It all unfolded one early afternoon on my first day off on a week break from work. I cannot remember the exact month or date, but I know it was in the autumn, maybe early October or November of 2002. I know it was between 12 and 1pm as the children from the nearby school were screaming and hurling to whistles and play. It was one of those low sedated afternoons when sound and smells merge into a sweet tranquility and eyelids drift heavy on lazy days. I was sitting in the living room, needle in mouth and feeling for veins... my mother was bent double on the edge of her bed - daytime TV invading her brain. At first I heard a door, and then a bang and then the commotion of voices. I pulled back the yellowed net curtains and watched as a delivery van moved off down the street.I took it they had just dropped something off for Mr Tullock and had banged the wall whilst manoeuvering it into his flat. I left the curtain slide back across the window and returned to my business in hand. But once again I heard it, only this time it was a scuffling and rapping on the wall.
“Mum... did you hear the noises? I think someone’s in the hallway.”
My mum wandered half dazed from the bedroom and peered down the stairs at the little square of glass that topped the door. “Nah, there’s no-one there, Shane... You can see a shadow if anyone’s in the hallway.” But then it happened again, and this time we both heard it. We looked at each other worriedly but before we had time to speak a heavy rap ran down the door.
“Fuck, it’s the police that is...” my mother whispered “That sounds right like the fucking police!” My needles and heroin were laying on the table and foil and pipes were in the bedroom. For one horrible moment I thought she was right. I had visions of chucking the lot... the gear at least, but then reality hit.
“It can’t be the police... no, it can’t be. What reason would they have to be here? Who would be calling the police to us?” And then the door knocked again, only this time lighter and with a chesty groan. That was it, someing was not right, I was opening the door.
I tried to unlock the door but it wouldn’t release. Something was jamming the deadbolt in the catch... I could barely even turn the knob to release it. When I finally succeeded the door burst open.. Mr Tullock falling in on his side and flapping about like a fish on the floor. His eyes were bulged and going northeast and west and he lay there like that flapping and heaving and looking terrified. I tried to speak to him, but from his mouth the most horrendous smell was being released... it was as if a bag of crabs had been left to rot in his stomach. It was a nauseating smell, and one that was almost unbearable... it was the smell of his death.
My mother came hurtling down the stairs, “JAMES... can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” And he seemed to, there was something in his eyes that still moved to attention... that still recognized human voice and his own need for help. And then the smell hit my mother, and she gagged and holding her mouth run back up stairs.
It’s strange that in a panic nobody knows what to do... we run from place to place not even sure if we should phone an ambulance or comfort the dead. I had to shout instructions up at my mother, step by step, guiding her to the phone and explaining what to say. At least twice she returned to the top of the stairs with some irrelevant question or concern.... looking down in the hope that Mr Tullock had made a miraculous tap-dancing recovery. Finally she did call the emergency services, and while she did I comforted James, touching his head and holding his hand. He had stopped flapping and seemed to be calmed by my words and presence, but his eyes were still all askew and all of hells rottenness still poured out from his mouth. I listened to my mothers hysterical voice on the phone... her tears that somehow didn’t seem genuine, and at the same time I felt James relax and calm further, his eyes now settled on me.
“MUM... I think he’s going!” I yelled out “He’s stopped moving... tell the emergency services he’s not breathing... he’s unconscious!” I heard my mother repeat what I had said and then hang up. She came back to the stairs and looked down. “Mum, take over here for a while... just hold his hand, I’ve got to clear the table” . Actually, the table wasn’t my concern, I needed some time... the eye’s of James and the smells had hit me hard, and I needed to be free of my mothers eyes to release my emotions. Since being 8 years old and begging her not to leave home, I’ve never allowed my mother the privilege of seeing me cry. In many ways I’d feel a pathetic weakness weeping in front of her... or maybe more than that I am petrified that she may try to comfort me. Maybe I am scared she may throw caring arms around me, for in an instance like that I would be completely and utterly lost.
My mother held the fort and I rushed upstairs and sitting in the living room I cried. I tried not to, I tried to keep my tears behind my lids, but they just came... like spasms of orgasm there was no holding back, no plugging the dam, and in silent streams my emotions ran their course.
That I even cried surprised me... I was not extremely close to Mr Tullock and only really saw him on the weekends. The closest we came to friendship was him giving me bottles of West Indian muscle rub after seeing me hobbling off to work in the mornings, sore and swollen from missed injections. Apart from that I had nothing much to do with him. I think the tears were because of death... because of the closeness of it and my inability to help a man with eyes shock wide with terror. I imagined all the things his paralysed mouth wanted to say, all the fears that rushed through his short-circuiting brain... I remembered his light grip on my hand and his crusty lips as they breathed out vile and rancid body fluids. And then I remembered his legs and his undressed lower... it was the first time I realised he was laying there half naked, and that brought tears again. The terror that someone must be in to flee their house in that state must be horrendous... to stagger naked and gasping out into public, well... what else but death could chase a man that far... especially a man who cooked fish every Friday?
I never went back downstairs, instead I tidied away the needles and cleared the room of any paraphernalia. About 10 minutes after our call an ambulance and three paramedics arrived. My mother left the scene and came running up with eyes full of water... but not tears, they were burning from the stench that James had released her way and which were now a drifting presence throughout the flat. After about 15 minutes a paramedic joined us and said that James was dead and that it appeared as if he had suffered an enormous stroke. He said that even if they had been able to resuscitate him he would surely have been brain dead and was probably that even by the time he fell through the door. He asked for the name and address of any of Mr Tullock's relatives and we gave him that of his sister. James was taken away, and once again I was left stunned and sitting in shocked silence at a world that only half an hour ago had wafted by like a hypnotic scent. I watched as the ambulance pulled off and then reached in the draw for my needle and the fix that I hadn’t earlier had the time to take. My mother returned from the bedroom with a square of aluminium foil and a tube in her mouth, and as I calmed myself with a prick and and a push, so she did the same with a crackle and a suck.... both of us escaping the sights and scents that this day had brought.
As happened after the passing of Ewan, death doesn’t hold us reflective for long, and there is always one junkie who is distanced enough and cold enough to profit from tragedy. When Geoff, my stepfather, returned home and was told the news, he suggested that we use the spare keys James had given to my mother and search his flat for prescription drugs and money. yes, unbelievably Geoff wanted to rob him!!! Of course, we never done that but it was close. All it would have taken, from either my mother or I, would have been a slight nod or a moments hesitation and Mr Tullocks door would have been opened and the possessions of a dead man ransacked and stolen. Rather, in light of our shock, Geoff pretended it was a joke and talked endlessly throughout the evening of how he wouldn’t do something like that but that he knew many a scoundrel that would. Two days later he was kicking himself, because it was revealed that under James mattress £12,000 had been found along with another £5,000 hidden in a shoebox in the loft . I later overheard a furious Geoff say to my mum: “We could’ve fucking had that!! It shuld’ve been ours!” And he’s right we could have had it, we could have robbed the dead... who would have ever known? And then this question came to me and it is one which I am embarrassed to answer here: “If I had have been aware about the money, would I have opened the door, sneaked in with Geoff and took it? And the answer is yes... yes I probably would have.
Take care readers & keep hope, Shane. x