In the spring, when the days first turn good, they sit outside under the Magnolia tree.

The bloom of the Magnolia is white and bulbous and drops like dead doves, weighted in the belly, each one making a little fump:


To this beautiful carnage they drink strong beer and watch the world and lay back in the cool of the blossom. From afar they look like an assortment of old discarded clothes.

11am. clear skies above. the lazy sound of traffic droning by. a haze out in the distant like there lies the sea.

This world proffers daydreams. A daydream that things could be just how they are only better. A daydream that we need no more than temperate days and fruit and water and the cool of streams and grass and fraternity and love. Over there, under the Magnolia, when the days are kind, when the time is right, when a breeze breezes through and tickles over the soul, the drunks and the bums and the waifs and the strays find solace in the low of the day. I too can be found under the Magnolia, drawn by historical forces. My being is light in strange moments in strange ways. Behind my closed lids there is orange dimming black then coming through to orange again. I hear the faint stirrings and mumblings of the others, feel an insect run over my hand, catch another little 'fump' and meditate in the floral fragrance of birth and death. I am close to somewhere I once was, to something lost; something missing; something gone. Under the Magnolia I am not who I am but who I was, simultaneously at peace in various moments of my life.

I was borne into this world by a drunk: a bad one. My mother did not drink to be saved but for revenge, to wage war against a life which had cast the first stone. I often find my mother under the Magnolia. She turns up in the guise of young women so completely ruined, abused and emotionally swollen that they are no longer sensitive to the human touch. To register at all one must hit hard. There ends no woman left; just broken bones where the soul got out. My mother never stays long. She sits there stewing in her drunkenness, shifting between drink laden faces, each look a pictogram of the hateful, bitter emotions chewing away inside of her. Then she is gone and there is left a melancholic tranquillity in the day, over the city, like I've stepped back in time.

The world around the Magnolia is full of ghosts. It's what brought me here. People turn up with missing parts, sometimes in flames, caught in existential screams between planes of life they cannot escape. They move in and out of this timeless place, appear for moments and then disappear again for weeks or years or lifetimes. I am here now, I was here before and I shall be here again in the future. On the trunk of the Magnolia I carve my name; on my body and on the page my words. This is my life and this is my time. I close my eyes and hope in some way to go on forever, but I know my heart will not hold out.

                 fump... the only plan I have.

Junk Sick Collective

As was written: the neighbourhood's heroin junkie community were all cooped up sick in Grace's apartment, laying out in the tawdry summer afternoon, moaning and groaning and vomiting and waiting for something to move. Some addicts were worse than others, some handled sickness better, some were not yet sick and had the added horror of watching what would become of them in the next few hours. It had begun as a din of panic, cursing, snivelling and dripping noses, but as the summer day wore on, as the dealers' phones remained off, as the sun settled in the west and the smell of kebabs and Greek vine leaves made their way down from the high-street, the room fell into a sick and deathly trance. And with the falling light came shadows and into those shadows the features of the ill receded, only the twisted outlines of their forms left visible, each man and woman suffering in their own hell, in their own darkness, their minds wandering over the battlefields' of their lives, a collective of tragic and disquieting thoughts and images filling the room in a tension of atmosphere that hung and buzzed in the air and became the sound of waiting and suffering itself.

The room was square with a bay front window facing out onto the street. Along the back-wall was a decomposing sofa-for-three, along the left-wall a sofa-for-two, and in the alcove, under the bay window, was a bean-bag and on the bean-bag was a dog. The windows were covered by a heavy brown blanket, and in the slatted light, of late afternoons, hung like a thick waterfall of dust. The only time light ever got in, in any decent measure, was when pushing the blanket aside to watch for the dealer coming into sight down the road. But there was no light coming in now, and no dealer was on his way.

Grace lay flopped out on her side, her head resting against the filthy arm of the eaten and mouldy three-seater, warm-sick-tears running constantly from her left-eye and over her cheek-bone. She didn't look at anyone and didn't care if anyone was looking at her. No-one was, of course, there was real suffering in the room and pain or tears had no gain here and so were muted and internal.

As with everyone Grace's mind was ambushed by thoughts completely out of her control. Terribly bleak images of the past and atmospheric hallucinations arrived as if from another place and seemed to have more to do with the present than anything else. Up in Grace's mindseye, drifting out into the room, were thoughts of her partner George, his mind shot through from years of substance abuse and trauma, laying on the bed in the adjacent room, as sick as anyone but completely unaware it was heroin withdrawals which were raging through his body. She wished that she could be that blissfully unaware of what the sickness was. That's the problem, she thought, knowing that this could all end with just a pathetic quids worth of pathetic smack. Her thoughts of George were clouded by a great sadness. Not for George, for herself, of how she had ended up with this man-sized-dead-weight attached to her and how he was the anchor of all her problems, and yet, how she needed the money his incapacity benefit brought in more than she didn't need him. She thought these thoughts as she lay there, her liver aching from hepatitis and no medication to soothe the pain. At times she wanted to break down entirely butshe knew it would only deprive her of more energy and she had no more to give. She thought of the best-of-the-bad-days, back in the seventies, when she'd had ounces of smack and was doing well and how useless life-lived and former success was now. And yet it seemed so close. Like there was some way back if only she could find it, like she could wake from sleep and rejoin those good moments of her old life, like that heroin and that youth and that flat in Leytonstone were somehow accessible through some as yet undiscovered science. It was hard to accept that all she once had was now gone, that even something that passed only a second ago was over for ever. It wasn't right. To Grace it felt more like she had stored her nuts in the past and was rich and well if only she could find her way back. The idea of time and space were lost in her, and now, all that was left was her ravaged body, suspended in the seemingly eternity of sickness, and memories drifting by as the sticky summer night wore on and brought more pain each moment. How things change so quickly, she thought. How one day you're young and healthy and the next you're 25 years into the future, a long-term-junkie-case with a bad liver and no energy reserves. And that's what Grace was thinking as she lay there sick in her flat that evening with hot tears leaking out her eye and not a score to be found in the entire fucking town.

David was on his back in the middle of the floor, his knees arched, his eyes scrunched shut in pain. Every now and again he would grimace, make a snivelling sound, and then go “Aaaaaaaahhhh” : it was the sound of absolute suffering itself. Sometimes David would shake, intentionally, as a way to pass time and keep his thoughts on the rhythm he shook to and not the illness working away inside him. The most important thing was to not let the present fall still around him, a place where time stops and the true hell of junk withdrawal begins. He was thinking of his phone, imagining it down by his head on the floor, joyfully lighting up and ringing and vibrating, his dealer's name shown across the screen. He was willing it to ring. He thought that by willing it hard enough he could make it happen. Illness was only a good half-a-day in him and already he was onto miracles. His muscles ached and he fidgeted. His spine was sore against the hard floor, but if he moved then his shoulder felt worn and bruised and the angling of his body upset his stomach and he'd then retch and have to rush to the toilet. Memories of his last serious bout of illness settled in his mind, how after a moment he'd given up and just let his body malfunction, but now, today, he figured he had at least another full night in him before his insides melted to mush and his sphincter gave way. At times David would roll his body gently from side to side, and to that lulling motion he would think the words: Ring.Riiing. Riiiiiiiing.

Tabatha sat on the edge of the two-seat-sofa clutching her terribly thin stomach and rocking back and forth with her eyes closed. Her head was down and her straggly blond hair, greasy with sweat, fell over her face in a mop. She was wearing a pair of grey leggings and a dark tube-top and with her flat-chest it looked like her torso was bandaged in black. She was plagued by thoughts of the day her husband was jailed, how she missed the trial from running from one end of the borough to the other on a wild goose-chase of scoring smack. She hadn't seen him since, had missed the two prison visits she had been reserved, but would love to see him now. She was onset by visions of the white handkerchief, held up and waggled in the air, then the same handkerchief taken away by the wind and an inexpressible sadness going with it as it rose and swooned in the blustery day. It was the dealer who had waggled the handkerchief, a black man who had appeared up at the corner of the road, stood there just long enough to be noticed, then held up the cloth and shook it like a dead rat caught by the tail, a sign to all the surreptitious junkie eyes watching that dinner was bagged and ready to be served. Tabatha didn't remember the score nor the dealer's name or face, just the handkerchief and how after conducting business it had escaped his hand and was taken away by the wind. That vision now made her cry. She twisted her face up in pain and anguish and rocked at an increase pace trying to block out and deny the image in her head. That cloth being torn away like that, puffed and sucked and flapped and battered, dropped and then picked back up again, somehow embodied a great tragedy. She didn't understand what she found so tragic in that struggle, or why such a barren memory had returned like this, but there seemed something greatly foreboding in it and her illness unfurled to that blustery day, back then, when scoring her rocks was more important than anything else, more important than her husbands plight and whether he was sent to prison or not. Now, in this position of junk withdrawal, just to have her husband back she felt she could be the most honest, the most trustworthy and self-sacrificing soul ever, that she could do anything just for him, just for the strength of him fending for her - physically rebelling against addiction - stealing and begging to keep them well. It was heroic. He was heroic. She was a miserable bad catch. She thought how lucky he was being in prison, warm and well and not addicted to anything. She wished she was in prison. She was crying inside. She told herself it all had to stop: all the pain, the lying, the cheating, the filth, the illness. But she knew, and her heart knew: this was only about pain, as even while she was in the very midst of cursing heroin and promising to get clean she was there waiting to score, to get better, and once better she knew that all these silly-sentimental-thoughts would end.

Nick sat slouched back leaning against the side of the mounted gas-fire on the right-side wall with his legs pushed out straight. He was a tall, broad, rangy addict with black hair and an olive coloured tint to his skin. He seemed to faintly glow in the dark. He had his shoes off and wore no socks and around his right ankle was dried blood from some old fix. He looked at the blood and as Grace had done with her past now he did the same: tried to figure out the route he had taken from that injection to here and wondering if he could have changed his fate with a few different choices. But something wasn't quite right. In the world of Nick's mind a forlorn omnipresent gloom hung in the heart of all memory, like a default recollection of some barren landscape he had known and which was hard-coded into the kernel of his brain. It felt like à memory from a time before he was born, from a former life, of another world to this one. Nick remembered the golf course on that early winter morning of the day his mother died, cutting across it on his way to score more crack. There was a low mist floating just above the dew on the grass and way over to where he had to get to the sky was pale blue with a small, distant, brittle sun straining useless against the frost. A lone flag rippled on a distant green. He didn't know it then but his mother was spasming and contracting in a hospital bed, suffering the first of two heart attacks she was to have that day without either of her two sons being there. She died alone that evening to the face of a strange doctor and Nick was now all crumpled up inside with guilt and empathy and pain, fixated on the terrible part he had played in her last hours, in her last ever moments in the history of everything. He would never see her again, never have her bail him out with money again, never apologise to her again or gouch out on the seat beside her again. He saw the distant flag flapping in the cold morning. A stray bird scattered like there had been a crack of a shotgun. The smell of the turf rose up from the dew and mist. His mother was gone forever-eternal and he whimpered when understanding the reality of that now and wishing he had realised it before.

And why hadn't Nick made it to the hospital? There had been time. His mother's death had been officially called at just gone 9pm that evening. Nick's mind did not approach this question directly, rather his brain went through the two contrasting fates: his evening, and the evening of his mother (or how his mind imagined it unfurled at any rate.) He had been warned she was gravely ill but he'd convinced himself that it was no longer a matter of life and death, that she'd survived the first attack and was now in the best place possible to be kept stable and calm. And anyway, he had reasoned, she's not conscious so even if I visit tonight she'll not benefit in any way. Junk sickness pawed at Nick's mind and tormented his inner-self. He saw a retracted image of himself, hunched over his crack pipe, like a classic conspirator, loading it up, bringing it to his mouth, lighting it, hearing the crackle of the crack... sucking in... Deeeeeeep... holding the smoke, then, release:...... ........ ........ ........ ........ ....... ....… Going silent as a few seconds of agitated and frenzied brain activity took place within him and he felt a pulsating excitement towards the world – or at least he should have. But Nick was troubled that afternoon, the early evening too. His promise of getting to the hospital had plagued his crack session and all along he cursed his obligation and cursed his mother for falling ill after all he had done to get the money. He told himself he could visit the next day and make up some excuse as to why he'd not been able to get down earlier. But there was no next day for his mother: she died some hours later and Nick missed the call and so received a text with the news instead. In Nick's mindseye now he could see himself stood in the light of a bus-stop, wailing with a face full of tears and grief and bringing up the message to show to his oldest dealer, using his mother's death to procure a free bag of brown. And it worked. He knew it would. It was a calculated decision to see that particular dealer with that particular news. He felt smart at the time, but now he felt like a rat and alongside his ever worsening junk sickness and the bleak and barren world that haunted his existence, he now felt a deep sense of shame, more than shame, because this feeling was internal and honest and connected to his abstract being by a thousand different threads, each one derived from some low or despicable act until now he needed drugs not to block out any pain but to block out himself, so as he didn't have to live with or face up to all he had done to survive. And the evening of his mother's passing, after he finally got his fix, he said it was the greatest fix of his life. Of course it was: he had spared himself one of the greatest and most important traumas a man must live through, and more, had convinced himself that his mother had somehow been embodied in the shot of smack, that she had come to him that way and soothed him and said she understood and forgave and loved him. But now, in this terrible dark light of sickness, in this sticky summer night, in this room of decay and disease, endings were not so neatly tied. In illness memories returned and the internal voice got loud. Nick beat himself up over his actions and grieved for his mother now. He cried, and he did make a sound, and he did say “mum”. But the truth was he wasn't crying for his mother but for comfort, for self-pity and redemption, for something to cure the pain. He was crying for heroin, and he knew it, and knowing it made him cry even harder still.

The dog was on the bean bag, beneath the bay windows, coiled up like a snake. It ressembled a Golden Retriever only with short bristly fur which gave away its mongrel breeding. The dog stank. It stank of tongue and arsehole and bad food and from licking the black resinous spots in the carpet where things had been spilt or thrown up and trodden in. It was hot on the bean bag but it dared not move. In the summer night it was thirsty and panted whenever it lifted its head to look around. There was water in the taps but noone had the strength to get up and fill the mutt's bowl. So it lay there, coiled up and sad, its large eyes, underlined with black, staring over at its owner who lay flopped out on the settee opposite. If there was a worldly sadness in the room, something seeing the greater tragedy, it came from the mutt. The dog understood it all: it understood the tawdry summer night, the passing of time, death and illness better than anyone else. The dog didn't know what was wrong, but it knew from procedural memory that when its owner was lethargic like this that its own stomach got empty, that it had to piss and shit in the hallway or kitchen and that things would only get better once Grace was again animated and talking as rapidly as she usually did. The dog was down. It could sense the weird desperate malaise in the room and didn't yap or whine or interact much at all. Quite unaware of it, the dog was waiting for the sound of its chain, for its empty bowl to be taken and replaced, for someone to beckon him over and allow him to lick the blood from off their fingers. It was lazing just now but it wished it was on a full belly. Hungry and dehydrated the dog couldn't find sleep in its rest. In the heat it would at times uncoil, push its front legs forward, kinda half lift its head and panting, look around at all the junkie bodies sprawled out. Then it would whimper lightly and lower the underside of its jaw flat against the floor. And like that it would remain, its large sad eyes to the world.

Mitsy was maybe more sick than any other addict. She was over a day and half in and hadn't slept and the sound of her dry retching, vomiting and snot bubbling in her nose would be one of the retaining memories of all the group. Mitsy was in her mid-forties, very small and nimble with dark medium length hair, threaded through with grey and pulled back into a dove-tail. Because of her slight size she was always treated more like a teenage girl than an adult female, and because she had always been seen and treated as such she had adapted herself to fit that image and would whore out her adolescent charm, talking in a dumb, babyish way, giving hugs and huge loud ultra-friendly THANK YOUs in exchange for free sprinkles of smack or crack or anything else which came her way. Everyone had a scam, worked some kind of angle, and that was hers. At certain intervals during her sickness she would crawl across the room, approach some addict like a cat sniffing at a face, whisper something like “I'm dying, babes” then take up a position besides him, her body tucked in, rocking in pain before giving up and moving onto the next. Her instinct for whoring dope would not desert her, even when she knew there was none to be had, even when the wells really were dry. So she'd crawl off and take up a place alongside someone else, trying to find a position that'd let her be comfortable for even just a few seconds.

As Mitsy lay on the floor, all the muscles in her stomach sore, she imagined the time before she was a junkie and how light the world now seemed – even with all the problems she thought she had then. Memories of the aftermath of her first real broken heart gripped her, how she wanted to die when that had finished and how she had met Scouse Wally not long after and tried to rediscover artificially in him all she had lost. But this time she would strive to become a part of his existence entirely, be indispensable, so as he'd need her all along his life. She remembered their early days together, in a flat only two streets down the road, how they had lived there with nothing but love, and how the bare walls and floors had held all the promise of a wonderful future together. Echoes of how their laughter used to ring out in that place came to her, how they'd arrive home freezing cold in winter and spring, and having no heating get into bed together and watch TV just to be warm. But these memories hurt now. It seemed the happiest recollections were the most awful and empty. In the dark space around herself she now trembled and retreated alone, her young life playing out in a series of memories in her head, a desperate sadness rebounding away into the forever of time. She remembered bare skin, smooth and soft and clean and unmarked. How they'd scamper naked from the bed to the bathroom and come rushing back, twice as fast, all goosepimply and making cold-sounding sounds FRRRRRRRRR while diving back into the bed and wriggling down into the warmth. But, then heroin came into the flat and that comfort and innocence was never the same again. Suddenly they didn't need each other to make themselves warm, and not long after that they didn't need one another at all. The bed became a pit of crumbs and ash and cigarette burns, both living off their side of it, Wally lent over one way smoking his smack and eating bowls of Weet-a-bix and her lent over the other way doing the same. Regardless, compared to what they would become, the early days of heroin still seemed fun and romantic – going out with unbrushed hair and crumpled clothes, both malnourished through youth and a militancy towards life, running around town grabbing bags of smack from dealers' hands, shopping cheap food and cereal and picking up little things from the market to attach to their hair or clothes. That was before the bite of addiction became lock-jawed and before Wally started borrowing her out to acquaintances for sexual favours.Then Wally got sick and lost all the weight and disappeared, and when she next had news he was back up in Liverpool and was suffering from some kind of cancer. Of course, she knew it wasn't cancer: Wally was HIV+. The doctor at the drug-clinic had told her as much when pushing her to get tested herself. She tested negative, but didn't care so much anyway. All these images and memories that came to Mitsy were blighted with the same bleak and hollow atmosphere, taking place in a weird, estranged space which was somehow her past and future too. I'm sick, Mitsy thought, I'm sick through heroin: I'm a heroin addict. Mitsy needed to vomit again, but there was nothing to vomit. For a moment she thought she was back in that old flat, the bed gone, the electricity disconnected, Wally gone, laying on the bare floor surrounded by all the losing players of addiction. The pain was immense. The pain was torture. Nothing like the flu at all. And for a moment, in the dark of the room, all that could be heard was dry retching and the terrible groaning and crying of a woman who had never grown up, who was trapped in the body of her tragic youth, growing pains splitting her open from inside out. Mitsy wasn't hurting or crying for heroin. Her tears were of her death, of an unrequited youth, for a life she could have had but never did. She had squandered it all and the losses had now come home to roost.

The body laying along the two-seater, on his back, behind Tabatha, was Portuguese Jo. He had been laying there like that, with his arm over his face, his eyes in the crux of the pit of his elbow, since early afternoon. Sometimes he'd unstick his arm from his face and squint out into the darkening room. He kept saying that he was going to leave, that there was “nothing but hurt tonight” but as he didn't have his own phone he was bound there eagerly waiting that news arrived from another source. Jo wasn't ill but would be by morning and didn't fancy being sick and alone and out of the loop on anyone who came thru with a score. In the dark pit of his arm it was humid and sweaty and he could see things, worlds and planets and solar explosions. Sometimes he saw comets too, and the craters on the moon, and sometimes he saw a city, his city, a hellish vision of Lisbon overrun with outside shooting galleries and feral looking junkies and discarded syringes leaking thick contaminated blood. He had died in Lisbon and would be buried in London. But London didn't interest him, not the London he had come to discover anyhow, and so his thoughts wandered through his home city, sometimes a fantastic version and sometimes the real thing – the warm continental nights, the street lights and bars and the mauve summer sky, close, humid evenings as he scored smack around the central station and rushed off to shoot up in the echoey underpass that smelled of piss and wine and the sea. Lisbon. He breathed in and tried to taste his home. Oh, to be back there now it'd be easy. He listened to the noises of the addicts already sick in the room and despised them for it, for showing him so brutally his fate. Or maybe he needed to despise them? Apart from the phone Jo had one other huge problem: he was penniless. No-one knew that of course, except maybe the dog who was staring at Jo suspiciously after seeing him stir and settle back down and who for no real reason wanted to bark. The world of junk is deeply calculating . As Jo lay there with his eyes covered, the heat spread across his forehead and his body moist, he again went through what he'd do and how he imagined it'd unfold. In his internal world, fuzzy empty visions in the depth of the black of his arm, he now saw himself cursing and swearing with the dealer in the apartment. All the sick addicts were uncrumpling their money and buying up what they could, biting open bags, cooking up fixes and taking out syringes. Jo saw himself in a panic in the middle of the room, patting down his pockets and searching under the cushions on the sofa, fucking and tutting and throwing his arms up in defeat and saying he'd left his wallet at home. He'd not ask anyone for cash but would instead play for honesty, asking the dealer if he could hang on at the flat for 15 minutes while he ran home and got his wallet. Of course he knew the dealer would never agree, at least he hoped not, and so from that point on he would be waiting on one of the other addicts to offer to stand him his score. Under normal conditions it would never work, but in this drought, where the dealers stock would be bought up almost immediately, where in 15 minutes the dealers phone would be turned off again, Jo had calculated that the camaraderie and empathy between addicts would be that much more solid and figured that there would be someone who would be uncharacteristically generous and offer him their trust. Illness touches the heart, he thought. Not even I would let someone else stay sick if I could help it. In the worst case Jo envisioned himself being given small pickings from each addict and getting his well-being that way. But for the moment it was all games in the mind and imagination, and for the moment Jo lay there feeling not too bad but better than the others. In the dark he huffed and blew, lit a cigarette and said, I'm gonna leave soon, there's nothing but hurt for us tonight.

George lay mentally bound to his bed, flat out and terrified, in just a pair of summer shorts. He was suffering just as bad as anyone but could not express his illness other than through absolute fear. Unlike the addicts in the front room he thought the sudden violence of the turbulence inside of him was a succubus, an evil spirit that had been tormenting his existence for years and had now finally induced itself within him, within the apartment. On his back, supine on the bed, George lay frozen in a physical and sensorial hell, seeing the world inside his head, hearing voices and frequencies and cringing up at strange alien rain, long thin invisible shards of light, coming down from a fiery sky, piercing him and pinning him down. It was Armageddon, the battle he'd been warned of for so long and which had left him picking holes in the plaster of the wall besides his bed in an effort to unveil the intruders of his mind.

George looked down lengthwise at his body on the bed. He saw himself not from a first-person perspective but in third-person, which is to say, not through his eyes but from a detached position somewhere over him. He was quite literally out his mind. George watched horrified as the succubus snaked and angled about beneath his skin, wormed its way into his muscles and around his joints before settling itself into every cell and atom of his body. At times George would double up with cramp and his legs would violently kick out straight, locking and straining the muscles behind and around his knees. At other times he'd suddenly tense and grip into hideous poses, resembling the contorted forms of the charcoaled corpses of Nagasaki or Hiroshima or Pompeii. At intervals, during the long sick evening, George would struggle to his feet and inch his way painfully down the corridor. In just his shorts he'd stand in the doorway of the main room, his shoulders dropped and rounded, his frail light brown legs bowed, his mouth hung open in the same cavernous shape, a world of dread and conspiracy and paranoia arched into him, looking at the suffering addicts lain out in the room. To George he was staring into a squalid dungeon in Hades, watching the condemned after the weighing of souls, the psychostasia. George would stand there like that, frozen in terror, the junk sickness seeping out of him. Then, without saying anything, he would emit an animalistic sound, a noise which seemed to originate from his entire being, a sound somewhere between a reverberation of fear and pain and that of a mother animal who has lost her young and is calling and grieving at the same time. After a moment the tortured figure of George would turn and slowly make its way back down the hall, a nausea in his stomach and bowels, having visions of snakes and spawn and blood, all tangled together and writhing about inside of him. He'd lay back on his bed, petrified in his own being, sweating and in agony, turning ice cold then raging hot, his shorts pushed down, cock erect, masturbating, muttering, crying. Terrified, George lay there like that, his pupils like saucers, waiting for the dawn and a day of clouds and blackness and the great armies of destruction to arrive. And that is what junk illness was like to George, the balding, schizophrenic, light-skinned Jamaican who wasn't aware that he was even dope sick at all.

For Three days and three nights the flat remained in a death of sickness and despair. Each junkie lay cocooned in his own dark and humid space, suffering not only the most grotesque physical trauma but an existential sickness too, a place where ones own Being is out-of-kilter with the world it should thrive in. It was by no sheer coincidence, as it is already said, that it was the dog who first sensed the changing tide. On the fourth day, just before noon, its ears pricked up and it looked inquisitively at something on the floor. It listened intently then cocked its head to the left and listened some more. And it was not mistaken; and it didn't know why: it just did. It sprang up, its mouth clamped tight shut, whimpering with excitement and turning circles around the floor as a phone lit up and rang out jubilantly. David scrambled for the phone, answered, but in his haste fumbled it like a bar of soap. The phone popped out his hand and went skidding across the floor. For just a moment the world stopped again. Grace held the dog by the collar, her bony pale arm trembling. The dog whimpered even harder still.

You got? You got? shouted David, the phone still on the floor, him reaching across to pick it up.

Yeah Bro, yeah... I got.. … I got

Everyone heard the reply and the room of heroin junkies started stirring and sitting up, their eyes open to the last dregs of their sickness. Grace let go off the dog, brought up something from her lungs and gobbed it out over the arm of the sofa.

George, she screamed, get in here with ya spoon.

From the room adjacent there came groaning and the sound of someone rising and rummaging around for something. A moment later George appeared and stood in the doorway holding his spoon out in front of him. He was dripping sweat and his arms and legs and face were picked to open sores.

Get over here, said Grace, it's over now. George entered the room and sat besides Grace. He looked awkward, rigid and held in, like he didn't want to touch anyone either side. His head was slightly lowered and his eyes stared straight ahead. He was trembling and muttering away furiously, gibberish, like some incantation to keep evil at bay.

He's here, said David letting the corner of the blanket fall back across the window. And for a moment the room descended into hazy darkness, though not for long, just until the dealer was in the room and then the lights in hell came on,.

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All My Thoughts, Shane... X

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PS: A new Memoires post will follow in the next few days.... ... ...

SICK (audio version)

Due to popular demand below is an audio recording of my text SICK. Unfortunately it's not the version of the reading recently performed in London with friend and artist Martin Bladh, but it is as close to a live performance you're likely to get at present. There does exist two small video clips of my London performance which I'll try to convert and upload at a later date.

Enjoy, and a new Memoires post will be with you very soon...

Shane... X


Sick. We were sick. We lay in bed, wrapped up in filthy blankets, smoking, sometimes fucking, doing animal things, you know... like being sick.

Sick. We were sick. Sick in bed. Sick in life. Sick by life. Sick. And we made each other sick.

Sick. Watching TV for days on end, sweating furiously but too bored to pull the covers off. Filthy feet. Filthy legs. Separated by a valley of cigarette ends. Stuffing our faces full of fatty, greasy foods. Shutters down. Apartment crawling with bugs. Toilet blocked. Sick. We were so fucking sick.

Sick. Not dope sick. Life sick. Diseased by pasts and visions and sounds and leather belts and erect cocks and murder. Sick. We were made sick by all these things. Sick. Sickened by cunt. Wet mushy drunken gang-banged cunt. Sick. We were sick. I was Sick. She was sick.

Sick. Locked in the apartment, blankets up against the windows, dust in the sunbeams, Repulsion looping on the DVD player. Sick, the room smelled of sick. Two diseased lovers with open welts, leaking abscesses, strange bumps and sores and scars. Sick. The days made us sick. Fresh air made us sick. We stopped answering the door, muted the TV, and silently gagged when the buzzer rang. Sick. We looked at each other in terror, sick, a mirror of ourselves, sick. And in the bed we lay, puking up milk and yoghurt in our sleep, choking to death on the trauma of the life we had seen. Sick. That's what we were: Sick.

And outside, the grimy, slick, lit up city became a hostile place. We concocted stories and plots, sick sick things, of a world of enemies encroaching upon us. Sick, we listened through the walls, eyed neighbours through the spy-hole: big, warped, looping faces, coming in, examining our door, the apartment bugged. Sick, the postman working for Interpol. Sick, police surveillance in the building opposite. Sick. We invented laws, sick laws, laws that said the flat couldn't be raided between 3 and 5am. So we'd rise, sick, in the early hours, cracking eggs and frying sausages and bacon and cabbage and bread; stuffing our mouths full of sandwiches dripping oil and ketchup, then, climbing back into bed and pulling the blankets tight around our necks so as we couldn't smell our own arseholes. Sick. The times were sick. We were sick. The hours were sick, and they dripped on by.

Sick. We slept like the sick: feverish, groaning and tensing up, our hair wet with sweat and stuck to our brows, mucus, dribble, crying through dreams, clenched fists and ugly faces. Sick. We were sick. Saying, “It hurts! It hurts so bad!” Drifting off into worlds of black, The Sins of our Fathers seeping out our skins. Sick. Ravaged by life. Sick. Sick to the bones. Turning grey. Fingers dark yellow. World shut out. TV on. Lines of bugs filing up the bin bags. Insane erections leaking watery cum. Tampons kicked to the bottom of the the bed with the socks. The flies gathering. Death getting near. Sick. We were so terribly sick.

Sick. 114 missed calls. 33 new messages, battery low, notes under the door, sick:

“Where R U?” [sic]
“Called to read lekky meter. return monday @ noon” [sic]
“Sis, Are You OK? Call me.” [sic]
“Your shower's leaking into our apartment!” [sic]
“24/7 Plumbing emergency services: need access ASAP!” [sic]
“Whats happening? Please answer phone. Getting vry worried!” [sic]
“Monday noon. Called, no answer. Please leave meter reading on door.” [sic]
'Domino's Pizza Wednesday Special. Half-Price. Free home delivery' [sic]
“Sis, I know your there. if you don't give sign will call police!” [sic]
“Ceiling and bathroom carpet ruined. phoning agency. It's raw sewage! PIGS!!!” [sic]

Sick. We did what we had to do: sent a text; pushed the notes back under the door; held our livers and crawled back into bed. Sick. We were made sick and we spewed it all out. On the floors, into bags, on the blankets, on each other, we were sick. Bright yellow bile, lumps of intestine, slithers of liver, black jellied blood. Sick, our kisses were sick. In the 69 position we were sick. Sucking and licking and bobbing like children, retching on each others pleasure. Sick.You tasted of curdled milk and fresh-smeared shit, and God knows what I was to you. Sick, our future was SICK. Our love was SICK. We were SICK, doing animal things, you know... like eating grass, getting better by being SICK.

Another Night in A&E

I am in the emergency ward of the St Joseph hospital. My face is swollen to twice its size from an abscess in a back tooth. Because of my rapid heartbeat, because I've taken over 30 ibuprofen capsules in the last eight hours, I have been warned that if I leave the hospital the police will be called. To show how ridiculous the situation is, to show how physically well I am, I begin jogging on the spot. The stony faced nurse on reception who legally took me hostage, seconds after my disclosure that I am a heroin addict, asks me to stop. I carry on. I'm in tremendous pain but not unwell. As I jog on the spot I tell her the problem is my swollen face not my heart. She says that the face is a matter for the dentist or the plastic surgeon and that they don't deal with either emergency here. What concerns her, she says, is my tachycardia, a potentially fatal side-effect from an overdose of ibuprofen. She says I will be legally detained until a doctor is satisfied I pose no danger of collapsing and dying somewhere. I tell her I always pose that threat. She isn't amused, and I wasn't trying to raise a smile. She points to a waiting bed and tells me to take it.

  – How long must I wait? I ask, still lightly bouncing from one foot to the other.
  – Could be 10 minutes... Could be 3 hours, she replies.

It's not me she's protecting, its her - the hospital. She's thinking professional liability and malpractice, well, that cocktailed with a spiteful sense of revenge for me having destroyed my own teeth before staggering into the hospital, a lifetime too late, smacked up and begging for help. It's a donkey court and it always is.

In addition she also finishes her shift soon, I heard her say so:
  – I'm off in half an hour, make sure that one (her eyes sliding across to me) doesn't leave!

She finished with a weird amphibious glee pealing out from the corners of her lips, delighted at the prospect that some other poor soul will be obliged to stay under the the sallow fluorescent lights of A&E, amongst the ragtag of the public with bloody-DIY-bandages, burst bowels, vertigo and short tempers, while she does not. She likes that idea: someone else occupying her vacant hell for a while. That's who she is right there. No need to horrify you with any tasteless physical details, turn your stomachs with a nauseous description of her large, padded-arse preordained for flatulence, or describe the comfy, squeakless shift-shoes she melts down into, the flesh around her ankles spilling out and moulded obediently over the sides. They're just physical accessories to the real deal. Her real personage, her dire essence, the consequence of her twenty years fast trading in the 'care' industry was that which oozed out in her spitefulness, her scepticism and hatred of the sick and dying, the delight she took condemning another person to experience the torture of her daily existence... Someone she had judged undeserving of her or the hospital's services (which would be just about anyone still breathing) and who then merited a hefty spanner in their day's works.

Not long after and she's back, asking me how I feel: nauseous? Light-headed? I slide off the bed and onto my feet and begin jogging again.

  – I'm fine, look...

The nurse marks something down on a clipboard of information she's already started collecting on me and returns to where she came from, looking back with raised eyebrows to confirm she's never seen anything like this before. It's an insane thing I'm doing, but it's an insane place I'm in. An old woman leans across and whispers:

  – Young man, they'll section you if you don't stop. They'll say you need psychiatric help and you'll be up in the hills for 7 days. They can do that!

And I know they can. They did it to Mary's mother on the third time that week she was driven into hospital claiming to have suffered a heart attack. She didn't return home for over a month and when she did she was dressed like a whore, with a wig of red hair and a lurid smile painted across her face in cheap pink lipstick. Cured!

I think of my methadone at home, of the 3 grams of smack wrapped up in foil and left on my keyboard and I stop jogging. From the disgusted look that crosses the nurses face I know I'm the last patient in a stressful day and I'll wait every minute of the three hours she said it could take for the doctor to see me.

* * *

Being a coward, with an innate fear of hospitals, disease and doctors, I sit on the emergency bed comforted by one of two friends who'd accompanied me to casualty. I can't get my mind of the swelling in my face and the more I try not to think about it the more aware I am of its presence. I have thought of everything from deep vein thrombosis to a ruptured aneurysm as being the cause. Thoughts of blood poisoning and jaw and brain infections are whirring through my mind. I feel sick. My heart starts the mad beating again. I come over all cold. Then sweat. It must be the fever from the septicaemia. It starts of like that and then you fall into a coma. I'm in the emergency ward thinking of comas. If I lose consciousness and am dope sick on top I'd never survive and I know it. My heart pounds right through my head and I flush pale. I need the toilet. I don't want to be alone. The nurse arrives with what looks like bottle of gas attached to a coat stand.

  – Roll your sleeve up, she demands, let's check your heart again.
It's jumping out my chest, and gets worse as an expression of grave concern comes across her face.

* * *

It's an hour and a half and I've not been seen. From one of the drawn off rooms an old man in groaning somewhere between panic, pain and fear. There will be no good news from that room. I think of my stepfather and an atmosphere of tragedy and loss seeps into the hospital. It's quiet, like a great storm is sat in the sky. My heart calms and goes again and a terrible feverish chill goes through to the bone.


  – So tell me, where did this fear of diseases come from? My friend asks.

  – I don't know, I say, without even having thought of it. It's always been there.

He pulls a face and we fall quiet. But now I am thinking. Of those young days, laying on my bed, with Parrots disease or breast cancer, my heart flipping out and desperately wanting some reassurance.

  – You know, I say, I think in a way it comes from wanting my mother to return home. In a way it was always and only that which I waited for... To be told everything was alright.

He doesn't understand.

  – Why, where was your mother?

The atmosphere in the hospital is dense, like it is when waiting for bad news to filter through, like it is after death has visited some place, and reality and life and nature suddenly become nostalgic and full of immense sadness, and human comfort and warmth becomes a real and needed commodity. I look at the floor.

  – She drank, I say, a lot. She'd leave for week's or months at a time with some man or other and only return when she was either half beaten to death or sober. But I waited for her... God, I waited like I'd wait for love all my life.

My friend had drifted on the emotion of my words. The French was bad but there was something in my throat, in the gloom and finality of the hospital which made my words work. I am pensive, maybe sad too, maybe pitying myself in this place and thinking of my cold empty room and not wanting to be there alone once this is over.

  – And when she returned, your mother, did she calm you? He asks.

  – Always, I say, nodding. Without ever really trying to. Then she'd go and I'd imagine I was dying again and be miserable until she returned.

  – And your father, couldn't he soothe you?

  – My step-father? No. He was an intelligent, knowledgeable man but I didn't trust him. Something about his knowledge seemed fraudulent. I'd never have believed him if he had tried to calm me. It's about my mother. My fear of hospitals too. Even sitting here, in this foreign place, the smell's the same. I can remember the overdoses and the hospital wards and not being allowed to see my mother because she was still unconscious but knowing she was laying half dead just in the room opposite. Those things burn images into the mind. Then on her waking, hearing her describe how the paramedics had bruised her breasts reviving her, speaking like each bruise was a token of honour. There was something about hospitals and doctors surgeries from those days on. Even though they saved her I associated them with death and they scared the hell outta me.

We fell quiet. The late spring evening was coming to a close outside and there was no doctor in sight.


I am looking at an old couple across from me. The man is thin but with a huge bloated chest – probably lung disease. He is laying out on a trolley bed, fully dressed but with his shoes off. He has cheap white socks, grubby on the soles, that make him look unkempt. His eyes are to the ceiling and his Adam's apple juts up sharp out his taut throat which in turn is covered with specks of dark grey and silver stubble. Resting down by his stomach is an oxygen mask. He looks like he's waiting for the white tunnel we've been told so often about. The woman is sitting tight alongside the bed holding his hand. She has tears in her eyes. Sometimes the man shrugs as if life was life and life is over now. The woman squeezes his hand and tears betray him. I know what it is, the tragic realisation that the years have really gone, that already you are here, and yet it seems you only crawled out from the cocoon of youth just yesterday. I watch his socks and then the two hands entwined. Wrinkles, veins, interlocking fingers, a gold wedding ring. The man closes his eyes gently and it reminds me of something I can't remember.


I'm starting to get dope sick. It puts the world in context, and if not context at least prioritizes what's important. Staying in the hospital is not important, and having the police call for me once I've stashed my crimes not so much either. If I leave I need to get a quick hit, pocket a bottle of methadone and then make good the apartment.

I roll a cigarette in the emergency ward. My friend tells me: they'll never let you out. I reply: they'll never keep me in!

As soon as I stand and pat my pockets down for my lighter the old grunt of a nurse is upon me, waving her clip board with some squiggles on it which is apparently my heartbeat. I tell her no living creature could possible make such a pattern. She doesn't understand, and it's not a language thing. She says there's no way I can leave to go for a smoke.
1) in case the doctor arrives; and 2) in the event that I lose consciousness out in the street.

I argue the toss, but as the door is securitized and needs to be released by a member of staff I cannot leave by it no matter how determined I am. The only way out would be to rush into the staff area and leap out over the reception desk. I think of it, imagine the shocked expressions such an act would encourage, but sit tight. Then I spot my chance, a member of staff entering with a swipe card. He hesitates while swapping a few pleasantries with the girls at the reception desk. As he holds the door open I dart out. There's a confused noise, a feminine screech of annoyance and then the same voice calling "Monsieur?.. Monsieur???" I hold my cigarette up above my head and make for the exit, purposely lighting up a few steps while still inside the hospital.

I am smoking calmly, though caught in thought, when my favourite nurse arrives and stands staring at me. She hasn't got her hands pressed into her sides and she doesn't tower over me in the shape of a capital 'A', it just appears like that.

  – Put the cigarette out and get back inside! She says.

I tell her I will smoke and I have the right to smoke and I will come in once I've finished.

She warns me that if I disappear she WILL phone the commissariat and I WILL be taken against my will and I WILL be returned to the hospital. I tell her my bag is inside and I have no intention of doing a runner but I WILL smoke my cigarette... maybe two or three. She pierces me with a chilling stare of hatred, leaves, and then does a Colombo, spinning around and coming back at me.

  – Oh, and if you collapse out here and we don't get to you in time it WILL NOT be the hospital's fault!

  – I understand, I assure her, and if I collapse I'll make sure to do it inside.

She leaves again but incredibly she cannot. The Colombo is an overwhelming force within her; she needs the last definitive word. So she's back, this time warning me that if the doctor calls me and I'm not there then the wait will begin anew. I'm sure this is now what will happen. I could annoy her further but decide to allow her the victory of last retort. I continue smoking, light a new one with the remains of my last, and watch as she re-enters the hospital all bosoms, ass and calves, and a face that speaks of another victory and serves as a warning that no one else should try fucking about on her shift.

My God, I think, who needs the love of a woman like that.

* * *

The mild spring evening has fallen, the stodgy-arsed receptionist has gone home, an air of tiredness and reflective calm is manifest in the corridors of casualty awaiting the night-shift and all the blood and street life that that will soon start dragging in. Now and again from one of the various screened-off wards someone is wheeled or stretchered out and past me, up into the main hospital where they've earned their place for the night and maybe much longer. In this securitized heartland of A&E I am the only person not in a bed, on a drip, or being treated by multiple doctors. My face is horrendously swollen and so may give a false sense of urgency concerning my presence here, and even though I've been told I will not be treated I have still been needlessly leapfrogged over the poor souls in free-town, that side of casualty which is drop in or drop out whether you can bear the wait or not. In fact the wait seems more like a surreptitious filtering system designed to clear-out the patients who aren't strictly emergencies, and acting as nothing more than a sobering room for others. Now and again the police lead someone in and sign them over, cast a look over the wounded for any known criminal faces, and then leave.

Taking me by total surprise a young nurse approaches me and asks if I'd like to see a female Welsh doctor who works there.

  – Only if she's younger than 35! I reply. The young nurse looks at me strangely, bemused. Not even I know what I meant.

  – Whoever's the quickest, I say. Apart from my tooth and the pain I'm not in need of any urgent treatment and just want to be home.

The young nurse understands I'm really not an emergency, and that if I am irritable it's due to having been kept here when if anything I should be at an emergency dentist having my tooth and swelling treated. She asks if she may take my blood pressure and heart rate one last time. I look at her long delicate fingers, her slender flat figure beneath her light uniform and nod my approval.

  – The thing is though, as soon as you pump up that pressure band my heart is gonna rocket... It's always like that. It's why I did so miserably earlier. It's why my doctor always takes my pressure twice.

  – And why's that? she asks softly. There's really nothing to fear. Even a high reading isn't the end of the world and in most cases not serious at all. But it's nothing to be scared of, really.

By the time she's said that, and asked me: – How long have you been in France? she has inflated and is now releasing the pressure band. She is tricking me and I let her trick me, and I need to be tricked.

  – 7 years, I reply, and the language is still a nightmare.

  – But you speak French well. I understand everything... except the 35 year thing??? Maybe an English joke?

  – Maybe? I say and smile, Or maybe it's just a Me joke... Which hasn't any meaning and isn't funny.

Her trick has worked. Her hands are warm and her fingers delicate and caring as she loosens the pressure band from my bicep.

  – That's fine, she says. A tiny bit higher than average but still within norms.

  – And the heart, I ask, feeling it rise in tension and begin pumping what feels like thick blood up into my head.

  – Normal, she says, nothing worrying there either.

  – So I can go?

  – No. You must still wait the doctor but he won't be long now.

Not 5 minutes later a bespectacled, middle-aged, fair-haired, balding doctor arrives and calls out my name. As I jump up he looks at me with an air of horror and surprise.

  – But you, are YOU an emergency?

  – No, I say, I feel fine. It's my face... A tooth, but the receptionist said...

He shakes his head and cuts me off, beckoning me to follow “This way” into a small curtained off surgery.

  – OK, so you're not ill but you're here as a potential fatality sat in one of our our few emergency beds alongside your own emergency buzzer? Please do explain?

I tell him about my face and the toothache and the nurse, then about my heroin addiction, methadone treatment and the ibuprofen I've taken. Of course the only detail he hears is that about addiction to heroin and methadone maintenance, and not even allowing for me to finish he is laying it down very firmly that the hospital, not this hospital or any other hospital in France, gives out methadone to addicts.

  – That's impossible, he says getting angry.

I tell him I'm not there for methadone, that I have plenty and better at home. I tell him I am there because some receptionist-cum-nurse threatened to have me arrested if I left, even after telling her I didn't want any treatment for the suspected ibuprofen overdose it was obvious I wasn't suffering from.
  - So if I'm here taking up valuable time it's not by choice and it's not to try and swindle a meagre dose of shitty methadone either!

Even after my words the doctor isn't having any of it. The way he speaks, the harsh fashion he tells me to strip to the waist and take the couch, the way he washes his hands and violently slings the water of his fingers into the metal sink, rubs a heap of tissues between his palms and let them fall free into the waste bin, and then the look of absolute vexation on his face when he turns to find me still standing there fully dressed.

  – Listen, I say, I just want to be outta this place. I don't want any more blood pressure checks, no more heart monitors, no more looking down my throat or peering in my eyes and you're certainly not doing a fucking liver damage test or whatever it is you want to do. That's my right and I don't want to be touched or prodded any more. I just want to be left to go home. I came here 3 hours ago for my face and tooth, I'm in tremendous pain, you tell me you can't help me but keep me here for a treatment I don't want or need but will have to pay for! Well I don't need treating and I refuse treatment... I just want to get the hell outta here.

The doctor looks at me and with all his intelligence, all his ten years of study and fifteen years of practice, he says: So you are here just to try and get methadone?

I feel sad and I don't reply. I have no words and I do not want words in the face of such disastrous care. Words and language are useless when you come up against someone so stupid as that. I let my head drop. The swelling in my jaw and cheek is pulled by gravity. My face feels like it is falling off from one side. The pressure and throbbing rise and pumps around my head. I close my eyes and let the pain take hold.

* * *

It is almost 8pm when I finally step out of A&E, hurting more than when I entered, too late to find an emergency dentist and holding a prescription for antibiotics I don't need and which is to be exchanged at a chemists which closed almost two hours ago. On top of that I am now snivelling and yawning hard from dope withdrawal and am the best part of sixty euros out of pocket for my treatment. The money doesn't matter. If I'd have been treated for my actual ailment I'd have paid sixty and a whole lot more besides. I'll get them back at death, I thought... I'll rack up such enormous medical costs then fail out on life and all due payments!

The sun was then almost gone from the sky. It lay half below the horizon, an orb of light through shutters of evening cloud. The city was a silhouette of buildings in front of it, under a mauve sky darkening off in one direction. It was that time, on such an evening, where a beauty descends far out over the city and the shapes of a few migrant birds swoon off alone. In that descending light, with the crisp sounds of evening ringing out, a faint chill having us tighten our coats, I walked from the hospital with my two friends and we made light fun about my visit and the nurse and that ultimately I was fine and that at least my swelling wasn't the onset of a painful death. It was affectionate humour, a means to balance my very real panic about health and death and being alone. And one friend said he was going one way, and the second said she was going another, and I said I was going straight on, into yonder, into pain, into the ever decreasing, darkening light home.

- - -

Thanks as ever for reading and a new text will follow soon... Shane. X

Press Interview : Shane Levene on Dennis Nilsen

Nilsen Through the Eyes of Victim's Son

3 page newspaper article printed today (Saturday 28 December 2013) in the Aberdeenshire Press and Journal. Interview carried out by Cheryl Livinstone.

Where did you live before your father was killed? 

Fulham, London

How old were you?


What do you remember about your father's death?

My mother screaming after being told. She says that wasn't her first reaction, but that's what I remember. I regard that as my birth; the moment I came into existence. Regarding the actual news of his death, it didn't really have any effect on me. At that moment he was only rumoured to be my father, and I waved those rumours away, desperate to share the same father as my brother and sister. I didn't want to be only half-something to them. And also, it wasn't like my father was always at home and then one day was not. Due to his drug addiction he was living in a separate place with my mother, and by the time we learnt of his murder he had already been missing for over a year.

How did you feel when it was discovered he was killed by Dennis Nilsen?

Honestly, more than anything, at that age, I kinda felt special that my father was one of the victims, that our family was somehow mixed up in the hideous events which were front page news the entire length and breadth of the nation. I couldn't wait to tell people.... to kinda distinguish myself. Of course, no one believed me and so eventually I stopped talking about that at all. But all my life I suppose I kinda enjoyed that fact. I mean if your father is going to be murdered who better to murder him than 'Britain's most EVIL killer'? That sounds strange, I know, and it'd be easy to lie and give you the kinda standard responses that everyone expects, but that's not how I felt. At that age, seven, when you're bustling and fighting to stand out, such things are used in a very different way than they would be if happening to you as an adult.

How do you feel about it now?

It's a part of my life and history and I celebrate all that has gone into the making of me (good and bad). The murder is one of the defining events (but not THE defining event) which formed me. Such events take on a kinda neutrality after three decades of living with them. Like other events it's just something which happened and which can't be changed, and though it was a hideous thing , it doesn't mean it has to have hideous repercussions. So I see it in a very forming and essential light: it is a part of the history to who I am today and I can't and wouldn't want it to be any other way.

Has his murder affected your life in any way?

Of course the event has affected my life, but not so much in an emotional way, more in a physical sense, in how it has often been the road on which I have met great people and had more exposure as a writer. The emotional effects, and there were many, did not arise from the murder itself but from the consequences the murder had on my mother: she became a chronic and suicidal alcoholic. Her reaction to the event, her coping mechanism, was where emotional hurt entered my life. And that there is the defining event of my life: my mother's reaction to the murder of the only great love of her life. So I class myself as a secondary victim of the murder, whereby the event didn’t effect me but what that event did to my mother, and her consequent behaviour, did. And although childhood from that point on was horrendous and my youth corrupted, I have no bitterness or regret over that. I saw a world and was dragged into an underclass of living that very few will ever see. It was horrendous and vulgar and perverted but gave me unique eyes and a unique insight into suffering and despair : a masters degree in the filth of life.

How do you feel about Dennis Nilsen trying to publish his autobiography?

As a writer I naturally understand that and find it quite sane. Who wouldn't want their life text published? It would be weirder to me (and a sure sign of insanity) to write a 6,000 page autobiography and NOT want it published. As a victim, if that's what I am, I would also like to see his writing published and would love to read his words, uncensored and honest – honest in the sense that those words were not written with parole in mind. It seems strange to me that when he writes from the heart and is openly blunt and forthcoming about his crimes that people want to suppress his words. But, when he says stuff which he obviously doesn't feel, for ulterior motives, then his words are all splashed around. So if his words are in every paper across the UK, well isn't that also him being published? There's a whole lot of hypocrisy and nonsense logic around this question. It's like the powers-that-be don't want to know his real feelings, they want to take away all the words which they don't want to hear and leave only those which give the impression that the criminal justice system and rehabilitation works. It's like Orwell's Newspeak from his novel 1984 where the only words left are what the government want us to say, and we can say no more.

How do you feel about people reading intimate details about your father’s death?

Oh, people were reading intimate details of my father's life when he was living, so what's the difference? In fact, after my birth my father disappeared out my mother's life for a year and she only got back in contact with him when his name and address cropped up in the local paper after he'd been up in court accused of stealing a clock from the doctor's surgery. So it doesn't bother me... and as I've probably released more intimate details of his life than anyone else, I can only say that.

How do you feel about the fact it [Nilsen's autobiography] has been described as glorifying his crimes?

By who? The press? No-one but Nilsen's lawyer and one or two close confidantes have read it (it's not published don't forget) so who the hell can say whether it "glorifies his crimes" or not? And even if it does, and that's honestly how he feels towards his actions, isn't that extremely interesting? Shouldn't the public and psychiatrists and forensic psychologists and criminal profilers be grateful for such a first-hand account and unashamed glorying of such a crime? To me such a book would be extremely useful and insightful to many people. So whether it glorifies the crimes or tries to explain them I think the book has every right to be published, and I think it's in the public interest to do so. For the argument that "it’s not in the victims' interest to do so” well, I don't believe that's true, but even if it were, I don't think a handful of bitter people (bitter for very good reason) should decide the fate of the nation. If the books published the victims have every right not to read it and the public has every right to boycott it, but it MUST be available. As my mother recently said: Why the fuck should he have his book published! Though yeah, if it were published I'd probably read it.

Dennis was recently quoted as saying:

In the relative twinkling of an eye I will have to face my own death just like any other victim. I deserve to experience the same degree of pain suffered by my victims. Nothing less will suffice.
Only my own death will eventually even the score and only at that point will I know that I am forgiven and am finally free of that burden of debt. In the intervening period in what remains of my life I will try to be worthy of it.”

How would you feel about what he is saying?

Dennis is old now and the death process has truly set to work on him. He doesn't have long left and like anyone, I suppose, he wants his freedom. He knows he'll never be released but he's human and he hopes against hope. Those words above came from Nilsen but are not from his heart. They are the words that society and justice force him to say if he's to have any chance of being released. It's clearly stated: You will not even be considered for parole without feeling remorse. Not whether you've served your time or are no longer a danger, etc. but you must feel remorse. So criminals have their arms twisted up behind their backs to be and act remorseful. And if by pretending to be remorseful halves your prison time or leads to freedom then of course they'll say or act it. I'd do the same. Truthfully, who ever feels remorse for their actions? Remorse seems to me to be an idealistic state, something that harps back to ancient times and has more to do with the sinner still getting a ticket into heaven than anything else. We are bullied and harassed to feel remorse as humans for all things judged immoral. But I think remorse rarely exists as a natural emotion, an unselfish emotion. Normally it takes punishment to feel remorse and when one feels remorseful under punishment and torture then it's a selfish emotion to save oneself, relieve oneself of suffering. So the words above of Nilsen I don't see as his. As we've already seen, his true words are suppressed and all that's left that he can have published are words of remorse.

If you could speak to Dennis Nilsen or ask him anything, what would it be?

How are you? Health, well-being? Do you need anything? Can I help you in any way?

- - -

A new Memoires post proper will follow very shortly.... ... ...

Four to the Power of Zero

 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!

W-what??? Where?

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