It was my first morning to methadone clinic and a vile, hollow, depression hung in me then. The light hadn't yet reached the morning and outside the streets sat cold and black and frosted over. Blustery winds rattled the windows then swept off, angry, across the brick face. The only light in the room came from the television which had been on continuously for over seven months. It had served as some kind of comfort, but now it disturbed me, the breakfast show jingles and easy-listening media voices reminding me of a distant normality, something terribly sad, from a time before I knew what sickness was. My body ached from light junk withdrawals: runny nose; cavernous yawning; a coldness deep in the marrow of my bones. My head was plagued by a weird melancholic nostalgia which played havoc with my raw emotions. Memories of the people I had loved, echoes of the beautiful things we had said, the goodbyes, grieved me. I felt I could cry for just existing. I sat at the table by the window dreading the thought of having to confront this new winter day half sick. I stared at my reflection in the glass, superimposed over the darkness outside. I was pale and deathly. I felt withdrawn, yet at the same time, raw to the world. I pulled the little electric fan heater in close and hunched over it with a cigarette. Every few moments I'd turn a look up at the sky, praying that the light of day would never come. But the light was coming. Already the sky was a tone lighter than when I'd woken, and was thinning through even more. I finished my cigarette, and another besides, and when I next looked out a ghostly city was visible, rising up like ruins into the distance. In the sky the dark shapes of birds passed over, and then the stark, early light arrived proper. It was then, from the TV, that the news report first broke, of that awful crime – only I didn't hear it then.
With the coming of the morning light all peace in the world was broken. There was an emptiness, a harshness, something intangible which had crept its way into everything and made me feel forlorn and vacant. I looked over at the bed. It was barren and cold. I shuddered thinking of the uncomfortable night I'd spent in it, wrapped up in all my clothes, draughts still somehow finding their way in and across my skin. My stomach pained and was turbulent. I tried drinking a coffee but couldn't manage it. The warm river of liquid through my middle threw my body out of kilter even more. My fingers were brown and there was dirt and dried blood on my hands. I needed to wash but there was something deeply troubling about the sink and that whole area. I couldn't rid myself of the thought of the brown, slimy limescale around the bottoms of the taps, the rusty scissors and dirty razors on the side, the sludge that the soap bedded on. Over at the sink I turned the tap. The water came out like shards of steel. The few specks which hit me almost made me fit. To wash, even just my face and hands was too much. Instead, I flashed the corner of a flannel under the water, and with the damp edge, wiped down my fingers and gave my face the once over. It made me look even more wan and left red blotches around my nose and forehead. My stomach dropped loose once more and pained like I had diarrhea. The smell and taste of illness was up my nose and down my throat, something like being suffocated with crushed ice. Just to stand was an arduous enough task, the thought of having to brave the day and trek across town a hellish prospect.
I don't know why that morning, but before leaving, I had an urge to turn the TV off. It seemed it would close something that was open; somehow help balance my existence. As I reached across for the button there was that story again. Now a reporter was standing wrapped up and reporting live from the scene. The street behind him was cordoned off and policemen were stood around in the background breathing out mist. I killed the TV. The reporter remained for a moment, then closed shut from both ends, and was gone. Far from harmonising the room the place now seemed bare, uninhabited, like my friend's room that time after they had taken his body away. I buttoned my Duffell coat up to the last, wrapped a scarf around up to my nose, and then left – half sick and getting worse, down to my initiation meeting at the methadone clinic, to be dosed for the very first time.
It was a day with no body. The streets were wet but it had not been raining. The wind clipped at my ears and nose and made going on twice as hard as usual. The winter sneaked right in under my coat. The sky was at once too dull and too bright, and everything from dew in the grass, to wet on railings, ice capped puddles and mildew on walls disgusted and unnerved. My nose was constantly running and dripping into my scarf, and my skin felt so dry it was sore, whipped raw by the winds. On an almost deserted length of dual-carriageway I stood shivering at an unsheltered bus-stop. A thick mist had accumulated in the distance, the frozen central divide disappearing into it. My feet felt like slabs of ice, and inside my gloves I could feel the greasy dirt on my hands. The world seemed bereft of hope, the corrupt morning converging on me and attacking me from all sides, on all senses, whipping in, stinging, stabbing, piercing – my muscles stiff like meat out the deep freeze, the taste of smashed ice in my face, up my nose, inflating my sinuses. And under all that, a vile, cold-sweat, which trickled down and froze, creating valleys of draught all over my body. When the bus finally arrived I staggered on half-dead, cringing at the driver, my hands too cold to produce my pass. The driver waved me past and for a brief moment I thought I had found salvation.
Though it was but a light negligee of junk illness I wore, it was enough to make the world feel barren and bleak and to open me up fully to the rigours of existence. Without junk filtering life I was too sensitive to it. The wet bus floor with traces of mud and trodden leaves and newspaper, the umbrella in the luggage pen, the old woman with purple hands and weak watery eyes shaking in the front seat... it all disturbed me and brought forth an involuntary spasm of repulsion. I mooched along the bus and ached down into a seat alongside the radiator vent. I put a hand down to feel for the heat but there was none. I huddled up tight in the corner, pulling my coat and scarf in, the misery leaking out my dripping, frozen nose. An invisible sheet of cold came forth from the expanse of window. I cleared a small patch in the mist and stared out absently at the abject life. An immense sadness came over me, and yet I wasn't thinking, just looking. There was something bleak and dispirited out there, a hollowness that permeated the most mundane things. I sat there shivering and snivelling, staring out my little frost framed aperture, my ear suddenly wooed by the stern tones of the news report, that same story, now floating out the drivers cabin, the slaying of two teenage boys in Harlsedon, North London, shot dead in their car as they waited at a set of lights in the early hours of the morning. This time the report did register. It seeped in and filled me with terror and dread.
Nothing seemed quite real after that, not even the news report. It somehow seemed manufactured, maybe even a hoax, like it was deliberately broadcast just for me, for this doleful winter morning. There was at once something hallucinatory and yet hyper-real about it. And the report didn't run and disappear into the archives. It descended upon me, festered, got right into the weave of me, and left me with a creeping sense of unease and paranoia. It was as if I was in some way wrapped up in the crime, like it was fated to have consequences on my own day. It was the same nightmarish bent on reality that finds its way in on the back of a night terror, where dream and reality morph together for a moment and a sinister gateway to a violent and bloody dream-scape is left open. There existed the feeling that just about anything could happen... would happen... had already happened. I felt edgy, like this wasn't freewill but pre-determined, a prolonged sensation of déjà-vu. It felt like someone was watching me. I looked around the bus at the few other passengers. It was all quite unremarkable: too unremarkable; like it was staged, like the absolute sober normality that precedes a bomb blast. Now, on top of my increasing illness, alongside the melancholic drips of memory of a time just before the world turned sour, I had this very real and terrifying idea that a lone gunman would board the bus, or someone would randomly open fire in the streets, like that which had happened in Hungerford. I rose and moved myself to the other side of the bus, into the seat alongside the emergency window. It was up and across from the middle doors, and when I wasn't watching them I was surveying any movement outside, praying that the bus would get me to where I needed to be.
By the time I stepped off the bus into the thin brittle morning I was really starting to come down with the sweats and muscle aches. I still wasn't proper dope sick but I was bad enough to not have to feign it and hopefully be dosed properly for a first timer. The streets seemed more deserted than usual. A hostile crystal covering sat over everything. Blind corners threw my heart into panic. I tried to quicken my pace but found I couldn't. I was at that stage of junk need that time had a set scale, 1 to 5 or something, and could not be sped up nor lost. I could get nowhere faster than illness allowed. Down the road a postman in his summer work shorts passed me by but didn't seem real. I looked back, checking to make sure he was really there. He was, but then seemed too far down the road to have passed me when I thought he had. I looked at my feet as I walked, counting the steps, somehow, for a moment, not being able to comprehend their connection to my brain, that they were even my legs at all. As I chugged on I left a trail of mist behind me. My right eye watered constantly. I'd never felt more out of odds, or cut out and placed in the world. Everything that would usually inspire or is unique to winter horrified me and left me with desperate need to escape it.
On the first day of methadone clinic you are washed up on the inner bend of smack addiction. This is where the river deposits the big rocks. For the first time addiction is taken off the streets and placed in a closed environment where the shit and puke has no place else to go. It's often the place where the junkie turns up to make his final cameo in life. It's a harrowing place. You see not mostly addicts well while scoring, but the long term addicts, those who've lost their limbs, those whose stomachs are at bursting point with liver disease, those eaten away from HIV. Them same people, in the same place, with the same scars and abscesses as you. In their faces and deaths you can see yourself, and it's maybe the first time you've seen yourself in a while. This is the after-sales service of heroin. It's a side of addiction which you've caught glimpses off but up until then had had the freedom and good sense to steer well clear off.
Outside the death halls of the clinic were gathered three loyal methadone clients. They were dressed in a mish mash of grubby sportswear and wool and stood together smoking and holding little plastic cups of dispensed coffee. They were too chatty and alive to be ill or even suffering.
You 'ere fer juice? One asked, sounding like a raspy toothless woman.
Doctor, I groaned. It's my first morning.
Good luck, offered another, a tall thing in a filthy trappers hat with ear flaps. It seemed that because I'd walked in, and not crawled, it wasn't going to be enough.
The clinic was dull and empty, an ill lit corridor with no reception. This part of the service had been kept out of sight when I'd had my interview two months ago. Up on the walls were corny drug abuse posters, showing the young face of the addict that no-one here resembled. Down the corridor, on the left, was a doorless turning, and further down, on the right, two closed doors. The heating seemed to be on maximum. I could feel the cold smoking off my coat, an uncomfortable filthy, itchy sweat beneath it. I waited for a moment wondering if someone would come and greet me. The far end of the corridor descended into total darkness. A middle-aged woman with a harsh, serious face, and wearing a staff pass crossed the hall with files and bits of paper. She didn't acknowledge anything but the linoleum floor beneath her. Maybe you had to be down there, rattling on it, to get noticed? A human reception bell.
Excuse me... I said. But before I had even finished she had ignored me and was gone, leaving me to feel the place out myself.
The open entrance on the left was the waiting room. Along to the left, built into the main front wall, was a closed shutter with a message not to bang on it. Above the shutter was a sign reading 'DISPENSARY'. Only the sorriest addicts were here at this hour. They included new entrants who lay around sick; those here on court orders; those dying; and those who were still using smack – the early morning visits being the first step in bullying them off the scheme, making maintenance too much a hassle to continue. In the room now were four addicts and myself. Two, a couple, sat at the back. Another man was lain across five of the front chairs, sobbing and groaning. And the last, right over on the left, a man with his legs up on the tops of the chairs in front of him, reclining back with a small transistor radio held to his ear, his eyes scanning around for attention as if he was up on all the latest electrical gadgetry. On seeing me watching him he dropped his legs down and turned himself away to the wall, pressing the radio tighter to his ear as if the information was his. The radio was some flimsy piece of outmoded shit, probably what was all the rage at the cusp of his addiction where time and fashion had stood still. I watched him, the disgusting, hollow day making me feel deathly and not really there. The latest news of the morning's shooting crackled and rose from his hunched up form.
Police in Harlsedon, North London, say that the shootings represent a worrying escalation of gun crime in the area. They declined to speculate as to any apparent motive for the slayings, though did say that a gangland style execution could not be ruled out. The lone gunman, a Caucasian male, between 25 and... ...
… …and a medley of poorly picked up radio stations cut into the report, the addict tuning through the band waves and settling on a country music station before tuning through again. I took a seat at the back, away from the entrance. My face prickled as the cold in my flesh undid itself. Surrounded by depressing government health warnings I loosened my scarf and sat staring, repulsed, at the bowls of fresh fruit laid out on the tables upfront.
I hadn't been waiting long when the woman who had ignored me in the hall entered. She read my name from a small notebook and looked up and around to see which one of us would present themselves as me. Surprisingly it was the addict who'd been laying groaning across the five front seats. He staggered forward, reaching out, crying.
Please, I need something... PLEASE! I can't wait any longer. I'was 'ere first. I'm dying... really, I'M DYING!
He looked like he was gonna throw himself around her and clutch on as he collapsed. This was dope sickness and you can't fake such a loss of self-respect. I cringed just seeing his illness, remembering days I'd had those same pleading, outstretched arms and tears.
The nurse moved aside holding her arm out. Are you Mr Levene, she enquired, panicked, looking over at me.
I nodded. But he can go first, I offered. It was a huge mistake. Having a heart in this world often is.
The nurse gave me a peculiar, furrowed look. It was somewhere between hate and disgust. Follow me, she said. I moved as decrepitly as I could, but it was too late: I'd already blown my cover. As I passed the addict he was back sitting, his legs swung flimsily over the other, like a woman, jigging like he needed the loo and making painful, murmuring sounds. I wanted to touch his back, but I didn't want to touch him at all.
My doctor was a small, prudish, fifty year old Italian woman. Her sleek dark hair was pulled back and up and held each side with an elegant hair brooch. She greeted me in her three-quarter-length white overcoat, classy beige tights and flat, catholic, bumper-car shoes finishing her off. Well groomed, well-aged, well-scented. She was conservative to the marrow but may not have known it.
I hung my coat and scarf up and sat down. Rather than evaluate me from behind her desk she pulled her chair around and sat opposite – close enough so as I could see the tiny soft furry blond hairs on her face, but far away enough so as our knees could never touch. I got a weird hard-on, but nothing dangerous. As she looked over my file my eyes wandered off over her shoulder, fixing on the sink in the corner and the cylindrical metal boiler unit above it. I felt absolutely amputated from the moment, in a body which wasn't quite mine. The sterility and quiet of this place was of dope sick days, and never was I more an addict than then, in that moment, being kept half sick in front of officialdom as they slowly perused the meager information they had on me, deciding if I deserved a kind or wrathful God. I suddenly flushed hot, overcome with a prickling heat. My cock deflated. I considered breaking down too – weeping, apologizing for my tears, just to try and get this over with. It wouldn't have really been so fraudulent. I was that raw anyway. Still looking over my file she asked me questions to answers she already had.
After making sure I knew who I was, where I lived, how much I used and how I used it, the doctor handed me a sheet of paper with a list of common withdrawal symptoms on it. She told me to read through and tick the relevant boxes. Although I could only honestly say I was suffering from two of the options I nevertheless ticked them all, some not even bothering to read. It was maybe the best decision I had taken. What she took for nonchalance seemed to infuriate her. She turned wholeheartedly against me.
You've had hallucinations? She asked, incredulously. And fitted?
Not really fitted, more like severe muscle spasms and jerking, I replied. Audio hallucinations, not visual. A song, snippets of unmemorable conversations. Not unhappy memories, but terribly sad in the mood of today.
I wanted to tell her of the crime, how I couldn't rid the thought of it from my head, how it somehow felt entwined with my own, immediate existence and could gatecrash it at any moment. But I didn't. Stuff like that would likely only serve to get you a lifetime of 7am appointments with the psychologist. Instead I rolled my sleeve up ready to have my blood pressure taken, the doctor recoiling in horror on finding recent needle marks and streaks of dried, crusty blood trailing down my bicep and off, around my elbow. She gave me an alcohol wipe and stood there squinting at me out the side of her eyes as I wiped the blood clean. The chill of the alcohol on my skin unnerved me. As soon as I was done the doctor lashed the blood pressure band around my arm and began inflating it, squeezing the hand-pump like she was hyper stressed. My lower arm went hard, the skin blotchy like corned-beef. My head felt like it would explode. The doctor released the pressure and scribbled down the reading.
You're not withdrawing, she said immediately, ripping the velcro flap open and whipping the band away. You're not 24hrs clean!
I agreed I wasn't. I told her the truth that I was 14hrs down and feeling rough enough. I said I had to work and couldn't let myself get sick if it wasn't necessary. She seemed to take offense at logic. She gave the standard spiel that 40ml of methadone could be fatal in the wrong circumstances and she wasn't going to risk having a death on her hands. I asked her a few simple questions which she couldn't answer without indirectly admitting to talking crap. Her answer was a huff of silence as she rage wrote a prescription with such ferocity that her pen broke through the paper. She handed me the prescription. Scribbled in huge letters and then circled was '10ml', not even a tenth of what I'd need to be well. I scoffed at the prescription. I almost balled it up and dashed it in her face.
Come back tomorrow after not having used for 24 hours and you'll be treated properly, she said, smirking at my disgust. If not, if you can't, then this stabilization period will be a very slow, drawn out process.
You know 10ml won't do anything, I said. When I leave here I will go and score... I've no choice. I have to be in work this afternoon and will not get sick just to please you.
Well, if you do that you'll only get the same tomorrow. It's your decision. I can't properly asses you while you've heroin fresh in your system. There's guidelines and rules to follow, and you, like everyone else, will have to adhere to them.
I didn't reply. There was no point. The doctor was from a symmetrical, classic cut of cloth – a square from a square. She could never understand being out of sorts with your world – pinstripes against a paisley background. I put on my jacket and scarf, and prescription in hand hurried back into the waiting room and thumped as hard as I could on the shutter which you were not supposed to bang on. For my troubles I was kept waiting for over twenty five minutes, the proper sick junkie finally being dosed before me. It was a victory of sorts. Kind of. I swallowed my 10ml, showed an empty mouth, and left.
Back out in the harsh open the cold air burnt like menthol on my throat. I was really feeling like dog shit: snivelling, eyes running and burning as I cut through the highrise flats around the back. The day had come on a little. The wintry sky was now pale blue with a weak sun, the colour of sparkling wine, showing through. Underfoot was a sludge of earth and mashed leaves. Little huffed sparrows peppered the bare trees, waiting to scarper at the crack of the sniper's gun. As I hurried on a little white Scottish Terrier dog backed out of some undergrowth it's paws and legs all muddy and wet. It scampered off leaving the smell of slobber and tongue thick in the air. It was just after that that I came upon the most hideous sight imaginable. On this frozen, misty day, winds whipping the temperature below freezing, sickness steaming up off everything, an unshaven, half-dosser came my way, his jacket open and wearing only a light shirt underneath, the top three buttons undone, leaving his neck and lower chest exposed to the bare elements. In his hand he had a pear and he was munching on this thing as he walked, bits of fruit in his stubble, the freezing sticky juice streaming over and dripping off his hand. As I reached him a vile, glacial headwind whipped me to the bones and almost brought me to my knees. As I stooped into the wind I caught sight of him biting once again into the pear, a wintry tear leaking out his eye as he absorbed and celebrated life. My body spasmed involuntarily and my stomach felt frozen and missing. My scarf was wet against my nose and the warm air from my mouth burned my lips. The aura of half-sick visits to the clinic was with me, and little did I know, they would always feel like this.
The bus ride back was a warmer affair than going and with each revolution of the wheel Iat least had the comfort that my dealer was a meter closer. I sat at the very back, watching out for gunmen, now away from the window as my mind had fixed itself on the thought of a drive-by shooting. Horrified I imagined the thought of a car, sat lit up at the traffic lights, nothing extraordinary, except... two teenagers are slumped around with half their heads blown off and the CD still looping away, the green light meaning nothing to them any more. But it wasn't that. It wasn't the crime. It wasn't even the violence. It was the coldness of the night, the illness that was in me, the bad dreams, the tears, the shivering, the draughts, the stale cigarettes, the lonely bed, the Redemption Song, Bob Marley, in a bar, the last bar, on a night just like that, the jukebox, the fruit machine, waiting for love, for the door to open, bang bang, boom boom, through a cloud of smoke, red lips, black eyes, southern comfort, chewing gum, the misty heath of the pre-junk dawn. It was somewhere there, somewhere deep down in the melee of my mind which terrified me now and had terrified me always. It was the same feeling I'd had when they pulled the body out the river that day, when I'd sunk in the mud, when I'd lain there dying with pneumonia, when I'd cried because of how cruel I was. I was too raw to exist in the skin and the world I was born into. I thought all these things and for a moment I thought I was crying, but I wasn't, it was just the mist on the window was streaming down and the life was blurred and fuzzy through it.
I didn't go home. I was never intending to. Instead I got off near my mother's, scored, and then called on her so as I could get a shot. As I sat with the fix in the needle, flexing and tensing my arms to raise a vein, mum asked me how the clinic had been and who I had seen. I couldn't remember the doctor's name so described her.
God, everyone fucking has problems with her, mum said. D'ya know who your keyworker is yet?
I shook my head.
Did anyone ask about me? she asked. I told them you'd be down today and was my son! She said that with an air of pride then cursed me for dripping blood on the carpet. The next thing I knew was that the fire blazed like love, that I was looking at the cat as it slept curled up besides it, and how its fur looked like I felt. The cat opened an eye, looked at me, felt safe, then went under again. Mum put a cup of coffee down for me, took my needle and laid it out of harm's way on the table. She sat down over in the armchair, smoking and watching TV.
Did ya hear about that shooting? she asked.
I thought for a moment, then said I had... two teenagers weren't it?
Mum said Yeah like she was bored and blew out a cloud of smoke. It's been on every fucking channel non-stop, she said. I nodded, but I was already asleep, sinking warm into mum's couch. Outside the winter blew and raged about and menacing winds cut through the bare trees which lined the street. But now it wasn't hollow or cruel or hostile, it seemed kind of perfect, like the world was meant to be this way, like it could never be better than it was just then.
_ _ _
Thanks for sticking out the wait... Love and Respect as Always, Shane. X
Posts so far:
#1 - Intro/Higgins/Dubai Charli
#2 - Little John
#3 - Whistling Chris
#4 - Lloyd
#5 - The Doc
#6 - The Twins
For those not aware, I am writing a series of posts titled My Mother's Sex Life over on So Dog We Were. Please go across and read as I believe they'll add up to some of the greatest writing I've done this year. In total there'll be between 15 and 25 separate posts (one every three days or so). When finished I'll arrange it into a little Novella and maybe print up a few exclusive copies.
Drunks, Scumbags, Junkies, Lowlifes, Brothers, Sisters, Murderers, Money-lenders, Gamblers, Hustlers, Arabs, Africans, Indians, Jamaicans, Taxi-drivers, Snooker Players, Obese Publicans, Hotel Managers, Council Workers, Travel Agents, Gangsters, Builders, Drug Dealers, Epileptics, Friends, Freaks and The Rubber Prick Man. My Mother's Sex Life is a collective of London's Lowlife... A journey to and from the filthiest places, in search of someone who no longer existed...
It was the summer of the year before last. In a bar in Paris, in the early afternoon heat, Tony O'neill and I were swapping books, scars, track marks and missing teeth. Tony gave up his arms and narrated furiously their scar history, recalling marks where great veins had been blown out and where abscesses had once tried to eat him alive. I followed suit, showing off the purple tracks running down the centre of each hand and a few fresh needle welts from recently missed fixes. At one point I had my trouser leg hitched up and my sock down, showing Tony the pen marks for where I'd marked off a sure fire vein so as there'd be no fucking around if we were holed up in a toilet somewhere with no more than shitting time to get hit up. It was a circle around the entry site and an arrow pointing in the direction that the needle needed to go. Above the arrow I had marked the letter 'T' - my Tony vein. O'Neill lounged back in his chair, right hand around his beer, dark shades hiding an important strip of his life beating. He'd not been using for 9 nine years and was mostly all healed up and out of shape. But some things never heal nor can be scrubbed clean, and hands hit repetitively with needles over many years become addicts hands – chunky, swollen, corn-beefed.
Come on then, let's see ya teeth? I said
Tony opened his mouth and pulled his gums up at each side showing gaps and pointing out dental work and screw in teeth. I watched, smoking, one eye squinted over like a man who is about to lay down a hand of aces. With Tony done I didn't wait for him to ask to see my teeth. I sucked the last bit of death out my cigarette, and scrunching the butt in the ashtray, I raised my head flashing him a gritted smile, turning in profile so as he could see all the hideous carnage of 35 years of dying. O'neill raised his shades as if they weren't helping him to see. He peered into the rotten, rusted, fortress of my mouth. I only had 10 teeth left, and of them just two were undamaged, and one of them was false. Mostly my mouth was a jagged trap of broken busted and missing teeth, black and brown bits of stained enamel sticking out my gums. My bottom front teeth were the only ones with any neighbours. It was an honesty that gets you deputised immediately in this game.
And how d'you feel about that? Tony asked
Well I'm not proud of it, I said. And I don't like it. I don't smile or laugh anymore and try to speak without opening my mouth. I've never been into junkie chic... could never afford it. And of course, when it's free, when you are it, when you can no longer put it on or take it off, it's not so much fun. Still, if nothing else, my mouth's at least honest: a true reflection of the life I've led. My body, covered in half decent clothes, isn't honest at all.
It was a truthful answer. It would have been easy to say I'm proud of the decay and hold it up as some kind of success, especially to Tony who would understand either response. But I never got into this to look like death. I got into heroin to look more like one of the living. So on that hot summer day, outside a Parisian bar, Tony sat looking over my shoulder and I sat looking over his, him with a view of the street behind me and me watching the waiter dance between the afternoon clientèle with trays of drinks and salads and bottles of wine and water. To my left and right tall, narrow streets littered with bistros and restaurants broke off and run like sewage into the rest of the capital. People sat around smoking and watching and being watched, and tapping messages into their phones. That was Paris then, and it was right in the middle of the last days of our lives.
I left Tony that day by kissing his daughter on the top of her head and watching his little family walk away in one direction as I headed off in the other. But as I kissed his little girl's head, and felt the lightness of her being, I was overcome by a great sadness. It came up off her scalp and entered me like a spirit; a sadness of innocence, of people going away to lives and joys and comforts which I've always wanted but never had. I walked away holding in tears, trying not to think of anything, trying to lose myself in a labyrinth of streets and footsteps. But my existence was present and inescapable - a sadness drifting six foot off the ground, completely conscious of its loneliness. Feeling detached and nervy with emotion I phoned my girlfriend:
Well, I've made it to Paris, I said, and I've sent you two postcards and I Love You!
Why two postcards? she asked, surprised I'd even bothered to call
In case one gets lost, I said.
When she put the phone down I found a shop, and really did buy two postcards and send them. And it was in that moment, scribbling out poor poetry on a two euro postcard, that I became aware of a lower side tooth, throbbing away, a heart beat of pain, forcing me to exist even more.
I had a few hours to kill in the capital before my train back to Lyon departed. I had wanted to meet up with another friend but finally I preferred to be alone with myself rather than be alone in company, put out even more by my inability to express myself orally in the flesh. As I wandered around the same small quarter of the French capital I tongued and pressed on my tooth, sometimes purposely annoying the pain further by sucking cold air onto it. The sun was just the other side of its highest point now and the heat was burnt into the day proper. Sweat had seeped through my shirt and dampened my jumper, making me feel dirty and irritable. I must have walked around the same set of streets 15 times, not wanting to get too close to the metro for fear of bumping back into Tony and his family, and have them catch me wandering around alone, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I pressed on the almost full bag of heroin that was in my little pocket, a comforting bump, an emergency exit for days like this. I thought of the relief of arriving home, just as the evening light faded out, of tying off the rest of the day and forcing along tomorrow. With still over three hours before my train departed I sat on the cool stone steps of the church St Michel. I closed my eyes and thought of the train journey home, willing time to hurry up. I thought of the innocence of Tony's little girl and the sudden and immense sadness I had been struck with after kissing her goodbye – playing and sucking on my tooth all the while.
On the train I stole somebody else's seat. One with more space and near the window, and positioned so as I could look back on the things which passed and not see what was coming from up ahead. As we moved off I watched Paris's long goodbye, the city shrinking into the hub of the central station. The ghettos on the outskirts, a Manhattan of tower blocks, was my last view of the capital and then we were speeding at 200mph through countryside, and then through nothing much at all.
My tooth twinged again. This time a long, sharp pain which levelled out with the speeding train. I pressed around the outside of my mouth and could feel the beginnings of a swelling right below the tooth. I pushed on it hard, hoping I could force it down, but it just made the tooth throb ever more and left me massaging the same spot of mouth and pressing my warm palm against it which seemed to help. I was out of sorts, a burrowing sadness then deep within me, many things converging at once and meeting at the apex of that exact point in time. With my hand still on my mouth I thought back to when I'd lost my first tooth, 16 years ago, that horrendous wintry morning after I'd been up all weekend rocking and crying in pain and overdosing on aspirin and paracetamol. How the only thing that'd ease the pain, for seconds at a time, was filling my mouth with cold water and swilling it around. How I'd staggered into the hospital A&E at 5am in the morning, white as a ghost, my head floating in and out of reality due to all the painkillers, how I'd threatened to smash my skull in if I couldn't see the emergency dentist. The receptionist told me he'd be there at 7.30am, but it'd be much quicker for me to go along to my own dentist who opened at 8. I remembered how I vomited warm water in the bin in the waiting room and again outside in the icy car park, and how the morning didn't feel real and I thought I would die in the street.
I pressed up around the tooth that had given me so much pain that day, all those years ago. Just gum now. Good! A tooth I'm still relieved is no longer in my head. A tooth that had me collapse into my sister's flat, with the morning light not even up, groaning and pleading for help. Then, in pain induced psychosis, how I'd stripped down to just my pants and lay down on the ice cold bathroom tiles, shaking and humming and waiting for 8am. How I half ran and half staggered down to my dentists, and after more than two hours of waiting and four local anaesthetics I was finally in the dentists chair with my mouth open and my eyes streaming tears of agony.
I can save it and cap it or take it out, she said. What would you prefer?
Get the fucker out, I said. I just want it gone!
And so my first tooth was drilled and pulled and wrenched out, dropped into a little plastic container and given to me. I learned on that day that pain is the most exhausting thing that anyone can experience. That pain and its relentless assault on the central nervous system wears you down like nothing else is able. With the tooth out, my gum stitched up, and the hurt gone, for the first time I felt the pleasure of post-pain fatigue. Back home, on that winter's afternoon, with the fire murmuring and the TV humdrum in the room, I slipped into a deep, pure sleep and recovered from the exertions of chronic pain.
On the train I woke up. I'd been daydreaming, falling forward and drifting off as the french countryside flashed by. It was just that period of summer where the temperature really drops in the evening, and just that hour in the evening where the sun saturatess the countryside in dark gold, like everything has found God and belongs to the light. I shuffled up in my chair, tight against the soft felt seat, wondering how far away Lyon was and thinking of the injection I'd have once home.
My second tooth was the last innocent one I lost. Again it was a top right molar. I had chipped it opening a beer bottle and almost a year later, decaying from the inside out, cold air was snaking in and I was back on deadly doses of painkillers. A week later I was once again sitting in my dentists, with no appointment, and in just as much agony as before. She removed it in pretty much the same fashion as the first one, though this time replaced it with an artificial screw in replacement. She told me that if I didn't start brushing my teeth regularly that by thirty I'd have none left. I explained that toothpaste and powder makes me gag as my step-father used to sometimes shove a spoonful of powder or paste in my mouth and made me chew it around, froth it up and spit it out. She said: Well, if it's just the taste of mint you can't bear??? And then flogged me a strawberry dental toothpaste, three times as small and three times the price. As I've never let any woman rob me twice, it was the last time I saw her.
For a while I looked after my teeth. I brushed them at least three times a week, which was a mighty improvement from once every six months. The brushing lasted about a month, just long enough to forget the agonizing pain and for the strawberry toothpaste to finish, and then it was a story of neglect and toothbrushes being used for other things, growing bald and mouldy, and never being replaced. The nearest I came to brushing my teeth was rubbing my index finger back and forth across them, and sometimes, wiping over them with cheap toilet paper.
The sun was balanced on the horizon as we hurtled through central France. Small flocks of birds were heading off west and in the fields the cows were gathering for the night and the last tractors were turning out and chugging slowly away. The low golden light hit upon rocks and grass and fence and bushes and cast long shadows that split up the light. Way over, there were streaks of bubblegum pink in the sky. The evening was sat just waiting to come in. I thought of Tony and his family, back in the hotel and all settled down, working off the exertions of their day. I thought again of his little girl Nico and remembered back when I was that age, how the coming evening felt as it wafted in, in that fantastic period between light and dark when the day is done and the magic of all young fantasies and dreams arrive. Then in the window I saw a darkness. It hung like a spectre of death over my far shoulder. Monsieur, it said, Ticket, please. I gave the controller my ticket and turned away as he stamped it. My tooth gave a buzz of pain. Have a nice journey, he said handing the ticket back and smiling. I took the ticket, nodded at his teeth and said, Merci.
I had good teeth like that once, I thought, even after the first two losses. I ran my tongue over all the sharp and broken teeth in my my head, trying to work out in which order I had lost them. It wasn't easy. It's rare whole teeth fall out. They normally come away in bits over months or years. I had lost so many that it'd become nothing, just something that happened while eating or kissing too hard. I'd spit the pieces out like melon pips. What I did know however is that it wasn't heroin which had lost me my teeth. It maybe hadn't helped, and the negligence to dental hygiene through them years had probably helped set up the conditions, but on arriving in France, after seven years of unbroken heroin addiction, I was only four teeth down and a bottom incisor rotted in half. That wasn't bad. Still, during the last 18 months in England I had suffered from chronic toothache and had become something of an aficionado on how to relieve dental pain. Over the next seven years, as I lost more teeth, I would live with extreme toothache on a daily basis and pass months on end swallowing, what to most would be, fatal doses of paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen. Only once more in my life would I need to visit a dentist, finally indulging in self-surgery to relieve myself of even the most chronic of pains.
When I first started proper, high doses of daily methadone the doctor warned me to pay extreme attention to dental hygiene, advising that I rinse then brush my teeth thoroughly for three minutes after taking my dose. Of course I reassured him I would and as soon as I had my script he became just about the least important person on the planet and his words about as memorable as a morning shit. Rather than brushing my teeth after drinking my methadone I let the sugary syrup fill my mouth and run over my teeth and lips, taking pleasure up to an hour later from the sweet spots my tongue would find, a reassurance that I had at least taken something. A year later, a year too late, I learnt that methadone often destroys even the best kept teeth, it's ultra sweetness somehow penetrating all that it comes into contact with, marinating teeth and bone. After just over a year on methadone my teeth were stained a yellowish grey colour and there was hardly a tooth which wasn't either decaying from the base or from the top in. This was the period before any had fallen out and was the start of four years of intensive toothache.
On the train I held my mouth and rested there like that with my eyes closed. I heard snippets of the other passengers conversations and them ordering coffees and sandwiches. But the world, when filtered through pain, seems so bland and drab. In such times none of the artificial or commercial things matter. All that matters is a pain-free existence, and you realise that that is the greatest joy... living without hurt or suffering. That's what we should settle for. Fashion, high cuisine, fantastic ways to waste time, new computer games, what the cousin or sister or brother has done are not important. Just to be pain free is enough. It's why a painful death isn't as bad as it may at first seem. In fact, a painful death is probably the best death one could hope for, because finally death/unconsciousness comes as a welcome and wanted relief from the pain. A long slow painless death on the other hand gives us time to reflect, to see how unfair it is that we're dying yet not even hurting, making us begrudge death and wanting to live more than ever.
I stared at the wall, my eyes streaming tears. Not sad tears, tears from an unbelievable pain that had been raging in my gob for weeks and had over the last three holiday days become intolerable. I was going to do it: smash my head furiously off the brick wall, really putting in fast, hard cracks with all my body weight behind it, to knock my brain into nowhere so the agony would stop. Death really isn't a concern at that point of suffering. My last piece of logic on that bank holiday Monday involved a small steak knife and a pair of wire snippers. I'd only the previous month had a tooth removed by students at the the free university dental practice, which again, for the third time, had been a pressure pain. I'd learnt that unbearable toothache is always pressure pain. All other tooth ache is manageable. Even exposed nerves can be calmed with pain killers and the hurt masked until the nerve is accustomed to the raw life around it. But combustible pressure inside the tooth, where the pain shoots up into your brain and twitches around your face, and doesn't come in throbs but is omnipresent and constant, when the tooth feels like the inside is packed to bursting point with ice, and the pain makes your eyes sear... that pressure there can ONLY be relieved by surgery: by relieving the pressure. I had learnt that. And as no dentist was open, and nowhere free to go, I opened my mouth and trembling, worked the sharp point of the steak knife into the small cavity at the bottom of my tooth. I'd thought about doing it for two days but was petrified that I'd make an insupportable pain worse – and if that happened I'd have become insane. Now I could take it no more. With the tip of the knife in the tooth, and the icy tapped pain feeling like the universe before it imploded, I worked on opening up my tooth. It was a slow procedure as I gingerly twisting the knife around to chip off layers of rotted and weak enamel. Now and again sharp pains would shoot out so violently from the tooth that I'd instinctively sling the knife away as if I'd been hit by a sudden bolt of electricity. When I had worked a big enough hole I closed my mouth and tried sucking out the build up in my tooth. Nothing. Back in with the knife. I worked the tip up and down in the cavity until the hole was big enough to receive the underside pincer of the wire snippers. I positioned the snippers on the tooth, got a firm grip, and with three hard crunches I cracked the tooth in half. An enormous pain shot though my jaw. Barely had I jolted back and tensed up than it was gone and in its wake was calm. I stood staring in the mirror, still holding the cutters, thick stringy black blood drowning my gums and running out my mouth from where I'd accidentally sliced a huge cut in the gum with the knife. I stared inquisitively at my reflection, making sure the pain had really stopped. And it had. Just like that it was gone and the world seemed to shrink back inside me. With the pain gone I became insanely hungry. I was ecstatic on relief alone. Opening my mouth once more I wriggled out a good half of the broken tooth and washed it with the blood down the sink. Then the post-pain fatigue crept in. I felt like I'd taken some extra-strong sleeping pill. With the morning on low, I ate and then slept for 14hrs straight.
Pain makes you sad. It does. I thought that as I stared at the other passengers on the train, as I held my mouth and pressed against the latest toothache. It's not really the pain which gets you though, it's that it forces you to fully exist. It wakes you up and leaves you somehow feeling as if this is deja vu, as if you've experienced it before. It also make you realise that maybe existence isn't fun for everyone. I thought of physical and mental pain and for the first time in my life kinda understood the suicidal... realised what a burning hole of shit suffering is and finally, if it goes on long enough, leaves you looking for the nearest exit . But it wasn't just the toothache which had me thinking over such morose thoughts. I was still reeling from the sadness that had came from Tony's little girl, a multi-layered gloom comprised of physical suffering, longing, wanting, regret, hopes, dreams, nostalgia, loneliness, exile . They all somehow drifted along those tracks with me that day, all of it condensed and concentrated and shoved deep inside a rotten tooth.
The countryside wasn't so dispersed or cut off anymore. Now we'd pass little groups of houses and small towns and factories and electrical plants. The sky was mauve and street and station lights flicked on. Passengers were getting irritable in their seats and some began putting their magazines aside and slowly clearing away all trace of their presence. We were getting near the city. I could sense it: an awakening: something in the air which said that there was a huge dirty bustling sprawl of life not far off. The light was almost done for now. The ticket man was sat alone down the end of the carriage counting his ticket stubs and tapping something into an electronic machine which hung around his neck. Reflections now joined the window, ghostly apparitions superimposed over the world outside. I looked at myself in the glass, my eyes, my mouth which wasn't as wide or as full as it should be. The ache in my tooth throbbed a little more intense but it was hard to understand pain in my reflection.
After being on methadone some years my teeth rapidly deteriorated. It was no longer one tooth here and there; they all began to rot at once. Some turned black and others became brown and soft and porous like wet tree bark. Often (and without exaggeration) when the tooth finally snapped away I could actually chew it down and eat it. Some teeth rotted extremely fast and others very slowly, starting off a small arch of plaque at the base until finally it ate through the enamel and left a little cave entrance into the tender inners. It's at that point there, where there is a small one-way cavity, that you are most vulnerable to come down with severe and debilitating toothache. Food and liquid seep in, weigh down on the nerve, and have no way of getting back out. During those mid years of methadone decay my mouth would seem to me like a big dirty rotten hole of pain. I remember through one sustained bout of toothache how I'd tried to paint the pain, and could only smash black paint onto a canvass and then scratch all thin red lines into it. Chronic toothache is one of those rare pains that can drive a man clear out his mind. After a while the agony becomes so taxing you're no longer even sure what tooth hurts. The pain loses origin and is everywhere: in your head, and up your nose, and shooting through your eyeballs. There was one four month period where I was using 36 ibuprofens a day, everyday, and still squirming around in agony most the time. Every 3 hours I'd swallow six tablets, they'd fully relieve the pain for 30 mins and then it would wear back in. An hour later I'd wake up with my mouth roaring again and have to count down two hours and pace around with my eyes watering before I could re-dose.
Those years, inbetween having teeth and not having teeth, were horrendous times with barely a week passing pain free. Of course, to get toothache you need to have teeth, and as each tooth rotted and crumbled down to the gum it was a degree of beauty lost but also one less place where I could hurt. Now, today, I only have eight full teeth left. Of those eight only one is undamaged and that's a screw-in molar from a previous paragraph. If the downside of this rotten history is losing my Hollywood smile, the upside is that today severe toothache is a rarity. But toothache isn't the only discomfort or consequence of of life-styled teeth.. Rotting teeth means rotting gums, and unsterilised self-surgery means infections and swellings and root and gum abscesses. In conjunction with the tooth ache I also, and still do, suffer regular gum, mouth and throat infections, sometimes the entire side of my mouth swelling up so badly that it affects my vision. Other times the swelling would affect my jaw, a huge burning sensation prickling on for days and leading to throat and gland problems. The gums themselves, at one point, became a huge sore problem. Liquids and food would get down through the missing teeth and pop out as little spots on the gums. Each morning, and after eating or drinking, I had to go through the ritual of pressing along the spots until they popped and then wiping the liquid pus away. Often the food residue just sat trapped along the gum, and when it finally found a way out it smelled of putrid, ulcerated flesh. On other occasions the gum itself will grow over a shard of broken tooth and become torn, swollen and tender and prevent my lips from closing over. Apart from multiple times I've self-operated and cracked open and extracted pressurized teeth, I've also cut and sliced through gum and bled out litres of rotten build up. But more than gum and mouth swellings and sores, the greatest secondary consequence arriving from the years of dental decay was the cosmetic problem it posed. After not even four years of methadone use my teeth were in such awful shape that I had to be careful how I spoke and pronounced words for fear of people seeing. Soon they could catch glimpses no matter what, and sometimes, when I laughed, I'd see people suddenly change and become horrified, wondering what sordid secret life I was leading. Finally I stooped laughing al all and began speaking like a ventriloquist to all but a few very close people in my life.
When the announcement came across the Tannoy that we'd be arriving at Lyon Part-Dieu in two minutes, and hoping that we'd had a pleasant travel, it was dark outside. People began standing up, stretching and yawning and pulling down their bags and cases from the overhead compartments. The controller, now stood up near the far end of the carriage, looked done in as he prepared for his last 30 minutes of shift. I imagined I looked like him, only a little paler. With the toothache annoying me something rotten, and thinking of the bag of heroin in my pocket and the relief it would afford me, I was first one off the train. As I stepped down onto the dark platform, back on familiar terrain, Tony O'neill seemed so far away and I wondered had I really travelled to Paris and back or was it some weird daydream I'd had. The memory was already fading and the emotions of the day trailing off with so many others. In the night, as I walk the length of the platform to the exit, I smoked a cigarette. The smoke drifted up through the light chill in the air, mingled with the night, and then, like rolling mist, was gone.
Sometimes you put so much onto what a fix of heroin will do, that when you finally get your shot it's a disappointment. Naked on my bed, after having emptied almost a bag of gear into my 'Tony vein', I felt next to nothing. There was no gouch, no artificial closing of the day, no magic escape from the sadness or pain that the trip had left me with, no end to the toothache, just a creeping feeling of nausea where my system had slowed down. To get anywhere near the relief I had imagined I’d need at least another two shots. But there were no two shots – I was all out and shot through. For a moment I wallowed in disappointment and then rose and swallowed a good dose of methadone and four painkillers. It had been a long day and returning home to a dark, quiet apartment had made the loneliness seem even more pronounced. In that atmosphere, I closed the light and got in bed with one of my last few teeth a beacon of pain in the dark
And as the night finally killed the city and left just a whirring silence and a few drunken shouts, I lay in my bed, thinking of the day and Paris and how busy and rotten the capital would be just about now. I thought of miles and miles of train tracks and countryside and weird journeys across the heart of America. Sleep was coming and the pain was dulling down. Tonight I couldn't escape myself but tomorrow would be here soon enough. I thought of history and sounds and old legends and stories. I imagined laughter and trips to the moon, childish things as the dark played tricks on my eyes. And soon the pain must have gone, finally been beaten back, as for a moment, in the last days of my life, I thought nor hurt no more.
- - -
Thanks for your patience... Thoughts and Wishes as Ever,
To the two people who mailed this week wishing that my absence hopefully means I'm dead.... Well I'm not! I've been trying as hard as ever, but it's very difficult to kill yourself in France... especially on a Sunday. God, just to get a packet of cigarettes is hassle enough. This is no place for the suicidal. I guess that's why everyone seems so bloody depressed here... there's just no way out. About the only viable option is chucking yourself off a bridge and into one of the two rivers, but that's far from a certainty. The last guy who tried it floated calmly downstream for ten miles, and reaching shallower depths, hauled himself out and mooched back home sopping wet. No, death here is about as hard as living anywhere else... so I'm afraid you'll be stuck with me for the foreseeable future. Concerning some new posts... they're on their way. They'll be a new post on each site within a week. A History of Rotten Teeth (working title) for here, and a post called Who's The Uncle Now? for So Dog We Were. Hopefully after that there'll be a period of sustained posting... but that's no more of a certainty than drowning in France.
Hope everyone's well... Until Soon... Kicking against the tide...
I've seen the animal in man. That beast that pisses in sinks, shits in plastic bags, has to soak and cut and prise the socks from off its feet, has become indifferent to the stench of its own arsehole, lays around wrapped up in filthy blankets snarling at life and rotting away by the pound. I've watched men regress into neo-savages, committing murder, rape and incest with no strategic end in mind. I've seen our species fight and bite and rip and fuck one another to pieces. I've watched the unloved become the unloving and the loveless become the lawless. I've seen beautiful people destroyed by the high cost of living, selling their bodies and organs for a moments respite from the daily grind. I've known streets of endless misery, city-sized slums full of the walking wounded, tower blocks used as human rubbish dumps: 300 ft of isolation and depression, whole families staring out and down, wondering what mark they'd leave if they hit the floor from there.
With fresh young eyes I watched life pass by, a certain freakshow interspersed with occasional views of purported normality. I stared lost at bare feet as pre-teen brother and sister put on peep sex-shows for an assortment of waifs and strays, dreamed nightmares over the amphibious leers and panting tongues visible through the gap in the door. I've seen women beaten senseless, dragged around by the hair, forced to lick the kitchen floor, locked in cupboards with broken noses, doused in petrol and set alight. I've seen men kicked half to death, hit with bricks, bars and mallets, faces and wrists slashed open, a false eye staring at me from the bottom of a glass of beer. In the hush of night I've watchd an old dreadlocked cancer patient hunting around in the dark for soiled panties to sniff, his emaciated thighs like violin bows, the silhouette of his long lank penis and swinging balls. I've seen that same man rot away to nothing in his chair, sat their stuffed full with death one morning while the rest of the house knocked back courage and cured themselves of the shakes.
In the back-end of nowhere I've known young girls who became mothers without ever having seen a cock. Fathers thrice over who thought the clitoris was a garden plant. I've known company directors escape the boardroom to dress up in nappies and bonnets, lay in a cot, bawling, wriggling their legs and faking innocence. I've seen orgies of pigs: incomprehensible gang-bangs strike up amongst chronic drunks; alcoholic women laying spread-eagled on highstreet benches, masturbating while screaming RAPE!
On screens, I've seen everything from armpit licking to shit-eating. I've seen Arabic looking girls, dressed in nothing but a hijab, crucified to railings and gagging on twelve inches of white cock with the Stars and Stripes tattooed along the shaft. In retaliation, I've seen fifteen of the dustiest Arabs gang-raping a small town beauty queen, close ups of her tears and suffering as one rams it in her arse without lubricant or warning. I've been sent links to videos of amputees, midgets, mongols and She-males. I've seen horses and pigs being sucked off, and dogs eating pussy. In HD I've seen sheep, cows and chickens get it – living props, perfect for web cams and Shock TV.
I've seen faceless erections poking through zippers, shoved through holes, men, women and beasts dancing jubilantly around them. I've seen cunts gang-banged out of all recognizable shape, laying spent around rooms, their only use then to help remove nicotine stains from filthy fingers. I've studied necks and faces, stretched taut and deformed during the climax of despicable acts. I've seen my own mother drink and fuck her way through 20 years of grief, falling out of taxis naked and crawling up the front yard with bloodied tits and bruised buttocks. I've made up the numbers in the most squalid dens and witnessed the human animal partake in the most debauched and intangible practices: groups hunched over spoons, each drawing up a measure of life before shuffling back to their individual hells. I've seen families brought up on grease and potatoes and tomato ketchup; parents in competition for Special Offers and fighting over reduced cuts of meat. I've seen teenage rent boys forced to deep throat podgy middle aged men; wrecks of humans crawling around the streets looking for scraps of food; amputees glued to skateboards in a desperate effort to adapt and survive. I've seen people riddled with body fungi and gangrene... abscesses and ulcers the size of tennis balls eating them alive. I've seen people lie, steal and cheat, and try to pass on awful diseases. I've seen junkies with AIDS cuddling up together through dark silent nights, sobbing over regrets and old memories and cancerous lumps and lesions. I've seen men of money turning squalor into a profit; supposedly reputable people crippling his brothers and sisters with financial strongholds, using the most ruthless tactics and schemes to extract from people what they haven't got. I've seen banks play the long-term con, burying people in credit, gambling on them defaulting on loan payments: loans scrupulously worked out so as they'll just about be repaid come the the average age of death. I've seen it all and joined in the feeding frenzy, eating as blindly and as heartily as anyone else. With the rest of the pack I've been left crying and growling at the moon, calling out and cursing unknown enemies. I've drank Starbucks coffee from the same place as you, taken your traces of lipstick off the beaker, and with a swallow of stale caffeine said, “The world is so beautiful now!”
I've stared into the distance and seen the old infrastructure of nature, the last of the trees and mountains and fields that haven't yet been chopped down, drilled through or ploughed flat. I've seen man visit every remote inch of the planet, map it out in 3d and real time video. I've seen the cheerless kept alive on hope support machines, the downtrodden and completely-fucked-over still with ignorant faith in their fellow beings. I've seen the lowest and most despicable acts from just about everyone. Modern, sophisticated man is nothing more than a successful marketing campaign. Behind the pedicures, enemas, and PH neutral cunt juice is the animal we've tried so hard to tame. If in public we walk on hind legs, in private, we drop to all fours and eat off the floor. And I'm not alone. We all know what our species looks like stripped down, sprawled out naked on the mattress, folds of belly, flabby sex leaking piss and cum and sucking on antacids. That's the horrific reality of it all... the sick dog we've become.
- - -
The toughest thing about being poor was having no curtains. It meant the other kids could see in, could see the bare floors, the beat-up TV, the mouldy sofa, the wallpaper torn back and hanging loose, the crazy dog of bones which shit as it spun cartwheels up at the window. But worse than what they could see was what they couldn't see: no video, no furniture, no lampshade, no ornaments. We had no nothing. And when the evening came, and the light went on, we had even less.
On page 24 there were curtains : thick dark red ones.
Above all else they were my biggest ''want'
That was my thing, you see, covering up what was going on inside.
I jabbed my finger at them on the page and shouted “WANT!”
My brother and Sister followed
eager to point out their picks
Dad sat in the middle holding the Argos catalogue
He'd wet his middle finger before leafing over each new page
You could smell the glossy print and the glue of the bind
It smelled like commerce itself
And Dad was good
He didn't understand, but he knew what to do
He said that on Monday he'd go and look at new wallpaper
That ours wasn't very nice
He said we could even paint the skirting boards AND the window frames
Then we were all excited
Suddenly the game was on. The Catalogue became our hope for a better life.
“Washing machines aren't too expensive,” I said
“I'd go without pocket money if we could have a washing machine?”
My brother said that he'd like a dryer
That once his friend dried his football top and it came out as soft as spring and smelling of it too
So Dad agreed that he'd look into getting a washing machine AND a dryer.
Then Dad said that it was possible to buy flatpack bookcases that you assemble yourself. He said that if we didn't mind helping to carry it home that we could get one AND a matching TV cabinet!
Rachel said that our TV was too small
That if we had a new TV cabinet it would be nice to have a new TV to put in it
Dad nodded. He said you could get decent TVs on the monthly
Daniel said “And a video!”
Dad said that videos were expensive and the films cost dear too
I said that the video player didn't need to work, just be there
My sister agreed
Daniel pulled a face that made him look like he does now
Dad scoffed, like I was a little him or something.
“There's always video players dumped 'round the back. We could go and get one and clean it up!”
Rachel said that as much as anything else we needed a carpet
I said I'd like a white fluffy one, like what was in Mum's room... Only new, and not stinking of vomit and stale Martini.
Dad said that white carpets weren't a good idea with three shitty children AND a dog
Then he said that every Wednesday Gypsies knocked around selling carpet and he'd see how much one'd cost. BUT (he warned me) it wouldn't be white and it wouldn't be fluffy, and it may not EVEN be carpet!
That didn't matter so
Our eyes were gleaming with dreams now
And as we pointed out our 'wants' on each page we began talking of what friends we'd invite around and who could sleep over
That got us to our bedrooms.
The evening was in for real then
That weird time where the city is done for the day and late night baths are steaming up
Dad licked his finger like people do when counting bank notes
He rifled the pages back until we saw duvets and pillows
I wanted bunk-beds.
That's where my finger went.
“!!WANT!!” I shouted with everyone else
We all had the SAME idea. It must have been that film we'd seen: ET or some other hideous picture, showing us everything we didn't have 20 times its size.
I said I wanted the TOP bunk as I didn't want my brother “to piss on me!”
Dad said, “Don't say things like that!” and circled the catalogue numbers
Then we got to study desks and table lamps and globes of the world
Each of us creating a space where we could read, do our homework, and cast low shadows around the room
Dad even let us pick a computer
All the kids with everything had a computer
I imagined mine dropped right in the middle of my desk, surrounded by containers of pens and pencils, and fruit smelling rubbers. On the shelves above there'd be books, encyclopaedias and a telescope.
After planning our bedrooms and the bathroom and the kitchen and the hall, we picked out accessories, getting really extravagant then
We chose lampshades and light switches
Floor tiles and door knockers
Toilet seats and covers
Matching towels and dressing gowns
Fancy numbers for the front door
and a WELCOME mat for the doorstep
Dad said it was ALL possible
That if we did up one room at a time we could have the entire house done in a month
A month! Oh, how happy we were!
As long as we hid Mum we could have our friends around
Prove to everyone that it wasn't a lie
That out back we had the same riches as they had... even MORE
Dad leafed the pages over
Then we were at the toy section. He looked at us
He wore a serious expression which wasn't serious at all
Like he was sucking a sweet
We all shook our heads:
Toys weren't important
Still, on Dad's insistence we allowed ourselves a look and one or two wants each
After the toys there was nothing -
diagrams of furniture and people surrounded by arrows and measurements
Dad closed The Argos Catalogue
He said “Things have never been so cheap and so disposable.”
We didn't understand that
“And on Monday you'll really go and see about new wallpaper?” I asked
“Well yeah,” he said “Monday or Tuesday.”
We all smiled; only just a little less.
But Monday IS Tuesday if you stay awake long enough!
Dad put the Argos catalogue away and said it was time for bed
We climbed the stairs without a moan, wanting to be alone to talk more of our new house and what it would be like...
I suppose it was about midnight when dad shouted up the stairs
“Now stop all that talking and GO TO SLEEP! If not you can forget about MONDAY!”
We froze in terror with fearful grimaces pinched on our faces
Rachel shouted: “Sorry Dad!”
Then we all shouted: “!!SORRY DAD!!”
“Alright, now just be quiet and go to sleep!”
From then on our words became excited hushed whispers
Sometimes so low that we were talking to ourselves
In a series of diminishing reports questions hung longer, finally only receiving the occasional murmur inbetween periods of dreamy sleep
Then I WAS talking to myself
My words evaporating into the deep silence of the night with nothing coming back
I sat up and peered into the dark
“Dan, are you awake?”
“ … …. .... ….. ”
“Rach, you still awake?”
“ …. … … … ”
My kin were travelling distant and fantastic worlds and I was left alone in this one.
I lay in bed looking at the bare windows with the night pushed up tight against them. I closed my eyes on all those thing we had seen and chosen, and thought of how Dad had promised to fix up the house and really seemed to have meant it. But something of the night was upon me, bearing down and magnifying the loneliness of being the only one awake. Now other thoughts came to me... darker thoughts, sadder thoughts: images of Dad's broken and walked out shoes; his rag of a jacket hanging on the bottom banister post; the bare kitchen cupboards crawling with flour grubs and larvae. Something undefined troubled me, was seeping into my last thoughts of the night. I tried hard to get back to the Argos catalogue, the smell of the print and how each new page had brought fresh waves of excitement. But it was no good: the dream was gone before I'd even got to sleep.
I thought of Dad, directly below, sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out and his bald head reflecting the late blue light of the television. And then a new sound hit me, something I'd never heard before: a low throb like the house was groaning and dying.
I lay there in the dark, withdrawn and scared, listening
And in that night
In this terribly unjust world
Trapped somewhere between sleep and awake
I swear to God
I could hear my Father crying.
- - -
Thoughts and WishesTo All... Shane. X
Dear Alan, Do you ever think of the years 1988 – 1993, that incredible six year long summer we spent together which built in heat and intensity and culminated in you knocking back a bottle of Pernod before ramming your motorbike head-first into the metal railings of Greyhound Park? I only ask because I do, I think of those days a lot. And even though we've not seen one another for almost 20 years I still often wonder where you are and how your life panned out. I imagine you probably grew a beard, became an alcoholic and eked out a meagre, rural existence somewhere, fishing with string and tin cans and using cow shit for fuel... Though I always was romantic in those ways. But that's not really why I write. It's more because of July of whatever-year-it-was, that Sunday morning which brought you to my door, fresh out of a suicide attempt, smelling of aniseed and with a face so laden with drink that it was hanging an inch off the bone. That last great Sunday... I'd like to talk about that.
Dear Alan, I wanted to punch you. You stood there an embarrassment to the art of standing: stooped over and swaying like one of those heavy-bottomed toys which never fall over. Your lipstick was smeared, your eye-liner was run and your long, blonde hair was wiped down flat across across your brow: you looked like a water colour of my mother which had been left out in the rain. For eight seconds you didn't speak. Then you said: “I'm going home, Boy-O... back to Ireland, NOW!” Do you remember? You said that we were killing ourselves but that fate had decreed you was to live. Jesus! Normally you'd knock me up with a joint or a quarter bottle of scotch still rushing with your back swill. The last thing I expected were tears and incoherent tales of how you'd smashed yourself into the railings, survived, seen The Light, and was taking the evening ferry home. Then it was me who couldn’t speak. I had no choice. My closed mouth was all that kept the tears in. And it ended like that. No questions, and no trying to convince you to stay, just those little sounds which precede total breakdown and that desperate bear-hug which always erupts on the point of tears so as men don't have to see each other cry. Four floors above nothing we held on for life, and with the smell of your leather jacket in my nose, I stared across to the park, at your mangled bike which was still caught up and smoking in the railings. And with that embrace we said goodbye to youth and entered the depression of adulthood, that phase of life where we try to reconcile ourselves as people and search around for the things we lost on the free-wheel down. And do you remember how you handed me that little yellow piece of paper with your Irish address on it? Through quivering words, you said: “Now, you make sure you keep in contact, Boy-O... Now you fucking promise me, ya hear!” I pushed the paper away and told you I didn't want your address as I wasn't good at keeping contact and preferred people who were gone to be stayed gone. Really I was just angry and hurt. It wasn't true I never kept contact, it was just I'd never had anyone to keep contact with. When I closed my door I broke down. I wasn't so strong as all that. You should have known! You should have stuck the note to my door, put it through the letter box, given it to my mother, something... not let it drift off over the balcony and flutter away like an early autumn leaf. I suppose we were both weak people acting tough... a perfect breeding place for regrets.
God, how it really feels like it all happened only yesterday, like I could descend four flights of stairs and come out into that life we once lived. Does it feel like that to you, Alan? Do you live that same shock I do each day, looking in the mirror to see two decades of drug and cigarette and fast food abuse staring back? You wouldn't recognize me now, Alan... I've changed so much, and not all for the better!
Dear Alan, things come and things go and memories come in and arrive on strange winds which I have no real control over. Sometimes a shifting sun can set off a shadow that takes me back. It's as if I'm being constantly thrown around all over the place. To write things down in the order in which they happened is as impossible as it would be useless. The order in which bullets come out a gun is not important, all that matters is the order in which they hit you. That's a weak defence for my writing on whim and asking you to excuse me for abandoning any kind of chronological order. But these words are about emotional order. Time-lines show nothing but how we got to where we are; they completely miss out on who we are. Fuck the clock. The horrors of war are all lost in time.
Alan, I'd like to talk about innocence... maybe our last ever truly innocent day. I suppose there could be many, and maybe you even have your own marker or maybe you just never think of things like that? Still, for me, it's of that day when I was fifteen and you was a little older and we were laying out in the cool of the milky grass, smoking hash and listening to the shouts and cheers of the cricket game. Do you remember how that felt? The sound of leather clacking off wood and young boys and adults jumping up bare-chested and whooping with joy in the afternoon heat? We lay a good distance off, on our backs, with the dark orange light of the sun behind our eyelids. In that hypnotic state you suddenly said, “I've got some speed,” something we'd talked about wanting to try for months. I opened an eye and squinted across. You remained on your back, eyes closed behind your shades, though quite aware I was looking. You pulled a smug smile. God, you was serious! Do you remember how I was suddenly so excited? How my shadow descended over you and how you remained still and teased me more. I called you 'Fuck Face' and prodded and poked for details, demanding you let me see it. You didn't respond, just remained there: a grin and a pair of black shades, arms flopped down by your sides. And then, very slowly and deliberately, you opened your right hand and in it was a little rectangular wrap of paper. It was as if you had an inch of sun right in your palm. Barely had I time to see it than a cricket ball went fizzing by, followed by the stamp of some sweaty kid. As he approached you closed your hand, and for a moment it was gone.
Fuck, what an evening that was A kind of loaded revelation. Do you remember? How we experienced one of the greatest highs of our lives? Me, terribly shy and finding it difficult to talk was suddenly thriving and couldn't keep the words in. Everything I'd ever read or skimmed or saw was there on the tip of my tongue and accessible. For a moment I really did feel a part of the world. My elbows didn't feel awkward and bony and my speech wasn't broken or punctuated with 'ums' and 'ers'. And you was the same, shivering with ecstatic speed chills, incessantly rocking away and twisting your hair, a history of Celtic mythology in your dilated pupils as the last Central Line tube rocketed us home. That weekend was the start of real drugs and alcohol, discovering Soho and all her sleazy Rock Clubs and hangouts. Things changed after that. Not for better or worse, they just changed... we were changing. I think we realised that drugs didn't only have to be taken for fun, that they could also be used to give us things we lacked. No matter, along with cigarettes, hash and alcohol, amphetamine also became a regular fixture – and it wasn't too long after that that our mothers' lipsticks started disappearing...
Alan, I hope you think back fondly on those times – you must, really. It'd be a crime not to. Being seventeen and sat crimping each other's hair and doing one another's make-up... Placing tabs of LSD on each other's tongue like we were taking Holy Communion. Do you remember? And what of the time you told me on the 260 night-bus that you was in love and couldn't stop thinking of that mysterious girl who had asked you to dance? And then I suppose you felt very weak and embarrassed and so got angry and punched yourself flat-fisted in the nose. I still remember that bloody, drunken, embarrassed grin you gave, your eyes still smarting and your face twitching from the real pain underneath. I think it was the first time you had hurt in any way but a physical one. Then you made out like it was all an idiotic drunken emotion, and we twisted it around to something cool and wrote 'Love's a Bitch' up our necks in black eye-liner. Fuck, we didn't even know what love was... but we were so fucking right! Still, I wonder what happened to that girl? If she ever forgave you for assaulting her in the Astoria nightclub after you came around from a drunken stupor, mistook her for a squat, stubbled biker and punched her out. And then I have to wonder how you ever fell in love with her in the first place. That really was fucked up. I suppose it just goes to show how vulnerable and needy we really were. And do you remember how we were thrown from the club that night? Our arms twisted up sore behind our backs then rammed head-first through those claret coloured double doors. God, how cool we thought we looked! Tumbling out onto the Soho pavement in cowboy boots and tight stretch jeans and rolling into the bin bags like the Saviours of sleaze. I think it could only have been stupidity that had us back at the club door, banging and kicking away for our jackets, screaming: “Fuck You!!!” at those vicious looking bouncers the other side who threatened us with terrible beatings and broken kneecaps. And d'you remember when our jackets were eventually slung our way, how we were too frozen for them to make much difference? Then, just as we were taking comfort from the thought that we'd soon be being driven home in a warm taxi we realised that the bastards had lifted our wallets. We were left penniless and had to walk 25 miles home down the frozen A40 with chattering teeth, rattling bullet belts, goose-pimpled tattoos and only youth and cigarettes to keep us alive.
And what about that time when we were both tripping and were convinced we were pilots in the first great war? You wore shades and your grandfather's old cannonball crash-helmet and I sported swimming googles and a child's boxing headguard. Dressed like that and barefooted we ended up on your motorbike, speeding down to Heathrow where we thought the Spitfires were. Do you remember how as we came to a stop in some late afternoon traffic we spotted two policemen on bikes on the other side of the A-road, staring at us in utter disbelief and motioning for us to stay put? We made out we hadn't seen and zoomed off. It was only the genius of the central divide which stopped us having our idiotic asses slung in jail for the night. Instead , we drove home and strutted around like fighter aces until the acid wore off. You know, that was one of only three decent trips I ever had? My norm on LSD was to flip out and climb the walls, always begging you for guidance out from that world. Those drugs just weren't for me, Alan... especially the hallucinogens. If any drug fucked me up m!ore than tobacco it was LSD. It was bad enough having the ability to see what was there, let alone what wasn't. And anyway, I didn't want to see inside myself or others... I already knew the pile of shit that us humans are. Soon though I discovered my drug: opiates. I annoyed you in those times, I know... drifting off on awake dreams while you were wanting the companionship and brotherhood of old. You liked the image of opiates but not their physical effects... or maybe the effect they had on me? We kinda parted a little then, do you recall? You was flying high and I was dredging along the murky depths. We soon only ever met when you came down and I came up. And the days we had no drugs or alcohol at all we stayed locked in our respective rooms, listening to music and writing poems about death. Looking back on it now we were already halfway to having a psychological dependence on drugs... social occasions had become impossible without them.
Dear Alan, how's your mother? Is she still alive? Did she ever come to terms with you being a 'transsexual'? It's weird, she accepted it so willingly in me, and yet in You it split her life and faith in two. Do you remember how she started buying and reading all the rock and metal mags, searching for proof that guys who dressed in patent leather and wore make-up were not queers? How relieved she was when she found out that it was much more likely that you was a child-sacrificing member of the Church of Satan... At least confession and a few Sundays in church could cure that! And do you remember how she flipped out at the thought of you returning to Waterford in stilettos, lipstick and eyeliner? How she threatened to disown you if you took the ferry looking like that? In an attempt to flee your present life with respect and enter your new one on the same footing you did the opposite of what most late teens do: you left the house looking like the Bride of Frakenstein and changed into dull, itchy, rural clothes around the corner! I would have understood, you know. Still, I'm glad my last image of you was leaving Wolfe House with your hair crimped and wearing my red leather jacket. Though Alan, I have to tell you, you looked so fucking pathetic and really always did! You were just the wrong shape for glam rock. I only ever told you you looked cool because I wanted to get out and get fucked up and if i'd have told you the truth we'd never have left my bedroom. Excuse me for that. It was mighty selfish. But that's what happens when you stand somebody drinks too often.
While on the subject of family, what ever happened with your father's inheritance money? I heard tales of you pissing it all away during a six month bike ride around Ireland with a shaven-headed gypsy girl? What was that about? And then I heard even stranger rumours of you and Finbar taking advantage of a freshly broken arm and stage-managing an accident in a supermarket in Ballycullane? Veronica told me that you laid down in a patch of spilt milk and settled out of court for fifty grand? Fuck, I hope it's true... it's hearing of such victories which keep me going! And speaking of broken bones, Jesus, I still cringe in horror when I think of that awful time you asked us to break your ankle so as you could get the summer off work to watch the World Cup. I know you'll not have forgotten that. Maybe you're now even suffering from some permanent damage we imparted? Me, twenty years on, I still spring awake some nights to the crack of snapping bones. There's a story floating around somewhere that it was me who finally put your ankle through, but as you know it wasn't, it was that sadistic fuck Paul. I tried, but my brain just wouldn't allow me to bring that steel bar down on you with sufficient clout. I hurt you, but no more. That's when Paul stepped up to the helm, licking his lips at the ghoulish prospect of disabling a friend. Do you remember how he even took the precaution of packing books under your inner calf so as to further weaken the intended point of impact? You was lying on your side, half off the sofa with your right leg outstretched and your outer ankle exposed. After agreeing that Paul was to hit you on the count of three you scrunched up your eyes in anticipation of the pain to come. If you was ever going to raise your hand and back out you was sorely out of luck. Paul, showing a glint of humanity, hit you when you wasn't expecting it, on the count of 'two'. Oh Christ, that depraved sound! It was like the crack of a gunshot. And how you shot up in the air, screaming in agony... then worse, all 180lbs of you instinctively coming back down on that foot, which folded. On the floor you shrieked like the banshee, tears streaming because the pain was so intense. ANKLE SHATTERED IN 11 PLACES: that's what the x-ray showed. And sure enough you got the summer off work and together we all watched the 1990 World Cup, the Republic of Ireland crashing out to Italy in the quarter finals.
There was something special about those times... for me anyway. We were living at the arse end of one of London's most notorious, run-down and crime ridden council estates, and yet there was a kind of magic all around which made life glow. Dreams existed in that place. That's what it was. When the day was done and the night came down, God, staring out across London at far off twinkling lights could make you cry. Do you ever think of things like that? See also a beauty in the broken homes and social problems and the human fallout which we had to live besides? Ponder over shared cigarettes like they were kisses? Or remember snippets of useless conversations which have no right to be memories at all? I do, constantly... they all seem like clues to some huge mystery which is woven through existence. In the last years such small things have taken on such seemingly great significance. Maybe that's why I'm writing to you? I don't know. I don't know what these words are for??? They just are.
Dear Alan, why on your return to London in the autumn of 1995 did you purposely search me out? I never really did figure that one out. It was eighteen months after you'd left and you found me sitting outside The George in Soho in the same place we had always sat. Do you remember how you kicked me awake from my eastern dreams? I didn't recognize you. You had shaved off your hair and was wearing biker boots and leathers. I thought you was one of the Outlaws looking for trouble. I was properly full on opiates by then. I suppose we had both stopped pretending... or almost. Almost as I have to admit that I wasn't really as thin as I acted. It was a put on: the limp wrists and sucked in cheeks, as if I was barely strong enough to hold myself together. That's what happens on the crux of addiction when you're still playing around with it. The vomit was real though. Do you remember you patted me on the back as I threw up outside the Intrepid Fox and said you was leaving? I held up my hand and kept my head down, dry retching as you disappeared for the last time. I didn't even look back. Secretly I was glad you was going... there was too much between us, and one night in a lifetime means nothing to me. Still, how did the abortion go? That's why you were over. Young Girl X was up the duff. As you'll never reply to this letter, I hope it passed OK. I still think it's crazy that you couldn't get an abortion in Southern Ireland. Crazy. And did you ever have any children? I reckon you probably did and probably don't have any contact with them. I don't quite know why I imagine that??? You just seemed emotionally very cold towards family and the like. I never had children. I wouldn't bring something with a vertebrae into this world. And that's not a damning indictment of the state-of-play; it's a damning indictment of me: I just wouldn't dump my hand-me-down genes onto someone. And anyhow, you couldn't bring up a child on my morals, and I couldn't condescend to the morality that a child would need to find its bearings in this world. That's the thing with parenthood, you have to deceive from the start. In a way it's a great tamer of immoral men... a social means to get the infidels under control and thinking in the correct way. Imagine that, at twenty eight, you have to start believing in Santa Claus and happy endings again! No, barring some kind of terrible accident, I will never be a dad.
As for the clubs and Soho, well, that all ended ugly too. Rumours were rife that I was shooting dope in the toilets of the Wag Club, and though that wasn't true, it brought out a sickening, square, conservative side of Rock music which I came to despise - everyone becoming morally responsible and damning me for bringing “that shit around 'ere!” Each member of the flock suddenly had a band member who had died from a smack OD, taking their rotten dreams with him. The entire nightclub fraternity first ostracised and then stoned me. Can you believe that? What with every other scenester pretending they were junkies, painting their eyes black and sitting around itching their forearms! And yet, when they thought that someone had actually gotten into that underside of things they cast him out. Really it was all about unfair competition: the pretenders worried about having to compete for cock action with the real deal. So, I was ejected from that clique and banned from entering the clubs I was working for! A little after that my friend Ewan died. When it was discovered that heroin was involved I was warned out of Soho altogether, threatened that if I stepped foot in the square mile again I'd be the next one getting buried. Well, you know me, the first thing I did on hearing that was take a RETURN ticket into town. Nothing happened. One club promoter made a spurious attempt to attack me with a broken bottle – only to be miraculously restrained by some passing eighty year old invalid! I saluted and bowed out the scene.
Final letter #5
Dear Alan, the time has come to thank you for not fucking my mother – it's always the hallmark of genuine friendship. Though you did have ample opportunity, and that was hard enough to live with at the time. D'you remember those evenings that we used to pass in my bedroom having smoking sessions? By midnight we'd be completely wrecked, just sat there staring into the immediate nothingness. The night seemed so terribly lonely and sad in those moments. Sadder still were the noises which came through the wall, from my mother's room next-door: her groans and screams as she fucked her way through the lodgers (even those with rent arrears!) It still touches me to remember how you never once remarked on it, just always stretched across and turned the music up to drown it out. You was the only friend who knew anything of the real problems that were going on in my home. Then of course there was that terrible afternoon when you had to help me lift my mother off the floor and put her on the couch. Do you remember? Gravity had really gotten a hold of her that day, and no matter how we tried to lift her she always flopped about and dragged down heavy in some other place. It was as if her bones had been removed. Again, you never made a thing of it... not a word. We just went outside and shared a silent cigarette on the balcony. That's when she started calling: “Allaaaaan.... Alllaaaaan...” I called back asking what she wanted. She screamed: “I want Alan, NOT YOU!” And so you handed me the cigarette and went to see what she wanted. What she wanted was pretty damn clear: when you opened the door she was lying bollock naked on the couch with her legs spread, a hulk of dribbling meat, like something that had fallen off a Francis Bacon painting. I was just behind and pulled you out the room before you could see too much... and you'd already seen too much. As we got back outside we heard the thud of her body as it fell off the sofa and landed on the floor. I looked at you. “Just leave it,” you said, “just leave it.” And for the first time in my life I did... I just left it.
Anyway, my mother's much better now. She's completely off the drink and hasn't touched crack or heroin in almost four years. Once she gets off the methadone she'll be completely clean. But the thing is this: you really have missed your chance, Boy-O! Ten years ago she went through the menopause and now even the mention of sex makes her shiver with disgust. It's still hard getting my head around that. Most adults find it difficult to imagine that their parents still have sex; I find it difficult to imagine my mother NOT having sex. But it's happened: age has tamed the old girl. In that way, it's really very sad.
Oh Alan, surely all this didn't happen as long ago as the years say it did? But if not then how come we're all getting old, and some of us have died, and my mother's an OAP? Time's passed Alan... time's really passed and it makes me sad to know it. It's such an impossible thing to comprehend. Can you fathom it? It makes me think of this mental retard I knew growing up called Chris. He was in his thirties and I was nine. We used to ride our bikes together, but mostly he just sat on his and watched. Years later, whenever I'd bump into him, he'd start up with these retarded innocent questions... over and over.
“You got the time, mate?” he'd start off with. Then: “Have you seen Johnny lately? How's Johnny? Have you seen Johnny?” Then he'd ask: “What year is it today?” I would tell him that the day doesn't have a year, and he'd reply “Everything has a year!” That's when he'd start up with: “Where does time go? It must go somewhere? Do you know where time goes? Funny thing, time! Where does it go? Do YOU know? Time, it must go somewhere?”
Well, now I'm the mental retard, and I'm asking you: What year is it today? Have you seen Johnny lately? Where does time go? It must go somewhere? Do YOU know?
- - -
Alan, what a life its been. I think I'm tired. Other than our bones we'll never get a break... that's just one of those happy endings I was talking about. The marks they're really beginning to show. I'm starting to look like the life I've led, and I suppose you don't look much better. If you have news don't send it my way... we're different people now, and this letter is to who you was then. I prefer to remember you like that... Young, wild and sacred, kicking back at life while smarting from love's first tender blows. That was You and that was Me and that was another time...
Take Care, My Friend... In Loving Memory of a time that was... Six summers yours,