The Whole Bag
Nadine leaves the cinema knowing. It’s obvious. She can’t believe she didn’t think of it before. She’s discovered something new and incredible to fill the intense boredom and despair between writing essays for her BA in Film Studies. She pictures the lifelike realism of the scenes depicted in the film, the skill of the director in his use of lighting effects to capture the essence of the post-modern, urban lifestyle. She considers it all the way back to Didsbury on the bus; how it must feel, the raw hedonism, the pain. She imagines the pleasure as she lays between her Habitat Egyptian cotton sheets, fragrant with her new organic aromatherapy foaming bath oil, she pictures the room where it all took place, the faces of the characters etched into her dreams.
She returns to the cinema four times in the week to watch the film. As she grows familiar with the lives of the characters, the subtleties of the plot, the locations, the language, she begins to embrace the sheer amplitude of the journey of knowledge and enlightenment upon which she is soon to embark. Each time she witnesses the opening scene, the music reinforcing the depth of its meaning like metal studs on a biker jacket, her determination to experience total harmony with the film’s characters is topped up withy super unleaded. On the fifth day, she buys the book.
Lectures drag on. She’s finding it impossible to hear the lecturer over the Circle and District Line of her brain. Her notes become sketches of the main characters and his close-knit circle of friends, surrounded by the names of the actors, characters, best boys and boom operators. By the end of the week, she’s discovered the world of Longsite Market’s pirate video vendors.
The first person to share the pirate video extravaganza is Jont. Nadine watches his Harrow-boy countenance with interest throughout the showing, keenly awaiting the signs of disgust or fascination to register upon his thoughtful brow. Analysing his opinion in this matter proves fruitless as the plot absorbs her once more. During a relevant scene, she speaks:
-It is, you know.
-You haven’t! Fuck me, Nadine, that’s awful! You don’t still do it?
-Every day…I can’t help it.
-You…surely it’s just a matter of, well, not doing it any more?
-You don’t understand: I’m in Hell…
After this satisfactory fabrication, Nadine finds it easier to become more deeply involved with the infrastructure of the characters’ psyches, allowing her to create for herself a more stable post-urban environment in which to exist. The transitional stages between the reality of the plot and her own life-text will be the hardest.
The first stage could have been selected from amongst a number of action plans. To begin with, she has the notion that a purchase will be the obvious way forward, but she realises that this will barely be possible without first creating a suitable environment in which to fulfil this end. The Salvation Army are delighted with their new acquisitions, although what to do with a mattressless bed is a trifle puzzling. Stage two involves creating a general awareness of her predicament amongst friends and contemporaries. For she is, at this point, a part of her own illusion, believing she has reached the unknown, when, in actual fact she has yet to venture within vomiting distance of the clan of whom she claimed ruthlessly to be a part. Stage three proves to be wearing. But now that she is wearing the right clothes and has aquired the layer of grime which she considers obligatory, she is ready to begin.
It’s incredible, she thinks as she looks into the grey-green eyes of yours truly: not only am I the first that she has approached, but she believes I can satisfactorily fulfil her retail needs. She’s never spoken to a real-life punk before and she’s scared. She said knew that I was a smack-head the moment she saw me: punks always are, she says, The Sex Pistols started it. They were all at it, her Auntie Maisie had told her once, ‘Like spiky-haired rats’. The high speed walk beside me down Great Western Street makes her innards fizz like bicarb and citric in water. She looks around, hoping to be seen with me, her maharishi, her initiator. As we reach a telephone box on the dual carriageway, I pull the door open, step in and let it swing shut behind me. Nadine loiters around the phone box, watching the cars flash past. Grass sprouts from the cracks in the tarmac mixed with crystals of shattered glass and cigarette butts.
-Right, give us yer money and wait ‘ere. Be about five minutes.
-How do I know you’re going to come back?
-You can’t come with us- he don’t know ya. D’ya want the stuff or not?
-Look, you know where to find me anyway.
She reluctantly hands over a crisp, bank machine ten pound note and watches as I dodge the high speed traffic and head towards Quinney Crescent. Ten minutes later, we’re heading back the way they we came.
* * *
The grains crunch tasteless between her teeth. Nadine pours the contents of the foil sweet wrapper into a water-filled teaspoon and strikes a match, following the instructions. Spikes of water hit her hand like the fizz of a dispersible vitamin C as she boils her mini-crucible. But the grains remain intact at the bottom of the spoon. She can’t be doing it right. She boils the teaspoon dry, scraping the orange-brown residue into a Rizla and adding tobacco from a Marlboro Light. As she smokes, she relaxes, lying back on her mattress, willing herself to be ushered into the dark.
* * *
Facing me proves to be a trifle embarrassing, owing to her obvious lack of knowledge beside such a master. As she approaches my dishevelled form, I shift slightly in my crouched position and glance sideways at her, pulling on a crumpled rollie.
-Yeah, I know, love. Before you say anything, I’ve got me brother to kick the fock out of him. I got fockin brick dust and all. Still got the wrapper at home on me floor. Put the citric in it and it don’t fockin dissolve. I was rattling to fock and all. Took us til six in the morning to score.
Nadine takes mental notes on technique.
-I’m sorry, I thought…
-Na, love, you can trust me. You know where I am for fock sake- I’m not into ripping people off. I’m going down later if you wanna come.
-Thanks Gary, I’d really appreciate that.
Laindon Road in Longsite has always struck Nadine as a quiet, orderly neighbourhood. Tonight, though, the atmosphere is several rungs below the atmospherically lit room and the warm, slyly affectionate greeting of the salesman she has come to expect. Yellow streetlights buzz and hiss as kids on mountain bikes circle parked cars, occasionally stopping to lurk on street corners. She follows me out of the all night convenience store carrying the apple she’s bought for fifty-eight pence and hands me the change. I step into the phonebox and she slinks in after me.
We lean back against the dilapidated terrace wall in silence. We’re just waiting for a taxi- waiting for a taxi. Just waiting for a taxi, waiting for a taxi- waiting for a taxi…my instructions turn into a nervous rap behind her eyes. She feels small and insignificant alongside me, acutely conscious of her southern intonation and Airwalk trainers, of the lack of dirt under her fingernails and the sweaty banknotes wrapped around the Barclaycard which she’s clutching inside her Stussy hoodie pocket.
-Look, I’m gonna try him one more time, then I’m trying someone else. He’s fockin us about ‘ere. You might as well get off and I’ll meet you later when I’ve got it. You don’t wanna be hanging around: might be ages. See you about half eleven, usual place.
-Alright, see you later.
-You’d better give us yer money. You want three, right?
She’s not sure, but she thinks she hears me snicker to myself as I watch her strut off in the direction of Daisy Bank Road. They might call it Victoria Park, but that’s just a convenient way to get students living in Longsite.
* * *
I’m sitting in the milkshake bar on Wilmslow Road with Lee. Liam’s just gone for a dig in the toilets upstairs and he’s made Lisa wait outside and keep on begging ‘til she’s made enough for herself, cruel cunt. Nothing I can do but tell him he’s wrong. Shouldn’t treat her like that, can’t stand to watch it. It’s nearly eleven. Splinters of hard, white rain pelt the windows, running down the pink-captioned glass in streetlight-orange rivulets. People whisk by outside, holding their collars and hoods up against the storm. Cars, taxis and buses vomit torrents of spray onto the curry-house-neon pavements, soaking any cyclist daft enough to be navigating the cycle lanes, blocked as they always are with parked cars and delivery vans. I take two sachets of brown sugar from a glass on the counter and pour one into my tea, which I stir before pocketing the spoon. The other, I proceed to pulverise through the packet with my lighter. Then I open it and pour it into the minimal contents of a re-sealable plastic bag and shake it fervently. Ha, you like this? You like my style, my grammar, my florid language? My tactics? My cunning? We ain’t all stupid, you know. Not even Nadine. She’s just lost the plot. We’re all in the gutter, Oscar Wilde said, but some of us are looking at the stars. She’s been looking at too many stars, I reckon, got her head stuck up there. As usual, I’m doing someone a favour. The less heroin, the less habit…I’m quite pleased with myself, truth be told.
-Does this look like three bags to you? I ask.
Lee explodes with laughter.
Nadine’s hovering in the vicinity of Cool Wines Hot Videos, obviously edgy. Lisa sits shivering beneath her blanket on the step, mouth-but-not-eyes smiling as I approach.
-‘ere ‘e is. Oi, Gazza, she bin looking for ya.
-Alright Lise. Nadine, it’s all in one bag. Want a biscuit?
I pull out half a packet of cookies out of my pocket, hand Nadine a bag-biscuit sandwich, then hold out the packet for Lisa.
-You wanna watch yerself with that stuff, it’s fockin dynamite, innit, Gaz?
I grin and nod.
-She’s right, you know, love, take it easy, know what I’m saying?
-What ya say yer name is?
-Nadine. D’ya toot it or dig it?
-D’ya toot it? Smoke it on foil? Or inject?
* * *
The anticipation manifests itself in horror. This is it. She’s been building herself towards this moment for so long that the reality of the situation softens the contents of her large intestine and sends it arsewards. Clenching her cheeks, she speed-shuffles towards her front door, ferreting in her pocket for her keys. In the darkness, thoughts of using the pavement had crossed her mind, but fear of exposure forbade it. The key’s in the lock and her bowels are surging horribly. Climbing the stairs is horrific; she can feel the stagnant matter seeping into her Valentino knickers, smearing between her arse cheeks as each leg moves onto the next stair. Her keys drop between the banisters as she tears open her flies, flies round the corner and onto the toilet, as what feels like a pint of water cascades into the pan. She exhales hard and examines the extent of the damage. Two moist, sticky skidmarks. She’s appalled. Removing them along with her self-scissor-massacred jeans, she slings the offending items into the washbasin before realising that she’s left the front door open.
A sweetbitter taste. More sweet. This is more like it. She dabs again at the powder, its flavour registering in her mental catalogue, before emptying a small amount onto a square of tinfoil. Better to test it safely, wean herself in gently.
The effect is not as she expected. Nothing. This is not happening, she thinks, emptying a third of the bag onto the black broccoli of residue on the foil, an acrid taste in her mouth, in which she holds a tinfoil tube as detailed by Lisa. She tries again, the powder melting as before, but this time running down the foil as she inhales its smoke successfully.
She feels it in her legs first, a heavy warmth, and then in her stomach. She turns to place the foil on the vegetable crate coffee table and a wave of nausea hits her, pre-vomit saliva surging as she makes a second dash to the bathroom. Nothing is left to come up as she views yesterday’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni merging with milky Special K and what could only be this evening’s portion of chips, the primary heave. Staggering to her mattress, she flops onto her back and drifts into a semi-consciousness of strange dreams and eventually, sleep.
* * *
I’m onto a winner with Nadine. She wants three bags a day? She gets three bags a day, courtesy of yours truly and the Organic Fairtrade Sugar Company. Produce of Barbados. And Afghanistan, possibly: the lesser contents ain’t exactly clearly labelled, though it should be. Sell it in Boots the chemist, they should: make my life a hell of a lot easier at any rate.
* * *
I’m not in my usual spot when Nadine pays her visit to Rusholme three weeks later, pins and spoon and citric in pocket. In my place sits the teen waif, Lisa. Heroin-chic heroin chick, the girl with the flaxen hair. Beautiful heroin angel.
-Hiya Lise. I was looking for Gaz, have you seen him?
-Nah. Wanna score?
-When me geezer gets back.
On cue, a gangly bloke in scraggy army surplus gear crosses the road holding a blanket.
-Oi! Fort you woz goin’. Oo the fock’s this? Oi, who the fock ‘re you?
Lisa cowers. Liam lurches. Grabs Lisa by the shoulders and a full-scale domestic ensues, (if one could call it a domestic, given the circumstances) I do not believe it! He is actually punching her! Nadine doesn’t feel like sticking around, it’ll only be a matter of time before she gets hit too.
-Ya comin’ then? ‘s alright, ‘e fort ye was a pig or somefink.
* * *
Links corner. Behind an old, blue Ford Transit a young woman pulls a plastic bag out of her mouth. Gold teeth are visible as she opens the bag to reveal a cluster of cling-film wrapped packages of heroin. Like a bag of frozen peas. There are at least fifty. Lisa hands over a ten pound note, crumpled and sweaty. Nadine gives the woman twenty five pounds in fresh-from-the-bank notes. One for Lisa, three for Nadine. Only Lisa has to share her bag with Liam. It’s been a bad night and just for now, she’s going to straighten herself out with this little bit as best she can before she heads to Chicken Run corner to find a punter. She can’t stand to do it straight, tries her best to avoid it, but it’s getting tough to fund the two of them, and tonight’s the worst, cos the rain puts off the punters.
Scarletts smiles at Lisa. She likes her. Shouldn’t be doing gear, not at her age. Sixteen, did she say? Looks on the downside of fourteen, but you can’t always tell. Then again, isn’t Jesmond’s little cousin out punting gear every Friday night off his mountain bike for the big man? And he’s only eight. You can’t get done when it ain’t you sellin’ and what would a little kid be doing selling brown? Too much problem for the five-O. What chance does the poor little fucker have, up to nuff shit and he’s not even hit ten. Right little gobshite, playing the hardman. Fifty-fifty he’d end up like his uncle anyway, the way he worships him. The youth start young and they die before they hit twenty if they don’t use their brains. At least she’s her own boss, to a certain extent. Regular customers- well, it’s not like it’s a hard sell. The A-1 vendors’ market. She wonders if the posh bird thinks she wants to be doing this. It wasn’t exactly her childhood dream, but it’s hard starting up in business when you’re broke. A few more months of this is all, and then she’ll have enough to buy up some stock for her market stall. Start small and work up. She ain’t doing it for a joke, you know: she knows how to put an outfit together that’d make this gimpy girl Nadine into the Dancehall Queen, no lie. But she looks out of place here, Nadine does. Messin with things she don’t understand. Naïve as they come. If Lisa’s got any sense, she’ll blag her third bag off her easy. That cunt Liam’ll knock her out and stamp on her head for the lot if she stays around long enough. It’s not as though she’ll be running to the police saying someone stole her heroin, now, is it?
* * *
In the toilets of the milk bar, Lisa and Liam watch as Nadine slides the needle into a perfect vein, blue against a red-brown sunburnt arm. Blood registers first time. They exchange glances. She did say she does three bags a day…perhaps she normally goes in her legs. Shy in front of Liam…Dirt under her unbitten nails, pushing down the plunger on a one mil insulin-only. She staggers, slumps. Falls. A dull thud, then a trickle of blood on the toilet bowl. Blue skin. Blue. Check her pockets. Just the one bag, Liam’s got the other. Blue.
-Get the fock outa here!
-Liam! Call a fockin ambulance. We can’t jost leave ‘er!-
-You fockin watch us leave the daft bint-
-But Liam! Get the fock off us, yer ‘urtin us- we can’t jos-
-Fockin gerra move on!
Down the stairs, white tiles, pink walls. Strawberry milk, mango milk, banana milk, ice cream sundae, knickerbocker glory. Glass door, taxis, buses, turn the corner.
-Come on, ya daft bitch
-For fock sake, Liam! We gottoh phone an ambulance! Liam!
-Shut it. Just fockin SHUT IT! She’s the eightf person ta die this year an’ I ain’t gonna be fockin responsible fer anovva daft bitch oo lies ta lok ‘ard.
-Liam, she might not be dead-
-Look, bitch, I’m gonna fockin deck ya in a minute.
-But Liam, can’t we jost-
Sirens. Flashing blue lights. Liam legs it. Lisa isn’t far behind.