The Night That The Storm Came In


I want to tell you of the night that the storm came in. Of how I was out on my feet, wandering around town and hoping for an act of God to prevent me from ever making it home again. I want to tell you of the night the storm came in, how I saw all my pasts and futures at once and felt like screaming out about something so terrible in the present. I need to tell you of that storm, of how the light collapsed into yellow and hung overhead, of that strange mood that made the world take notice and of the silence which allowed single leaves to be heard in the little swirls they'd been caught up in. I want to tell you of how the sky lost its mind, and of the haunted song that that first rebel wind sung as it snaked its way through nothing streets. The storm touched me that night. It whipped up grit around me and stung me, and it was hard not to weep in the pause of that great foreboding. I have to tell you of that storm, of our storm, a common storm... of a beauty that came in from the distance, rolling like the furious sea and churning up blues and silvers and golds. I want to tell you of the eyes I saw, how lost they'd become and how I knew we'd never survive another. It was like that for so many that night, half the city, running in fear for their lives while being chased down by a darkness they hoped would never arrive. And I was walking around town, miserable with life, a rotten heart, poor lungs, circling the old square and thinking about young whores and young love and how I had no money to rent or keep either. And that was when the first splodge of the great wash arrived... Thick and singular: SPLODGE. Just like that. Just the one and then a pause and then nothing and then just another. O, CLACK! A cracking whip somewhere out there, fathoms deep in the nowhere. And then the sky shattered and lit up and gave light, and the old bastard was upon us, running us down and raging away through the heart of our town. Through the haze of that violence I watched the destruction play out, wanted to fall into it and be consumed by it. The trees around me bent and swayed, those with weak roots were pulled right on up and carried away. What was not nailed down and what had no heart was taken too. Some roofs collapsed and others slid right off; the old school became a hollow, whistling spirityard of tragedy and horror, all the children from all the years screaming in unison as the terror finally came. The city took it hard that night, took one hell of a beating. And I was out and I watched it happen and I never wanted to make it home again.

There were fires up on the hill in the distance. Sheets of lightning, jagged too, explosions and flames and dragons' tongues. Smoke rose off that thing like water sizzling on hot stone, and all around, O great hell had broken loose. There was some fury out in our world that night, something that we all understood but which noone could explain. The first of the city's rivers burst her banks and after that the second too. Cars trying to out speed the storm were washed across the road and into each other, a great skidding opera as the water rose, spinning with the fish that looked out into a strange new world. And that was the storm, the thrashing we had been waiting for all these years, the test of who we were and what we had left. In that force people were crucified, went down without a murmur and even less hope. For once you could do nothing but surrender, give yourself up to a greater power and be thankful that kicking back was no option at all. I was stopped still, in that old square, being whipped by winds and stoned with hail and staring out into the whirr that had come to greet me then. And I'm telling you, and I said it before, there was gold out there... Gold and silver and pewter and yellow. And it was like a place I'd seen before, like a dream and like a river, like everything I'd ever wanted.

'Worst Storm Since '88', it read when it was all over and finished.
'17 dead in a Once in a Generation Tempest'
'Dog Found Stranded on a Raft. Weak but alive. BELIEVED TO HAVE A HEART!'

And that was the storm. All gone and all blown out, the city and its people stripped of everything they didn't need. In the old square I had watched it come in, watched it prepare its way and had looked through it in search of something I didn't know what. And when the night finally closed down, when we'd all had enough, soaked through and nauseous with water, I was left with just one way to go and that way was East. In the miserable, tail-end dripping of such fury, with the storm's better half all raged through, tender tender now, I took out a cigarette and made to light it up. Marinated through it broke at the filter and folded over, hung from my lips like I was a beaten man. I was. I was walking home to my second night in a bed that would smother me in torment, have me come to in the violence of solitude, mad for yesterday again.

Thanks as ever for Reading... Shane. X

Lines for Joe M




2 Stories of the Sea & Love


The cabbage came to the boil and it smelled like the sea, the sea on the stones and in the kelp, the smell of the old rotting pier and the barnacles and mussels clamped on down low in the shade and damp. I often think of the sea. I've never lived in a seaside town nor alongside the coast. I can barely swim and I despise the sun and hot, sticky days beneath it. But on certain days the sea still comes and I can hear the screams and they are not screams of horror.

My last but one told me a story of the sea and I told her one back. Mine wasn't so good. I thought I could get a laugh but I told it badly and it didn't even get that. I'll tell it here. Just for the record. Everyone's heard it anyway. It was that day I was dragged off to Brighton by that Italian Girl, the one who cried herself to sleep over my use of opiates; the one who thought anything besides straightforward in-and-out sex was perverted and odd; the one who left a stain on the mattress in the shape of the missionary position. I'd be fantasizing of the craziest shit as we fucked. Maybe she was too? Though I doubt it. When we eventually split and had it out, the only time we ever spoke of such things, her body betrayed her and her eyes teared up and she gagged. She was preparing to say “You should have told me... I'd have done that!” Those dry heaves made me terribly sad, like she couldn't have done anything worse than that. Anyway, she took me to the sea. She was from Naples and had such a desperate longing for the ocean.

“Please don't be getting stoned,” she said.
“I've nothing to get stoned with,” I told her. “We'll pass my mum's on our way to the Station.”
“Why?”
“Got to drop off something for her fella.”

Why I still lied I couldn't say. She had long ago made the connection with me visiting mum and an hour later my pupils pinning up and a giant's slumber filling me without warning.

We arrived at the seaside in the early afternoon. I had come around numerous times on the train down, had watched the countryside hurtling by outside, and now I opened my eyes to us slowly pulling into Brighton Station, the unmistakeable scent of sea air floating through the old train carriage, boiled eggs and tomato and the feint sound of the high ocean.

My girl wasn't angry; it had passed. And then it passed some more. Out of the train and heading down the platform you could see straight up ahead, right through the station to the city outside, the hordes of people making their way down, and at the end the bulging sea, like some huge heart expanding and contracting away.

“The sea,” she whispered like it were something sexual. “The sea.” And she looked at me with a wonder that I thought adults no longer possessed. Then she held me and close in she whispered once more, “the sea.”

The sea was wild. Choppy and powerful. The danger signs were out 'NO SWIMMING'. Up above the sun appeared dazzled by its own brilliance. It was beating down, so hot it seemed to muffle all sounds except the heave and sway of that fucking ocean.

“We can still swim,” she said, excited. “I will!”

I looked at the sea. There were a few people out in it, bobbing around like sewage between swollen rows of waves. “You go ahead... Enjoy yourself. Like I said, I'll just watch.”

We laid our bags down and set out a large towel on the stones. I had a shitty little transistor radio. I tuned it into a mess of static and let it crackle on like that in the afternoon. She looked at me. “Come on,” she said, “make an effort.”
“What?”
“Your top... Your boots!!!”
“I'm good just like this.” She stared at me incredulously, sitting there in my long-sleeved white cotton top, cut down military trousers, black, steel toe-capped Doc Martin boots and shades.

“You can't sunbathe like that. Only your knees and nose are showing!”
“All the more skin cancer for everyone else,” I said. I just wanted to sleep and dream of dragonflies and a small boat gently lulling on the waters, out there in the deep blue of nowhere.

They removed the dangerous current signs at around 2pm. My girl had already been swimming and now woke me excited, pestering me to go in the shallows. After a moment I gave in, reckoned on giving her ten minutes and then I could get back to reading and drifting off.

“You must remove your boots to go in the sea,” she said. “You'll lose them if not.”

I took the Slacker's option. I redid my laces, tied them tight around the uppers of my boots so as they couldn't be pulled off. She shook her head but I could tell she kinda enjoyed leading me down to the water in my boots and shades, looking like some drug fiend who was being shown 'How To Have Fun'. I strode into the water, into the shallows where the children were running in and out from the waves and screeching wildly. I could see people on the beach laughing at me. I walked into the water up to my knees. It felt good, cool, like a young memory I only barely still remembered. That's when the wave appeared. We saw it coming from a long way off, a big swell of water pushing in.

“Get back a little,” she said. She remained bobbing in the water, waiting to impress me with how well she would navigate the incoming bulge. I retreated to a safe place. The wave hit and the water came up to my hips and almost lifted me off my feet. Then everything stopped, like the moment was on pause, and then came the suck, the horrendous sound of hundreds of thousands of small stones being pulled over the larger ones as the sea took back what it had given. Now, somehow, the full might of the sea was in my boots, a force pulling from inside the steel toecaps, pulling me out and laying me back in the same movement. I was under the water, under the damn sea and being dragged out. I tried to right myself but my boots were then a terrible weight and it was impossible. I panicked in a struggle to unlock myself from the sea, the water rushing up my nose and taking my breath. I caught dirty snapshots of bubbles and driftwood and wide planes of sunlight shining somewhere through the water. Then came those muffled screams of joy, the beachgoers screaming from the excitement of the wave. For one awful moment a panic hit so terrible that no-one had noticed me disappear and the world would play the sounds of a wild summer day as I lost my fight to right myself. And then my face somehow broke the water and something behind me was giving me just enough angle to right myself. My Italian Girl, laughing: “I knew that would happen, going into the sea stoned like that. you should have seen how quickly you disappeared. PLOOOP and you were gone! Idiot!

I couldn't talk. I was flushed pale with shock and gulping for oxygen. I let her turn me around and lead me back to the shore. Up, safe on the beach, I said: “It wasn't the drugs. It was these fucking boots... filled with the fucking backwash!”
“Ah, yes, you are right. It wasn't the drugs it was absolute stupidity!”

It wasn't stupidity either but I didn't argue. In fact it was something far worse, a character trait that would almost have me dead on several occasions and even more often have me harm myself. I guess that was how I sourced out love and friendship in those early years of my life, the only way I knew how without having to speak too many words.

The sea had ruined my high. I wanted no more to do with it. I sat back down on our towel. I had lost my shades. I urged the Italian back out into the sea, told her to go swim and have fun. I pretend read as she hurried off, dripping wet over the stones and back on down to the water. When she was safely in the sea I turned on my side, went through my bag and pulled out a strip of subutex. I crushed down four and hooted them up and then laid back, waiting for the sun to blur, the sounds to merge and drone out and a warm tranquillity to put me out under the glorious day.

I couldn't remember moving but I must have. Maybe I did so in increments as the tide slowly came in up the beach. For whatever reason I moved she couldn't find me. She woke me up furious in the late afternoon, standing over me, tears of anger in her eyes and screaming. I couldn't hear her words and anyway they didn't seem too important just then. I had something much more pressing to tell her, an instinct which made anything else irrelevant:

“I feel like I'm dying,” I said. “Something's happened. ”
“You're burnt to a crisp you fool! You must have been asleep in the sun for more than three hours! You have sunstroke!”

She gave me water and cooled my head and chest. She fed me small squares of chocolate and fanned me with a piece of card. After a moment I felt a little better, still very weak but better. We packed up our belongings and made it off the beach. Our return train was for 7pm. We decided to quit ahead of time and took a slow walk back to the station.

“You're a walking disaster,” she said.
“Maybe, but it's mostly only ever me who suffers.” She looked at me with eyes that called bullshit.

The day had completely drained me. I was burnt and dehydrated. All I wanted was to be on the train, resting as we travelled home through the darkening evening. Back in London we had a room and in the room we had a bed. The room was clean and the bed was fresh. That idea occupied my mind as we walked through the dusk, that and the thought of ice fresh water. Any day can be perfect if it just ends well, I thought.

7h15 and our train was nowhere to be seen. Neither were there any other beachgoers at the station. I sought out our return tickets and went in search of a station attendant. I didn't find one; I didn't need to. Reading over the tickets as I searched I noticed that our return train was at 6pm not 7. We had missed it and there were no more trains to London until the following morning.

“We're slightly fucked,” I told the Italian on my return. “The last train for London left at just after six and there are no more until morning.”
“6 PM??? But why our ticket says 7 then?”
“Fuck knows. That gorilla in the ticket office must have fucked up.” She shook her head in total disappointment, seemed to know instinctively that it was me who had fucked up. Then she must have remembered that I was ill. “How you feeling?” she asked.
“Not bad... Better. I was looking forward to lying down so badly, was thinking of just that.”
“The night will be cool... It'll be good for you.”
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
She nodded.
“Come on, lets find some place to get something to eat. We can rest inside for a while.”

We found a Fish Shop down a quite deserted little backstreet close to the sea. It didn't look like it did much trade. On entering it was clear that the owner was on his way through closing up for the evening. “Sir?” he enquired.
“You done for the evening?” I asked. He nodded. “Almost. Why, what were you after?”
“Fish and chips.”
“We've fish... no chips. Hang on right there.”
He returned with a tray of battered cod. “Half price,” he said. We took two pieces.
“You down from the city?” he asked. “Got family back there?”
“Some,” I said.
“Hmmm... Some. You think they like fish? REAL fresh fish straight from the sea?”
“I guess they would. You only get fresh fish in London if you catch it yourself. Ans even then it's not certain.”

We paid for our two pieces of battered cod and wished the Fish Man a goodnight. “Here,” he said, handing me a bag. “Fresh Brighton cod for the family... 7 pieces. I was about to leave it out for the cats.”
“Serious? That's very kind of you.”
“Take a drink too,” he said.
The Italian took a cola and I took a bottle of fresh, chilled water.

Back out the night was almost upon us. “Let's go back to the sea,” I said, “find some place to sit and eat our supper.”

We found a bench up on the main road, directly looking out at the sea. The coming night was mild. Not hot and sticky and not cold. Just perfect. We unwrapped our fish and sat staring out and eating. At the back of the sea, on the horizon, there was a light that lit up the very top of the water neon blue. I didn't know what that light was but I knew it wasn't the setting sun. We both sat and watched that light, eating our cod with our fingers. ”The sea contains magic,” she said.
“I know it,” I replied. “Beautiful wayward magic that cannot be harnessed by man. That's what that light is, an illumination of everything we can never know.”

We finished our fish and shared another piece besides. With no warning and not looking at me she asked: “Will you ever do anything without drugs?”
I heard but didn't reply, sat there in silence as if I were thinking. After a while she said, “Hey?”
“Maybe one day,” I said. “Maybe one day I will”.

She turned and threw herself around me, gripping on tightly and burying her face in my shoulder. I thought she was crying but she wasn't. She was feeling the beginning of the end of her feelings, knew she wasn't cut out for a future of this. I let her hold on, stared at her sea in the distance as she silently, unknowingly undid the first chain of her bondage.

- -

She broke the stillness of the water sometime that morning, walked into the clear emerald sea and fell into a swim. There was a surfer out, waiting for waves, but there were no waves to be had. She would swim out so far she couldn't be seen from the shore, would spend hours out there alone, just floating with her head back. This is the story she told just not how she told it. Neither did she tell it all. Maybe she couldn't or maybe she didn't know it all. It was a story about the beauty and relief of giving up, of witnessing the awesome power of the elements and understanding some intrinsic connection with nature. It was confirmation of death being quite OK under the right circumstances, a return to something, not an end.

So, the green sea spread out from a deserted beach in Costa Rica. Since arriving three weeks beforehand she had all but lived in the water. She was out on her travels alone, just her and a little hut on the beach and an array of credit cards. The water was mysteriously calm that morning, sat there like it had given up for the day. She didn't tell it like that but that's how it was.

What was also how it was was that the water was so clear you could see the fish through it. They followed, curious, and after some days were curious no more and didn't even disperse when she kicked up into a swim.

“You become a real part of nature,” she said. “Very different from having a pet of being a farmer or zoo keeper. Out there, like that, you are interacting as a free wild animal and the wildest animal is the sea... it's alive.”

So, she was out, floating with her head back as usual, and then she rolled and dived and swam. And that was when a mighty and invisible force collected her and kept her under and took her out. She fought to get to the surface but it was impossible. She described it as trying to navigate through multiple planes of overlapping glass. But the weird thing was the fish, all rippling away in the same force, leading her, following her, hardly exerting any energy at all. After a moment she did break the surface, found herself being rushed out to sea. She was caught in a powerful current which was impossible to swim against. I didn't understand that. I visualized it as walking up a downwards moving escalator: difficult but possible.

“Such currents are no downward moving escalators,” she said. “To swim against such a force would be like coming up against rock-face and trying to swim right through it. It's the entire sea pushing in whatever direction it's heading.”

So, the sea had her and it was taking her in the wrong direction and, after a while, when she looked back, she could no longer see the land. That's when a serene calmness overtook her, like the weight of breathing and existing and keeping well, that constant battle to survive and be healthy, had been lifted.

She said that she felt no fear at all, that all she felt was an all encompassing sense of beauty and a deep admiration for the powerful force which had hold of her.

“This innocent element that didn't know who I or my mother was, that didn't care about age or wealth or status, it had hold of me and I understood its almighty power and indifference and it was an honour to be taken in that way. I just felt completely helpless, like my fate was out of my own hands, that it no longer had anything to do with me. I wanted to cry I felt so ecstatic. Something about it seemed so correct. And those fish! They followed all the while, reminded me that I was out of my natural environment and that's why it was so impossible.”

The sea dragged her out for over an hour and, just as quickly as it had taken her, it let her go, dumped her at what she figured was over ten miles from the land. Only then, with no distinguishable reference points to understand her position, she had no idea which way the coast was.

“The sun?” I offered.

“The sun's useless if you don't know it. You only realise once its too late how little notice you take of it. I had an idea which way the coast was, but in such a situation its hard to act on an inclination, knowing you could be swimming to safety in the wrong direction.”

That was when she panicked, knowing her fate was once again back in her own hands. So, she did what most people do when they have no idea what to do: she did nothing. She stayed right where she was, looking out for help, hoping to see a boat. She didn't see a boat, but what she did see were those same fish she knew from closer to the shore.

“They swim with the current,” she told me. “I was no expert but I gathered they had had their free ride and were now making it back to the reef in the shallows.” So she put her faith in something other than herself, latched onto a guide, a belief, and followed the fish. The problem was that every minute seemed like ten and when there was still no land in sight she began to doubt her course.

“You learn that memory, well, recognition, is all mathematics,” she said. “That when everything looks identical that memory doesn't exist as we know it. Imagine if everyone looked identical, all had the same features and the same voice... How would you ever know who said what? Who was who? 360 degrees of sea is like that. There are no reference points. You even become doubtful as to whether you are swimming in a straight line or not. I really almost stopped and did a u-turn, suddenly convinced that land was back in the opposite direction.”

Fortunately she carried on, followed the fish and ignored her doubts. And just when she was really on the point of giving up she saw the faintest trace of something in the far distance, and that something was land.

The full swim back she never made. The surfer who had no waves to surf turned out to be a member of the local lifeguard service. He knew the currents and had noticed her disappear. In a small boat he and a colleague were criss-crossing the area and they spotted her on one of their passes. They picked her up and sped her back to land. She was quite OK, not hurt or injured or suffering from shock. They warned her to be wary of still seas and explained about the dangerous undercurrents which frequently pass under the calm waters. She listened, took notice, but she had her own idea of what would be more helpful. From that day on she began to study the sun, wanted to be always sure of at least one point absolute were she to ever find herself in such dire straits again.

“The sea is amazing,” she said. “I now have more love and respect for it than ever.” Then she said: “I could never live for too long away from the sea... I need it, physically and mentally.”

I nodded, sad. I understood. I needed the city like she needed the sea. Only that need wasn't really what she was communicating. What she was saying was that the romance of living hand-to-mouth in my filthy bedsit was over, that the novelty had worn off and now her mind was thinking of new adventures.

“So, what dyou want to do?” I asked.
“I'd like to go to Paris to see some friends,” she said. “I'll only be gone a couple of days.”
“Is it the drugs?”
“Partly. I thought I'd be able to handle it but I can't. It just seems such a waste. But its not only that... it's everything. I need a break. I need to be alone for a while. Maybe after a day or so I'll want all this back again... I actually found myself in this shitty little room.”

I cried. Told her I couldn't make it on my own.
“You mean without my money? I'll still help... I'll always help.”
“No, not your money. You... Without You the person!”
“You'll survive. You always have. You always find a way.”
“So everyone who shoots thru keeps reminding me. But I'm no survivor... Look at me, my body, I'm quite useless at it.”
“I'm sorry. I tried... I really tried. But I need to be alone... figure my life out.”
“Hang out the month,” I said. “Help get me home and we'll leave together... Say goodbye nicely.” She nodded, slowly, and then said “OK.”

She changed after that. Was happy and light again, began dreaming of all she would do with her young life. I felt better too. I could stop pretending, stop curbing my drug use and denying myself in order to make a visible effort at trying to contain things. I had never promised to contain things but I had taken that road anyhow as a natural gesture after bringing someone into that environment. But now I had no responsibility, nothing to gain through making such a gesture and nothing to lose from being as wayward as my finances allowed. And so I cashed out, scored and used freely with any guilt or conscience or the need to apologize. It still upset her. She tried to control her temper but couldn't. She spent the weeks painting and doing yoga, let me give her guitar lessons when I was wide enough awake. In the late evenings and through the early hours we watched double-titled TV movies: Stolen Innocence - The Taking of Sarah Kindle; Empty Cradle - A Mother's Worst Nightmare. All, supposedly, true suburban horror stories but which had the converse effect of making life inside the screen seem quite serene, like there was some kind of natural, harmonious balance which turned tragedy and horror into a lush sedative. We ran the month out and come the end we were both ready to say goodbye.

It was a sad, tearful day. I took her to the station and promised to put her on the train for Geneva. The train was delayed. First by 30 minutes and then by a further 45. She had noticed me texting, getting more and more anxious about the time, cursing delays and ranting how easy it was to keep trains running on time.

“You can go if you want,” she said.
“Yeah? You sure? You won't be annoyed?”
“I'll be OK. I'll get a coffee. Where must you meet him? Croix Rousse?”
“Yes,” I said, “the Croix Rousse,” a shard of shame stabbing right through me. “I'm already late.”
“Well, you can't miss that can you. Go on... Go score your medicine.”
“The place will be empty when I get back... It'll be terribly lonely without you.”
“You'll get used to it.”
“I'll never get used to loneliness. I hope not anyway.”
“Your writing will ensure you're never lonely for too long.”
“No. My writing will only ensure destitution and no-one will put up with that for too long.”

We held one last time and I looked over the top of her head, through wisps of her hair, at the world. A sea of people, coming and going, staring up at departure and arrival boards, waving goodbyes and greeting hellos.

“Take care You,” I said. “And try to love your mother.” I unhinged, turned, and without looking, left. Walking back through the crowded station alone I could already feel that strange disconnect which comes with waking and living and shopping alone. But, soon enough I'd have some help. The Croix Rousse was waiting for me and the summer had arrived. I thought of her as each footstep took me further away, wondered how she was doing. I imagined her running behind to catch me up, saying to hell with the train and that she didn't want to leave. But it never happens like that. Unimpeded I was down in the metro, a ghost amongst the commuters, travelling the opposite way from home and dreading the emptiness that awaited me in my room that night.

I scored and stayed out late, sat nodding on the steps of the Opera House in the city centre. I sat through the closing of the metro and sat through the gradual dispersal of the tourists and revellers. All who remained were the skateboarders, practising and perfecting their jumps and tricks to the lights and the fountain of the square. I watched those skaters and I remembered a time not so long ago when the world was there to be explored and the nights held a very certain magic. As my eyes closed over again the blue neon backdrop of the city flared and died and I dreamt of a coastal town, the cool salty air coming in from over the water. At gone 2am a text beeped through on my phone: home safely. xhausted. thanx 4 the memories & sorry. I closed the phone and thought of nothing and watched the skaters skate some more. I was exhausted too and I had a long walk home.

When the next skater falls I'll head off, I thought. And then there it was, the thump of a body falling in the night and a skateboard spinning loose across the concrete. It reminded me of the backwash of a wave, the sea retreating and pulling everything into its rightful place.

You'll be OK me old mate, I thought. Just a minor bump. You've the joys of love to flatten you yet... Then the night won't be so brilliant.

Only the night was brilliant. I walked home lonesome amongst many ghosts, felt the sinister city leaning in on me and the pain of existence in my stride. I took out my phone and read her message once more. I wanted to be cruel and bitter, tell her a few home truths. She had arrived with her wealth and riches and had left with them intact while I was in a worse situation than ever. I wrote many replies on that long walk home but I only sent one: No, thank you, it read, tonight I am half alive.

- - -

Two weeks later and I was back under the sea again, rocketing through the Channel Tunnel on the Eurostar. She never did help me get home, took those dirty credit cards of hers and a guitar and canvasses and oil paints and set up life in some shanty town in Southern India. I never thought of her much after that, had maybe just been lonely in those middle years of my life. But like the sea occasionally she'd come , and as the cabbage boiled away on the stove and the cheap potatoes softened and crumbled and turned to mush in their water I thought of her and I thought of the sea and I thought of the life to come. 

- -

Thanks as ever for reading and linking... Shane. X

Lines for Joe M ----> 




The Poet's Curse





I feel it so profoundly that it comes through me as a sadness. But it is not a sadness; it's a beauty, a beauty so dramatic of all the sensations whipped upon me. It feels close to an insanity. Either the most perfect insanity or the most cur'sed. And I see it and feel it and smell it in all things, in every step and every breath and every shattered day or brilliant morning. It's in brick and concrete and metal and flaking paint, in leaves and bush and trees and plant. I come across it in the shade of hidden places, amongst the tiny European lizards that dart upon the walls and scurry down into the undergrowth. It is on the wet of dogs' noses and in the smell of their coats, sheen or soiled. It romances me in piss and beer-soaked telephone booths as I'm carried away on the whiff of metal and polished copper and coin. It's in the methadone clinics, the hospitals; in the cancer patients who stand outside, held up by IV drips, smoking and looking so wistfully at the dew dying in the grass. It's in the crunch underfoot and the chaffing of fabric on fabric; in gravel and snow and ice, in car tyres scrunching over grit. It's in the wild of overflowing gardens, in rose bushes in early autumn. It's in the long shadows of first summer days, in the haze of the distant roar and city spray where the Now feels like a memory and you smelled of fresh soap and water and it was something more than sex and skin and blood. I hear it in the sounds of builders and cries from up on high, in the afternoon drilling and the clink of scaffolding poles. It's in the dust and slop of freshly mixed cement and, way up high, in the isolation of great cranes stranded in the devastating blue of the sky. I smell it in the molten tar when the roads get relaid, in the uncovered bottles of tincture and ointment in Victorian dumps and Roman fares and paths. It's in rusted rakes and spiders' webs and sodden pines and cones and leaves; in the treated wood of garden fence and damp and dampened earth and mossy stones. I feel it in pine needle lawns in small southern Italian towns in the sand and ruins of Pompei and stretched out across the Bay of Naples. In the ghettos of Mermoz Pinel and Villerbaune and far into the distance yonda, Grenoble and then off to nowhere and early dreams of Europe and fiesta and dancing all around. In the scent of old books and printed ink the words themselves are blood in me and I've only ever looked at them in Georges Bataille and Dirty: gazing out at London we [almost] wept. In cherry blossom snow and terraced housing and fragrant streets, in parked cars exhausted under the beating sun, in sap and milk and milky grass as great days blow in and the city is a-bustle and the radio says it's clear skies across a beautiful London town. In the bushes in the thickets in the tramped and trodden porno mags on Hampstead Heath in bodies fucking through the trees and you wanted to swim in the lake while from the hill I watched the suburbs and we rolled in the glade and hooked ourselves on Scottish thistles while they screamed and splashed and played. In the alien nights in Soho, in the acrid smell of amphetamine, in the smoky bar of the Intrepid Fox in the broken bottles and indiscriminate violence in the faces gashed by jagged glass. In the spoon in the cook in the draw in the pin in the passion for life and desire for death in wide open eyes in your desperate climax in the soft of your breast in our myth and obsessions alone on the bridge in the black scorch of river which snakes through the heart of this murderful town past the point where I said so leave if you can in the I'll walk you some more in the arrived all too soon in the decision to sleep, holding each other, on the bench in the common in the freeze of the night in the healing of wounds and the beautiful trauma of young damaged lives. In the cafes in the coffee in the stir in the cup in the harsh bite of winter in the sulphuric night of millennium eve when the world came together and life was no good. It runs through me as a sadness. But it's not a sadness, it's a beauty. A beauty which clings on, stalked me around Europe and European towns and left me screaming for quit into polluted foreign air. It arrived one morning and stood standing five foot nine outside the Perrache railway Station. In the bare room of the St Michel hotel it was there. It lay with us in the carved wooden bed, lingered in the melancholy of deep night. It flickered outside the window in the blue neon gas of the vacancy sign, illuminated briefly her sexual fantasies of sirens and bullets, wept as she narrated the story of our failed heist, holed up suicidal awaiting the loudspeaker and armed police, two people dead and two more to follow. It drifted out those cheap black-market cigarettes, twirled like ribbon and dissipated in the dark. It sat warm in the earliest boulangeries and cafés, could be found in the fumes of the 6am pernod of the loneliest bars. It rang out from the church every hour and was in the funeral knell of Sunday afternoons. O My Love, let me ruin your life for just one more day. But she was gone, and it resided so terribly in the gone.

O it came and it pooled out of me as a sadness. It came through youth and I didn't know what it was. It was there in my sick bed during long fantastic days off school; came in on the drone of helicopters and the mid-afternoon screams and whistles from the schoolyard opposite. It passed by the window as a millipede of children, cruel and unruly, looking in and laughing as it made its way down to the local swimming baths. It was in the smell of chlorine, in pruned skin and warts and verrucas, in the hideous stench of changing rooms and sour milk, humid feet and prepubescence. It was in me and I don't remember a time when it was not. It roared by in the whoosh of freedom, expanded in my eardrums as I freewheeled downhill for life. Come each dusk I would feel it, would stare out as the sun collapsed and the city died, would want to cry over nothing I could fathom. It came in with history and it overwhelmed me and made me mute. And those were the first lashes from the whip and it was in the whip and in the lash and in the rhythm and the meter and the crack and the yelp of youth. It circled by overhead in the traumatic squawkings of seagulls, sounded in the high winds and arctic skies. It frothed out from my mother's mouth in the back of an ambulance and spread out in the bruises across her chest in intensive care. It comes through ugly and then turns beautiful, comes beautiful and ugly again. On a terrible night I wrote. It was the first time and it made me ill and she nursed me better. It was in me then and in the bright cold healthy morning. I woke up freshly damned and I wanted nothing more.



Thanks for reading... Shane. X

The Junking Ballad of Earling Mid-Morning



A little spoken word poem. Enjoy it at your pleasure...





7.30am Gorge de Loup standing in the raining doing my renting money again feeling like shitting no needles pharmacy opening at 9 getting the yawnings methadone all going sweating it out on metro dirty clothing filthy fingering heading down towning feeling like shitting burning tearing cracking lips and sores on my face.

Two grams in handing no cleaning syringes pharmacy sleeping 9am opening feeling like shitting soaking in sweating stinking 'tween workers backing the metro gotting the yawnings burning eyes rawing heading on home n god damning those shit lazing pharmaceutical workings.

An hour to killing to get out of jailing feeling like shitting guts full of sicking big nose keeps dripping 2 grams in handing riding the Metro green line the D line the one auto driving am making it homing and maybe thanksgiving muscles up cramping convulsive gagging watching the second hand ticking an tocking.

Sold to the hard life live hand to mouthing rushing through tunnels an' black carbon dusting could be the night~time these early mornings making it homing diss honest grafting shovelling shitting pot handling digging chasing the ghostings back through the old town waiting on something zero to nothing guts swaying rough seas handing to mouthing crawling the hallway sicking the dog's bowl groaning and weeping damning the clocking 8.45ing making to leaving limping like deaths gripped around my left leg.

Loyal 9aming clocking in staffing pharmacy open 2 grams in handing needing some stocking Christmas steriboxing one euro two needles forgetting 'bout shitting striding the long stride sweating this morning junkie speed walking got all that I needing keys in my handing rattling sounding god blessing the landlord and Bulgarian gangsters.

Salut filthing bedsit salute the rain shining the rhyme pitter pattering softly outsiding do devil play kindly no blood bath this morning a quick cooking filter quick finding the lining good drawing good swabbing tying the meating probing a home run a big fly Babe Ruthing nectaring honey flowing upstreaming the lurch of the D train barebacking its sleepers curing my sicking my yellowing fever laying so lowing kissing pink tilings spilling all worry clean outing my minding nodding down heading syringe free falling strung out for drying through the sweet middle morning.


Thanks for reading/listening... All My Best, Shane. X

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Deathly Hallows


(The opening text of The Void Ratio - a book by Shane Levene & Karolina Urbaniak).

Into these deathly hallows. I Love you Darling. Do you find the landscape bleak? The fog sat low outside and the dew in the grass by the motorway? These things puncture the skin, that is all. Don't be scared. It's not like in the movies. I'll wake up in the morning, you'll see. You'll find me just where I am now: sat at the table near the window, in the breaking light of day, where the syringe replaces religion - held up, air bubbles flicked and rising free, its needle a part of the modern city skyline. London in the new millennium. All silver and aluminium and glass, reflecting the world two tones darker. Sleep well, Princess.... Who knows what life may bring today. Those clouds sure don't look good. And the seagulls. Can you hear them in your dreaming? Squawking away and going bird-crazy over some death in the river? Their silhouettes against the sky, against the last smoke of the industrial age. Oh, I'd cry eternally if it wasn't for THIS. Things are changing, Darling. The world is on the turn. War is coming, like you'll never believe. Don't you see it migrating out of North Africa and the Middle East? Sweeping across Europe? Not a religious war as such. More a war of the old ways versus the new. A war over what's gone on and what's been said; over what is left and in what direction the future world will take.



<--- Total ignorance THIS WAY

Total depravity THIS WAY --->



And you know which side I'm on. If only you could see what I see as I hold this needle to the sky. This sky which loves birds and hates the nuclear bomb. Really, it does. Now, if I can just... 

Oh, you've risen. I have been going on some. Are you weeping or is it the condensation on the window? Don't cry for me; cry for yourself. I'm your tragedy now; not mine. My tragedy I've long since forgotten what it is. At 18 I could have shown you. At 25 I could have told you. But not anymore. I no longer believe in individual tragedy, except yours of course, and that's only because you fuck so much more intensely when you're psychotic. Fuck. That hurt. Sometimes it hurts so little and other times it hurts so much. And you know, I know every type of pain there is. No pain is serious. It's just, well, painful. Death doesn't hurt. Dying is easy. It's holding onto life which hurts. People don't realize that. Junkies don't realise that. Numbing the pain is holding onto life, not chucking it away. Don't be fooled by peoples' make-up or myths. What I'm doing isn't self-destructive, it's quite the opposite. The médecins sans frontiers are self-destructive. Applaud them. Hero-worship them. Walk about pretending to be them. I'm not willing to die. I'm doing everything and more to stay alive. Aaaahh. Fuck. That tastes so good... Ohhh.



There was an old black and white film I once watched. It was an afternoon matinee at the Riverside Studios. I remember how the lights dimmed dark, and then came the silence, and then the crackling sound of static and old reel. I watched in horror as my life unfurled...

- - -

A new Memoires text coming soon... A work detailing the hell and misery that was present in my life during the writing of The Void Ratio. X






The Art of Being Poor


Sometimes you have to walk. You have to walk miles to tramp out the shame and disgust. I had to walk 6 miles. I had a supermarket coupon - 50% off a bag of frozen paella. The cashier shook her head and handed me the coupon back. Her enamelled red nail poked at some pygmy writing on the reverse.

"Not here," she said, directing her eyes up at me.


"I received it from this store."

"Yes, that's right. But it's an offer valid only in our Super-Stores. The nearest one is in town."

"In town?"

"As I said. But pay attention: the offer runs out tomorrow and is conditional upon available stock. Would you still like to purchase the item, sir?"

I cast my eyes down at the frozen sack of paella and shook my head. “No,” I said. Without looking back up I grabbed my empty shoulder bag and snook out the shop, cursing and furious, a pressure building in my head and blood flushing through my face. Sure, I could have bought something else, something cheap, but my mind was set on the paella, sweet, golden-yellow Valencian paella with rice and peas and chicken and seafood. I could already smell it cooking up in the pan, the rich aromas steaming away on my plate and drifting around the room. “Fucking shysters!” I hissed, tramping furious down the street. My mind throbbed away, a-rage with thoughts of retribution. I envisioned scenarios from thumping the cashier to sending a notice of civil claim to the stores' Regional Director, citing public humiliation as my grievance. I made raving promises to myself that, in revenge, I would return to the store with a similar coupon, shop hundreds of pounds worth of produce and when the coupon was declined refuse to buy a single item. Fucking villains! Vile dirty shit-eating fucking villains!

$ $ $

My step-father was a poor man. Not as poor as me, but poor nevertheless. He was a gambler. That was his problem. He showed me how to cook a meal in an electric kettle. That's how we'd cope for hot dinners when the the gas had been cut. By the time it was reconnected the electricity would go. Then the oven became our most valued asset. It was not only used to cook and boil hot water but also for heating and some light in the kitchen. We'd run a cable in from the neighbour's so as we could watch TV. People passing by outside would always slow down and gawk in at us all huddled up like that. The dog would go crazy, do cartwheels up at the window and shit at the same time. My step-father said it had a phobia about big noses. We'd throw a book at it and it'd lay down for a while, whimpering. When it thought it's crime had been forgotten it'd creep in on his stomach and smooch in close to the heat.

I only ever remember being poor. It's all we were. My mother was poor as well. She would have been even poorer if it wasn't for her looks. She did well with them in her youth. But she drank, chronically. That was her problem. Later she accepted poverty, seemed to kinda enjoy it, enjoyed totting up the pennies and just barely making do. Hanging on like that, with so little and never being late on a payment, somehow made her proud. She made the most out of poverty without ever doing anything too crazy. Poor people are always doing crazy things. I guess rich folks do too. Only rich people actually go crazy. They don't have the burden of needing to appear stable to the landlord to keep their feet on the ground. They kind of fly away, take on a type of insanity that looks like their high on drugs. They probably are. Poor people look more crazy than they really are. My step-father again. Walking around with his split shoes stuffed with newspaper and cardboard, his big toe and heel painted black with shoe polish so as to hide the holes in the leather. Only his shoes weren't leather. He found that out each summer when the heat would get so bad that his feet dimpled from the moisture. That's when he'd slice the top inch off the toes, turn then into sandals for their final half a season. By the time he threw them away there wasn't much left of them. My step-father knew all about the supermarket racket. Before there was ever a documentary on 
about it, about the cunning offers and positioning of products on the shelf, he'd already sussed it out and told me all about it. That was his thing: corporate corruption. He despised it. Corruption and incompetence both. It was a mixture of the two which killed him, left him flipping out on a hospital bed as his aneurysm exploded and his heart gave out. That's how it ends when you're poor. Not very nice at all, and even worse if you live in America. 


$ $ $

So, it was late spring. A high sun was up above but there was a dampness in the air. Things were sprouting in parks and gardens and smells were here and there around the city. I hadn't left home expecting to go far and now I found myself marching at a wild pace towards the super-supermarket in the center of town. I was dirty and it made me hot and itchy. I pulled a few times at the neck of my jumper, creating waves of air beneath it. Damn fucking jumper, I cursed. I would have liked to remove it but my shirt beneath was not only filthy but also turned inside out. Through the winter I had gotten into the habit of only scrubbing the visible parts - the collars and cuffs.

It's too hot for dirty shirts now, I thought. It was too hot even last week!

I damned myself for not having had done a wash, but without a machine it was such a laborious process and was always put off until absolutely necessary. Filling up that deep plastic vat with cold water and dumping the clothes in. Stirring them around with the wooden handle off the broom. Just that alone took the entire light part of the day. In and out the bathroom every hour or so to give it a good ol' stir. Once the water was sufficiently black and swampy it was down on the knees, scrubbing the shirts and trousers on the floor of the shower unit. And that was the easy part. After came the wringing out. There was a time when even that was done purely by hand. That was before I found a method of looping each garment around and through the shower taps and then twining the ends together so as to twist the water out by pure force. It would still half kill me. Come the end of the day my palms would be red raw and every muscle in both my arms dead. For the next two days, with all the damp clothes hung on lines across my room, the place would resemble a camping den. A fucking wash, I thought. I could do with one too. 


Lost in such thoughts my anger faded. My step slowed a little too. That's when the perspiration came. I was still a good half an hour walk from the super-store and didn't much feel like steaming hot paella anymore. But loss of appetite never stays long when one's that low down. As was said: sometimes you just have to walk.

$ $ $

Butchers are strange people, at least most the butchers I've ever known were: they love animals. I love animals too, but I don't spend the best part of my day chopping them up. Grace wasn’t lost to this fact either. She realised that butchers like animals much more than they like people. Grace loved animals too, way more than the butcher knew. Every other day, on her bad week, she'd take up her five yapping mongrel dogs and pull them on by the butcher's shop. Then she'd turn around and pull them back again.

"Them dogs there seem hungry, Grace," he'd yell out. "Not right them going on without food like that. Need some good meat and marrow them dogs do."

"It's my low week," she'd say. "Dogs would be in fuckin’ Dog Heaven  if I hadn't 'av taken 'em in."

"Go an put them away home an’ come back. Won't have animals go hungry on my watch."

When Grace returned the butcher would beckon her over and, in front of his little queue of customers, give her a white, blood-smeared bag full of bones and gumps of dark offal. Of course, Grace never fed such cheap and rotten scrapings to her dogs. Grace loved animals. Her dogs never went without food. The bones from the butcher were boiled down into a stew for her and her crack addicted fella George. The offal she slung out back for the foxes.

"That cunt would let me and George starve to death," she'd say. "Just thankful human meat is illegal."

The week when one of Grace's dogs got sick and then died she stormed into the butcher's, in tears, and told him that his rotten offal had killed her favourite mutt. That really hit the butcher hard, especially as he knew the kind of offal she was talking about. From that day on, maybe out of a sentiment of real guilt, he'd then chuck in a half decent cut of meat with his bag of bloody, sour bones.

$ $ $

The super-supermarket was pack jam full of people. From outside I could see that the tills were overflowing and the queues were trailing far back into the aisles. I called to a young worker. He wore a slanted sweep of blond fringe which covered over his right eye. I showed him my damp and crumpled special offer coupon.

“I've been told this is valid here?”

“Huh???”

“The coupon. Is it valid here or not?”

He looked at the coupon as though it were a cryptic puzzle. He beckoned for me to turn it over. Ever so slowly he squinted over the small print, probably hoping he'd find some clause which would allow him to give me bad news. He slowly nodded and then just as slowly shook his head.

"Well, is it valid or not?"

"Er... Yeah, it's valid... if we've stock."

He cast his one visible eye at me. It didn't stare quite straight, seemed to be straining to get into the corner. He stood there looking at me like that, a slight smile on his lips like I was the mental retard. That's what working so many hours for so little does to a man.

"What's funny?" I asked.

"Huh?"

I paused for a moment, tried to calm myself. Without warning I echoed an equally retarded sound back at him. It was so explosive that he straightened up and shot back in shock. As he did so his fringe swung off to the side like a battleaxe, uncovering his other eye for the first time. He looked terrified.

"HUHHH!!!" I moaned again before entering the store.

The frozen food aisles were at the very far end. I must have walked back and forth ten times, scanning the deep-freeze units and compartments before I discovered where the paella was stored. The freezer was in total disarray, a mix of various brands of paella all pulled and dragged and piled together. I began rummaging through the stock, sure that the one I searched would be all sold out. Almost. At the very bottom of the freezer was one last bag, split open down the back and with its contents spilling out. I palmed what I could back inside and took it anyway. While trying to fold the split in the bag over and make it good a man appeared besides me. He looked at me with a strange regard and then began burrowing through the freezer unit. After a moment he stopped, looked at me again, and then had another rummage through the compartment. When he next straightened up I found him not looking at me but at the split bag of paella I was holding.

"You buying that?" he asked, bluntly.

"If they let me," I said.

"Last one is it?"

"Appears so."

"It's on special offer, you know?"

I shook my head as if I didn't.

"You not got a coupon then?"

"What coupon?"

"Here, like this..."

I looked at the neatly folded coupon he showed me and shook my head like I wasn't petty enough to be using special offer coupons.

"Didn't know anything about that," I said.

He screwed his face up, cast his greedy little eyes about in the freezer compartment once more, smashed a few bags about and then left. He didn't even offer me his then useless coupon. If he would have done so I would have given him the bag. I watched him go, holding his little basket like an old woman. Down and along the far side product shelf he stopped and took a wad of folded coupons out his back pocket. He stood there going through them, stooped over like he was guarding the secrets of the world. I followed him for a while, stood watching him from afar, the words 'PIECE OF SHIT' circling around in my mind. Then I cut off to queue and pay and get the hell out of that place.

$ $ $

I hadn't told her that there was no hot water and no fridge, nor that the bed was broken and propped up on books for fear that she would decide not to come. When she stepped in with her suitcase I saw the feigned looked of being only slightly horrified on her face.

"You spent a week cleaning this place?" She asked.

"Not quite. Four days."

"Jesus."

Later that evening I heard the tap running in the bathroom. After a few minutes she called in asking how long it usually takes for the water to run through hot. That's when I explained about the boiler and the small explosion I had had the previous winter.

"So how do we wash?"

"We boil water."

"How? You've only one electric ring."

"I've a kettle too. We just have to be organised."

"Your sink's cracked. It won't hold water."

"I know, we use the two buckets in the shower." She went silent just after that.

In the bathroom I went through the process with her, how with two pans and two kettles of boiling water, and by using both buckets, we could shower and wash our hair and rinse off.

"So I wet my hair first?" She asked, sounding like half the romance of love was already gone.

"Yes. But be careful to retain the water which runs off your scalp... you'll need that to wash with. Once your hair's wet, soap it. As the shampoo is doing its magic you wash your body. While you're doing that I'll be boiling the second lot of water that you'll use to rinse off with."

"And the radiator? Can I turn it on?"

"No... Don't touch that thing! It blows all the electricity. Use the portable fire from the room. But keep it away from the water or you may end up fried."

"Is there anything else I should know," she asked.

I thought for a moment and then said no, absolutely certain that there was.

$ $ $

By the time I got home the paella had defrosted. It wasn't any great tragedy. In fact, it was a good thing. I had no fridge anyway and defrosted it would take much less time to cook. I dumped the soggy bag in a saucepan and covered it with a plate to stop the flies getting to it. It was then late afternoon. Due to the run around with the shopping I hadn’t had time to raise money for tobacco. What cash I had in my pocket wasn't enough and was needed for food anyhow. What I did have were cheques... plenty of them. They were useless in most shops as they'd be processed too quickly and I didn’t have cash in my account to cover them. So the drill was to trade them in for cash at the local kebab place. For a twenty-five euro cheque Moustaffa would give me twenty euros in cash. It was a good deal, and a way to raise badly needed money when I had none, and too often I had none. Also, unlike most shops, Moustaffa only banked his takings once a week, always on a a wednesday when the Delice Kebab was closed half day. And so for money I didn’t yet have I bought less money to have immediately. I kinda gained. And if I didn't gain I at least got what I wanted. It’s the same old story just done in a different way. Like that guy who wrote to me once and explained how he bought marijuana on credit and then sold it for money to buy heroin. When he had funds a week later he’d repay the debt for the marijuana and it'd start all over again.

Moustaffa read over the cheque and then gave me a twenty euro note. I held it up to the light to verify it was real. Satisfied, I pocketed it and set off for the local square to buy some fake tobacco from the real Algerians.

$ $ $

It was the same set up most days. Big John Mcdonagh would march into each site and head menacingly towards the first young lad he set eyes upon. There he’d stand, his feet planted wide apart, his legs slightly bowed, his left hand scrunching away in his pocket, clutching and unclutching at handfuls of coins and keys. On finishing his spiel he'd raise himself on the balls of his feet and swipe the backside of his right hand across his bottom lip and then strain his face forward like a plucking cockerel.

“John Mcdonagh,” he'd bellow. “Tell him it's John fucking Mcdonagh!” The young labourer, sure his boss was ripe to take a good beating, would invariably run off and fetch him.

“Aye d'ere aw fella,” John would say, “hoi'm h’arfta tekkin away a bitta'yer O scrap,now---”

“You've already tekkin it or you’d like to?”

“Hah, uh sees we got us selves a bitt'ah da ol joker. Alroighty-O, Joe. Now wheres a tawkin’. Whaddya got fer da ’ol Mcdonagh Clan today?”

And that’s how it would go, each morning, five mornings a week. Most site managers would willingly oblige and give up their scrap metal and some would do so for a small fee. Of those who declined, some would decline because they did their own scrapping and others out of pure meanness. Whatever way it came, and whatever came, John Mcdonagh and his two boys would drag and carry the metal out and load it up on the back of the pick-up truck. As they made their way around town, from site to site, they’d keep their eyes peeled for any abandoned fridges, radiators or washing machines; wire, cable and aluminium sheeting. On finishing their rounds they'd drive back to the campsite and unload the wagon. The large appliances would be dumped with their stock to be stripped down by the younger sons and cousins; the smaller scrap sorted into individual metals ready for the afternoon runs to the scrap yard. This is where The Mother comes in.

The mother. The soundtrack of the campsite. A small hulk of a woman, 400 lbs on a good week with short, tight, black permed hair and a faint smudging of dark above her upper lip. In a tight Lycra mini-skirt and heels she'd spend most her time stamping proudly around the family’s main caravan, squawking age old wisdom to the half naked children who sat mesmerised and terrified by her. Her size and the energy of life she displayed represented the good health and well-being of the clan. She also represented the money and the collection and distribution of it. As such she never missed the afternoon trips to the scrap metal yard, taking the place of her youngest boy who’d stay behind stripping down car engines and making a noise. But it wasn’t distrust that took her along to the merchants. Mrs Mcdonagh rode shotgun for a very specific reason.

Turning into the scrapper's yard Big John Mcdonagh would stop the truck to let his wife and son out. As they walked in he would drive the pick-up, get weighed, and then head on over to the unloading bays. Once unloaded he’d drive out, be weighed again and paid the difference. The other side of the scales he'd pick up his wife and son and head home. At least that was the drill for the cheap metals and tin and alloy. When it came to scrapping his grade A copper a small but important change would occur. This time only the son would alight and enter the yard on foot. The 400lb mother would remain, sat down low in the truck. The weighing in process and the unloading would be repeated. Then, as per usual, John Mcdonagh would drive out and his wife and son would make it on foot. No one ever suspected a thing. The scrap dealer, sat up high in his porta-cabin, would think nothing of it when Mrs Mcdonagh came waddling back out. If anything crossed his mind he’d just have thought he hadn’t noticed her walking in. In such a way, every cunning day, going on years, the Mcdonagh’s got paid for The Mother's substantial weight in grade A copper scrap.

Travelling folk. As wily as they come. Thieves as well, but honest with it. They’d never steal anything which was owned by a single person – at least not without good reason. And like many poor people they abhorred meanness - especially Meanness for the sake of Meanness. So, twice a week, once the evening was in, Big John Mcdonagh and his two boys would drive back around and revisit all the sites in which the managers had dumped their scrap metal rather than having someone else profit from it. They’d first empty their skips and then enter the site and make off with spools of copper cable, metal sheeting, lead and any power tools left lying around. As a final underarm salute, for personal satisfaction, Big John Mcdonagh always took a good, long piss in the cement mixer.

"M’oi fekkin piss holds up a good fair bitta dis town," he’d say. "Tiocfaidh ár lá!"



$ $ $

It was a little after 8pm when i finally began cooking the Valencian paella. Defrosted and raw and spewed out in the large frying pan it didn’t look quite as appetising as it appeared on the bag. The fish was cubed and made from the reformed waste of multiple varieties, and if that wasn’t off-putting enough each cube was run through with branches of fine blood vessels. The chicken was grey and of the cheapest cut. As it steamed in the pan it let of a stench reminiscent of dog’s breath. The prawns, all two of them, were the size of winkles, and as for the peas, well, they were rock hard and turned brown in the heat. After a few minutes of cooking the whole lot had become a stodgy mess, stuck and burning to the bottom of the pan. When I eventually spooned it out onto a plate it looked more like porridge than a fancy spanish dish. I looked at it and nodded knowingly. There's only ever two reasons for half-price offers: to introduce a new product on the market or to get rid of an old one. This was obviously for the latter. Rather than make a loss on a dish they knew wouldn't sell they were flogging of the remaining stock at break-even price. Alone on my bed I took up my fork and tucked in.

The first wave of vomit came just after midnight. Then came the shits. I lay on my back, on the bed, my eyes watering and a pond of gasses bubbling around in my guts. In that state visions came to me and went. I saw the cashier and her finger with the red enamelled nail. She threw her head back and cackled and that sound rang out for a long time in my mind. Then came the the old guy at the supermarket, hunched over and leafing through his coupons. Lines of shelves and products and people and queues and the ringing of tills and the rattling of money. I heard the beeping of products being scanned and the sound of people swiping their credit cards and machines munching off cheques. And there it came again, up from my stomach and hardly time to lean over the side of the bed and spew it out. It was all making me nauseous. This wasn't just about Valencian paella. No, there was something much deeper which was making me sick. Maybe it was the struggle? The struggle to get on and get by and the fight to wake up tomorrow with as much fight as one had yesterday. Maybe this sickness was me giving in for a moment at a moment when I could. It's a hard life when you're down to your last every day, when every thing is a calculation, when even one's small pleasures are sacrifices. It's not the fittest who survive around here; it's the quickest. When there's only one bag of frozen paella left and fifty hungry men after it, it's who goes furthest for the smallest gain. Sometimes it's just pure luck, but over time, tomorrow after tomorrow... that ain't luck. The junkies do it, and the whores do it, and single parents do it, and the low paid and exploited do it. Creative survival. The dying art of staying alive. 


- - -

Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M to follow shortly... ... ...




Le Désespoir de La France #2



France. La France. O France. Comment tu es belle la France. Go fuck yourself in the arse, La France! It's too late to start again now. I loved you once and then I arrived. In quick succession you ravaged my heart and ruined my health, made me too fat for my shirts and left me with just a single, sodden shoe. Va te faire enculer, La France! I had to walk home in the wet and, for the next nine months, tramp about like a clown wearing odd shoes and no socks. That winter of pneumonia and bronchitis when your dealers robbed me of everything but that which I didn't have. You laughed at me in the cafes and mocked me in the unemployment offices. You sent me back and forth between despicable civil servants, all asking for different papers that they knew I didn't have; didn't need; some of which didn't even exist. O with what joy did you run me around town? Send me to places on the very outskirts which no longer resembled Europe. O fuck You La Belle France. I thought such thoughts and worse as you had me suffer entire days of remedial classes, listening to a government trained retard lecture on how to formulate the perfect CV. Curriculum Vitae. Mon dieu! Did you not see us? How the fuck could a CV have helped any? O La belle France. What have you done? You deserve everything that comes your way in these wicked times. You drag it all down upon yourself. Every shot; every bullet; every exploding belt. It's all done beneath the shadows of your actions. The right-wing uprising and retaliation too. The bubbling conflicts in the suburbs. Peck out a man's eyes and watch him go crazy to defend what's left of him. A whirring, crazed, waltzer of indiscriminate violence. France, you pecked out my eyes. You harpy fucking scavenger!


France! My beautiful prison of diluted and overpriced joys. I weep desperately within your borders. I go to your marches and observe the left, divided up into a hundred factions, blowing whistles and lighting flares, beating drums and chanting and laughing to serious matters. Your squares bordered by the armoured ignorance of the Police Nationale. Their black, ruthless boots ready to stomp over anyone not draped in the tricolor. France, you told me, swore to me, lied to me that only the Arabs and Africans get ID checked. Go away with your falsehoods and propaganda. Pink skin doesn't save one here. Five fucking hours I spent on my back in your rotten custody cell. Mary, half junk sick, having to journey out into the middle-of-nowhere to produce my ragged passport. Then, last autumn, in the Perrache train station, being marched off and strip-searched for standing too close behind three armed officers on the escalator. A bottle of unscripted methadone discovered in my bag . It's a stupifiant! they kept shouting. I told them I wished it fucking were, that I'd love to be as stupidfied as them. I should have left you to rot without me then, but the prospect of dire poverty and heartache, a few years of dying in your third largest city wooed me. Lyon! Only Lyon! You were beautiful for a summer; the lap of your twin rivers calm and serene; the mist and fragrances rolling down your hills early morning; the spirit of European summer and fiesta wafting through your narrow streets. O France, is that your ruse: to beguile? You promise everything and deliver nothing but tax demands, obscure charges and rent increases. Then you close your banks on Monday and snip the electricity at its root. France, I never used your fucking electricity! How could I have? I only had one lightbulb and a mobile phone. Though, soon enough, you took them too. 


France. I lost my teeth in your streets, marinated them in your methadone and coughed and spat them out in disgust through your lonesome nights. I spent years suffering from your toothache, woke in pain to each new day with my face swollen and the nerves in my temple raging away. France your toothbrushes are useless! Four for one euro sixty seven centimes. Red, blue, green and purple. The handles snap in half and the bristles fall out. Fuck you Carrefour® and the Part-dieu Commercial Centre. Fuck the whole rotten lot of you. Your doctors too. Kneading my liver each month as though it were pizza dough; the young interne with his specs and stethoscope so eager to diagnose his first death, asking: Is it swollen? Foie gras, Monsieur. Foie gras! The doctor giving an indifferent shake of his head, telling me to get dressed and, begrudgingly, giving me another month to live. Halle-fuckin'-lu-jah! How adept you are at presenting bad news! Stop the drugs, you said. Get off the needle! Quit the cigarettes! Do some exercise! Lower your cholesterol intake! What kind of a fucking doctor would ever levy such a miserable tariff on a dying man? O, fuck You Dr Denis! Fuck you L'hôpital de la Croix Rousse! You gave me so little you didn't even charge for it. 


France. Monsieur the Mayor of the 3rd arrondissement: fuck fuck you! Your crooked, corporate socialism twists my stomach. Of the left? Sure you're of the left. You're so far too the left you're on the fucking right! What with all the scandalous discrimination you lord over in your own house. Call it what you like, celebrate the PS coming into power after 18 years, I saw the same happen in Britain, the exact same idiots singing with joy and heralding in the new bandits and gangsters, clinking glasses and slurping down  oysters together. Power is power and it always sounds like that. I moseyed around your office, listening, Monsieur The Mayor. I watched your advisers cutting out the day's press clippings and political news; your personal assistant mailing off the video footage of your latest speech to Le Progrès. I saw you lumber around with your trousers unbuckled and your shirt hanging out, raging on about how cheap and acidic the wine was. I watched you, Monsieur the Mayor, heave on your heavy felt coat, have your sash pinned in place, clear your throat like a tenor and gob a lump of vile phlegm into your handkerchief, ready to lead the war veterans' D-Day parade. O Sir, I eyed your staff, and the town hall gardians, sweeping before you as you walked and wafting away at your behind as you went, fanning your wind to either side of the red carpet and scooping up your droppings as they came to bear. Monsieur the Mayor of the 3rd arrondissement. I had to clean your bureau every second evening, empty your bins and dust your plants. O, you should know better than to ever employ such a scoundrel. I pissed in your fire grate and masturbated in your leather chair. O Monsieur Thierry Philip, if only you could have seen how wildly I came, shooting sperm across your desk, over your diary and bullseying a picture of your wife and kids. I cleaned and polished your desk that evening, Sir! The next morning, first thing, to my horror, I was summoned by my immediate manager. Wearing a grave look he asked if it was I who had cleaned your office the previous evening. Guilty, I pleaded. Whereupon the wild reprobate took up an email and read me of your surprise and thanks, broke into a salacious smile as he disclosed 'my desk and leather chair have never shone so splendidly'. Ha! How influence and importance garners special treatment. Don't trust the silent ones, Monsieur the Mayor of the 3rd arrondisement. Don't trust anyone your country has pecked at so much. 


Mademoiselle La France. You contemptible beast of formations and concours and adjoints. How you sat glaring at me each time, blank and motionless, like there was nothing which could be done. I cleaned your toilets, Mademoiselle, and in return you shook your head in dismay. You told me that I had not undergone the required training needed to handle such cleaning products. I waved you away and you proceeded to grill me over my knowledge of glass polish and disinfectant cleaner, demanded that I state the dilute ratio of neat bleach to water when using it to disinfect public washrooms. I was set to say 10 to 1 part bleach but finally never bothered. Any answer would have been the wrong one. I apologised and swore to never scrub your crap again. Mademoiselle! I slogged out my soul for your pubic services and your minimum wage. For three years I worked myself too exhausted to write. You shoved me in a hole of a room, round the corner from the bins, and five years later hit me with a four thousand euro bill for unpaid residence tax! Four thousand euros. If I had four thousand fucking euros I'd be a resident some place else. Some place that functions. Mademoiselle La France, you do not function! You are 'hors de service': legs closed for business. Daily life is a succession of disasters and frustrations. Tobacconist closed. Pharmacy closed. Boulangerie sold out of everything but stale salmon baguettes. Fast food places shut until 7. Restaurants refusing to serve food. Supermarket closed for an impromptu stock check. Transport staff on strike. The corner store without change of a twenty euro note. The concierge on permanent sick leave. Mademoiselle, you insist on such a tiresome way of operating and then harp on about low foreign investment. Fuck you Mademoiselle La France. Fuck your 35 hr week. Fuck your Unions who have become just another cog in the political machine. The supposedly hardline CGT, agreeing that I was illegally dismissed yet telling me that they have a policy of fighting common rather than individual struggles. They gave me the number of a lawyer they said would work for free, who though, unfortunately, was also three months deceased. When I called back to give news of the poor man's medical status they abstained from answering the phone and ignored my various messages. Fuck You La République Française, I saw through you completely in that moment. 


France. I know your whores and they suck. Too clean; too classy; too unwhorelike. You keep your own upstanding and legal, but what of the eastern European girls along the river, putting it out for all of 20 euros a trick? Not a single pin prick or crack pipe between them, a fact which bespeaks a real social tragedy. Oh, you know how to treat them. Drag them in for soliciting once a month or so, disturb their lives for a night while adding to the misery. First thing Monday morning, trot them out and stand them in the defence box, half naked and cuffed, their sordid misdemeanors and acts slowly read out to the judge and procureur. O madame La France, you sure as hell know how to look after your own alright, keep them from dribbling away at home! Your court rooms are full of criminals, La France, and most of them are being paid by the State. 


France. The great romance you peddle is a myth. Romance never thrives under such hardship and drudgery. No-one kills themselves for love after that. All that happens is that people get worn down and out, and youth and beauty fades into early retirement. I've read your poets and I've watched your films. I crossed your bridges and I dreamed! I dreamed of fire-eaters and jugglers, street artists and musicians. I dreamed of song and death and fuck and absinthe, of opium and Gauloise cigarettes, sailors and show- girls. France, I stood on your terrain and I had hope, but even then I was looking way over yonder to God knows where beyond. Through your warm, subdued evenings I traipsed around with the poet prickling away inside of me. I saw all the wonder of life in your pink skies and said 'La France, La France' over and over, like I was on the cusp of something great. O I tried my best. I sought out wild, psychotic affairs, fantasized about death pacts and leaving a bloody mess for your civil servants to clean up. I went to your parties and took part in your theatre. I stripped naked and danced my birth and death in the Beaujolais valleys. I responded truthfully to the director when he asked:


Can You dance? 


Can you sing?


Can you act?


No, I replied each time.


Perfect, he said, you're exactly what I'm looking for! 



Madame, Mademoiselle, La belle France, L'hexegone, La République: You have ruined me all you can. With minus 883 euros to my name there is no more you can take. Go ahead, sling me into jail for a month, recuperate my debts that way, deal me your last remaining blow. I will take it, La France. I will suck it up and enjoy it, thrive of the stinging pain and spit the blood back at you in defiance. I will eat your porridge and your mashed carrots and I will shit it out down your fucking u-bends. France, your bidets are broken and your eau de toilette is wearing thin. Down South the stench of your filthy cunt is overpowering. Madame de la République, I will fuck you no more! You've no disease worth having. With nothing left to protect or defend my integrity is way out of your bounds. It's true, you took all that which I entered with, but that is hardly a victory. What? A broken suitcase? A pittance of cash? My final stay of youth and a mouthful of teeth? Come come La France, the spoils of war are not what they used to be. But me, O La France, me I leave with such words in my head – words so beautiful and vulgar and mine. And even on the journey out, on the last bus back home or for wherever it is destined, your nights will still sizzle and smell of fire and smoke and I will cry for all you are and all you were and all you still could be. France, from the Fourvière hill, looking down, on a day like today, I still shiver with life and love and passion. I become giddy and whimsical as the coming evening paddles your dark rivers towards the sea; inebriated by the lights from your harbours and river boats. France your skies still excite me like the first night of the first night of the first night. France, La France, O France. Comment tu es belle la France. Go fuck yourself in the arse La France. So impossible and hopeless, my France, La France.


- - -

Thanks as ever for reading, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M 

SICK - L'Olympia, Paris 2016


My reading of SICK, accompanied on guitar by the one & only Mr Peter Doherty. L'Olympia, Paris, March 2016.



A Syllabus of Deceit - Part 3: A Short Step Too Far


The last time I had seen Trey he was marching back and forth outside the 24hr pharmacy, fighting with himself over whether or not he should buy two syringes for ten euros.

“Man, ten fucking euros!” he kept saying. “Ten fucking euros!”  He looked at me. “Should  I buy them or not, dude?”

“I can't tell you what you should do,” I said, “but I can tell you what you will do.”

“Man, I'm gonna buy them ain't I?”

“If you're any kind of a junkie you will.”

“Man! Fuck!!! You sure ya don't have a spare rig at yours?”

“Just old ones,” I said, then beating him to it: “... And no, you can't boil one clean.”

“This place is a fucking joke, bro. Ten bucks for two damn pins! I mean, it's insane... tell me it's not insane?”

I couldn't tell him that. It was insane. But there were many insane things in this world and, more often than not, sane people did them.

“I'm gonna try again,” he said, stopping and pinching ahold of his brow. “Gonna bring on the charm offensive... Maybe have her warm to me.”

Trey flashed his best, most contrived smile. The old black woman, behind the security window of the pharmacy, didn't even notice it. All she saw were two half-mad glaring eyes and a kid with the sweats and slightly jaundiced features asking for syringes with the neon blur of the city centre behind him.

“And if I buy two boxes?” Trey asked.

“12 euros,” the old woman said.

“Three?”

“Thirteen.”

“Give me three boxes then,” Trey said. He begrudgingly handed over the money, snatched his syringes, and left. “Man, I worked a fly one there,” he said, rejoining me. “You only get charged the night fee once, so in a way, I just saved twenty euros.”

I looked at him like you would someone you were deeply concerned about. His maths were all wrong; his logic too. I walked him back down towards the metro stop and said goodbye, knowing he was heading back to the States in two days and feeling sure, hoping,  that I'd never have to look upon see his scheming, treacherous face again.

_      _      _



He was gone a while but not while enough. He had left such a foul taste in my mouth that I would have needed at least an entire spring to rid me of it.  And I wasn't the only one who had been left paled by the memory of the villainous little fuck. His house-lady, a chemistry professor from the upper bourgeoisie, had happened across his foulness too, looking into his unlocked room one day and finding it laden with used syringes and cooking cups. For the last month of his residency she hadn't spoken a word to him. It was just further reason why he could not possibly return. Not only had he flopped all his courses, burnt his bridges with me and lost his heroin supply, but he had also fucked up with his proprietor and lost his place of lodging. There wasn't much to come back to, just hardship and struggle and trouble on every front. So when there came a rap on my door, four months into the new year, and I opened up to find him standing on my doorstep,  I first considered the possibility of the existence of ghosts before accepting what my brain so clearly thought my eyes were seeing. But there could be no mistake about it; it was him, Trey: “Hey up dude,” he said, “thought I'd just call round and see how you're cooking.”

I stared at him. He was like a cloud that had drifted in front of the sun. He reminded me of days I didn't want to live. He read the hesitancy on my face, saw my mouth twisting into the shape of an awful excuse to  get rid of him.

“Trey... er...  the place, it's in a fucking whirl,” I said. “It's really not laid out  for company.”

“Straight up? OK, dude, no biggie. Then I wont keep you. Just thought I'd knock around and offer you a bit of stuff. But as you're... ...”

“You got gear?”

“I'm pretty cool, yeah. But look, hey, your place is in a jam, bro.”

“Well, it's not in so bad a jam to turn away free smack! Of course you can come in... fuck, you'll have seen much worse than this!”

And so, against my better judgement, I let Trey in. And like that he was back, his rucksack being unhinged as he entered the room, something a little different in the space around him and a cockiness in his face  which I had never observed before.

“Man, if I didn't enjoy a break from this shit,” he said. “Can you see I've lost weight? Yeah, bro, been working on my pecks... training again. My face is less puffy too... healthier looking. Don't ya think?”

He eyed me for a response, something pathetically melancholic in his regard.

And then I had it; read his eyes. His vanity had done him over. I nodded, knowingly.

“Oh, so you've read the texts I wrote about you?”

“You could say that. Not very flattering, bro.”

“The truth rarely is,” I replied.

“The truth? Man, I don't look like no bloated diabetic! And what's  with all that about my chest and biceps? Man, that just about killed me, dude.”

“It's just writing Trey. You're lucky to be written about at all.”

“Lucky? Dude, you've a screwed up fucking idea about what luck is.”

“You did some pretty shit things Trey.”

“Dude, you were way, way off! Especially on my physique.”

Of all I had written about him, that which had aggrieved him most were the descriptions of his outward appearance. How rotten I had painted his insides he couldn't give a damn about. His septic interior was of little importance to him. Trey obsessed about his physical attributes, his money-maker: how attractive he was; the tightness of his arse; how little or much his cock bulged through the crotch of his pants. What lay under his mask of skin  didn't concern him. I guess he reasoned that he would have been paid, possibly have drilled the well dry, long before that would ever be a factor. Maybe if he were heterosexual he wouldn't have taken it so much to heart? Would have put my words down to some kind of competitive undermining? But as it was, my physical depictions of him had hit home so hard that he had actually dieted and worked out. And it showed. But what showed through even more was his noxious underskin, and that would probably remain just as toxic for as long as he straddled  the dope line.

“So where's this gear?” I asked, ending the awkwardness.

“It's number fucking four,” he said. “Scored it on the Dark W. My vendor sells grey and brown, number three and four. You wait till ya hit up a spoon a this.”

Trey laid his rucksack down on the bed and poked steadily through it. I watched his hands carefully. This boy had such a propensity for dishonesty that I'd not have been surprised to see him try to steal his own stuff. And then he straightened, his freshly stream-lined torso tight against his top,  his right hand held up, pinching ahold of a little button  bag of powder, wriggling it about so as the contents shuffled down neatly to the bottom. The light hit Trey just right. Lit him up so honestly in that small moment of life.

“Here check this out, dude,” he said, moving over to me with the bag.  I cast my eyes briefly over the contents. It was a weird pinkish colour; fine powder.

“You sure that's gear?” I asked.

“Number fucking four,” he said. “Won't get quality like this from your guy.” I smirked. We were of different generations. No. 4 meant absolutely nothing to me, shouldn't mean anything to anyone. It was talk you heard online but had no relevance on the street. On the street you bought blind and the only test was in the vein. In there, carried to the brain, it was all heroin: good, bad or average.


“Get your spoon out then,” Trey said.

I eyed the gear again. It really didn't look right and I wouldn't have put it past Trey to hotshot me in revenge. I told him I wanted to taste it and gave him a small square of foil to put a sprinkle on.

“OK, bro,” he said. “But you need to shoot this shit... serious.”

On a small square of aluminium foil Trey sprinkled out the tightest measure he could without giving nothing at all. I smoked it flat, without a tube, in a single burn. Barely had I inhaled than I was spluttering a cough and then wincing from the  acrid burnt taste in my throat.

“What the fucks that?” I cried. “That isn't smack!”

“Not smack? Ha! I told ya, you gotta shoot this shit.”

There was a time when I would have shot anything, did shoot anything,  but I had learnt to show caution in the world I mooched about in. I didn't know what this crap was, where it came from nor what Trey had added to it himself.  “Give us another sprinkle,” I said.

 “It's a fucking waste, bro... but if you insist.”

I eyed the heroin more carefully now. It was undoubtedly two distinct powders. And powder, certainly as fine as this was, always roused my suspicions.

Trey fixed his shot. It cooked quick and clear. Too clear. Water clear. “It's fucking good shit, man,” he said, noticing the sceptical furrow of my brow.  “Been using it for over a week now.”

As Trey dug for a vein I smoked what he had measured me out. Within three burns it had turned black, bubbled to a crisp burnt death and was gone. It tasted like paracetamol. There wasn't the slightest hint of the distinctive heroin taste in it. But, regardless of how it tasted, from the tiny amount I had smoked, I could feel something, some heaviness in my head and neck, a loosening down of my muscles and limbs.

I looked over to Trey. He was stooped over where he stood, the rig he had fixed with held in his hand.

“Trey!” I shouted, “get that fucking needle capped and sit down before you go out.”

“Yeah, bro.. just doing it,” he said, his free hand patting around blindly on the surface he had cooked up on, searching the cap. A second later and the uncapped needle fell from his hand. Trey was out on his feet, ah sweet lullaby, his eyelids shut down  on life, all his problems gone for another short fix of time.

It never fails to amaze me. The junkie will nod out on the world, will be incapable of capping his rig, sometimes even incapable of removing it. His body will double up over  itself so as it looks like he's sucking his own cock. Frying pans can burst aflame and cigarettes can burn down and fizzle out between the fingers. But  make a move for the addict's gear, cast even just a shadow of thought to that end, and that cunt wakes up without fail. Somewhere deep down, embedded in the junkie's psyché, is a deeply suspicious and healthy concern for his drugs. And so it was, as I neared Trey to take another dose from the heroin which lay next to his cooking cup, his eyes opened to see my fingers quietly lifting the button-bag of powder clear.

“What the fuck you doing, bro?” he said, like he'd been waiting for it.

“Taking a final hit,” I said.

He wiggled a stoned finger. “Here,” he said. I handed him the heroin. With the last of his conscious resources he tapped me out a final dose. Then he pocketed what was left  before taking to the edge of the bed to nod off in peace.

I didn't smoke what Trey had given me. He was right: this stuff needed to be fixed. I prepared my shot and rolled up my trouser leg so as I had access to my inside calf.  As I prodded and poked for a vein Trey's eyes opened and settled their focus on me.  A faint look of content spread out in his lips. It was as if he had woken to an old, familiar film which calmed and soothed his very soul. The shot itched through my thigh, up my side flank and into my shoulder. As it dispersed across my brain I felt an old familiarish shutter go down on the day. Trey and the world merged, and then disappeared, into the after afternoon.

*

The light of day had fallen dramatically when I heard Trey up and about, sniffing and scratching and checking his phone. The late afternoon was deadly still and dull. You wanted no-one to move a muscle, no light to go on, no disturbance at all. Only to sleep and breathe and for everything to remain just where it was until evening.

“Man, I gotta shoot,” Trey said quietly, stoned. “Gotta get over to Bron for this fucking robot convention. You wanna come along and watch robots with me? I've a spare ticket somewhere, man?”

“Robots?” I asked.

“Yeah, bro: robots. They fight, you know: robot battles... Robot wars.”

I did know and I would have gone if it were with anyone else, but not with Trey, not tonight,  not with the heroin he had left which was not even enough for himself. To go would just mean walking off the slight effect remaining in me, and unlike him, I had no more ammo to push the world back again.

“Nah, I'm good. Will stay in and maybe try to write.”

“Your call, dude,” he said.

I escorted Trey to the door, said farewell and watched as he shuffled into his backpack and disappeared off in the direction of the bus-stop.  And if he thought for one instant he had fooled me, that I didn't know the real reason why he had turned up at mine, he was very much mistaken. His surprise call had nothing to do with affection or generosity. No, it was made for one very calculated  and specific reason: to let me know he now had his own supplier of heroin; that he was free from my shackles and didn't  need me any more. I guess he figured that the price of half a gram, to let me know, was worth it. Good for him, I thought, it's less trouble all fucking way round.

-     -      -


Hey, bro. W'assup?

He's on,  but I'm not calling.

Huh?


Y're obviously wanting 2 score. U only evr msg or txt  when u want 2 score.


Score?  Of ur guy? Those rubber bullets he sells? Nevr, bro. NEVER!


At least it's smack what my guy has. That crap u turned up wth last month was fucking fentanyl or smethng. There was no heroin in it.


Dude, Why'd u say that?

'cause it wasn't heroin. It wasn't #4 or whtevr nonsnse u was told. That shit doesn't have a fucking number... wasn't a speck of smack in it – grey, white or brown. Gave me a  weird, anxious nod as well.

Man, u noticed that 2? Thought it felt a bit strange. Did me tho. Will get more soon, put u on2 a proper gram this time. Silkroad is down at the moment, bro, so just laying low and playing it cool.

So u do need to score?

Don't need to, no. Was just wondering how u were?


Well, I was fine b4 u messaged.

I waited for a reply; watched the three blinking dots on Facebook's messenger screen and the bulletin: 'Trey is typing'. Then Trey went offline. No message ever came through. He must have decided to bank his pride, lay low and suffer until the Silkroad was back up and running.

*

It was some days later when I knocked up my dealer. He opened the door and stood there in just his boxer shorts, looking like a slumberous depiction of hell. It seemed to take him a few moments to recognize who I was. His room was cast in semi-darkness; his pitbull, Bruno, curled up asleep on the bottom of the bed. He stumbled his way past me and shooed the dog clear. Then he gave a sleepy smile, rubbed his eyes clear and flicked the light on.  He bent down and snorted a line of something off the table  and then shook his head to rattle the drugs up his nose and to his brain. He pulled on some light trousers, a top and then opened the curtains. His cache of heroin was sitting in a large bag on the table, a second bag full of coke just besides. I nodded  towards the  heroin.

From his thumb and forefinger Theo laid a tiny dark brown rock down in front of me. I heard it rap on the glass of the table. This was good stuff. He wouldn't lay me on a freebie if it wasn't. As I cooked it up in a shot he warned me to be careful, that he didn't want the same thing happening to me as it had done my friend.

“My friend?” I asked

“Yeah. The young  rich American kid.”

“Who? Trey?”

“Trey, yea... that's him. Almost fucking went under on me. We all but carried him out and packed him into the lift.”

“He was here alone?”

“Passed by a couple of days ago, said you had sent him as you wasn't well.”

“I never fucking sent him. I'd have asked you before ever doing something like that. And how do you mean, rich?”

“It's what he said. Kept talking about the cash he had and how cheap France was. Said he could live like a king over here.”

Ah. Now I got it. The dirty fuck had not only veered around me and cold-called my dealer, but had also spun stories of riches which he'd picked up from reading the texts I had written about him. The little shit. Of course, I'd have done the same, but I would never have made someone dislike me so much that it would have mattered. As I drew  my shot up into the needle, sucked the filter dry, I imagined it was Trey, dehydrating and withering away, writhing about in the pain of his own sobriety. It was then that I decided  to fuck him up, to put him out his misery once and for all.

I cast a furtive glance over at Theo. He was sat watching some crap about top-end luxury yachts on Youtube. I knew I could ask no favours from someone like him, that the dollar ruled his world and there was no loyalty to anything but paper. He would serve Trey in secret behind my back if it meant him having an extra customer. By the time Theo eventually sussed on that Trey was broke, was just another down-at-heel  punter on the precipice of ruin, it would be too late. So, I began my attack on Trey, determined that by the time I was ready to leave that  he would be no more welcome at Theo's than he would at the Westboro Baptist Church.

“Theo,  I hope you didn't buy the bullshit of Trey being rich? The guy hasn't got a fucking bean.”

“Course he has! All these American students are from wealthy families. There's no way they  could be over here if not. Trey's got cash alright.”

“He's got cash, just not very much. He's on a fucking student loan. Gets 250 dollars a week or something. Haven't you noticed he doesn't even have credit on his phone?  You need to be careful with dealing with him. Seriously. He'll have you locked up. It's why I put the block on him months ago.”


“Why so?” Theo asked.

“The guy's a fucking liability. He's been scoring heroin online with fucking bitcoins. The police probably already have him under surveillance. And if they do, then you and your cousin are in it deep.”

Theo pulled a sceptical looking face, gave a little side tilt of his head as if weighing up the dangers and concluding that they were negligible, no more risky than selling to anyone else. I thought for a moment. I didn't really want to do what I was about to, but Trey had riled me too much, so I did it anyway.

“Theo, I think you may want to look at these messages before you serve him again,” I said. “Trey sent me them just a few hours before he came to see you.”

I showed Theo the messages on my phone. He couldn't read English but saw his name and his cousin's name and the word heroin and the word shit followed by a slew of exclamation marks.

“What the fuck is that?” he asked.

 I pulled the phone away. “Oh, it's nothing... don't worry about that.”

“I am worried. What the fuck was that?”

“Look, Theo, if I tell you you must keep it to yourself. You musn't tell your cousin. Do you understand? He'll fucking kill Trey if he hears about this. You need to promise me you'll not tell Emil.”

“Ok. Now what the hell has he written there?”

I took a deep breath.

“Well,  none of it is very nice. He says your heroin is shit and you're both thieves and that he doesn't need you and that next time you sell him cut gear he'll rat you both out. But worse, worse than that, he's used your real names and talks blatantly about scoring dope of you.”

Theo's face went. It sometimes did that when he got angry and was about to lash out. Last time it happened he had attacked an old, feeble addict, went for him with a butcher's knife before splitting his eye open and fracturing the socket.  Theo's face was rippling with the same rage I had seen that day. This time he didn't grab a knife but snatched my phone out my hand to look more carefully at the messages.

“Are these all his?” he asked.

“Yes. I always delete mine.”

“And where does he say our heroin is rubbish?”

I took the phone off Theo, scrolled down to the culprit message and enlarged it. Theo stood glaring at the words.  His thoughts seemed to block and back up in his head and for a second he seemed not to know what to do. Then he turned, let out an animal howl of frustration and punched his fist into the wall. He removed his fist and made the same animal sound again, like he was existing in absolute pain.

“Calm down,” I told him. “At least we've weeded him out before he's had time to cause any real damage.  Hopefully.”

“No!” Theo said. “Wait until the dirty louse comes here again... he'll need heroin as a fucking painkiller then.”

Poor Trey. Only two days ago he had swerved me and successfully cold-called on my dealer. He was probably bent over at his right now, enjoying an especially heavy nod,  imagining how easy he'd have it for a while. And what's more, if I knew this little cunt even half as well as  I thought I did,  tomorrow he would be back out in the world, back out on the score. How sore he was gonna feel this. But, as much as I despised Trey, I didn't want him hurt, and a visit to Theo's would not do his future prospects in train station toilets any good at all.

When I arrived home I called Trey. “So, you finally did the sensible thing and veered around me straight to the supply?”

“Had to, bro. Couldn't keep on as it was, you always leaving me dry. If you wanna flex your fucking power over me, then be prepared to to get by-passed, dude.”

“Well, congratulations Trey. You played a real smart one. Though I'm not too sure how welcome you'll be around Theo's any more.”

“You reckon? Them guys think I'm made. He was fucking drooling last time I saw him.”

“I don't doubt it. Though he hadn't read your Messenger texts then...  wasn't aware you had been scoring on the dark web and buying bitcoins with money-orders. And if that isn't bad enough he also thinks you've threatened to rat him out. So you can have him... we'll share the dealer.”

Trey knew I was serious. I could discern his panic on the other end of the phone. His stir was just starting, probably thinking of the amount of heroin he had remaining and wondering how the hell he would make it last until he could cop from some place else. The dark web, if a marketplace were even up, would take days and I knew Trey didn't have days. I sensed his hate and rage boiling  up, bubbling about furiously in the radio waves of transmission. He despised me and I felt good being despised by someone so cold and lacking in empathy. All his conniving and trickery had finally been put through, his greed  to save himself half a gram had lost him everything. I would have felt it cruel  if he hadn't have brought it all on himself. Trey had been out to fuck me all along, looking to lure me into being tricked at every chance he had. He had left me debts to pick up, called me across town at night only to say he had no cash, had created headaches and arguments and bad feelings over divisions of heroin so small as to even matter. When he needed something he would act as my best buddy,  harp on about how great he thought my writing was and how stoked he was just to walk besides me. Yet, when he had what he wanted and no longer needed the human race he became as cold as a mossy stone. His situation now was not from a cruelness on my part, it is the only way it can ever end for people like Trey, people who just aren't as clever as those they are trying to fool. Trey had fallen into the self-deluded crap that many such junkies become afflicted with. He thought he was getting away with it, fooling the world, just because no-one ever said otherwise.  Every time he met me, regardless of what antics had taken place previously,  he did so as if the slate was clean, as if his bullshit and theatrical attestations of honesty had somehow shone through, like he still had all nine lives intact and his character was with a pristine a record as it had been when we'd first met.  The only marker Trey had for success or failure was getting his drugs or not, and, in ensuring he did get them, all was justified and nothing was important. Equally, when he needed more, his desperation was such that anything he had done previous he felt was minor and forgiveable, that nothing was so serious as to warrant leaving an addict suffering withdrawals as punishment for past crimes. So he had turned up each time, befriending me anew, his hair getting oilier and his stubble rougher and his hands needing to go further down into his pockets to make it.  But still he smiled and talked like he adored you, like you adored him, like you hadn't began observing his hands, hadn't started questioning his words, wasn't watching him like  a hawk so as he never found any real chance to fuck you over. Trey took the drugs, tried to take more than he deserved, tried to leave you in a place he wouldn't like to be  left himself. And always, forever always, saying “Thanks bro.... that was fucking appreciated, man. You sure as hell saved me there.”

I wished Trey good luck and closed the phone on him. He would have to learn that the worid doesn't inherently cut us a bad deal, that sometimes we generate our own fate; ensure that hell comes to our door one day.

*

Bro, I need something, read the message I received a day later. At the and of his text was attached a winky smile:  ;-)    It looked fucking evil.

What u need cannot b bought. Nothing doing.

Man, don't make me beg!

Beg Trey. I'd like to see u beg. Tho begging is fuckall 2 som1 like u, just the easier step b4 the real treachery begins. I'll tell u what, if u can b honest I'll score for u. Do u think u can b honest?

Have only evr been, bro. But go on, shoot.

The day u owed me $$$ and suddenly lost yr phone.... remember?


Yeah, bro.

Well, right now,  I want the truth. I want u 2 deconstruct yr behaviours & explain 2 me the reasoning behind each & evry act & decision u made. If u can do that, admit evrything u've denied, I'll score for u.


Man, what? Y're fucking w/me, right?

No, I'm not fucking wth u. 2day, if u want heroin, u're gonna take a walk thru yr own felonious self, reflect & deconstruct & give answers to all yr fucking scheming.

Man, I lost my cell phone!!! Y're fucking paranoid. I lost it! I'm not admitting things I nvr did!

Cut me anthr slice of that same bullshit & yre on yr own. The truth, fuck u! Like the truth that u knew u didnt have my cash & had set up a convenient way whereby I couldn't contact u?

Man. If u want me to say that I'll say it, bro. But that's not how it was.


And it went on like that. Trey denying everything, then begrudgingly making false admittances, before finally owning up to the real truth and telling me what I already knew. It took almost an hour for the whole saga of the borrowed cash and phone, and then the ATM machine, to finally come out. Trey admitted everything, every sly and crafty thought which had gone through his cunning little brain. When he had quite finished, he text: Sry bro. U know how it is... I needed stuff. So, we cool now? You gonna phone yr guy?

The fool! He thought that was the end of  his ordeal.

I'll call, yes, but we've a way 2 go yet... all those  times u called me & was either short on the readies or broke. I told ya, u're gonna have a good look at yourself 2day. I even want 2 hear u tell me y u turned up here at mine, after all that time, 2 turn me on2 a shot? What the real motive of your visit was?  You're gonna tap out evry despicable thing u've evr fucking done!


Trey knew, as well as I, that there just wasn't time enough left of the evening for him to go through all that – that's how much bullshit he had fed me over the months. He fell silent on the phone. I could hear him working up like a wind, breathing, waiting, getting more frustrated each second I let him blow up. And then, finally it came, the wind of humiliation broke his sails and Trey lost it, knowing I was never going to score for him whether he told me the truth or not.

FUCK U!!! he messaged. FUCK FUCK FUCK U!!!!


During the course of that week he sent me countless messages, all insults and teeming with rage and hate. I never replied. I let him carry on, go further and further than he was ever tougher to go. And then, out the blue, on receipt of his latest message, I phoned him. He answered, hope in his voice that I was gonna ask him if he needed anything. Very calmly,  I said: “Be very fucking careful Trey.” And then I closed the phone.

-      -       -

I saw him from a long way off. He was walking down the Rue de Hénon, his black ruck sack up on his back like a huge fucking tick. Theo saw him too. From the driver's seat he gave me a large, wide smile. Sat at the lights we watched Trey, his short but muscular thighs making his trousers look a cheap, regular cut. He had his headphones in and held his phone in his hand. It was a fresh, crisp day, blue, the sun distant and white.  The first buds were in the trees and rags of feint cloud were strewn across the sky, ripped to ribbons by high, spring winds. Theo moved on past the lights, accelerating to catch Trey up and then slowing as we drew alongside him. Trey felt the presence of the car and turned to look. The driver's window descended, revealing Theo's cropped head, dark shades, nose, mouth... pistol. Trey's face froze in an assemblage of fear; panic and confusion ghosting through his face like rippling water. He scrunched up into a defensive ball, trying the best he could to cover his head against any bullets. And like that, his arms up, his eyes closed, he started running, skittish, down the road. He bumped into a man, scrambled past, and still covering his head, scooted left. Theo cruised straight on by, the electric window rising, the sound of the day being replaced by the whir of the car's fan-heater. Trey was running for his life, legging it to safety, to wherever would save his rotten soul next. Theo laughed a hearty laugh and tossed the replica gun down in the foot compartment my side. As it clattered about his Pitbull stirred in the back and shoved its large head between the headrests. Theo put a hand back and stroked it, let the dog lick the metallic taste from his fingers. “The young rich American,” Theo howled. “How strange the American boys run!”

At home that evening I thought of Trey and decided to phone him to make sure he'd got the message clear. But Trey had pre-empted me, pre-empted the end of his stay in France. His phone was dead, just a recorded and slightly disturbing robotic voice saying :


 the.number.you.have.dialled.is.no.longer.in.service

I felt something, but it wasn't sadness. It was some feeling, some rogue wind from the end of last summer, something that had existed then in the belting hot of the afternoon on the Croix Rousse. I saw Trey, fresh and vibrant, t-shirt and shades, coming across the square. And then I saw the sky and then the sun and then imagined an early evening plane en route to Massachusetts.   For all the foulness it was both our calling, and alone in my room, on my bed, in the darkening light, I thought of Trey and I thought of writing and I thought of life, and I wondered when I'd next rise and live again.


- - - -

Thanks for reading. All My Best, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M

The Dirty Works of Shane Levene - all my collated writings in one place.