The Darkness Of Snow
A Roman a Clef
Recounting 4 years of heroin addiction in the 1960’s
(All work copyright of Mr-Naz)
First three chapters
Full Work 95,000 words
The room was cold, not just with the coldness of the weather, but the dead cold that comes from an indifference to living. It was a bed-sit used by those whose lives revolved around the use of hard drugs.
My combat jacket with its C.N.D emblem emblazoned on its back was stretched, like some thin scarecrow, over the only chair in the room. ‘Make Love Not War’ ran in a semi – circle below the symbol.
We had been waiting, the three of us for Nero to arrive, and the wait was interminable and it was the wait for relief. The hours had dragged by in a slushy haze. My nervous system was beginning to squirm. Needles were at the base of my spine; earwigs ran along my backbone. In my head a scream flew like roosting ravens. My fingers, young and soft, curled tightly into the palm of my hands. Their nails black with grim nearly breaking the skin.
“Where the fuck is he?” I shouted.
No one replied. The other two were engrossed in their own terror and misery.
The bare striped mattress I led on reeked. It had absorbed the sweat of many hours of withdrawals. The stench crept into my nostrils as I stared at the stains of vomit, blood and piss in front of my eyes, wondering whom they belonged to, hoping that if I kept counting I would be distracted from the ache in my guts. They kept moving, leaping out of range of my hazy vision, and I couldn’t be bothered to lift my head off the damp comfort to give chase. The stomach – ache sprang into an elasticised pain.
“Jed” Someone called my name. It was Cally. His voice slashed through the air, a cut -throat razor, it gashed my mind. “How long has he been gone?”
“Fucking hours.” Somewhere from off the floor, deaden, John answered for me.
From the plaster rose in the middle of the ceiling the single dismal bulb hung, shade-less and shameless, its glow throwing deep shadows into the corners where the damp was slowly forcing the wallpaper to wave goodbye. I dared my eyes to look over, but they refused to linger. Horrors were waiting to leap out. I knew, definitely, there was one next the wardrobe, skulking, I’d seen it on the last come down. Its skeletal hands eager to pluck out my eyes. From under the bed the bustle of hard-shelled insects was beginning.
From my crotch a panther, claws stretched, leapt into my stomach. I retched, almost vomited, but there was nothing to come up. Missiles were exploding in every muscle. A chill followed. A block of ice formed at the base of my spinal column. My nerves carried its frost upwards, and on my forehead it hit a fire. Sweat oozed down my face.
“Cally.” A bullfrog spat out the word. He did not answer me. “Cally, Cally. Have you got any of those downers left?”
“No” He hissed back. His venom stung.
“Oh for fuck sake” I hated him, I hated the fucking room. I hated the mess of my life. And I loathed the pain that was growing stronger every minute. I wanted to get up and run, to go somewhere, to someone who would look after me. The hope of a fix, soon to arrive, held me fast.
I was at the edge of a tidal wave. Rivulets of salt water trickled into my mouth. The tropical heat was unbearable, but the Arctic ice flows were even worse.
“Have you get any fags then?”
“No. Fuck off leave us alone. Wilt’ thee.” I wanted to shove his accent, a mix of Irish and working class Lancashire, back down his throat.
“John. Have you got any?” The pathetic plea in my voice, slid out weak and desperate. He didn’t answer me.
Through heavy drooping lids I looked at the yellowing wallpaper, white and red poppies stood out, like someone had purposely placed them. Appropriate! I started to count. ‘Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen,’ flowers in a line from top to bottom, five six seven across, stretching my eyes before it became too painful. It was worse than staring at piss stains.
A milk bottle stood under the window. Puce yellow nylon curtains hung there, preventing any of the dismal winter’s light from entering. I needed to piss. The mattress held me tight. It was safe. The spectres were still waiting. My bladder swelled. I had to empty it. I staggered over to the bottle, avoiding the insects, paranoid of the shadows. In the bottom of the bottle green mould grew, alive on the soured milk. Strong ammonia wafted up, I almost filled the bottle.
Over on the mantle shelf, above the hearth filled with spewed ash and soot, empty packets of cigarettes and rolling papers were strewn. The phantoms were gathering in force at all the corners of the room, bickering and sneering at me. I stumbled over John and Cally sprawled on the floor and reached the fireplace. Every packet was empty. One Rizla paper stuck out of its wrapper like an anaemic’s tongue. White ‘dog ends’ lay stark on the black soot. With shaking hands I broke four of them up into the paper and rolled a straw dry cigarette. It flared as I lit it, but the smoke filled and choked my lungs, sweet intense nicotine coated my tongue.
In the mirror, hanging from its chain on the chimney -breast, I looked into a familiar face. It was mine. I recognised the paling red hair, once luxuriant and bright, now dull, greasy and unwashed, hanging over a pair of ears at the side of a wane face; but lurking in its shadow, I could see the prettiness, a pleasing visage of a ghost that lingered from my childhood. The eyes stared back, a watery blue, with pinpoints for pupils, where once they were cloudless summer’s skies. Memories stabbed my brain fleetingly; times when women would coo over my attractiveness, and girls at school, – less than a year ago, – flashed their eyes at me. I chased them away, or more precise my come down, desperately gnawing away, was more important, and more crucial was the need for a fix. But fear tapped its fingers trying to make me aware of my change. Abruptly I turned from the mirror and stumbled, bent double, back towards the bed, stepping over the other two writhing and muttering, living their own hell.
Safe on the bed, I buried my face in the mattress, it mopped up the sweat like some great bear lapping at sweet honey. As a foetus I curled to hide from the misery gathering in my spine.
The door slammed and from behind veiled lids I watched a pair of flared, and tasselled jeans flap into the room. It was Nero.
“Oh shit man” His broad Lancashire accent sounding dumb and stupid, “What a fucking time I’ve had. I’ve been all over town.”
I interrupted him, and listened to the echoes of my own thick Blackburn dialect, “Never mind the drama, did you score”?
“Yea, but I had to go to fucking Neal St. Pact’s been busted and everybody else is so fucking paranoid now. Fucking £5 a gram they charged me, and they’d only let me have the one.
I pulled myself off the bed, my craving dragging the heaviness of my body behind it. On the glass coffee table the works were waiting; the syringe, spoon, and a bottle of water, all lying amongst the debris of three day’s indulgence.
“Come on” I ordered, “Let’s get on with it.”
Reverently Nero placed the packet on the table. Cally and John knelt with me. It was a posture of veneration, and Nero had become our Holy Ghost. He had brought us manna. Gingerly I unwrapped the packet, not a speck could be wasted. Onto a small mirror I tipped the white, pepper flecked powder. Its balmy aroma tickled my nostrils. From my heart butterflies were preparing to leave their cocoons. Sweet spittle congregated on my tongue. The hordes of vermin were about to be banished. With a broken razor blade, whose cold sharpness had tempted me only a little while ago to slash the devils from the skin in my fingers, I split the pile into four heaps.
Cally brushed his thick mass of blonde curls off his wet forehead. “Oh man, I’ve been going fucking mad for hours. For Christ’s sake Jed, hurry up.”
I lit an effigy to our rituals. A stump of melted wax, streaked black “I hope you managed to get a taster out of the bastards before you bought it?”
“ Course I fucking did. Do you think I’d give them twats money without knowing.” Nero took of his donkey jacket and knelt with us, the devotional three. “ I only got a short hit, but it’s okay. Helped me make it back here all right.”
Our spirits had revived. Into the desert of this bed-sit, a bearer had carried water. The scraping sand serpent, which had been stalking us, had scurried back to its burrow.
Into the spoon I trickled some water and from my pile of powder I took two thirds. To use it all now would be to suffer later, in the early hours of the morning, when night throws its phantoms into rooms like ours. I would keep just a little, enough to ward off the evil manifestations. From the razor blade it slid, like countless divers plunging from a cliff. The bone white finer powder flowed to the edge, the brown boulders sank. Constant use had charred the spoon’s base, black. Turquoise flames fluttered around the edge of the candle. Thin wisps of grey smoke floated up into the air. The liquid in the spoon bubbled and it was time. My hypodermic beckoned. Its chrome and glass gleamed. In my hand it felt good, it was my crucifix, and I worshipped it. With the needle I stirred the mixture. The thick specks dissolved. The golden liquid was ready. My left sleeve was ready rolled up. John put the belt on my arm, the tourniquet tightened. I tapped the bubbles out off the cylinder. The plunger sucked up the solution. My veins showed vaguely below a mass of bruises and scars. The needle scratched and searched, and my eyes looked for one tiny space. At my wrist was one spot. The spike broke the skin, and pierced the vein. I trembled with delight. The butterflies had broken their cocoons. Their wings were fluttering. Lovingly my fingers drew back the chrome plunger. Delicious crimson blood flooded into my works, the elixir turned pink. This was it.
Gently I pushed the plunger down. The kitten in my spine mewed, its tongue lapped my nerves for the cream. I held my breath. The concoction disappeared from the tube. I counted, one, two, three seconds. Through my veins, like a flood stream seeping into an arid plain, it coursed rapidly to my heart, then to my head.
I pulled the empty works from my arm. I slumped to the floor. The Holy Ghost was with me. The red carpet folded over me, like sheets of soft velvet.
In the murky distance I heard the others sorting themselves out. That was their business.
“Jed, Jed” I was dragged from my ecstasy. Nero was shaking me.
“What the fuck do you want?”
. “ I can’t hit a fucking vein. Help me. The others are totally gone.”
In his hand was my syringe. His arms were scarred, bruised, the veins sunken, out of sight. I tapped along the length. “Pull the belt tighter.” It was to no avail, his veins would not rise. I had to take a chance. In the crook of his arm I skewered the skin. Time after time I drew the plunger back, with each suction willing for blood to dribble in. At last a thin stream rushed into the tube. I pushed the plunger down. The milky liquid left the hypodermic. Nero relaxed his clenched fist. His relief was soon to come.
“Oh shit, you stupid bastard” I shouted. Trapped air at the end of the tube followed the heroin. “You didn’t tap the fucking bubbles out.” I yanked the spike out, but too late. Nero’s eyes bulged. He knew, and I knew, and nothing could be done. We both stared at his arm. A vicious rat was rushing along the canals. It would soon reach the pumping station. It would tear at the fleshy hydraulic. It would render it useless.
I was petrified. The seconds, those few seconds that should have been exciting, became days of torment. We looked in each other’s eyes. The romance was dead. The separation had come. Nero’s eyes contracted. The heroin had arrived. A moment of pure relief. Then an electric shock hit. His body reeled up like some leaping mad March hare, but it landed like a leaden coffin.
“Fuck, fuck, you two.” I screamed at John and Cally. “Fucking pull yourselves together. Nero’s taken a bubble. Come on we’ve got to get out.”
The shock, the danger, and the fear hauled us into action. We could not stay there, we had to go. Into a rucksack I threw my few belongings. My works, and the remains of the smack I placed into its blue velvet case. Within five minutes we were ready. Nero lay on his back. His eyes stared at the ceiling, black pinpoints on a mustard background. He was dead.
Outside the fresh air slapped us like a wet towel. The dampness crept into our bones freezing the warm heroin.
The telephone box at the end of the street, was a million miles away. We walked, sluggishly, heroin draped, the long distance. The weight of the door tore at my muscles, and yielded as I pulled it open. My finger shook at the end of my trembling arm, 999 was hard to dial.
“Hello which service would you like?”
My voice was as uncaring as the operators. “Ambulance”
“I’ll put you through.”
“Send an ambulance to the ground floor flat, 21 Lea Road.”
“What’s your number, and your name?”
“Fuck that, just send an ambulance, it’s a drugs overdose.”
The black hand piece fell from my hand. I left it swinging, like a hangman’s noose.
“Cally and John were waiting at the corner, leaning against the wall. “What the fuck are we going to do now?” John asked.
“I’m leaving, can’t stay here. There’s the afternoon bus to London. I’m getting that. You two can do what the fuck you want, but we’re all in this together.”
They knew that we had to leave, to stay would risk being banged up in prison
We arranged to meet at the bus station later on just before four. They went back home to collect some things and as much money as they could blag or steal or borrow.
For two hours I wandered round the town centre, paranoia making me skulk along the streets and alleys, trying to avoid the glances of people passing by me, listening to the sounds of sirens, wondering if they’d picked up Nero’s body and where it was lying.
Two coppers were walking down the passage that led to the bus station; from their eyes searching beams of light seemed to scan everyone who walked past. I nipped into the tiny café, and ordered a tea. I piled spoonfuls of sugar into the mug and watched them from the corner of my eye walk into the main street. They lingered at the kerb, as if instinctively, they knew a criminal was somewhere near. From a back table I kept an eye on them. The sips of tea were delicious, its sugary essence satisfying the heroin crave for sweetness. “Fuck off.” I willed under my breath, scared that they may turn back. They plodded across the road and turned the corner. With relief I slurped the crystal dredges in the mug, and left the café.
Cally and John were waiting, their heads drooping and nodding with the flow of heroin, on a bench, their belongings stuffed in rucksacks and thin sleeping bags. They looked a mess. “For fuck’s sake,” I snapped at them, I was angry; they were drawing too much attention. “Keep it together. Two fucking coppers have just gone down the lane.”
John looked up at me, red acne flashed on his white face, “It’s cool Jed, we saw them here and waited in the bog till they’d gone. Stay loose for fuck’s sake.”
“Have you got your tickets yet?” I hissed at them
John shock his head.
“Fuck sake, give me your money”
The bus was waiting at its stand. A few passengers were already on. The big black clock with its roman numerals showed ten to four. Ten minutes before we left. I paid for the tickets, the clerk, an ugly little man, with a military moustache and short cropped hair looked at me like I was a piece of crap he was scrutinising for worms. A wave of severe paranoia hit me again. The bastard was taking in all my details, he’d remember me, and he’d report me. I grabbed the ticket and bundled the other two on the bus. The bright overhead lights were pounding out over the platform, the winter’s light was fading. I kept one eye on the clock as it slowly clunked to four, the other watched for the two figures dressed in blue.
The coach pulled out of the town centre. The drab greyness that surrounded the town depressed me. The red-bricked terraced houses clung to each other in fear. It wouldn’t be long before the bulldozers wrought their destruction like they had on other parts of the town. New housing programmes. I would remember Nero with the same nostalgic fondness of these buildings.
A brief enquiry would be held, but it was just another junkie out of the way.
Cally and John were curled up on the backseat enjoying the last tastes of the heroin they had had this morning. I still had my small packet. Enough to see me through till I got sorted in London.
From the coach we stumbled into the brightness of Victoria station. Long distance buses lined up, waiting to start the return haul to other cities and towns. In between them a chill wind swirled in from the city’s streets. A little taste of what lay in wait outside for us.
Cally and John looked rough, the heroin had faded, the jagged creeps were beginning to crawl. I too, was on the ebb. Heroin hunger was on us.
“Jed, What do we do now?” Cally beat his arms against his body. He had never been to London before, and even though I was three years younger than his nineteen years, I looked older, almost two years of powder abuse had seen to that. I had become his protector and provider. I had come to London before! I knew where to score! I knew how to survive!
“I need to get a fucking hit” pleaded John, his face buried in the collar of his donkey jacket. The two of us had been to London together a couple of times on ‘shopping trips’ He was eighteen and had had the habit for a year or so.
These two had always passed the responsibility of leadership to me, and I took it naturally. “Come on, let’s get a brew in the Caf’” With sleeping bags tied with rope and our bags slung over our shoulders we traipsed to the other end of the station. People ignored us as we passed by, as if the sight of a group of junkies was an every day occurrence in this city.
The warmth inside folded gently over us, and for a split second calmed the chilliness in my bones, but the craving was growing. Cally was getting bad, and as we slurped our tea his hand began to shake. John let his head fall and rest on the table.
“How much money did you two get?” Cally and John had robbed what cash they could from their parent’s houses.
John pulled a wad of notes from his pocket. “I got everything I could from my dad’s tin and my mums purse.” He came from a middle class background.
Cally threw a few notes and a pile of change on the table. “This is all that there was in the house”
With the few quid I had there was almost thirty pounds. “Fuck’s sake this is great. Twenty-nine pounds and fifteen shillings Look you two, get another brew. I’ll go and fix myself up and then we’ll go to Piccadilly and score.”
The lights in the men’s toilets were glaringly bright. From the polished brass and copper and white porcelain, fluorescent blue reflected back. The atmosphere was sterile, yet an undertone of seediness, something sordid lingered in the corners. I knew what it was, it was the queer scene; the ghosts of men sucking each other, the quick encounters in cubicles, the drama of sexual relief. It was the ‘fucking puffs’ that loitered.
The cubicle door clicked shut on me. I had cut off the world and sat over the toilet. My own seedy ritual was about to start. I would shag into my arm the seeds of relief. I laid out the paraphernalia on the cistern The hypodermic felt, as always, good in my hands. The spike as it pierced the skin and popped a vein, even better, the flow from the works greater, but the anticipation, those few seconds before the ‘hit’ was ecstatic, but the incomparable miracle, the bliss was the kick to my heart.
I gently floated away from reality, and sank against, and into the tiled walls. My eyelids heavy, my mouth dry, but butterflies of happiness rushed madly through me.
The clatter of a cubicle door being locked somewhere in the distance brought me out of my stupor. Passionate animal sounds cascaded over the wall from the toilet
next door. Reality smashed back. Two ‘Homos’ were at it. Their unnatural act forced me out of the toilets.
In the café Cally and John were having problems. The manager, with his London accent was trying to shift them. “Cum on this ain’t no place for bleedin’ beatniks and junkies to doss down.”
Cally was about to have a go. His face was frightening enough with its almost toothless mouth, just two yellow fangs protruding, the remains of many a fight, and the scars, and the slit eyes, but as it glowed in anger it was formidable.
“ It’s all right mate” I intervened, “We’re just going anyway. Come on you two”
The walk to the underground was light and easy for me, the joy of the spirit of heroin led me on, but for Cally and John it was a path of burning coals and fiery blades. Both were shivering and twitching. Sweat poured down their face despite the ice-cold weather.
On the tube they curled up on the seats, oblivious to the few people who stared with curiosity, unaware to the rattling of the wheels of the train and the echoing of voices in the stations. They were in a wire net of misery and it was tightening on them. I knew too well that torture, and with contempt sat safely in my mirage, the clatter of the carriage comforting. We got out at Piccadilly. I made a phone call. There was no answer. No smack to score.
Traffic moved around the island in a long coil and a patrol of policemen stood by Boots corner. Along the pavements swarms thronged to the spectacle of the city late at night.
On the steps of Eros sat groups of the misplaced, the homeless, and the junkies, the night revellers and the predators. Through the packed groups we picked a way and sat amidst them. All the dealers and the chancers had watched us enter the arena. And with our sleeping bags and belongings dangling off us, and Cally and John staggering, we must have looked like good prey.
A long black trench coat slid over to us. From inside the turned up collar a voice asked, “Need a smoke, dexis, blues?”
I hated doing business like this, but Doctor had not answered his phone. He could be out all night or for days even. “Got any smack?” I asked, trying to disguise the northern accent, making the vowels stand to attention. The face popped out like a tortoise’s; greasy lank hair hung at either side, and a Mexican moustache drooped over thick wet lips, it peered at the state of Cally and John. “In a bad way, eh” It was a serpent’s voice, his tongue licked out the words. This was bad, a predator like him seeing the desperation of two people. “ I can help you out, man, but I’ll need the bread up front.”
His insult whacked my ego. Did we really look that naive? “Fuck off, what do you take me for, a stupid prat? You get the gear, let me taste it then we’ll see.”
“Wow, don’t get heavy man. Wait here I’ll be back soon.” His head retracted back into his shell, and the coat walked away and disappeared into the moving crowd.
The late night cold seeped into my body. Cally and John huddled their knees. The neon lights flashed out their advertising, and red double-decker buses carried their passengers along the avenues that branched out from Eros, taxis flitted in and out picking up theatre and cinema goers to take them home to their comfortable houses, drunks tumbled along the pavements. Life’s movements flowed on and around us in this uncaring and unconcerned city.
The stage on the steps changed. Through hazy heroin eyes I watched the carrion leave their perches, they had lingered around the Greek god of love, yet his influence had not touched them. They flapped off still dark and ugly. Lovers embraced and kissed under his power and floated away to a passionate night. Tourists wandered around and scuttled off when begged to give money by down and outs.
John wriggled up, pain and discomfort showed in his face. “Jed. How longs he been gone? I’m fucked. And I’m so bloody cold.”
Cally joined in the conversation. “Yeah Jed, where’re we going to doss down tonight? We can’t stay here.”
They were bringing me down. “Just fucking leave us alone will you.” My combat jacket and my ‘loon’ trousers had evaporated. The cold night’s freezing fingers tickled and stung. Above the droning traffic midnight was carried on the air, Big Ben chimed twelve in the distance.
The long coated figure reappeared. “It’s in my left hand, man. Put the money in my right.”
“How much?” I’d forgotten to ask before, really stupid of me.
“Fucking how much? Piss off.”
“Take it or leave it”
I counted notes from the bundle the other two had entrusted me with, the money parted from my right hand, and in my left a package was dropped. He was about to go and I grabbed his sleeve. “I’m going to taste it first. Cally keep an eye on him.”
Huddled over and away from the prying eyes of the world I unfolded the small parcel. It had been cut with glucose, it tasted strong, but the heroin came through.
“It’s cut to fuck this.”
“Hey man, it’s as I bought it. Take it or leave it.”
The bastard had us. We were slaves, and he cracked the whip.
As we marched away from the monument I looked back at Eros, I was angry. His spell had not worked for me either.
Under dismal fluorescent lights silhouetted figures sat at tables covered with cheap linoleum of the all night café. Behind the counter a huge sign declared, ‘Minimum Charge Between Midnight and 6 am 5/-‘ It was a hell of a price to pay.
At the back of the café we slid into a recessed table, our cups of insipid lukewarm tea clanged down on its surface. Someone placed money in the jukebox. ‘The House of the Rising Sun.’ covered the silence, and murmured conversations began.
Hidden in the alcove we could divide the heroin. From a packet of Park Drive cigarettes I ripped out its silver foil, and tore it into two. The razor blade scraped as I dragged out two white heaps. From out of my haversack I passed the box of works over to Cally, he followed the signs to the toilet.
John tried to drink his tea, but it was difficult. His hand was shaking and there was no energy to lift it. In his eyes were spider’s webs of thin red worms. His lips were broken and cracked, flakes of skin hung off them. Tremors rose and fell through his body.
“Fuck Jed. I feel right fucking awful. Where’s Cally? He’s been gone a fuck of a long time.”
“Stay cool. He’ll be back in a minute, then you can get sorted.”
Like rainwater gushing down a drainpipe the tea gurgled and rumbled in my stomach. None of us had eaten that day, but that was so unimportant. My last hit of euphoria in the toilets at Victoria had been disturbed and unsettled very quickly; the last couple of hours, hanging around and coping with reality had seen to this, its radiance was fading, the icicles were growing. I began to itch for another fix.
Cally coasted back into his place. His face was of pure relief. His eyes were alert, yet his pupils, just pinpricks of black showed how he had retreated to a world of ecstasy.
“Is it all right then?” I demanded.
“Yeah, not the best. I had to take two shots. Do two in one, then you’ll be all right.”
He handed the box over and John shuffled past him.
I tried to enjoy the last vestiges tickling in me. But they had no real strength. Paranoid thoughts attacked my mind; the responsibility of the other two, where to take them tonight, where to sleep. How to fucking survive in this city.
Cally gulped back his cold tea. I lit a cigarette. The sweet nicotine seeped in to my lungs and spread its transient calm to my nerves. Cally took one from the packet, and as he exhaled, puffed smoke rings up into the blue atmosphere. In that instance with desperation clawing at my nerves I hated him in his smugness.
“Cut out that crap. You’re really pissing me off.”
He looked offended, like some dog that’s just been whacked. “Fuck’s sake don’t get strung out.” His scars glared out at me, a reminder of how I had seen him kick the shit out of someone for a lot less.
Another record flipped on the box. ‘I’ve Got You Babe’. How I hated it. The popular sentimentality of Sonny and Cher, crap about love and devotion. Who for Christ’s sake loved anyone, anyway?
John sat next to Cally and pushed the box over to me. He was happy. His blemished soul was at peace. I left them to their revelries.
I dipped the spoon in the cistern of the toilet and prepared a strong shot. After the smack had hit me I remained sat on the toilet. Warmth glowed from the single bare light bulb. Even the magnolia walls had a welcoming sense of heat. On the back of the door a single piece of graffiti offered a way of making money; ‘I pay young boys to suck me off. Meet me here Saturday nights 10 o’ clock’ It was nasty, horrid. The idea of doing things with a man repulsed me, but I was intrigued. The thought titillated, an emotional door crashed open, a fissure in my psyche cracked, something from my past whispered, gently. I closed and I sealed them quickly, and stopped the murmur.
Back upstairs the scene in the café had changed. Seats were empty; shades of different human beings hung on the walls. A Teddy Boy, drunk, dangled from his girlfriend as they staggered to a seat. A lonely beatnik, bearded like a goat, glanced up when I walked out of the toilet. The man behind the counter raised an eyebrow. But now I was protected, they couldn’t touch me, I had the greatest God walking with me, he who could keep the bastards at bay.
Cally sat, his head resting on the wall, and stared into a vast oblivion. John rolled a cigarette between his fingers and examined the red ember. Both acknowledged my return with a droop of an opiated head. Together we slumped into a brotherhood. We built a cocoon, a wonderful dream state around us.
“Have you three finished?. You can’t stay here all night.” His voice wrenched us apart. Broke the shield and tore the shroud. “Twenty minutes is the limit, unless you buy another drink.”
“Stuff that” Cally slurred through his two front teeth. “At five bob a go, you must be kidding.”
Our comradeship drew tight, and with our sleeping bags banging against our thighs, and the heroin giving us strength, we walked out into the quietening night of London.
Trafalgar square stood isolated in a great brightness from the darker roads and avenues that ran out from it like straight and, to be envied, strong veins. High above us, Nelson, Lord of High Seas and Protector of our land, stood, rigid on his column, as useless as a twisted needle. The lazy lions crouched on their plinths unable to move, even though the night was freezing. They absorbed the cold complacently as if it were their duty. My hand slapped one on its flank. I wanted it to roar and bellow its frustration. Its only strength was to chill my hand, bronze cold.
We sat on the wall of the fountain, our sleeping bags under our arses, a seal from the numbing cold. The water lay calm, reflecting spotlights and warped images. The fountain stood defunct, its daily orgy of spray, exhausted.
“Do you think they’ll be looking for us yet?” The way John asked the question was with simple curiosity, no tone of concern or worry.
“They’ll probably have your name by now Jed. From the landlady.” Cally was great at pointing out the obvious.
“So. We’re fucking two hundred miles away. Anyway they’ve got to prove that it was me. And as long as everyone keeps their bloody gobs shut we’ll be okay.” I wasn’t too bothered. I felt good, I was beautifully high. This morning was a long way behind. I’d travelled years since then. “Piss off, you two, you’ll only bring us down if you talk crap like that.”
We settled back into our own personal raptures. Junkies share a lot of common experiences. Times when things need to be done together, times when a strong bond pulls in one direction, and when the need to survive in a pack is necessary. And then there are the times when the team has to be abused by the individual, the times when the strap is cut to survive alone; when the need to back -stab is necessary. But there is rapture behind a tightly closed door that is so personal and belongs only to the self. This was one of those times. And through the door’s spy-hole we watched single figures, solitary beings, and the occasional couples, devoted to love walk down the huge stone steps and cross the stone flags and mingle with the night.
One lone figure sauntered into our blinkered view. He passed in front, close by, and lingered for a second, just a brief second and in that moment his features became a pampered vulture’s, a preying bird of paradise. A spotted red cravat puffed out on his breast. His coxcomb, a heavy mass of lacquered blonde hair shimmered. His eyes were those of a raven, deep, and beautiful and cunning. And like that bird, he summed us up as a potential meal.
As he approached us, his patent black leather shoes dazzled back the square’s lights. From under his full length mauve coat, silk rustled, like a snake’s hiss before an attack.
“Hello boys.” His voice trickled and lisped. “Would you like a cigarette?” From inside his coat he pulled a shiny silver case. It rested open in a set of delicate talons; the nails long and shaped to a point.
I came out from behind my door. “Yeah. Ta.” And pulled out a long filtered tipped cigarette. He offered the case to the other two.
“You boys – new in town? Sorry that was a stupid question. You wouldn’t be sitting here with sleeping bags, freezing your bottoms off if you weren’t. Mind if I join you for a while. I’ve nowhere in particular to go just now.” His voice rattled on, its tones rose and fell in nervous excitement. “You know I’ve had the most awful night. Went to one of my favourite clubs, the Blue Room, the bastards wouldn’t let me in because I’d forgotten my membership card. Anyway, I’ve just been cruising around the pubs, if you know what I mean and I met up with an old friend, who had just bought a load of bluies and, well as you can probably tell, I took some, and well you know how it is. And then he left me, saying he had to be somewhere else and I’ve been walking and then sitting in pubs and well here I am now with you boys”
His bombardment of amphetamine talk pounded us. It gusted into our heroin vapour. His overt display of homosexuality, and the feminine voice, mesmerised us. In our home town ‘queers’ moved quietly and with discretion, afraid to display what they were.
His hand floated up and down, a red admiral butterfly with a cigarette attached. He drew in the smoke with pouted lips and a delicate twist of his head.
“My name’s Julian” He introduced himself. Cally’s face beamed his gummy grin as they touched hands, and his shoulders trembled with embarrassed laughter.
“What a wonderful mass of curls you have, and such an interesting face.” He prattled on. “Those scars, I bet you can look after yourself!” Cally pulled his hand sharply away, flustered that the ‘Homo’ still had a grip.
John held back and grunted “Hiya” as he was offered the hand of friendship.
Along the palm of my hand Julian’s fingers rested gently. “I’m Jed, that’s John and Cally.” His hand loitered. “My, you are so young.” His other hand dropped to encompass mine in a gentle grip. The cunning wolf was preparing to seduce Red Riding Hood.
“Well, how fucking old are you?” My hand twisted out of his grip.
“ Oh. When you get as old as me darling, you don’t let everyone know your age. Besides as Mae West said, You’re only as old as the man you feel, and well I usually feel them pretty young. I could tell you a thing or two that’s happened to me since I’ve lived in London…”
The speed kicked his tongue back into top gear. His mind accelerated with words and he had to spit them out. Snatches of sentences shot through my haze. “When I first came here…I lived like you… I work in advertising… First job I had…My friends… the clubs… The bastards… Made money by… Have a flat in Bayswater…”
The drug battle raged on. His machine gun rattled. Bullets flew at us, but our heroin bunkers held. But then there was one shell that burst through, and it shook the foundations. “If I were you I’d get off here quick, the cops, coming down the steps at the other side. Follow me”
Julian led us off the square, his steps clicked and minced above our shuffling feet. Across the wide road and down narrow streets we followed our new companion, like he was a pied piper. I watched him with curiosity and felt a strange admiration at how he could be brave enough to dress and act as he did. At the Haymarket he dangled his arm in front of an oncoming taxi. “I’m going home now and if you need a place to stay just for tonight you’re welcome to come back.”
In the taxi yellow and white asteroids, glided past us. High above them blinking moons and planets flashed their isolation; the lights of the city were cold and desolate. I sat between John and Cally, and Julian faced us. The pilot of the craft knew this galaxy and steered us to our destination. Content to have an occasional grunt of acknowledgement from his children the Homo jabbered on,
“Well, here we are.” Julian declared opening the panelled door. “It’s nothing special I’m afraid and it’s a bit on the cramped side.”
The three of us stood on the threshold as Julian scurried around picking up magazines and papers off the chair and settee. A low coffee table divided the room into two. Pictures of semi – nude men were pinned on the magnolia walls. Blood red curtains hung, hiding the window and the outside world. He lit a gas fire, which turned its white ceramic face yellow then red as if it were embarrassed at seeing us here.
“Come in. Come sit down” He offered us the room with open arms.
John and Cally took up the settee. They annoyed me. It was as if they had become inseparable and I was the outsider. I sat on the cloth -covered armchair.
“Would you like some tea?”
I had to prompt the other two “Cally! John!”
From behind a door water gushed, teacups rattled.
John gestured the motion of fixing. It was time to shoot, but not a desperate time, just right.
“Can I use your toilet?” I shouted
“Oh yes. It’s down the hallway, on the left. Watch for the step.”
The small room was ideal! There was a tiny sink. The water dribbled into the spoon. The heroin dissolved quickly with my lighter’s heat, too much glucose. The spike found a vein, and the heroin found its mark. I left the apparatus behind.
Julian had placed an upright chair next to mine. Mugs of steaming tea, and milk and sugar were on the table. My eyes flashed at John, a message to go and sort himself out.
Julian offered more cigarettes and prattled on. I couldn’t give a damn. It was lulling to hear the sound of a ranting speed taker. Fresh hits of smack always gave me the arrogance and the confidence to perch on an ethereal throne, sit in judgement of non- takers, and place them as lesser beings.
“Do you know, I’m going to move soon” He chattered. “ I once lived in a lovely flat up near the heath, oh I was so happy there, but I ended up with such a bitch, well, you wouldn’t believe what he did to me.” The security of his home and the honesty that amphetamine induces was leading Julian to be more open about his queerness. His movements were very effeminate, his voice tantalisingly sweet. “Well, he was just shagging other people all the time. I know it was his flat and everything, but, please, well, I was out at work and he was letting every Tom, Dick and Harry come up from the heath during the day.”
Cally’s face was a portrait of disbelief, like Julian was an alien and would pull out his laser gun to kill at any time. John walked back into the room and a bullet with frizzy blonde hair flew out. I wondered how long Cally could cope with the situation, seeing he had such an innate hatred of ‘Homos.’ I just prayed that Julian would not try anything.
John drifted back onto the settee, and we drank our tea while Julian’s chit-chat entertained and charmed us. “Well, after that things went from bad to worse and I ended up here and there. You know having to stay with people, like yourselves. And the things I had to do just to get a bit of a night’s sleep. Well I think you are a bit too young for that sort of thing and well I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression to you, I’m really quite descent, not like those old queens that go around picking up strays but, well you know, or maybe you don’t.”
Cally slouched back into the room. He’d had a really good hit, probably used the rest of his pile. He flopped next to John, and then he was out, drifting to the heights, walking above the clouds, and singing Hallelujah with the angels.
“Good smack then, is it?” I knew that Julian knew, but was unsure about him. We suddenly had a bond, the outcast homosexual and the renegade addicts. We had all stepped on the other side of the line and all faced dire consequences.
“ Oh I’ve had smack, don’t you look so worried. I prefer my gin and tonics and the occasional bluie or Dexedrine, or sometimes cocaine. Poor Cally he’s really gone and it looks like John is about to drift.” John too was leaving us; maybe Cally had found somewhere lovely and called him.
Julian’s voice dropped almost to a whisper, and within that quiet tone an intimacy spread over to me. “ Do you mind if I ask how old you are Jed?”
I told him, succinctly, finding it difficult to stay completely conscious.
“The same age as me when I first came to London. Is this your first time in the smoke?.”
My head shook gently.
“ I was quite pretty too, not like you though” He continued. “Then all the older men flocked around me, I could have done so much, but I was a fool at times. If I’d have had looks and eyes like yours, just imagine.”
His compliments sneaked their way through my haze, and made me feel good, just like the women who cooed when I was a child. I looked back to yesterday, less than twenty four hours ago, and into the mirror in the bed-sit where we had left Nero and saw my drawn face, there I could only see a haggard image.
“And your hair, I bet if it were cleaned the colour would be magnificent.” His fingers played with a lock pushed behind my ear. His voice and a huge surge of heroin seduced me into a lovely trance. I felt safe and somewhat secure, the world was unable to reach in here.
I was woken from my insensibility by Julian’s hand gently shaking my arm. The room and surroundings drew into focus. Cally and John had blankets draped over them, and cushions propped under their heads. “They didn’t even flinch when I settled them down.” He now had a warm sincerity of care in his voice. “Look I feel a bit tired myself just in that state you know when the speed goes more than it comes. If you want Jed, you can sleep on my floor, these two will be fine in here.” The suggestion was good, and appealing, I was in an ecstatic state, heavily blocked on smack, and just needed somewhere to lie and enjoy my state. I grabbed my doss bag and followed Julian.
His bedroom was small. A single bed with a few blankets thrown on top. The bare walls had disgusting 40’s wallpaper, heavily embossed with outlandish flowers. It was as if I had stepped back into my mother’s house the place where we lived after we had left my father. I wanted to vomit. A shadow of the past entered me. A place of unhappiness, isolation and despair. I saw her bed , her small chest of drawers. Her clothes spread on the bed, her underwear draped over the single chair. My felt my childhood desperation to touch and fondle those intimate garments that had clung to her body. Jealousy of their existence slashed through me. Envy of how they had wrapped themselves around her, pained my soul and how she had displayed herself for other men when I was not even allowed to touch her jarred in my heart. I hated the memory, and I threw it out my mind. The heroin jarred in my guts, a reminder that it was a great substitute for her.
Julian’s manner had changed as he sat on his bed. In his voice ran an excitement, he ranted on like he was at some schoolgirl’s party, telling me ‘how nice it was to have someone staying the night, and how lonely it can get at times living on your own.’ I threw my combat jacket on the floor and ripped off my desert boots. I rolled out my sleeping bag and tried to crawl in. “Oh, it would be better if you took some of your clothes off, you’ll feel the benefit in the morning.” His tone was concerned, but underneath lurked the voice of that fox. I ignored his suggestion. I was troubled. I shot into the bag, I wanted him to leave me alone, I needed to disappear behind my door, to shut the spy-hole, to bolt the lock and turn the key. His voice danced on as I closed the door, fastened the lens, secured the bolt and placed the key in my pocket. There I could be with my heroin and my hero and my heroine, for it and he and she were the same. We were all the same.
Bang, bang on my door – a loud hammering and the smash of an axe. From deep, deep caverns, and up narrow tunnels and along underground passages, I had to rush and scurry. I threw open the door and the light blinded me. The reality scared the shit out of me.
Julian was knelt by my side, naked with his erect penis in his hand. And for a pinch in time, a slight second, I admired it, and wanted to touch it, and feel its energy. His other hand had slid its way into my sleeping bag, and had opened my buttons and was caressing so gently. I felt a surge snake its way from somewhere in me, the blood pumped, the muscle rose.
“For fuck sake. You fucking queer bastard” I let fly with one hand and hit him in the mouth. “Cally, John, help!” I bellowed, my voice boomed into the other room, like a bull in full charge. The door flew open. They summed the situation up in an instant and Cally pounced on Julian. Pent-up aggression spilled out of him. “ You bastard fucking Homo, I fucking hate queer gits like you” John and I watched while Cally’s fist beat into Julian’s face. Blood poured from his nose, teeth crunched and his lips split.
“Cally for fuck sake that’s enough.” I shouted. He was too involved. John and I pulled him off “Come on Cally that’s enough, you’ll end up doing the bastard serious harm, we don’t need problems down here as well.” With one last kick in Julian’s stomach, Cally fell away from him. But the pack instinct came into play. And with the bond of survival we ransacked the place. Found his wallet, and took the money, and rifled his clothes and found copper coins. Smashed the gas meter, and robbed the shillings. And stole his wireless.
Julian was slouched across my blood stained bag. I rolled him off. He called my name, it pulled at a sentiment, a gentle emotion, like when my one and only pet, a budgie, died when I was a boy. I wanted to say sorry, yet I shouted, “You’re a twisted sad queer.”
From the door I looked back at the poor bastard lying flat and deserted and alone once again.
The thick smog hung around with no particular purpose other than to join the silver frost that had arrived earlier and declare – this is still winter. On hedges and walls, in gardens and the outside of houses icy surfaces twinkled. The dense mist held freezing droplets of water, which rolled on to our clothes and hair. We stood in front of Julian’s house like three stalagmites.
. “For Christ’s sake Cally, that was a bit fucking much.” I said, my breath following the words in streams of smoke.
“Yeah you could have done him some real harm you stupid idiot.” John joined my team.
Cally flicked back at us; “What the fuck are you two talking about. The queer bastard deserved it. You shouted to us. Don’t tell me you feel sorry for the bastard. What do you want me to do, go and kiss him better and say I’m sorry. Fuck that.”
“ No you’re right, just watch your bloody temper next time.” I couldn’t be bothered with it- it could easily end up in an argument between us. “Come on then let’s get going in case he calls the fuzz.” But I knew we were safe; Julian was too scared to get the police involved. They, like the rest of society would not have been sympathetic to his homosexual’s cause.
As we walked my joints felt as if the cold had seeped in and an ice pack was about to form. John undid his sleeping bag and threw it over his shoulders. Cally and I did like wise. A tender warmth draped me.
Out on the main road the early morning sounds of traffic came at us from all directions, muffled by the density of the smog. Headlights the colour of sour cream appeared for a fleeting second and then vanished behind the smoky wall. But it enabled us to walk in safety, obscured from prying eyes and the possibility of inquisitive policemen. But it did not protect us from its ally, the cold. We sauntered and slouched along, an expedition in to the unknown, braving the cruel elements with only warrior’s blankets draped across our shoulders. We did not even know in which direction we were heading, but as bees fly instinctively to nectar, so the junkie crawls with a subconscious knowledge in the right direction to get his supply of heroin. Against a wall, we rested, wrought iron spears stuck out from the top, protecting the other side from wanderers and undesirables. From out of his haversack Cally pulled a pair of socks and a pullover. John and I followed his example and put on more socks, shirts and any item to help keep us warm. Onward we went, further into the alien landscape, believing that at some point, somewhere, someplace, and somehow we would arrive not entirely safe, but at an outpost where we could get supplies.
The sound of the muted traffic grew, as more vehicles were busy scurrying in the pea -soup of mist. Clusters of streetlights replaced single ones, and advertising lights flashed, and shop lights and illuminated buses and headlights chased the smog away. The city’s heart had begun to beat, it pounded wave after wave of blood into the veins and arteries and they carried it to the skin and the digits, the outlying stations. Life was refreshed and there was no stopping it, it had to become alive to exist.
Through the lifting fog ‘Rita’s Café’ in red fluorescent tubes sizzled in a window. Silhouetted behind its greying net curtains peaked capped workmen ate food. A junkie’s most important factor is -junk. Food is unimportant but necessary to survive to fix to live. We were very cold, not just very cold but frozen – over. Inside the smell of bacon, the warmth, and the steam, the silence broken only by the scraping of cutlery as men rammed food into their mouths made me for one instant – one tiny moment, regret that I too did not wake up at a regular time every day. I was sorry that I did not go out to work and go home to a house, and a family and security. ‘Sod that the smack head told me’
I thought we must have looked weird, unbelievable and intimidating, but with nonchalance they glanced at us and returned to their food.
“What’s you ‘aving boys?” The woman, who looked like she should have been called ‘Ethel’ and not Rita with her spotted headscarf and matching apron, asked us.
We ordered three breakfasts, with tea. No one bothered when we rolled our doss bags up on the floor ‘ this was London, the city’ and people were used to worse. At a table we sipped our warming mug of tea laced with spoonfuls of sugar. It revived the heroin, it helped it course back through the system, helped it to remind us of the last fix and the one that was due.
I counted the money we had robbed from Julian, a five-pound note, a pound note, a few coppers, and five shillings from the gas meter. With the other money, and after paying for breakfast, we had just over twenty-four pounds. Then like a switchblade stab, a thought screamed in my brain. “Cally, where the fuck is my works? You were the last to use it. You’d better not have left it behind, I’ll fucking kill you if you have.” My voice rose to a loud pitch, eyes glanced from all over the place in our direction.
“Wow, Jed stay cool. It’s here in my pocket.”
The relief and the happiness almost made me cry. Soldiers must have felt the same after months in trenches when the end of a war is declared. Without that syringe I was lost, I had no lover, I had no life.
“ How much gear you two got?” I asked, now in a whisper.
Cally had used all his, John had a small hit left, and me, the one who paces his gear in fear of the monsters that visit when the heroin runs out, had one good shot in its wrapper.
“When we’ve eaten.” I said, “I’ll phone Doctor again and see if we can score. Hopefully he’s in. If not we’ll have to go back to the ‘Dilly’. See if we can get a better contact this time.”
Three plates were put in front of us. Tinned tomatoes flooded around rashers of bacon, sausages and egg. The aroma of the feast wafted up. My guts gurgled and churned in anticipation. It was the first food we had had for two days and like ravenous dogs we scooped and shovelled it in. The melted lard mixed with my gastric juices, my stomach muscles worked frantically on the solid stuff, and my heart surged and blood pumped, revitalising the smack in my system once again. Minutes later we had finished. The plates were mopped clean with white sliced bread and the remains of the tea washed it all down.
“Christ that was good.” Cally spoke for all of us, and let out a terrific belch.
But now we needed something greater. The food would physically sustain us, but it was time to sort out the nerves, the complex that heralded the junkie’s desires to be appeased once more. I asked ‘Rita’ if there was a toilet. The nearest was across the road. Cally and John waited while I nipped out.
Steps of criss-crossed marble led me underground to the two-cubicle lavatory, with a sink and a few urinals. No one was down there. I left a tiny hit in the packet for Cally. The ceremony done and the smack in my blood I fell behind the fluttering veil of the opiate. But in defiance the heroin would not allow the food to share my body. My guts grabbed the congealed lard and half -chewed grub with strong hands. Heroin muscles flexed and threw the whole lot up. Vomit landed on the floor, and like a bottle of red sauce smashed, and sprayed out, splattering my boots. I stepped over it and out of the cubicle and swilled my mouth at the sink. It was not disturbing, it was not frightening – it was part and parcel of taking smack.
I told Cally “ be careful, there’s a pile of puke down there.” His gratitude at me giving him a hit was annoying. His face became pathetic and weak like some tart’s lap dog. “Just go and fucking do it” I snorted.
I bought a packet of ‘Woodbines’. John and I smoked while we waited for Cally. The hit I’d just had was lazy and calming in my veins, but not strong enough to take me where I really needed to be, not forceful enough to take me ‘out of it’. Cally arrived back with pin -point eyes and slid the works over to John. By the time he came back the smog on the other side of the window had rolled and swirled away. Outside the pavement led us onward; each of us wrapped in heroin remoteness.
The city had dispersed the freezing night; its activity had thawed it into an inert grey dampness, a grainy, a badly exposed black and white film. In dull overcoats and drab raincoats, commuters dashed, and city gents in bowler hats rushed to keep the wheels of society greased and running. Road sweepers passed us by pushing their brooms against mounting filth.
Cars and lorries, taxis and buses chugged along preordained routes. Time as it ticks had no meaning for us, not like this moving mass, not like their superficial need to survive and be regimented by its face. No, our time was the steps and the pace at which the clock of addiction marked the continuation of our life.
At the first phone box I tried Doc’s number again. The phone rang, its purr droned on for ages. In my hand I had a copper piece ready to shove in the slot. Click, p-p-p-p-p, the black machine demanded its charge. “Doctor”
“Yea, who’s that?” His voice sounded very pissed off.
“It’s me Jed.”
“Me, Jed from Blackburn”
“Oh shit. Oh yeah. How are you? Look man you just woke me up. What do you want?”
“ I need to score. Can you help me out, like last time.”
“ Yeah probably. How much do you want?”
“How much are doing it for?”
“Aah, look I can let you have two grams later, for ten.”
He arranged to meet me in a pub at twelve o’ clock in Soho.
Cally and John were sat and wrapped up on the pavement by the phone box. “Yea, we’re set for later.” I told them. We were all getting tired. Last night’s lack of sleep and the flight from Blackburn was beginning to tell. We needed to find somewhere to get some rest.
The circle line on the underground goes round and round. We bought tickets at Edgware Road station and took the train to connect with the roundabout. From deep in the subterranean tunnel the sound of clattering wheels preceded a gentle breeze which turned into a surge as the engine spewed out of the cave like some raving wild eyed beast. Its passion subdued as it screeched to a halt, the mouths along its side slid open and like an unorganised sacrifice we tumbled in with the crowd to be carried off down dark mysterious labyrinths to uncertain fates.
Our trio lined up next to each other on the green and red checked long carriage seat and sat dazed and tired listening to the chatter, clatter, chatter, clatter of the beast’s wheels, lulling us to sweet child like sleep. From reality to euphoria and back I swung and back to euphoria behind my door. Spittle ran from my mouth down my chin and onto the sleeping bag tucked under my head. I rested in a damp warm pool and faded out of sight.
“Come on, come on get up, you can’t sleep on the trains.” A uniformed figure stood in front of us. The peak on his cap threw off a shiny evil light. His face was warty, spotty, his eyes flabby but dangerous, full of official pride. We pulled ourselves up. I wiped the saliva from my chin.
“Show me your tickets” Fortunately we were entitled to ride to the next station. He stood there guarding us like some Nazi warder, stopping us from jumping out the window to commit suicide.
He patrolled us out of the train and onto the platform. Defiantly we stood and watched him until the train was sucked back into its lair. The over hanging clock showed 11 am. How many times had we been round and round? How many people had got on and off, studied us, judged us and left us to our chances?
The slumber on the carousel had eased our tiredness yet the grit of the city’s dirty sandpaper burned in our eyes. Grime covered our bodies. Its odour clung and mixed with our sweaty clothes. On Cally’s hands was the congealed blood of Justin. His bitten fingernails were black with dirt. John’s hands and face were greasy, white and black heads stood out on his skin like pestilent sores, and his blonde hair lay flat against his head I dragged my fingers through my hair, its tangled mass unyielding. We were beginning to look like true down and outs.
The wooden escalators carried us to the surface. The collector snatched our tickets and threw them into a bin, afraid to hold them too long for fear of contamination. A hazy winter’s sun dazzled as we walked into the street. Its weak warmth battled with the cold nip that had penetrated the pavements and buildings. People, muffled with scarves, big coats and gloves, scurried to meet their own important destinies. They swerved by us, avoiding a collision.
Down Baker St we trudged, back towards Piccadilly. The length of the road seemed endless. Heroin heaviness, and tired muscles and screwed up brains and a sticky, treacle black pavement prevented our weary legs from lifting.
We walked through Soho’s invisible gates. One moment we were outside with the threats of convention booming out, the next, a mantle of something not respectable closed behind us. It was as if we had sailed into a temporary haven from a storm.
In the pub I ordered three halves of bitter. Indifferently the landlord pumped foam into glasses. A few solitary drinkers were scattered about, sitting at wrought iron tables. Reflections of loneliness staring back at them in half empty glasses. We waited patiently and silently at the curved wooden bar with its brass rail running the length. Behind up turned bottles of spirits huge, deeply etched mirrors threw back our faces. My countenance peeked at me from behind a bottle of gin. My jaw length red hair was matted, from my eyes black bags drooped on my cheekbones. Dirt gave the appearance of an unshaved chin.
“Here you are lads” Silver coins flashed out against the filth of my hands as I counted the exact money.
We dragged our luggage over to a table. Our backsides rested uncomfortably on the bench; its springs loose and dislodged with over a century of use. And like the tiled floor its leather covering was cracked and worn. The ceiling was mustard yellow; droplets of amber coloured nicotine were hanging as tiny stalactites. Countless generations of the ghosts of drinkers swayed and staggered, sang and cried, danced and fell over, trapped and held here for eternity by their pleasures.
The pub door swung inward on its huge brass hinge. Shafts of sunlight, decorated blue and red as they passed through panels of stained glass, slashed into the room. A sharp chill pushed back the warmth of the open fire. I hoped it was Doctor coming in. But the female figure that entered activated the lone male drinkers. Her sexiness spread to every corner. As she stood at the bar all eyes viewed her figure. Tight black slacks showed her pert arse. Out of a white blouse her breasts swelled, the cleavage deep and tempting. Marilyn Monroe’s hair hung around a painted face: the lips, blood red, the eyes midnight black in contrast to a powdered white skin. Every male in the pub turned into a peacock, feathers were displayed in the hope of catching her eye.
“Hello Lil” the landlord was friendly to her. “ You’re brave coming out with no coat!”
Her voice purred in sensual tones. “Oh I’ve just popped out for a breather before the lunch time punters start. I’ll have my usual.”
He slid a glass of gin and orange to her. “How’s business?”
“A bit slow this morning, probably the cold’s keeping them in. Still the office lot’ll be out soon.”
Cally’s mouth was agape, and his sparse twisted yellow front teeth stuck out. “ Is she a prosie. She’s gorgeous” His question was naive. In our home- town prostitutes hung round street corners, near derelict houses, dressed badly and were usually unattractive.
Lil glanced over at us; Cally’s voice had carried. But there was no malice from her. She judged our age and position with an experienced eye. Her red lips parted, her smile was charming. I loved her there and then. Her power blazed into my heart. The emotion was almost as great as a smack rush. I wanted to be next to her. I wanted to press my head into her cleavage. I wanted to suck her nipples and extract white liquid opium. I wanted to crawl my way up her cunt and settle in her womb.
With a toss of her head the gin and orange left the glass. To the landlord she said, “I’d best get back. See you later.”
The peacocks rustled and shook their feathers in one last desperate bid to get the hen’s attention, but their plumage was not bright enough, their wallets not full enough, for such a magnificent creature.
When she had gone I crashed. My spirit slumped, my heart cracked. I really needed a shot to bind me back together. The creepy crawlies were leaving their nest. I could feel them at the base of my spine, untangling like a ball of worms.
John had closed his eyes, not asleep, but drawn back to the heroin, holding on to the residue in his veins. Cally was fidgeting, his brain working to ask questions. I told him to ‘drink up’ and gave him money to get more drinks. John came back to us. “We’ll have some whiskey with this one.” I told them. I needed something hard and dramatic to rush through me.
In one I hurled back the sun -shiny liquid. It spread, warm into my chest, and down to my stomach where it burned with a spiteful fire. The taste of the bitter followed, cool, to fight for supremacy in my guts. Neither won, they became allies and coursed happily together. And held hands with the remaining heroin.
The door slued open again, this time no rays entered the room. Perhaps it wasn’t the sun that had pierced the stain glass last time; perhaps it had been Lil’s potency.
Doctor saw us and marched over. He had changed. It was only about five or six months since I last saw him. Instead of combat jacket and jeans he was wearing a long black Victorian morning coat with a red cravat over a whitish shirt. Flared velvet trousers and high heeled pointed boots. His hair hung in black rivulets on his shoulders. In his hand he carried a walking stick.
I was amazed “Wow, you look great, man. You remember John and this is Cally.”
“ Cool man. Yeah. I’ve got heavily into the new scene. Freedom and flowers and love. The hippy thing. I really dig it. It’s cool. Things are changing. Yeah I just hang out cool these days.” Not only had his appearance changed, but his manner was flamboyant, his voice had an exciting lilt, he was part of something very new, something that had only recently begun to touch the towns of Lancashire.
His jargon slapped me like Julian’s homosexual speeches, yet I wanted more of it, to understand and be part of a movement that moved far from convention. In that moment I was no longer a leader, here sitting with us, was a helmsman of non- – conformity. I wanted to sail on the boat. To completely cut the moorings that tied me to my background. I had already started gnawing at the ropes; heroin had given me the courage.
“Do you want a drink?” I asked him.
“Yeah, cool, I’ll dig that. A lager, man.”
At the bar I ordered three more bitters, and with embarrassment added a lager. Lager in Blackburn was for women, for the effeminate, not a man’s drink.
Back at the table John was asking Doctor where he got his clothes. “Oh man you want t’ check out Portobello. The have some really groovy clothes down there. Like stalls and shops with really cool dudes selling it all.”
As I sat back down a pang, a little twinge reminded me of why we were here. “Did you bring us the gear?”
“Oh shit man, too true. I wouldn’t let you guys down. Got the bread?”
I passed him over ten quid and with caution after a glance about the pub he passed over two neatly folded tiny envelopes. “ The landlord’s cool, but you never know when the pigs are about.”
There was no need to taste it. I trusted Doc, as much as anyone could have confidence in a dealer. “Is it cool to shoot in the bogs?”
“No man, best not. Stay level for a while and then I’ll show you a good place.”
I felt rebuffed; a shot would add to the excitement that I felt. But I took our new leader’s advice.
“Are you dudes just down to score or are you going to dig the scene and hang out?”
“No we had to split quick….” Cally blurted out the words. I shot an evil glance at him, a warning, and interrupted. “ Yeah we had a bit of trouble, nothing too heavy, just had to leave, know what I mean.” The fewer people that knew the safer I was.
Doctor remained unconcerned. “Yeah, no problem. Look man we all have to split at some point. It’s cool. Well, have you guys got anywhere to crash out?”
The leadership was again in my hands, the other two avoided the question, and subconsciously they threw it to me. “ No. We only arrived yesterday. Haven’t got sorted yet. Do you know somewhere? Have you got any spare room?”
“ No. I’ve got these dudes crashing at my pad. There’s not enough room for any more, but I’ll tell you where you can doss. In Notting Hill, they’re opening empty houses and squatting.
It’s really cool. Getting property back from the mother-fuckers. I’m going to done one soon. Look I’ll take you up there and see if we can get you sorted. They’re really getting it sussed. Come on drink up.”
Doc became our guide; I took second in rank and was relieved to have the burden shifted. He took us down alleyways where men sauntered and looked in tiny shop windows where magazines of half-naked women were displayed. Through a street market with stalls full of fruit and vegetables, he steered. We passed young women loitering and attracting punters. The smell of fresh coffee wafted out of little cafes. Fresh baked bread titillated our noses. But we had no time to stand and stare; we had to deal with our own business.
At a corner he pulled up and nodded at a set of railings in the middle of the road. “Its cool down there. I used to use the place a lot when I was on the scene down here. There’s no attendant.”
He waited while the three of us went down. A line of cubicles stood open and we took one each.
The lid to the cistern wouldn’t come off, the water in the bowl was just as good, I filled the spoon and ‘cooked up’ with a match. The ritual was finished in a few minutes. I slid the box and one of the wraps under the partition to Cally. In my renewed heroin trance I lolled and with it was a new state – a novel awareness. I saw before me a river dotted with stepping-stones and I stood on the bank with my foot ready to stretch out.
“Jed, Jed” John’s voice drew me away from the water. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Just coming.” They were waiting for me. Together we walked up the hard marble steps and back into the road with its churning life.
On the tube to Notting Hill we trundled, in our opiated minds, to the clatter of echoing wheels and rattling wagons. While floating around and up and down the carriage I looked down on the strange troop. Cally’s bright blonde, Medusa curled hair, lashed out at the sulphur-laden air. One of his rotten teeth poked out over his lower lip, yellowed, and black at the root. Heavy folds of grease had turned the green of his combat jacket to rotting leafy compost. The tassels of his flares were black and knotted with dirt, and hung over his stained and torn desert boots like clinkers on a sheep’s arse; the denim hidden somewhere under the lard of time. John’s clothes were no cleaner. They hung on his thin and lank body like his mousy hair hung from his head with no control or care. The plastic patches on the shoulders of his donkey jacket were torn and ripped, his jeans, as Cally’s were laden in slime and dirt.
But Doc looked cool and hip. Part of a new scene. His black Victorian clothes stark and fine gave him the aura of power. My own clothes embarrassed me. They were dated, an old style. I had worn them virtually every day for two years. The inked anti conformists slogans on the back of the jacket had given me an identity in my hometown. There I stood out, I caused controversy, I upset people, but here next to Doctor, I was insignificant, time’s dirt and wear had taken over. I wanted to rip them off.
End of 3rd chapter
Full work 95,000 words.