Conversation with a Drunk

The following is a transcribed account of a telephone conversation I shared with my mother - May 18, 2015.

Phone rings.
Incoming call.... MUM

“Allo Mum...”
“Mum, you OK?”
“Nah, not really.”
“Why, what's wrong?”
“I'm pissing blood all over the place.”
“What do ya mean you're 'pissing blood all over the place'?”
“Well I am! I've cut all my arms open!”
“You're pissed!”
“Yeah and you're on HEROIN!”
“What's that gotta do with anything?”
“Well it's the same innit?”
“It would be if I phoned you up saying I'm pissing blood all over the place.”
“Yeah well I am! It's everywhere.”
“And what can I do about it? Why phone and tell me that?”
“Cause I thought you cared!”
“Even if I cared what the fuck could I do? It's obviously just to worry me.”
“yeah alright Shane! HEROIN!!! HEROIN!!! HEROIN!!! HER....”
“Mum Shut the.....”
“HEROIN!!! HEROIN!!! HEROIN ABUSER!!! HEROIN!!! Don't fuckin' like that do ya!”
“Yeah, Jesus Christ, Superstar, walks like a woman and he wears a bra! Heard it all before.You don't care if I'm dying do ya?”
“If you're dying phone somebody else... someone nearer. By the time I've got through to England and got an ambulance you'll be dead. You're wasting precious time even now.”
“Nice Shane, nice! Well at least I now know who fucking cares!”
“If it was that serious you'd have bled out already.”
“What? Bled out??? You're fucking evil you are!”
“Yeah, it only takes a few minutes. What did you cut your wrists with? A spoon?”
“Er, yeah... alright Shane.... alright.....”

She was about to close the phone. She loves closing the phone. I beat her to it and cut the line before her.

Text Message.
Outgoing → Dan (brother)

Shane: Dan I've just had Mum on the phone, drunk, saying she's cut her wrists open. I told her to fuck off and killed the phone. X

Dan: She's been drunk everyday lately. Not sure what's up with her. Have made an effort to go and see her more but she just tells me not to bother. Do you think I should call. X

Shane: Yeah she phoned me drunk yesterday saying how lonely she is.... turning other peoples tragedy into her own. Yeah, you should probably phone just to be sure. But knowing her she'll not answer now so as we think she's dead. Let me know. X

Dan: Tried calling but she doesn't answer. Maybe she's sleeping it off.

Shane: Sleeping it off? Drinking it on more likely. I'll try.

Phone call outgoing → MUM: no reply
Phone call outgoing → MUM: no reply
Phone call outgoing → MUM: no reply

1hr later...
Phone call incoming → MUM

“Yeah, allo.”
“So you're still alive then?”
“Yeah. I'm sorry Shane. I'm just so lonely.”
“We're all lonely mum.... half the world is lonely.”
“Yeah, but I'm here all alone.”
“That's no reason to phone me up over here and say you've sliced your wrists open.”
“Well I have.”
“Even so, why phone and tell me?”
“Well, you do the same Shane!”
“When have I ever done anything like that?”
“Well ya phoned up when that fucking Anne left ya!”
“I was upset. But I didn't say I was pissing blood all over the place.”
“It's the same fucking thing Shane!”
“How is it?”
“Well it is... what the fuck can I do if ya girlfriend's left ya!”
“I didn't ask for help. Just a voice.”
“Yeah, same thing!”
“OK. I'm not gonna argue. You should phone Dan.. he's probably worried.”
“Why the fuck would he be worried?”
“Dunno, but he is.”
“Ya aint fucking phoned Daniel 'av ya?”
“I tex'd him.”
“Shaaane! What did ya fucking tell 'im for!”
“He's a right to know if you're pissing blood mum... and he is closest to you. It's him who'll have the horror of finding your body.”
“Shane you're never gonna come home are ya”
“I've told ya I'll be home soon.”
“Yeah, Puggy thought that!”
“Well I'm not Puggy. I'll be home this summer.”
“Promise me.”
“I just said didn't I.”
“Shane, I miss you.”
“Mum, phone Dan.”
“Why should I? It's not your fucking phone bill is it!”
“It'll only cost about 10p.”
“Just phone him!”
“I might.... I might not.”
“Grow up Mum, you're 65.”
“Yeah, I'll grow up when you grow up!”
“God, are you for real? You should get back on the gear... the methadone at least.”
“Yeah, you'd fucking love that wouldn't ya! Then I could start sending you stuff again. 8 brown every fucking week then having ya give me the silent treatment when it's fucking late!”
“Or when you spend the money on crack and say the letter mustve got lost.”
“I've NEVER done that... NEVER!!!”
“Well you have, you admitted it last year.”
“Did I???”
“Well, only once Shane! You've done the same!”
“When have I ever.... leave it. Phone Dan, mum.”
“I will after I've mopped this blood up.... it's everywhere.”
“Are you still bleeding?”
“My face.”
“Your face??? Thought you'd cut your arms open?”
“Yeah, well I socked myself in the face as well.”
“Oh well.”
“Nah I didn't really. My arms are bleedin.”
“Put some alcohol on them.”
“Are you being funny?”
“No. Alcohol is good for cuts.”
“You're being funny int ya?”
“No, I'm not. “
“Shane, I love you. You don't know how much I love you.”
“I love you too mum”
“Yeah bet ya can't wait till I'm dead though!”
“Why? You haven't got any money? What benefit would your death have for me?”
“Yeah that's nice. If I had a few bob ya couldn't get rid of me quick enough.”
“What's wrong with that?”
“How do you know I've not taken out life insurance to leave you and Dan with a few quid once I'm DEAD!”
“Have you?”
“Well in that case, I want you to live.”
“I need to somehow stop this bleeding. Think I've some elastic bands in the fridge.”
“Why would you have elastic bands in the fridge?”
“Er... not the fridge... the cupboard... the drawer.”
“Oh. That makes more sense. But hows an elastic band gonna stop the bleeding?”
“Well don't they say on all them TV programs to tie the limb off?”
“That's normally for amputations or severe shark bites. The minimum requirement is a severed main artery. Is your artery severed?”
“By the amount of blood it is.”
“You'd be dead if it was.”
“Yeah as you keep saying.”
“mum, clean yourself up and phone Dan.”
“OK. I love you Shane.”
“I love you too, Mum.”
“Bye Shane.”
“Night night, Mum.”

- - -


To the Ends of Hunger and Madness

Before I tell you of that terrible day, with Pete sat in an armchair, in a squalid shit-filled room with death all around, I must first tell you of the man himself - before and during his complete mental collapse. As with regards to after, well, I'll tell you now: I do not know. I do not know what happened to him, where he went or was taken, nor where he is today. All I know is my ending, the ending of this text: Pete in a daze, walking into nowhere through the snow, the late winter sun cutting a melancholy air over his shoulder as I slowed, dropped behind, then stopped altogether, watching as he went on alone, into the frosty mouth of his own fate.

The first thing you must know is that Pete was a quite unremarkable man. He had no heroic qualities, not even in the diabolical eye of his madness. If anything he was a nasty piece of work, though not even honest or thorough enough in his villainy to define himself through it. There were odd occasions where one could have been excused for thinking he was a true dark soul, and it does seem that way now, but mostly, at the time, his darkness seemed contrived, not at all impulsive or something inside breaking out. It's why his madness came as such a shock, left him isolated. He didn't seem so much a victim as someone who had brought it on himself, or worse: deserved it.

A regular barfly, it's how I first became aware of him. Always perched on the same stool at the same end of the bar, hunched over with that navy soviet docker's cap on his slightly oversized head, his right arm outstretched, his hand around the waist of a whiskey, a cigarette burning away between his fingers and the smoke rising and mingling with the whiskey fumes above. He'd sit there like that, his upper torso rocking backwards and forwards at a constant rate, his legs tight together like they were fused and his worn pointed boots curling up from off the polished brass foot rail which ran low around the length of the bar. Now and again he'd raise a bid of two fingers and one of the bar-tenders would set him down a fresh double.

“Who is that?” I asked Rocky one evening, after seeing the barfly acknowledge him.

“That's Pete... Pete the Tick.”

“Tick as in them disease riddled parasites? Because he's attached to the bar like that?”

“No! Tick as in tick-tock... as in time … tempo... SPEED”

“Speed... Amphetamine? He's on speed?”

“On it? He sells it! His wraps are what keeps half the fucking nightclub personnel awake. Come on, I'll introduce you to him.”

A month later and I was one of Pete's regular customers. I'd park myself besides him at the bar and shout him a fresh scotch and ice. With the barman turned to measure out the shot, Pete would slide his hand, palmside down, over the bar towards me. My hand would replace Pete's and the deal was done. I'd back out, leaving a twenty pound note on the bar for Pete, another slipping in besides him as I left.

In addition to his little drug enterprise Pete also had his fingers in on the nightclub promotion game. He did not help to promote the clubs he was involved in, just fronted a percentage of the rent needed for the quarterly lease and let the other promoters worry about filling the place. In those times he could be found no place else: either sat at the bar in The George or upstairs in the dark of the Wag Club, his large moony face swivelling from side to side like a semi-revolving spotlight, looking out through the smoke and music for other stranded ships in the dark. More often than not he'd find one; or one would find him. Always female, always loose, and always drunk; always capable of all sorts. Falling off the stool besides him. Laughing as she lay there on the floor in the shape of a chaise longue, cackling laughter then struggling to rise before crashing back down grace to a skidding bar stool. Pete just stared forward – maybe watching in the mirror behind the bar; most likely not. They'd leave together. Seemingly joyous but always a seething air of violence within Pete. You avoided him at such moments. Maybe said a short 'good evening' before stepping quickly back into the shadows. They'd be holding each other up; Pete always smaller, always more fucked yet more in control. His stagger wasn't indie cool either, rather a real unstable footing in life.

A typical intellectual gone wrong. That's how many accounted for his madness, escaped any responsibility for the way he ended so isolated as he did. But I can tell you: he was no such thing. Pete had a half-decent brain but no more. It was a brain capable of taking in vast amounts of knowledge and equally capable of spitting it out all garbled up. His thinking was skewed. He had gotten embroiled and then entangled in just about every conspiracy theory imaginable – from the credible to the outright lunatic. And for all his enlightenment and research, for all the linking facts and proofs he provided, for all the rampant passionate assuredness of his convictions, his thought often missed a basic sense of logic. It was as if he was somehow in so deep that he had forgotten to stand back and ask himself simple questions like: is such a thing even possible? On the occasions when he would say something incisive, he'd try to prove his argument with such ludicrous means that it defunked his initial idea and made it something possibly true but happened upon by false reasoning. And it can be, that even if a man puts the correct figures at the end of an equation, he can still be totally wrong.

But to Pete, Pete was never wrong. As much as he believed, he was one of only a select few who had seen through the full corruption of the system, had spied the reptilian manifestations wriggling away beneath the skins of world leaders and Jews. He spoke of ancient symbols which revealed humans as having been placed on earth and cultivated like bacteria by an alien race. He belittled anyone who so much as questioned his beliefs, disregarded them as having been inculcated from the womb and brought up on a diet of fabricated history and reality. He navigated his way through life following suspect intellectual and spiritual guides, instinct, and a bizarre way of getting around which he referred to as R.A.T: Random Acts Technique. He said it was a strategy for evading the law and intelligence agencies based on a mathematical formula he had conceived. But from what I saw it was nothing more than pure brainless changes of direction, suddenly careering off some place as if guided by some omnipotent power. And I had seen that before in my step-father.

I must confess: I did not like Pete. I never liked Pete. Not even when I was the only person who was supposed to like Pete. He scared me and I had no respect for him in any context. He was a man who would turn suddenly angry and violent, see an enemy in someone he had only just had his arm around. And that was before he lost the plot; before snorting speed turned to shooting it. But it wasn't the drugs. God, no. They didn't help, that's true, may even have accelerated his decline, but he'd have lost his mind anyway. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

Like any great and terrible storm there were signs. I saw them. So did Lea. So did anyone who knew Pete a little more substantially outside of a user/dealer relationship. In retrospect it's easy to see such a storm and predict its course of destruction. But in the vortex of the moment, when your own life is all preoccupying, it's not so easy having a clear head about anything. Even I dismissed many of Pete's wilder antics as drugged up debauchery. Like the time he took his cock out at the bar and tried to place my girlfriend's hand upon it. When I confronted him he pulled a move on me that left me with a busted nose and a bruised liver – his square, ground down teeth chattering up close to my cheekbone that next time he would kill me. Strangely, he seemed not to render count that it was me. It was as though when he lost it he no longer saw individuals but the face of a common enemy. Later, that same evening, he spoke to me like nothing had happened.

Over the next 18 months Pete's alcohol and amphetamine use steadily increased. It reached the point where he would get angry if you tried to score from him as he was keeping his supply for himself. At regular intervals he began going AWOL. Sometimes for days; sometimes weeks. Word got around of Pete's increasingly queer behaviour. His clothes started to stay the same and then rot, and each time you saw him his facial hair had grown an inch longer until finally he was just a grease filled upper face peering speedy-eyed from behind a full and filthy beard. He became known as someone edgy, nervous, paranoid. Strange stories began circulating about him – things he had said; that he had gone to Palestine to lay down in front of Jewish bulldozers; that the C.I.A were hunting him; that he had gone transvestite to avoid detection; had thrown his lot in with the cult religious group Jesus is an Alien. And then he'd turn back up, looking more or less like Pete, though with a little more of himself missing each time.

One autumn weekend, a year before the roof finally fell in on him, I unexpectedly bumped into Pete as I exited the Camden Town underground station. He was stood aback the street railing outside, huddled up in a full-length black felt coat with the collars turned up and his hands in his pockets. He looked as skittish as hell. His eyes darted about nervously over the faces of the crowds as we filed out the station. In spotting me he made a clandestine greeting with his eyes and motioned with his head for me to pursue him. It were as if he'd been waiting there just for me. Curious, I followed.

As it usually is, the Town was jam packed. With his head lowered, beard pressed into his breast, Pete forged briskly on through the crowds. I followed, at pains to keep up. After a moment he turned around, gave me a quick glance and then ducked into a bookshop. He hurried on through, towards the back-end of the store. He took a book from off a shelf and, looking more conspicuous than anyone else in the shop, pssstt me over as he feigned to read. When I arrived he turned and moved away as if he didn't know me. As I eyed the book spines in the section he gradually sidled his way back alongside me and in a hushed, raspy voice, he asked if anyone was watching him.

“No,” I whispered back.

“Well, they are watching,” he said. “They dress in grey.”

“Who dresses in grey?”

“They're on the roof.”

“Who? What roof?”

“Go and look outside. Quick. Check the windows on the opposite side of the street... and be discreet!”

When I looked at the book Pete was holding it was upside down. If anyone was watching him it would have been because of that.

“I'll go and check,” I said.

“No no NO! They're onto us. You're too fucking suss. Go to the first floor. I'll find you. Go! “

There was no point telling Pete that there wasn't anyone dressed in grey watching us. Saying something like that would have only put me in cahoots with them. I said nothing.

A shop assistant who had been surveying Pete now made her way over. Pete saw her coming. His eyes filled with terror and flitted about like a man cornered but still looking to run. He quickly pushed the book he was holding back onto the shelf, dropped his head, and bounded out the store. The shop assistant froze, unsure as to whether a crime had been committed or not. She stared at me with something that went past suspicion, like I were a rotten part of Pete left behind. I shrugged and threw my hands out. Then I rushed out too.

When I caught up with Pete he was furious and said, “I don't have any SPEED. No!” Then louder, for the benefit of those around, he yelled, “I don't sell DRUGS... FUCK OFF!” And with that he was gone, his mind walking him off into the crowds and further away from home.

* * *

It was a warm, mauve, floral night in Soho. Beer and perfume and the acrid smell of amphetamine were in the air. I was working the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, outside Les Misérables, touting for that night's business in the club. From down the road came two, tall, scraggly types, dressed in black. One had the knee ripped out his tight gothic trousers. They were the club's DJs, and like most rock DJs they were pasty-faced pale things, bleached white through lack of light and run down to the bones from carting huge boxes of vinyl around with them.

“He's closed the club!” one said

“Who has?”

“Pete! He literally threw us out, said we were working in cahoots with the Brotherhood of Christ. He's closed the club.”

“Pete can't close the club, he's barely anything to do with it anymore. He's not even twenty per cent in. Only Lea can close the club.”

“Well, Pete can too... he's just done it!”

“And those already inside? The bar staff? where are they?”

The DJ shrugged. The other did nothing.

“The punters must be ready to riot?”

“No. They we're scared more than anything. If you'd have seen Pete you'ld understand.”

“Was he fucked?”

“Well, no... That's what was so scary: he seemed sober.”

“Jesus! Come on,” I said. And with that we all headed back up to the club to see what the hell was going on.

Between 7 and 10pm Soho is maybe the most beautiful square mile of city anywhere in the world. There is something so healthy about the place, so vibrant and full of life and fun and an infinite variety of wonderful sleaze. But after 10pm, when the drink and drugs have settled in, when the piss and puke starts spraying, the place transforms into a combustible grid of cliques, bringing with them agro and violence. When we got to the club we were into the dark side of the night.

Outside the club there was a group of maybe fifty people. Lea was amongst them. The group seemed more mystified than anything else. They had been promised a refund in the event the club was closed and a free entry for another night. The manager had also been ejected and didn't dare re-enter. He said Pete had a machete.

“A machete? Did he threaten to use it?”

“He didn't need to. It was written all over his face.”

It was finally Lea who plucked up the courage to enter the club and confront Pete. No doubt the prospect of losing a night's business had over-ridden his fear barrier. He asked me to go in with him, but recalling the time Pete had head-butted my nose open, in this very place, I declined. Ten minutes later Lea was back. He looked kinda bemused.

“He wants to see you,” he said to me.

“Me? Are you fucking kidding?”

Lea shook his head.

“What the fuck is this man's obsession with me? “ I asked. Lea let out a little laugh and wished me an insincere 'Good luck'.

Reluctantly, I entered the club. After the various wild reports I'd heard I half-expected to find Pete calmly sat at his usual plot at the bar. He wasn't. The place was deserted. The primary coloured lighting swirled around the empty dance floor and criss-crossed over the ceiling. The bar sat lit up in white neon; it looked like the starboard side of a ghost ship appearing out of fog. Some stools had been overturned. I called for Pete but there came no reply. I walked around; checked the toilets. A door had been put through and there was water over the floor; a tap left running and the sink stuffed with paper hand towels. But there was no sign of Pete. I circled the club once more, searched behind the bar, under the DJ booth. As I pondered over where Pete could be I noticed that the security light to one of the fire exits was blinking, signalling that the door had been breached. I now breached the door myself. “Pete?” I called. Nothing. The exit was faintly lit by a single orange emergency light; a set of concrete stairs wound their way to the ground. I looked over the handrail. Down, in the near dark, there was a right angle of light cast across the floor of the stairwell. The door leading to the street was open. Pete had fled. Somewhere out in the glitzy, lit up night of Soho, amongst the club-goers and revellers, was a man half-crazed with a machete. I stared for a moment at the light below and then I pulled the emergency fire doors closed and reset the security light.

That Pete had fled was a huge relief. I told Lea who went around to inspect and close up the side exit. All doormen and club staff were put on strict alert in case Pete returned. He never did. That would be the last night that he would ever be seen inside the club. Weeks later, when I would ask Pete about that night, he gave some excuse about rival promoters chasing him down, threatening to kill him if he didn't close the club. Though he spoke like he believed what he was saying, it was nonsense. There were no other club promoters, and even if there were, they would not have had their beef with Pete.

During Pete's truancy from Soho, having a small amount of money invested in the club nights myself, it was put on me to travel to his flat once fortnightly and deliver him his cut of the takings and a printout of the entry numbers and bar receipts. Pete initially insisted on meeting downstairs in the foyer. For the first few visits he took the envelope without so much as leaving the lift. He looked awful, like death had hijacked his body and then decided to live. His paranoia now further increased. He whispered of a covert surveillance operation taking place within the tower block. He said it would be safer if the handover were made in the confines of his flat. There was, however, one condition: I was never to ride the lift directly to his floor. Pete said that the lift had an internal memory and that there was a scanning device fitted up alongside the door mechanics. My orders were to take the elevator to the 14th and then descend by foot to his flat on the 12th. On the next visit that's what I did, stepped right on in, a very real participant in the internal world of Pete's madness.

Square room. A single scarlet armchair towards the rear of it. Behind: windows painted over with a streaky layer of white emulsion paint. Below: uncarpeted, concrete floor; brownish-red with pages of newspaper spread out here and there. Pete: sat in the chair, still and rigid and wearing a dressing gown; no shoes or socks; pale hairy shins; full beard; grease swept back hair; face gaunt; wide speed struck eyes glaring straight out ahead. In front: a small makeshift table, littered with syringes, filters, a couple of cooking spoons, cigarette ends and ash. Piled up all around: books and notepads full of cuttings and text; yellow post-it notes of scribble everywhere. The place reeked of cooked speed, an acrid smell which prickled like metal in the mouth. Over that: the pissy, feral smell of animals: cats. They were everywhere. The adults laying around in furry piles licking themselves and yawning; the kittens squeaking and chasing about in play out in the hallway. Along the skirting of the walls were trays of food and litter, other bowls full of old water with hairs floating on the surface. In the bareness and disorder of the flat there was something disquieting, some kind of a hint of the terrible chaos raging away inside Pete's mind, something quite impossible to communicate without being that crazy oneself.

During these visits Pete sat in a shell-shocked speed coma, his mind plagued by hallucinations, caught in a permanent come-down which left a void of depression in his world. When he spoke it was a mess of subjects and revelations, from US warplanes in Israel to secret bombs pointed at North Korea; extra-terrestrial intelligence agencies and electronic parasites the size of dust mites. Between such blabbering he would damn the breeding cats, speak of them in terms of a worldwide epidemic, an expression of repulsion hijacking his face as he disclosed how newborn kittens were carriers of an unknown super-virus. Pete had descended further into the abyss, his grip on reality maintained by the finest of threads; an unmistakeable tinge of madness now like mildew on the epidermic layer of his sickly complexion.

On the day it all finally came down it was snowing in London. I had travelled halfway across the city on a bus, staring out the window as the flakes fluttered down with all the sad beauty of life and ruin. On the ground a good few inches had settled. Arriving at Pete's I buzzed to be let in but received no response. After the fourth or fifth attempt I gave up, opting to wander back and forth so as to keep myself from freezing and hopefully catch him returning home. When Pete still hadn't put in a show ten minutes later I rang up once more. This time the usually silent buzz was played back out the intercom. I rang again and the same happened. It could only mean one thing: Pete was up there listening. I bent in close to the intercom. Faint static crackled out the speaker.

"Pete, is that you?" I asked. "Let me in it's fucking freezing out here. Pete!!!” A voice said something but I couldn't make out the words. Then the main door unlocked and I entered.

Run-down high-rise blocks have an inherent feel of isolation and depression encased within them. Lights flicker and dim and die; winds nick in and circulate from unknown places and scrape and howl around the rubbish chute; huge concrete stairwells sit in permanent semi-darkness with predatory insects squatted upon the walls and fluffy birds feathers on the window sills; doors to the individual apartments darken the space immediately in front of them and sit in smells ranging from boiled cabbage to diarrhoea; and, from hundreds of little spy holes, fear and suspicion stare out and watch the nothingness which only reinforces the suspicion and fear The foyer, the grand welcoming hall of these warrens, always stinks of the lift and the lift always stinks so much worse. Now, with the snow from outside trodden in good, the ground was a sodden and slippery mess of black ice and mush. Urine and stale beer sloshed with the sludge in the lift. I stood awkwardly astride two relatively dry patches, holding my breath. At the 14th floor I left, cut out to the stairwell and made my way down.

I first got hint of the smell just as I came through onto the 12th floor landing. It provoked my senses so obscenely that I instinctively held my breath. But this wasn't your typical smell of refuse and rotting vegetables but something altogether more putrid. I had never smelled anything quite like it. As I made my way down the landing the odour intensified. And then I was outside Pete's, his door left ajar for me to enter, the stench undoubtedly emanating from within.

Pete was sat in his chair, as usual. He was highly agitated with amphetamine, nodding his head and tapping a foot at fast tempo without break. He was dressed in shades of worn black, skinny jeans and a hooded top with the hood up over his head. His hands were bloated and syringe marked; his fingers filthy, gripped to the side-arms of the chair. His face was shock white, the cheekbones protruding and the skin covered in dry, broken eczema. The room was freezing. Flies buzzed about, sat perched on objects on the table. The left side of the room was littered in cat shit. My eyes were smarting. I hooked my scarf up over my nose.

"You need to feed the cats, " Pete said. “They won't let me feed them. They've been got at. There's lights in their eyes.”

I stared at Pete with sadness and disgust. He must have known. Somewhere deep down he did know or he wouldn't have mentioned about feeding them. His brain may have been shot through and scattered but there was nothing wrong with his vision.

I cast my eyes around at the little kittens, sucked in thin and laid out dressed in death. Some were barely the size of my outstretched hand. There were at least two dead adults as well. The kitten nearest to me had had its back paw chewed away and eaten. It's eyes were crusted over like it had been crying in its sleep. The tip of its tongue, drained grey, poked out from between its small sharp teeth. Just one cat moved, an adult, creeping around the back wall with its fur hanging loose from its belly.

"Pete the cats are all dead," I said.

Pete looked at me; he looked horrified. For a moment I thought he understood, but it soon became clear that he understood nothing. He was staring straight through me as if I were a mirage.

Furious , at a loss to know what to do, I looked around once more. I counted seven dead cats in this room alone. Pete was muttering on about something and was trying to light an inch of a rolled cigarette he had found. I stepped over to him and bending down so as I was right in his face, I yelled:

“Pete!!! The cats are ALL fucking DEAD!!! They've been eating each other!” I tossed his envelope down hard in his lap. He continued trying to light his cigarette, a wide glaring madness flashing up in his eyes each time he struck the lighter.

It is a terrifying thing to see insanity close up in a man, to look into somebody's eyes and see nothing behind them at all. It is not the man that terrifies you but the lack of one - an understanding, a realisation of yourself, like meeting your own beast minus your personality – the pre-programmed animal in man. I looked in Pete's eyes that day and I felt like you do when staring at yourself in a mirror for too long and losing sight of which one is the real you. Pete was so far gone he could have been me, he could have been just about anyone at all.

In total there were 11 dead cats (mostly kittens) and 2 living adults. In the hallway, in two white plastics bags, was maybe the greatest tragedy of all: 16 tins of cat food. I cursed Pete. I took a tin in to him, held it up and yelled: Pete, you had fucking food here!!! Pete had just finished his latest shot of speed. He withdrew the needle from his clenched fist and looked up, but didn't say a word. I set out food and water for the two living cats. The second was curled up in the hallway on an old blanket. It was so weak that I had to place the food and water bowls right under its breast. It refused the food but, with its eyes almost closed over, lowered its head to the water. Its tongue took one slow lap of water and then another and then a third. As I watched the cat drink, eager to see if it would eat or not, I had the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. I turned around and caught a flash of black disappearing across the hall and out the front door – and it wasn't no cat.

Rushing out to follow the fleeing Pete , a neighbour, an old woman, was just letting herself in the flat opposite. “What is that smell?” She asked.

“Your neighbour's cats are dead,” I told her. “You need to phone the RSPCA.... and he needs some help too.” I didn't wait for a response . I took the stairs and chased after Pete.

Pete was at least four floors below me, winding his way down as quick as he could. “Pete, where are you going?” I called. “Your front door is wide open!” He didn't reply, just cast a look on upwards and then quickened his pace to escape me. Not wanting to corner Pete in the stairwell I kept at a distance. At the ground floor Pete exited. I bound down the stairs, through the foyer and out into the street. Up ahead, Pete was heading off, tramping through the snow.

"Pete, you can't be out like this... You'll freeze to death," I said, catching up alongside him. Under his hooded top he was bare-chested and under his shoes he wore no socks. He didn't respond, just carried on walking to wherever his skewed mind was leading him.

I followed him in silence. Now and again his eyes would slide my way, checking to see if I was still keeping up. He walked at a quick pace but was not trying to outwalk me. In his face I could see he was closed to the idea of talking, not of anything. I had somehow now became a part of whatever shadowy organizations he believed were pursuing him. The snow was still falling; a good 4 inches covering the city. Pete was fidgety, his eyes moving around nervously, frost coming out his mouth as he chugged on. His paranoia and delusions were now cut off even from me. They were all his now, barricaded in, twittering and scurrying about through his mind like thousands of newly hatched insects. As he strode on I noticed a foot long split in the outside seam of his trousers. With each step he took his pale thigh showed through. It made me shiver. Worse still, each time his foot trod down, the snow would rise up and fall in over the tops of his shoes. It didn't seem to bother him, nor the icy headwind that had me tucking my chin tight into my chest and which burned my ears sore. I asked Pete where he was going but he didn't respond. The truth was he was not going anywhere, that's how crazy he had become. He was walking with no destination, no motive in mind. I looked down the snow laden road, down the highstreet, but couldn't see no end. He will tramp on straight for as long as he can, I thought, and maybe only turn back once the road ends.

Pete remained dead silent, in his own jittery universe, and now, where the wind had driven into me it had dropped me a step back. I studied Pete. I thought of the two cats left in his apartment and felt a pang of guilt that I was about to let this man go on alone. But his problems, his and the cats' futures, were greater things than I could have been responsible for. I had told his neighbour and Pete's door was open and the obnoxious odours of death and putrefaction were leaking out unabated – that would conclude this saga better than I ever could.

When Pete next turned his head he would no longer have seen me besides him. I had let the wind slow me down a further foot and then another and then two more besides. From that distance, no longer able to see the side of his face, nor his pale exposed skin, neither his pockmarked hands or his skittish eyes, I was able to let myself break free. I slowed to a stop and my ties with Pete stretched and then snapped. In the snow, I turned around and began walking back in the direction from which I had came. At the bottom of the road, just prior to turning off, I cast a single look back. But Pete was gone, not even a speck on the horizon. All that remained were footsteps walking away, his and mine, intermingled, the new fresh snow already filling them in, and the world slowly turning, brutal, in the only way it knows.

- - -


A Summer on the Cours Gambetta

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. 

"Where will they go?" I asked Mary to ask Mamms. 

"They'll find somewhere," he said, "they always do." 

Far far down and away we could still make out the punks. It made me think of a scene from The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family with their loaded truck heading off to California. We watched the punks for a good few minutes more until suddenly they were out of sight and gone. “Voilà!” said Mamms like it was the end of an era. “Voilà!” 

On the walk home that night the Cours Gambetta seemed sad and quiet. We walked without talking. The night was in and the cold breeze gave us skin bumps. As we approached the oncoming mottled end of the road and readied to turn left onto the Rue Marseille I turned and gave a look back down the Cours. "It's goodbye to an old friend," I said, sadly.

"Who? Mamms?" 

"No... The road." 

"The road? It's just a dirty old road. There's many more." 

"It's autumn," I said. "Can you feel it? Oh God." 

Mary looked up and around. It was like she was looking for autumn. But all she would have seen were the bright and gaudy lights of the Rue Marseille, the red signs of the Kebab houses, the flickering white windows of the five Euro Chinese buffet places and various small shops and neon lights advertising internet cafes and cheap international phone calls. It's true, they are many and all over these dirty roads and none are as filthy as those full of commerce. I breathed in a lungful of poisonous air and lingering two steps behind, reeling on the fumes, I followed Mary home. 

- - -

Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X

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The Dark Part of the Night

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." 
"Fuck off!" 
"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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