“Hello?” A man’s voice answered. “Er, hello? Are you the father of Kevin?” “Yes. Who’s that?” “Er, I’m a friend of Kevin’s from Naples. I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a problem, sir.” There was a pause. Then, “Go on,” in the manner of someone who knew exactly what was coming. “Well, …” I started at the beginning and told him the whole story. When I had finished, he let out a great sigh. “Listen, I need you to do me a favour,” he said. “Don’t, under any circumstances, let Kevin leave the house. I’ll be out there on the next flight I can get. But it is important that he stay there in his room. Can you manage that? If you need to buy him alcohol, then do it. I’ll reimburse you for everything when I get there. But don’t let him out of the house.” “Sure,” I said. That evening, at around 11 o’clock, the doorbell rang. It was Kevin’s father. The poor man looked exhausted and had evidently been crying. He stuck out a hand. “Malcom,” he said. “Kevin is in his room. He hasn’t come out all day,” I told him. “OK. We’ll sort that out in a minute, but first I’d like a word with you boys.” We all sat in the kitchen and Malcom began his sorry tale. I wondered whether it would be tactless to offer him a beer but, to my relief, he helped himself from the fridge.
“Kevin has had a problem with alcohol since he was a teenager. About ten years ago, we put him in a clinic and he dried out. When he came out of the clinic, he started a new life. He got himself qualified as an English teacher and went out to Greece. He was happy out there. He met a lovely girl and they were going to get married. But she ran off with another man and Kevin couldn’t cope with staying in Greece without her. When he told me he was going to start again in Italy, I just knew that this was going to happen. He just wasn’t strong enough. I wanted him to come back to the UK for a while until he got over the pain. But he wouldn’t hear of it.” Malcom had started crying again. “He’s always been too clever for his own good. Straight A student. Double first at university. Trouble is, he just can’t relate to other people.”
The time had come to get Kevin to open the door. It was easier than I had feared. I knocked gently. “Your father’s here, Kevin.” The door opened and we gasped at what we saw. Kevin could barely stand on his feet. The room, and Kevin himself, stank of urine. He hadn’t shaved for a week and the part of his face that we could see was red and blotchy. He looked at me, then looked at his father and promptly burst into tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he kept repeating as he staggered forward to embrace Malcom. “It’s OK,” Malcom was telling him. “Let’s just get you home.” Mrs. Napoletano appeared and she, too, burst into tears. “How much do I owe you, signora?” asked Malcom. But Mrs. Napoletano wouldn’t hear of accepting rent. “Just make sure he’s going to be OK,” she said, wringing her hands, probably the only occasion on which I have seen her show any evidence that, beneath that huge bosom, there beat some kind of heart. Malcom stayed with Kevin in the kitchen for the entire night, watching him drink. “There’s no point in trying to stop him now,” he said. “He needs expert help. And tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”
The following morning, Mrs. Napoletano called a taxi, explained the situation to the driver so that he wouldn’t make a scene, and we helped Kevin, who was incapable of maintaining an upright position, into the car. Malcom thanked us and the taxi sped off, Kevin’s distraught face staring back at us through the window. We waved. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Steve, his eyes welling with tears and his voice choked with emotion. “It’s called the total destruction of a human being,” said Samuel.
We went back into the flat and set about putting Kevin’s room in order. It was a long, foul job. As Kevin had deteriorated, he had been unable even to go the bathroom, and had been pissing in empty bottles which he had stored under his bed. There were spirit bottles, wine flagons, empty wine cartons and beer crates everywhere, some half empty, others containing dark, pungent urine. We went up to ask Mrs. Napoletano for some dustbin sacks and started filling them. Steve came across a bottle of whisky that hadn’t been opened. He looked at me. “What about this?” “Bin it,” I said. “It would choke me.” Steve nodded and tossed it into the sack. We spent the day cleaning, scrubbing and mopping. We left the window open all day and all night. It was a long time before the smell of piss disappeared, although how much of it was genuine and how much imagined, I have no idea.
“Cheers, lads!” I took a sip of red wine. The three of us, Steve, Samuel and I, were sitting on Steve’s balcony, watching deep, dark clouds roll in. This promised to be a most spectacular storm and we had set up the stereo speakers, one on either side of the balcony so that Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” might provide some atmospheric musical accompaniment to the thunderclaps and flashes of lightning. “I don’t know how you can bring yourself to drink wine,” accused Steve. “Not after the state you saw Kevin in this morning.” “Well I’m not intending to get into that state, I can assure you.” “Still. A bit of respect, though.” “What’s respect got to do with it? Look, I’m sorry he was an alcoholic. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a glass or two of plonk, does it?”
Samuel threw his hat into the ring: “I must admit, I think that I’ll find it difficult to touch the sauce for a while.” “Suit yourselves,” I said, and settled back to enjoy the storm, which began almost immediately. The first clap of thunder put paid to Wagner, a power cut silencing the stereo and casting the street below into total darkness. Good. It added to the storm’s primeval beauty. “Bugger it!” said Steve. “I think I will join you for a glass, after all.” He got up and felt his way into the kitchen to fetch a tumbler. “Yeah. OK, get me one too, while you’re at it!” said Samuel, and then, as he caught me looking sideways at him. “Well, there’s no point depriving yourself, is there?” I smiled. Steve came back with the glasses and poured himself a generous measure of Aglianico. Samuel did the same.
“To Kevin,” said Steve, piously, and raised his glass. “May he …” “Fuck off,” I cut him short. We sat in silence. “His replacement’s arriving on Monday,” Samuel said after some time. “Some Scottish bloke called Mick. Wonder what he’s like?” “Bet he’s a prick,” said Steve.