I'll tell you now how heartless the world had become: I put powdered cat litter in his dope and sat and watched in delight as he chased his first toot, almost choked and said: There's something fuckin' weird in this!
Mine looks fine, I Said, And a nice big bag to boot.
Big??? You fucking kiddin' me?
I scooped out a fix worth of smack and poured it in my spoon. Sitting up, atop the duvet on the double bed, he measured out another dose too. I heard his hit the foil, the crinkle as he manoeuvred it into place, his lighter lighting, then a kind of sputtering cough as he inhaled the smoke and struggled to keep it down. I didn't look at him. Just listened.
Nah, there's fucking brick dust or summin' in this... It dont run jus' burns up black! There's B in it ... there's definitely B, but there's some other shit too.
I heard him ripping off a fresh piece of tin foil and emptying the content of his bag onto it. He had a pen or something and was pushing the smack around, sorting through it, segregating the small harder rocks and saying all the while : Not evn the same fuckin'colour... not fuckin' gear! Then he screamed like someone who would be violent if the right weakling were sat in front of him: It's a third of the fucking bag... Wot the FuuuucK !!! Finishing by letting out a coarse, barbarous sound of rage, back-heeling the wooden base of the bed and screaming “fuuuuck!!!” once again.
I ignored him. I was sat cross-legged on the floor. I cooked my dope and carefully placed the spoon down on a book in front of me. My first two injections would be on that Cunt. Kinda. Kinda as two nights previous my morning bag had mysteriously disappeared and even more mysteriously reappeared, three hours later, with barely anything in it. After having turned the room inside out multiple times it was finally the Cunt who found it: sat there on the table under our gaze all the while.
Found it!!! He cried. Panic over!
Right there, on the fucking table, he pointed, his mouth hung open in mock disbelief. How the fuck did we miss that?
I stared at him with a hatred in me that I could not and did not want to veil – his cool, insincere friendly face, the flushed guilty demeanour manifest in his eyes and mouth and oozing out of every filthy pore in his deceitful fucking head. It was the look which had outed every thieving junkie since the dawn of time. It was more than circumstantial evidence; it was the embodiment of guilt itself. And it wasn't even with the honesty of primal greed. This wasn't tearing a strip of meat off the carcass first. It was a manufactured selfishness, a Frankenstein behaviour, something that doesn't exist in the wild.
Neither of us had 'missed' the bag. The Cunt surely couldn't be stupid enough to have forgotten we'd already cleared and upended the table thrice (me first and then him and then me again). It was all but impossible the bag had remained there, defying gravity and the scrutiny of four keen junkie eyes. No. Stupidity had nothing to do with it. The Cunt's motivation for returning my heroin was borne from the exact same impetus that had had him steal it in the first place. He'd already tried giving me the slip once that evening, halfway down the stairs and almost out the door when I shouted: "Er, Sean.... have you seen my bag that was on the table?"
The Cunt must have froze in terror, knowing that if only I'd realized seconds later he'd have been out the door and away. Instead he traipsed back up, looking way too innocent for anyone with a foothold in this junk life, and said: "Well, if it was really there then it can't be far... it'll turn up. It can only be in the room! Let me know tomorrow where you find it.
What dyou mean IF it was really there? You fucking know it was!
Um, was, he said, smiling. You sure you din't do it? You was pretty well gone for a while!?
Fuck off! I snarled incredulously. And in that moment I knew, without a degree of doubt, that my bag of heroin was sitting in one of his pockets or inside his sock. I also knew that if I allowed him the opportunity to worm his way out of mine that evening then my gear and morning well-being would be leaving with him.
Used accidently!!! I repeated. When was the last time you or any other fucking addict 'accidentally' used their morning bag? Acci-fuckin-dently!!! No, it’s not been used. It’s fucking here somewhere, and if you're any kind of a friend you’ll not want me getting sick either so will help search for it until it’s found…. Even if it takes all fucking night! Bags are not gonna start fucking disappearing here!
I said that with just enough of a hint of violence about it that he understood the situation had the potential to get ugly. The problem now was that after having been so close to slipping out and away with my smack he'd then taken mental possession of it, had envisaged a morning free from the rigours of shoplifting and even now still held onto the hope that he could help search for the missing bag for a while before throwing his hands up in the air, flummoxed, and then leaving. But tonight he was trying it on with someone who knew the ropes a little too well, who knew every move light-fingered addicts like him were fixing to make. I knew it would take a while for him to mentally unclench from the idea that the bag was his, and so we both played for time and I knew I had more than him.
It took three hours, the both of us searching, the both of us aware we'd not find it as it was sitting in the bottom of one of his pockets. It was only when he was in need of a hit himself, after he had realized that searching till it was found was no joke, that he disappeared into the kitchen and then the bathroom searching out a workable solution. That solution was splitting the bag 70/30 in his favour then arriving straight out the toilet, without the slightest care for credibility, exclaiming: Found it!!! I settled for being partially robbed, content my ploy had been successful enough to keep me well until the following morning when the dealers phones would start switching on.
70/30... So, in a way, now, I wasn't getting anything free just getting something even: having today what I was robbed of yesterday.
Back to the cunt on the bed, moaning like his world is gonna totally collapse, miserably separating what he thinks is brick dust out his gear.
Look, he said, look at all this weird shit in the dope! You gonna shoot that?
He asked that in a strange way, like he wasn't really expecting me to say no, like he was beginning to question something else. I didn't reply just sucked my smack up out the spoon and flicked the air to the top of the syringe. I felt him looking at me. That was obvious. I concentrated on looking as guilty as hell.
Giv'us a sprinkle of yours, he asked, with a slight arrogance attached to his words. I wanna see if the same shit's in it.
Fuck off! I'm not wasting my gear burning it... you crazy or what?
You'll not fuckin' waste it! I'll give ya a trace of mine in return!
And what if mines not like yours? I'll have swapped good dope for bad and you'll still be left with yours anyway. How does the quality of my gear help you? All it can do is make you feel even worse.
You're not worried what you may be shooting, no?
Fuck knows what I shoot, I said, what anyone shoots. Even clean dope's cut dirty. I'm more scared of what I've already shot... The shit which cooked up but wasn't dope. If its brick like you say it won't cook down so on that score it's safer.
Well you seem pretty fuckin' cool about it s'all I'm sayin'. I know you, if you seriously thought there was summin in the gear, even a suspicion, you'd be all over it... studying it, shitting yaself of getting a dirty hit!
Then maybe that tells you something, I said. Mine cooked up clean, not a trace left in the spoon... actually looks like a pretty decent bit of kit. I could even smell it during the cook... and it's not often that happens.
The Cunt visibly smarted with anger. He cast a look down at his pathetic measure of heroin which would barely last him even if he quit. He looked like he was going to cry. I could see him going through his options, making the fated decision:
1) wrap the gear up now and pass a mildly uncomfortable night thinking of it until he could smoke the remainder in the morning.
2) smoke what's left immediately and at least get a nod and pass a sleepless night of mild withdrawal dreading having to go out grafting in the morning half sick.
Of course the logical decision, the one that would affect him the least was the former, having one evening of restriction so as the cycle of physical addiction was kept up. But junkies think short term, they take the immediate relief and deal with tomorrow only when it's there. The Cunt struck his lighter, gave one last cursory thought to what he shouldn't do and then did it anyway: his deplorable face chasing around what was already the last of his bag, secretly disgusted by my presence and driven crazy by the amount of heroin I still had left and which I had purposely left open to his full view. He blew the smoke out like it was the last of the air in his lungs.
Out the corner of my eye I saw the Cunt's neck and arms relax and his upper body collapse half a foot forward. I heard the foil touching down on the bed and crinkling up. For a moment he'd nodded out. I waited just until he was on the precipice of his nod, his body bent over in an impossible way, all his anguish and worries left in the world he had momentarily vacated, the smoking tube fall from his lips.
Can't be that BADLY CUT, I said, raising my voice to wake him, to cut short the only nod he was good for.
He came to with a start, looking angry, annoyed with me for waking him yet even more annoyed with himself for nodding off and losing any sympathy he'd built up about how useless his smack was and what a hellish evening and night he was in for.
Just tired, he said. This fucking life is beginning to exhaust me! I'm bored with it all. Everything! This shit fucking gear and these CUNTS ripping you off!
'These cunts' meant me. That's why he'd stressed it. But he knew it was pointless accusing me out right, same as I knew it would have been useless accusing him two days ago. The junkie rule of plea is you only ever admit a crime when caught absolutely bang-to-rights, and often not even then. Regardless of damning evidence, logic, probabilities, lack of any other possible culprit or alibi all must be denied with a passion: "I don't know how it happened... I know I was the only one here, but I it wasn't me... It wasn't fucking me!"
For the first time since robbing him I now looked him square in the eye. I gave him my smug face to hate, I needed him to hate me, to see himself in me and despise what he saw.
Tired? Ha! You was having a right good nod more like it, I said, trying to further wind him up.
It's not the quality of the heroin that's the problem... it's the fuckin' quantity!!! All that other shit crushed into it!
Maybe it was his last bag or something and he was trying to stretch it out? I suggested knowing it was implausible.
Yeah, right! Said the Cunt. And it was just my bad luck to get THAT bag?
Well one of us had to get it. 50/50 isn't bad luck, its equal chance. 1 in 50 would be bad luck.
Hmm... Even fucking chance!He said. When a junkie comes straight in from scoring holding his stomach, desperate to shit, and bolts himself in the toilet with the bags, it's not fifty-fucking-fifty... Its odds-on!
I did need the fucking toilet, I said, what you trying to say?
It's cat litter, he said.
What's cat litter? What are you talking about?
In my gear, it's not brick dust it's cat litter. He wasn't angry. He said it in a fatigued, doleful way as if he was always on the shit end of everything, like I had done this many times before and had now completely and finally broken his spirit.
There's cat litter in my gear, he repeated, quietly and then he lay down, looking at the wall and silently crying, pretending his tears were derived from healthy emotions and not the abandoned and hideous self-pity which he knew they were of.
I pretended I hadn't noticed his sadness and sticking the knife in further I said, Oh well, if you're gonna have a lie down I may as well take an extra shot and join you. At that point he sat himself up and looked over at me, at my heroin as I scooped another fix out. He watched for a moment and then flopped back down, supine, staring off at the ceiling.
As I prepared my second injection I could sense the Cunt eyeing me. The room was heavy with his being, his conniving thought processes, his anger and self-pitying sadness. He was battling with himself, I could tell, wanting to keep his self-respect, hating me, hating heroin, blaming just about everyone but himself as to why he was laying their so morally weak and on the point of degrading himself even further. To him this was about power, his weakness as an adult male under my dominance, my superior strength and success: having heroin when he had none. It was a disadvantage you can't help hating the other fellow for. The Cunt didn't last out long. He swallowed his pride, prepared some murderous plans in case I refused him, then looked my way once more.
D'ya think you could spare me a trace until tomorrow? He asked, as if to no-one, as if it wasn't even a question.
I ignored him though we both knew the words had been said. He waited a while, squirming, impatient, until the reverberation of his words had stopped sounding and all that was left was an uncomfortable silence, playing more on me than on him.
So whadj'ya say? He asked. Have ya?
I shouldn't have but I felt sorry for him. His words, and the emotions which fuelled them, seemed so genuine. They reminded me of a humanity I had once known, a suffering I couldn't fail to respond to. And I would have responded if it would have come from any other heart but a junk filled one. In the Cunt's request was a self-centredness and a weeping self-pity that sickened me, that made me despise him more for even asking. Come on, don't ask me that, I implored, it's not fair and you know it! I've just another four fixes here myself and am lucky I even have that as my bag was so BIG.
The cunt didn't reply in words but I felt him flush pale at my words before his heart found itself again and began furiously thumping litres of blood through his body until his head throbbed in shame and humiliation and murderous hatred. I was almost out-of-breath just sensing his deflated disappointment. Now on his face was a spiteful dejected look, the Cunt driven half crazy by the number four as it echoed around in his head: four to the power of ZERO; how much better four was to nothing; how four was a lot; how four wasn't fair; how four was just crushingly sad and overpowering; how four was what his existence had come to; how four was my advantage over him; how four and why and therefore.... and then he was on the bed, looking at the wall, trembling and blubbering and wailing like a small child, like he'd had his life and dreams and heart smashed to pieces. He boohooed on about life and what hell it had been and how he didn't want to live and never had. He cursed out every one from dealers to junkies to his own mother. He cursed his cousin for first introducing him heroin and bawled out something about his social security money not having been paid. It all came out in an almost incomprehensible tirade of tears and bubbles and snot and dribble. And when he was finished the only clear thing was that he was the victim, that he'd ALWAYS been the victim and it just wasn't fair!
I took immense joy listening to the cunts performance, and delighted further knowing that once he'd had a fix and straightened up that he would never feel comfortable in my company again, that he' would always know that his reckless junkie demeanour had cracked wide open in front of me and revealed a sobbing and pathetic man of 35 who had become so ruthless in life that he was totally alone and despised by the one person who would still sit in the same room as him. He was a ruined and spent force who would naturally evade my company once this was over, go off alone again until he found a new junk buddy he could recreate his myth to. I think in that moment, from the pleasure I took in his distress, that I’d never despised anyone quite as much. I wrapped my gear up, put it in the tight little pocket of my jeans and stuffed tissue in on top to protect against crafty fingers while I nodded.
When I next came around it was to the crinkling of foil and a lighter flicking anew. I looked across at the Cunt briefly thinking he'd somehow got my gear out my pocket. Sitting on the side of the bed he was now trying to smoke the cat litter, saying “there's maybe some gear in it after all”. Of course there wasn't and the powdered grain either just smoked or did nothing at all. When he realized he was just as sober as he was before he started he gave up and tossed the foil and its contents down on the floor. He looked over at me. I stared him square in the eye and let the faintest of smiles break out across my lips. He saw it and nodded in acknowledgement.
Well basically that's me fuck'd, innit? He asked.
Like I was the yesterday morning, I replied
Oh, so that's what this is all about.... Revenge?
Revenge? For what?
You fucking tell me, he said, I've never stole from you or done bad by you.... EVER. Whether you believe me or not that's the truth... I never did anything!
I didn't believe him. HE didn't believe HIM!. He was still trying to save himself only now in another way. And he would save himself.... just. He had but another two hours to wait first, another two hours of punishment, sentenced to his own company, to himself and who he had become and was.
I watched him through the evening, his distress at being fully conscious and having to deal with his own thoughts. He sat there in a kind of sulk, constantly shaking his legs so as his tormented existence didn't go unnoticed for a second. It was well after 10pm when I finally put him out his misery.
Sean.. give me your foil, I said.
At that he was up and alive, all the misery and contempt leaving him in an instant. I put enough smack on his foil to give him a smoke through the night and a good boot to get him up and out in the morning. He thanked me mercilessly and said he'd never forget it. He said that apart from himself I was the only other junkie who still had a heart. Not affording himself time to become any more emotional he heated and chased the heroin down the foil and sucked up the smoke. The night had come down and he'd survived. For a moment there was a peaceful silence, the silence of junk fiends having blocked out the world. The TV was on and the voices it emitted seemed homely and cosy and warm. In our downed mood we both watched the box, our eyelids getting heavy and sometimes closing over completely. I was glad I had gotten the Cunt well and I was even kinda glad he was there, if only as a presence in the room.
You know, it wasn't me who stole your gear, he said after a while. Honestly, it wasn't me.
I heard his words, nodded, but didn't reply.
You don't believe me do you? He asked. I'd never leave another addict sick, know too well what its like myself. I'd never put someone else through that! Fuck knows what happened to your bag the other night but I swear to you, on my life, it wasn't me!
And for the last time that night I heard his words and didn't reply again.
_ _ _ _
Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X
Don't forget ---> BOOK LAUNCH: Reading and performance
A new Memoires post to follow very-fucking-soon (and if you hold out much hope for that, well, you've obviously just joined this bleeding band of the Very Nearly Departed...) X
Sometimes on the autumn blows, when it comes through like this, when the evening air has just a faint idea of chill about it and the first musty tangs whip up in the first of the fallen leaves, I remember a life entire and it makes me sad and ecstatic in turns. And on the autumn blows, when the colour of your greatest bruises are back in season, when the scars from old love re-open and weep, when childish tinklebells of happiness ring through from the lost of time, I am compelled to write because this is the parallel universe of which I inhabit and in which I see the flawed and tragic beauty of this world. It is on the autumn blows that I cry for life and all the pleasures and pain therein, thereof and theregone. It is on the autumn blows that death terrifies and offends me and remains something to avoid at all costs.
I dreamt of her again last night... And of her pharmacies. The neon green cross flickering on its last legs, a dying beacon of sickly light for the junkie to wash-up in before smashing into the rocks further on. Askew road. Opposite the public library. The chime of the bell as I enter. Standing there in that pharmaceutical smell of pomade, baby powder and surgical stockings; the evening dark and suspicious outside; the last of the days addicts blustering in with their sniffles, bad lungs and lack of time. And it ends the same: watching myself recede down Hadyn Park Road with my works, the street lights on but the sky not yet quite night above, my form becoming smaller and darker until finally I'm no longer there at all. That was London and that was the autumn there and it only exists in dreamscape now. On waking I am slow to emerge. I don't move. Just lie there. A profound longing weighing me to the bed; the dream fresh in me for some moments yet. I am weeping but it's not sadness. It's a base emotion not contrived at all. I rise and I dress and the day is fresh to the cold outside. October is in me then.
I spent the better part of the morning sat alone outside the L'étoile brasserie watching the carousel turn in the square. The sky was dull full of clouds above, stretching off into the forever. Out across was the river, running parallel to me, huge sycamore trees potted along its course, leaves faded for the change in season, balding and baring through. I topped my coffee up with my morning dose of methadone and stirred it in good. The bartender saw me, made out he hadn't, wiped his cloth across a couple of tables and then came and placed a round glass ashtray down in front of me. I thanked him a Merci and asked that he bring me another cafe au lait. He gave a nod, looking at me intently, determining if I was sober enough to stay, and if so, would I likely be topping up every coffee with controlled substances. I guess he ruled in my favour. Standing a way off to my left he took a long searing drag from his cigarette, inhaled, then blew the smoke out as he peered a painful look over towards the river and at something out there which only he could see. He seemed to ponder profoundly on life for a moment. Then he smirked and gently nodded, a sad despondency in him then, like he'd figured out that it was useless and nothing could be done about it anyway. I looked over to where he'd been focusing, at the same blankness. It was another day in our lives and the city rolled on, and in a thousand years time it'll still be the same and out there I spied the insignificance of our lives when faced with the infinite spectre of history.
The methadone was coming on. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, a warm hollowness stirring around, a sudden compulsion to be involved in life. I sat preoccupied by the carousel, lit up and turning around through the drabness of the morning, the wurlitzer music sounding so out of sorts with the yield of the day and yet so perfect in the discordant and contradictory spirit of the time. On the face of it the music was upbeat and carnival but drifting out in low tones, unfurling and seeping up through its heart was a timeless melancholy, some tragedy stewing away below. I watched the few people turning around the ride, the smiling faces, the waving and laughter as they passed their loved ones on the periphery, completely oblivious to the tragic spectacle they were making up a part of. And then it hit me, what that tragic spectacle was: it was what carouselled around the carousel: the timeless melancholy was life.
Morning the colour of cloud. A moistness in the air like very fine drizzle, but no rain to be had. I finished my second coffee and felt lonely but strangely suited for it. I imagined all the beautiful people I'd sat opposite to in cafés over the years, of the time I stole Mary's cup as I wanted a memento of where her lips had been. That was autumn too. In the hotel that night, as we lay kissing on the bed, her suddenly shoving her hand into my pocket to feel out my cock.
“What's that she cried?” Her face ruffled in surprise, looking ugly for the first time. I knew what it was and tried to squirm free. I gripped her wrist so as she couldn't remove her hand.
“It's nothing,” I said, looking ugly for the first time too. “Just a spoon!”
“A spoon??? What?”
She was laughing without laughter, her face frozen on the brink of it... Or on the brink of crying. I was angry, trying to mask it; trying to think. How dare someone go for for my cock, especially in my left pocket! I held her wrist tight and stared without blinking into her eyes. She looked deceived for the first time. Then she looked sad, but that had happened before. Sensing she was never going to get the spoon out my pocket she let go. I pulled her hand out and began licking and kissing her fingers, passionately, removing all trace of the black carbon from them before she saw, before this turned into a real tragedy. As I kissed the last black soot off her fingers I said: “It's your spoon... from the cafe. I stole it. I wanted to save the moment. I stole your cup too. Go look It's in my bag! I collect mementos... I never wanted the day to end.”
Hope returned in her for the first time. That quick all consuming hope that only lovers of addicts, gamblers and the consistently unfaithful are ready to buy into. For a moment a nightmare had nearly shattered all her new dreams, like had happened to her/to me/to the entire world before. But that autumn night would not be the one where her world would collapse. It would be another full month later before she would learn I was an addict and didn't really have gastro-digestive problems; that I was in the toilet so often and for so long as my needles and vit C and heroin were wrapped in a succession of plastic bags and stashed in the cistern.
I laughed now. It seemed sweet. I would live that again if I could, if it meant we could all be young and hopeful again. I looked out over past the carousel, past the river, over to the Fourviere Hill making up the backdrop of the city, the Basilica sat atop it, the huge gilded Virgin Mary looking out over us, breaking through the faint mist at just-past-eleven, protecting the city from pestilence. But the pestilence is here, thriving, only it looks nothing like the plague. It's hard to believe I'm here, making up the history of this foreign town, walking a part of my legend around streets so alien to where I'm from. It's hard to believe it's 2013 and we've mostly all made it this far and the world hasn't really changed at all.
It was time to go. The morning had warned up and lost its bite and other phantoms of life now blew in over from the river and called me off to some place else. I left a note and more change on the table for the two coffees. As I passed the door of the Brasserie I signalled to the bartender that the money was on the table. Taking no chances he rushed out to check before I was gone, out of sight. Taking advantage of not having rung the order through the till the bartender picked the note out the litter and saucered the change into his pocket. When I next looked back he was gone. He had cleared the table and it was hard to believe I had been there at all.
It's true, sometimes when the sun breaks through, when great sheets of architectural yellow light escape between parting clouds, when the river gently laps on the turning tide, when a swan drifts by, we can disconnect from the dirt of living, from the epoch, from the constant fear of death, and for just a moment be equals in that wonder and awe; be equals in that fleeting understanding of mortality.
So once again the greatest season of all is breaking out across Europe. The light summerwear has been chucked back to the moths, the blithe fragrances replaced by scents much heavier and darker and obsessive. It's the time for taking sanctuary in someone, rip undressing as you clatter through the door, the desperate and breathless fuck in the low of the corridor, sperm shot up the inside of a thigh, across coutured lace and woven trims, tears of joy and horror at the realisation of how far you could lose yourself in someone, entire days spent in bed, holding and healing and catching up on a lifetime of good sleep as the wind and skies growl wild outside.
And on and on the autumn blows and winter will be here real soon, and fuck me if I'm not still enamoured with this ghastly fucking world.
For those interested in the writings here, and with the means, please order a copy of Russ Coffey's book. For all close friends and longtime followers of my work I would like to share my copy with You and so those interested in wanting to form a reading-chain please contact me via email (though be careful to note after reading it'll be your responsibility to post the book onto the next reader.)
Until very soon....
A new Memoires post will follow very shortly... X
It fails me now the quarter in which we were staying, Pedro and I, but we headed out from there. We passed the prostitutes under the flyover, cut through the throbbing perversity of the traffic, then slopped through the fish market. Into the ghetto Espagnolé, mothers scrubbing kids in tin baths in the street, toothless grandmas shelling peas on doorsteps, insults and curses and fights ricocheting from windows up and around: a poem of southern Italy. Past the concrete football pitch. Weeds growing up from the cracks. Bin bags and trash piled twelve foot high around the far perimeter. Refuge strikes. Rats strolling about freely. Cock-roaches the size of almonds. Out from the tall shaded third world into the sun baked thirder first world. Illegal Nigerians and Malians. Odd shoes, socks, rags, DVDs, video cassettes, saucepans, books, electrical gadgets, fabrics, blankets, broken toys, board games, cutlery... All splattered out along the pavement. Screaming pushing grabbing haggling fighting. The dribbling arsehole of the common market. Up Head, the bag snatchers on Vespers. Weaving in and out the traffic. Up on the pavement, whizzing by, arms reaching out, whether they're making a snatch or not. Piazza Garibaldi. The junkies of the central station. Those who've copped marching off like snivelling storm-troopers. A junkie girl. Bare bruised legs and flip flop feet, holding onto her man. Laughing. Life is sweet and it's just about to get sweeter. A poem of love in the South. Vacant stares on wastrel faces. A memory of the future. Down now, into the city proper. Syringes in the dustbins, packets of prescription drugs in the gutter, stains of human life in the doorways. The new wave punks sold on anarchy and printed slogans. Graffiti. Torn flapping posters. Leaflets. Flyers. A call to arms. Whistles and screams ringing out from manifestations. Police motorbikes parked outside cafés. Traffic cops staring out at the noise and heat and bustle over small espressos. Onto the main street. The sickening and universal smell of commerce turns out from revolving doors. Leather, perfume, polished floors, brass adornments, tailored shirts, fetish heels, gold trimmed bags, designer sunglasses, gold watches, rings and pearls and ground roasted coffee beans. The Vespas ever present. Smelling blood. Zipping by for the idiot girl who carries her bag road side. The homeless and the trash hosed away, back down to the station with the niggers and the whores and addicts. Up now. Climbing. The roads widen out and there's a haze in the near distance. Palm trees plotted along the central divide. They shake and whisper through faint breezes in the baked day. Huge rectangular advertising boards. Sun cream, breasts and bikini lines. The sea front. Salt and sand and sex and slime. A host of gay bars along the front. Pushed out to the very edge of the city. High class men of a certain fashion with strong jaws and designer stubbles. They sit outside looking like they're doing nothing but must be doing something. The weak lira smells strong. We climb now. The lira climbs with us. Up sea side inclines. Fantastic slanted houses and shops drunk on the hills. Transvestites and leather and sexual perversions in the safe damp of unfindable places. House whores. A Clandestine class. Studded motorbikes, piercings, industrial metal, open windows, reclusive artists working away in dark interiors. Paintings out in the street to dry. Streets getting so narrow now. Buildings trying to kiss as they lean forward. Mediterranean air. The roads wind up higher and become narrower. Little expensive cafés and bistros tucked away. A bar owner slops out a bucket of floor water for the sun to suck up. So hot. Humid. Condensation dripping from window sills. People in just shorts and sandals and sun glasses and cream. This is where they sigh all day and curse the world and heat. Where the evening arrives like a jewelled oasis. Up so high now and in front of me I can see the city, a steaming shit of ghettos and waste, of noise and pollution and history as as it eats itself up. Squalor, poverty, death, disease. It's all down there, rotting away in the streets and doorways. And Pedro exists. And he's running. His laugh is dreamy and it seems like he's in one of those tragic videos that I'll watch my entire life. And I watch him and he calls me, in Italian, soft contours. And this could be love and it should be love. I watch out from myself, drunk on the romance of a city of sadness and trash. And he's in the cool now, past the last bar on the highest point of the city. He's staring off over a wall and the air is rushing through his hair and I can smell the soap off his skin and something magic too. I climb the last step of hill and the shade and cool hits me like all of Italy is loving me at once. And for a moment the world goes quiet and the city behind me drifts silent and only the smell of the sun and of Pedro's image remains. I join him. And he says nothing, just stands there like a ships head looking out and full of breeze and something more than joy. Out in front of us is the Bay of Naples, an expanse of deep green sea with Vesuvius smoking away to the left. On the water is a single fishing boat and we can see the shadows of fish from here. And I say nothing to Pedro's silence. It's all feeling. And it's a great beautiful sad moment in our lives and our death talk of yesterday figures none. And we know, we both know, there is hope in this godforsaken world.... and in that moment, while the sea sat still and the city lay mute behind, we really and honestly had escaped the trappings of men.
At this point I shall not suppress a sigh. There are days when I am haunted by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy -- contempt of man. And so as to leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporary.
Nietzsche – The Antichrist
The Last Days of Sober Living
The last year of sober living was a romantic time. I remember evenings spent sat beneath Westminster Bridge, the party boats just along down, moored in the high tide, the lights of the Southbank centre lit up across. I remember the last days of that infernal summer, where somehow dark obsessions came in on the floral evenings and magic and horror both lay in the distance. It's like it was another world, like the place a poet must see before being condemned to the page and the word. And when the summer was done that last sober autumn, crisp beneath my feet, walking so far and getting so lost and so far away from home. In the distance, rising up, the old industrial areas of Wandsworth, places I'd gone with my father and where we used to research Roman fares and Victorian bottle dumps and dig them up to hopefully find treasures. In the last evenings before the great turbulence of adulthood I read Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and Yeats – the Irish in me for the fight to come. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the great Russian writers accompanied me as I travelled London, a kinda farewell tour before going underground. I visited museums and galleries and walked around Soho in the pouring rain, miserable and seeking out drug contacts. I wasn't needing a contact just then but was planning ahead. I wrote my first short stories through that winter with the windows out, no heating or money and having to warm my hands with a hair-dryer.
It was an insanely beautiful time, the memory a bruise blossoming in the sky now. But coming in on the back of the year was a great storm. I had been watching it build for years, darkening tones and swirling shapes in the sky which I didn't understand. I was too young to chase storms at that time. God, I didn't know which way it'd move or what course it'd likely take. So I sat and watched with a fatalistic horror and delight, kinda thrilled that the world was gonna come down on me, imaging the eroticism of my struggle and how I'd kick and fight and die. I watched the storm engulf the sky and come up over the bridge. The river darkened and weird ripples and eddies crashed about below. The cheers from the riverside bars now sounded like screams, like the whole world was screaming. There was talk of a meltdown. That was the night they set the river on fire and welcomed in a new thousand years. And all the while I was at home, laying in bed, shivering and crying and imagining gunning down the crowds. It was on that night there that the wound opened up and the poet crawled out: I was fundamentally at odds with my world.
In the dark of the night my brother said, “Shut up!” And I don't blame him at all. I chased the smack down the foil, but not even that made life bearable. It wasn't one thing. It was a lifetime of things. Twenty five years of tragedy. I watched the fireworks go off, exploding in the sky, Chinese Dragons and Roman Rockets and War and Blood and Bubblegum sparks... “HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Happy New Millenium!!!” They screamed.
The last drunks staggered home; the celebrations turned angry in them now. It's just the same; nothing changed; and there's work tomorrow. Outside one of the discontented beat up a dustbin, scattered its guts all over the road. I looked at the back of my brother's head and wondered if he was asleep, if he was still breathing, if he'd survive this night. I used to do that when we were young, creep about in the dark, feeling for his breath. I hope he breathes. I hope he sees the morning. He deserves it more than me. I thought back to when I was ten and Robbie Rudge's granddad said that his goal was to reach the year 2000 as he'd then be exactly one hundred years old. I thought of him, if he was breathing. Probably not. I hoped not. We were seeing in a new era of tragedy, but this next thousand years will not be a history of collective tragedy like the last, but of personal tragedies : it will be the single man and woman who will get it this time. The next holocaust will be indiscriminate.
My brother was asleep now. His chest didn't move and the night was now deadly still around us. I clicked my lighter and as quietly as I could chased the last beetle of smack around the foil, blowing heroin out into the new year. “Night Night, Dan,” I said... “looks like we've made it, Bro.... looks like we've really fucking made it.”
I don't think I'm going to last out the year. I can feel death and weakness in every move I take. The eclipse of bad health is nearly complete. My lungs rale and wheeze through the night. I am breathless on waking. My first half an hour is spent coughing up the settled phlegm in my chest and smoking cigars to replace it. I feel tired all the time. Not physically tired, but a tiredness that hangs in my face and has a physical weight. I've started getting piercing headaches and have a weird second heartbeat in the extreme left side of my chest. Every so often, twice a day, my entire chest will cramp from the middle as if some force is trying to pull my breast plate apart. My feet are brown from over 10,000 injections per foot and bad circulation. My ankles and shins swell up after each fix. If I pick a scab I scar. Stairs almost kill me. I can manage no more than a flight without getting out of breath. And it's been like that for a while, but now I'm starting to feel really ill with it: old ill, like I'm an old man. If I have to predict how I'll go I'll say my heart will give out. I do believe I'll die alone in this room in France and will not be found for at least a week.
I never wanted to die and I never wanted to hurt myself. I only ever wanted to tame the pain and be happy. I am happy. That's the contradiction. I was never really sad anyway. I guess when you're young and feel so strong and offended by death that you think you can do just about anything and get away with it. Nothing effects youth but time. Then one day, suddenly, the stitching's all undone. My only hope now is that I really am a hypochondriac.
Rebels should not take Drugs
Rebels should not take drugs! That is NOT taking up arms! That is NOT the good fight! That is getting in bed with the enemy. Rebels should not drink OR smoke! That is NOT rebelling: that's conforming! Rebels should not pay homage or get high on pussy or arsehole... that only leads to heartbreak, antidepressants and the psychiatrist's couch. Rebels should NOT write! Rebels should NOT march! Rebels should NOT lay down in front of bulldozers! Rebels should NOT sit in French cafés reading clandestine newspapers! That's what rebels are supposed to do!
People have always said I am a rebel. But I'm not a rebel. I'm the opposite of a rebel: All I've ever wanted was to be accepted and loved.
Rebels should NOT need love.
I Have no regrets, but...
I have no regrets, but...
That's not a rock n' roll thing, just how it is. I don't look at life for what has passed but only for what is here infront of me today. That's not to say I'd do everything over again. But it is to say that if I could alter history, yet without knowing what consequences that would have on my present, I wouldn't dare change a thing. I have no regrets, but...
That old man I saw on the metro: how fresh and wise and vibrant he looked. Sitting there with a head of brilliant silver hair, a soberness in his face like you'd maybe acquire from reading thick volumes of law books, his eyes pale and clear, alive and responsive, his skin not sagged or mottled, but thickened perfectly to sit on the collar of his fresh pressed shirt. But there was something else within him, a kind of contentedness with the world and his place in it, something very straight and honest, a kindness of living that only those in good health can have. Somehow he exuded life, as if all the comfort in the world was within him, completely respectful of his own mortality; like every minute was one to savour; like even the discomfort of a morning wash and shave was a pleasure; like waking to a new day was a gift and not a chore to get through until bedtime. I eyed his face again, could almost see the years of him slapping aftershave across his jowls, eager to get out into the world. And he sat there like that, his hands crossed over one another, the right gently clasping the left, taking warmth from his own existence, completely submissive to life, not waiting for the next blow. I unclenched my fists and let my own hands hang loose.
Between Saxe Gambetta and Bellecour, two quick stops, I glimpsed that man's entire life in my mind. Or maybe not his life, but the life I imagined I'd never have. And as I watched him more, I thought: I wouldn't mind being like that, being him... getting to that age. That wouldn't be too bad.
I have no regrets, but...
...in the dark window of the subway train I glimpsed at my reflection. And I thought:
God... what the hell have I done.
covering up the waste underneath, the needle pocked flesh, the brown feet, the huge abscess scars, the frightening capillary veins that pop and spread out like fungi, the raling lungs and wheezing chest, the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, the emphysema, the bloated liver, the early onset of diabetes, the methadone fat, the filthy elbows, the dirty neck, the suicide scars... all covered by nice shirts and jumpers and trousers and socks and shoes.
When Tescos began selling books like Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' I knew we were fucked. A system so sure of itself that it even sold me it's own anti-propaganda, advising its customers to boycott almost every product it sells.
Capitalism is ME. I see it all too clearly now.
Home: A Love Letter to London #257
Behind the wall, in the shade, on the weeds, I know the black and orange caterpillars that are found there. Through the park, behind the swings, in the bushes, I know the human shit and trodden porno mags. Along the river, on the bank, with the tide sat out, I know the stench of the sunbaked mud. In Shepherds Bush, down St Elmo's Road, in first spring days, I know the Cherry Blossom snow. Around the church, on broken graves, under the elm, I know the damp of summer shade. Beneath the cars, where the eye can't see, I know by default lies what where:
The taste of bus windows; the underside of benches; the stuff stuffed down behind the green BT junction boxes; the muck of squashed vegetables after market; the hard school walls; the anti-climb fences and black grease; the smell of the public telephone receiver; the smoked brown wood of telephone poles; the acrid taste of motorway berries; the oil pools on the tarmac after the neighbours fixed his car; a sparkplug caught in the drain; the white enamelled bricks in latrines; the grubs that burrow in the window boxes; the insects that come in on summer nights; the mosquitoes in the back yard; the softness of the back seat in taxis; the taste of bus windows; the rain in shopping bags; the stains the beggars leave alongside the cash machine; the brown furry pollution that clings to the disused power station on Lotts road; the smell of train journeys out of town; egg and cress and mayo sandwiches; wet dogs; house cats; the smell of Superdrug bathsalts; brewery alleys; Adidas aftershave; four pints of beer and an ashtray; sausage and beans; fresh air dried laundry; corner shops full of the morning news; carbon betting slips; the afternoon soup kitchen of the Goldhawk Road Methodist church. That's my home. A million memories of all I am and everything I'll ever be. A deep sadness of a city that horrifies, saddens and brings me to beautiful tears... caught somewhere in years gone by and going by. That there is my home. She rises west from here and sprawls out like you wouldn't believe. She rises and settles like a mushroom cloud; the snake of the river slithering through her heart. London Town.
My city rips me in two. There is nothing I am more passionate about than home. It acts upon me as a melancholic gravitational pull. I cry for London Town. I did another Google Map walk through her streets last week. I broke down crying for the city I know so intimately, for my exile from her, for all that is me and is lost here. Cut off from London I am dying, but I am too gutless to return. I suppose I'd rather live in pain than face the music. But as my father and mother and brother and sisters die I will be taught one almighty lesson: I will be brought to my knees and dragged screaming through these foreign streets.
France is not my home. It's not even a home from home. Maybe on my death bed I'll be nostalgic about my days here, maybe she'll become a part of my history proper, but just now she weighs me down and makes me unutterably sad. I don't know this city or the people like the integral way I know the people of my own city. The little nuances that distinguish everyone – a slight accent, a fashion of accentuating words, the choice of words. I don't know this place and it doesn't know me. I have become a 37 year old blank. I didn't grow up here. I didn't clamber over her walls and graze my knees, camp in her undergrowth, go insect spotting in her forest. The streets are not the same curbs we sat on as kids, poking at the gutter life. The walls are not the same brick I drew and sprayed my name on, was gripped up upon. Even the barbed wire is a different cut and leaves different scars. I once wrote that 'the pavement tastes the same no matter where you are', but that was just poetry, a throwaway line that sounds true but isn't. The pavement DOESN'T taste the same, it's just the same things that knock you to it.
The Dark Shadow of Existence
I walked around followed by the dark shadow of existence. It fell in front of me when the light was behind, moped behind me when the light was in front, and submerged within me for the high noon sun, only to re-emerge, inch by inch as the light went down, out into the evening, until it stretched so far ahead of me it was all there was. And when the natural light of day was done, my dark shadow of existence multiplied and split, unsure of which debauched route to take through the city night. The lights from street lamps and sex shops and bars and arcades tugging at my soul.
Behind my dark shadow of existence I live in fear. I creep around like one of the mentally retarded, grinning at perverse acts and watching the elephant men and woman of the city balance their lopsided lives in dubious ways. I stand in the grime of shooting galleries, watching and imaging nightmare scenarios. I watch young boys in the station toilets perfecting the eyes of lust they'll give to old men as they suck their cocks and rifle through their pockets. I help put sex cards in the phone booths for dying smack and crack whores. I sit in the room, waiting for the crack man, fronting the money and loading the pipe till she's finished out back and can join me. Sometimes a client wants a proper moment and she'll rush out in vile filthy knickers, her death in the low light, holes in her groin, sucking down a rock of crack before scampering back to her trick. The curtains are drawn and it's not even 2pm.
My dark shadow of existence is there when I wake, staring forward at the naked, nicotine stained walls, the blood on the floor. It raises when I do, before the sun is even up.
Just a few words to let let you know I'm back from the wilderness and will be posting here within the next few days.As I'd been writing constantly during the past 4 years I thought/felt it was time to take a break from that nonsense and have a proper rest from it all where words and sentences and themes were not my first waking thoughts. As many of you know the actual process of writing for me is just a nightmare. I've never enjoyed the physical act of getting these words down, and really only do it from a desperation to say the things my mouth has never been able to. Anyway, there you have it: I'm in from out the cold.
The upcoming post will almost certainly be a set of four or five little texts, each one concerning thoughts and sadnesses which have been plaguing me since the end of last year. One of the pieces will pick up on the last post here, though rather than addressing what happens POST-junk it will focus on the PRE-junk dawn... my last year of sober living.
Until then... Watch this Space... Shane; x
It was my first morning to methadone clinic and a vile, hollow, depression hung in me then. The light hadn't yet reached the morning and outside the streets sat cold and black and frosted over. Blustery winds rattled the windows then swept off, angry, across the brick face. The only light in the room came from the television which had been on continuously for over seven months. It had served as some kind of comfort, but now it disturbed me, the breakfast show jingles and easy-listening media voices reminding me of a distant normality, something terribly sad, from a time before I knew what sickness was. My body ached from light junk withdrawals: runny nose; cavernous yawning; a coldness deep in the marrow of my bones. My head was plagued by a weird melancholic nostalgia which played havoc with my raw emotions. Memories of the people I had loved, echoes of the beautiful things we had said, the goodbyes, grieved me. I felt I could cry for just existing. I sat at the table by the window dreading the thought of having to confront this new winter day half sick. I stared at my reflection in the glass, superimposed over the darkness outside. I was pale and deathly. I felt withdrawn, yet at the same time, raw to the world. I pulled the little electric fan heater in close and hunched over it with a cigarette. Every few moments I'd turn a look up at the sky, praying that the light of day would never come. But the light was coming. Already the sky was a tone lighter than when I'd woken, and was thinning through even more. I finished my cigarette, and another besides, and when I next looked out a ghostly city was visible, rising up like ruins into the distance. In the sky the dark shapes of birds passed over, and then the stark, early light arrived proper. It was then, from the TV, that the news report first broke, of that awful crime – only I didn't hear it then.
With the coming of the morning light all peace in the world was broken. There was an emptiness, a harshness, something intangible which had crept its way into everything and made me feel forlorn and vacant. I looked over at the bed. It was barren and cold. I shuddered thinking of the uncomfortable night I'd spent in it, wrapped up in all my clothes, draughts still somehow finding their way in and across my skin. My stomach pained and was turbulent. I tried drinking a coffee but couldn't manage it. The warm river of liquid through my middle threw my body out of kilter even more. My fingers were brown and there was dirt and dried blood on my hands. I needed to wash but there was something deeply troubling about the sink and that whole area. I couldn't rid myself of the thought of the brown, slimy limescale around the bottoms of the taps, the rusty scissors and dirty razors on the side, the sludge that the soap bedded on. Over at the sink I turned the tap. The water came out like shards of steel. The few specks which hit me almost made me fit. To wash, even just my face and hands was too much. Instead, I flashed the corner of a flannel under the water, and with the damp edge, wiped down my fingers and gave my face the once over. It made me look even more wan and left red blotches around my nose and forehead. My stomach dropped loose once more and pained like I had diarrhea. The smell and taste of illness was up my nose and down my throat, something like being suffocated with crushed ice. Just to stand was an arduous enough task, the thought of having to brave the day and trek across town a hellish prospect.
I don't know why that morning, but before leaving, I had an urge to turn the TV off. It seemed it would close something that was open; somehow help balance my existence. As I reached across for the button there was that story again. Now a reporter was standing wrapped up and reporting live from the scene. The street behind him was cordoned off and policemen were stood around in the background breathing out mist. I killed the TV. The reporter remained for a moment, then closed shut from both ends, and was gone. Far from harmonising the room the place now seemed bare, uninhabited, like my friend's room that time after they had taken his body away. I buttoned my Duffell coat up to the last, wrapped a scarf around up to my nose, and then left – half sick and getting worse, down to my initiation meeting at the methadone clinic, to be dosed for the very first time.
It was a day with no body. The streets were wet but it had not been raining. The wind clipped at my ears and nose and made going on twice as hard as usual. The winter sneaked right in under my coat. The sky was at once too dull and too bright, and everything from dew in the grass, to wet on railings, ice capped puddles and mildew on walls disgusted and unnerved. My nose was constantly running and dripping into my scarf, and my skin felt so dry it was sore, whipped raw by the winds. On an almost deserted length of dual-carriageway I stood shivering at an unsheltered bus-stop. A thick mist had accumulated in the distance, the frozen central divide disappearing into it. My feet felt like slabs of ice, and inside my gloves I could feel the greasy dirt on my hands. The world seemed bereft of hope, the corrupt morning converging on me and attacking me from all sides, on all senses, whipping in, stinging, stabbing, piercing – my muscles stiff like meat out the deep freeze, the taste of smashed ice in my face, up my nose, inflating my sinuses. And under all that, a vile, cold-sweat, which trickled down and froze, creating valleys of draught all over my body. When the bus finally arrived I staggered on half-dead, cringing at the driver, my hands too cold to produce my pass. The driver waved me past and for a brief moment I thought I had found salvation.
Though it was but a light negligee of junk illness I wore, it was enough to make the world feel barren and bleak and to open me up fully to the rigours of existence. Without junk filtering life I was too sensitive to it. The wet bus floor with traces of mud and trodden leaves and newspaper, the umbrella in the luggage pen, the old woman with purple hands and weak watery eyes shaking in the front seat... it all disturbed me and brought forth an involuntary spasm of repulsion. I mooched along the bus and ached down into a seat alongside the radiator vent. I put a hand down to feel for the heat but there was none. I huddled up tight in the corner, pulling my coat and scarf in, the misery leaking out my dripping, frozen nose. An invisible sheet of cold came forth from the expanse of window. I cleared a small patch in the mist and stared out absently at the abject life. An immense sadness came over me, and yet I wasn't thinking, just looking. There was something bleak and dispirited out there, a hollowness that permeated the most mundane things. I sat there shivering and snivelling, staring out my little frost framed aperture, my ear suddenly wooed by the stern tones of the news report, that same story, now floating out the drivers cabin, the slaying of two teenage boys in Harlsedon, North London, shot dead in their car as they waited at a set of lights in the early hours of the morning. This time the report did register. It seeped in and filled me with terror and dread.
Nothing seemed quite real after that, not even the news report. It somehow seemed manufactured, maybe even a hoax, like it was deliberately broadcast just for me, for this doleful winter morning. There was at once something hallucinatory and yet hyper-real about it. And the report didn't run and disappear into the archives. It descended upon me, festered, got right into the weave of me, and left me with a creeping sense of unease and paranoia. It was as if I was in some way wrapped up in the crime, like it was fated to have consequences on my own day. It was the same nightmarish bent on reality that finds its way in on the back of a night terror, where dream and reality morph together for a moment and a sinister gateway to a violent and bloody dream-scape is left open. There existed the feeling that just about anything could happen... would happen... had already happened. I felt edgy, like this wasn't freewill but pre-determined, a prolonged sensation of déjà-vu. It felt like someone was watching me. I looked around the bus at the few other passengers. It was all quite unremarkable: too unremarkable; like it was staged, like the absolute sober normality that precedes a bomb blast. Now, on top of my increasing illness, alongside the melancholic drips of memory of a time just before the world turned sour, I had this very real and terrifying idea that a lone gunman would board the bus, or someone would randomly open fire in the streets, like that which had happened in Hungerford. I rose and moved myself to the other side of the bus, into the seat alongside the emergency window. It was up and across from the middle doors, and when I wasn't watching them I was surveying any movement outside, praying that the bus would get me to where I needed to be.
By the time I stepped off the bus into the thin brittle morning I was really starting to come down with the sweats and muscle aches. I still wasn't proper dope sick but I was bad enough to not have to feign it and hopefully be dosed properly for a first timer. The streets seemed more deserted than usual. A hostile crystal covering sat over everything. Blind corners threw my heart into panic. I tried to quicken my pace but found I couldn't. I was at that stage of junk need that time had a set scale, 1 to 5 or something, and could not be sped up nor lost. I could get nowhere faster than illness allowed. Down the road a postman in his summer work shorts passed me by but didn't seem real. I looked back, checking to make sure he was really there. He was, but then seemed too far down the road to have passed me when I thought he had. I looked at my feet as I walked, counting the steps, somehow, for a moment, not being able to comprehend their connection to my brain, that they were even my legs at all. As I chugged on I left a trail of mist behind me. My right eye watered constantly. I'd never felt more out of odds, or cut out and placed in the world. Everything that would usually inspire or is unique to winter horrified me and left me with desperate need to escape it.
On the first day of methadone clinic you are washed up on the inner bend of smack addiction. This is where the river deposits the big rocks. For the first time addiction is taken off the streets and placed in a closed environment where the shit and puke has no place else to go. It's often the place where the junkie turns up to make his final cameo in life. It's a harrowing place. You see not mostly addicts well while scoring, but the long term addicts, those who've lost their limbs, those whose stomachs are at bursting point with liver disease, those eaten away from HIV. Them same people, in the same place, with the same scars and abscesses as you. In their faces and deaths you can see yourself, and it's maybe the first time you've seen yourself in a while. This is the after-sales service of heroin. It's a side of addiction which you've caught glimpses off but up until then had had the freedom and good sense to steer well clear off.
Outside the death halls of the clinic were gathered three loyal methadone clients. They were dressed in a mish mash of grubby sportswear and wool and stood together smoking and holding little plastic cups of dispensed coffee. They were too chatty and alive to be ill or even suffering.
You 'ere fer juice? One asked, sounding like a raspy toothless woman.
Doctor, I groaned. It's my first morning.
Good luck, offered another, a tall thing in a filthy trappers hat with ear flaps. It seemed that because I'd walked in, and not crawled, it wasn't going to be enough.
The clinic was dull and empty, an ill lit corridor with no reception. This part of the service had been kept out of sight when I'd had my interview two months ago. Up on the walls were corny drug abuse posters, showing the young face of the addict that no-one here resembled. Down the corridor, on the left, was a doorless turning, and further down, on the right, two closed doors. The heating seemed to be on maximum. I could feel the cold smoking off my coat, an uncomfortable filthy, itchy sweat beneath it. I waited for a moment wondering if someone would come and greet me. The far end of the corridor descended into total darkness. A middle-aged woman with a harsh, serious face, and wearing a staff pass crossed the hall with files and bits of paper. She didn't acknowledge anything but the linoleum floor beneath her. Maybe you had to be down there, rattling on it, to get noticed? A human reception bell.
Excuse me... I said. But before I had even finished she had ignored me and was gone, leaving me to feel the place out myself.
The open entrance on the left was the waiting room. Along to the left, built into the main front wall, was a closed shutter with a message not to bang on it. Above the shutter was a sign reading 'DISPENSARY'. Only the sorriest addicts were here at this hour. They included new entrants who lay around sick; those here on court orders; those dying; and those who were still using smack – the early morning visits being the first step in bullying them off the scheme, making maintenance too much a hassle to continue. In the room now were four addicts and myself. Two, a couple, sat at the back. Another man was lain across five of the front chairs, sobbing and groaning. And the last, right over on the left, a man with his legs up on the tops of the chairs in front of him, reclining back with a small transistor radio held to his ear, his eyes scanning around for attention as if he was up on all the latest electrical gadgetry. On seeing me watching him he dropped his legs down and turned himself away to the wall, pressing the radio tighter to his ear as if the information was his. The radio was some flimsy piece of outmoded shit, probably what was all the rage at the cusp of his addiction where time and fashion had stood still. I watched him, the disgusting, hollow day making me feel deathly and not really there. The latest news of the morning's shooting crackled and rose from his hunched up form.
Police in Harlsedon, North London, say that the shootings represent a worrying escalation of gun crime in the area. They declined to speculate as to any apparent motive for the slayings, though did say that a gangland style execution could not be ruled out. The lone gunman, a Caucasian male, between 25 and... ...
… …and a medley of poorly picked up radio stations cut into the report, the addict tuning through the band waves and settling on a country music station before tuning through again. I took a seat at the back, away from the entrance. My face prickled as the cold in my flesh undid itself. Surrounded by depressing government health warnings I loosened my scarf and sat staring, repulsed, at the bowls of fresh fruit laid out on the tables upfront.
I hadn't been waiting long when the woman who had ignored me in the hall entered. She read my name from a small notebook and looked up and around to see which one of us would present themselves as me. Surprisingly it was the addict who'd been laying groaning across the five front seats. He staggered forward, reaching out, crying.
Please, I need something... PLEASE! I can't wait any longer. I'was 'ere first. I'm dying... really, I'M DYING!
He looked like he was gonna throw himself around her and clutch on as he collapsed. This was dope sickness and you can't fake such a loss of self-respect. I cringed just seeing his illness, remembering days I'd had those same pleading, outstretched arms and tears.
The nurse moved aside holding her arm out. Are you Mr Levene, she enquired, panicked, looking over at me.
I nodded. But he can go first, I offered. It was a huge mistake. Having a heart in this world often is.
The nurse gave me a peculiar, furrowed look. It was somewhere between hate and disgust. Follow me, she said. I moved as decrepitly as I could, but it was too late: I'd already blown my cover. As I passed the addict he was back sitting, his legs swung flimsily over the other, like a woman, jigging like he needed the loo and making painful, murmuring sounds. I wanted to touch his back, but I didn't want to touch him at all.
My doctor was a small, prudish, fifty year old Italian woman. Her sleek dark hair was pulled back and up and held each side with an elegant hair brooch. She greeted me in her three-quarter-length white overcoat, classy beige tights and flat, catholic, bumper-car shoes finishing her off. Well groomed, well-aged, well-scented. She was conservative to the marrow but may not have known it.
I hung my coat and scarf up and sat down. Rather than evaluate me from behind her desk she pulled her chair around and sat opposite – close enough so as I could see the tiny soft furry blond hairs on her face, but far away enough so as our knees could never touch. I got a weird hard-on, but nothing dangerous. As she looked over my file my eyes wandered off over her shoulder, fixing on the sink in the corner and the cylindrical metal boiler unit above it. I felt absolutely amputated from the moment, in a body which wasn't quite mine. The sterility and quiet of this place was of dope sick days, and never was I more an addict than then, in that moment, being kept half sick in front of officialdom as they slowly perused the meager information they had on me, deciding if I deserved a kind or wrathful God. I suddenly flushed hot, overcome with a prickling heat. My cock deflated. I considered breaking down too – weeping, apologizing for my tears, just to try and get this over with. It wouldn't have really been so fraudulent. I was that raw anyway. Still looking over my file she asked me questions to answers she already had.
After making sure I knew who I was, where I lived, how much I used and how I used it, the doctor handed me a sheet of paper with a list of common withdrawal symptoms on it. She told me to read through and tick the relevant boxes. Although I could only honestly say I was suffering from two of the options I nevertheless ticked them all, some not even bothering to read. It was maybe the best decision I had taken. What she took for nonchalance seemed to infuriate her. She turned wholeheartedly against me.
You've had hallucinations? She asked, incredulously. And fitted?
Not really fitted, more like severe muscle spasms and jerking, I replied. Audio hallucinations, not visual. A song, snippets of unmemorable conversations. Not unhappy memories, but terribly sad in the mood of today.
I wanted to tell her of the crime, how I couldn't rid the thought of it from my head, how it somehow felt entwined with my own, immediate existence and could gatecrash it at any moment. But I didn't. Stuff like that would likely only serve to get you a lifetime of 7am appointments with the psychologist. Instead I rolled my sleeve up ready to have my blood pressure taken, the doctor recoiling in horror on finding recent needle marks and streaks of dried, crusty blood trailing down my bicep and off, around my elbow. She gave me an alcohol wipe and stood there squinting at me out the side of her eyes as I wiped the blood clean. The chill of the alcohol on my skin unnerved me. As soon as I was done the doctor lashed the blood pressure band around my arm and began inflating it, squeezing the hand-pump like she was hyper stressed. My lower arm went hard, the skin blotchy like corned-beef. My head felt like it would explode. The doctor released the pressure and scribbled down the reading.
You're not withdrawing, she said immediately, ripping the velcro flap open and whipping the band away. You're not 24hrs clean!
I agreed I wasn't. I told her the truth that I was 14hrs down and feeling rough enough. I said I had to work and couldn't let myself get sick if it wasn't necessary. She seemed to take offense at logic. She gave the standard spiel that 40ml of methadone could be fatal in the wrong circumstances and she wasn't going to risk having a death on her hands. I asked her a few simple questions which she couldn't answer without indirectly admitting to talking crap. Her answer was a huff of silence as she rage wrote a prescription with such ferocity that her pen broke through the paper. She handed me the prescription. Scribbled in huge letters and then circled was '10ml', not even a tenth of what I'd need to be well. I scoffed at the prescription. I almost balled it up and dashed it in her face.
Come back tomorrow after not having used for 24 hours and you'll be treated properly, she said, smirking at my disgust. If not, if you can't, then this stabilization period will be a very slow, drawn out process.
You know 10ml won't do anything, I said. When I leave here I will go and score... I've no choice. I have to be in work this afternoon and will not get sick just to please you.
Well, if you do that you'll only get the same tomorrow. It's your decision. I can't properly asses you while you've heroin fresh in your system. There's guidelines and rules to follow, and you, like everyone else, will have to adhere to them.
I didn't reply. There was no point. The doctor was from a symmetrical, classic cut of cloth – a square from a square. She could never understand being out of sorts with your world – pinstripes against a paisley background. I put on my jacket and scarf, and prescription in hand hurried back into the waiting room and thumped as hard as I could on the shutter which you were not supposed to bang on. For my troubles I was kept waiting for over twenty five minutes, the proper sick junkie finally being dosed before me. It was a victory of sorts. Kind of. I swallowed my 10ml, showed an empty mouth, and left.
Back out in the harsh open the cold air burnt like menthol on my throat. I was really feeling like dog shit: snivelling, eyes running and burning as I cut through the highrise flats around the back. The day had come on a little. The wintry sky was now pale blue with a weak sun, the colour of sparkling wine, showing through. Underfoot was a sludge of earth and mashed leaves. Little huffed sparrows peppered the bare trees, waiting to scarper at the crack of the sniper's gun. As I hurried on a little white Scottish Terrier dog backed out of some undergrowth it's paws and legs all muddy and wet. It scampered off leaving the smell of slobber and tongue thick in the air. It was just after that that I came upon the most hideous sight imaginable. On this frozen, misty day, winds whipping the temperature below freezing, sickness steaming up off everything, an unshaven, half-dosser came my way, his jacket open and wearing only a light shirt underneath, the top three buttons undone, leaving his neck and lower chest exposed to the bare elements. In his hand he had a pear and he was munching on this thing as he walked, bits of fruit in his stubble, the freezing sticky juice streaming over and dripping off his hand. As I reached him a vile, glacial headwind whipped me to the bones and almost brought me to my knees. As I stooped into the wind I caught sight of him biting once again into the pear, a wintry tear leaking out his eye as he absorbed and celebrated life. My body spasmed involuntarily and my stomach felt frozen and missing. My scarf was wet against my nose and the warm air from my mouth burned my lips. The aura of half-sick visits to the clinic was with me, and little did I know, they would always feel like this.
The bus ride back was a warmer affair than going and with each revolution of the wheel Iat least had the comfort that my dealer was a meter closer. I sat at the very back, watching out for gunmen, now away from the window as my mind had fixed itself on the thought of a drive-by shooting. Horrified I imagined the thought of a car, sat lit up at the traffic lights, nothing extraordinary, except... two teenagers are slumped around with half their heads blown off and the CD still looping away, the green light meaning nothing to them any more. But it wasn't that. It wasn't the crime. It wasn't even the violence. It was the coldness of the night, the illness that was in me, the bad dreams, the tears, the shivering, the draughts, the stale cigarettes, the lonely bed, the Redemption Song, Bob Marley, in a bar, the last bar, on a night just like that, the jukebox, the fruit machine, waiting for love, for the door to open, bang bang, boom boom, through a cloud of smoke, red lips, black eyes, southern comfort, chewing gum, the misty heath of the pre-junk dawn. It was somewhere there, somewhere deep down in the melee of my mind which terrified me now and had terrified me always. It was the same feeling I'd had when they pulled the body out the river that day, when I'd sunk in the mud, when I'd lain there dying with pneumonia, when I'd cried because of how cruel I was. I was too raw to exist in the skin and the world I was born into. I thought all these things and for a moment I thought I was crying, but I wasn't, it was just the mist on the window was streaming down and the life was blurred and fuzzy through it.
I didn't go home. I was never intending to. Instead I got off near my mother's, scored, and then called on her so as I could get a shot. As I sat with the fix in the needle, flexing and tensing my arms to raise a vein, mum asked me how the clinic had been and who I had seen. I couldn't remember the doctor's name so described her.
God, everyone fucking has problems with her, mum said. D'ya know who your keyworker is yet?
I shook my head.
Did anyone ask about me? she asked. I told them you'd be down today and was my son! She said that with an air of pride then cursed me for dripping blood on the carpet. The next thing I knew was that the fire blazed like love, that I was looking at the cat as it slept curled up besides it, and how its fur looked like I felt. The cat opened an eye, looked at me, felt safe, then went under again. Mum put a cup of coffee down for me, took my needle and laid it out of harm's way on the table. She sat down over in the armchair, smoking and watching TV.
Did ya hear about that shooting? she asked.
I thought for a moment, then said I had... two teenagers weren't it?
Mum said Yeah like she was bored and blew out a cloud of smoke. It's been on every fucking channel non-stop, she said. I nodded, but I was already asleep, sinking warm into mum's couch. Outside the winter blew and raged about and menacing winds cut through the bare trees which lined the street. But now it wasn't hollow or cruel or hostile, it seemed kind of perfect, like the world was meant to be this way, like it could never be better than it was just then.
_ _ _
Thanks for sticking out the wait... Love and Respect as Always, Shane. X