In the summer when the trees are full the sunlight falls in mottled dabs upon the Cours Gambetta. The Cours Gambetta is a long straight road which runs the length of two entire boroughs. For some way along it is lined on both sides with tall Plane trees which branch out and meet in the middle overhead. Beneath this leafy canopy, cafés, patisseries and fabric stores lay open in the dank shade of day. If one walks far enough down the Cours Gambetta the road transforms: the ornate architecture of the 6 storey apartment buildings modernises; the cafes drop away; the people become less chic on less money, and the trees spare out until, after a moment, they are not there at all. Here the sun is always high and blisters down so fiercely that the further distance ripples through the waves of heat and looks like the white dusty home-front of a desert town. It was that walk I made, most days, to score heroin during my first summer in Lyon.
To enter you had to push forward the loose wooden hoardings and slip in through the scissored gap. There inside was another world: a forgotten courtyard strewn with debris under the husk of a condemned and partly demolished building. It looked like Nuremberg just after the second world war; like you could find body parts poking out the rubble. The air stank of ulcerated dogs and dried excrement. Just outside the back entrance of the building, where the shade kept the moisture, clouds of black midges hung about in the stagnant air.
It was Mamms who first pushed me through into that hidden world. He was a smack sculpted beggar I'd collared one afternoon as he left the Devil's Rest needle exchange with a rucksack full of clean works on his naked back. Abdomen scooped out, round military cap on his head and a rag out his back pocket I followed, the musty smell of stale body odour drifting back my way. He pushed the boarding open and shoved me through so suddenly that I thought he was up to robbing me. Biscuit, his mongrel street hound, wriggled through behind, its large face and body emerging like it was materialising out a time-warp.
“Voilà!” said Mamms, throwing his arms out to present the derelict skeleton of the building in front of us. "La REAL France."
"I hope so," I said, looking up and nodding in approval, half an eye still on Mamms. But Mamms wasn't out to rob me; he was too far below the poverty line for that to have helped any. Of greater significance, his shot of choice was subutex not heroin, and subutex came free, courtesy of the French state. Mamms beckoned me on, bouncing over a discarded mattress colonized by black spores. From the building two male junkies, both in their early twenties, came trundling out. They shoved and jostled one another in fun, getting rid of the surplus energy that flagrantly breaking laws and moral codes excites. They had just scored; I could tell. On seeing me they stopped. They were street addicts like Mamms - hair shaved and grown and coloured randomly, cut-down military bottoms, boots held together by various straps and laces and anarcho political messages on their t-Shirts. The first had arms covered in a thousand fresh needle marks and cutting tattoos. They slapped hands with Mamms and calmed down to a serious stance. They spoke words I didn't understand but knew were against me. I'd been around the junk scene for so long that I didn't need Mamms' lies to convince me afterwards that it was nothing. They suspected me of being a cop, and if not a cop, certainly someone there under false pretences. As they left they shot me a squinted hostile look.
"Cest bon!" said Mamms, once they had gone. "It is good, my friend. Alors, one gram?"
"Oui... and une gram for toi, " I said.
Mamms repositioned his rucksack on his back, slapped the outside of his thigh and whistled. Biscuit pulled its nose from out a bag of rubbish and shot up the stairs ahead of him. I was left to wait in what was once the back entrance, but had since been turned into a communal toilet. The space to the left of the staircase was full of turds in various stages of dehydration. Sticking out of random shits were old syringes. Flies buzzed around. I stared at the turds and the needles, and in my first French summer, so far away from the rotting bedsits and hostels and junkies of London, I waited for my score and knew that drugs and blood were back on the agenda
I woke in a panic. I had momentarily lost all notion of time and thought the half light outside was that of a new morning. God, Mary must be frantic with worry, I thought. The last thing I could remember was sitting on Mamms girlfriend's sofa and unloading a shot into my ankle. After five months clean it had laid me out good. I squinted the room into focus. Mamms was across from me, on his knees, shooting his girlfriend in the crux of her arm as she sat on a wooden chair turned away from the table. Her face was gritted in a mixture of apprehension and fear. It told me she was new to the needle. On the wall was a clock. It was almost 9pm. The second hand ticked on incredibly slowly.
Mamms said something which I didn't understand. Then he made a gesture of his eyes closing over and let his head slump forward. It meant I had gone out like that. It made him happy. His girl stirred besides him, itching the side of her face. The shot had worked its magic; she had acquired a delayed response to the world. She looked quizzically at Mamms, her eyes imploring him to understand what was going on. Then she somehow understood and turned slowly and gave me a weak smile. Where her pupils had shrunk I got the impression I was staring into a deep tunnel, at the distant point of a vanishing soul. Her smile flattened out and now her face looked traumatised, like she was trying to communicate an unspeakable horror. Her eyes closed over. Mamms stroked her back tenderly. I knew then that she had a huge tragedy lying host within her.
“Is that the correct time?” I asked, pointing to the clock. She tried to open her eyes but the heroin was too strong in her. She gave up and nodded, made some kind of a sound.
“I must go,” I said, “my girlfriend will be dying with worry.” I collected my affairs, slipped my shoe on and left.
When the evening comes down on the city and shadows stretch and fall in every direction it's a beautiful thing. Some roads are a blur of red and blue and white neon signs, and others are tall and narrow and run along with tall, Haussmannesque style apartment buildings. There are smaller roads too with maisonettes and antique streetlamps and still others which turn and crawl off into holes of impenetrable blackness. To a dark sky and history's echo I walked my way home, through the fragrances of the urban sprawl, back down the Cours Gambetta. On this return journey the world was suddenly alive. I once again felt the strong, unmistakeable presence of existence. In a foreign town, shot full of heroin, the streets were awash with drama and danger and sinister, toothless criminality.
The stairwell of my apartment block seemed lonely in its artificial light, like a cave with a single stalactite dripping water. I knew what likely awaited me. As I entered the apartment Mary came out the salon with a frantic look on her face and her phone to her ear. "Yes, yes it's him," she said, closing the phone. I lowered my head, so my eyes were hidden, and guided her back into the salon.
"Where have you been?" she asked. “I was worried and didn't know what to do." I laid my cards out straight, placing what was left of the smack on the table in front of her. It was in a bag much larger than what she was used to seeing in London. It took her a few seconds to realise what it was. She looked at me like it was a joke; hoping I'd save her. But I'm no saviour. I looked into her eyes and she looked at mine. What she saw was the conspicuous regard of heroin, the pinprick pupils and distraught look of love that sometimes creeps into the mask of heavy sedation. She put her hand over her mouth and her eyes widened.
I wasn't going to fight. I had told her that this would happen. The only help I could give her now was to make the nightmare real. I sat down, my emotions steeled against hers. I took out my syringes and, like she had seen hundreds of times before, I cooked up a shot.
“Do you want one?” I asked.
She didn't reply. Not in words anyway. She sat down besides me, looked at the heroin in the bag, then unpacked a little aluminium cooking cup, measured out a dose and cooked a hit up too. And like that the summer darkened over and our days took on a vitality that had been missing since we arrived.
We ended up on the Cours Gambetta most days, making the 30 minute walk from the mottled sunlight into the derelict end of town. Mary became friends with Mamms' girlfriend, Céline, a young first year philosophy student. She had met Mamms during the fortnight he had spent begging outside her student lodgings. From a family with money, she spoke good English and in that first month was still going horse-riding in the country every weekend. Her father was American. He wrote cheques in place of love. Mamms was obviously her very real rebellion against that superficial way of life which had left her with everything yet wanting so much. What she was to him I have no idea. All I know is that he loved his dog and gave himself wholly to his canine confidante like I never saw him give to any human being.
As the summer wore on so the Cours Gambetta wore on through our lives. We woke and showered the sticky night from off our skins and fresh and spright we hit the streets, winding our way on to the Cours. For me there was an attachment to it that was more than just heroin. It was a road which called me, made me want to rise and be out on it as soon as possible. I felt at home on the Cours Gambetta, felt like it spanned nations and culture and language. It was one road that I needed no direction or translation on; a road in a foreign country which I knew more integrally than the locals themselves. And as the Cours Gambetta cut through my days so too it came boring through my dream world. In deep sleep I would have hallucinatory visions of it, a letterbox view of my feet, walking through a night that wriggled like a Van Gogh painting, all the people of the junk life coming and going, hanging about in dark doorways, coughing up black blood into handkerchiefs and laughing, having found some deeper understanding of the human condition through the sheer horror of it, through the harshness and the struggle for survival needed to sustain chronic addiction. It was a road where death and life shimmered atop of one another, where the two were quite indistinguishable. In the quiet hours of the night I would wake and see the moon out the window. I could feel the Cours Gambetta in the milky light, nothing going on, the sleeping squat and the dogs in the dark, curled up with their jaws on their haunches, ears pricked, eyes open to the static silence of the night.
Mamms became less reliable as his relationship with Céline deteriorated. She would no longer allow him to stay over and so we'd turn up at hers in the afternoon and wait for Mamms to put in a show. Céline would shoot a shot and become manic, enter into a strange fantasy world of theatre and personas, in and out her bedroom changing into different outfits. One moment she'd appear as a hippy chick in dress and bandanna, then as a cowgirl in tan suede skirt and jacket, then in ultra small denim shorts and a top cut just below her breasts, galloping around the room like a ballet dancer with coloured ribbons of fabric flailing from her wrists. It wasn't madness, just another way of being somebody else for a while. When Mamms finally arrived she would greet him in the character of whoever she was dressed as. She thought that getting high and acting completely deranged was what drug people did.
Leaving Mary and Céline in the safety of the apartment, Mamms and I would head over to the squat. Scoring was rarely quick anymore. If we returned within an hour we were lucky. Most days we'd arrive to be told that the dealer (Julien) was out, somewhere across town reloading supplies. Mamms and I would divide our time between sitting in the shade of the stairwell, alongside the basement of excrement, or slowly circling the dusty yard like prisoners. We could be there for anything up to 6 hours and sometimes Julien never came back at all. On such occasions Mamms and I would return to Céline's and inform the girls that we had nothing. Where the girls had shown a burst of excitement on our entrance we then had to slunk down, feeling guilty, as it registered in them that there would be no fix that night. Everyone's nerves and patience would be exhausted. We'd sit around in the gloom of the bad news, staring at the floor and knowing it would be a long night into tomorrow. As this happened more and more Mary and I began heading into the city centre where I'd go junkie spotting amongst the homeless and find a score for some ridiculous price. Often we'd miss the last metro and have to walk 5 miles home.
After not even three months on the Cours Gambetta our finances were in ruins. The payments I'd been receiving from London got stopped and the small amount of money we had arrived in France with had dwindled away to nothing. My bank card hit zero and then minus 500 and then stopped working at all. I tossed it in the river like an old playing card. Mary took out a bank loan. To keep as much cash as possible for heroin we walked the roads poor, scrimped on food and tobacco and in just about every way imaginable. We began spacing the heroin out, limiting ourselves to just three shots per day. Sometimes, halfway through another long wait, knowing we didn't have the finances to carry this on much longer anyway, we'd make a sudden and brash decision to cancel our order. With the money we had saved we'd buy fabulous cups of crushed ice drinks, bubblegum and raspberry flavour, and sit in the evening square sucking and munching on the sharp crystals so as our tongues turned bright blue and pink. Then we'd slope off home, proud of ourselves and feeling safe in the knowledge that we still had our bedtime shot to get us into tomorrow.
October. Trees still full; days shorter. With the evenings came fresh winds that cooled the colour out of the leaves. From all the heroin activity in the squat news started circling of an imminent police raid. We took such murmurs as overly cautious fears until one evening when the anti-crime police stopped and searched Mamms as he left the squat. Mamms had felt something untoward in the air and managed to dump the heroin. When he returned and told us what had happened I was highly suspicious, especially as it had occurred on one of the rare occasions I had not been with him. We waited an hour and then deemed it safe to go out and search for the smack. I was sure it would not be found. To my surprise we recovered it just where Mamms said he had dumped it. It was a relief but it proved to be the last. That evening the squat cleared out, a group of 15 new age punks with dogs and stereos and boxes of CDs, traipsing across town in search of a new place to set up. We watched them go, Julien tall and stooped, weighed down by multiple bags slung over each shoulder, a shredded armless t-shirt and silver bangles hanging loose around his heroin scarred arms. As he crossed the road he lowered his head to the side, pressed a thumb against his inner nostril and blew out a thick slob of mucus from the other. Where he stumbled doing that his dog got caught up around and under him and let out a wild yelp in through the dying evening. We stood watching the troupe cross the road and continue on straight, taking a little through road and leaving the Cours Gambetta behind.
- - -
Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X
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It had been raining, but by then it had stopped. The night was in. Across the sky were vast expanse of cloud, smokey mauve on the deep purple of outer space. Along the damp walls snails slithered away in the dark. It was early summer, and aggravated by the wet, the concentrated scent of leaves and plants was thick in the air. The trees in front gardens were black silhouettes. The sound of dripping water and grit crunching underfoot were all that could be heard. There was noone on the road but me and but for the odd light, in the odd top floor room, the houses sat dead and still and stuffed full of creeping darkness. The road ahead was slick black; the street lights shimmering in the wet ground. Up ahead a traffic light rested on green and there the hightstreet, deserted, ran through. Nothing could possibly be going on now. These were the deathly hours. From over a high wall a pink drooping blossom hung. The garden smelled of rose and the next one along of cat's piss. It was getting on for 3am and I had sneaked out of bed and out the house to score my last three rocks of crack, leaving Mary sound asleep and none-the-wiser that I'd gone.
Turning onto the high street, heading for the old church, I could make out two figures up ahead. One was a man with his right leg locked straight and shot outwards at a 45 degree angle. He walked with a cane and in the effort to avoid his disabled leg his upper body was twisted and bent like John Merrick's. Besides him was a small woman with a ponytail and wearing a cheap matching sport's tracksuit a size too large. Her neck was sunken into her back and her arms swung stiffly, capped by forward facing clenched fists the weight of which seemed to help propel her forward. They crossed the high street, turned left and then disappeared down the side of the church.
I followed fifty metres behind. As I walked I discretely clocked everything on both sides of the road. At a lit up bus-stop, across from the church turning, was a man. There were no night buses on this route; he could be only one of two things: a junkie or a cop. I wandered casually passed him. Junkie - no doubt about it. I did a u-turn. As I repassed him again I checked my phone, letting him know I was on the score too.
"Oi, mate, dya just phone Ace? How longs he saying?"
"Said he's on his way. Sounded like he'd just woke up!"
"He dint say how long?"
"Cunt!" he said, jabbing his face forward and stopping bluntly before it'd even gone an inch, the force expelling the word with a seething violence.
"You shouldn't wait here," I said, "he doesn't like it."
"Fuck what he likes. I'm not his fucking slave. It's less suss here than down that fucking alley." I didn't try to convince him.
Across the road, from the opposite direction I'd arrived, a longhaired junkie known as Steggs was making his way down. He wore cut down military trousers and sandals and walked with a huge lumbering gait as though he was returning from 30 years of headbanging. The rain hadn't only brought the snails and slugs out.
"Ok, I'm off same place as him," I said, to the stranger at the bus-stop. "You staying here?" He nodded, looked annoyed and said, "Lanky black cunt!" I left. He would eventually come to his senses. He's not gonna wait 45 minutes and then fuck his score up by pissing off the dealer.
I didn't like the alley myself. One side was the church wall and the other was the high backwalls of residential gardens. The alley was just wide enough to allow a car to pass down. I entered. It was pitch black.
"Steggs," I whispered. "Steggs?" After a moment I hit an outstretched arm and Steggs pulled me in. That was the deal. The residential backwalls all had long wooden yard doors set a foot back in them and the church wall was pitted along with shallow alcoves. So as the alley appeared empty to any passers-by or cruising police cars everyone sidled into these recesses and stood as still as the Queen's guards. As we waited we whispered. Now and again the screen from a phone would light up as someone checked how long Ace had been or phoned him afresh.
"What you after, mate?" Asked Steggs. It's never a good idea to divulge that, especially concerning crack. A junkie scoring would never dream ask for a pinch of heroin, but crack is a different game and because it's not physically addictive is looked upon in a whole new light. It's seen as a luxury... a privilege.. a something you can score only once your heroin habit is secured. It's an extravagance someone could beg you a small rock of, especially someone with a crack habit as voracious as Stegg's.
"Just a couple of brown," I said. "Would love a white though."
"Me too," said Steggs. The lying cunt. It's 3am. You only ever score crack at 3am. If you've the cash your heroin addiction is taken care of well in advance of such criminal hours. The only users who may honestly be scoring smack at such a time are the prostitutes, returning home from their last punter and clucking. We stood silent for a while. Steggs pulled his hair back and banded it in a ponytail.
"Give him a bell," he said.
"No point, mate. It won't change anything. If we're the last ones he's waiting on he'll be here soon enough. He'll not come out multiple times at this hour. If he's still waiting for others to confirm their presence he'll not arrive until they do. "
"Yeah, but he don't know I'm here yet mate... Phone him and tell him Steggas has arrived!"
I phoned. Before I could tell Ace the quite ridiculous news that 'Steggas' was here he said, "Ten mins, bro," and closed the phone.
"Ten," I said to Steggs.
"Wots' E sayin?" asked a voice out the dark. "Ten," hissed Steggs from his toothless mouth.
A little way down I could see someone smoking. Each time the cigarette seared I could just about make out who it was. It was the woman in the tracksuit and pony tail, moving about in the centre of the alley as if desperate for the toilet. She wasn't desperate for the toilet. If it were the case she'd squat and piss without the slightest hesitation. What she was desperate for was crack cocaine, dancing through her comedown - pacing, fidgeting, turning in circles, keeping up rhythms which passed time and gave the jittery mind something to concentrate on.
"Wouldya look at her!" said John. "She'll av us all shook up carrying on like that."
She could, it was true. But there's always one and they're often a lot worse than that. And, if anyone thought for a second that the residents really didn't know what was going on behind their walls, then more fool them. They all knew. Had probably each phoned the police a half dozen times and learnt nothing gets done - nothing can be done. As long as we made an effort and didn't litter the place with needles and excrement they no longer bothered. Probably took some comfort from the fact that we were carrying out our debauchery directly under the wrathful and vengeful watch of God, delighting in the thought that we'd at least get punished once the drugs had taken their ultimate toll. Fatal OD or death from some blood born virus was neither the end nor an escape: it was merely the beginning: our real torture would begin only after we were dead. Fortunately, not many using addicts believe in such fairytales. For us the church is just the place where we score and the only saviour is a black West Indian yardie who snatches your money and spits bags of drugs at you in disgust. Our Jesus doesn't give a fuck and it's just the way we like it.
I could smell his cheap supermarket sports aftershave even though I couldn't see him. It was Adidas or some crap that he'd splashed on and was surely doing him more damage than the drugs. A new user. Young. Many start out like that. Using their high time to shower and mess about with their hair and skin, keeping up appearances. Slapping on some cheap splash and jumping into freshly pressed clothes just to go to score. That'll all soon stop. In a year he'll be like me, or worse, like Steggs - if he really lets himself go.
The young perfumed addict hung about alone. I could see his form but no more. The alley smelled like the shower gel aisle in a supermarket. Somene told him to get himself put away. New on the scene he apologised and thanked the anonymous junkie for the help and struck up a conversation with him, speaking too loudly and relating outrageous tales of the junkie life, of a thousand things which never happened. A natural born bullshitter - he was in good company here.
When Ace still hadn't arrived 20 minutes later I phoned him.
"I'm fuckin d'ere bro," he said, curtly. If he was here I'd be ale to see him and the only things I could see were Steggs and one or two cigarettes burning away in the distance.
"Steggs, did you see the fella I was with at the bus-stop when you arrived?"
"Glimpsed him. Seen him around a few times. He often gets off T's lot round the flats. Don't know him though."
"I'm gonna go and give him a shout. You know what Ace is like, he'll refuse to serve him for hotting the place up waiting there."
I left Steggs and exited the alley, making sure no-one was happening to be passing as I stole out. Up on the high street the junkie at the bus-stop was now with two other addicts - two middle aged women, one white and the other a golden colour. The fool! He was collaring people and telling them to wait there. I crossed the road and advised them to get in the alley, that Ace would refuse to serve them for waiting there.
"Serious?" Said the white woman. She was chewing gum.
"Serious," I said, "and he's on his way." The two women had no qualms about where to wait and were now with me ready to return. "You coming mate?" I said to the man. He cast his eyes up and gave a disinterested look around at the deserted highstreet. "Fuck it. If the cunts that funny about where we wait I'll come. It's him who'll be nabbed with all the gear when it comes on top." Together, the four of us headed the short distance back to the alley. I rejoined Steggs and the other three backed up church side into one of the alcoves. There were now at least 8 addicts waiting on Ace, at least, because I'd seen glowing cigarettes in the distance too which were from others who must have arrived before us.
"What the fucks that?" Steggs suddenly said, looking down the alley. I followed his gaze. At the top end a car had turned in, the headlights glaring in the distance.
"On top!" A voice cried. No-one budged.
"Is it moving?" Steggs asked.
"Can't tell," I said.
"If anyone's holding get rid of it," another unseen person said to everyone. A couple of sniggers broke out at that suggestion. I'm not sure if they found it humourous that anyone would drop their gear amongst an alley full of addicts, or funny the idea that any of us had any gear to offload. The best thing to do in any case would be for anyone holding to leave the alley and lurk about at a safe distance until sure if the car was friend or foe. No-one dumped anything and no-one left. The reason why no-one left was because it could very well be Ace in the car, the car which was clearly moving now, slowly so as not to scrape along either wall, the headlights getting bigger and brighter as it crawled its way down.
We were all tense. For most of us the police would be nothing but an inconvenience but there would be some amongst us who would have had warrants or been caught out on curfew. My biggest concern was that if it were the police then our meeting with Ace was buggered and there'd be no gear of any kind or colour for anyone. I was also thinking of what time I'd then finally make it home, and after the delay of a police stop Mary would surely have roused at some time in the night, figured I was not there and be sat, crying at my shooting table by the window when I returned. She was possibly already there. It was over an hour I'd been gone and I'd estimated on leaving that I'd have been back and sorted within forty five minutes. We stood as thin as we could in our recesses. All talking had stopped as the car now approached close enough to illuminate our world.
Good God! There must have been 20 plus addicts in the alley. As the car inched further along more junkies were lit up and picked out on either side, mostly in couples, men and women of varying unhealthy hues, stood like grotesque statues in their carrels, breath held and mouths closed as if in ready preparation to say nothing to the police. What the driver must have thought as his headlights picked out this secret life of vice, the dead and dying with widestruck eyes and missing limbs, scooped out junkie features, human sized praying mantis' dressed in an array of bizarre and mismatched clothes, each person a sight in their own right but looking twice as debauched and desperate alongside their scoring cohort. I watched the line of junkie faces. Steggs and I were in the last recess, nearest the entrance, but far enough down to be out of sight from the street.
"Fuck me, would ya take a look at the state of us lot!" Steggs said, laughing. "Talk about not wanting to meet us down a dark alley. Fuck." And that's when I saw her, stood there in her large black coat over her pyjama bottoms, cheap comfy trainers with Velcro straps across the fronts. I was startled and did a double take, the light reflecting off her large pale face, her lips devoured by her mouth where she didn't have her false teeth in, the huge granny gut and the slop of loose hung breasts. Her hair was brushed back and down and she wore a screwed up expression of annoyance as if pissed off the car had lit her up.
"MUM?" I cried, astonished, looking across at her in surprise. She turned and saw me and just shook her head obviously in a mood. Whoever was in the car had seen us now regardless. I rushed across its lights, over to my mother.
"What the fuck you doing here?" I asked. "Thought you had no cash?"
"Yeah, I thought you didnt!" She said, throwing the suggestion back at me in the petty way she had done all her life when caught out. "It's why ya left earlier innit?"
"That and to get home... You know how Mary is."
"Yeah, ya seem to care a lot about that Shane!" Then she looked over at the car. "Who the fuck is this in this car?" She said. We both looked down at the vehicle. It had come to a stop and Steggs was lit up blinded in the headlights. Whoever was inside was fixing to get out.
"Oi Oi... Eyes down for a full house!" someone shouted out the dark. But the car was not the police, it was a mini cab. The back door opened, crashed into the wall and Chelsea John got out.
"Fuck me, what do you lot fucking look like standing there doing ya best fucking impressions of death. They've buried healthier life in the fucking church graveyard!"
A concerted groan took up around the alley. A groan born out of everyone having held their breath, anti-climax but relief it wasn't the police and commiserations that of all the people it could have been it was Chelsea John who had stepped out. He was a well known addict on the scene, had robbed or cheated just about all of us at one time or another but was a generous enough fella when he had a touch.
"Alright Les," he said to my mum.
"Yeah, alright, John, " she replied not with the same warmth.
"John, tell that cunt to kill the lights!" Steggs said.
"Chill out, matey... We're only scoring. No-one gives a fuck. Anyway, we're straight off... Ace is on his way, passed the fucka as he peddled like a cunt along the high street. Gave him a blast of the horn... almost sent him into a fucking storefront window!"
A little buzz went through the junkies followed by a hive of activity as everyone got their money out and ready. At the near end of the alley a bike flashed by and stopped just out of distance. I could hear the peddles still spinning. Ace, well over 6ft, turned into the entrance backlit by the jaundiced lighting of the street behind him. He wore a summer sports top with the hood over his head. Chelsea John, last to arrive, was the first to push his way to him.
"Four W, Ace mate," he said.
"Bro, don't ever fucking whistle an beep me in the street, ya'ere, " Ace said, rifling through the notes John had handed him. Satisfied the cash wasn't short he pulled a clear bag from his tracksuit pocket and turned his back as he sorted out four rocks of crack for John. He gave John the rocks and came to his senses at the same time, banging on the windscreen of the car with the flat palm of his hand.
"Turn your fucking lights off!" he said.
"It's cool, boss .. It's cool," said Chelsea John, we're leaving." He slipped back into the back of the mini-cab and the car turned its engine over and gradually inched forward and away, the beautiful sound of gravel crunching under its tyres as it went.
"One and one," Steggs said, giving Ace his cash. He left without acknowledging me or saying goodbye. Lumbered out the alley with his head slightly stooped, shapeshifting into a socially moral member of the community as he hit the street and plodded docilely away into the night, looking like a man who liked a certain kind of music but no more.
Ace was now besieged by the waiting addicts. There were numbers and letters being thrown at him from all around and hands pushing cash his way. It was like watching a bookie at the racetrack taking last second bets just before the off. Every few seconds a new person or couple exited the alley and turned off to either direction. I stood with my mum, waiting for our opening to step in and get served.
"What you getting," she asked as we stood there. Ha! That again. Well, we know it's never a good thing to divulge such information but this was my mother asking... An even less incentive to do so.
"Three white," I said, "and you?"
"Can only afford one... And for that the poor cats have to go with no litter." I could feel her looking at me, hoping... Waiting. When I didn't respond, she said: "Give us one of ya rocks, Shane... We'll have two each then."
"Oh, go on!"
"No! If he's holding extra I'll buy you one. With so many people he's sure to have surplus. He's a capitalist... It's how it works."
Ace was holding extra. I was almost the last to be served. With our rocks of white clenched in our fists I walked my mother down the length of the alley and out into the dark quiet of the night at the other end. Out in the street she cast a look down the deserted road, the town all locked up and still and shadowy. "Hope I get home alright," she said. She had just spent an hour lingering about in a dark out-of-the-way alley with supposedly some of the boroughs most depraved souls and now she was worried about walking home along the sleeping residential streets. Of course, she was right. People who are out to cause harm don't hang about down dark uninhabited places; they linger around familiar and well lit streets. If you want to get home safely you should travel the darkest route. I looked down into the ghosttown of the walk home she had. An empty tin can rattled about in the gutter. "I'll walk you back," I said, "But if Mary's awake when I return you're getting the blame." She pulled a face but didn't say a thing.
With rocks of crack burning a hole in our palms, and on the wind of energy that the thought of the first pipe of a new rock gave us, our pace was at good speed, walking down the shiny wet road home. We made it to my mother's in no time. I followed her up the stairs, took a good lick of rock on her crack pipe, and prickling with existence and nervous energy I gathered myself up and left, leaving my mother alone with her rocks and pipe, hers the last light on in her street.
My journey home was now a good half hour trot at fair pace. I listened to my own footsteps and played counting games until I lost count. Oh, the loneliness of the city is a beautiful one. I couldn't get over thoughts of all the lives that were taking peace in sleep all around. Great trees reminded me of mysteries from childhood and the moon was a lonesome figure of light in the sky. My thoughts turned to Mary. She had recently blown up about my addiction and had forced me to lie to her about cutting down and weaning myself clean. I purposely told her it would be easy and I'd be drug-free in three weeks. The deal since then was she held my heroin and portioned it out to me three times a day. It allowed her some involvement in my addiction and gave her a modicum of active control in our life. She didn't have the slightest idea that I was also in the midst of a huge crack addiction -- that news would have cooked her clean off the bone.To have woken and found me missing would have meant one thing to her: heroin. And that betrayal, that crack in her dream of getting me clean, would have had her up and sobbing rivers by the window as she waited for me to appear out the dark.
"Don't let the light be on... Please, please, please!" I repeated over to myself turning onto my road. I kept my head down and on the count of five I looked up. Blackness... Beautiful-lucky-sleepytown-dreamy blackness. The light was off and the window looked like nothing could be living beyond it at all. It was gone 4am and the first birdcalls were ringing out through the fresh morning. I sucked in a last gulp of the fragrant night air, opened the front-door and crept up the unlit stairs. Outside the bedroom I undressed. I didn't want to risk all that good fortune only to wake Mary falling over while trying to pull a sock off. I removed all my clothes and naked, but for three rocks of crack, I entered the room.
Poor girl. Asleep to the world, her eyes closed over ever so gently, completely oblivious to the nightmare which was raging through her life as she slept. I felt terribly sad and guilty and kissed her and said sorry. I slipped in the bed besides her. She made a little noise of sleepy acknowledgement and turned and put her arm around me. I waited still for a moment. On her first snore I relaxed and felt under my side of the mattress for my crack pipe. In the dark I loaded it up and on my elbow, leaning off over the side of the bed, I lit my lighter, held the flame to the pipe and sucked. The room sparked and crackled and then died down. I inhaled and held and then blew out. The world and my mind came alive in the dark, my eyes pricked wide open and every hair on my body sensitive to life. I took Mary's hand and lowered it down on my cock. She gripped me lightly and I moved gently. And like that, dark and light, happy sad, wanted lonely, white brown, limp hard, soft erect, breathing in and blowing out, l lived through another turbulent night of life. I was there and if she woke and opened her eyes she would see me, a trick straight out the illusionist's handbook, for really, on this dark night into morning, I hadn't made it home at all.
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A new series of writings detailing my last 5 months of exile in France. As many will know I dislike daily diary/journal writing and the mundane nonsense which that usually circles around. I have never offered up that kind of garbage as literature here. This journal will therefore concentrate on very specific areas of my life which I have a passion to write about. The main themes will concern my continued drug addiction; my thoughts on writing and literature and the process around my life as a writer; the city of Lyon and a retrospective telling of my life and years here. As the sub-title suggests the majority of writing will be written during a series of walks around the city. All writing will be written on my smartphone during the actual walks. Walks do not represent days. Sometimes I will make multiple walks in the same day and other walks may be separated by days or a week. The objective is not to capture the last months of my time in France but to capture the city I have passed the last ten years of my life in. Texts obviously written at home I will for the moment refer to as LOT 1003
The Last French Steps - a walking journal of a writer's final days in France.
Laennec - Montchat
It's quiet here now. There are only the birds left. I can't see them but I hear them all around. Anne has left and this place isn't the same without her. Too quiet. Too lonely. Nothing to get home to but syringes and the computer. Writing away through the night and deleting it because the darkness has gotten into my words. But out here, on these walks, I come down to the level of nature. I am sad with death and sad because I'll be leaving this place in some months and that means leaving a part of myself behind and making the final break from the last lover to have fucked poetry into me and to have left an indelible mark on my existence.
From a window comes the sound of French evening TV. It always sounds like it's reporting the aftermath of a tsunami. I remember walking around the little village of Belleville-sur-Soane the evening that Indonesia got hammered. News reports flashed windows up blue throughout the evening as local restaurants clattered and rang out with the crickets into the night. The television fades and the birds chirp back in. Floral scents abound.
Montchat. I used to work around here. It wasn't really working but I got paid at least. I was charged with looking after the cultural centre from 3pm until 10. The only tasks I had were to open and close the building and be on hand inbetween. In the four months I was there my office door was only ever tapped on twice. On both occassions it was the same old lady asking for the key to the library. "It's open," I said.
"Open? Is it really? Good then."
Aside from these rare intrusions I passed most my days sat in my office, mostly writing and sometimes reading and very occasionally with my shoes and socks removed, watching a film. Once the Montchat Orchestra had finished their rehearsals and packed up I'd make a tour of the building, lock up, set the alarm, and make the 30 minute walk home through the tawdry summer night. When I arrived home I'd be tired, in a good; in the way where taking the weight of your feet and walking barefoot across cool tiles is an absolute pleasure. There was always heroin in those days and it worked well on my body.
She left because of that. She never said so but in the things she did say, the reasons she gave months later, that's what it came down to. Not the heroin in itself but the consequences of it and that she had used up all her savings to secure a hell that she ended up in alone. My life may have looked like hell to her, or anyone else looking in, but it didn't feel like it to me.
I felt terribly guilty for what she ended up living. Even now, two years since she dropped bat and left, I get overcome at odd moments thinking of her counting out money from her purse and leaving it on the table. She had saved that money gradually over years, refusing herself treats but for occasionally, enjoying them immensely when she did. And then, all the guilty pleasures she had wanted but never would allow herself, money that could buy them thrice over, was being handed to me and by me to my dealer. The price is heartbreaking when it's not your own money - it's not easier: it's harder. I had promised her success and she believed it, only she soon realised that there could be no success with me using heroin as I was doing. I ended every other night typing pages of the same letter with my face and that didn't produce the kind of poetry you could hang dreams on. If you ask her now, or in some years, how she experienced the writing process, she will tell you it disgusted her. It never disgusted me; I never saw it. For me it was life. The two had to be, and were, one and the same thing.
It was disappointment and disillusionment. That's what it was. She'd fantasized about the writing process, had eroticised it in her mind. She imagined being close to the poet, fucking through each great sentence, somehow inducing herself onto every page in every word. I'd allowed her too think such thoughts, had encouraged her. But unlike Anne I knew the process to be deeply private, the writer withdrawn from the interference of his immediate reality. Writers mostly write about what has passed - it's the only way to know what road you're on and how to depict and close it. Writing about the present is perilous and writing about the future fantasy. On the odd occasions when I did write of my life in the present, Anne did not figure in it at all. Until such a time as that chapter of my life with her was a closed one, or sufficient time had passed to conclude something of importance from it, she was obsolete in literary terms. I told her that not being in my texts was a privilege, that my writing is a wordyard of corpses and ghosts and that the time I wrote about her, condemned her to words in my work, it would almost certainly mean she was no longer of any significance in my life. She didn't understand that. She didn't understand that I would never exploit a love so loyal and honest for a few lines of poetry. She always saw it the other way around, like she didn't mean enough to me to be written about. That accounted for the disappointment, not the disgust. The disgust came from the poet sitting there half naked, his penis small and shrivelled, blood down his legs, a syringe hanging from his inner thigh and experiencing god knows what in his state of sedation. I would raise my head and prepare to type again. She would stare at me from over her book, her legs open as she sat on the bed, no underwear, her sex aroused. I'd pretend I hadn't seen. She'd remain like that, sometimes for hours, sometimes nudging me with her foot, before getting into bed and crying.
Boulevard Mermoz Pinel
Mermoz Pinel and her estatelands are separated from the east side of town by a dual-carriageway with a central divide. The carriageway is not wide but is sufficient to have isolated that section of the city and turned it into a lawless zone. The contrast is evident, even at a walk down the mermoz-side stretch of road, before turning right into one of Lyon's worst ghettoes. Five storey low-rise blocks run along this side of the carriagway, the windows overlooking traffic and a run down supermarket. Directly below these flats is a two meter stretch of mostly dead, yellow grass. A high perimeter railing runs the grass off, prevents it from contaminating the conctete walkway. The dead grass is strewn with rags of fabric, small pieces of broken toys, fallen plastic plant pots, burnt pages from books, pieces of toilet paper, random playing cards, the odd crayon, and thousands of cigarette ends from ashtrays emptied straight out the window. Throughout this debris are sat little mounds of dehydrated dog and cat shit, maybe human too. Big black flies buzz around, the traffic flashes by, life trudges in out the supermarket opposite and Mermoz Pinel rots away in the wastelands of town.
Turning into the estate brings broken, hole-picked roads, oil spills and dead car batteries discarded alongside the curbing. A car is sat on its rusted metal wheel rims, its windows all out and the seating and interior torn and ripped to shreds. A little kid, no older than 8, is sat at the driver's wheel pretending to drive. Loitering outside the small row of four shops which make up the estate's high street are a small group of shaven headed and criminal looking adults. They stand, blocking the narrow path, forcing people to move around them and following them with their eyes as they do. I walk straight on through the group. When they see I don't care a fuck they give an inch but it's hostile surrender. I turn into the tobacconists. When I leave they've stepped back a foot. I stop and light my little cigar in front of them. They pull up phleghm and spit it out to the side. I leave slowly, back to the Boulevard and off towards home.
As I wait to cross the busy carriageway a Facebook message beeps and vibrates through on my phone. A little circle with Theo's face in it appears on my screen alongside the words 'ça va?' When my dealer messages me asking how it's going, it means come around. I would have usually replied immediately "45mins" and been straight off across town. It wasn't possible today. Before replying I text'd Mary and asked if she could borrow me 30 euros. She said to meet her tomorrow at noon. I asked "not now?"
"I can't," she said. I understood what that meant but that's her private life and not for me to write of here. I agreed to meet her tomorrow and messaged my dealer the word '2omorrow'.
'That works' he replied. I tramped slowly around my area for an extended period. I went home and an hour later took off again on the same route. At 7pm I cracked and messaged Mary again: "There's no way you could pop out for two minutes to meet me?"
"OK. Sorry," I replied.
Croix Paquet - Place Rouville - Hotel de Ville
I visited Mary today. She had agreed to lend me 30 euros for tobacco. I wrote her a cheque for the money and asked her to wait a week before cashing it. She said she didn't want the cheque. I insisted but she refused. She always refuses. Together we sat high up on the Croix Rouse hill, Place Rouville, overlooking the city and thinking. I told her I would be leaving Lyon this summer, returning home to London. We had arrived here together ten years ago. She, didnt reply. Just stared with a momentary sadness out into the distance. We both did. She has a baby daughter now, a month new in the world. Mary's changed. Motherhood has changed her. For the better or worse I'm not sure. Maybe neither. Maybe she's just changed.
I stayed with Mary and child for nigh on an hour. It's the longest I've been in anyone's company for over 5 months. We found a bar and each took a fruit juice with ice. Mary paid. As we sat out in the sun I asked her if she ever thought about heroin. She said no with such an honesty that it shocked me. "Never?" I asked, surprised, adding: "For me, on days like this, I am seduced by memories of walking up the Saxe Gambetta in the afternoon sun on our way to see Mamms... His dog scampering along and looking back with its tongue out as it slid in those boardings of the squat."
Mary looked at me and seemed to change her mind. Now she said she did have memories. She told me not of summer but of winter. The days we'd wait for hours in the wet, deserted square with our noses dripping and feet turned to ice.
"But they're sick memories," I said. "They were days we were half ill."
Whether or not she really remembers such days, outside of being asked about them, I doubt. I think her initial response was the truth. Its insightful nevertheless. It would take a huge tragedy in her life now to have her return to the needle. Her track marks are all healed. Her depression is gone. She quit her medication and stopped smoking when she found out she was pregnant. The only trace remaining of her heroin history is me, and soon I will be gone as well.
Alone, on my way back down the hill, I took some photos. I never take photos. I've learnt I should. Not of myself. Of the world and the places I've trodden and the places which have trodden on me. I never did of London and it haunted me, that gradual loss of true memory of my roots when I needed them the most. I will capture Lyon. In my literary memory and in photograph. It will be the Lyon of a Londonian, not the Lyon of the Lyonnaise. From my eyes their city may not even be recognisable to them. If I capture anywhere near the truth of my life here it most certainly will not be.
I was honest to my word and made sure to buy tobacco with the money Mary gave me. I purposely kept that 30 euros in my left pocket so as it wouldn't get muddled up with the 48 euros 78 centimes in my right. That 48 euros was my very last drippings of physical cash. It was for my dealer, for one last gram of heroin to be used up slowly over three days. As I waited for him at the foot of the hill at Place Terreux I bought 3 pouches of rolling tobacco, 2 packets of cigarette papers, 4 small cigarillos and a one euro Numéro Fetiche scratch card.
"A vous aussi," I said, collecting my purchases and leaving. I'm sure it'll be a good day for the entire fucking town.
Outside I stared blankly at my losing scratch card. I never expected to win anyway and by the time I had bought it I had already lost. It was a strategic no hope gamble. Hope is a disappointing emotion. I ripped the losing game into quarters and popped it in a trash can. Barely had I done so when a car beeped and slowed and stopped down along the road. I ran to catch up and got in the passenger side, pulling the door closed towards me as it drove off.
I have no cash at all. My dealer dropped me off a mile from home in that state. I am overdrawn all my limit and more so will be living the next two weeks on cheques. For each cheque I cash I will incur a ridiculous charge. My major concern will be tobacco. I've enough for ten days. You cannot buy tobacco with cheques in France, and so once I'm all smoked out I will need to find someone scrupulous enough to want to make a twenty euro profit on a cheque for cash. We will see. For now I have heroin. It will be the last for the month. My fingers will get a well-deserved rest from typing.
Oh God, spring is here in the sullied air and France prejoices to the distant haze of her Rimbaud summer and I'm four days clean and feel so unhappy and vile. To all old lovers, and Lovers of Tragedy, I saw it this morning on white muslin cloth billowing gently from some early window. I was stopped in my tracks. Olfactory memories. Fresh linen pegged on the line in the damp back yard, me lost entangled within it, brief glimpses of the spinning, wonderous blue sky.
When I look up buildings begin to topple.
"Mum, why is the house falling down?"
"I don't know," she would say. I would look up again, and sure enough, the house was falling down. And not just ours, all tall buildings everywhere. It was no illusion. The eyes can only see what they see. No more and certainly no less.
I looked ahead down the length of the Avenue Rockefeller, through the bright clarity of the morning. In the far distance a ghostly shimmering, the last of the cold morning air meeting the heat and laying like mist along the horizon. Sunlight glinted off the traffic far and way up ahead. I had to return home. My head was full of words, terrible words, and that can become a curse. My phone was low on battery charge too and I didn't want to fall into the fury of those words and be foiled by technology. Lost words like that will never return and its better to have never thought of them at all.
By the time I had gotten home and my phone had charged, the day had changed. Rain clouds had come over the afternoon and a wind rattled my door. I drank my methadone and went to sleep.
Albert Thomas - Monplaisir
It's the first day since seeing Theo that I feel well. I've not written much either but for a few emails and some scraps. The heroin was strong. I had argued with Theo the time before last I had seen him. I had left without buying anything which shocked him and I hadn't phoned for a week. It was him who finally messaged me. He gives nothing away for nothing and his stubbornness (unlike mine) only extends to him losing money. When he is losing money he can be capable of the kindest behaviour imaginable. I know this, but even I have to remind myself at times that he doesn't care a damn. The quality of the stuff he sold me was nothing more than good ol' bait. You could be sure if I had made the call he had baited for the next batch would have been half the strength, rotting sardine left for me to make it on. And yet, for all my years of knowledge, I would have still made that call, hoping for some honesty somewhere in this fucking racket of death. I would still like to make that call now. I cannot. I've no cash not even credit. I can be extremely stubborn and exercise amazing self-control and willpower when I'm potless. You should see me in them fine moments.
It drizzles. The sky. It's been a dull misty day, like sea spray. The road Albert Thomas runs on pretty much the same for miles. It's one of those roads you hate to tramp as you can always see how little you have gotten on and how far left ahead. I turn off at Monplaisir and cross the square. My bank is on the corner. I eye it suspiciously remembering so many soul-shrinking moments where the cash machine refused me cash; walking off red in the face, my heart beating and my eyes intent on the ground in hope of a miracle to blow on by in the form of a wallet full of notes. It happened once. 190 Euros. I condemned the find to history in style, withdrawing the notes and tossing the black leather wallet back over my shoulder into the air. The thing caught the wind and flew, the poor fellas ID and bank cards spinning free and blowing away behind me. People were looking at me strangely but I was already on my phone, asking my man if he was at home and holding, my pace quickening and heading towards the metro.
Touches like that are rare. And usually, when they do occur, it is when you least need them. I recall some years ago, in London, having done all my wages and having to stick to methadone for the last ten days of the month. Every evening I took these 6hr long walks around my area, my eyes peeled on the ground. I surmised that doing that for ten days I would at some point stumble upon a ten pound note. I walked for ten evenings, for 60 hours, and didn't find a penny. On the morning my wage finally went into my bank I crossed the road and entered the newsagents. With two thousand pounds fresh in my account I looked down and there staring up at me from the floor was a neatly folded twenty pound note. I picked it up between two crossed fingers, put it in my pocket, smiled and carried on with life.
The drizzle is now proper rain. It feels like there is a storm coming in. I cannot see the distance. Cars flash by and sound like sheeting being whipped and blown by heavy winds. I lower my head and with a shopping bag of cheap tinned food I make the walk back home.
It's 9pm and the evening is in. There are some fantastic dark streets just over the way. It's like being in a tiny country village. Silhouettes of large trees and conifers rise in the front gardens. The place smells of pine. I can hear my own heels clicking and I walk in a way so as to accentuate that. I walk these dark streets until gone 11pm and then head home. I am restless. I don't want to sit and write. I enjoy writing as I walk, as I take in life. I think of heading back out again but don't. I take a selection of authors I enjoy in order to look at sentence structure. I want to see how often other writers employ introductory clauses to open their sentences. I don't like such sentences but they are often unavoidable. I've tried writing without them but it leads to very choppy paragraphs, like sliced ham. I end up masturbating but not over sentence structure.
I take long walks. I constantly tidy the apartment. I run on the spot for 20 minutes at a time. I write and swallow my methadone. I reply to emails. I watch pornography of women urinating. I cook pasta and butter and add pepper and sliced cherry tomatoes. I smoke. I hand wash my clothes and hang them around the apartment. The apartment looks like a campsite. I pretend I'm a sniper holed up in an outhouse. I cannot sleep without heroin. I am constantly wanting to do stuff, to a level where it is irritating. I never get the urge to want to hit the sack and relax back to a film. I put on films but it's out of habit. 10 minutes in and I'm deliberating over what writing file to open, what book to read and take stylistic notes from. I pull up the shutter of the back window and stare out at the Silver Birch tree in the moonlight. It is what Tristram Spencer the hero of my novel Waiting for John does while waiting to have his skull bashed in. All my secrets are being revealed.
7eme arrondissement - Rue Jaboulay
Rue Jaboulay looks the same as ever. In whatever my head remembers the past I find it difficult to relate logically to time. There seems some magic loophole we must be able to exploit. I cannot comprehend how things are the same but life has moved on. I could turn into no. 47 now, climb the three flights of stairs and be mystified that my key doesn't work and my life isn't here anymore. I lived here for the first four years of my exile in Lyon. It was the apartment Mary and I took while we were in London. She travelled back and found it and laid a deposit down in preparation for our move. I remember the photos being emailed through to me as I was injecting in my leg in my office. An apartment in a foreign city I was now paying monthly rent on. It seemed absurd. How the hell would I ever really get there? It was the dream. Not my dream but hers. I went along with it because she was my dream. I'd later set fire to that apartment. Nothing too serious but a lot of smoke. I pass by here occasionally but more often than not I avoid it. It's an emotional place. A crossroads of life and lovers or happiness and heartbreak. A lot went on in this street. A lot of fucked up heroin activity too. I don't turn in and climb the stairs, of course not. I know I no longer live here, that my life is somewhere else. But I am dangerously on the threshold of insanity when I revisit old places. I guess that is why the past and time has so much to do with my literature. Memories are so sharp and feelings so fresh that its hard to comprehend that today isn't yesterday and just where exactly time goes...
"Exskews me mate 'av you got thuh time?" he would ask.
"Five forty five."
"What year is it?"
"What happens to time? Where does time go? It must go somewhere. Everything goes somewhere?"
I look at Chris the retard, 50 plus then, same bulgy eyes, one lazing off into a world that only he inhabits. He stands there staring at me, waiting for an answer, his back slightly hunched, his arms low slung and his fists clenched like a baby. He wears a baggy, dirty white T-shirt, trousers pulled up to his tits and beetle crusher shoes that look like he's been wandering the streets kicking along walls. For some reason he makes me terribly sad and in the same time he is a weird connection to a time which no longer exists.
He'd been on the scene all our young lives, 30 and playing with the neighbourhood kids... Riding bikes and making wild excited noises. I would blow into his large moon face and asked if it hurt. He would start crying and saying it hurt. I'd blow again, a blow that wouldn't hurt a flower. He'd toss his bike away and lumber up the road bawling his eyes out and yelping in pain. A little later he'd come skulking back, his head low and his lazy eye looking sadly at me. I'd blow his face again and ask: "Does that hurt?"
"Yes," he'd say collecting his bike and slowly peddling away for the evening. When he was far enough+h up the road he'd turn and pull a big ugly face at me, blow an horrendous wet noise from his mouth and then peddle for his life. I could have caught him on foot. His bike was childsized and he was a lumbering overweight adult whose burden flattened the tyres. Even at his fastest peddle he got nowhere. I always let him go.
How he recognised me after all those years is a mystery. I had changed so much that I could walk up and down my old street and not one of the neighbours knew who I was.
"I don't know where time goes," I tell Chris, after a moment .
"Muss go sumwhere," he says, "evrything goes sumwhere."- - - -
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