The Dirty Works of Shane Levene

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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