The Bastard Sea of Life - Part 2

Part 1

On his first day back, Grayson turned in to work two hours late. We'd crashed out with the back doors open and had woken up stone cold, and Grayson's veins had all retreated into the warmth and safety of his body. The bathroom looked like a slaughterhouse by the time we had finished. We rushed out, dressing as we strode down the road, Grayson calling in to say his alarm had frozen and me phoning any dealers to see if we could get an early score. It would be the mold for the next fortnight: falling even further behind what we were chasing and rarely having the time to wash our faces before we had to leave. That was when we started waking in our sunglasses, rarely doing too well first thing, cleaning out crack pipes and cooking up filters just to get us out the door. Grayson's savings were also running low and where I was back using every day, I had missed numerous deadlines for the little paid writing I had going on and had sent in other texts that were rejected out-of-hand due to not making any kind of sense. In our rush to make each day work, we were forgetting some things and abandoning others. And then there was Serena. Her latest move had been to turn up at Grayson's work and cause a huge domestic in front of his bosses. Ejected out the Arts Centre, she was now threatening to turn up at Grayson's flat, which would mean coming face-to-face with me.

Grayson's work disciplinary meeting neared ever closer. If ever he was concerned, it never showed. I had asked him to let me take control of it, warning that his work Union would not be able to defend him in the correct way. He agreed with everything I said, acknowledged the strategies I laid out and said that was what we would do. But once the crack had worn off, he just didn't seem to have the energy or volition to get the papers or contract I needed, nor record his conversations with his bosses, nor back-up his work emails. He just let his case fall more and more towards the Union and fully believed that they would work in his best interests. The dilemma was that doing things my way would have involved a lot of effort, and Grayson just didn't have the effort to do anything but get back home to the waiting drugs.

In the brief calm that preceded the actual hearing, Grayson would often return home in a positive mood, singing his bosses' praises and saying how kind and understanding they were being.

"You do know they're only being nice because they're gonna have to sack you?"

"Stop being so fucking pessimistic! I've a good feeling about this disciplinary... A very good feeling. It's not just my managers... Everyone's being so supportive. They just want to see me get back to my old self."

"They're going to fire you, mate. Mark my fucking words. They're being nice because they know come next week, you'll no longer be their problem. You've been late just about every day since you returned, had another unauthorised absence last week. You're taking two-hour long lunch breaks so as you can get home and get topped up and get back. You're smoking crack and shooting heroin in their toilets and having domestics in the public foyer! They're protecting their own asses so as you can't go for a constructive dismissal or put in a harassment or bullying complaint. They must tread very carefully due to your mental health status. It's why it would be so easy for us to fuck them. But their decision is already made. What you need to do is spend the next few days gathering up everything from your work: contracts, handbooks, copies of warnings and emails, the minutes from your previous disciplinaries... Everything. Also, the names of other colleagues who have previously been disciplined for unauthorized absence. If we can find a precedent that has already been set, we can fuck them on a discrimination charge once they sack you. But you need to get these things before you're fired – after, it'll be too late. They'll lock down all access to your records and kill your mail address.”

"Okay... Okay. Quit it, will you! You'll ruin my high with all that. I'll do it. Tomorrow, I'll seriously begin gathering all that shit up.”

Tomorrow came and went, and Grayson didn't move a muscle to help protect himself. Instead, he left it with the Union rep, who he said would die fighting his corner.

The problem was that Grayson needed someone who was prepared to lie and cheat and pervert the cause of justice for him. Someone who'd willingly falsify records, create fake evidence, whip up the support of his colleagues, break the law and risk jail time. He needed someone who would advise him in what to do and say, regardless of the truth or the law, or who was right and who was wrong. He needed someone who detested the conservative art market, someone who had a grudge against business and management... Someone sadistic enough who would relish taking on the creeps who run such places. A Union rep is not that kind of a person. They generally support the truth and justice, and this just couldn't be about that. If it were then Grayson would be fucked, as he was as guilty as hell. If he'd have listened to me I would have either saved his job, or, even better, made sure he got fired and then put the company in a position where they'd have had to pay compensation in an out-of-court settlement. But it was too late for any of that. Grayson's fate was in the hands of a good-meaning but truthful union rep, and that just about guaranteed his fate would be a rotten one.

During that week, the good ship really started to take water. On the Monday, Grayson mentioned something about hoping his bank card would work. On Tuesday, he could only withdraw £100. And, on Wednesday, he left without his wallet and so I had to tap my mother for £200 which I promised would be paid back the next day.

The next day was the day of Grayson's hearing. I walked him to work. We were almost an hour late and we both looked like shit. I was wrapped up in a heap of scarves, shades tight over my eyes and limping from an injection I had missed in my ankle. Grayson was soaked through with a drug sweat, his suit was crumpled and stained, and his white shirt was black around the collar. Every few minutes he had to stop as he needed to vomit. He had already tried to withdraw cash at the ATM machine but it had rejected his card. The plan then was that he'd use his credit card to draw out £400 from the ticket office cash register at his work. With the 400 I'd repay my mother, score 200 worth of crack and heroin, and be back at his work with the drugs for the outcome of his hearing. On reaching his work, Grayson rushed on in while I lit a cigarette and waited outside. When he returned he could hardly speak. He was soaked through with perspiration and there was dry, crusted vomit on his lips.

“Din't work, mate... We're fucked! Bank's cancelled my card... We're sunk. I ain't even got your mother's money... Nor money for your tube fare home.”

“You sure your card's cancelled? It's not just because you've no money?”

“I don't know! All I know is it didn't work! The fucking bank's done us! I have to contact them. It says I have to contact them!”

“But there's money in the cash register? If you had a card it would work?”

“Yea, it'll work. Why? Do you have a card?”

“No. I don't even have a bank account. Not responsible enough, apparently.”

“Then what's your point?”

“Just take the money from the register. You'll be paid either tomorrow or Monday and you can pay it back then. How often do they count the tills?”

“Every day. I'm the cunt who counts them.”

“Well, count them wrong! We can make good the discrepancy later.”

“If I'm here later. Don't forget: my hearing.”

“Your disciplinary. Shit!”

“What should I do? Should I just take the lot? We could bunk off with everything... At least 4K. Have one last major blow out?”

“No! Do NOT take the lot! The police would be onto us before we've even blown out the first pipe. Take £400... It's all we need. 400 isn't so bad.”

Grayson lifted his glasses and stared at me. It was his way of saying we were losing our souls. God, he looked awful. I lifted my own shades, and staring deep into his eyes, I said: “Just fucking do it.”

Grayson took a huge intake of breath, knocked his shades back over his eyes, straightened himself up, then strode forward back into his work. He returned just a few minutes later, neurotic with nerves. He came right up to me, closing out the light, and with the security guards pacing about in the foyer, he started taking notes out his pocket and forcing them into my hands like he couldn't offload them quick enough.

“Take it, quick... Just take it and get the fuck outta here. There's £600... and a little more.”

Stood outside like that, too close to each other to be doing anything innocent, we stuffed and pushed the notes into my bag. “I've gotta go,” Grayson said. “The Union rep is waiting for me... Wants to go over a few things before the hearing. Try and get back ASAP... I feel like total crap.”

“I will do,” I said. “An' good luck... Fingers crossed they fire ya!” And with that, I left and made my way to the Underground to get a ticket and travel across town, repay my mother and score.

- - -

Exiting the tube station at the end of my outbound journey a text buzzed through on my phone. It was Grayson.

evrything alright? u got us sorted yet??

I'll have it in 15. Just walking to pick it up now. What time's your hearing?

Bin n passd. Bastards fired me. Bang Bang!!!


can I come 2 meet u? need a pipe.

Go home and wait. I wont b long. R u OK?

I will b

yeah you will. I'll cya soon.

When I got back to Grayson's, he had been drinking. And not only that, immediately after being fired he had phoned Serena, and she had jumped at the chance to travel down and console him.

“She asked if she can come around for an evening... Cook me up something to eat and talk. I said yes. She's been so good and she at least deserves that.”

“When?” I asked.

“Tomorrow .”

“I'll ship out then. Give you two some time alone. What about gear? We'll need to score. How we gonna work that.”

“Fuck. She'll be around at 7.30 PM. You could head on down and score, and by the time you return I'll have gotten rid of her. It'll work out perfectly."

“What happened with the Union rep today? How come he didn't die fighting your corner?”

“Turned out he was a piece of shit. Hardly said two words, and what he did say only dropped me further in it.”

“You should have let me take that on. We could have had them by the bollocks.”

“It's over, mate... It's all over. The Southbank Centre is history.”

- - -

On the morning following Grayson's dismissal, I woke up to a queer sensation of sea-sickness. Grayson was in the room, wearing just his red shades and a pair of lipstick-printed boxer shorts. He was spidering around, filling bin bags with rubbish and collecting together the dirty dishes and cups and glasses of the past few weeks. The back doors were slung wide open. The buildings opposite seemed out of kilter, like they had been built on an incline. Way out over them, in the farthest distance, sat an ominous-looking band of dark rolled cloud.

“Serena,” Grayson said. I nodded. He gave a pained smile. “Just tidying up a little. If she sees the place in this state, she may refuse to leave."

I lit a cigarette. “Do you need any help?” I asked.​

“No, there's not so much to do. Just cap and bin your needles when you're up and get rid of any old crack pipes.” I closed my eyes and smoked my cigarette, and as I did, I listened to Grayson as he cleared the room and freed it from its recent memory.

“What you gonna do about the money from work?”

“Fuck 'em. Anyone could have taken that money. How they gonna prove anything against me?”


“Till cameras don't work.”​

“The exterior cameras? Recording us stuffing their cash into my bag?”​

“Nah, we were too close together. We could have been doing anything. And, if it did all come on top I'd just say I lost it after being sacked and wanted to take revenge. I'll feign a breakdown. Stand there and piss my pants if I have to... Give them the money back trembling and sobbing.”​

“Still, if in the meanwhile there are any knocks on the door, hold your breath and don't answer.”

The day drifted by slowly. Out back, the spring grass was being harassed by a strong wind and as the light began to fall it looked like ruffled black seaweed. Then the smell of the river came in and rested over it, and as the shadows gradually filled in every last bit of space we sat in the quiet still of the room, and we kept to our own thoughts, and a great silent but malevolent melancholy slowly descended upon us. At just gone 7, I gathered up my phone and the cash, ready to head off across town.

“How long will you be?” asked Grayson.​

“The usual. An hour and a half... 2 hours.”​

“OK. I'll make sure she's well gone by then.”

- - -

When I arrived back around Grayson's area, it was gone ten. The night was in proper. I called Grayson to check if it was clear for me to head on back.

“Ten minutes,” he said. “You get sorted OK?"​

“Of course.”

“Thank fuck... I'm half sick here.”

Twenty minutes later, having received no news, I phoned Grayson once again.

“It's cool. You can come back,” he said.

“Has she gone?”

“Yeah, it's cool. See you soon.”

I walked the small walk back to Grayson's and let myself in. In the hallway, I was accosted by the heavy fumes of a potent form of weed - the kind of weed that grounds people in the same place for days. It trailed away down towards the living room, into the distinct silence of a room waiting to greet someone. Grayson came out in the hallway to meet me.

“Serena's here,” he mouthed. “She wants to meet you.”

I knew it. I knew it from the phone call but had given him the benefit of the doubt. I made to do a U-turn and leave. Grayson tugged me back and whispered, “Please, mate. She said she wouldn't leave until she had seen you. She'd have waited all night if I hadn't told you to come back. And I need some brown. Please. She'll only stay ten minutes." I pushed him aside and entered the living room.

“Hello Serena," I said, offering my hand. She stared at it like it was the hand of the devil wanting to waltz her around hell. After a moment, I withdrew it.

“So, we meet at last,” she said, taking the last drag of a joint. Then, very deliberately she scrunched the roach out in the ashtray. I watched her index finger, the unvarnished nail bitten down, twist it out like she was screwing out the body of a bug. I cast my eyes at her. She was looking at me. She was tall and thin but was one of those women who hunched into themselves like some kind of mad, gnawing rodent. She had a long, thin nose and there were dark brown depression rings beneath her eyes. She looked worse than us.

“So Shane,” she began, emphasizing my name in a condescending way, “Grayson tells me that you're this great writer?”

“Just as many think I'm the worst. Depends what you like or what you're after.”

“Hmm. Indeed. Well, I've had a good look over this writing of yours and I don't think much of it at all. It's vacuous, narcissistic crap... Nothing there at all.”

“As I say, not everyone can like it. If everyone likes it then you're doing something very wrong.”

She let out a cackle. “Doing something wrong? You really do think you're something, don't you?”

“That's not for me to say. What I think has no value at all. It's not how it works.”

She sat nodding and smiling, shaking her head in disbelief. “Cigarette,” she said. “Give me a cigarette.”

I took out my packet, opened the top, and held it out for her to take one.

“You're a bit fucking generous with Grayson's cigarettes!” she said. “Grayson, are these your cigarettes Shane is offering out? You're not fucking keeping him in smokes as well, are you!?” Then, back to me: “Don't you think that taking him for your scummy drug money is enough? How much a day? £300? You're smoking and shooting up £300 of my family's money every evening? Have you no scruples?”

“Blame me If you need to. I'll carry it. But Grayson is 42 years old, and he contacted me, and he wanted heroin, and my job isn't to question or try to stop him. Whatever life he had led him to me. A happy man would never have reached out.”

“So it's my fault? Are you fucking saying it's my fault?!”

“No. I'm saying it's Grayson's fault. Like my choices are my fault. No one's to blame.”

“You're a right one, aren't you? Think you have the answers to it all.”

She sat there in silence staring at me, smoking and blowing the smoke my way.

“Well, I'm sorry anyway," I said. "If it's affected your life in a bad way, I'm sorry.”

“I don't need your fucking sorrow! You should have maybe thought about that before taking money out of my child's mouth! You realize that's what you've done? Turned a little girl's father into a fucking junkie and coerced him into spending the money which would have helped to feed and clothe her?!”

Grayson, who had been standing in silence over near the door, now spoke. Of all the things, he said:

“Give us the gear, mate... I need some brown.”

I went in my bag, took out the tissue I had the drugs wrapped in and gave it to him. Serena bowed forward with her head in her hands, rocking as Grayson took the drugs and made his way out the room to straighten himself up. Once he was gone Serena rose and left the room too. I stood staring down at her handbag, a packet of thin menthol cigarettes sat right at the top.

It was a weird night. The grass out back was still being splayed by the wind. It felt like there was something out there, some force hanging in the dark city air that weaved through lifetimes. From out the bedroom I could hear Serena and Grayson screaming at each other, another domestic ringtone sounding out across town.

Grayson returned alone. “Sorry mate,” he said. “She's leaving now.” He collected her handbag and took it out. I followed him. Serena was standing in the hallway. Under the dull lighting, the dark under her eyes was even more pronounced. She stood staring at me until tears slowly overspilled the bottom lids of her eyes. I wanted to hold her, somehow grip her into me, let her fight and scream and kick and spit and then give in and sink into the darkness of comfort that another body offers. I didn't move. She wiped her eyes and she took one of Grayson's hands and she said, “Fucking sort it out! Sort it out!"

When Grayson next joined me in the room he had been crying himself.

“That was hard, putting her out like that,“ he said. “That was too fucking hard.” He fell down onto the sofa, in the exact same spot where Serena had been sitting. He stared at the floor and outside the black sea grass blew and I knew - it was all coming to an end.

The early hours of that night were imbued with a great sadness. Grayson was reflective and knew his life had collapsed around him. He was out of a job, almost out of cash, and the only thing in the world that still loved him unconditionally and could help had just left in tears and was probably vomiting up her disgust into the river. We smoked our crack in silence, and when it was gone Grayson asked if I could hit him up with a fix of heroin. As I probed around his forearm in the bathroom, I could feel him staring at me. I had a hard time finding anything in his arm and there were lumps and marks bearing up on both sides. He didn't wince nor make a single complaint, just stared at me until he felt the drug reach his brain. I tossed the syringe in the sink and left him there, slowly going over, folding into himself as his last place of retreat.

The next day it was the the official first day of summer. The money we had stolen from Grayson's work was all gone. At 10 AM we were down outside the bank, waiting for it to open. Grayson withdrew the money from his final paycheck along with the small overdraft he was allowed. It would kept us going for another few days, but no more. During those days, as the tide that had pulled Grayson out slowly washed him back ashore, we made the first moves to enrol him in a methadone program. It would take a week, but he was taken on and given the date his first script would be scribbled out. To bide him through, we travelled back and forth across town buying up as much methadone and useful opiates as we could. The next days would be tough. I told Grayson that I'd stay there with him and we'd suffer the worst if it out together.

And, with the money gone and having slipped into overdraft we could do nothing but drag a hand down our heavy faces, take a deep breath, swallow, exhale and prepare ourselves for a period of sober living. So, in a flat in Lambeth, as the first hot, carnival days of summer rolled in, we slept and watched films and sweated it out on a diet of methadone, paracetamol and slow-release morphine tablets. And, after four days in surrender we came to and found our feet, and for a moment, in the ageing middle of our lives, the bastard sea of life sat still.

- - -

My Thanks for Reading as Ever, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M ---> To Follow Shortly....