They called it Absolution. There was talk at first among the legal beagles about a court case brewing with the vodka people, on account of the name – but nothing ever came of it. In any case, soon the drink was so much a part of everyone’s life it would have been hard to do anything about it. It began in the exclusive clubs, a name known only to those who knew it, but within a month or two it had made its way onto the spirit shelves of every chain across the country.
Two shots of Absolution please. The taste of it was indescribable; its effect, mind-blowing. It replaced the jagerbomb and the tequila slammers, wrote them off the map. As summer opened up its embrace, people were forsaking Pimms in favour of this new sweet aftertaste. Even the hardened ale-drinker was willing to take a minor detour from his usual fare. Shot, short, long – it was good for every occasion. There was talk of turning it into a soft drink version for the pre-boozing youngsters. Absolution for Youth, they wanted to call it.
Wherever you went, Absolution. It became the hallmark of the good bar – and every bar was now a good bar. What was difficult was finding a place that didn’t stock it – not that anyone was trying. The nation, to a man, made Absolution their beverage of choice.
The marketing tact was superbly successful, even if no one was quite sure how they pulled it off. The adverts were everywhere it seemed, because everyone was talking about it – but no two adverts ever seemed alike. Everyone remembered it differently – ‘that one, you know – the one with the girl’ – ‘no, it was a walrus’ – ‘I saw the one where the pheasant tackles a bull’. It was remarkable, really, that so many variations were floating about undiscovered. Yet despite this, it was always understood that this was the product being pushed. The idiosyncratic adverts in their multifarious manifestations spoke only of one thing. Ab unis unum: all roads, be they strewn with pheasants, walruses, or seductively clad ladies, led to Absolution.
And here was the best thing about it: the hangover. Or rather, the lack of one. Never had the population been able to indulge so prodigiously in their favourite pastime with so little consequence. Some said it took the fun out of it – where was the challenge in necking a trayful of shots if you knew you would emerge, glittering and rose-smelling, on the other side? But the rest said shut up it’s your round.
It wasn’t just that there was no hangover – it almost made you feel better. It felt like you were still drunk – yet you were sober. It delivered the most overwhelming sense of self-satisfaction over mornings that had at one time been bleary eyed and smeared with shame. Even after the night before, it made you feel invincible.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that with the godlike endowment of power and apparent lack of punishment, someone was bound to start playing silly buggers sooner or later. The first incident was a domestic – most of them would be. A man came home from a merry night on the tiles toasting Absolution into the early hours – found his girlfriend still awake and armed to the teeth with recriminations. This volley of insults and abuses he had endured, reportedly, a hundred times before; but finding himself not in the mood this night, what with the drink and the merriment and the loss of consequence, went to the drawer, fished out a hammer, and stuck in square in her head. The next morning when he trotted himself down to the police, he told them he was feeling – ‘fine, fine – dandy, really.’
He was not the last. Under the influence, wives set upon husbands, husbands shacked up with lovers; lovers abdicated to other lovers and husbands went back home to a meat cleaver. Children scrambled to do away with parents clinging stubbornly onto life and wealth, while many parents took affirmative action and killed all but their favourite child. Suburbia was in turmoil: hedges desecrated, dogs destroyed, sprinklers going off willy nilly as everyone stuck two fingers up to the hose pipe ban. Absolution had become an epidemic. The nation had never been so carefree; it had never been so chaotic.
Then suddenly, as quick as it had come, supply dried up. The bars couldn’t source it anymore. The hordes did not take kindly to this and told the proprietors so with their fists and other implements. However, without the kindly balm of the merciful liquor to take the edge off, many proponents of the carnage felt really quite bad about it. Everyone became embroiled in a double bind of rage and shame that they hadn’t had to deal with in a while.
After about a week of chaos, billboards appeared. Just a blank mass, onto which was etched a single line of block text:
Absolution is no longer available.
Several people promptly killed themselves, which seemed a little extreme – although it had to be said, the country certainly was down in the dumps. Commerce was shuddering to a halt. The City didn’t open up till ten and someone had apparently rung up the NASDAQ and told it to fuck off. The hospitals were still operating, although surgery came with the fatigued caveat ‘if you think it’s really worth it.’
People were diverting back to wine and wondering why they bothered. Ale and lager folk alike issued the weary command – pint please – and didn’t care which one they got. The loss of Absolution had taken the flavour out of the world.
Then one day, the billboards disappeared. In their place came posters: just a picture of the bottle, recognisable even with the label torn off. Below it, the caption:
Find Your Own
It was a work in progress.