It fails me now the quarter in which we were staying, Pedro and I, but we headed out from there. We passed the prostitutes under the flyover, cut through the throbbing perversity of the traffic, then slopped through the fish market. Into the ghetto Espagnolé, mothers scrubbing kids in tin baths in the street, toothless grandmas shelling peas on doorsteps, insults and curses and fights ricocheting from windows up and around: a poem of southern Italy. Past the concrete football pitch. Weeds growing up from the cracks. Bin bags and trash piled twelve foot high around the far perimeter. Refuge strikes. Rats strolling about freely. Cock-roaches the size of almonds. Out from the tall shaded third world into the sun baked thirder first world. Illegal Nigerians and Malians. Odd shoes, socks, rags, DVDs, video cassettes, saucepans, books, electrical gadgets, fabrics, blankets, broken toys, board games, cutlery... All splattered out along the pavement. Screaming pushing grabbing haggling fighting. The dribbling arsehole of the common market. Up Head, the bag snatchers on Vespers. Weaving in and out the traffic. Up on the pavement, whizzing by, arms reaching out, whether they're making a snatch or not. Piazza Garibaldi. The junkies of the central station. Those who've copped marching off like snivelling storm-troopers. A junkie girl. Bare bruised legs and flip flop feet, holding onto her man. Laughing. Life is sweet and it's just about to get sweeter. A poem of love in the South. Vacant stares on wastrel faces. A memory of the future. Down now, into the city proper. Syringes in the dustbins, packets of prescription drugs in the gutter, stains of human life in the doorways. The new wave punks sold on anarchy and printed slogans. Graffiti. Torn flapping posters. Leaflets. Flyers. A call to arms. Whistles and screams ringing out from manifestations. Police motorbikes parked outside cafés. Traffic cops staring out at the noise and heat and bustle over small espressos. Onto the main street. The sickening and universal smell of commerce turns out from revolving doors. Leather, perfume, polished floors, brass adornments, tailored shirts, fetish heels, gold trimmed bags, designer sunglasses, gold watches, rings and pearls and ground roasted coffee beans. The Vespas ever present. Smelling blood. Zipping by for the idiot girl who carries her bag road side. The homeless and the trash hosed away, back down to the station with the niggers and the whores and addicts. Up now. Climbing. The roads widen out and there's a haze in the near distance. Palm trees plotted along the central divide. They shake and whisper through faint breezes in the baked day. Huge rectangular advertising boards. Sun cream, breasts and bikini lines. The sea front. Salt and sand and sex and slime. A host of gay bars along the front. Pushed out to the very edge of the city. High class men of a certain fashion with strong jaws and designer stubbles. They sit outside looking like they're doing nothing but must be doing something. The weak lira smells strong. We climb now. The lira climbs with us. Up sea side inclines. Fantastic slanted houses and shops drunk on the hills. Transvestites and leather and sexual perversions in the safe damp of unfindable places. House whores. A Clandestine class. Studded motorbikes, piercings, industrial metal, open windows, reclusive artists working away in dark interiors. Paintings out in the street to dry. Streets getting so narrow now. Buildings trying to kiss as they lean forward. Mediterranean air. The roads wind up higher and become narrower. Little expensive cafés and bistros tucked away. A bar owner slops out a bucket of floor water for the sun to suck up. So hot. Humid. Condensation dripping from window sills. People in just shorts and sandals and sun glasses and cream. This is where they sigh all day and curse the world and heat. Where the evening arrives like a jewelled oasis. Up so high now and in front of me I can see the city, a steaming shit of ghettos and waste, of noise and pollution and history as as it eats itself up. Squalor, poverty, death, disease. It's all down there, rotting away in the streets and doorways. And Pedro exists. And he's running. His laugh is dreamy and it seems like he's in one of those tragic videos that I'll watch my entire life. And I watch him and he calls me, in Italian, soft contours. And this could be love and it should be love. I watch out from myself, drunk on the romance of a city of sadness and trash. And he's in the cool now, past the last bar on the highest point of the city. He's staring off over a wall and the air is rushing through his hair and I can smell the soap off his skin and something magic too. I climb the last step of hill and the shade and cool hits me like all of Italy is loving me at once. And for a moment the world goes quiet and the city behind me drifts silent and only the smell of the sun and of Pedro's image remains. I join him. And he says nothing, just stands there like a ships head looking out and full of breeze and something more than joy. Out in front of us is the Bay of Naples, an expanse of deep green sea with Vesuvius smoking away to the left. On the water is a single fishing boat and we can see the shadows of fish from here. And I say nothing to Pedro's silence. It's all feeling. And it's a great beautiful sad moment in our lives and our death talk of yesterday figures none. And we know, we both know, there is hope in this godforsaken world.... and in that moment, while the sea sat still and the city lay mute behind, we really and honestly had escaped the trappings of men.
At this point I shall not suppress a sigh. There are days when I am haunted by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy -- contempt of man. And so as to leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporary.
Nietzsche – The Antichrist
The Last Days of Sober Living
The last year of sober living was a romantic time. I remember evenings spent sat beneath Westminster Bridge, the party boats just along down, moored in the high tide, the lights of the Southbank centre lit up across. I remember the last days of that infernal summer, where somehow dark obsessions came in on the floral evenings and magic and horror both lay in the distance. It's like it was another world, like the place a poet must see before being condemned to the page and the word. And when the summer was done that last sober autumn, crisp beneath my feet, walking so far and getting so lost and so far away from home. In the distance, rising up, the old industrial areas of Wandsworth, places I'd gone with my father and where we used to research Roman fares and Victorian bottle dumps and dig them up to hopefully find treasures. In the last evenings before the great turbulence of adulthood I read Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and Yeats – the Irish in me for the fight to come. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the great Russian writers accompanied me as I travelled London, a kinda farewell tour before going underground. I visited museums and galleries and walked around Soho in the pouring rain, miserable and seeking out drug contacts. I wasn't needing a contact just then but was planning ahead. I wrote my first short stories through that winter with the windows out, no heating or money and having to warm my hands with a hair-dryer.
It was an insanely beautiful time, the memory a bruise blossoming in the sky now. But coming in on the back of the year was a great storm. I had been watching it build for years, darkening tones and swirling shapes in the sky which I didn't understand. I was too young to chase storms at that time. God, I didn't know which way it'd move or what course it'd likely take. So I sat and watched with a fatalistic horror and delight, kinda thrilled that the world was gonna come down on me, imaging the eroticism of my struggle and how I'd kick and fight and die. I watched the storm engulf the sky and come up over the bridge. The river darkened and weird ripples and eddies crashed about below. The cheers from the riverside bars now sounded like screams, like the whole world was screaming. There was talk of a meltdown. That was the night they set the river on fire and welcomed in a new thousand years. And all the while I was at home, laying in bed, shivering and crying and imagining gunning down the crowds. It was on that night there that the wound opened up and the poet crawled out: I was fundamentally at odds with my world.
In the dark of the night my brother said, “Shut up!” And I don't blame him at all. I chased the smack down the foil, but not even that made life bearable. It wasn't one thing. It was a lifetime of things. Twenty five years of tragedy. I watched the fireworks go off, exploding in the sky, Chinese Dragons and Roman Rockets and War and Blood and Bubblegum sparks... “HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Happy New Millenium!!!” They screamed.
The last drunks staggered home; the celebrations turned angry in them now. It's just the same; nothing changed; and there's work tomorrow. Outside one of the discontented beat up a dustbin, scattered its guts all over the road. I looked at the back of my brother's head and wondered if he was asleep, if he was still breathing, if he'd survive this night. I used to do that when we were young, creep about in the dark, feeling for his breath. I hope he breathes. I hope he sees the morning. He deserves it more than me. I thought back to when I was ten and Robbie Rudge's granddad said that his goal was to reach the year 2000 as he'd then be exactly one hundred years old. I thought of him, if he was breathing. Probably not. I hoped not. We were seeing in a new era of tragedy, but this next thousand years will not be a history of collective tragedy like the last, but of personal tragedies : it will be the single man and woman who will get it this time. The next holocaust will be indiscriminate.
My brother was asleep now. His chest didn't move and the night was now deadly still around us. I clicked my lighter and as quietly as I could chased the last beetle of smack around the foil, blowing heroin out into the new year. “Night Night, Dan,” I said... “looks like we've made it, Bro.... looks like we've really fucking made it.”
I don't think I'm going to last out the year. I can feel death and weakness in every move I take. The eclipse of bad health is nearly complete. My lungs rale and wheeze through the night. I am breathless on waking. My first half an hour is spent coughing up the settled phlegm in my chest and smoking cigars to replace it. I feel tired all the time. Not physically tired, but a tiredness that hangs in my face and has a physical weight. I've started getting piercing headaches and have a weird second heartbeat in the extreme left side of my chest. Every so often, twice a day, my entire chest will cramp from the middle as if some force is trying to pull my breast plate apart. My feet are brown from over 10,000 injections per foot and bad circulation. My ankles and shins swell up after each fix. If I pick a scab I scar. Stairs almost kill me. I can manage no more than a flight without getting out of breath. And it's been like that for a while, but now I'm starting to feel really ill with it: old ill, like I'm an old man. If I have to predict how I'll go I'll say my heart will give out. I do believe I'll die alone in this room in France and will not be found for at least a week.
I never wanted to die and I never wanted to hurt myself. I only ever wanted to tame the pain and be happy. I am happy. That's the contradiction. I was never really sad anyway. I guess when you're young and feel so strong and offended by death that you think you can do just about anything and get away with it. Nothing effects youth but time. Then one day, suddenly, the stitching's all undone. My only hope now is that I really am a hypochondriac.
Rebels should not take Drugs
Rebels should not take drugs! That is NOT taking up arms! That is NOT the good fight! That is getting in bed with the enemy. Rebels should not drink OR smoke! That is NOT rebelling: that's conforming! Rebels should not pay homage or get high on pussy or arsehole... that only leads to heartbreak, antidepressants and the psychiatrist's couch. Rebels should NOT write! Rebels should NOT march! Rebels should NOT lay down in front of bulldozers! Rebels should NOT sit in French cafés reading clandestine newspapers! That's what rebels are supposed to do!
People have always said I am a rebel. But I'm not a rebel. I'm the opposite of a rebel: All I've ever wanted was to be accepted and loved.
Rebels should NOT need love.
I Have no regrets, but...
I have no regrets, but...
That's not a rock n' roll thing, just how it is. I don't look at life for what has passed but only for what is here infront of me today. That's not to say I'd do everything over again. But it is to say that if I could alter history, yet without knowing what consequences that would have on my present, I wouldn't dare change a thing. I have no regrets, but...
That old man I saw on the metro: how fresh and wise and vibrant he looked. Sitting there with a head of brilliant silver hair, a soberness in his face like you'd maybe acquire from reading thick volumes of law books, his eyes pale and clear, alive and responsive, his skin not sagged or mottled, but thickened perfectly to sit on the collar of his fresh pressed shirt. But there was something else within him, a kind of contentedness with the world and his place in it, something very straight and honest, a kindness of living that only those in good health can have. Somehow he exuded life, as if all the comfort in the world was within him, completely respectful of his own mortality; like every minute was one to savour; like even the discomfort of a morning wash and shave was a pleasure; like waking to a new day was a gift and not a chore to get through until bedtime. I eyed his face again, could almost see the years of him slapping aftershave across his jowls, eager to get out into the world. And he sat there like that, his hands crossed over one another, the right gently clasping the left, taking warmth from his own existence, completely submissive to life, not waiting for the next blow. I unclenched my fists and let my own hands hang loose.
Between Saxe Gambetta and Bellecour, two quick stops, I glimpsed that man's entire life in my mind. Or maybe not his life, but the life I imagined I'd never have. And as I watched him more, I thought: I wouldn't mind being like that, being him... getting to that age. That wouldn't be too bad.
I have no regrets, but...
...in the dark window of the subway train I glimpsed at my reflection. And I thought:
God... what the hell have I done.
covering up the waste underneath, the needle pocked flesh, the brown feet, the huge abscess scars, the frightening capillary veins that pop and spread out like fungi, the raling lungs and wheezing chest, the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, the emphysema, the bloated liver, the early onset of diabetes, the methadone fat, the filthy elbows, the dirty neck, the suicide scars... all covered by nice shirts and jumpers and trousers and socks and shoes.
When Tescos began selling books like Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' I knew we were fucked. A system so sure of itself that it even sold me it's own anti-propaganda, advising its customers to boycott almost every product it sells.
Capitalism is ME. I see it all too clearly now.
Home: A Love Letter to London #257
Behind the wall, in the shade, on the weeds, I know the black and orange caterpillars that are found there. Through the park, behind the swings, in the bushes, I know the human shit and trodden porno mags. Along the river, on the bank, with the tide sat out, I know the stench of the sunbaked mud. In Shepherds Bush, down St Elmo's Road, in first spring days, I know the Cherry Blossom snow. Around the church, on broken graves, under the elm, I know the damp of summer shade. Beneath the cars, where the eye can't see, I know by default lies what where:
The taste of bus windows; the underside of benches; the stuff stuffed down behind the green BT junction boxes; the muck of squashed vegetables after market; the hard school walls; the anti-climb fences and black grease; the smell of the public telephone receiver; the smoked brown wood of telephone poles; the acrid taste of motorway berries; the oil pools on the tarmac after the neighbours fixed his car; a sparkplug caught in the drain; the white enamelled bricks in latrines; the grubs that burrow in the window boxes; the insects that come in on summer nights; the mosquitoes in the back yard; the softness of the back seat in taxis; the taste of bus windows; the rain in shopping bags; the stains the beggars leave alongside the cash machine; the brown furry pollution that clings to the disused power station on Lotts road; the smell of train journeys out of town; egg and cress and mayo sandwiches; wet dogs; house cats; the smell of Superdrug bathsalts; brewery alleys; Adidas aftershave; four pints of beer and an ashtray; sausage and beans; fresh air dried laundry; corner shops full of the morning news; carbon betting slips; the afternoon soup kitchen of the Goldhawk Road Methodist church. That's my home. A million memories of all I am and everything I'll ever be. A deep sadness of a city that horrifies, saddens and brings me to beautiful tears... caught somewhere in years gone by and going by. That there is my home. She rises west from here and sprawls out like you wouldn't believe. She rises and settles like a mushroom cloud; the snake of the river slithering through her heart. London Town.
My city rips me in two. There is nothing I am more passionate about than home. It acts upon me as a melancholic gravitational pull. I cry for London Town. I did another Google Map walk through her streets last week. I broke down crying for the city I know so intimately, for my exile from her, for all that is me and is lost here. Cut off from London I am dying, but I am too gutless to return. I suppose I'd rather live in pain than face the music. But as my father and mother and brother and sisters die I will be taught one almighty lesson: I will be brought to my knees and dragged screaming through these foreign streets.
France is not my home. It's not even a home from home. Maybe on my death bed I'll be nostalgic about my days here, maybe she'll become a part of my history proper, but just now she weighs me down and makes me unutterably sad. I don't know this city or the people like the integral way I know the people of my own city. The little nuances that distinguish everyone – a slight accent, a fashion of accentuating words, the choice of words. I don't know this place and it doesn't know me. I have become a 37 year old blank. I didn't grow up here. I didn't clamber over her walls and graze my knees, camp in her undergrowth, go insect spotting in her forest. The streets are not the same curbs we sat on as kids, poking at the gutter life. The walls are not the same brick I drew and sprayed my name on, was gripped up upon. Even the barbed wire is a different cut and leaves different scars. I once wrote that 'the pavement tastes the same no matter where you are', but that was just poetry, a throwaway line that sounds true but isn't. The pavement DOESN'T taste the same, it's just the same things that knock you to it.
The Dark Shadow of Existence
I walked around followed by the dark shadow of existence. It fell in front of me when the light was behind, moped behind me when the light was in front, and submerged within me for the high noon sun, only to re-emerge, inch by inch as the light went down, out into the evening, until it stretched so far ahead of me it was all there was. And when the natural light of day was done, my dark shadow of existence multiplied and split, unsure of which debauched route to take through the city night. The lights from street lamps and sex shops and bars and arcades tugging at my soul.
Behind my dark shadow of existence I live in fear. I creep around like one of the mentally retarded, grinning at perverse acts and watching the elephant men and woman of the city balance their lopsided lives in dubious ways. I stand in the grime of shooting galleries, watching and imaging nightmare scenarios. I watch young boys in the station toilets perfecting the eyes of lust they'll give to old men as they suck their cocks and rifle through their pockets. I help put sex cards in the phone booths for dying smack and crack whores. I sit in the room, waiting for the crack man, fronting the money and loading the pipe till she's finished out back and can join me. Sometimes a client wants a proper moment and she'll rush out in vile filthy knickers, her death in the low light, holes in her groin, sucking down a rock of crack before scampering back to her trick. The curtains are drawn and it's not even 2pm.
My dark shadow of existence is there when I wake, staring forward at the naked, nicotine stained walls, the blood on the floor. It raises when I do, before the sun is even up.
Just a few words to let let you know I'm back from the wilderness and will be posting here within the next few days.As I'd been writing constantly during the past 4 years I thought/felt it was time to take a break from that nonsense and have a proper rest from it all where words and sentences and themes were not my first waking thoughts. As many of you know the actual process of writing for me is just a nightmare. I've never enjoyed the physical act of getting these words down, and really only do it from a desperation to say the things my mouth has never been able to. Anyway, there you have it: I'm in from out the cold.
The upcoming post will almost certainly be a set of four or five little texts, each one concerning thoughts and sadnesses which have been plaguing me since the end of last year. One of the pieces will pick up on the last post here, though rather than addressing what happens POST-junk it will focus on the PRE-junk dawn... my last year of sober living.
Until then... Watch this Space... Shane; x
It was my first morning to methadone clinic and a vile, hollow, depression hung in me then. The light hadn't yet reached the morning and outside the streets sat cold and black and frosted over. Blustery winds rattled the windows then swept off, angry, across the brick face. The only light in the room came from the television which had been on continuously for over seven months. It had served as some kind of comfort, but now it disturbed me, the breakfast show jingles and easy-listening media voices reminding me of a distant normality, something terribly sad, from a time before I knew what sickness was. My body ached from light junk withdrawals: runny nose; cavernous yawning; a coldness deep in the marrow of my bones. My head was plagued by a weird melancholic nostalgia which played havoc with my raw emotions. Memories of the people I had loved, echoes of the beautiful things we had said, the goodbyes, grieved me. I felt I could cry for just existing. I sat at the table by the window dreading the thought of having to confront this new winter day half sick. I stared at my reflection in the glass, superimposed over the darkness outside. I was pale and deathly. I felt withdrawn, yet at the same time, raw to the world. I pulled the little electric fan heater in close and hunched over it with a cigarette. Every few moments I'd turn a look up at the sky, praying that the light of day would never come. But the light was coming. Already the sky was a tone lighter than when I'd woken, and was thinning through even more. I finished my cigarette, and another besides, and when I next looked out a ghostly city was visible, rising up like ruins into the distance. In the sky the dark shapes of birds passed over, and then the stark, early light arrived proper. It was then, from the TV, that the news report first broke, of that awful crime – only I didn't hear it then.
With the coming of the morning light all peace in the world was broken. There was an emptiness, a harshness, something intangible which had crept its way into everything and made me feel forlorn and vacant. I looked over at the bed. It was barren and cold. I shuddered thinking of the uncomfortable night I'd spent in it, wrapped up in all my clothes, draughts still somehow finding their way in and across my skin. My stomach pained and was turbulent. I tried drinking a coffee but couldn't manage it. The warm river of liquid through my middle threw my body out of kilter even more. My fingers were brown and there was dirt and dried blood on my hands. I needed to wash but there was something deeply troubling about the sink and that whole area. I couldn't rid myself of the thought of the brown, slimy limescale around the bottoms of the taps, the rusty scissors and dirty razors on the side, the sludge that the soap bedded on. Over at the sink I turned the tap. The water came out like shards of steel. The few specks which hit me almost made me fit. To wash, even just my face and hands was too much. Instead, I flashed the corner of a flannel under the water, and with the damp edge, wiped down my fingers and gave my face the once over. It made me look even more wan and left red blotches around my nose and forehead. My stomach dropped loose once more and pained like I had diarrhea. The smell and taste of illness was up my nose and down my throat, something like being suffocated with crushed ice. Just to stand was an arduous enough task, the thought of having to brave the day and trek across town a hellish prospect.
I don't know why that morning, but before leaving, I had an urge to turn the TV off. It seemed it would close something that was open; somehow help balance my existence. As I reached across for the button there was that story again. Now a reporter was standing wrapped up and reporting live from the scene. The street behind him was cordoned off and policemen were stood around in the background breathing out mist. I killed the TV. The reporter remained for a moment, then closed shut from both ends, and was gone. Far from harmonising the room the place now seemed bare, uninhabited, like my friend's room that time after they had taken his body away. I buttoned my Duffell coat up to the last, wrapped a scarf around up to my nose, and then left – half sick and getting worse, down to my initiation meeting at the methadone clinic, to be dosed for the very first time.
It was a day with no body. The streets were wet but it had not been raining. The wind clipped at my ears and nose and made going on twice as hard as usual. The winter sneaked right in under my coat. The sky was at once too dull and too bright, and everything from dew in the grass, to wet on railings, ice capped puddles and mildew on walls disgusted and unnerved. My nose was constantly running and dripping into my scarf, and my skin felt so dry it was sore, whipped raw by the winds. On an almost deserted length of dual-carriageway I stood shivering at an unsheltered bus-stop. A thick mist had accumulated in the distance, the frozen central divide disappearing into it. My feet felt like slabs of ice, and inside my gloves I could feel the greasy dirt on my hands. The world seemed bereft of hope, the corrupt morning converging on me and attacking me from all sides, on all senses, whipping in, stinging, stabbing, piercing – my muscles stiff like meat out the deep freeze, the taste of smashed ice in my face, up my nose, inflating my sinuses. And under all that, a vile, cold-sweat, which trickled down and froze, creating valleys of draught all over my body. When the bus finally arrived I staggered on half-dead, cringing at the driver, my hands too cold to produce my pass. The driver waved me past and for a brief moment I thought I had found salvation.
Though it was but a light negligee of junk illness I wore, it was enough to make the world feel barren and bleak and to open me up fully to the rigours of existence. Without junk filtering life I was too sensitive to it. The wet bus floor with traces of mud and trodden leaves and newspaper, the umbrella in the luggage pen, the old woman with purple hands and weak watery eyes shaking in the front seat... it all disturbed me and brought forth an involuntary spasm of repulsion. I mooched along the bus and ached down into a seat alongside the radiator vent. I put a hand down to feel for the heat but there was none. I huddled up tight in the corner, pulling my coat and scarf in, the misery leaking out my dripping, frozen nose. An invisible sheet of cold came forth from the expanse of window. I cleared a small patch in the mist and stared out absently at the abject life. An immense sadness came over me, and yet I wasn't thinking, just looking. There was something bleak and dispirited out there, a hollowness that permeated the most mundane things. I sat there shivering and snivelling, staring out my little frost framed aperture, my ear suddenly wooed by the stern tones of the news report, that same story, now floating out the drivers cabin, the slaying of two teenage boys in Harlsedon, North London, shot dead in their car as they waited at a set of lights in the early hours of the morning. This time the report did register. It seeped in and filled me with terror and dread.
Nothing seemed quite real after that, not even the news report. It somehow seemed manufactured, maybe even a hoax, like it was deliberately broadcast just for me, for this doleful winter morning. There was at once something hallucinatory and yet hyper-real about it. And the report didn't run and disappear into the archives. It descended upon me, festered, got right into the weave of me, and left me with a creeping sense of unease and paranoia. It was as if I was in some way wrapped up in the crime, like it was fated to have consequences on my own day. It was the same nightmarish bent on reality that finds its way in on the back of a night terror, where dream and reality morph together for a moment and a sinister gateway to a violent and bloody dream-scape is left open. There existed the feeling that just about anything could happen... would happen... had already happened. I felt edgy, like this wasn't freewill but pre-determined, a prolonged sensation of déjà-vu. It felt like someone was watching me. I looked around the bus at the few other passengers. It was all quite unremarkable: too unremarkable; like it was staged, like the absolute sober normality that precedes a bomb blast. Now, on top of my increasing illness, alongside the melancholic drips of memory of a time just before the world turned sour, I had this very real and terrifying idea that a lone gunman would board the bus, or someone would randomly open fire in the streets, like that which had happened in Hungerford. I rose and moved myself to the other side of the bus, into the seat alongside the emergency window. It was up and across from the middle doors, and when I wasn't watching them I was surveying any movement outside, praying that the bus would get me to where I needed to be.
By the time I stepped off the bus into the thin brittle morning I was really starting to come down with the sweats and muscle aches. I still wasn't proper dope sick but I was bad enough to not have to feign it and hopefully be dosed properly for a first timer. The streets seemed more deserted than usual. A hostile crystal covering sat over everything. Blind corners threw my heart into panic. I tried to quicken my pace but found I couldn't. I was at that stage of junk need that time had a set scale, 1 to 5 or something, and could not be sped up nor lost. I could get nowhere faster than illness allowed. Down the road a postman in his summer work shorts passed me by but didn't seem real. I looked back, checking to make sure he was really there. He was, but then seemed too far down the road to have passed me when I thought he had. I looked at my feet as I walked, counting the steps, somehow, for a moment, not being able to comprehend their connection to my brain, that they were even my legs at all. As I chugged on I left a trail of mist behind me. My right eye watered constantly. I'd never felt more out of odds, or cut out and placed in the world. Everything that would usually inspire or is unique to winter horrified me and left me with desperate need to escape it.
On the first day of methadone clinic you are washed up on the inner bend of smack addiction. This is where the river deposits the big rocks. For the first time addiction is taken off the streets and placed in a closed environment where the shit and puke has no place else to go. It's often the place where the junkie turns up to make his final cameo in life. It's a harrowing place. You see not mostly addicts well while scoring, but the long term addicts, those who've lost their limbs, those whose stomachs are at bursting point with liver disease, those eaten away from HIV. Them same people, in the same place, with the same scars and abscesses as you. In their faces and deaths you can see yourself, and it's maybe the first time you've seen yourself in a while. This is the after-sales service of heroin. It's a side of addiction which you've caught glimpses off but up until then had had the freedom and good sense to steer well clear off.
Outside the death halls of the clinic were gathered three loyal methadone clients. They were dressed in a mish mash of grubby sportswear and wool and stood together smoking and holding little plastic cups of dispensed coffee. They were too chatty and alive to be ill or even suffering.
You 'ere fer juice? One asked, sounding like a raspy toothless woman.
Doctor, I groaned. It's my first morning.
Good luck, offered another, a tall thing in a filthy trappers hat with ear flaps. It seemed that because I'd walked in, and not crawled, it wasn't going to be enough.
The clinic was dull and empty, an ill lit corridor with no reception. This part of the service had been kept out of sight when I'd had my interview two months ago. Up on the walls were corny drug abuse posters, showing the young face of the addict that no-one here resembled. Down the corridor, on the left, was a doorless turning, and further down, on the right, two closed doors. The heating seemed to be on maximum. I could feel the cold smoking off my coat, an uncomfortable filthy, itchy sweat beneath it. I waited for a moment wondering if someone would come and greet me. The far end of the corridor descended into total darkness. A middle-aged woman with a harsh, serious face, and wearing a staff pass crossed the hall with files and bits of paper. She didn't acknowledge anything but the linoleum floor beneath her. Maybe you had to be down there, rattling on it, to get noticed? A human reception bell.
Excuse me... I said. But before I had even finished she had ignored me and was gone, leaving me to feel the place out myself.
The open entrance on the left was the waiting room. Along to the left, built into the main front wall, was a closed shutter with a message not to bang on it. Above the shutter was a sign reading 'DISPENSARY'. Only the sorriest addicts were here at this hour. They included new entrants who lay around sick; those here on court orders; those dying; and those who were still using smack – the early morning visits being the first step in bullying them off the scheme, making maintenance too much a hassle to continue. In the room now were four addicts and myself. Two, a couple, sat at the back. Another man was lain across five of the front chairs, sobbing and groaning. And the last, right over on the left, a man with his legs up on the tops of the chairs in front of him, reclining back with a small transistor radio held to his ear, his eyes scanning around for attention as if he was up on all the latest electrical gadgetry. On seeing me watching him he dropped his legs down and turned himself away to the wall, pressing the radio tighter to his ear as if the information was his. The radio was some flimsy piece of outmoded shit, probably what was all the rage at the cusp of his addiction where time and fashion had stood still. I watched him, the disgusting, hollow day making me feel deathly and not really there. The latest news of the morning's shooting crackled and rose from his hunched up form.
Police in Harlsedon, North London, say that the shootings represent a worrying escalation of gun crime in the area. They declined to speculate as to any apparent motive for the slayings, though did say that a gangland style execution could not be ruled out. The lone gunman, a Caucasian male, between 25 and... ...
… …and a medley of poorly picked up radio stations cut into the report, the addict tuning through the band waves and settling on a country music station before tuning through again. I took a seat at the back, away from the entrance. My face prickled as the cold in my flesh undid itself. Surrounded by depressing government health warnings I loosened my scarf and sat staring, repulsed, at the bowls of fresh fruit laid out on the tables upfront.
I hadn't been waiting long when the woman who had ignored me in the hall entered. She read my name from a small notebook and looked up and around to see which one of us would present themselves as me. Surprisingly it was the addict who'd been laying groaning across the five front seats. He staggered forward, reaching out, crying.
Please, I need something... PLEASE! I can't wait any longer. I'was 'ere first. I'm dying... really, I'M DYING!
He looked like he was gonna throw himself around her and clutch on as he collapsed. This was dope sickness and you can't fake such a loss of self-respect. I cringed just seeing his illness, remembering days I'd had those same pleading, outstretched arms and tears.
The nurse moved aside holding her arm out. Are you Mr Levene, she enquired, panicked, looking over at me.
I nodded. But he can go first, I offered. It was a huge mistake. Having a heart in this world often is.
The nurse gave me a peculiar, furrowed look. It was somewhere between hate and disgust. Follow me, she said. I moved as decrepitly as I could, but it was too late: I'd already blown my cover. As I passed the addict he was back sitting, his legs swung flimsily over the other, like a woman, jigging like he needed the loo and making painful, murmuring sounds. I wanted to touch his back, but I didn't want to touch him at all.
My doctor was a small, prudish, fifty year old Italian woman. Her sleek dark hair was pulled back and up and held each side with an elegant hair brooch. She greeted me in her three-quarter-length white overcoat, classy beige tights and flat, catholic, bumper-car shoes finishing her off. Well groomed, well-aged, well-scented. She was conservative to the marrow but may not have known it.
I hung my coat and scarf up and sat down. Rather than evaluate me from behind her desk she pulled her chair around and sat opposite – close enough so as I could see the tiny soft furry blond hairs on her face, but far away enough so as our knees could never touch. I got a weird hard-on, but nothing dangerous. As she looked over my file my eyes wandered off over her shoulder, fixing on the sink in the corner and the cylindrical metal boiler unit above it. I felt absolutely amputated from the moment, in a body which wasn't quite mine. The sterility and quiet of this place was of dope sick days, and never was I more an addict than then, in that moment, being kept half sick in front of officialdom as they slowly perused the meager information they had on me, deciding if I deserved a kind or wrathful God. I suddenly flushed hot, overcome with a prickling heat. My cock deflated. I considered breaking down too – weeping, apologizing for my tears, just to try and get this over with. It wouldn't have really been so fraudulent. I was that raw anyway. Still looking over my file she asked me questions to answers she already had.
After making sure I knew who I was, where I lived, how much I used and how I used it, the doctor handed me a sheet of paper with a list of common withdrawal symptoms on it. She told me to read through and tick the relevant boxes. Although I could only honestly say I was suffering from two of the options I nevertheless ticked them all, some not even bothering to read. It was maybe the best decision I had taken. What she took for nonchalance seemed to infuriate her. She turned wholeheartedly against me.
You've had hallucinations? She asked, incredulously. And fitted?
Not really fitted, more like severe muscle spasms and jerking, I replied. Audio hallucinations, not visual. A song, snippets of unmemorable conversations. Not unhappy memories, but terribly sad in the mood of today.
I wanted to tell her of the crime, how I couldn't rid the thought of it from my head, how it somehow felt entwined with my own, immediate existence and could gatecrash it at any moment. But I didn't. Stuff like that would likely only serve to get you a lifetime of 7am appointments with the psychologist. Instead I rolled my sleeve up ready to have my blood pressure taken, the doctor recoiling in horror on finding recent needle marks and streaks of dried, crusty blood trailing down my bicep and off, around my elbow. She gave me an alcohol wipe and stood there squinting at me out the side of her eyes as I wiped the blood clean. The chill of the alcohol on my skin unnerved me. As soon as I was done the doctor lashed the blood pressure band around my arm and began inflating it, squeezing the hand-pump like she was hyper stressed. My lower arm went hard, the skin blotchy like corned-beef. My head felt like it would explode. The doctor released the pressure and scribbled down the reading.
You're not withdrawing, she said immediately, ripping the velcro flap open and whipping the band away. You're not 24hrs clean!
I agreed I wasn't. I told her the truth that I was 14hrs down and feeling rough enough. I said I had to work and couldn't let myself get sick if it wasn't necessary. She seemed to take offense at logic. She gave the standard spiel that 40ml of methadone could be fatal in the wrong circumstances and she wasn't going to risk having a death on her hands. I asked her a few simple questions which she couldn't answer without indirectly admitting to talking crap. Her answer was a huff of silence as she rage wrote a prescription with such ferocity that her pen broke through the paper. She handed me the prescription. Scribbled in huge letters and then circled was '10ml', not even a tenth of what I'd need to be well. I scoffed at the prescription. I almost balled it up and dashed it in her face.
Come back tomorrow after not having used for 24 hours and you'll be treated properly, she said, smirking at my disgust. If not, if you can't, then this stabilization period will be a very slow, drawn out process.
You know 10ml won't do anything, I said. When I leave here I will go and score... I've no choice. I have to be in work this afternoon and will not get sick just to please you.
Well, if you do that you'll only get the same tomorrow. It's your decision. I can't properly asses you while you've heroin fresh in your system. There's guidelines and rules to follow, and you, like everyone else, will have to adhere to them.
I didn't reply. There was no point. The doctor was from a symmetrical, classic cut of cloth – a square from a square. She could never understand being out of sorts with your world – pinstripes against a paisley background. I put on my jacket and scarf, and prescription in hand hurried back into the waiting room and thumped as hard as I could on the shutter which you were not supposed to bang on. For my troubles I was kept waiting for over twenty five minutes, the proper sick junkie finally being dosed before me. It was a victory of sorts. Kind of. I swallowed my 10ml, showed an empty mouth, and left.
Back out in the harsh open the cold air burnt like menthol on my throat. I was really feeling like dog shit: snivelling, eyes running and burning as I cut through the highrise flats around the back. The day had come on a little. The wintry sky was now pale blue with a weak sun, the colour of sparkling wine, showing through. Underfoot was a sludge of earth and mashed leaves. Little huffed sparrows peppered the bare trees, waiting to scarper at the crack of the sniper's gun. As I hurried on a little white Scottish Terrier dog backed out of some undergrowth it's paws and legs all muddy and wet. It scampered off leaving the smell of slobber and tongue thick in the air. It was just after that that I came upon the most hideous sight imaginable. On this frozen, misty day, winds whipping the temperature below freezing, sickness steaming up off everything, an unshaven, half-dosser came my way, his jacket open and wearing only a light shirt underneath, the top three buttons undone, leaving his neck and lower chest exposed to the bare elements. In his hand he had a pear and he was munching on this thing as he walked, bits of fruit in his stubble, the freezing sticky juice streaming over and dripping off his hand. As I reached him a vile, glacial headwind whipped me to the bones and almost brought me to my knees. As I stooped into the wind I caught sight of him biting once again into the pear, a wintry tear leaking out his eye as he absorbed and celebrated life. My body spasmed involuntarily and my stomach felt frozen and missing. My scarf was wet against my nose and the warm air from my mouth burned my lips. The aura of half-sick visits to the clinic was with me, and little did I know, they would always feel like this.
The bus ride back was a warmer affair than going and with each revolution of the wheel Iat least had the comfort that my dealer was a meter closer. I sat at the very back, watching out for gunmen, now away from the window as my mind had fixed itself on the thought of a drive-by shooting. Horrified I imagined the thought of a car, sat lit up at the traffic lights, nothing extraordinary, except... two teenagers are slumped around with half their heads blown off and the CD still looping away, the green light meaning nothing to them any more. But it wasn't that. It wasn't the crime. It wasn't even the violence. It was the coldness of the night, the illness that was in me, the bad dreams, the tears, the shivering, the draughts, the stale cigarettes, the lonely bed, the Redemption Song, Bob Marley, in a bar, the last bar, on a night just like that, the jukebox, the fruit machine, waiting for love, for the door to open, bang bang, boom boom, through a cloud of smoke, red lips, black eyes, southern comfort, chewing gum, the misty heath of the pre-junk dawn. It was somewhere there, somewhere deep down in the melee of my mind which terrified me now and had terrified me always. It was the same feeling I'd had when they pulled the body out the river that day, when I'd sunk in the mud, when I'd lain there dying with pneumonia, when I'd cried because of how cruel I was. I was too raw to exist in the skin and the world I was born into. I thought all these things and for a moment I thought I was crying, but I wasn't, it was just the mist on the window was streaming down and the life was blurred and fuzzy through it.
I didn't go home. I was never intending to. Instead I got off near my mother's, scored, and then called on her so as I could get a shot. As I sat with the fix in the needle, flexing and tensing my arms to raise a vein, mum asked me how the clinic had been and who I had seen. I couldn't remember the doctor's name so described her.
God, everyone fucking has problems with her, mum said. D'ya know who your keyworker is yet?
I shook my head.
Did anyone ask about me? she asked. I told them you'd be down today and was my son! She said that with an air of pride then cursed me for dripping blood on the carpet. The next thing I knew was that the fire blazed like love, that I was looking at the cat as it slept curled up besides it, and how its fur looked like I felt. The cat opened an eye, looked at me, felt safe, then went under again. Mum put a cup of coffee down for me, took my needle and laid it out of harm's way on the table. She sat down over in the armchair, smoking and watching TV.
Did ya hear about that shooting? she asked.
I thought for a moment, then said I had... two teenagers weren't it?
Mum said Yeah like she was bored and blew out a cloud of smoke. It's been on every fucking channel non-stop, she said. I nodded, but I was already asleep, sinking warm into mum's couch. Outside the winter blew and raged about and menacing winds cut through the bare trees which lined the street. But now it wasn't hollow or cruel or hostile, it seemed kind of perfect, like the world was meant to be this way, like it could never be better than it was just then.
_ _ _
Thanks for sticking out the wait... Love and Respect as Always, Shane. X
Posts so far:
#1 - Intro/Higgins/Dubai Charli
#2 - Little John
#3 - Whistling Chris
#4 - Lloyd
#5 - The Doc
#6 - The Twins
For those not aware, I am writing a series of posts titled My Mother's Sex Life over on So Dog We Were. Please go across and read as I believe they'll add up to some of the greatest writing I've done this year. In total there'll be between 15 and 25 separate posts (one every three days or so). When finished I'll arrange it into a little Novella and maybe print up a few exclusive copies.
Drunks, Scumbags, Junkies, Lowlifes, Brothers, Sisters, Murderers, Money-lenders, Gamblers, Hustlers, Arabs, Africans, Indians, Jamaicans, Taxi-drivers, Snooker Players, Obese Publicans, Hotel Managers, Council Workers, Travel Agents, Gangsters, Builders, Drug Dealers, Epileptics, Friends, Freaks and The Rubber Prick Man. My Mother's Sex Life is a collective of London's Lowlife... A journey to and from the filthiest places, in search of someone who no longer existed...
It was the summer of the year before last. In a bar in Paris, in the early afternoon heat, Tony O'neill and I were swapping books, scars, track marks and missing teeth. Tony gave up his arms and narrated furiously their scar history, recalling marks where great veins had been blown out and where abscesses had once tried to eat him alive. I followed suit, showing off the purple tracks running down the centre of each hand and a few fresh needle welts from recently missed fixes. At one point I had my trouser leg hitched up and my sock down, showing Tony the pen marks for where I'd marked off a sure fire vein so as there'd be no fucking around if we were holed up in a toilet somewhere with no more than shitting time to get hit up. It was a circle around the entry site and an arrow pointing in the direction that the needle needed to go. Above the arrow I had marked the letter 'T' - my Tony vein. O'Neill lounged back in his chair, right hand around his beer, dark shades hiding an important strip of his life beating. He'd not been using for 9 nine years and was mostly all healed up and out of shape. But some things never heal nor can be scrubbed clean, and hands hit repetitively with needles over many years become addicts hands – chunky, swollen, corn-beefed.
Come on then, let's see ya teeth? I said
Tony opened his mouth and pulled his gums up at each side showing gaps and pointing out dental work and screw in teeth. I watched, smoking, one eye squinted over like a man who is about to lay down a hand of aces. With Tony done I didn't wait for him to ask to see my teeth. I sucked the last bit of death out my cigarette, and scrunching the butt in the ashtray, I raised my head flashing him a gritted smile, turning in profile so as he could see all the hideous carnage of 35 years of dying. O'neill raised his shades as if they weren't helping him to see. He peered into the rotten, rusted, fortress of my mouth. I only had 10 teeth left, and of them just two were undamaged, and one of them was false. Mostly my mouth was a jagged trap of broken busted and missing teeth, black and brown bits of stained enamel sticking out my gums. My bottom front teeth were the only ones with any neighbours. It was an honesty that gets you deputised immediately in this game.
And how d'you feel about that? Tony asked
Well I'm not proud of it, I said. And I don't like it. I don't smile or laugh anymore and try to speak without opening my mouth. I've never been into junkie chic... could never afford it. And of course, when it's free, when you are it, when you can no longer put it on or take it off, it's not so much fun. Still, if nothing else, my mouth's at least honest: a true reflection of the life I've led. My body, covered in half decent clothes, isn't honest at all.
It was a truthful answer. It would have been easy to say I'm proud of the decay and hold it up as some kind of success, especially to Tony who would understand either response. But I never got into this to look like death. I got into heroin to look more like one of the living. So on that hot summer day, outside a Parisian bar, Tony sat looking over my shoulder and I sat looking over his, him with a view of the street behind me and me watching the waiter dance between the afternoon clientèle with trays of drinks and salads and bottles of wine and water. To my left and right tall, narrow streets littered with bistros and restaurants broke off and run like sewage into the rest of the capital. People sat around smoking and watching and being watched, and tapping messages into their phones. That was Paris then, and it was right in the middle of the last days of our lives.
I left Tony that day by kissing his daughter on the top of her head and watching his little family walk away in one direction as I headed off in the other. But as I kissed his little girl's head, and felt the lightness of her being, I was overcome by a great sadness. It came up off her scalp and entered me like a spirit; a sadness of innocence, of people going away to lives and joys and comforts which I've always wanted but never had. I walked away holding in tears, trying not to think of anything, trying to lose myself in a labyrinth of streets and footsteps. But my existence was present and inescapable - a sadness drifting six foot off the ground, completely conscious of its loneliness. Feeling detached and nervy with emotion I phoned my girlfriend:
Well, I've made it to Paris, I said, and I've sent you two postcards and I Love You!
Why two postcards? she asked, surprised I'd even bothered to call
In case one gets lost, I said.
When she put the phone down I found a shop, and really did buy two postcards and send them. And it was in that moment, scribbling out poor poetry on a two euro postcard, that I became aware of a lower side tooth, throbbing away, a heart beat of pain, forcing me to exist even more.
I had a few hours to kill in the capital before my train back to Lyon departed. I had wanted to meet up with another friend but finally I preferred to be alone with myself rather than be alone in company, put out even more by my inability to express myself orally in the flesh. As I wandered around the same small quarter of the French capital I tongued and pressed on my tooth, sometimes purposely annoying the pain further by sucking cold air onto it. The sun was just the other side of its highest point now and the heat was burnt into the day proper. Sweat had seeped through my shirt and dampened my jumper, making me feel dirty and irritable. I must have walked around the same set of streets 15 times, not wanting to get too close to the metro for fear of bumping back into Tony and his family, and have them catch me wandering around alone, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I pressed on the almost full bag of heroin that was in my little pocket, a comforting bump, an emergency exit for days like this. I thought of the relief of arriving home, just as the evening light faded out, of tying off the rest of the day and forcing along tomorrow. With still over three hours before my train departed I sat on the cool stone steps of the church St Michel. I closed my eyes and thought of the train journey home, willing time to hurry up. I thought of the innocence of Tony's little girl and the sudden and immense sadness I had been struck with after kissing her goodbye – playing and sucking on my tooth all the while.
On the train I stole somebody else's seat. One with more space and near the window, and positioned so as I could look back on the things which passed and not see what was coming from up ahead. As we moved off I watched Paris's long goodbye, the city shrinking into the hub of the central station. The ghettos on the outskirts, a Manhattan of tower blocks, was my last view of the capital and then we were speeding at 200mph through countryside, and then through nothing much at all.
My tooth twinged again. This time a long, sharp pain which levelled out with the speeding train. I pressed around the outside of my mouth and could feel the beginnings of a swelling right below the tooth. I pushed on it hard, hoping I could force it down, but it just made the tooth throb ever more and left me massaging the same spot of mouth and pressing my warm palm against it which seemed to help. I was out of sorts, a burrowing sadness then deep within me, many things converging at once and meeting at the apex of that exact point in time. With my hand still on my mouth I thought back to when I'd lost my first tooth, 16 years ago, that horrendous wintry morning after I'd been up all weekend rocking and crying in pain and overdosing on aspirin and paracetamol. How the only thing that'd ease the pain, for seconds at a time, was filling my mouth with cold water and swilling it around. How I'd staggered into the hospital A&E at 5am in the morning, white as a ghost, my head floating in and out of reality due to all the painkillers, how I'd threatened to smash my skull in if I couldn't see the emergency dentist. The receptionist told me he'd be there at 7.30am, but it'd be much quicker for me to go along to my own dentist who opened at 8. I remembered how I vomited warm water in the bin in the waiting room and again outside in the icy car park, and how the morning didn't feel real and I thought I would die in the street.
I pressed up around the tooth that had given me so much pain that day, all those years ago. Just gum now. Good! A tooth I'm still relieved is no longer in my head. A tooth that had me collapse into my sister's flat, with the morning light not even up, groaning and pleading for help. Then, in pain induced psychosis, how I'd stripped down to just my pants and lay down on the ice cold bathroom tiles, shaking and humming and waiting for 8am. How I half ran and half staggered down to my dentists, and after more than two hours of waiting and four local anaesthetics I was finally in the dentists chair with my mouth open and my eyes streaming tears of agony.
I can save it and cap it or take it out, she said. What would you prefer?
Get the fucker out, I said. I just want it gone!
And so my first tooth was drilled and pulled and wrenched out, dropped into a little plastic container and given to me. I learned on that day that pain is the most exhausting thing that anyone can experience. That pain and its relentless assault on the central nervous system wears you down like nothing else is able. With the tooth out, my gum stitched up, and the hurt gone, for the first time I felt the pleasure of post-pain fatigue. Back home, on that winter's afternoon, with the fire murmuring and the TV humdrum in the room, I slipped into a deep, pure sleep and recovered from the exertions of chronic pain.
On the train I woke up. I'd been daydreaming, falling forward and drifting off as the french countryside flashed by. It was just that period of summer where the temperature really drops in the evening, and just that hour in the evening where the sun saturatess the countryside in dark gold, like everything has found God and belongs to the light. I shuffled up in my chair, tight against the soft felt seat, wondering how far away Lyon was and thinking of the injection I'd have once home.
My second tooth was the last innocent one I lost. Again it was a top right molar. I had chipped it opening a beer bottle and almost a year later, decaying from the inside out, cold air was snaking in and I was back on deadly doses of painkillers. A week later I was once again sitting in my dentists, with no appointment, and in just as much agony as before. She removed it in pretty much the same fashion as the first one, though this time replaced it with an artificial screw in replacement. She told me that if I didn't start brushing my teeth regularly that by thirty I'd have none left. I explained that toothpaste and powder makes me gag as my step-father used to sometimes shove a spoonful of powder or paste in my mouth and made me chew it around, froth it up and spit it out. She said: Well, if it's just the taste of mint you can't bear??? And then flogged me a strawberry dental toothpaste, three times as small and three times the price. As I've never let any woman rob me twice, it was the last time I saw her.
For a while I looked after my teeth. I brushed them at least three times a week, which was a mighty improvement from once every six months. The brushing lasted about a month, just long enough to forget the agonizing pain and for the strawberry toothpaste to finish, and then it was a story of neglect and toothbrushes being used for other things, growing bald and mouldy, and never being replaced. The nearest I came to brushing my teeth was rubbing my index finger back and forth across them, and sometimes, wiping over them with cheap toilet paper.
The sun was balanced on the horizon as we hurtled through central France. Small flocks of birds were heading off west and in the fields the cows were gathering for the night and the last tractors were turning out and chugging slowly away. The low golden light hit upon rocks and grass and fence and bushes and cast long shadows that split up the light. Way over, there were streaks of bubblegum pink in the sky. The evening was sat just waiting to come in. I thought of Tony and his family, back in the hotel and all settled down, working off the exertions of their day. I thought again of his little girl Nico and remembered back when I was that age, how the coming evening felt as it wafted in, in that fantastic period between light and dark when the day is done and the magic of all young fantasies and dreams arrive. Then in the window I saw a darkness. It hung like a spectre of death over my far shoulder. Monsieur, it said, Ticket, please. I gave the controller my ticket and turned away as he stamped it. My tooth gave a buzz of pain. Have a nice journey, he said handing the ticket back and smiling. I took the ticket, nodded at his teeth and said, Merci.
I had good teeth like that once, I thought, even after the first two losses. I ran my tongue over all the sharp and broken teeth in my my head, trying to work out in which order I had lost them. It wasn't easy. It's rare whole teeth fall out. They normally come away in bits over months or years. I had lost so many that it'd become nothing, just something that happened while eating or kissing too hard. I'd spit the pieces out like melon pips. What I did know however is that it wasn't heroin which had lost me my teeth. It maybe hadn't helped, and the negligence to dental hygiene through them years had probably helped set up the conditions, but on arriving in France, after seven years of unbroken heroin addiction, I was only four teeth down and a bottom incisor rotted in half. That wasn't bad. Still, during the last 18 months in England I had suffered from chronic toothache and had become something of an aficionado on how to relieve dental pain. Over the next seven years, as I lost more teeth, I would live with extreme toothache on a daily basis and pass months on end swallowing, what to most would be, fatal doses of paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen. Only once more in my life would I need to visit a dentist, finally indulging in self-surgery to relieve myself of even the most chronic of pains.
When I first started proper, high doses of daily methadone the doctor warned me to pay extreme attention to dental hygiene, advising that I rinse then brush my teeth thoroughly for three minutes after taking my dose. Of course I reassured him I would and as soon as I had my script he became just about the least important person on the planet and his words about as memorable as a morning shit. Rather than brushing my teeth after drinking my methadone I let the sugary syrup fill my mouth and run over my teeth and lips, taking pleasure up to an hour later from the sweet spots my tongue would find, a reassurance that I had at least taken something. A year later, a year too late, I learnt that methadone often destroys even the best kept teeth, it's ultra sweetness somehow penetrating all that it comes into contact with, marinating teeth and bone. After just over a year on methadone my teeth were stained a yellowish grey colour and there was hardly a tooth which wasn't either decaying from the base or from the top in. This was the period before any had fallen out and was the start of four years of intensive toothache.
On the train I held my mouth and rested there like that with my eyes closed. I heard snippets of the other passengers conversations and them ordering coffees and sandwiches. But the world, when filtered through pain, seems so bland and drab. In such times none of the artificial or commercial things matter. All that matters is a pain-free existence, and you realise that that is the greatest joy... living without hurt or suffering. That's what we should settle for. Fashion, high cuisine, fantastic ways to waste time, new computer games, what the cousin or sister or brother has done are not important. Just to be pain free is enough. It's why a painful death isn't as bad as it may at first seem. In fact, a painful death is probably the best death one could hope for, because finally death/unconsciousness comes as a welcome and wanted relief from the pain. A long slow painless death on the other hand gives us time to reflect, to see how unfair it is that we're dying yet not even hurting, making us begrudge death and wanting to live more than ever.
I stared at the wall, my eyes streaming tears. Not sad tears, tears from an unbelievable pain that had been raging in my gob for weeks and had over the last three holiday days become intolerable. I was going to do it: smash my head furiously off the brick wall, really putting in fast, hard cracks with all my body weight behind it, to knock my brain into nowhere so the agony would stop. Death really isn't a concern at that point of suffering. My last piece of logic on that bank holiday Monday involved a small steak knife and a pair of wire snippers. I'd only the previous month had a tooth removed by students at the the free university dental practice, which again, for the third time, had been a pressure pain. I'd learnt that unbearable toothache is always pressure pain. All other tooth ache is manageable. Even exposed nerves can be calmed with pain killers and the hurt masked until the nerve is accustomed to the raw life around it. But combustible pressure inside the tooth, where the pain shoots up into your brain and twitches around your face, and doesn't come in throbs but is omnipresent and constant, when the tooth feels like the inside is packed to bursting point with ice, and the pain makes your eyes sear... that pressure there can ONLY be relieved by surgery: by relieving the pressure. I had learnt that. And as no dentist was open, and nowhere free to go, I opened my mouth and trembling, worked the sharp point of the steak knife into the small cavity at the bottom of my tooth. I'd thought about doing it for two days but was petrified that I'd make an insupportable pain worse – and if that happened I'd have become insane. Now I could take it no more. With the tip of the knife in the tooth, and the icy tapped pain feeling like the universe before it imploded, I worked on opening up my tooth. It was a slow procedure as I gingerly twisting the knife around to chip off layers of rotted and weak enamel. Now and again sharp pains would shoot out so violently from the tooth that I'd instinctively sling the knife away as if I'd been hit by a sudden bolt of electricity. When I had worked a big enough hole I closed my mouth and tried sucking out the build up in my tooth. Nothing. Back in with the knife. I worked the tip up and down in the cavity until the hole was big enough to receive the underside pincer of the wire snippers. I positioned the snippers on the tooth, got a firm grip, and with three hard crunches I cracked the tooth in half. An enormous pain shot though my jaw. Barely had I jolted back and tensed up than it was gone and in its wake was calm. I stood staring in the mirror, still holding the cutters, thick stringy black blood drowning my gums and running out my mouth from where I'd accidentally sliced a huge cut in the gum with the knife. I stared inquisitively at my reflection, making sure the pain had really stopped. And it had. Just like that it was gone and the world seemed to shrink back inside me. With the pain gone I became insanely hungry. I was ecstatic on relief alone. Opening my mouth once more I wriggled out a good half of the broken tooth and washed it with the blood down the sink. Then the post-pain fatigue crept in. I felt like I'd taken some extra-strong sleeping pill. With the morning on low, I ate and then slept for 14hrs straight.
Pain makes you sad. It does. I thought that as I stared at the other passengers on the train, as I held my mouth and pressed against the latest toothache. It's not really the pain which gets you though, it's that it forces you to fully exist. It wakes you up and leaves you somehow feeling as if this is deja vu, as if you've experienced it before. It also make you realise that maybe existence isn't fun for everyone. I thought of physical and mental pain and for the first time in my life kinda understood the suicidal... realised what a burning hole of shit suffering is and finally, if it goes on long enough, leaves you looking for the nearest exit . But it wasn't just the toothache which had me thinking over such morose thoughts. I was still reeling from the sadness that had came from Tony's little girl, a multi-layered gloom comprised of physical suffering, longing, wanting, regret, hopes, dreams, nostalgia, loneliness, exile . They all somehow drifted along those tracks with me that day, all of it condensed and concentrated and shoved deep inside a rotten tooth.
The countryside wasn't so dispersed or cut off anymore. Now we'd pass little groups of houses and small towns and factories and electrical plants. The sky was mauve and street and station lights flicked on. Passengers were getting irritable in their seats and some began putting their magazines aside and slowly clearing away all trace of their presence. We were getting near the city. I could sense it: an awakening: something in the air which said that there was a huge dirty bustling sprawl of life not far off. The light was almost done for now. The ticket man was sat alone down the end of the carriage counting his ticket stubs and tapping something into an electronic machine which hung around his neck. Reflections now joined the window, ghostly apparitions superimposed over the world outside. I looked at myself in the glass, my eyes, my mouth which wasn't as wide or as full as it should be. The ache in my tooth throbbed a little more intense but it was hard to understand pain in my reflection.
After being on methadone some years my teeth rapidly deteriorated. It was no longer one tooth here and there; they all began to rot at once. Some turned black and others became brown and soft and porous like wet tree bark. Often (and without exaggeration) when the tooth finally snapped away I could actually chew it down and eat it. Some teeth rotted extremely fast and others very slowly, starting off a small arch of plaque at the base until finally it ate through the enamel and left a little cave entrance into the tender inners. It's at that point there, where there is a small one-way cavity, that you are most vulnerable to come down with severe and debilitating toothache. Food and liquid seep in, weigh down on the nerve, and have no way of getting back out. During those mid years of methadone decay my mouth would seem to me like a big dirty rotten hole of pain. I remember through one sustained bout of toothache how I'd tried to paint the pain, and could only smash black paint onto a canvass and then scratch all thin red lines into it. Chronic toothache is one of those rare pains that can drive a man clear out his mind. After a while the agony becomes so taxing you're no longer even sure what tooth hurts. The pain loses origin and is everywhere: in your head, and up your nose, and shooting through your eyeballs. There was one four month period where I was using 36 ibuprofens a day, everyday, and still squirming around in agony most the time. Every 3 hours I'd swallow six tablets, they'd fully relieve the pain for 30 mins and then it would wear back in. An hour later I'd wake up with my mouth roaring again and have to count down two hours and pace around with my eyes watering before I could re-dose.
Those years, inbetween having teeth and not having teeth, were horrendous times with barely a week passing pain free. Of course, to get toothache you need to have teeth, and as each tooth rotted and crumbled down to the gum it was a degree of beauty lost but also one less place where I could hurt. Now, today, I only have eight full teeth left. Of those eight only one is undamaged and that's a screw-in molar from a previous paragraph. If the downside of this rotten history is losing my Hollywood smile, the upside is that today severe toothache is a rarity. But toothache isn't the only discomfort or consequence of of life-styled teeth.. Rotting teeth means rotting gums, and unsterilised self-surgery means infections and swellings and root and gum abscesses. In conjunction with the tooth ache I also, and still do, suffer regular gum, mouth and throat infections, sometimes the entire side of my mouth swelling up so badly that it affects my vision. Other times the swelling would affect my jaw, a huge burning sensation prickling on for days and leading to throat and gland problems. The gums themselves, at one point, became a huge sore problem. Liquids and food would get down through the missing teeth and pop out as little spots on the gums. Each morning, and after eating or drinking, I had to go through the ritual of pressing along the spots until they popped and then wiping the liquid pus away. Often the food residue just sat trapped along the gum, and when it finally found a way out it smelled of putrid, ulcerated flesh. On other occasions the gum itself will grow over a shard of broken tooth and become torn, swollen and tender and prevent my lips from closing over. Apart from multiple times I've self-operated and cracked open and extracted pressurized teeth, I've also cut and sliced through gum and bled out litres of rotten build up. But more than gum and mouth swellings and sores, the greatest secondary consequence arriving from the years of dental decay was the cosmetic problem it posed. After not even four years of methadone use my teeth were in such awful shape that I had to be careful how I spoke and pronounced words for fear of people seeing. Soon they could catch glimpses no matter what, and sometimes, when I laughed, I'd see people suddenly change and become horrified, wondering what sordid secret life I was leading. Finally I stooped laughing al all and began speaking like a ventriloquist to all but a few very close people in my life.
When the announcement came across the Tannoy that we'd be arriving at Lyon Part-Dieu in two minutes, and hoping that we'd had a pleasant travel, it was dark outside. People began standing up, stretching and yawning and pulling down their bags and cases from the overhead compartments. The controller, now stood up near the far end of the carriage, looked done in as he prepared for his last 30 minutes of shift. I imagined I looked like him, only a little paler. With the toothache annoying me something rotten, and thinking of the bag of heroin in my pocket and the relief it would afford me, I was first one off the train. As I stepped down onto the dark platform, back on familiar terrain, Tony O'neill seemed so far away and I wondered had I really travelled to Paris and back or was it some weird daydream I'd had. The memory was already fading and the emotions of the day trailing off with so many others. In the night, as I walk the length of the platform to the exit, I smoked a cigarette. The smoke drifted up through the light chill in the air, mingled with the night, and then, like rolling mist, was gone.
Sometimes you put so much onto what a fix of heroin will do, that when you finally get your shot it's a disappointment. Naked on my bed, after having emptied almost a bag of gear into my 'Tony vein', I felt next to nothing. There was no gouch, no artificial closing of the day, no magic escape from the sadness or pain that the trip had left me with, no end to the toothache, just a creeping feeling of nausea where my system had slowed down. To get anywhere near the relief I had imagined I’d need at least another two shots. But there were no two shots – I was all out and shot through. For a moment I wallowed in disappointment and then rose and swallowed a good dose of methadone and four painkillers. It had been a long day and returning home to a dark, quiet apartment had made the loneliness seem even more pronounced. In that atmosphere, I closed the light and got in bed with one of my last few teeth a beacon of pain in the dark
And as the night finally killed the city and left just a whirring silence and a few drunken shouts, I lay in my bed, thinking of the day and Paris and how busy and rotten the capital would be just about now. I thought of miles and miles of train tracks and countryside and weird journeys across the heart of America. Sleep was coming and the pain was dulling down. Tonight I couldn't escape myself but tomorrow would be here soon enough. I thought of history and sounds and old legends and stories. I imagined laughter and trips to the moon, childish things as the dark played tricks on my eyes. And soon the pain must have gone, finally been beaten back, as for a moment, in the last days of my life, I thought nor hurt no more.
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Thanks for your patience... Thoughts and Wishes as Ever,
To the two people who mailed this week wishing that my absence hopefully means I'm dead.... Well I'm not! I've been trying as hard as ever, but it's very difficult to kill yourself in France... especially on a Sunday. God, just to get a packet of cigarettes is hassle enough. This is no place for the suicidal. I guess that's why everyone seems so bloody depressed here... there's just no way out. About the only viable option is chucking yourself off a bridge and into one of the two rivers, but that's far from a certainty. The last guy who tried it floated calmly downstream for ten miles, and reaching shallower depths, hauled himself out and mooched back home sopping wet. No, death here is about as hard as living anywhere else... so I'm afraid you'll be stuck with me for the foreseeable future. Concerning some new posts... they're on their way. They'll be a new post on each site within a week. A History of Rotten Teeth (working title) for here, and a post called Who's The Uncle Now? for So Dog We Were. Hopefully after that there'll be a period of sustained posting... but that's no more of a certainty than drowning in France.
Hope everyone's well... Until Soon... Kicking against the tide...
The second post from my new set of writings over on So Dog We Were. An exclusive Memoires post will be put up soon... X
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In Love's Down Tango I found myself in a twirl. I wasn't sure what was real or what was not. The city became a place of instant memories and nostalgia. Thoughts of what had passed only five minutes ago seemed idyllic and golden. In the freshness of those summer mornings I'd rise and feel joyous and alive. I'd smell my own skin because it reminded me of her, shower in cold water and sit at the window as the great heat made its way in. I prickled with existence, like I was a part of everything. The floral scents of parks and gardens that blew in on the early breeze cleansed me of something that soap couldn't touch. I collapsed back on life and let it carry me away. Suddenly the cool, damp shade under pine trees, us alone, in huge lost parks, seemed like perfection... like nothing else could ever get better than that. In that time, every past pain and sorrow became a thing of celebration: a journey to salvation – to the very moment: staring across at someone so outrageously beautiful and have her stare back with eyes just as intense and needing as mine. In those eyes I could have sank and died and not have cared a damn. Sometimes I just laid back and let happy tears leak out, thinking of meadows and sunshine and water and sky, and all things free and wild.
In Love's down tango I'd steal secret glimpses of her reflection. On subway trains, in blacked out windows, my gaze fixed on her neck. That's when she'd drift, as if having mental orgasms, sensing my eyes on the tender of her prey. As we rocketed through tunnels I felt hollow, like I had no stomach at all. In less than two weeks in a dirty bed, a lifetime of hurt and pain had been fucked, cried and kissed away. What had only yesterday been a bleak world on the unlucky side of death, was now bursting with hope and promise. The entire place had been transformed. The factories billowing smoke over in the distance now inspired me, so too the river. The flats, which had towered up around the back all these years, no longer held dark connotations. Even the old disused power station took on a a kind of historic and abandoned beauty. Some days we'd walk under its shadow and talk of industry and poverty and love and death. All things were to be celebrated. All things had led to her.
In Love's down tango I got swept away. Strange currents pulled at me and dragged me off. I became romantic to the point of gibberishness. I wandered the city, down tree-lined avenues of shade by the river, my head drunk on what was behind, all around and up ahead. I tore off leaves and rubbed them into my hands, sucked in the fragrant air like it was something healthy. The sounds of life and nature would bring me out in tears of joy. Poetry flowed out of me: sentimental nonsense trying desperately to express what I felt. I became humane. I fell in love with scabby mongrel dogs. I started saying things I didn't mean, and other things I meant so much. One warm evening, with the dusk sitting on the horizon and the last echoes of day ringing out, I told her: “This city is of You now.” The moment was intense. We both felt it, a darkening overhead, as we stared at each other in terror.
In Love's down tango I became a fool. I'd jump up on seats in packed public transport and declare how much I loved her. Other men cringed for me... seeing themselves in my madness. I felt no shame; only pride. I'd walk around town kissing and blessing the homeless. I'd gatecrash counselling sessions and tell the depressed that there was hope. I'd touch blind people on the forehead and tell them: “now you can see!” No one had to be poor if they could feel like this. I bought a writing desk and planned books and novels, films and radio plays. At work I sought out promotions. I Brushed my teeth twice a day and showered before and after sex. Then, one late morning, I washed my hair with washing-up liquid and dried it with a towel from off the floor. She called me a “disgusting dog!” and said that she was leaving. Sitting on the edge of the bed she re-did her scarlet lipstick, clicked her little mirror case shut, put on her blacked out sunglasses and warned me not to come looking for her or phone. She said she'd contact me when she was ready. I tried pleading with her, blocking her path. I smashed my head and fists off the door, screaming: “No! I'm sorry!” Then, facing her, I slid down the door until I was sitting flopped out on the floor. She remained on the bed, her legs crossed, clutching her handbag and turned the other way looking out the window. I shuffled aside and said: “So go then if you're going.” I reached out for the culprit towel and draped it over my head so I couldn't see. I heard her rise, heard her footsteps, heard the rattle of the door handle. In a desperate last attempt to stop her leaving I threw myself out and gripped a hold of her ankle, curling my entire body around her shoe. “Don't leave!” I begged. “Please don't go!” She just stopped and stood there, as calm as anything, staring forward and saying nothing. After a moment I saw what a tremendous fool I was being and let go. She lifted her leg and stepped free like I was a monstrous piece of dog shit. That was the first bust up. I lay in its aftermath shaking and sobbing and having panic attacks. My mind and body doing strange things.
In Love's down tango I lost all notion of self-respect. Saving face seemed futile, and anyway, I was glad to break down because of her. It seemed to validate something. After each new bust-up I'd show up at old friends at crazy hours, frantic, dishevelled and without socks. From the public phone box at the top of her street I'd call my Mum in tears, begging for help and asking her to send a taxi to come and collect me. I lost control of my actions. Weird impulses would have me obsessively redialling her number, sometimes for hours, until she'd finally take it off the hook or smash it against the wall. I'd pay kids a quid a time to knock on her door and deliver love-letters and flowers. One time the kid returned with a bunch of stems where she'd gone crazy and ripped all the heads off. She'd told him to give them back to me. “I think she's mad with you!” he said.
“Did she pay you?” I asked. He shook his head. I gave him another pound coin, took the stems and dumped them over her garden wall. Once I sat on the bench across from her house for three days until she finally came out and took me home. People became embarrassed watching me; my family ashamed to see tears in my eyes again, tears that I hadn't even cried through a childhood of appalling emotional squalor. But this was different: it was my tragedy proper. I had fully invested in this one and was not just a kid hanging onto his mothers skirt and being dragged along to the next fiasco. I was struggling with new feelings and strains inside my body. Things that didn't physically hurt but seemed to penetrate right to the core of my existence. I felt insane, sane, happy, sad, lost, found and dangerous. I was a man capable of marching off to war. I cared so much and I cared so little... both extremes at once, leaving me confused, unstable of mind and scared of myself.
In Love's down tango the nights crackled and fizzed and deep songs drifted out the stereo. The room seemed like a square floating lost through space. It was just us now – astray in a universe of black where things carry on forever but get further away. The only light we had was two little red and green LEDs on the stereo. From the bed we'd stare at them. They became a point of sadness absolute, both of us sobbing away in the dark as it dawned on us just how useless it was and that no-one was really going to be saved. As the last song drifted off to nowhere and left a throbbing silence in its wake we'd hold each other tight, stare into each others eyes, and wait for Armageddon.
In Love's down tango day was always night. Some kind of uninvited darkness now joined us in the room, its hanging presence causing silences and long, forlorn thoughts that were no good. We were a tragedy unravelling, a train heading for the buffers, and everyone was wondering what kind of impact we'd make. I started cutting love letters into my body, and she split herself up between multiple personalities – each as crazy as the next. Some nights she'd turn her head and when she turned back she was someone else: her eyes wide and glaring, covering up in shame and itching and shrieking like I had stripped and violated her. She'd run out the house, 3am, waking the street in just her knickers and vest, tugging at her hair as she collapsed to the floor, screaming: “I know what it is! I know what you are!” From the upstairs window I'd curse her, call her crazy, chuck her heels at her, tell her to “fuck off”, then I'd follow for four miles, trying to cover her with a blanket, saying “Sorry” and lying about other things as well. One night we ended in a park, alcoholics and bums cigarette glows and coughs on the distant benches. Under the same fig tree I had once found a dead cat hanging we cuddled up and went to sleep.
In Love's down tango I was a dangerous man. I lost myself in films and books on crimes of passion and sat staring at my hands and wondering just what they could do. I discovered much about myself in those desperate times, and as the forces of love and hurt and jealousy and obsession converged I realized absolutely that one day the cure I had found to my past ills would be the same force that would blow my future apart. We started talking of death pacts, of going down together, dressing up for marriage and walking ourselves out to sea. Nights descended into pits of depraved perversity, the both of us making insane pledges and promises, and gripping on so tight so as madness didn't drag us off completely. Sometimes it seemed like another morning would never arrive. And then, just in time, her face would show a little more clearly and her body would come out the dark and be shivering slightly in the thin early morning light. Somehow the early bird calls, with industry waking up over the rooftops, heralded yet another depression – something not ours, rather a general gloom that for a while we had escaped. We started putting blankets up against the windows. We slept through the mid summer days, the heat trapped in the dark of the room, a fan whirring but only circling hot air. We'd both writhe and sweat through separate nightmares, straining and reaching out for release. The descent was on. We closed our eyes and let it swallow us up.
Oh, the world was so delicate then. I was almost scared to walk for fear of going right through the ground. I clamped up and stuck, not wanting to twist and risk losing what I had. I sat through dark quiet nights watching intently, looking for early signs of the apocalypse. One night, out the silence, I told her she would destroy me. Her crazy eyes lit up and widened. She gripped me by the hair, pushed her face right up to mine and stared a universe deep into my soul. “You'll destroy me too,” she said, through streams of tears, “I think I want to die.” On the first morning of autumn I woke up and she was gone. At first I panicked, then I surrendered, then I smoked two cigarettes, and then slept for thirty six hours straight.
In Love's down tango she shaved off all her hair. I opened the door and stood staring at her in shocked disbelief, her eyes crazy as moons, tears welling up as she smiled and said “I'm back!” Later that night she became a familiar looking stranger and said she felt like a prisoner. She asked: “Are you sure you love me so much that you want me to be here even if I don't want to be?” I meant to say “no” but instead I said “yes.” Then I said: “I saw Grace yesterday. She was sat in the park, under the old school shed, drinking and reading the old graffiti and looking out with such sadness.”
“Did you fuck her?” she screamed.
“Of course not. Would you be able to fuck with a broken heart?”
“That's when I fuck the best!” she said.
“Then I suppose that goes to show how different we are.”
“If you ever fuck anyone else, EVER, I'll kill you!”
“You're crazier than me,” I told her. Then I said: “It's all very sad, now.”
Without saying a word she rose, left the room, and went downstairs. When she returned she was holding a large kitchen knife. She laid it calmly down on the bedside cabinet then stepped out of her dress, and naked, climbed into bed.
I stared at that knife for three days. It sat alongside her cigarettes and lighter and ear-rings, and made me think of terrible things: of having to grab it first before her. Then she said: “I want you to cut me. While we make love I want you to cut my breasts. I want to bleed in this fucking bed!”
And so we fucked. So hard we almost became one. As I thrust she cried and looked at me with such intensity I thought I was a Devil or a God. She dug her nails into my back and clawed out trenches of flesh: slithers of my skin under her fingernails.
“The knife...” she whispered, “take the knife!” Laying beneath her I stretched out and took the knife. I ran the tip of the blade down between her breasts. She closed her eyes and lent back, her arms splayed like she was about to be crucified. I stared at her, the tips of her milky front teeth behind her partly open mouth; her head tilted back and at an angle; her neck stuck out and taut in total trust. I thought of the knife, of pulling it straight across her breasts, of how ill it would make me if gaping wounds opened up and I saw the knotty flesh before the blood. She opened her eyes and looked at me all dreamy, her head swimming in a sea of eroticism. In that instant I chucked the knife down and told her I couldn't do it, that I didn't want to hurt her like that. She groaned and deflated in anti-climax, like I had finally delivered her the greatest disappointment imaginable. Then she collapsed down close, crazy passionate again. She bit hard into my neck, released, then hissed a vicious death threat into my ear. She said she wanted me to talk to her, call her all the whores under the sun... tell her of men, strangers, who'd rape her and force her to do hideous things in front of me or her parents. As I told her all she asked she squirmed and shivered and shuddered about on top of me, having orgasms that looked more like an exorcism. During the most intense pleasure I ever gave, I wasn't even hard. When she was finished I rolled out from underneath her, terrified at what I had just seen. Later that same night she started up with real life horror stories, telling me about her and friends picking up men, following strangers on the metro, sucking them off in doorways and elevators... of being gang-banged in stairwells. When I begged “STOP!” she said I was wanting to revise her history, put her in chains and deny her her liberty and womanhood. She said she needed to tell me these things. That she wasn't the pure angel which I had created of her in my head. September became an ill month, each day infected by some repulsive history that she needed to get out. Vile things would now come randomly from her mouth. One day, on the number 14 bus, as we were curled up together looking out at the passing shops, she told me that it was in just that very same position that she was first fucked in the arse by her best friend's husband. I removed my arms from around her and watched the world alone. From that point on we took to dressing in black jumpers and dark shades and moping around town like two figures of doom.
In love's down tango I stopped sleeping and stayed awake reading tragic poetry from people who had chucked themselves off bridges. I longed for those innocent days when she'd stood outside the train station, in a light red dress, the summer exuding directly from her. Now I sat there through the nights, watching her as she slept, seeing hideous shapes manifest in her body... her beauty now looking like a deformity. There were times when she'd open her eyes, still drunk on sleep, and for a moment, deprived of memory, she appeared beautiful again. She'd give a shy, dreamy smile, and then the data of her life would re-load and she'd look crazed and lost and sorrowful once more. When I slept, her body felt like a huge black negative presence besides me. The smell of her sticky summer skin and cropped unwashed hair infiltrated and plagued my dreams. I'd dream of the river and turbulent waters, and that furious space either side of the bridge supports where the water divides and rushes around and sucks and pulls down. I'd groan and fight off dream demons, her pushing me away, hitting and elbowing. “Fucking stop it!” she'd hiss. Our pains and torments were no longer endearing, but a burden. That insane obsession and fervour that we had promised to save each other with was now the same force turned inside out and set against us. She kept asking if I loved her, and I did, and I said “Yes!” During the last two months we tried to recreate the first, but the music didn't work no more, nor the candles, nor the inspired verse that love had once forced out by pure overload of emotions.
In Love's down tango I became ugly. Gaunt. Ill. Depressed. A stranger to myself. Inside I was even worse. Our love had turned rotten and unhealthy, but it was still love and it was still better than anything I'd known before. Just having someone I wanted seemed to fulfil a great need in me. When she wasn't with me I'd start imaging what she was doing - who she was doing it with. I'd ring and kill the phone or just hang there silent. She knew it was me but couldn't prove a damn thing. I knew it was crazy but couldn't stop myself: love is a mental illness. In the evenings I started going down to the river, alone, staring over and off the bridge into the big black swirling eddies, or walking around town and picking out the tallest buildings which I could throw myself off. I was miserable in my own skin, and we hadn't even crashed out yet. Now when we'd meet I'd sit around hung with gloom, somehow hoping that my distress would re-ignite something in her: even pity. But forces inside myself were working against each other. While one tiptoed around this house of ice the other took to it with a hammer. My mouth would just say things, and as soon as it had I was apologizing. I started asking questions, getting suspicious of her absences, interrogating her after she'd passed an evening out, accusing her of everything she was capable of and suspecting her of being capable of so much more. Then, in a sudden burst of toughness, I'd throw her out and tell her never to come back again, that she was “history!”. A few hours later I'd be at her door, standing in the garden in the rain, screaming that I couldn't live without her. I started hinting at suicide, calling her up and saying “Goodbye” then, not taken at all seriously, blackmailing her outright with it. Those old tricks that I despised so much in my mother, that I'd promised I'd never repeat, I was now employing for the same ends. The few nights we did manage to spend together from then on were maybe the saddest memories of both our lives, lost somewhere between insanity, hatred, bitterness and base animal sex.
Just before the real cold British weather set in, before the trees were completely bare, before the last of the birds had migrated, before one of us was ticked off and zipped up, love was finally driven off the cliff: she left for foreign soils and booked herself into psycho-therapy. The only contact I had was for her father and he refused to speak to me. On Christmas day of that year, on my pleading, my sister made an international call, and through tears, gave news that the body of a young man had been dredged up from the river and it was almost certainly me. She still never phoned. And all her father said was: “pass on our condolences to your mother.”
In Love's down tango the city smelled of Her. Walking around alone, in the winter of that year, I was tortured and mocked by memories. In specific places I saw our ghosts; heard echoes of time: us laughing, little things we had said, desperate promises we had made. In bars I saw us sitting in the corner, alone, secretive, withdrawn from the world outside. There wasn't an inch of city anywhere which offered any respite. For a brief moment I'd lived joy under London's sky and going back to the rot of yesterday was now punition too much. I became a prisoner of my city... of my memories. My own existence goaded and tortured me; I reminded myself of so much. In Love's down tango I went on a pilgrimage of pain. I retraced my journey so far, crying and making no sound. Sadness and despair just poured out of me. People looked on me like I was a freak... like I'd just staggered away from a bomb blast, unaware that half my head was missing. Mothers would shield their kids eyes as I passed, hold them in tight and block out my vision. There is something about real grief and hurt in a man which terrifies people. It terrified me too. In Love's down tango, in that fleeting, mystic twirl, I opened my eyes and for a moment I saw it all.