Love Me Tender in the Ghetto - part 1

“No twos, no threes, no lugs!” That's what we used to say when sparking up a cigarette and not wanting to share it. Thirteen years old and preparing our lungs for coughing up tar. Billy with his wonky eye, looking off-centre and smiling at things which didn't exist. Beautiful, sad days... sun soaked west London with hopelessness spread out to the horizon. An eternity of orange tiled rooftops and the occasional spluttering chimney.

In the forecourt there'd be grubby gypsies stripped to the waist, banging and bashing away to give some worth to the worthless. Someone suddenly taking up an old fashioned boxing stance, sweat glistening off his chest as he jabbed and hooked away at unknown forces. The sun cooking pale Irish skin red, engine oil bubbling with the tarmac, the heat rising and the world wavering through it the other side.

A face over the balcony on the fourth floor. Darren Brown, eyes all pupil and jittery as hell, keeping dog of the non-existent police teams creeping up the stairs to bust him for his last remaining crumbs of crack. Two months later entering the only successful rehab clinic there is: the morgue. Flattened on the Westway. Splattered to death trying to get back home to his pipe quicker than humanly possibly.

I saw the blood. A dark shadow of scarlet which went nowhere in all directions. There were flowers too. A single bunch. “How Romantic the poor are,” I thought, “or maybe somebody got married?” I Laughed. The end of Darren Brown! That evil cunt who had taken me at knifepoint and forced me to commit robberies to fund his habit, sending me into a wild Africans home while he was still there. Me chucking half defrosted fish  at him as he lunged towards me like a huge bear with yellow teeth. I made my escape: a 20ft drop from the back window,  landing on Daniel Kinsella who was sucking the entrails out of a roach he had picked up from somewhere. A pair of Adidas Samba's catching him in the bristle of his adolescence. An horrendous  tough jaw, twisting out of shape and his fists instinctively clenching because something had hit him. A dull thud in my ear, the side of my head red, throbbing sounds from bust eardrums: “God, I'll never hear the sea again!” I thought, as we legged it back to the relative safety of the Estate, pursued by a clucking, screaming, knife wielding crack head.

“Did you get the camera!” Darren  hurled, collaring me in the underpass, the sharp end of his blade pushing to pop my eyeball. Oh, I was so glad he got splattered. No one deserved it more. I hope it was a Skoda that hit him. They were so uncool back then. For a moment I did believe in karma, then I thought about myself, blowing up frogs in the Greyhound Park, and hoped not.

Sometimes, as the sun went down, we'd sit around in the cool shade of the back, listening to insects and the sound of wind rustling through wild trees. We'd hand joints around and burn the dried grass down to stub. After a while we'd lay back and stare up at the slowly changing sky. Sometimes it'd be shot through with pink clouds, warning us that tomorrow may not be so great. Someone would always talk. A slow, stoned, drawl  of hope and mystery. Some of us had dreams, but others were too clever for such things. I had no dreams. I wanted nothing but the very moment.

At around eight, or whenever dusk was, the dogs would come out. Thin, scabby things that looked like they'd been vacuum packed in their skin. Sniffing and pissing on dandelions, or crouched down and snarling amongst broken bin bags. As the day disappeared completely behind the flats the grass would tone dark and then go black. Faint breezes would start up and the grass would push out and ripple like thousands of little legs. The city smelled like magic and would make us cry. With the right light and sounds behind it, life seemed so worth living. Just after that the illusion would be broken. Lightbulbs would flick on in the apartments showing up silhouettes of the despicable things living inside them. Thin straggly women with knives or bottles or both... beer bellied men raining punches down on unknown things. For many of us they were the shapes of things to come. It was bad, and those were the good years.

“What are you looking at, Billy?” I asked
“Time,” he said
“Can you see time?” I asked
“I can feel it,” he said, “time to go home.”
“Do you want to go home, Billy?” I asked
His wonky eye now settled on me and a feint, tragic smile spread across his lips.
“Do you?” he said, as a question to the question.

It was now just the two of us. Laying out in the dark of the back, the night bringing in a chill, and the milky summer grass then damp and cold beneath us. I emptied the last cigarette out the box. “No twos no threes no lugs!” I blurted, as my only answer to the long forgotten question. Then I struck a match and lit up the hell around us. Billy smiled anew, it was just something we said. The night was down upon us. Soon the bars would spill out and our lives would be ruined again. Love me tender in the Ghetto. Billy would get his 'twos'. I could taste the sulphur in my mouth. The sweet end of the match


A little one for the archives, or maybe just something  to proove I'm not also in the only successful rehab. Take Care All... Life about as mocking as ever, but sweet with it. Love and Thoughts, Shane. X