Presented at the John Hewitt International Summer School 2017
al•co•hol•ic \ˌal-kə-ˈhȯ-lik, -ˈhä-\
“Daddy, Are you an alcoholic?”
“Finish your breakfast”.
She stares down at her bowl then looks up again.
“Daddy, what is an alcoholic?”
I take a little sip, close my laptop, and lock my gaze upon hers.
It’s always a bad idea, to try and stare down this five-year-old. Malevolent eyes show no fear and glare straight back. Maybe it’s just paranoia kicking in on a Saturday morning. Just because she sews her teddy bears together as conjoined twins, removes limbs from her dolls and has an unhealthy interest in road kill is no reason to be worried. She might not turn out like you.
“Where did you hear the word alcoholic?”
“I heard Mummy say it. She said you were an alcoholic and had polished off a bottle of whiskey. What does it mean?”
“You’ve got it wrong.” I reply, sphincter tightening. “Your mummy was just asking had I polished the drinks cabinet. That thing about the whiskey bottle, that’s just to do with my work. Your mummy is a teacher and I’m a writer. Well an Alcoholic is a special type of writer.”
I take a little sip. This had better be good.
“Some writers take ages thinking about a subject before they can write about it. But the best writers’ minds are always full of great ideas, always so sharp and funny that there isn’t enough time in the day to get them down on paper. That is why there is whiskey. Whiskey helps your Daddy get ideas down.”
“Does it not just get you drunk?” she asks coming out from behind the table. “No, it only gets you drunk if you use it wrong. It’s a tool, just like a notebook, a pencil, or spending your day lying in bed thinking.”
“But Daddy, when you’re lying in your bed, you’re sleeping. Most days when we come home from school we can even hear you snoring.”
I take a little sip.
“Munchkin I do most of my work when I’m asleep, I’m not wasting my day, I’m researching, honestly, I am working.”
“Look. Most people get up, trundle off to work, come home and go to sleep. They never get time to think about the important questions in life. I do, and all that thinking takes so much out of you. It’s much more difficult than the type of work they do. That is why we have writers and that is why we have whiskey.”
“What does the whisky do?” She asks, coming closer.
“When I wake up after a night of thinking hard, I have to start writing down all the stuff that is racing around in my head. For that I need the whiskey or as I prefer to call it the slow me down juice.”
“Slow me down juice?” she asks, with a hint of a smile.
“Yes. It turns all those streaming thoughts into a nice gloopy porridge. You like porridge, don’t you?”
She nods, with a widening grin.
I take a little sip.
“What’s your favourite bit of the porridge?”
“The raisins” She shouts, skipping towards me.
“Well once my thoughts and ideas have been turned to porridge then your daddy can start digging through it for all those lovely raisins. Well the lumpy bits anyway, some turn out to be raisins, some turn out to be twigs, the reader decides.”
“You see, an Alcoholic is one of the best types of writer, looking for what makes us happy, makes us sad, makes us shout out at the world.”
“Like Mr Smith” she cries climbing up on my lap.
“No, not like Mr Smith. He’s a drunk. Swinging pissed from the garden gate and shouting at passing cars doesn’t count.”
“We’re the voice of those unable to speak up for themselves. We tell them what they really think. And to do that your daddy needs whiskey.”
“Come on now, finish your breakfast and back to your dolls, I’ve work to do.”
She reaches out behind me, takes a bottle from the cabinet and sits it beside my glass.
I smile back at her and stare lovingly into dark sceptical eyes. Somewhere, in there someone was taking notes, version 2.0 of a writer in the making, an anal retentive, gathering material, filing it away for some other day.
“Have some slow me down juice” she says, as she pets my head. Sliding off my knee she walks back to the kitchen table. “My little alcopop” She giggles to herself.
I fill the glass.
I take a little sip.