The first thing Megan noticed that Sunday morning when she woke up was that she was not alone in her bed. It was, in fact, a small miracle, that there was room in her bed at all for her, since its other occupant was sprawled across it like a large dog. One of his arms was draped carelessly across her chest, his fingers curled lightly around her right shoulder. Megan herself was squashed up against the wall, her head wedged uncomfortably between the corner of the room and the metal headboard of her bed.
It was some relief to her that there was a shirtsleeve around the arm that had her pinned to her mattress. The shirt reminded her that she seemed to be fully clothed as well, except for her socks, which she must have kicked off in the night.
Megan inhaled deeply, trying to shake off the last remnants of sleep. She could smell beer and cigarettes coming from his shirt, or her hair, or, quite possibly, her sheets. She recognized the usual smell of his shirt immediately. It was the smell of any shirt that had spent too long in a wrinkly ball on the floor of his room, amidst the damp towels, the dirty socks, the empty pizza boxes, and the bowl that had been used three days earlier to make macaroni and cheese but still had yet to be washed.
Megan rolled her head to her left to look her new bedfellow. His face was turned away from her. She briefly considered poking at his hair, like an ape looking for fleas, until she woke him up, but another lungful of the stale beer and cigarette fumes coming from God only knew where, although she did suspect it was mostly his shirt and her hair, sent her head spinning and it was then that she made her second discovery of the morning.
Megan had a raging hangover.
Her head pounded like the inside of a kettledrum and her ears rang like cymbals in the 1812 Overture. Her mouth was dry and tasted of skunky beer. Her tongue was swollen and dry in her mouth, flopping back and forth like a dying fish as she tried to moisten her parched and cracking lips. She felt like she’d been lost in the desert for a month. Her stomach churned slowly, like a cement mixer, its contents folding lazily back on themselves as they spilled over the top.
She felt like hell.
Briefly, Megan considered the idea that she was about to die. She’d certainly overdone it. But she was fairly certain that if she were going to die, she would have done it by now.
Maybe she was dead.
Maybe this was heaven.
She glanced over at the body sprawled next to her.
While her subconscious continued to wrestle with the question of her own mortality and its relation to beer, her sense of courtesy reminded her that it might be best if she got out of bed before the battle between her stomach and her gag reflex came to its inevitable outcome. She was trapped though; her bed was crammed up against a wall in the far corner of the room in a desperate attempt to leave as much free space as possible and her main escape route was cut off by the body lying next to her.
Gingerly, she coughed a little, despite the cries of anguish coming from her brain, and cleared her throat, hoping the noise would wake him. Silence followed. No one moved. She poked him a little, her fingers running lightly over his scalp and the tips of his ears. He whimpered a little, like a puppy, but didn’t move. She blew in his ear. Not even a twitch. She was collecting herself to speak when the nausea that was camped out inside of her lit a little fire in her esophagus that burnt and made it hard to breath. That settled it, he was staying and she had to get out. She couldn’t roll over and off the bed; she was going to have to go over him.
Slowly, Megan slid down the bed, out from underneath the arm on her chest. She pulled herself to her hands and knees and made her way across him, sideways, like a crab. The springs creaked and groaned under her and she prayed now he was too asleep to hear them. The bed was very narrow, too narrow to even be considered a twin bed, and it sagged badly and creaked even worse when she slept alone. The noises it made now that there were two of them in there made it very clear that the mattress did not want the current situation to become a habit.
She was nearly free of the whole mess when a sudden lurch of her stomach made her lose her concentration. Instead of planting her knee in between his legs, so as not to disturb him, she drove it squarely in the hollow of the back of his own knee. Her companion yelped as his leg bent in ways that God and Nature had never intended and rolled as a reflex, trying to get her off of him. Of course, he was much bigger than she was, so the force of his movement flipped her off of him and she fell ungracefully to the hard floor. And, of course, since the bed was so narrow and he was mostly asleep anyway, he rolled with such force that he followed her off the edge of the now silent mattress.
Megan watched this turn of events in slow motion, saw his arms and shoulders flop over the edge of the bed like a rag doll and the rest of him slither off, slinky-like, to land solidly on her nose. Her head thundered at her from behind her eyes, making her wonder if she might not die after all, lying, crushed under the tall and heavy, and mostly inert, body. Her stomach protested even more forcefully and she knew her time was limited. She tried to squirm out from under him, but she was pinned. Desperate, she punched him, hard, across the shoulder. He groaned a little but didn’t move.
“Drew,” she croaked, her own voice surprising her in its hoarseness, punching him again, “Drew get off me”. Drew rolled slowly over, off of her and onto the cold floor. His elbows, knees and hands grounds against a number of uncomfortable places that made her wince. As soon as she was free she hopped to her feet, which sent her collapsing back onto her bed as her headache blinded her eyes. Her ears rang and her stomach, having been very content to bubble and churn while she slept, and obviously upset at all this bumping around, lurching forcefully. Holding her pounding skull in her hands, she stood up slowly and made her way across the floor in a careful shuffling gate. She tripped over Drew’s motionless body. He groaned again, a bit louder this time, but still didn’t move.
Megan made her way to the mirrored medicine cabinet above her dresser and opened it. Fingers shaking, eyes barely focused on anything, she began to rummage through its contents, ignoring the toothpaste, mousse, dental floss and mouthwash that fell out and clattered onto the dresser.
“Are you looking for aspirin?” Drew’s voice slurred behind her, sounding a little hoarse too.
“Antacid,” she replied. She hadn’t even thought of aspirin.
“Get the aspirin too. I feel fine now, but I know as soon as I sit up I’m going to wish I was letting you grind at my knee instead.”
She found the antacid first. Hands still shaking, her body going through simultaneous hot flashes and chills, she opened the bottle and took a big swig of the stuff.
Normally she found antacid very hard to swallow. Some pharmacist in some big corporation somewhere had decided that antacids would work best if they tasted like tropical fruit. Of course, chemistry being the inexact science that it is, the reactions occurring when antacid solutions are mixed with frozen fruit punch concentrate lead to, not the delectable, easy-to-swallow, “I can’t believe it’s medication, can I have some more?” treat that pharmacists had hoped for, but rather a thick, sludgy, chalky suspension that left a nasty after-taste if you didn’t brush your teeth afterwards. Not that Megan would have minded the after-taste that fine Sunday morning. Anything to kill the thin film of stale beer that coated her lips, tongue, teeth, and gums that morning would have been greatly appreciated.
In any case, normally, Megan would have found the antacid difficult to swallow. Today, what with the pounding of her head, the rancid beer now mixed with chalky Tahiti Treat in her mouth, and the fact that her stomach was already full up to the gastro-esophageal sphincter, if not farther anyway, Megan practically had to stick her fingers down her throat to force it down. She certainly had to chase it all down with half a glass of flat Coke that sat on her desk.
“Find the aspirin?” Drew asked from the floor. He hadn’t moved from where he’d rolled off of her and his eyes were still closed. The sound of his voice shot like a crack of thunder through Megan’s brain as her stomach moved up its speed from the cement truck shuffle to the laundry machine spin cycle twist. Whether it was crying out against the antacid or the Coke was anybody’s guess.
Megan guessed it was the Coke.
“No,” she replied, her voice still cracking, hoarse more from over-use, as though she had been shouting, rather than from the fact that 90 seconds ago she’d been asleep. She placed one hand across her tremoring abdomen and began to pace along one side of the room, breathing in big shallow puffs through her mouth.
“Aw come on Meg” Drew said, “I’m dying down here.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” she grated between huffs and puffs, “I’m not doing so hot myself.” She continued to pace, willing the antacid to fortify its position. Drew opened his eyes. They were strained and blood-shot, and twitched a little as they tried to focus on her. She kept on pacing and puffing.
“You look like you’re going into labour,” he laughed and then winced as his laughter conflicted with his own hangover. Megan tossed a nearby jacket at his head.
“Yeah, well, I feel like I’m going to die, or implode, or something.”
“Please Meggy,” he whimpered, “just one aspirin for your old buddy Andrew?”
“No Drew.” He hated it when she called him Drew, although she couldn’t remember ever calling him anything else. Besides, she hated being called Meggy even more. Fleetingly, she considered throwing something else at him, something harder, maybe sharper, but it was at that moment that the battle was decided and the antacid retreated in the face of the oncoming….she tried to remember what she’d been drinking….substances she had consumed the night before.
“Get it yourself,” she managed to choke out before she was forced to make a hasty exit, stage right, out the door and down the hall to the bathroom. She slammed the door shut and then paying the price for one pint too many.
When she stumbled back to her room several minutes later, she felt both much better and much worse. Her head drummed on and her hands still shook, making even turning the doorknob to her room difficult. Her stomach had settled into a sporadic bubbling pattern, rather than the Alka-Seltzer fizz that had been going on before. Her throat was raw and she was shivering badly.
Drew, it seemed, was totally unconcerned about the state of her health, or her sudden departure. He had crawled back into her narrow bed and appeared to be sleeping soundly. She lifted the comforter and shimmied in next to him.
“Move over,” she whispered, elbowing him gently in the stomach. He grunted and slid back, hunkering against the wall. She spooned up next to him, pulling the comforter up around chin, still shivering, teeth chattering. He put one forearm against her side, his fingers resting gently on her shoulder. She could feel the rise and fall of his abdomen as he breathed in the small of her back.
“Feel better Meggy?” he asked.
“Shut up Drew,” she whispered. She felt his hand squeeze her shoulder. They lay in silence for a minute.
“What time is it?” Drew murmured in her ear, his voice already thick with oncoming sleep. Megan craned her neck around to see the red numbers of the digital clock that sat on the desk by her computer.
“6:34,” she whispered, sighing a little. When the red numbers read 6:36 they were both asleep again.