Audio - The Consequence of Living

Read by Soc Priapist

"Our days and evenings were spent together toughening ourselves up, bonding and preparing our offensive. Our first decision was to join a boxing club. We were weak targets for the bullies and in order to walk the streets and parks untroubled we needed to learn how to throw decent right hooks. So one Wednesday we joined Chelsea Boys Boxing Club and on Thursday we knocked each others teeth out. The three of us taking it in turns to square up to one another and direct our anger and pain towards a physical body. But we never hurt one another: we toughened each other up. And as we lay in the park, on the grassy hill with black eyes and busted noses, we joked and laughed as love and friendship throbbed and stung upon our young bodies..."

A Test of Time

While awaiting the results of an HIV test a young addict gets to discussing junk, disease, harm-reduction and the pitfalls of intravenous drug use with an older, dying in-patient. 

(A fictional article written for the Australian harm-reduction magazine BLAST! )

The old clock in the hospital hung high up on the wall opposite. It made an audible tock with each second. 11.45 came and went and Pierre sat there, with a hollow feeling in his gut, looking at and listening to time.

"I'll tell you something now," said the in-patient who sat alongside him, his finger wagging with each syllable, "when history really looks back at the spread of HIV in the West the blame will not fall on the queers or the whores, it will be shown that it stemmed from the IV drug using community... That that group was more at risk, took fewer precautions to stem the spread, and was the real nucleus at the heart of this epidemic. You mark my words!"

Pierre watched the wagging finger, eyed the pale, bony veinless hand it was attached to. It scared him. The words scared him. The marks and the moles and the dry skin scared him. The clock looking down on them scared him. He wished he'd never heard what Jean-Paul had said. He wanted to argue against it, felt that Jean-Paul had no right or basis to say such a thing. But in his empty gut, in his communal memory of all the vile rooms and needles and stupidness he had seen and done, he heard in Jean-Paul’s words something he had often thought himself but had never dared mouth out aloud.

Jean-Paul carried on. He was a tall, junk worn man, no teeth, skull visible under his skin, cheeks pinched, the space around his bottom lip fatty like it had been injected with botox. Up top his torso was thin yet broad, his chest abnormally large like it was packed full of straw. Draped around his shoulders was an itchy looking red hospital blanket. He had lung and chest problems and the blanket rose and fell with each intake of breath.

"I don't know when or where I picked up the virus, nor the Hep C," Jean-Paul said. "It could've been any number of a thousand shots… Fuck knows! Not even any one to blame... And I can't really even blame myself, 'coz back in the day it was impossible not to share. There were no free needles like today. The best we could do was boil ours sterile, and that mostly entailed just flushing them through a few times with tepid water.And anyway, we were junkies not queers... Well, not all of us, so it wasn't really our nightmare. At least we didn't think so then."

Pierre could not conceive of a life of addiction without free clean sharp needles on tap. That would change everything. It would mean you couldn't manage an addiction alone without recourse to the junkie brotherhood. He also couldn't conceive of how anyone could risk their life for a hit, even though he was here for doing just that himself. He didn't want to speak, not of this, not now, but there was something lingering open in the wake of Jean-Paul's silence, something lingering open within himself.

"So how did you get needles?" He asked after a moment.

The older junkie laughed, as if remembering good times. "How did we get needles?" He repeated. "God...

...You could buy them.... But they weren't cheap. Mostly you'd buy singles or doubles, so you can imagine how far they went! We stole them from hospitals. I used to do that. Pretend I was visiting someone and then slip off into a room or ward somewhere and grab a handful. In Paris, when I was there, there was one charity you could get them from, but nothing major... Nothing national or greatly known in any case. And when the police began laying in wait and arresting addicts on leaving, paraphernalia charges, we were wary about going there. Works were highly prized back then. You looked after them, and tragically, only shared them with your nearest and dearest. Maybe the reason why we've all ended up alone."

Pierre looked to the clock. He listened for the ticking to make sure time hadn't stopped altogether. It hadn't. What it was doing was going by incredibly slowly. Pierre felt sad, felt that sitting in the HIV unit of the hospital, waiting on the results of blood tests, among sick people, with that smell, wasn't what drug addiction was promised to be about. Somehow it robbed smack injecting of all its dark romance and glory, brought it down to a clinical act, the focus on the blood not the gear, on the dangers of a slow viral death rather than the Russian roulette of a life blown out by the big bang of the overdose. More than ever he was now conscious of where he had ended up and why, his young life hanging in the balance. He was 24 and he figured this was a major point in his life. He looked around at the posters on the wall: campaigns urging addicts to get tested; others selling hope for those testing positive:

Living with HIV!

Life with HEP C!

It's not the end of the world.

5 reasons to keep hope!

Pierre felt antsy, his stomach empty. These were the posters which had disturbed his dreams after he'd first entered rehab. It was almost science fiction how he saw them, happy reformed getting on with life/work/family, looking all too healthy, like those people they airbrush into posters of new soon-to-be building complexes, smiling back as if they are already in paradise and suicide isn't the way to go with positive results.

"I'm going kill myself if I test positive," Pierre suddenly said, not really to Jean-Paul. "I wouldn't want to live with that!

"Ha! I've heard that before," said Jean-Paul, casual as if he'd been waiting for it. "But you'll come round... everyone does."

"Not me. You don't know me. I couldn't live with that, scared shitless of being taken out by a cold each day... waking up paranoid about skin or lymphatic cancer... Not being able to take a lover. I'd rather be dead already!"

"Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that. Though once.. IF you’re diagnosed you'll find that after a while HIV/AIDS no longer has the same impact: it loses its teeth, becomes just a disease that your body is at war against. And nowadays it's not the death sentence it once was, many live out full lifespans. I'd much rather be told I was HIV+ than be diagnosed with lung cancer... Or ANY cancer! It's hard to explain how your perception changes once you have it. I guess it's like HEROIN, how dangerous and illegal that all seemed the first times and then how normal it becomes once your well-being depends on it. But kill yourself? What the hell for? You've done all this to live just to kill yourself?"

Those last words got Pierre’s back up, though he didn’t quite know why. He felt belittled by something in them, like they weren’t at all true or relevant to him. It also prickled him that this dinosaur of the junk world, this dying junkie, had planted himself alongside him and during the most tenuous wait of his life was haunting his mind with such talk.

"What d'you fucking mean?" he quizzed, irate. "'All this to live’? All what to live? I didn't want to live... That was the fucking point! You think I'd have done this (rolling up his sleeves) because I wanted to embrace life?"

Pierre's arms were marked, scarred, bruised, carved, though nothing too extreme... No greater than almost any other injecting addict.

Jean-Paul didn't look. He didn't want to see Pierre's arms. He had junk arms of his own. "Think about it," he said, "you never used heroin to die! If you wanted to die: you’d be dead! You use heroin to live... To make life more acceptable, no?"

"Acceptable? I use heroin like a fucking sledgehammer to the head. I use to kill the pain... I use coz I don't give a fuck if I live or die!"

"Well, I don't buy that. I peddled that line for years too. But the truth is, if you want to ease the pain then it's another way of saying you want to make life more bearable, which means you use heroin because you want to live. You said it yourself: if you test positive you'll kill yourself, if not you'll carry on living. This is myth about self-destruction... It's a huge fucking myth which no-one wants to admit. Though I guess it's more cool to want to die... better to have people trying to save you than not have them acknowledge you at all. At the end of it, when the veins are blown and the smack is shot, all there is at the end of the fabled rainbow is a bucket load of golden shit. One day you’ll understand. It doesn't get better it gets worse."

The young addict didn't answer. That pissed him off. Preaching! He was too early into his addiction for such talk. His heroin fanaticism was still young. He still thought, believed it was about death, that he was rebelling against life, that whacking junk up into his veins, marking his body, was advertising total abandon. The truth was, like most of us, Pierre wasn't rebelling against life, but against death. Kidding himself on that he wanted to die so that for some moments he could live freely, in peace, without the fear of mortality impeding his every move.

The sound of the clock ticked in and then disappeared again. Pierre felt like a ghost in his own time.

"How much fuckin' longer is this gonna take?" he said. "My appointment was 25 minutes ago. My mum's waiting down in the cafeteria. She'll be out her mind with worry."

For a moment Pierre looked pensive, reflective, like how he did when scheming hard for junk. Then he said: "Maybe it's a good sign, huh? What d'you think? It's a good sign I'm being left waiting? There's no way they'd leave me to wait like this if I'm positive?"

Jean-Paul's reply was a not-so-sure downward turn of his mouth. They were in a part of the hospital connected with the drug substitution unit and logic had never played much of a role here. Maybe the patient before has had a bad result and cracked up, he thought. Maybe the doctor arrived late. It could be any number of things.

Pierre sat under the spectre of the clock, his feet parted, his hands clasped, looking at the space of floor between his legs. He took his phone out his pocket, rapidly
tapped a few buttons with his thumb then clicked it closed and let out a sigh.

Jean-Paul looked at him, a discreet sideways glance. He would never admit it but he felt a strange delight in this young man's predicament, sitting there tormented as he was. It wasn't his choice to feel like that, he just did. And worse, there was something inside of him that would take even greater pleasure if the young man were to be diagnosed positive. He had been here before, sat right besides others who had gotten lucky, and though he had acted pleased and relieved, beneath he had always felt a sharp stab of bitterness that they'd got the break he never had. He wanted to be the young addict, right down to the bone, that's what he really wanted: to have his time again. His voice changed, became harsher, cynical.

"So with all your free needles, your aluminium Cups, your vit C, alcohol swipes, sterile water, how come you're even here? Shouldn't you be circulating unpolluted blood?"

Pierre stopped what he was doing and stared at the floor in thought. He nodded slowly.
"You'd hope so," he said, sadly, "but the always having everything, all the time, isn't easy, even if it is free! Sometimes I think it'd be better, in some ways, if it wasn't free. At least then we would have the power of the consumer. When things are free we are left at another's whim and must be thankful for what's there not what's lacking. It's like you can't complain there's no vegetables in the broth at the soup kitchen, they'll say 'well it's free innit, so what you complaining about?' That's the attitude which prevails. There was this one day, I'd been working. I arrived 5 minutes late at the needle exchange and was refused needles. The exchange was still open as they had acupuncture classes that evening but they refused to open the needle cupboard and give me fresh works. They said that the recovering addicts upstairs - sat there with needles all stuck in their fucking faces - could fall off the wagon hearing the syringe cupboard opened. They knew all the chemists were closed and that without fresh spikes I either had to not use or share... And not using ain't gonna happen. The cunts sent me on my merry way! And that's just one example of many. There's a spitefullness which often prevails through many of the drug services, where insidiously you are made to pay."

"Spiteful, yeah. But get real about paying for needles.You should be bloody thankful, seriously. I saw what it was like before, am a victim of it. I only wish I'd have had free needles and maybe I'd not be here right now."

"I’m just saying is all. Not that we should pay but that there can be improvements. You asked me why I'm here despite all the free services nowadays and I’m trying to tell you."

"Yeah, but you're not here because needles are free! Come on."

"No, but it could be in part because of the consequences of how the user is treated because a certain service is free. But that’s a side issue, really. The real problem, from what I see, is getting word out about the dangers of injecting and safer practices to potential IV users before they've taken up the needle. Do you know, I didn't even know what hep C was until I was asked one day if I had it! My next visit at the needle exchange I asked and had a real scare learning about it and that we shouldn't even share a spoon. From then on I didn't, but those weeks prior I had, water too…. and had let other addicts whack me up. That there, nowadays, is the place where I think the disease thrives, around new IV'ers in those first few weeks. It's like myself, I'm a clean user. I still pick up new needles, still use safely, but there's been too many occasions where it wasn't possible... Where we had to share spoons, water... even a needle once, and the only precaution you can take when up against that is asking the other person if they're diseased or not... And noone's ever gonna own up, at least not in that moment there."

Jean-Paul knew that was true. He had never owned up, not while he was well anyway. Now he had moved into a circle of addicts who were all HIV+, people he'd met at the hospital, support group, or who lived in the same hostel. They'd all come together with the same ailments and concerns, the same worries which plagued their nights.

"But you can't blame others," said Jean-Paul, “you should use heroin as if EVERYONE has HIV. That way, whether they do or not, it becomes irrelevant. You have to take final responsibility if you've caught a disease, the onus isn't on anyone else to prevent you catching one. That's too easy!"

"Oh, I will take responsibility... You'll see alright! I'll make sure if I'm dying I'll not have the chance to help spread this disease. You watch..."

"But maybe you already have? Here you are talking about those who know they're positive putting others at risk, but that also goes for those who haven't been tested but know they may have been exposed... Like you. So these occasions where you talk about others maybe putting you at risk, maybe it was the other way around, you who was positive and putting them at risk?"

"Yes, but that's my point, I unintentionally took risk and risked others by not knowing just how dangerous sharing equipment was. I've only ever once intentionally shared a needle. And anyway, I don’t think the problem is actually sharing needles - most addicts I know wouldn’t do that anyway - it’s more the equipment, or needles getting muddled up when all using and living together. Fuck knows. All I know is that if the world was even a little more just we'd not need to use in any case! We'd maybe care a little more about ourselves, about life."

"Bullshit!" exclaimed Jean-Paul. “Bull-fucking-shit! Addiction is to do with so much more than just misery. That's not the problem. Why are you here? Answer that?"

"Here??? You mean in the hospital? Needing a blood test?"

"Well yeah, how you’ve risked maybe being exposed?"

"Well, I suppose it was through desperation, through a need to have my fix, to be well and because that was often out of my control it pushed me into the junkie fraternity, and it's there where the risks are. It's using in groups, even if you're not directly sharing needles."

"But why integrate into that lifestyle if you think it's so hazardous? What on earth would push you there?"

"I'll tell you why, quite simply because you don't know it's hazardous just then. As for why you need that fraternity, there are many different reasons. Sometimes it's financial: we must pool our money; sometimes it's because of supply; housing problems. Sometimes you just can't get needles, like on a Sunday or when you get gear unexpectedly... You can get caught short. In times like that you need the help of others to make it work. You know it: I have 25 euros; you have 25 euros. We can get nothing each with that and both be sick or we can pool our funds and score a gram. And imagine that with 5 addicts. You end up with a fix each, and the fairest way to divide that is to cook up a single 100ml shot and everyone draws up 20ml. It's simple: you can't contract hep C or HIV from yourself. We're exposed to disease the moment we use in groups... Even if we think we're using safely."

"Well that's most addicts isn't it?"

"I don't know about that. It’s me and most I know... We do rely on each other most days. But then a lot of us are clean... Most of us don't have HIV or hepatitis."

Jean-Paul looked at the younger addict, so naive, still so unaware of the truth of IV'ing drugs even if he now knew how contagious certain illnesses were. He thought of all the deaths he had seen, not ODs, hospital deaths, people suddenly wasting away, deaths from strange cancers, pneumonia, septacaemia, liver failure... They were all HIV deaths, some hepatitis.

"Mostly clean? You're fucking joking int ya? Give me an injecting addict over 45 in France and I'll give you someone with HIV, hep C (if not both), a liar, or someone very fucking lucky! And the future isn’t looking too hot for your generation when you really delve into it. Ask the nurse when you see her. Your statistics for coming out that room there with good news, on all scores, is slight. What is it? Something like 1 in 3 of every IV drug user is HIV+ and 7 outta 10 with hep C. That's fucking serious! I'm telling you, this is a hidden epidemic and everyone helps hide it. You’re sitting there like the odds are on your side, but they’re not… the moment syringes start going in the veins the only odds greatly on your side is that you’ll be dead before you’re 50... And not from an overdose!"

The young addict pulled a face. He didn't really believe the statistics Jean-Paul had rattled off, thought he was just bitter and trying to scare him. He squinted out the corner of his eye, down at Jean-Paul's white cotton in-patient trousers, the hems rolled up so when he sat they raised up past his bare ankles. His legs looked silver and he had what looked like an inline in his inside ankle, an ankle so bony and sharp it hurt the young addict to look at. He shivered in feeling, like the emphatic response to nails pulled down a chalkboard. Jean-Paul eyed him, with a look like he wanted eat him.

"You've had a lot to say for an apprentice," Said Jean-Paul, "now it's my turn. I'll tell you why addicts are so careless about contracting disease. It stems from the portrayal of heroin itself, how it's treated in the media and all the fear-mongering than goes on - us addicts as guilty of perpetrating it as anyone. But what happens, because of this myth that heroin is so deadly, that it destroys the user and fucks up lives regardless, that there's 'no way back from smack' it encourages addicts to use in careless ways, to risk their lives, because what they believe is that they're fucked anyway. So the addict has no conscious thoughts of his life after heroin because it's sold to us that their is no future after. So we use in a very negative, immediate and volatile way. So what if we risk hepatitis/HIV/heart or lung problems? Coz we'll be dead of the heroin long before we must suffer the health consequences left in its wake... Only we won't. And that's a huge problem. You don't see marijuana smokers or even coke heads taking the risks we do. No, because for all the bad press about those drugs they are still not peddled as hopeless... Users are sold a major hope of recovery and so subconsciously conserve themselves for the future, for a life after addiction. Not so for smackheads. We are sold and sell hopelessness and don't think past the tenure of our addictions. That's how it comes to me anyway, tell me if I'm wrong."

Pierre nodded, in a way that said it was an interesting new thought to him, something to think about... or not. He looked up at the clock, then down at nothing, then stared at nothing some more.

Jean-Paul looked frail and bony. He was sat there with his right leg folded flimsily over his left, slightly reclined, turned towards Pierre. Illness had somehow made him sprightly and flexible once more. From down the corridor another in-patient was walked past them helped by a nurse. The man walked slowly like he was in prison shackles. He held a transparent oxygen mask to his face. Jean-Paul nodded a greeting. The patient put his eyes to Jean-Paul but gave no other sign back. Jean-Paul looked away, like he didn’t want to see something. Immediately Pierre's eyes followed the patient from behind, staring dejectedly at the blood or shit stains in the back of his pants. He thought he didn't want to end up here, like that, but that it felt a lot nearer to the truth of heroin addiction than the street scoring points, the shooting galleries or the crazy days of desperation and illness. Somehow he had landed in the real dark heart of addiction, the final place of stay for many addicts. Pierre was suddenly gripped by fear and panic. He felt it: he felt this was his first visit of many to this hospital, that somehow it was already decided that this was his fate, that Jean-Paul would be a regular feature in his life. He thought of his mother downstairs, how worried she must be. Then Pierre stood up and strode about in thought. From out a nearby room a nurse arrived holding a clipboard.

"Mr Chevalier?" she asked. Pierre nodded. She ticked his presence. "The doctor will see you soon," she said softly.

Pierre looked at her, horrified. He was convinced he had seen something pitiful in her expression, and it was sure to him she had avoided eye contact. In his mind he went over every muscle which had moved in her face, the tone and cadence of her words, and without being aware of it he was then pacing back and forth, in front of Jean-Paul, weating an intense expression like a man half out his mind.

"Nervous?" asked the older addict.

"I'm gonna test positive," he suddenly said, panicked. "Did you hear the way she told me about the doctor? See her face? She knows the results. I'm gonna fucking test positive. It'll be that time with Alexandre, putting me on, insisting he had the first shot! It'd be that time, alright. I saw him walking around the clinic all wasted and fucked with a cane a couple of years later. Fuck!!!"

"The nurse doesn’t know!" spat Jean-Paul. "And what’s more she doesn't want to know, and even if she did, the doctor wouldn't tell her. You're imagining things. That's the fear that is. That's the fear of death right there. Try to calm down. You'll know soon enough, but you don't know now... You don't!"

Pierre paced around. He pulled his hand down his face and after he had done so he looked 20 years older. Drained. Ill.

"It was those first weeks," he said, still pacing. “Those first fucking weeks when I couldn't even inject myself. I didn't know you could pick up viruses from spoons or filters or water. I thought as long as u didn't share u was pretty much safe. And you know the worst thing? Not one veteran injecting addict warned me of the dangers... Not one! Oh they couldn't be shut up telling me about citric to smack ratios, hitting veins, cooking the perfect hit, not wasting the gear! But as regards to making sure I didn't catch the diseases they probably had they said nothing! Not a word. Not a single piece of useful fucking advice."

The veteran addict didn't get dragged in. It was as if Pierre was accusing him - or something he represented - of being to blame.

"Maybe go and get your mother," was all he said, "it can help having someone in there with you."

"My mother? Have her in the room with me? No chance. I've caused her enough pain. She doesn't need that as well. And I don't need the support. What good did moral support ever fucking do?"

Jean-Paul pulled the blanket down over his shoulders and clasped it closed like a shawl. He looked cold. He looked like he was dying. He watched Pierre's shoes moving about and then cast a look up to the wall. After a few seconds an inquisitive look came over him and he peered in more closely.

"Clocks stopped," he said, "The clock's stopped."

"I know," said Pierre, "yet before the fucking thing couldn't turn fast enough!"

"No, I mean it's really stopped. Look!"

And sure enough the old clock high on the wall had stopped and a weird timeless feeling now permeated the corridor, the hospital. It felt like a storm had moved in, like the sky outside had darkened, like that prickling, beautiful, terrifying sensation of nature taking flight, of dogs whimpering, before all hell breaks loose in the world. There was no doubt about it: history was upon them.

The two men sat in silence now. Not thinking, not doing anything, passive, at the mercy of things which had already been done. If he'd have had time Pierre would have well liked a shot, to push some calm through his veins. But he hadn't the time, as down the corridor there came the nurse, and playing nothing but her historical role, and as grave as she must be remembered, she told Pierre that the doctor was ready to see him.


The doctor seemed abnormally cheerful for such a moment. He was a large man, well groomed, who seemed to offer safety in the very stiffness and quality of his shirt cuffs and links. There was a cup of coffee on his desk and Pierre could smell the warm nutty odour from his mouth.

"Mr Chevalier, sit down and keep your hands away from my prescription pads," he said as an ice breaker. "Would you like a glass of water?" Pierre shook his head.
"Chevalier, hmm, now... where are you...." And he went through a small pile of letters and referrals on his desk.

Pierre's anxiety was barely under control. He wanted to stand, to move, to leave. He wanted a Get Out Of Jail Free card, to rejoin his life with no receipt for living.

"What's the news, Doctor?" he asked "What is it? Am I fucked?"

The doctor opened an initial envelope from the heptology unit. He unfolded the paper inside, lowered his glasses and peered at it, his eyes scanning for what was relevant. Not looking up he said:
"Mr. Chevalier, unfortunately you have tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. Now before ypu panic we'll discuss after exactly what that means and what the next steps will be. But you have tested positive."

Pierre didn't say anything. From what he had heard about how highly contagious hepC was he had half expected it. Just then it didnt seem so bad, his concerns were on the results of the HIV test. That seemed what he was really there for. Pierre sat there feeling culpable and nervous. He hadn't done much to contract the virus but in this moment he felt it'd be a let off if he tested negative . He could feel his flushed face, how young 24 years really was, how little he had done with his life. He suddenly wanted to live, wanted to grab the doctor and rattle the help right out off him. He could feel tears, they were ready to flow.

The doctor looked at him. "You're a young man, Mr Chevalier... You shouldn't even be here." Then he opened a further letter, looked over it, handed it over to Pierre and said. "You've tested positive for the HIV virus."

Pierre looked at the results but saw nothing, he couldnt make out a single word. It was as if the letter was in some language he had never learnt.

"What's going through your mind?" asked the doctor. "A counsellor will be on hand in a moment to talk you through and help with the diagnosis. What are you thinking?"

But Pierre wasn't thinking anything. He was up and gone, without taking the letter, without a word, out the door, past Jean-Paul, past the dead clock, down the corridor, through the swing doors, past the janitor's trolley, past the lift and out into the open stone staircase of the old hospital. The daylight now hit him like flash-blast, piercing in through his lashes. Pierre made a sound like an exhausted animal and then bashed himself in the side of the head with the clenched palm of his hand. The world didn't seem real for a moment. He breathed heavy and stood in the bright light of day trying to unscramble his mind. Instinctively he patted the little secret pocket of his jeans, felt for the couple of bumps he knew were there, and then went off in search of the toilets.

In the toilet, Pierre collapsed over the sink, his head bowed into the bowl. He stared at a line of cream and green limescale which had built up on the ceramic. Then he slowly raised his eyes to the mirror. He stared suspiciously at himself, at his face and into his eyes. Then he studied his hands, turned them over and stood in blank yet profound thought.

In the cubicle Pierre hurriedly ripped open his Steribox, set up the little metallic cup, emptied a bag of heroin out into it, and got to cooking up a shot. He drew up, tied his wrist off, and clenched and released his fist before sliding the syringe into a vein in the topside of his hand. "Work you bastard!" he seethed, "work!" And it did work. The smack coursed up his arm, through his shoulder, through his heart and then to his brain. His body closed down, his emotions numbed, the sounds and brightness off the day dulled and his heart calmed. It was like a star collapsing into itself.

Pierre withdrew the needle. For a moment he stared at the blood which came from his hand. He felt he should be scared of it, that somehow he should have a new relationship with his body. But he didn't. He looked at the blood and then like always licked it clean and rubbed the spot dry on his trousers. Straightened up he left the toilet and made his way down, slowly, to the canteen.

He saw his mother from a distance. She was sat there chatting to some old woman like she didn't have anything to do ever again. When she saw Pierre she said to the old woman "here he is". The old lady heaved herself up and left. Pierre forced a smile as she passed.

Pierre's mother stood up. She seemed small to Pierre. He could hardly look at her. She had given him this life and he had squandered it.

"Good? Bad? What?" she asked, nervously.

"It's good," said Pierre, through tears, "I got lucky, mum... I got fucking lucky." And he fell into her arms and wept into the maternal safety of her neck.

"So all this nonsense is over now, son?" She asked. "You'll quit all this?"

Pierre held on tight. She felt something scared in him, something she hadn't felt in her boy for many years. She clutched him tighter too. Pierre nodded and sobbed. "Mum... Mum," he said, but never finished.

He wished it was over, he wanted it to be over, but it wasn't over. In the hospital, in the canteen, on an afternoon like spring turned bad, the day blew hard and the day blew fast, and the clock had stopped and the clock ticked on, and son held mother like mother held son, and this wasn't the end, not by a long shot, this was only just, the beginning.

- - -

Thanks as ever for reading... One day we'll all be rewarded properly. Shane...X