The contrast between Isla, the young hostel officer, and Jake and Siobhan, the two NFAs on the bed, could not be more pronounced. In fact, if I didn’t know the details of the job, and didn’t have all the other corroborating evidence – the late hour, the familiar surroundings, the sounds and the smells – I’d think that I’d wandered onto the set of a fashion photo-shoot, Beauty and the Beasts, where the model’s perfect skin and figure look even more incredible against the harsh urban backdrop.
Isla leans in the doorway, her right hand elegantly draped over the gentle curve of her belly, her left resting on the radio slung at her hip. The radio is the heaviest thing about her, a jarring piece of kit, set against the abundant and glossy tangle of her auburn hair , her long neck, and the pearlescent clarity of her skin.
‘Go away! There’s nuffin’ wrong with me’ says Siobhan.
‘We’re here to help,’ says Isla. ‘You had a fit.’
Jake leans in to apologise.
‘She don’t mean to be rude,’ he says.
‘And you had a fit, too,’ says Isla. ‘Buy one, get one free.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know. But it’s the drink, mate. We’re both alkay-holics you know what I mean? We’ve been trying to cut down, but I think we went a bit too far, too quick. Like the alky bends. I think we need some help with it.’
‘I think that’s a good idea.’
Both Siobhan and Jake have the blushed and blasted look of drunks the world over. It’s a Before and After shot of the most extreme order: Isla, young, healthy, with an empathetic side to her that only heightens her beauty; and the couple on the bed, utterly cast down by their experience of the world, at the lowest point bar the street, with a sense of themselves reduced to a point of sickness that can only be relieved by the very thing that brought them low.
It’s an extraordinary thing, more like the possetting of a baby. He doesn’t move at all, doesn’t heave or retch. He simply opens his mouth and releases a spillage of milky white substance that runs down his chin and onto his lap. It’s only then I realise he’s wearing a pair of waterproof over trousers, despite the humid atmosphere of the room.
Isla passes him some tissue.
‘Sorry. Sorry,’ says Jake, dabbing himself dry. ‘I’ve been having this lately.’
Isla resumes her position at the door, a little further out.
It’s so hot this high up in the hostel they’ve set up a big fan one end of the corridor. Isla is standing in the draught of it now; the current of air gently pushing her hair about, so it glints richly, vibrantly, in the light from the overhead strip.‘Faak orf,’ says Siobhan.