Leon Aronofsky jolted awake, twitching and confused in what seemed to him in that moment to be the centre of a huge but rapidly receding explosion. Although, as he hadn’t really spent much time with explosions living in north-west London, he couldn’t be entirely sure: he struggled to make sense of such an extraordinary crashing sound, and the residual, bilious sensation rippling through his body, as he surfaced messily from deep unconsciousness. Despite his best efforts to focus on what was happening, Leon’s thoughts remained fuzzy and thick.
Was that even real, he wondered, his head pounding, and eyes still firmly closed. Or just the tail end of a dream, mixed with a heavy door slamming somewhere. He circled around the stupid idea, in the achy purple blackness of his mind. What did he know about heavy doors? His friend, Tom Kennedy, making a brief but not untypical mental appearance and ridiculing him him for thinking it.
“Heavy like one of those big James Bond safes – with the Giant, Round, Laser-Proof Door?”
“Heavy like a fire door,” Leon imagined himself responding.
“A fire door made out of plutonium?”
“Yes, Tom. A radioactive door. For when there’s a –“
Ok, not a door, Leon decided. Something more immediate. A giant book, maybe. A set of giant, dusty encyclopaedias, falling off a high shelf. Imaginary Tom raised an eyebrow. Or possibly, he conceded, since this was an office party, a chair being hurled across a meeting room, and into a glass wall.
Or maybe – and Leon could feel himself shrink as the unwanted thought tumbled into view – maybe it was a bomb. I mean, sure, he considered, as make-believe Tom made a swift retreat, why not? Bombs produce exploding sensations. Everyone knows that. And there are so many bombs these days. Or threats of bombs. And chemical attacks and IEDs. Drones, suicide bombers, so-called Dirty bombs (along with all the sniggering schoolboys of this world…). Even photo bombs. It suddenly seemed like a credible, if slightly terrifying, possibility.
And while, yes, he had to admit that most of the bombing action was usually in far off countries and everything, the constant bomb-y media noise of it all – in advertising and public spaces, on the news, in the papers, train stations, bus depots, and municipal monuments – along with the brand-new ringing in his ears and crappy, bitter taste in his mouth, made him think again.
Leon considered the racket of all those announcements on the tube and mainline stations that he’d ignored over the years. The unattended or suspicious packages that he’d never looked for or reported on. Like the good civic-minded citizen he thought he was.
Of course, despite all that, it still seemed unlikely. No matter that the Daily Mail insists we’re living in a ruined state, with terrorists lurking on every park bench, next to the feral, skunk-smoking children and elderly park racist, he’d never met a single person in his admittedly low-key, near-flung travels between Finchley and Kilburn or the West End, who’d actually seen or experienced a bomb up close. Or even for that matter reported on a dubious package that later had to be blown up a by a public servant.
But whatever just happened, it had certainly felt real enough: a heaving, arresting battering to all the soft parts of his body. It wasn’t something he’d really experienced before. If nothing else, it was certainly a sensation brutal and startling enough to wrench him from his formerly boozy stupor. But then, for just that same reason, he couldn’t be entirely certain this episode hadn’t simply been an intoxicated delusion, brought on by a mix of too much drink and whatever it was that Tom Kennedy had evidently spiked him with earlier that night.
His mind briefly flitted backwards, straight past Tom and the heaving, make-shift office dance floor, to when, as a holidaying teenager in Israel, he’d been awoken, terrified, by the sonic boom of a low-flying F15 Airforce patrol. That was it, he decided. That must be it. A sonic boom. But in the middle of London? It didn’t make any sense.
Of course, it didn’t help that his head was pounding hard. Nor that his body felt so grotesquely stiff, dry-mouthed and – as he finally, slowly attempted to move his wretched limbs from the prone, crumpled position he realised they were in – slightly broken. And what was that cold, flat surface pressed into his face? And the peculiar stink? a burnt something fused with an odd-smelling floral perfume. A flowery perfume plus a special something else, something fetid he couldn’t really place. A subtle hiss and trammelling of water in pipes. And then… wait. His eyes snapped open.
“Oh, my god,” he groaned aloud, his throat catching on the bitter, caustic air – and simultaneously answering the question of whether or not that distant hammering sensation was just in his head. It wasn’t.
“I’m in a toilet? On the floor. Of. A. Toilet!?” He lurched upwards, cracking his head on an unseen hand basin – it was basically still pitch dark, even with his eyes open – and recoiled in a sickly combination of pain and disgust. His face pinched tight. He began to mentally scan himself for signs of damp. Of wetness. Of – he could hardly bring himself to go there – of soiling, reluctantly grabbing and clutching at his clothes in search of additional confirmation. Gratefully, he seemed wetness-free, and let go of a long sigh.
How long had he been lying on the floor, he pondered, dimly recalling a catalogue of works-party events: a treacly montage of chatty interactions, pointless banter and shared conversations. A project deconstruction here, a peel of laughter there, a snaffled cigarette outside, some monstrous, intoxicated dance moves. A crude character assassination from Tom, before witnessing a drunken almost-confession from Derek Tyler, followed quickly by an uncharacteristic (and it has to be said, deeply uncomfortable) display of affection, and then – what? His staggering journey from the dance floor to a fateful green-faced goodbye with Izzy? (he shuddered, as this awkward recollection passed him by) And then, decisively, the toilet and, he presumed, unconsciousness. Embarrassment followed by humiliation and ignominy. Another great night out, Aronofsky. One for the books.
Leon attempted to shrug off the recriminations, and made a clumsy effort to move himself more properly into a seated position. He groped about in the enveloping blackness with one outstretched hand, looking for the wall or a door to lean on.
What is that suffocating noise, he wondered, moving his gently head from side to side to get a better fix on it. Everything was so muffled and faraway. What was wrong with his ears? It felt like he was deep under water, or on a rapidly descending plane.
He reached into a pocket in search of his phone and some illumination. Pressed the button. Nothing. Pressed it again repeatedly, as though somehow more urgent pressing would produce a different result. Still nothing. Not even the faintly useless prompt telling him he should charge the phone, which in any case Leon always found immensely irritating. He was sure it had been charged. He fumbled with power switch and the device finally woke up, shedding harsh but well-designed light into his porcelain cell.
He was immediately relieved to find, by virtue of the expensive tiling, posh taps and more tasteful soap arrangements that he’d at least managed to make it to the seventh floor before passing out. After all, if he was going to lay down and press his face into the floor of what was, essentially, a public toilet, then this was definitely the one to do it in.
Ok, so not the worst it could be, Leon decided, taking in his vaguely smelly surroundings. I haven’t wet myself and I’m not covered in vomit. Many would consider that a real achievement.
Perhaps, he considered, there was still a chance to re-join the party. He could slip quietly back into to the room and simply pretend he’d been there the whole time, unobserved by anyone that would call him on it. Or feign that he’d just been outside smoking a fag, re-living the self-recriminatory enjoyment of that filthy vice.
Or maybe, depending on how deeply he’d embarrassed himself before presumably sloping off here in a bid to escape… he wasn’t sure what exactly… and falling unconscious, he should just slink furtively home. But then with no real way to assess the size and shape of his humiliation in advance, nor could he just sit here for the rest of whatever was left of the night. In an office toilet. Like a schmuck. He’d just have to chance it.
In a faint bid to act decisively, but without actually deciding anything, Leon finally pulled himself up off the floor, unlocked the door and gingerly shuffled out into the waiting pitch-black gloom.