonight, be here for a while,’ she said as he walked in.
Greg looked at the screen and saw something with high maintenance twigs crying over each other. Not his kinda show. Greg reached for the fridge door but remembered there was nothing in there to fill his anger.
He wandered out to the shed, somewhere he rarely ventured. Greg sat on the stool in front of the work table and stared at the vice mounted on its edge. It wasn’t long though, before his hand went to his eyes and he wept.