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?”


“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.


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."


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.



“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.


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 :

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.

The Dirty Works of Shane Levene

My official website, containing all my collated writings, can be found below.

Down on the Low

Stooped over in the shelter of a shop doorway I vomited up a sickness from the very dull of my gut. I remained like that, vomit water burning in my sinuses and dripping out my nose. I thought of the little bundle of notes and how close I had been to salvation. How now, just a few metres on, I was back floundering in the most desperate of predicaments, once more facing sickness with my chance pardon gone. I dry retched and choked on life. I was nauseous from my stupidity, from an illogical pride which had so often plagued me. I was nauseous from the shame I would have felt in barging through that little crowd and picking up the notes on the ground; from the thought of scurrying away at pace while ignoring any shouts of suspicion. I had happened upon a rare slice of fortune and I had blown it. And now I was sick through such cowardice; fucked through such a lack of conviction. I flushed pale and filled with horror reliving the moment again. Perspiration broke and spread like mildew beneath my shirt and jacket. The adrenaline rendered me weak at the knees. I vomited once more, spewed up a nervous watery waste. And then I composed myself, wiped my mouth clear, turned and stepped back out into the day, a day that no longer felt quite real at all.

I decided to double back past the ATM machine once more. It was a crazy thought but I somehow imagined the notes still being there, and if not those same notes, then maybe some new ones. I told myself it was nigh on impossible and then reasoned that two people losing money, on the same day, in the same place, just moments apart, was so improbable that it could maybe just happen. I crept closer to the ATM machine. I visualized a new little bundle of notes on the ground, imagined the warmth and relief of picking them up. I walked by slowly, my eyes cast down upon the lower legs of more people queuing to use the machine. And then I looked: nothing. Just a large gob of yellowy-green phlegm. I cursed myself again, damned my rotten luck and rotten courage. What kind of a cretinous coward are you ? I asked myself. What kind of man, under such terrible conditions, would not have blundered in and picked up those notes regardless? I gave my being a harsh dressing down. The life around me moved; carried on as ever. Something so humdrum and fatigued, a world unaware of the drama and struggle playing out in thousands of surrounding lives. Rain spat down and the afternoon wore on. The cash machine beeped its yellow light and my sweats progressed as the last vestiges of heroin left my body. Without destination I tramped on. Disappointed and emotional, desperate to somehow make amends after my squandered opportunity.

I anguished over his black leather shoe. Saw it once again tread on the notes as he put his card in the machine. My soul lit up just then knowing he was concealing them, knowing that when he was done his natural turn away would leave them clear in my path. It was just a matter of moments. I would bend and scoop and I would be out of trouble, counting my find and calculating the drugs I would be able to buy and how they would help get me through the next couple of days. That fuck of a man. Maybe 30; maybe not. Spruced and well groomed. Money to spare in his account. Someone who never finds anything because he never has to; someone who's life was safe beyond the need for luck, who wouldn't want luck anyway as luck is always on the precipice. Oh that fucker. How he withdrew his cash, took that single step back and must have glimpsed my good fortune on the floor as he verified his own dispensed notes. Unbelievable! Checking his cash fresh out the dispenser. The cash machine doesn't make errors you fuck-starved fool ! And, if you do insist on verifying your withdrawal, have some fucking decency and do so out of sight - in the secrecy of your own shade. I recalled again how his eyes had narrowed in curiosity, the vulgar, anxious way he had looked around before his knees bent and his coat lifted up at the back and revealed the clean pressed denim of his behind. I flirted with the idea of barging him aside, making the scoop before he did, of maybe even wrestling the notes clear out his hand. I imagined much, a swirling hurricane of thoughts going through my mind as he picked up the money and strode away. Approach him! I told myself. Tell him the money he had found was money I had dropped. That I had returned in the hope of finding it! But it was all too late. By the time a hand tapped me on the back, letting me know the ATM machine was free to use, the man was just a fading shadow down the road, a ghost, merging with the crowds and carrying with him the only chance I had. I stepped forward to the machine, my mind all askew. I pressed some buttons, any buttons, my heart racing and my stomach hollow with nausea. The machine flipped through its default screens, asking me to insert my card. I had no card to insert. I pretended to take a receipt of my transaction and I left, the colour having drained out of me and a vile pressurized heat shuddering through my face and brain.

I walked around cursing that man for over an hour. The only person I cursed and despised more was myself. I walked and I kept my eyes to the ground, somehow hoping that the day would bring an impossible second slice of luck, something not so grand but maybe enough to get me a consolatory bag of dope. The gutters held nothing of any good worth. My only find was a battered twenty pence piece, so misshapen that not even a telephone box would have accepted it. I held it for a moment, fingered its sharp edges and then dashed it away. When my cloud of disappointment finally cleared I found myself wandering around old roads, roads on which I had not passed down for many years. I racked my brain for some way to raise a meagre few quid. I looked around, at the street signs, the railings and curb stones. I looked at the buildings, their porch lights and doors and fittings, at all the riches that made up this city. It seemed incomprehensible that in one of the great financial capitals of the world one could do absolutely nothing legal to earn oneself a few bob. I was short on twenty quid and save for pimping out my arse, or a desperate theft, there seemed no possible way to raise it.

I kept to the main shopping routes. I figured that if any money had been lost it would, more than likely, have been lost there. As I walked and scanned the ground I went back over and re-evaluated all the people I could possibly borrow cash from. Of course, I had already played this game out, multiple times throughout the day. But now my desperation stakes were higher and maybe that would push me to consider asking someone I had earlier dismissed. But there was no-one. I couldn't even think of anyone I could ask who would refuse me – that's how bad things had gotten. And then there I was, my eyes on grit and pigeon shit, the iron railway bridge above taking away the light for a few strides, opposite the multi-storey car-park where years ago we had parked a stolen van. The Kinsellas, I thought, becoming more optimistic as I better considered the five brothers, all still living at home with their mother. True, it was a fair few years since I had last seen them, but surely on the whim of a surprise visit I could somehow coax twenty quid out of their collective coffers? Maybe, just maybe, they were the answer to get me out my jam? Through very light rain I picked up the pace, my stride becoming furious as I made my way down towards the White City Estate, to the only plan I had.

It was the heroin: all but gone from my body; my metabolism speeding up under my skin and pushing the perspiration out through my pores. I tried to compose myself, regulate my breathing and keep a dry air of calm about me – but it was no good. Through the grapevine the Kinsellas had gotten wind of my heroin problem, and as my plan was to spin them a story of being clean it was important that I arrived looking at least vaguely clean and sober. Of course, my visit would not be an obvious one for cash. I would turn up as if just calling around out the blue and, at some stage, work an opportunity to ask for a lend of money. It was a Sunday afternoon and so the chance of at least one of the brothers being home was good. I smoothed my hair down and ruffled my shirt to let in some cool air. The Kinsella name sounded like a winning ticket just now, and as I turned into the old block I felt sure that I'd be able to scratch them for a score, maybe even a little if more.
A young kid opened the door. He gave me a furrowed look, as if I wasn't who I said I was. He closed the door over and called out the name of his brother Paul.

“What da fuck,” I heard Paul say as he came out his room and and made his way down the hallway. I took a step back. When the front door re-opened Paul stood there, as small and thin and as wiry as ever, in the same kind of ill fitting track-suit bottoms he had always worn, littered with burnholes from a thousand hot-rocks. “Fuckin' hell, if It's not da freak himself! Thought we'd got shot of you for good.” With my best smile, which felt more like a grimace of pain, I said, “Alright cunt? You gonna invite me in or what?”

Paul turned and led me in. As I closed the door he entered the living room and said, “You'll never guess who's just turned up?” Then he called and I stepped into view, stood there with another gritted smile, my clothes damp and my face moist and pasty. My eyes felt like fucking saucers. God, I could feel the junkie in me twitchy and on edge. The occupants of the room stared at me standing there and one of the two people I recognized, Paul's mother, said something like, “You alright?” I nodded and mentioned something about the rain.

“Come on, Paul said. He asked me if I wanted a coffee. I didn't. Coffee would make me vomit. I said yes anyway. I pulled a hand over my face and brow. Now I had stopped walking the sweat just poured out of me. I could feel the grime from the back of neck rubbing loose on the damp collar of my shirt. While Paul pottered about in the kitchen, I snuck off to the bathroom to wipe myself down. As I stared in the mirror at my sallow reflection I caught the slightest glimpse of Paul, stepping briefly into and out of view, his shadow then deadly still in the hallway, discretely checking up on what I was doing. I didn't let on I had spotted him.

“So, what brings you round here after all this time?” he asked, once we were sat down and settled in his room.

“Nothing special. Just thought I'd pop in as I was passing. Not a crime is it?”

“Probably worse if it brings you here. And what's with the fuckin' sweating?”

“That. Yeah. Won't fucking stop. Ran the entire length of Wood Lane in the rain. Thought I'd put in a few extra miles as we're playing in the company league next week.”

“What, you playing football again?”

“Yes,” I lied, pleased that my ruse had worked. “We're sat joint third in the division.” Paul took a sip of his coffee, flicked the TV channel over and began skinning up a joint.

“Still smoking that crap?” I said.

“Better than the shit you've been pumping into yer veins! You shoulda quit with this.”

“Shoulda,” I said. “I've stopped all that other crap now... been clean almost 18 months.” As I said that a bead of sweat ran down my brow as if to betray me some more. I sponged it away. As Paul twisted and harassed his spliff into shape he shot me a curious look. Then, eyes still on me, he ran the grey tip of his tongue along the length of the joint, wetting the gum of the papers. He looked like he was playing the fucking harmonica to my bullshit.

“I'm managing a warehouse just down in Greenford,” I said. That was true, though I had only said so for strategic reasons. Paul ignored me. He took a deep drag of his joint and lay back on his bed. The light was out in the room. I hunched forward pretending to take notice of what was on the TV, all the time thinking, conniving as to when best to put the bite on Paul.

I could feel it myself. The nervous, fleeting presence I gave off in the room. It was like I emitted some sense of not really wanting to be there, of being there for ulterior motives. I did my best to look relaxed. I settled down into my chair as if I had nowhere to go and that time was just something which needed to be passed. But no matter how hard I tried, some strange compulsion kept having me roll cigarettes, kept sliding my eyes over to Paul's way. What I did manage to watch of the TV made no sense. My brain was awash with desperate thoughts of how to sponge cash out of Paul, deliberating over what was the most likely strategy to succeed. One thing for sure: under no circumstances was I to tell him the truth. He was one of the many people who ensure you lie to them, lie from a fore-knowledge of what their reaction will be to the truth. It's not heroin that makes the junkie lie; it's the person before them. I glanced again at Paul. Though I was desperate it wasn't the right time. And so I said nothing; made no move. I pretend watched the late afternoon TV, all the while feeling worse and worse, fantasizing over what dealers would be on on Sunday and which one I should call if ever I got the chance.

It was maybe an hour in when there first sounded the ring of the door-bell and then a double knock on Paul's bedroom door. Paul strained across from where he was lying, unbolted the lock and opened the door. There stood Lawrence, one of his younger brothers, looking at me with a smile. “Well look who it ain't!” he said. Then, before I had time to answer, he added, “Jesus fuck, you look worse than death man!”

My sweating had stopped but I was still damp and pale. I rose and shook his hand. My palm felt slimy in his. He smelled of beer and had a slight tipsy look in his face. He made a pretend punch to my liver. I hunched up as if to protect myself and felt my guts squelch in my stomach. I had barely moved and the sweat broke out under my clothes again. So now there were two brothers. All the better, I thought. Double the chance of one of them lending me a note.

Lawrence sat staring at me. He wore the same tipsy smile with which he had arrived. Whether he understood I wasn't doing too great or whether he had had one too many beers, I couldn't quite figure.

“So what brings you here?” he asked.

“Just a friendly visit... wondered if you guys were still around.”

“Wish you'd fuck off,” Paul said humorously, turning the volume up on the TV. He handed Lawrence the joint. Lawrence took a long drag, held in the smoke and then emptied his lungs, making the sound of a light calm wind.

“You working? He asked. I nodded. “Doing well,” I said. “Managing my own place now.”

He nodded like that impressed him. It was supposed to. It was said so as when I eventually asked for cash they'd be confident that I had the means to repay it. I tried once more to watch TV, now with the two brothers stoned, staring at the screen as if hypnotized by it. In my mind I played around with thoughts of asking them for money, thought up various excuses as to why and tried to figure out the perfect moment to ask. I couldn't concentrate on anything else. The heroin was all but out of my system. I was running on dry as I sat there, each moment becoming more and more uncomfortable.

“What you up to tonight?” Lawrence asked.

“Nothing planned. Will head off home in a while.”

“What, you don't fancy coming out for a pint with us?”

“Not for me, thanks. It's been fucking years since I had a drink.”

“Ya boring cunt!”

I stared at Lawrence, his eyes challenging me to change my mind. And in that look, that offer, I saw my chance.
“Nah, I can't. It'd mean going home, getting my cash and then returning... can't be fucked with all that. And I must be up early tomorrow.”

“Always was a fucking lightweight, “ Paul said.

“Fuck off... I Drank you to your bed many a night.”

Paul darted a scrunched up piece of cardboard at me. “Come on ta fuck! We'll only be going for a few and a game of pool.”
“Nah. I would but I've no cash on me and I'm not running home and back at this time.” I left it at that, hoping one of the brothers would take the hint and offer me a loan of money. When neither one did I made the bite. “I'll tell ya what, if someone can drop us in for a score I'll tag along. Twenty quid would be enough... a couple of rounds and a few games. I'd be up for that... if someone will stand me the cash until tomorrow?”

Paul flicked his lighter and re-lit his joint. For a moment the dark room lit up. As it fell back into darkness I caught Paul's eye curl my way. But he said nothing. Lawrence neither.

“Come on lads,” I said, “who's gonna put us in for a score?”

Paul made a scoffing, choking sound as if he'd inhaled a little too much smoke. He looked at Lawrence. Lawrence sat there with the same stupid smile plastered across his lips, only now there seemed something quite knowing in it. I could feel the heroin withdrawals burning through my eyes and a feeling of restlessness jittering away in my muscles. Sickness was taking to the stage. The familiar moist feel of breaking sweat came over me again.

“Oi, Paul. Put us in for a score mate? I'll bring it around first thing tomorrow evening.”

Paul shook his head. “Ain't got a score,” he said. “It's the end of the week and I'm on weekly pay. Just got enough for myself and my fares for the week.”

“Fuck off... You must have a score?”

“Fuck all, mate. Ask Lawrence... he's rolling in money!”

I turned my attention to Lawrence. He didn't look much like salvation to me. Then he said, “I would, but I'd need to pass the bank and they're all closed today.”

“Oh, come on guys. Twenty fucking quid... you ain't got a score between you and you're going out? What about ten? Give us ten each?”
Now the brothers looked at each other. I waited eagerly for a response, my well-being hanging in the balance. If one would give the other would too. Lawrence shook his head, and then Paul did the same. “Seriously, we ain't got it,” he said.

“Fuck. Then maybe I'll have to go home and come back after all. Not a bad thing, I suppose... means I can get changed and scrubbed up as well.”
Of course, I had no intention of going to the bar with the Kinsella brothers. If they'd have been stupid enough to lend me the cash I would have wandered off and disappeared at the first opportunity, crept into a phone booth and dialed my dealer. As it was neither brother seemed up for lending me even a tenner each. I dropped my stakes, my pride dropping with it. “What about a fiver?” I asked. “Five quid each would get me a few pints. Come on guys.... for fuck's sake. Don't make me go home.”

Paul shook his head. He mocked me for begging for a tenner. He didn't realise just what ten pound would do for me, that he would also beg for it if it was attached to his entire well-being.

I looked at the brothers, thinking. “What about your mother?” I said.

Paul pulled a face and shook his head.

“Well, is it OK if I at least ask?”

Paul nodded for Lawrence to unbolt the door. With the door open Paul shouted for his mother.

I heard Paul's mum, Veronica, come trundling down the hallway. She was a pleasant enough woman with a blunt honesty, a died blonde bob and the figure of a church bell.

“What the fuck d'ya want? Calling me like that?”

“The Freak wants to ask you something.”

Veronica looked at me. Whether I imagined it or not she seemed to have a look of horror on her face. I felt like I was glowing green or something. I began to explain about the bar and Paul and Lawrence, but before I was even halfway through she cut me off and asked, “What the fuck d'ya want?”

I played it straight. “Twenty quid, Vee... I'll pop it straight back around tomorrow evening.”

Veronica looked over at Paul who was staring straight ahead at the TV. I could see her brain doing the arithmetic, understanding that I must have asked both brothers first and they must have refused me, even though she must have known they had money. “TWENNY QWID! You've narf got a fuckin' cheek, int ya? Not even here five minutes and already on the ponce! Nothing ever changes. No I ain't got twenty fucking quid to lend ya! Piss off home and get yer own!” I laughed, but Veronica wasn't laughing. She wasn't as rude as she was making out, but she was deadly serious about not lending me the money nonetheless. I smiled it off, sat there like it didn't matter. But it did matter, a lot. It felt like my soul was beating inside my body. I could feel myself reddening, secretly cursing the Kinsellas. I considered falling to my knees, crying and begging them. Melting down in any pride I had left so as to make them feel so embarrassed for me that they'd lend me the cash just so as they didn't have to witness such a pathetic sight. Veronica pulled the door close and went off back down the hall. From in the room we heard her saying to her partner: “He only fucking wanted that I lend him some money! What a fucking cheek. It'd be another 5 years we wouldn't see him if I did!”

I raised my head and looked at Lawrence. His smile had gone, now replaced by two quite serious eyes, scrutinizing me, as if observing every drop of perspiration I expelled. He very slightly nodded and pulled a sad face. I knew what it meant and looked away.

So, the Kinsellas had blown me out. I wanted to leave but didn't want to make it so obvious that I was in dire-straits. And so I remained, sat there where I was, cursing the whole lot of them, the entire clan, all the while hoping against hope that someone had bought my story and would come good if I only stayed long enough. When the bedroom door knocked only minutes later I secretly harbored hopes that it was Veronica, that she had changed her mind and was back with a score. But it wasn't Veronica, it was the young kid who had originally opened the door to me, Patrick, the Kinsellas' youngest brother.

He came and plonked himself down on the bed alongside Paul. Paul pushed him away. He was a podgy little kid, kinda looked like a midget version of his mother and had the expressions of a grown man. He wore a pair of shorts beneath a grubby T-shirt, and had a stick of candy in his hand which he was all sticky on. He looked at me, mischievously.

“I remember you! Freaky Shane,” he said, laughing. “My mum said that you and Alan used to dress like girls.”

He sat there, his back against the wall and his bare feet hanging off the bed. “I could kick you from here,” he said. “I'm doing karate and I could kick you if I wanted to.”

“Well, don't kick me,” I said. “Go and kick a sack or something. I'm not up for being kicked today.”

“I'm not gonna kick you,” he said, “just saying I could if I wanted to.” Paul suddenly shot out a hand and gripped the small boys thigh, just above the knee cap. Whatever grip he had him in Patrick began squirming and screaming , all the while laughing in playful pain.

“You're not gonna fucking kick anyone,” Paul told him. “Say it! Repeat after me: I'm not gonna kick anyone!”

“I'M NOT GONNA KICK ANYONE!” Patrick screamed.

Paul squeezed his leg with his claw grip a little harder. Patrick wriggled as if electricity were going through him. “Mercy! Mercy!” he cried. As he tried to wriggle free from Paul's grip he let out a loud, ripping fart.

“You dirty little bastard,” Paul screamed, throwing Patrick's legs to the side and slapping them as they fell together. Patrick laughed, and while trying to catch his breath he farted again. He moved down away from his brother's reach and sat there with his hair all scruffed and a bright red face.

After a moment he said to me: “Do you know what Tae kwando pads are?”

“No,” I said. Just the thought of Tae kwando and physical assertion made me feel weak. A chill went through me; the evening was coming in.

I was desperate. Sunday's were depressing alright. There was something so sad in the clouds outside, the silence, the shutdown of the city as everyone passed their last few hours of the weekend with a communal dread hanging over everyone of monday being on them again so soon. I could feel it, could hear it, as if the last sounds from the river were traveling through the evening sky and everything was getting ready to camp down for the night. I needed to do something. Get some cash or not get some cash and get out of here. It hurt me more being around slight hope than being alone with none at all. At least with no hope I could quickly come to terms with and could start counting down the hours, days, until hope and health would be back. But here, in the Kinsellas, wherein survived even the most meagre thread of hope, it was impossible to get on at all. It was even more impossible to leave. Leaving was defeat and defeat was a long walk home with the wolf of heroin sickness clamped upon my back.

I pulled the sweat down my face, pulled the skin down with it.

“I'm getting new shoes next week,” Patrick said. “The new Nike Airs, white with the red tick. You wanna see them?”

“Go on then,” I said. I wasn't really interested but shoes cost money and that fact registered with me immediately.

“Hang on,” Patrick said, “I'll show you.” He slid off the bed. As I moved to let him by I caught a whiff of the musty smell of moisture and rain and damp in the space my body was occupying. As Patrick left, Lawrence also rose and announced he was getting ready. Paul nodded.

A moment later and Patrick returned with a crumpled, well used, sports catalogue. It was full of all the latest trainers and prices. He pointed to a pair. “That's them,” he said, “but mine are white and red. Neat, huh?”

They didn't look neat to me, but I said they were anyway. Then I saw the price: almost seventy quid.

“So, when you hoping to get them?” I asked, now very interested.

“Next weekend,” Patrick said. “Paul's gonna give me the rest of the money to add to what I've saved.”

“I might,” Paul chirped in, “but not if you continue with your fucking around.”

I sat staring at Patrick. He was looking again at the sports catologue, the light from the TV flitting across his face and illuminating his dreams of his new trainers. His eyes positively thrilled at the prospect of going to get them. I stared at his bare feet. He had no idea what a world this was, how predators were everywhere, scheming and scamming for their own ends, smiling when necessary and often within touching distance. No, he had no idea at all.

I didn't want to ask; I couldn't. Don't do it, I told myself. Save your pride. Keep your respect. Go home and suffer out two days and bank such desperate measures for when they're really needed. My thought processes and internal debates, trying my damnedest to see them off, had me rocking where I sat. It was only a very light movement but enough for Paul to notice. What with that, and the sweats, and the red under my eyes and I must have looked in a much poorer state than I imagined. My next conscious realization was staring dead, dull ahead at Patrick. The room had seemed to disappear around him, as if it was just us. He looked a fair child, trusting. I never made the decision to speak but found words coming out my mouth regardless.

“Hey Patrick,” I said.


“Those trainers... how about getting them tomorrow?”

He looked at me, intrigued. “Tomorrow? Serious? How?”

“An investment,” I said. “You lend me twenty quid so as I can go for a drink with your brothers, and I'll pop it back around to you tomorrow with an extra twenty quid bunged in as a thank you?”

My heart was racing. Out the corner of my eye I had seen Paul spring tight to attention on hearing what I had asked.

Patrick wore a bemused smile. He stared at me, his naive head trying to figure out the catch, his young instinct sensing something wasn't quite right about the offer.

“Really? You'd pay me twenty pounds for borrowing you twenty? Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, tomorrow,” I lied. And depending on what time we finish I may even be able to pop it around tonight. I mean, whether tonight or tomorrow, by Tuesday you could be wearing your new Nike Airs to school.”

God, this was low. Not only could I not repay the money tomorrow, but I sure as hell would never pay double on the lend either.

“So, whatdya say, Patrick? You gonna lend us it or not?”

Patrick thought it over. I could see he was totally confused. I was an adult, should be trustworthy, ut something in him was fighting over some other instinct, an instinct he was too young to comprehend I sat staring at him in the semi-dark of the room. But Patrick couldn't muster up an answer. He was somehow frozen in deliberation, unsure as to what to do in maybe the first real gamble of his life. That's when I saw his eyes very slightly shift and widen, obviously trying to communicate with Paul; Paul who was sat up rigid, his eyes pinned open, very subtly shaking his head to tell Patrick 'NO!'. Patrick seemed to have problems understanding his brother's message. His brow furrowed, demanding more information than Paul could give him discretely. But, sure as hell is sold as a hot place, Patrick was soon mimicking the stiff actions of his older brother, his head then very lightly shaking and his mouth saying “No... No” denying me a lend of the cash.

“What Patrick? No? You can't do it?”

“ I... er... can't...” he said.

“You can't lend me just twenty pounds? Not even for a few hours?”

I watched Patrick's eyes slide to Paul once more and now his older brother came to his rescue.

“Hey, leave him alone for fuck sake! Dint you hear? He said 'no'! That money's for his trainers.”

“Oh come on! Jesus,” I cried. “It's just twenty quid! Paul, guarantee me. If I don't come through with the cash that you'll pay him back. Come one... I'm not gonna do a fucking runner!”

“I'm not standing a debt of yours,” Paul said.

I turned to Patrick again, all pride and care for how I looked gone. I begged that he lend me money, tried convincing him in as many ways as possible that I was good for it. I pleaded with Paul, said “Come on, man... have a heart.” I said way too much and the more I said the more sure it became that I would not get the money as it was now quite obvious to everyone that it couldn't be to go for a drink with the brothers. Patrick sat before me, shaking his head and repeating over and over the words “I can't... I can't.” Then Paul really did end it. He warned me to leave Patrick alone and said that no-one was going to lend me any money. He told me to go home and get my own and come back or don't... as I wanted. The way in which he said that told me he knew that I had no intention of returning, that he understood that I had no money nor wallet at home... that maybe I didn't even have a home. His words brought me out of my trance and now, absolutely despondent, my ailing body seemed a hundred times worse than it had done just moments before.

“You mean cunts,” I said. And then I thankfully accepted the out Paul had given me and said I was gonna shoot off to get my cash and then return. I asked Paul what bar they were going to and he said he didn't know. I guess he didn't want to waste the breath in his body. As I gathered my things together and put on my jacket, without looking at me, Patrick left the room. I felt drained . There was a weird smell in my nostrils and the yawns were coming on strong and aching out my jaw muscles. I said goodbye to Paul. He refused to say a word of goodbye but nodded. Down the hallway the living room door was open. Inside Patrick was laying on the sofa alongside his mother, watching the early evening entertainment and guffawing along to the canned laughter. He looked at me. I couldn't leave it. I beckoned with my head for him to come. He mouthed the word 'wot' and raised me a fed up looking look.

“Patrick, come here... I want to talk to you,' I said. With the dirty sole of his little foot he flicked out a karate kick and pushed the door over, closing me out and leaving me alone in the darkness of the bare hallway. I stood there for a moment, the sound of pumping blood gushing through my head. From Paul's room I heard him coughing on another lungful of joint and then the TV channels flip through once more.

I opened the front door. It was dark outside. I barely felt I had the legs to walk home and only took the first step because those last steps, that journey home to collapse down in defeat on my sick bed represented the last sliver of any hope of salvation I had. Maybe I'd bump into another junkie? A dealer? A work colleague? Come across someone, anyone, a familiar person I could beseech for help, slide down and beg to hold my weight for a day? Jesus, there were enough people who I'd done good turns for, who owed me at least a small favour in return. And so I made my way home, through the dark, gaudy evening, my eyes pinned and primed and my wits about me, treading down hope, step by step, until there was no more left at all.

- - -

Thanks as Ever for reading... all My Thoughts Shane. X

Lines for Joe M