CHAPTER 1 – STILL NOT DEAD
So, I wake up and I’m still not dead. What’s worse is there’s bright lights and white walls everywhere. I feel like I’ve been reincarnated into some strange Keanu Reeves film, only I obviously took the wrong pill. There’s someone coughin’ like they’re trying to retch up a lung at the other side of the room and all the time I hear this beep of a nearby monitor. I try to move my arm and feel it held by something. I look to my left side and see a drip connect to my arm via this clear plastic tube. A clear but obviously viscous fluid is sliding slowly into my arm and I hope with all my heart that it’s fucking poison slowly killing me. I wouldn’t be so lucky. There’s this background pain somewhere around my spine but I feel like I’m warm and floating up near the ceiling, I can see a small cobweb in sharp relief. I drift off.
I’m in the white room again. I see a woman in a uniform scowling down at me as she ticks off some things on a clipboard as she glances at the monitor by my bed. I guess she sees my eyelids flutter coz she smiles at me but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I see her shaking her head as she walks away. I drift off.
My Mum is sittin’ by the bed. I can see her lips movin’ and tears tricklin’ down her prematurely lined face. I briefly feel her touch my hand. It’s weird coz although she’s there I can’t hear no words. It’s like there’s a film playin and I’m viewin it with the sound off. I drift off.
There’s a guy in a white coat at the end of the bed havin a whispered conversation with a blonde nurse over a clipboard. They must be arguin coz they are in each other’s faces with and seein nothin but each other, especially not me eyeballin em. She grabs the clipboard from him wiv an angry gesture and puts it on the end of my bed. The nurse turns to leave and the guy in the white coat give her arse a little squeeze. She glares at him and storms off. I feel sick but my eyelids are heavy. I drift off.
I’m runnin through a forest and I can hear it behind me. I crash through the trees feeling every one of em scratch at my skin as if they’re reaching out for me. I stumble into a clearing and stop to catch my breath and look up at the moon. It’s full and fat, it looks so bright I feel like I could reach out and touch it. I hear a howl. It’s close, after me. I plunge once more into the trees my breathing getting faster but my legs keep moving. I feel the pain of a multitude of cuts all over my arms and my face. I hear it now, catching up to me closer. My heart hammers in my chest as if it wants to escape. I finally escape the trees, I’m standing at a cliff edge, and I can’t even see the bottom. Nowhere to go. The beast is seconds away. I jump and feel a scream building in my lungs.
I awake sat up in bed sweat pouring on my brow. A nurse has rushed over. I blink at her stupidly.
“Are you ok pet?” she asks with a faint Durham accent.
I blink and look around; I must have been thrashing in my sleep as I’ve pulled the drip from my arm. The nurse spots it and sorts it out.
“You were making a right racket and that scream, I nearly jumped out of my skin!”
She leans close to me and I smell her perfume. It’s a musky pleasant aroma but I suddenly feel sick. Without warning, I vomit down my front in one quick convulsion. The usual carrots mixed in the mainly fluid. I retch but nothing more comes out. I gasp for breath for a moment.
The nurse touches my arm for a moment in a strangely tender gesture.
“Never mind pet, it’s the painkillers. We’ll get you cleaned up in a moment.”
This act of gentleness has my eyes watering and I fight back the tears that try to come. I have to lie back and suffer the indignity of my Durham angel cleaning and changing me. I drift off.
CHAPTER 2 – LECTURES AND PIES
So, I’m sat in this tiny little office. It’s too bright and I’m finding myself squinting against the harshness of the fluorescent lighting. I’m sweating from the heat as like every other room in this damn hospital it’s too hot and the radiator seems huge in this cramped space.
So this Doc ain’t smiling and he’s lecturing me about my actions. All I can focus on is the forest of nose hairs peeking out from his left nostril and he thinks I’m actually payin attention. He starts to wag his finger, goin into overdrive now. I hear the words liver and kidney and all I can think about is food; a steak and kidney pie. I imagine it in my mind with crumbly flaky pastry and steam risin of it. He stops talkin and pushes some paperwork across to me and a couple of leaflets. A quick signature and that’s it, I can go.
I’m dressed in some jeans that are hanging off me and a t-shirt my Mam had brought in for me and carrying a bag with a few toiletries in it. I walk in a daze, tired from all the drugs and the lying around for days doing nothing. On the way out of the hospital, I drop the discharge form and leaflets in the bin. I hesitate a moment and chuck the toiletries in there for good measure. I only keep a prescription slip, which I slide into my jeans pocket I step outside and the biting wind takes me breathe away. After days stuck indoors, I’ll need to get used to this. I trudge down the hill and towards town. The skies are grey and I’m not surprised when it starts to rain. Within ten minutes, I’m soaked to the skin and shivering. At the bottom of the long hill into town, I see a little cafe. I rummage around in my pocket and fish out some coins, a grand total of £4.80. I look into the cafe and it looks grubby but warm and inviting. A little sign says I can get a large breakfast with tea and toast for £4.50. I head inside.
I find a little table, slip my coat over the back of the chair and take a seat. It’s one them plastic chair like you see in schools. It’s cold for a moment but that’s a pleasure after the constant stiflin’ heat of the hospital. I put my forearms on the table and immediately regret as I feel them stick to the surface, which doesn’t look like it’s been wiped down this morning.
A short tubby little woman wearin an apron shuffles over to me. She doesn’t look as if a smile has graced her features in a long time.
“What can I get you darlin?” She asks.
I mutter, “Big breakfast.” Hopin this makes her go sort it, but she stands there lookin vacant. Pen poised over this little pad like she’s waitin for divine inspiration or something.
Finally, she says, “Tea or coffee?”
“White or brown?”
Fuck me. All I wants is a meal, not a bloody quiz. I sigh.
“Coming right up.”
She wanders off, her broad hips swingin from side to side. I’m sweatin now, even that small exchange has taken so much out of me. I feel all nervous and anxious and I want to bolt but the hunger is winnin. I just sit still and try to control my breathing as they taught me.
She comes with tea. I try to smile but she just looks unsettled by it. I slurp on the tea and soon the breakfast is here and I’m demolishin it, chewin on cheap sausages and salty bacon. I leave the toms, can’t fuckin abide tinned toms.
When I’m done I leave all my coins on the table and hurry out without thanking her. Outside its still bloody rainin.
CHAPTER 3 – I WANDERED LONELY
So I find myself once more in the driving rain. I briefly wonder if Mum has discovered I’ve discharged myself yet. I stare into the brightly lit shop windows and think how many kilowatts of power shop lighting wastes. How many homes would all of the light that’s doing nothing useful illuminate? How many poor folks that can’t afford to pay their energy bills would benefit from this fucking waste.
I realise that as I sink into my dark train of thought that I’m stood staring at a lingerie display but not seein it. An old guy walkin a wiry jack russell shakes his head at me as he passes me. For his part, the dog doesn’t even acknowledge me, aloof little twat. I shrug and wink at the old geezer to wind him up even more. Why do people judge you? Are they so perfect? I picture him at home wanking to Lorraine Kelly with the little dog looking up at him bemused.
I trudge on further into town. I swear my trainers are squelching now. A statue in the square depicts a learned looking bloke strokin his chin and holding an open book, which he’s starin down at. There’s a plaque but I have no motivation to wander or and read. With a flutter of wings, a pigeon flies past and shits on his face. Everyone is a fucking art critic these days.
I’ve been wandering now for a couple of hours and my feet are aching. I head to the library which narrowly escaped closure in the last round of council cut backs.
I stand in the hallway a moment looking at posters for community events that I have no part of or interest in. Writers groups, amateur dramatics, line dancing, politics. I suddenly feel more lonely and alienated than ever. The walls start closing in on me and have to lean against the wall and catch my breath. I close my eyes and take deep breaths, letting them out slowly as I’ve been taught, oxygenating the brain, calming me.
I finally open my eyes and across the hall, there’s a frail looking old lady starin at me like I have two heads. She has a romance book under her arm. She must be seventy if she’s a day and I think it’s the saddest thing in the world that she’s reading about something she can’t ever have again. Suddenly, a door opens from the gents and an old geezer appears. He smiles at her and takes her hand and they leave. I’m sure I hear her mutter, “freak.” But I know this is probably my imagination.
I pop into the gents and look at mesen in the mirror. A young face stares back at me, green eyes jaded and ancient stare accusingly right at me. I feel tired my body still recovering from the overdose. I lean over, splash water on my face, and clumsily attempt to dry it on the hand dryer.
I exit the gents and turn right heading into the library hall itself. A bored looking young librarian looks up from tapping away at a PC and glances at me. Her casual smile lessens in wattage as if she’s disappointed I came. I know how she feels. I’m disappointed to still be alive. I ignore her because it’s so much easier than acknowledging her.
I come to a rack of compact discs and start idly leafing through them. Marvin Gaye, The Shadows, ELO, James Last, The Smiths. Covers in every colour but none of them excite me. All I see are plastic guitars and fake smiles. I’m not buying what they’re selling.
I walk over to the books and pick up a random book on World War 2. I find a comfy seat and sit, as I sit the aged leather makes a sort of squeaky farty noise that seems deafening in the quiet library. I steal a quick glance around but no one is looking.
I open the book at a random page. An air raid warden is talking about the regular air raids. He says everyone tried to live day-to-day coz you never knew when it was your turn to be bombed. People were happier, more tolerant even coz they had bigger things to worry about than someone pushing in front of you in a queue or beating you to the last loaf on the shelves. The old blitz spirit I think they call it
Suddenly, I’m a mess, big fat tears rolling down my face and onto the page. I feel like I’m collapsing in on myself and I want with every fibre of my being to be transported to that time, to have that positive feeling. I don’t want this emptiness I have inside me where real feelings used to be.
I drop the book with a clatter and bolt for the door with tears still streaming down my cheeks. The librarian is looking at me with utter disgust as I flee.
CHAPTER 4 – MEDICATED ME
I’m looking around eyes wild and unfocused from the tears still flooding them. I make a decision and run to the left, I don’t know why I’m running I just feel the need to flee this feeling and it is good to feel that adrenaline pumping through my veins. I dodge around an old lady, knocking her wheeled shopping bag flying. I dodge around open-mouthed shoppers. Finally, I crash straight into a guy in a business suit who was looking down at his mobile phone rather than looking where he is going. I stand, brush the dust from my knees and continue running. I hear abuse being yelled at me from some people but I’m passed caring now, just an emotionless blur of motion.
Eventually, having run through the one green space in the middle of the city I stop. My lungs are bursting and my legs are throbbing. I feel so alive in this moment. I wish that it could last forever but my traitorous brain tells me that no, it will be short lived like all moments of joy. I sit on a wall to let me breath reach something like normal. I’m getting odd looks from passers by. I feel their internal laughter and almost hear their thoughts. Look at that skinny freak trying to be normal. I get up and wander once more amid the maze of shops; all seem the same – altars of glass, chrome and neon, shrines to nothing of importance, Churches of money where the feckless trade yet another bit of their soul for shiny, worthless baubles.
I find the place I didn’t realise I was searching for, the chemist. I hand over the one piece of paper I’d kept from the hospital. The woman behind the counter gives me a patronising smile.
“Take a seat. It’ll be ten minutes okay?”
Fifteen go by and she finally calls my name and checks my address with me.
Then I’m out of there and opening the white plastic bag which contains my medication.
I open the packet and stare at the little green and white pills like Neo contemplating how his life might change forever. I shake my head and dry swallow two of the pills, stow the others very carefully in my pocket and walk down the high street towards my next goal.
CHAPTER 5 – BRANDED
I slide past the shambling undead of weekday shoppers like a ghost. I’m not one of them and if they notice that I’m doomed. I try to be as invisible as I can but still I feel the eyes on my back, hear their whispers and occasional sniggering insults. I cringe inside and pray for my tablets to race around my bloodstream quicker – deadening nerve endings and quietening my overactive mind. I’m in the unfashionable end of town now, the places where the nerds and Goths hang out, where people WANT to be different. I give a bitter laugh at that thought. I just want to the same, to be boring, to be normal, whatever that means.
I wander inside where there’s a small market of arty shops, comic stalls, student clothes stalls and the one shop I am looking for. Even here, where hipsters fear to tread, there is division. I see a group of Goths pouring over a rail of dark clothing. The nerds are pouring over comics; one or two have skateboards under their arm. I see a couple of girls wearing vintage clothing. Here, with all of this variety, I feel just a little more relaxed, more able to be me without fear of judgement and yet I conform to none of these groups either.
I shrug and step forward towards the tattoo shop. Fortunately, it’s currently empty except for a bored looking guy flicking a screen on a smartphone. I enter and smile at him; he looks up and nods back at me. He has a long bushy beard and one of those earlobes that a huge white plastic earring has stretched. I mooch around the shop for five minutes looking at and admiring the fantastic artwork. There are dragons, spiders, Celtic bands all manner of tattoos. I get quite lost in them. I suddenly hear a polite cough behind me.
“Can I help you at all?”
He smiles and opens his arms in a friendly gesture.
“I promise you won’t shock me. Whatever it is, I’ve heard it or seen it before.”
I point to a tiny sample on the wall. The picture is of a semi-colon.
He looks at me and his smile grows even wider. It’s a friendly and encouraging smile.
“It’s your lucky day. We do those free. Come in the back and we’ll sort you out, okay?”
I follow him obediently. For now, at least, I choose life.