When the Devil came to rest I was a third through the good of my life and it was springtime.
God, it's spring, I thought, pausing in the street and closing my eyes. I hadn't felt the spring for many a season and now here it was. I sucked in the scents of the morning and held. I had forgotten just what a pleasure fresh air was. It felt good, like menthol or eucalyptus flowing through my respiratory system, flushing out all the gunk of sick living. I took in another deep lungful, let it seep down into my muscles and unclog my pores from the inside out. I wanted to be burst full of all the day had to offer, to be steeped in every poison and fragrance which travelled along on the whip of the season. I lowered the zip of my jacket and let the crisp cold have my neck and skin. A feint mist sat in the distance and seemed to clean the town. I walked with my arm out, my fingers trailing through hedgerow and foliage, disturbing the cold droplets from the night's rain. I felt the wet on my hand, running cold beneath my sleeve. I could have wept in joy, a strange relief hitting me at being privy once again to such irritable sensations. The smell of dustbins and refuse drifted out the damp front yards. And even that was a pleasure.
On the high-street I followed the morning slew of people as they made their way down towards the market. I passed the early bird businesses: the butcher's with its cutlets of meat laid out; the baker's full of freshly risen dough; the newsagent's, the ink of their gossip barely dry. A double-decker bus pulled out from its stop. As it passed by the hydraulics of the automatic door system let out a hiss, and a warm front of oil and diesel fumes accompanied me for a moment. I remembered days picking wild raspberries along the motorway, getting snagged and scratched on the bramble. It was years since I'd last had such memories, memories I could taste and feel as if they had happened only yesterday. What memories did come to me during addiction were hollow, forlorn things with Arctic winds scraping about around them and sad echoed voices drifting in empty out the expanse of time. I tried to recall the last time I had been freezing cold or tormented by the heat of summer. I couldn't. Heroin, in numbing the required emotions, had numbed a lot else besides. It had created a calm constant, cocooned me safely within the centre of a place void of all extremes. But now, four days in on methadone, the longest I'd been without smack in three years, the world was a melting pot of sounds and smells and colours and sensations, all reminding me of a life I had once meditated in and thrived off, yet a life which in other ways had touched me so profoundly that such rawness had been unbearable. This morning it wasn't unbearable. After such a hiatus I wanted to be around normal, everyday things, partake in a life that I had gladly abandoned for the hook of the heroin spike. As walked I listened to the clip of my heels on the paving, took a strange delight in the grit crunching beneath my soles as I crossed streets and roads.
In the market I wandered around looking at the cheap wares of faulty and imported goods. I passed by slowly, perusing in each stall like it were a book to be deciphered. There were stalls full of leatherware, and handbags; others selling luggage and travel packs. There were stalls of linen and bedding, and still more of nothing other than kitchen utensils: trays of plated stainless steel cutlery, tin-openers and egg whisks. At the top end I passed Sikh and Muslim fabric stores, caressed rolls of cotton and silk and roughed my hands over yarns of sequins. I found myself in strange African general stores, peering into deep freezers packed full of frozen bush meat and smoked snake. Making my way back down I followed the scents of dry-roasted Eastern breads, of hummus and falafel, feta cheese and marinated and pickled olives. I passed the fresh fish stands, eyed buckets of sloppy octopus and crates of dying crabs. I smelt the shit of rock oysters and the congealed black blood of shark, reflected on the fact that they were once living creatures with a fury for life as great any. I paused at the meat auction, stood staring at the butcher in his bloody white apron as he tied up bags of half rotten kidneys for pensioners chewing on their gums. Down onto the fruit and vegetable stalls, the musty smell of turned earth and leeks and onions. There was something in the things from the ground which beckoned me, some connection with root and growth and natural living. I had a queer desire to jump into the potato stall and roll around in the loose soil, get back to some place essential from where I had come. I must have been sunk in worlds of thought, as when I next looked up I had come full circle and was wandering aimlessly back around by where I had started. Only now it was the start of something else. From out of nowhere a terrible spring wind whistled through the marketplace. It gusted up the canvas covers of the stalls and blew boxes and rotten vegetables across the floor. My fellow market-goers seemed not to pay it any mind. They milled about just as before, only now they appeared terribly down, weather worn and life-beaten. An old woman passed me by with her head hunched into her chest. She carried a white plastic bag full of oranges. The bag seemed to contain a coldness, like it was full of ice. The handles cut into the soft of her fingers and cut off her circulation. Her presence irritated me. On a pitch to my left was a stall piled high with boxes of toys; the kind of cheap plastic rubbish which make children cry on opening them. Down on the ground, in a small inflated paddling pool full of water, swam half a dozen gaudy blue and orange battery operated deep-sea divers. They rattled and buzzed and crashed into one another, and in a very particular way, horrified me.
“THe waY Of all soRrow iS bY Here”
That was the last thing I saw on leaving the market. A crazed man in a faded suit, stamping around in circles of torment, those words on a banner, stuck to a broom handle and held aloft. I followed his directions, for so was my only way home.
* * *
I saw him from afar. Long-haired John making his miserable way down on the other side of the road. He raised a hand and beelined across to me. He was wearing his cut down brown military bottoms, his lower legs cratered in needle marks and sores. I eyed my way up his body and it only got worse. His lips were dry and cracked and flecked in black scabs; he had filth and dried saliva in his beard. Without even greeting me he said me that he was 'as sick as a dog' and asked if I could help him out with a small lend of cash. I couldn't. I said that I was running on dry myself, that I was well only due to methadone. He stood there with a tortured expression on his face, as if he were hurting from some place deep inside his body.
“What about your bank card?” he asked. I shook my head, beginning to move on. I'm sick as a fucking dog, he said again, following besides me like some leprous mendicant, his grubby hand lightly upon me as if to slow me down to his sick gait. He told me that with my card I could withdraw cash I didn't have. I told him that that was called an overdraft and that my bank had judged me too irresponsible to have one. I said that anything he could suggest I had surely already thought of. He went silent for a moment, trying to think up anything that maybe wasn't so obvious. He came back with nothing.
“So what, you've not got a penny? Not enough for a single bag? Not even a fiver?” I repeated I was all out, as beaten as he was.
“And juice? You said ya'v got some juice. Ya got a bit for me?” I said that I didn't even have enough for myself, that I couldn't help him today. He didn't believe me. A look of hatred flashed across his face, thinking that I was holding out on him. I pulled my arm free from his retaining hold and walked a pace faster, hoping he'd fall away and disappear out of sight. He didn't. John remained there, a filthy, lingering presence, like a soiled rag fluttering about on the periphery of my vision. Making extra effort to put some distance between us I heard his last words. They slopped out his mouth like lumps of stodgy wet oatmeal. “Mate, I'm fuckin' dying 'ere... Gotta be summit' you can do? I'm seriously fucking dying.”
I didn't doubt it. After an awkward silence I shouted back: There's fuck all I can do, John... I'm down to the same nothing as you. Then John did slow. Though, no matter how far behind he tailed off, I could still somehow sense his presence, his hand held out and a look of desperation on his ravaged face, hoping against all hope that I'd turn around and offer him a way out, save his rotten soul for one more day.
I circled the streets trying to rid my mind of John and of a certain cold, detachment which had first became apparent as I left the market. I tried consciously to reconnect with the season, feel its complete dominion over my soul as it had done not even two hours before. But there were now ghosts in the spring. I found them hidden in the blossom, in dark shadows behind the mulberry bush, whirring around like cirrus clouds in the sky, croaking with the Larks, and in the dead foetuses of pigeons jellied in the gutters. Imbued in the portrait of the new found spring was some terrible ill-boding left behind by the thaw of winter. Vague memories sat in the sparkling dew drops on leaves; the rot of turned compost beneath hedgerow now spoke of death and decomposition and not of birth and growth and nutrients. The slick wet roads and pavements glimmered with a damp depression. There were too many things in this world which the spring could not cleanse, things so unnatural and manufactured that they were beyond the touch of nature or weather fronts. I lit a cigarette and almost vomited. In the dull middle of my liver the last milligrams of methadone were being absorbed. For the first time since stepping out that morning a reckless twinge of disregard entered my thoughts. Fuck methadone! It had shown me the spring, had cleared my lungs out and had maybe allowed a vein to heal or my swollen hands to recover, but it had also delivered me back to a world which had an icy hollowness at its heart. I thought of the bank card in my inside pocket, how useless it was today but how tomorrow it would be my salvation.
At the end of Boscombe road I stopped and stood staring at half a dozen rubbish bags dumped besides the post box. One was ripped open, its contents spilt out onto the street: tins of tuna in brine and cat food; mouldy bread and soggy news' headlines; wraps of soiled nappy and losing scratch cards; perfect home magazines and junk mail for pizza; strained tea-bags and empty packets of prescription drugs. It was like an anatomical study of modern life. I walked on, an abysmal sadness then provoked within me. Through the park a dog squatted on its haunches and squeezed out a slop of yellow turd, all the while watching me. When it had finished it sniffed the ground where its arse had been and then hoovered through the grass, the dew wetting the straggles on its lower legs. I had smelled such dogs throughout my entire lifetime, the burning carbon of excrement wafting over British bogland and drifting like smoke upon the river. A woman cut through the pathway in a white fur coat. Out in the distance sirens wailed. Somewhere a fire blazed, and in me, something was rising and burning too.
By the time I had circled back around and hit the crossroads of my own road the afternoon hung bleak all over. But the bleakness wasn't in the day, it was in me. It bled out and induced itself in everything, even in inanimate objects. I strode, dark down my road, back home to wait out the wait. The sun broke through the day and I cursed it. I had not even 24 hours to go until I'd be able to score again. The Devil's rest was all but over. I had seen the spring and I had seen the sun and had smelled life and it had smelled good for a moment. But now, all too soon, old sensations had come in with the season, sensations of which I had needed to escape and had wanted no part of so many years before.
I had nothing just now and the day would have me suffer in my rightful hell, but tomorrow things would change and fortunes would improve. Yes, tomorrow would be here so slow and so soon and with it, up on up, the Devil would rise in me again and spring upon the spring once more.
- - -
Thanks as ever for reading... next post will be a little lighter: a leaving letter to my landlord.