-Excuse me, but I’m sure I know you from somewhere?
I replace the can of No Frills baked beans on the shelf and turn around to see the dishevelled figure of what could possibly be a girl.
-No, I don’t think you do, mate.
-Your face looks awfully familiar
-You mean I look awful. Eyare, I remember you: you’re that Christian what reckoned god’d give us some money, right?
The girl, it’s definitely a girl, blushes slightly and holds out her hand.
-Right. Gaz. Love the new hairdo.
Sue smiles in this coy kind of way and takes a moment to examine her feet.
-Well yours is very…uh, interesting….how do you stick it up?
See how I’m progressing? Huh? I’ve even shaved me sides, bleached me mohie and dyed it green, stuck it up for the first time in a long time. Must be love eh? A peacock’s gotta woo his peahen and Kiwi deserves the best. When I get round to see her later she’ll be right chuffed…yeah, it’s gotta be love. I even got a bath round at her place, but she won’t let us move in. Too early or some such bullshit. But to be honest, I’m shitting myself. Cos Kiwi wants me to get clean. Uh-huh, you got it, not just in a bath sense. She wants me to finish with the gear.
I wanna say something rude to this Sue, like I’ll stick it up your arse in a minute, love or I stick it up with whale jizzom cos that’s what I usually say when people ask…cos I used to get it all the time. Not so much as an Alright or a how are you just how do you stick your hair up? Yeah, I used to get cunts coming up to me asking me that all the time before I…how shall I say this? I didn’t exactly get disowned by my old friends, more I got sick of their constant hassle about the gear, you know? Yeah, before I drifted away…so I’m laughing at the old memories when I was down the Star and Garter and all the punk gigs, punk pillar, all that. Yeah, I used to go all over the country with them, knew punks from everywhere… good times. I miss them. So I just smile and say
-Trade secret, that.
-I won’t ask if I can touch it, then…I bet lots of people want to touch it, don’t they? It’s just so….tactile! So we meet again. So how are you, my friend?
-Not so bad. Yerself?
-Fantastic, thanks. I’m doing my first year in hospital.
-So what are you? A nurse or a patient? They let you out of the asylum, then?
-You’re funny. No, I’m a doctor.
Sue’s blushing again. I remember what Spid said about the ladies liking a bit of rough, oh my, oh my. Images of NHS medicine stores flit through my mind.
-Doctor Hawkins at your service. So how are you doing? Have you found a place to live?
I put four cans of beans and eight cans of tomatoes in my basket and she walks with me to the cheese and yoghurt refrigerators.
-9p, alright, that. Yeah, I’m sorted, got a job too, off the social.
This is total bullshit, but it appears to impress Sue.
-Fantastic. So you’re a social worker!
-No, I got it off the social- the dole: you know. Nah, I’m an advice worker, but don’t ask us for any advice, mind, cos I’m still a trainee.
-Gosh, how interesting. So did you read the gospel I gave you?
I’m not about to tell her it went up in smoke with the rest of the rubbish from my room, but I am tempted. After all, she told me to ask for the lord for help and the lord warmed me up when I was freezing half to death if you wanna look at it like that. Don’t look at me in a bad way. I didn’t mean it as an offence. I was cold. Right? Right.
-No offence, like, but you’re never gonna convert me. I’m not interested and besides, I’m Jewish.
-Are you? God has a very special place for the Jews. Do you practise?
Twenty questions, here we come. You didn’t know that, did you? Well, did you? I’m feeling like I shouldn’t have told her this. Is it guilt?
Remembering Bubbe Ilyana, the stories she told. The woman in the wasteground. It’s very personal to me. I don’t like to let my front down this easily. There’s too much stuff. Stuff that scares me: stuff that I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling you. Why, you ask? Look at me: I let her down. When my mum got ill, I never thought she’d die. Bubbe used to cry and cry, wailing into the night when she found out my mum had cancer. No one expects their only child to die before them, but for Bubbe, it was worse. It was like after all she’d survived, all she’d seen and survived, to be punished like that, like she said; she just stopped believing in a god. In her God. Our God. She’d wail through the night to Hashem, muttering the Shema, whispering Tehillim every night, and after my mum died, she just stopped. She never lit the Shabbes candles again after that. Never.
Yeah, don’t ask me about that. Like I said, I prefer to forget. I was just coming up to my thirteenth birthday when she died. When my Bubbe died. Just fourteen days after my mum.
-Listen, Sue, I don’t wanna talk about it, okay?
Yeah, Sue’s god had a very special place for Bubbe Ilyana, alright, and for my mum, and for me. Except I’m sure you’ll agree, I’ve done this to myself, so just go stick all your bullshit in your gobshite pipe and smoke it up the chimney, will you? You don’t know nothing, little doctor Susie the shikse. Sorry, maybe that was out of order. But it just pisses me off is all. I wish I’d never told her.
-Okay, but that’s brilliant
The queues at the checkout are phenomenal. I take advantage of the crowds to check that the peroxide is securely positioned in the waistband of my trousers and fish in my pocket for change.
-Shit, I don’t believe it! I’ve only lost a fiver. You can’t lend me the money for this lot until I see you again.
It’s worth a try. I wish to fuckery now even more that I didn’t tell her about me being Jewish. But I’ve blown my giro already and I need my change for the phone. Sorry to disappoint you, but when the fuck are you going to understand that I don’t do all this shit because I want to?
No one goes into that room in school where they have those little careers advice sessions, do they, and when the teacher asks them when they grow up, what do they want to be, reply, well, Miss, I want to be an intravenous heroin addict. Do they? WELL DO THEY? Yes, I’m angry, alright? You alright with that? Cos it’s not you with a fuckin heroin habit and a girl trying to put you through the fuckin land of hell is it? No? No. Then shut the fuck up. You don’t know me, ain’t walked in my boots.
-Oh dear, gosh! You must have dropped it somewhere in here. Perhaps someone’s handed it in. Should I ask?
This is all I need. A tenner’s worth of shoplifting down my trousers and having to wait around looking like a dodgy bastard with ANARCHY emblazoned across my chest, whilst some do-gooder makes enquiries on my behalf. Thanks, but no thanks.
-No one ever hands money in if they find it. I wouldn’t.
-Well you’re one in a million, love, forget it.
-But you can’t afford to lose five pounds either. It’s a lot of money to you.
-Look, don’t patronise me. Just help us out here, Sue. I don’t have the time to go chasin around for five quid. I’ve gotta get back to work. It’s my first week, I’ll get the sack. You’ll get it back. It’s for food; I’ve got nothing at home. I’ve gotta eat.
I could’ve been a doctor. Could’ve been a lot of things. Don’t look down on me; don’t pity me, and most of all, don’t think I‘m stupid. You think I’m nothing? You think I’m no one? Okay: let’s have a look at you. Think you know me, do you? There’re things you don’t know about me.
-Oh, alright. I tell you what. I’ll pay for this on the condition that you come to dinner with me and my friends.
Now she’s scribbling her number on the back of an old receipt and handing it to me.
-Sounds fair enough, cheers darling.
So I put my cans with Sue’s convenience foods on the conveyor belt and shuffle to the end of the checkout to bag it up. £1.08 and a not so hot dinner date. Not the best graft I’ve done, but it’s got potential.
* * *
No. No. fuckin NO! It ain’t funny. I could definitely do without this. I drop the Kwik Save bag where I stand and leg it over to the front garden. The bastards, the fuckin evil bastards. I’ve squatted this place comfortably for over two years and I thought I was safe. Swear to god I thought I was safe. And now I come back and find all my worldlies scattered aimlessly over this overgrown wet grass and brambles and all the windows and doors boarded up with super-safe metal fascist barricading. Even the cellar windows. Okay, it’s not the first time. But look at my drawings, all scattered and smeared and smudged and blowing down the road with the litter and dog shit like rubbish.
-BASTARDS! FOCKIN BASTARD CUNTS!
I’m shouting to no one, to anyone who’ll listen, anger surging through my body, fists clenching, blood pressure going insane as I charge at the front door, kicking and thumping the brown barricade, roaring like a mad bastard.
-I’LL FOCKIN KILLYOU, YOU FOCKIN BASTARD FASCIST CUNTS!
And I want to cry, but tears won’t come. The sweat’s streaming down my face, and pure rage seeping out of my pores at the pure injustice
-WHERE’S ME FOCKIN TWENTY-EIGHT DAY NOTICE? WHERE THE FOCK IS IT?
It’s just vindictive. Pure fuckin vindictive evil. Just because I’ve found myself shelter, just because I ain’t paying some bastard landlord who charges extortionate rent and never kills the cockroaches or fixes the roof, never mind the leaking sink. Now this place’ll probably just be left to fall down, left empty, just because if one does it, it’ll give others ideas about freedom, about squatting, right? Jealous bastards. It’s not like you think. It’s not like you think, this world. They won’t rent me their flats, won’t rent me their rooms. Don’t you know that? You fockin bastards. Pity the poor, do you? Well, don’t fockin pity me. Don’t worry about what’ll happen to me now, will you? Eh? That was my life in that room. Might look like litter to you, but it was my life.
I need a dig. I need a fockin dig and I need it now. I give the door one, last, gut-wrenching kick before I dig my kit bag out from under my mattress, which lays now like a sad paralytic over chairs and drawers, and fill it with the sodden dregs of my life. I’m tense as fuck as I scrape my boots over the tarmac to Birchfields Park and head, smouldering, towards the rubble of some past church forgotten amongst the trees.
I sit on a bench improvised from gravestones and shuffle through my pockets, through fucked up drawings, pencils and useless keys, looking for my works. The orange caps of syringes lay scattered around, their decapitated plastic bodies half-buried, trodden into the soil. My lighter will hardly keep its flame as I cook up. My hands are shaking and sweating despite the bag I had earlier and my muscles feel so tense that the handle of my spoon’s digging into my finger and thumb. The search for veins has become such a drag that I just give up and unzip my trousers and pull them down at the front to find my fem.
Yeah, I know, I always said I’d never go in my femoral, ok, I said enough would be enough, that I’d call it a day. I remember saying the same about needles, the same about heroin, the same about cigarettes and the same about eating gefilte fish. So, it’s got fuck all to do with gefilte fish, but right now, I just don’t give a shit. I just need to blank it all out, get my mind off this hostile society. I’ll have a dig and gouch out here for a bit here in the park for a while; concoct a strategy to deal with the bastards. Just when I feel that snag of the needle passing from flesh to vein, Stakki’s words are playing in my head, mocking me
-YOU’RE DYING, GARY, YOU’RE GONNA DIE SOON, DON’T FUCKIN FORGET THAT YOU FUCKIN CUNT!
And as soon as I push the plunger, I know that I’ve done too much. I’m passing out onto the cemetery floor, pissing myself, dying amongst the ancient Christian gravestones. And there, in my head, before I lose consciousness, I hear Bubbe Ilyana’s voice and she’s singing:
Shema Ysroel Adonoi elehenu adonoi echad .