Adrian Sturrock: ‘You’d make a lousy junkie,’ my wife informs me as I’m busy whiting-out on the sofa.

     ‘You’d make a lousy junkie,’ my wife informs me as I’m busy whiting-out on the sofa.

     ‘Must … try … harder,’ I mumble, in my semi-conscious state. And then I pass out.

* * * * * * * *

    When I come round, I’m in the recovery position. She has set a bowl down beside me. ‘Just in case,’ she tells me. She has also placed a cold drink at what she wrongly considers to be within my reach; at a distance that, to be fair, I would easily manage on a normal day. Today, however, is not a normal day. Today, I am injured. Twice.

     Injury One is a torn shoulder muscle. Injury Two is the alarmingly adverse effects of the drugs my GP has prescribed me for my torn shoulder muscle. I stare at the glass for a while before daring to strain my body in its general direction.

     Injury One is the result of a climbing accident that occurred last night. This, I’d like to think, makes me sound far more interesting than I actually am – or feel. I’d like people to imagine me hanging precariously from a frayed climbing rope, having fallen into a deep crevasse on some infamous Nepalese mountain. Perhaps I’d been left for dead by my team mates who couldn’t possibly believe that anyone would have survived the unprecedented avalanche that landed me here. I’d like people to imagine that I’d managed to survive the night, and somehow climbed out of this deep gully before orientating myself back to safety, thus surprising both locals and fellow climbers and rendering me somewhat of a local climbing legend.

     In reality, however, I’ve torn my shoulder through sheer stupidity, on an indoor climbing wall attached to a leisure centre about twelve miles from Watford. My arm still hurts though.

     I am at mid-strain towards my drink when I notice my wife sitting on the sofa adjacent to mine. She has stopped reading her book in order to muse over my inadequate movements. She is wearing that expression that she sometimes puts on, the one that doesn’t let on whether it’s a smirk or a pondering. I offer a half-smile back, ‘just in case.’

    ‘Mmph!’ I whimper, as my arm involuntarily flinches, reminding me that I really shouldn’t be attempting to use it in any way whatsoever. I recoil slowly and refold it back under myself.

     This evening’s pain is somehow different to this morning’s. This, I’m guessing, is due to the heavy-duty anti-inflammatories and opium-infused cocktail suggested by my GP, which has rendered me a less than cheap imitation of who I used to be. Just a few hours ago, the only thing wrong with me was the torn muscle which, though totally incapacitating in a sheer, toothache-like agony sort of way, was at least a localised affair.

    ‘Go see your doctor,’ a friend had said. ‘They’ll make you better,’ he’d said.

     Since visiting my local NHS pusher, my entire body has been reduced to rubble, and thinking actual thoughts has greatly diminished. I very much doubt that Sherlock Holmes really solved crimes while on opiates. I can hardly operate the TV remote control.

     ‘My arm isn’t hurting as much, now,’ I tell my wife, a little later.

    ‘That’s western medicine for you,’ she says. ‘As long as the chemicals solve the immediate issue, they’re considered a success. Any collateral damage they leave behind – in this case, [she’s pointing at me] the jibbering mess that used to be my husband – is considered merely ‘side effects’.

     ‘Is this how you see me?’ I mumble. ‘As a side effect?’

     She pauses to consider the question. ‘… At the moment, pretty much,’ she says, nodding and smiling.

     I think I agree with her; I’m just not really able to articulate this right now.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: It’s just a casual arrangement; it’s not as though we’ve been together for years.

     ‘Hi,’ she says, ‘I’m Melissa.’ She holds out her hand and smiles warmly.

    ‘Hi,’ I say, ‘I’m Adie.’ I extend my hand also, as I take the seat next to where she has been waiting for me.

    Scanning the room, I’m feeling a little anxious. What if Francesca is here? What if she sees me with Melissa? Oh God, why couldn’t I have arranged to do this somewhere else? It’s too late now, I guess.

    Melissa asks me about my day, while a young girl approaches to take a drinks order. I’m not really listening to either of them; I’m too concerned about being caught out by Francesca, and wondering why I’m doing this at all. Is Francesca really all that bad? What would she say if she saw me here? Would she confront me in front of everybody? Unlikely, I decide. But would she really be that hurt to find me going behind her back? I mean, it’s just a casual arrangement that we have, it’s not as though we’ve been together for years. In fact, it’s only been a few months.

     So why am I feeling so guilty?

* * * * * * * *

‘It always feels a little like you’re cheating on one with the other, when you change hairstylists in the same salon,’ my wife tells me, as we meet for lunch a little later. ‘Maybe you really should have gone somewhere else.’

     ‘I guess I should have,’ I say, smiling.

    ‘What made you book Melissa, anyway?’

    ‘Nothing, really,’ I say, ‘I just fancied a change.’ I check myself in the reflection of the restaurant window. ‘To be honest, I think I prefer Francesca.’

    Nat considers my new cut, taking my chin in her hand and turning my head from side to side. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘so do I … I think Melissa’s missed a bit.’

    ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘I feel even more self-conscious now.’

    ‘We can’t all look as good as me,’ she says, and leans over to kiss me.

    ‘What do you think salons do with all the hair they brush up,’ I ask, as I tip the remnants of our  wine bottle across our two glasses.

    ‘Well, I’d like to think that they have it drug tested in order to blackmail clients,’ she suggests.

    ‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Personally, I think they use it to clone individual clients, so as to have the faux-clients commit crimes for them.’

    ‘They might even be using the hair en masse,’ Nat continues, ‘as the base ingredient with which to build a vast clone army, so as to one day take over the world.’

    ‘I’ve heard rumours,’ I say, lowering my voice and looking around furtively, ‘that they may even be making wigs from it.’

    ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she says.

* * * * * * * *

Four weeks later, I’m back; this time with Francesca, whilst trying hard to avoid eye contact with Melissa.

    Forty or so minutes and a much better job later, Francesca and I are saying our goodbyes. She has her diary up on screen as I pay, and reminds me that I can get 10% off my next cut if we book the next appointment now.

     It’s while we are doing this that Melissa walks right by me. I know she’s seen me, though she’s pretending she hasn’t. This makes me pretend I haven’t seen her either … which only adds to my discomfort.

     ‘You’ll get a text the day before, to remind you,’ says Francesca, enthusiastically and, I feel, rather too loudly.

    ‘Thank you,’ I say, quietly and cowardly, while the ‘Screw You’ of Melissa’s silence continues to ricochet off the walls and around my head.

    ‘By the way,’ I whisper, as I turn to leave, ‘what does the shop do with all the dead hair it collects?

      ‘I think we just bag it and bin it,’ Francesca tells me.

    ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘That’s disappointing.’