The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.

In the Cold Light

Dom remembers another winter holiday once, with relatives, in some rented place. He remembers beds and things that weren't like the ones at home, that smelled different. And it was too hot in the house, he remembers that, and he couldn't sleep. But it was kind of fun all the same. He learnt how to play Patience and got obsessed with it, slapping cards down in rows on any available surface. And one evening it got cold enough to snow, and they stood in the doorway and watched the flakes come down, ghostly in the outside light, as big as fifty pence pieces. Bigger.

It's funny how now, when he remembers that evening, he seems to see it from the outside, as though he's a stranger looking in from the darkness. He sees himself in his Spiderman pyjamas, cloaked in warm yellow light, gazing out at the falling snow like some kind of soft-focus Disney child. It's stupid, because that's not really how it was. That's not really how things are.

He makes Billy drink vodka, although Billy's saying he doesn't really like vodka that much, never has in fact, but Dom says oh go on, and Billy's so persuadable. Dom's not a cruel man though; he brought ice and lemon and a variety of mixers.

Dom says, "This is good stuff, you should feel lucky. I spent tons of cash on it. Lucky, lucky, lucky... I think I might drink myself to death."

And Billy says, "Don't, they'll think I murdered you and then I'll be in prison for the rest of my life and you don't want that."

"Mm," says Dom. "No. The guilt would kill me. Oh, except I'm already dead, aren't I? I forgot."

Then it's quiet except for that light overhead that keeps buzzing faintly. Billy swishes his vodka and the ice clinks, and Dom thinks the word 'glockenspiel' for no reason.

Billy says, "That light's so annoying. I can't believe we're going to have to put up with that for two weeks."

Dom says, "Okay, we'll buy candles. Loads of candles. It'll be romantic."

"Don't start that again, for God's sake. Weirdo." Billy rolls his eyes and smirks at his reflection in the black uncurtained window.

Dom says, "Piss off. Wanker." Grins and feels his tongue slippery on his teeth.

"Oh, fuck you..." Billy rubs his glass absently against his teeth. "But love you, obviously. Right, so what shall we do tomorrow?"

"Dunno." Dom thinks he might be getting in a mood. He has some more vodka just in case.

It's a night. It dwindles, the way nights do, until someone calls it one. Dwindles and falls away, until Billy goes to bed and leaves Dom asleep with his head on the kitchen table. Buzzing. The light. Both too drunk to turn it off. Dom dreams of the empty vodka bottles, and one has a wasp trapped inside and the wasp is too stupid to see that the bottle's open and it could get out, if it wanted to. It throws itself angrily at the glass walls over and over again. Also, it's a weird shade of green and has a curly wig like a judge. And teeth.

When Dom wakes up he thinks this is probably some kind of deep metaphor for his life, but only the bottle bit. He thinks the wig and the teeth are just weird dream shit. It would still be dark if they hadn't left the light on. His eyes hurt and feel scrunchy and the light makes everything in the world look like vomit.

Billy is actually having a flying dream. It's really fantastic, he's got these flappy things like wings, but they're not wings. He's very clear about that in the dream. They're smooth and cool and have a sheen on them like ... well, all he can come up with right now is, like Mr Sheen! They've got that 'just polished' look. He flies over some water with the things that aren't wings, and then over a nice park, and some houses. He sees his old English teacher down there playing Monopoly with someone he doesn't know, and he feels like he should stop and chat, but the flying is way too cool. He feels he could glide about like this forever.

Actually he can't, because then Dom comes in and says, "Billy." And that's a bit of a shame, because Billy's never had a flying dream before, and he's always wanted one, and unfortunately he forgets this one within about five seconds of waking. It disappears in pale shreds and quickly becomes nothing.

Billy says, "Muh. What?"

Dom says, "I feel like shit."

Billy says, "Okay," and goes back to sleep.

Day comes slowly and sideways on. In the kitchen, the sick light buzzes and fades, its power diminishing. Day brushes blankly over the vodka bottles and the caps from the vodka bottles and the torn bits of red foil from the vodka bottles that lie on the tabletop. Daylight is strong and soft at the same time, lying like milk on the rim of a tumbler, soaking into a bedraggled half-slice of lemon, distorting it through the glass. There is one lemon pip on the table, dried out and stuck there. Billy got it in his mouth last night when he was drinking, and Dom watched him remove it from his tongue with a forefinger, licking the finger kind of, an open-mouthed, functional lick in the middle of a sentence. Dom watched Billy wipe the pip off his finger and onto the tabletop, and then wipe his finger on his shirt. That was after Dom was pissed but before he was fucking shit-faced.

And the fact of it is, as day rolls quietly around again, is that Dom is lying in Billy's bed, and he feels heavy, and Billy feels warm. Billy's T-shirt is soft and warm from his body, and the side of Dom's face is warm from being pressed into it

Dom says, "I can't remember how I got here."

Billy says something to his pillow.

Dom says, "What?"

Billy turns over in a flurry of heat and duvet, and Dom shifts. Everything smells of old vodka.

"I said, 'I bet you say that to all the girls.'"

"Yeah, yeah..." Dom waits, follows a very fine crack on the ceiling to see where it goes. It doesn't go anywhere. His brain moves like a swamp. "I didn't throw up, did I?"

"Bloody hope not."

Billy's hand comes out from under the covers and he holds it up and they look at it. "Look at that," says Billy. "I've got the fuckin' DTs." His fingers waver very slightly. It's only the tiniest movement. You'd hardly notice it if you weren't looking closely.

Dom says, "I feel like shit. I mean really. I really feel fucking ... shit."

He turns onto his side and folds his hands beneath his head like a child playing at sleep. The world lurches a bit, and wobbles as it turns. He looks at Billy and Billy's looking at him, too. And Billy says, "I know."

He reaches over then, and touches Dom's face. He touches Dom's face very lightly with his fingertips. It's the sort of touch that doesn't quite know what it's doing there, and its uncertainty makes Dom blink quick and sudden. The skin of his eyelids feels stretched and paper-dry.

And Dom thinks, I am on holiday. And he thinks, snowflakes as big as silver coins.

He closes his eyes and waits to see what will happen next.