First it was my feet. I tensed and released them. Then my legs started the inevitable twitching. My eyes and nose were streaming. The bed felt gritty. It was still dark outside. I knew it was early. I tried to pretend it was not happening, but all the signs were there. Pulling my legs up to my chest, I lay there praying I could get back to sleep. The creeping coldness felt like it came from inside my bones. If only I could just sleep until it got light.
Eventually I surrendered and looked at the clock, three thirty-eight. Fuck! not even four. Too fucking early to do anything. There was no point in lying there any longer. Flicking on the naked bulb, I stood looking round the bare room; a mattress on the floor, a chest of drawers with the bottom drawer missing. Well, not missing exactly, it was doing duty as a table. There was a cleaner square on the chest where the TV used to be. Should never have sold that. At least it would have been a distraction. A plastic food container on the ‘table’ contained syringes, a couple of stained spoons, and a small brown plastic pill bottle.
Cursing myself for not having saved a bit of gear for the morning, I went into the kitchen, knowing full well there was nothing there; no tea, no nothing. I rinsed a glass over the stained sink and filled it with water. Back in the other room, I sat on the mattress and reached for the pill bottle. There were four little balls of stained cotton wool in there; filters from other hits. I tipped them into one of the spoons, added some water from the glass with one of the syringes, and heated it with a clipper lighter until it bubbled. There were some needles in the box. I tested them for barbs by stroking them on the back of my hand. Selecting the least offensive, I gave it a quick swipe on a match box to sharpen it. Then I drew the water from the spoon into the barrel of the syringe.
My throat went dry. Despite my knowing there was virtually nothing in this hit, the ritual always had this effect. I could almost hear the crunch as the wall of my vein ruptured under the onslaught of the blunt needle. Pulling on the plunger, a thin red stream joined the almost clear water. The scarf that I had used as a tie slipped to floor easily as I released my bite, before pushing the still-warm solution into my bloodstream.
I sat waiting for the warmth of heroin to engulf me, but with so little in that hit all I felt was a vague lessening of discomfort. My mind now focused on how to raise some money to score.
It was still dark outside. Somehow, clucking was always worse when it was dark. Grabbing a book from the floor, I hunched up, shivering on the mattress and tried to read until it got light.
I found myself reading without remembering a word. I could not concentrate. After the third attempt at a page, I threw the book at the wall and started to pace around. Opening a drawer at random, I rummaged about, looking for anything I could sell, but I knew there was nothing. I'd stripped the place bare. I'd searched every corner, every pocket for a forgotten stash. Addiction leaves nothing out; it's all consuming.
Despair hit me like a truck. I felt its cold dark hand close on my gut. Perched on the window ledge, I looked down at the street below, bathed in the unforgiving orange glow of the streetlamp. I recalled the car that I used to see parked there, my car, the one that I used to drive to work before all this shit stole my life.
When the first glimmer of grey light showed itself, I put on my large black overcoat, drank the rest of the water, grabbed the lighter and some cigarette papers, then headed out.
Hoping the movement would alleviate the coldness in my bones and the dull ache in my legs, I set off at a good pace. The streetlights went off as I started to look for fag ends on the ground of the empty streets. In about ten minutes, I had enough for a roll-up. The hot, acrid smoke gave some comfort.
I set off on a tour, checking for lights in the windows of anyone who may have some gear. I saw none. Any junkie awake at this time would probably be clucking like me, anyway.
Why I chose to torture myself by walking down Stafford Street, Janie's street, confused me. Beautiful Janie. Janie and I had lived together for two years before she’d discovered my heroin use. For six months I’d made promise after promise to stop and I meant them, really meant them, but somehow I just couldn’t. The lies became a way of life as I tried to hold on to the shreds of our life together. As I walked past her curtained windows, I pictured her asleep in bed, all curled up the way she did. Then a wave of sadness hit me as I realised there may well be someone else curled up next to her.
It was just about six o’clock now. I asked a passer-by if she would give me any change. She looked petrified and hurried on. After a few more tries, I managed to get a pound from an earnest-looking teenager.
My options were limited: I could keep begging, probably raise a tenner by about nine. If I could do it by eight, I may be able to score some methadone by hanging out near the chemist. I considered using the pound I had to make phone calls, but all the dealers would still be asleep. Waking them was a bad idea. A hot drink would be welcome, but I didn’t want to waste any money, not until I had a tenner, anyway. Anything above that I could spend.
I found a whiskey bottle in a doorway with about a half inch of liquid at the bottom.
Might be piss, I thought, and took a suspicious sniff, seemed okay so I wet my thumb and risked a taste. Definitely whiskey. I drank it down.
A young couple walked toward me, arm-in-arm. She was very pretty. She had long brown hair like Janie, it was being whipped around by the breeze.
I approached them saying, “Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me? My wallet got stolen at a party and I need to get home and report it. Is there any way you could lend me some money? Say a tenner? As soon as I get home, I’ll post it right back to you.”
“Fuck off,” said the guy, “Get a fucking job.”
He steered the girl around me and hurried away. The girl’s eyes caught mine as he whisked her past me; the briefest moment of human contact. In that millisecond I saw innocence, beauty, and a kind of sad shock.
I walked on. Hearing the hurried click of heels on the pavement behind me. I turned and saw the girl.
“Here,” she said, holding out her hand. Offering her my open palm, she dropped some change into it, and smiled at me as she held her hair away from her pretty, warm eyes.
“Tessa, for fuck’s sake, he's a fucking junkie tosser. What are you doing?” the guy yelled.
“Thanks,” I muttered, and she was gone. There were two pounds seventy and some coppers in my hand. I decided to invest forty pence in a hot cup of tea in the café down the road and sit for about an hour in the warmth.
The owner of the steamy café eyed me suspiciously.
“Tea please. Can I use your loo?” I asked.
With a grunt, he jerked his head toward a door at the side. On my way in, I caught my reflection in the mirror above the hand basin. A gaunt, ashen face with red-rimmed eyes stared back at me, framed in sticky-looking, long, greasy dark hair. I splashed some water on my face and tried to tidy my hair. It didn’t work.
The café guy grudgingly put another half-teaspoon of sugar in the cup when I asked for more. I sat by the window thinking about that girl, wondering what she'd thought about me.
“Thanks, Tessa,” I muttered as I sipped the hot, weak tea.
With three pounds, thirty-six pence in my pocket, things were looking up. A bus driver at the next table began rolling himself a fag.
“Any chance of a smoke, mate?” I asked him.
He nodded and passed me his tobacco. I rolled myself one. I made it way fatter than needed. As soon as he left, I split it into two fags.
I finished the tea while hot, but nursed the cup for about another forty minutes. My thoughts turned to Janie and my former life. I’d had a good job doing the thing I loved, restoring antiques. I was good at it and beginning to get the respect of my boss. Then that fateful day came when he called me into his office and produced a syringe he'd found in the toilet. I had tried to deny it was anything to do with me, but he had gone in there just after I came out and we were the only people in the building at the time. He fired me then and there, handed me a months wage in cash and asked me to leave.
I had gone straight to my dealers and scored. By the time Janie had got home that evening, I was pretty fucked up. For her, this had been the last straw. We'd had a big row, and I'd stormed out. When I got back later, I discovered she’d packed and left.
The cafe guy gave me a look. He came over and took the now empty cup and asked, “Anything else?”
Shaking my head, I stood and headed out. The foyer of the tube station was a good place to look for opportunities, so I hung out there for a bit. Maybe someone would put a case or a bag down and turn their back. Nothing. One of the staff had clocked me anyway, so I left.
The lights of the all-night supermarket beckoned. I went in to try to nick a bottle of spirits or something, but it was way too early. The shutters on the booze shelves were down.
I headed off down the street, smoking one of the roll-ups. It was coming up to seven o'clock. I felt that creeping cold begin to return and my nose began to run as the cottons started to wear off. Fuck! I began to feel desperate again. I can’t go on like this, I thought. As soon as I’m sorted, I’ll make a plan, cut down, taper off. If only I could get enough money together to get a decent amount of gear and go away for a bit.
Just then, a van pulled up outside a tool shop across the road. The neon lights inside the shop started flashing as they came on. Ducking into a doorway, I watched as the driver open the side door which, as he had parked on the wrong side, face the road. He grabbed a sack truck and loaded it with boxes. I prayed he would leave the door open. He did. As soon as he headed around the van toward the shop, I swooped, grabbing a random box, which I shoved under the copious folds of my coat. Walking briskly away, expecting a shout. Ready to run, I swiftly turned a corner and risked a look at the box, a cordless drill. Result!
All I needed to do now was sell it. With the box still tucked under my coat, I went looking for a potential buyer. I found a house with scaffolding and some vans parked outside, ideal. I hung around till someone came out.
“Wanna' buy a cheap drill mate?” I held it up. “Twenty quid.”
“Nicked?” he asked.
I shrugged and said, “It's about a hundred and twenty quid's worth of drill, mate. I'm asking for a score.”
“Go on, then.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet, handed me a twenty, took the box, tossed it into his van, and slammed the door shut.
“Got any fags?” I asked as he turned. He pulled out a packet and gave me two.
“Cheers mate. Thanks.”
I lit one and set off. It was about seven-thirty. Going into a newsagent, I got a Snickers bar and paid with some of the change. I asked the woman if she would give me two tens for a twenty. Tens were better. This way I could claim it was all I had. I put them into separate pockets.
I got to the chemist just before eight to find two people waiting outside. I managed to get one of them to agree to sell me some of his methadone script for a tenner. This would hold me until I could score some smack. It was about eleven before I got a proper hit.
Later that day, I stole two bottles of vodka and some steaks from a supermarket. This earned me another twenty quid. So I headed back to Gerry’s place. As usual, it took about a half hour to get an to his answer to his doorbell. “Oh Jake it’s you, yeah, come up man,” a gruff voice announced. The door buzzed. I yanked it open and headed in. The lift had the default stench of piss and tobacco. Gerry lived on the third floor, but I never took a lift to a dealer’s floor, not since I got dragged out of one by a cop one day. I pressed the button for four and then down the steps.
Gerry’s place was, as always, a mess. A girl I'd seen there earlier, was struggling to get a hit in the kitchen.
“Can you help?” she asked, holding up a works, as I walked past.
“Give me a minute,” I said, “just need to see…” she interrupted me.
“Please; it will clot in a sec, an’ I’ll lose it.”
I groaned and stepped in. She proffered her bruised and bloodied arm. It had about six fresh marks where she'd tried and failed.
“Let’s look at the other one,” I suggested. She held it out. I put the tie around her bicep, bent it at the elbow and found a vein that ran along the back and managed to get her hit in before the blood in the syringe clotted. I looked at her, her eyelids fluttered and drooped.
“Thanks,” she murmured. She could be no more than eighteen years old, possibly twenty. Short ginger hair topped a freckled face, her eyes large and grey. If not for the junk, she would be quite pretty.
“I’m not very good at fixing.” She informed me.
I just nodded, thinking, Sadly, you’re probably going to get plenty of practice.
Gerry held court in the back bedroom. He rarely left the place. He sat cross-legged in the middle of his raised bed, making up little paper folds of smack on the surface of a mirror. He spent most of his time there with everything he needed close to hand.
“What you after, Jake?” he asked.
“Twenty, Gezz, please”
He tossed two of the little packs toward me. I put two tenners on the bed, he tucked them into the little leather pouch he wore round his waist.
As usual Gerry’s joey, Alex was slumped in the corner, basically a servant paid in drugs.
“Who’s that girl in your kitchen, Gezz?”
“Little Elsie, she’s been coming here for a week now. Why?”
“Dunno, just seems very young is all.”
“Mattie brought her round. She seems ok, student or something”
“Ok if I do a hit?”
I went into the kitchen to find little Elsie still there gouching out. Sitting opposite her at the formica table, I pulled out the little wallet I carried, it contained a works and so on.
Elsie stirred and looked at me, noticing that I was preparing a hit she said, “I’ve got some new works, want one?”
“Sure, yeah, great.”
She bent to retrieve her bag, as she did so her top drooped open to reveal her small breasts. For a moment I was aroused. She tore off a works from a strip and handed it to me.
“Thanks.” I looked at her and wondered if I should try to get to know her. It had been a long time since I’d even considered such a thing, but she was kinda cute.
As I pressed the plunger home, I felt the wave of narcosis suffuse my mind and body. All thoughts of sex and cute little tits were rinsed from my thoughts as I slipped into semi-consciousness, like a ship drifting into the mist.
The words broke through. I opened my eyes to see Elsie walk out of the kitchen.
Oh well, I thought, maybe next time.
Standing, I unbuttoned my jeans and slipped my packet of gear into the little slit I’d cut in the waistband, gave my new works a rinse, and headed off.
So, I thought as I walked along, I need a few hundred quid, one fifty for gear and with the rest rent a caravan on that site Janie and I went to once when we thought about moving to Brighton.
I treated myself to a small packet of tobacco with my remaining money.
Sitting back in my bare room on the mattress, I used the last of the gear I had scored, carefully saving the cotton filter in the little brown pill bottle along with the two others from earlier.
Hoping that I would not wake up sick like I had this morning, I nodded off and dreamt about a pretty girl with long brown hair and warm eyes.