Hello everyone - sorry there’s been a slight delay getting a new one published, but my editor had a double heart bypass, and then decided to drink two bottles of whiskey a day but thankfully got himself to rehab. However, that means he’s not available to do the final edit on my novel. We’ve spent nearly three years working on the manuscript together and building a relationship. He knows my writing, grammar, and punctuation idiosyncrasies like no one else, meaning I’m having to do that work myself now, so at nearly 250K words, I’m kind of busy. I did send a sample to another editor, but she said she’d rather die than help my manuscript get published. A good sign, I think. Anyway, here’s a new short for you….
Once upon a disaster there were six junkies sitting in a room in various stages of junk-sickness waiting on a delivery so as from their suffering they be delivered….
“Yeah, they made us watch it in rehab,” one said, and everyone ignored him.
“’Joey and Tracey’ it’s called. He got in debt with some coons…”
“…and they took her off, Tracey, tortured her, poured petrol on her, and set her on fire. Some bloke walking his dog found her in a graveyard. She was still alive. People in rehab watching it were crying and all that stuff. She looked like a Twiglet, but her head was massive, like a beach-ball, but like Twiglet coloured.”
And yes, in 1994, Tracey Mertens was indeed set on fire as punishment for monies owed by her boyfriend, junky, and father of their two kids, Joey Kavanagh. She died later the same night in hospital with ninety-five percent burns.
“They still haven’t found who did it,” he said, and everyone ignored him.
“Call them again”
“See how long. This is taking the piss.”
“They’ll say ‘ten minutes’ like they have every other time I’ve called.”
“’They? They? Do they both answer the phone?”
“No but you know, they’re always together them two.”
“Hello, me again … yeah … ten minutes, yeah? Cheers,” she looked at the time on her phone, put it in her pocket and said “Ten Minutes.”
“Do you have to do that? I don’t want you puking everywhere.”
“I’m not faking it! GARP! Don’t worry … GARP … there’s nothing in there to come out, I’m just proper in it. GARP. I’m about twenty hours without.”
”They’d fucked off to Rochdale to get away from the debt. They reckon Tracey only went back to the old house for ten minutes, to collect her fucking dole book!” He said, and everyone ignored him.
“It’s been like nearly two hours now.”
“Why are they always together?”
“Terry and Anna?”
“Yeah, no, I know they’re together, but why are they always together?”
“’Yeah, no’, what a stupid way of starting a sentence, it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’, not both … ‘yeah, no,’ stupid.”
“The newspapers say it had ‘death’ smeared on the window in blood. Or in shit, I can’t remember,” he said, and everyone ignored him.
“Give me your phone.”
She puts her hand in her pocket, pulls out her phone, checks the time and hands it over.
“Don’t, you’ll piss them off and then they’ll take even longer just to be cunts. They’re cunts anyway, but you know. Just leave it.”
“No this is bullshit, I’m calling them,” and with that, he pressed a few buttons and put the phone to his ear. “How long are you going to be? Don’t bullshit me, just tell me how long? Because if you’re going to be much longer we’re all going elsewhere … Ten minutes, yeah? OK.”
“How long? GARP. Have you got a bowl? Just in case.”
“Stick your head out the window,” and with that, he got up, pulled the creaky sash window up and poked his head outside.
“Fuck this, how much money have you all got? Let’s club together, get a bus to Plumstead and get a weight from Sadam Adam. We’ll end up with about twice as much anyway. Fucking Terry and Anna. Pair of pricks.”
“Dead? Sadam Adam? How’d he die?”
“He’s stupid. Died of stupid.”
“Two men turned up at his house, he opened the door, they shot him, stole all his money and drugs and left him there to die. Which he did.”
“Fuck it, Webby then, who’s got Webby’s number?”
“He got banged-up.”
“For fuck sake, is there anyone alive or not in prison we can get a weight from?”
“Why did Webby get banged-up?”
“Yeah, no, his son murdered his girlfriend, Webby took it on the chin for him.”
“Yeah, no. Idiot.”
“That is true love though, right? Doing time for your son, so he can have a second chance, I mean he’s proper lifed-off with his previous and that, next time he sees the outside will be in a box.”
“He won’t see much.”
“Imagine being his son, like knowing that, that your dad sacrificed his life for you. I mean, that’s like … bibel … beeble ... That’s like something from the Bible.”
“Yeah but his son murdered his new girlfriend three months after his dad went away. He’s now lifed-off too. I think they’re in the same nick.”
“Now that is bibel-beeble.”
“ I meant to say bibliotic … bibotic.”
“’Biblical’. The word you are looking for is BIB-LI-CAL.”
“I bet he’s gutted, banged-up for nothing now then.”
“What I meant was why are they always together, Terry and Anna. You never see them on their own.”
“Apparently he slaps her about.”
“Everyone slaps their Mrs about according to you.”
“Yeah, because they do.”
“Do you slap your Mrs around then?”
“Tracey said her killers were ‘big and fat’ and had ‘Jamaican accents,’” one said, and everyone ignored him.
“GARP. Here they come! I can see them, ‘Anna! Terry!’”
“Don’t shout at them, dick-head,” and the room is a sudden frenzy of activity as spikes, spoons, lighters, and money appear. Just as quick, the whole place becomes still and silent as everyone stares at the door as the finely tuned ear of the junky engages sound/volume control and Wave Specificity Locators©; noise-cancellation settings are engaged to hear nowt but four feet coming up from the ground floor, and with each person knowing it’s twelve steps on each flight of four stairs, the already off the latch door will open about…now.
“Sorry we’re late … you know.”
“Yeah, no, can you do me five dark, yeah?”
“Yeah, slow down mate, only just got here.”
“Yeah, no, we got caught up like, with the drought and everything we’ve had loads of people to see, you’re lucky really that there’s any left.”
And so begins the game of everyone trying to get served first but without bothering either Terry or Anna, since in the land of the rattler they are king and queen, and in absolutely no rush to serve anyone. In fact, quite the opposite, they’ll use the Godlike status that’s silently bestowed upon them to get some needs met, and indulge the petty power of those that have among those who have not.
“It’s a fucking nightmare out there, innit Terry?”
“You wouldn’t fucking believe the trouble we’ve had. You know fucking wassissname, wassissfukiname, Anna?”
“Na, not Blob, although he’s a cunt at the best of times. It’s just with the drought and that, everyone wants, and the gavvers are ON TOP™, and I … d … I don … I … sema … sema … phore … in … in …semaphore in the tackler…” and as an argument kicks-off in the part of Terry’s brain between his striatum and amygdala, the painful truth of light and reality become too much for his pin-hole-pupil eyes, and gently close they do, the unbearable weight of his head and all it does and does not contain falls forward at the neck, chin on chest, slowly folding, the weight now passed onto his spine, slowly folding as his head now between his knees, his knuckles reach the floor, making the slightest contact before slowly folding, as with Morpheus he does now begin to fly, meaning all eyes/desperation/others and their needs - the silent absolute peak of impatiences - turn to Anna, who rarely having anything of interest to say, uses her newfound ‘pocket of ten-bags’ ability to control the room, hold court, run the show, call the tune, command the stage, be the center of attention, and - while doing this according to the law of Junk - manages to become both even further despised, loathed, hated, but also more important, further pandered to, complied with, indulged.
“How many do you want?”
“Four. Thirty quid yeah?”
“Slow down, Christ, you’re not that sick,” says Anna, her eyes starting to flicker shut and her head, slowly folding, weighs down on the room, down on her neck, slowly folding, and the grip of her hand clutching the Bag Of Bags™, loosens, slowly unfolding, and thirty or so ten-bags of heroin rain down onto the floor as she too slips off to meet Morpheus.
Before the bags have hit the floor, feet are moving, arms are reaching, hearts are pounding, no shits are given, and before long, teeth are tearing, citric acid is pouring, water is squirting, lighters are lighting, filters are filtering, and syringes are syringing.
He who did frequently GARP didn’t make it in time to grab a bag, and so he gives Anna a little tap on the wrist from below, attempting to free a few more bags without disturbing her oneiroid slumber. Sweat runs down his face, and everyone ignores him - busy, you see - until: GARP, and he pukes a kind of orange-juicy puke upon her outstretched arm and lap, which has the undesired desired effect of causing a few more bags to fall onto the floor, which he grabs and sets about getting into his bloodstream as Quickly. As. Humanly. Possible. Completely oblivious to the gooey coating he left on Anna’s knees and arm. Understandably.
Long in the tooth junkies they be, it’s trousers around ankles for all concerned as spikes into groins do go, and in about ten seconds, ‘Thank Fuck For That™ ’ is debossed into the communal countenance of our confederation of trouserless dunces, as - slowly folding - they fall forward in chairs, corners of the room, piss-damp armchairs, Or. Summink. Else.
After a few minutes, someone puts ten pound on the floor in front of Anna, soon followed by another reluctant hand dropping a twenty. Once the most reluctant collection in history has finished accumulating, there’s a pile of tens and twenties with a combined total value of about eighty quid. About a third of what did fall and was rapidly scooped. Understandably.
“There’s a bit in the documentary where they film Joey, Tracey’s husband selling his kid’s dole books to buy heroin, and when they call him on it he says he didn’t, and that he’s not even a junky,’ says one, barely audible, almost to himself. And everyone ignores him.
“What the fuck happened to her?” Says Terry, bolting awake as sometimes gouchers are prone.
“Eh?” says Terry.
“Ninety-five percent burns…”
“What happened to Anna?” Asks Terry, grabbing her by the hair at the top of her head and yanking it back to reveal her ghostly pallor and at once expose it to the light. He surveys the damage, the Bag Of Bags™, the puddle of orange-juicy saliva on the floor between her feet, on her arms, on the money, on her knees. No one is too quick to offer an explanation - understandably - but Garper, knowing he’s just a little bit more guilty than the rest, risks the very likely turnout that even Anna won’t remember - the puke, the slowly falling, and most importantly how many bags should be left, etc., and invents a totally different version of events with which he trusts his friends (‘friends’, ha! Gets me every time) will concur.
“Well, you both came in, you gouched-out, Anna wanted to get us out of trouble, rapidophile, and so we all bought a bag … or two … and then she also gouched-out, puked a bit and dropped the money. But it’s all there. Innit?” And several grunts, groans, snorts, and sighs do in fact, concur. Terry picks up the money, counts it before stuffing it into his back pocket, then prises Anna’s fingers from the Bag Of Bags™, suspiciously eyeing-up the clearly more than eighty-quids worth of diminishment he knows he can do nothing about, and starts preparing a hit. Anna comes back from the dead like a waking Vampire who’s just remembered she’s left a pan of blood on the hob; sitting upright, inhaling, wheeze-settings, white eyes struggling and a-rollin’ until pupils detect light do, and she too is back in the land of the almost living. She makes some noises and gestures you’d guess have something to do with the acrid and gel-like, pukish hands, knees, and floor in between her feet, before looking at Terry and slurring something about having another hit.
Outstretched arms bearing ten pound notes towards Terry do go, but “Fuck off, let me sort myself out first,” and our league of less-thans have to wait while quarter-conscious Terry makes a woeful attempt to perform the basics of his hit like put his spoon on the floor the right way up, select a bag from his pocket, remember he’s making up a hit, what his name is, etc., and any attempts to assist are greeted with the likes of “donyat know … I got got got gonstero…eluswervo…” followed by eyelids, slowly falling, then being distracted by a nothing that would seem to have occurred to the left of - and slightly above - his face, which puts him in a spin from which to recover will take at least three minutes, before he gets back to the arduous task of preparing his hit and of failing to put the spoon on the floor the right way up, everyone just watching him pour heroin on its convex back (again) as he looks at it through one and a half eyes, confused by the fundamentals of gravity, and the shape of things.
Incomprehensible, nasal, advice dribbles from the face of Anna, which once again is down between her knees; so relaxed is her spine it’s bordering on advanced Yoga. Terry brushes it away with a furrowed brow, but in furrowing said brow he’s completely shut one eye, leaving him with just the one with which to continue proceedings, and judging by the Jurassic-like neck movements, it’s having a hard time focusing, seeing, recognizing, working…
After Lord knows how long, and several completely failed attempts to hit the filter in the spoon - causing the used needle to further blunt as it stabs into the dirty wooden floorboard around the spoon, and hard stainless steel of the spoon - Terry manages to get it on the filter and suck the piss-yellow liquid up into the syringe, and start his journey vertical. Whoops … too far … and forward … too far … and back and that’ll do, joggers around ankles and now the spike moving to the left, to the right, up, down, the one eye now so desperately trying to focus and get this hit in, there’s a very real fear among our assembly of anticipating allies, our coalition of contemplative companions, that they’re not even half way through the waiting game, and until both Terry and Anna are back tripping the dark fandango, it’s unlikely they’re going to get any more of the Refined Poppy Juice (RPJ) they love so much [RPJ: Dream big and relax with RPJ - nature's gift for a peaceful mind.®"
“I doubt they’ll ever find her killers, that’s about thirty years ago now. I doubt anyone will grass with the threat of being burned alive hanging over them. Her kids are in the documentary, apparently they’re junkies too, now. No surprise I guess.” says the same bloke who’s previously spoken about that incident, and everyone ignores him.
And Terry hits the spot, the little bluish/black depression of scar tissue above his femoral vein on the right of his public hair and pushes the needle in deep. But he’s unsteady on his feet, rocking slightly on his heels, and as much as he tries he can’t pull blood back into the syringe. He pulls it out a bit, changes angle of attack a little before trying again, and deep into his leg the twenty-seven gauge, one and a half inches long, spike goes, but still no blood pulling into the syringe.
“Do you want some help?”
“Where’s the fucking spike gone?” Says Terry, eagerly trying to focus on the syringe he holds at arms length with his cyclops-like, monocular vision settings. But there is no spike, just the plastic cap that attaches it to the syringe.
“You probably snapped it off. There’s more needles in the box, there,” says someone, and nudges a biscuit tin of injecting paraphernalia towards Terry with their foot.
“Yeah, no, but where did it go, have I got a spike in my blood? I pulled it out and it was gone!”
“For fuck sake, can you just serve us so we can get out of here? It’s probably on the floor, you’ve just dragged it across your leg and snapped it or summink, we’ve all done it, but this is taking the piss.”
Terry is on his elbows and knees, wiping his hands across the dirty wooden floorboards, hoping to find that twenty-seven gauge, one and a half inch long PrecisionGlide™ metal spike, which otherwise could be moving around his circulatory system ready to cause all manner of medical mischief.
“Fuck it,” says Terry, pulling off the plastic connector and putting a new spike on the syringe.
And so after much more Morphean malarkey, powder-power, and general fuckaboutary, our caucus of clowns get their heroin and return to their mother’s houses from whence they came some four hours ago, leaving with lines such as “I’m just getting some milk, mum,” or “I’m just going to help Dave with something, I’ll only be about ten minutes’” as said mother’s fall down deep into armchairs, stare at the telly, and fear they may get the phone-call to say their child is dead.
Once upon another disaster some two months later our skittish, cold, and rattling band of buffoons wait for Anna, staring at the door as the finely tuned ear of the junky engages sound/volume control and Wave Specificity Locators©; noise-cancellation settings are engaged to hear nowt but two feet coming up from the ground floor, and with each person knowing it’s twelve steps on each flight of four stairs, the already off the latch door will open about now...
“I’ve got twenty bags left, who wants what?” Says Anna, her eyes closed and her body doing well to not fall to the side she has all her weight on and is most definitely leaning towards, counterbalanced by hope alone.
“Sorry to hear about Terry,” says someone, and everyone - including he who said it -wishes he hadn’t.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t believe it. Athlete’s Foot of all things. The amount of mad things we got up to and Athlete’s Foot killed him. Turned into Sepsis. The doctor said he was surprised he hadn’t died sooner, and it was probably the heroin that was keeping him alive.”
You could hear a needle drop.
“Yeah, I miss him and that…” said Anna, one eye opening temporarily, having a random scan about the place and then closing again.
“Yeah. Can I have two?”
“I want just the one.”
“I’ll take four for thirty, yeah?”
“Two, make them big, the gear about at the moment is jank.”
“Na, this is really nice, one bag will hold you all night,” said Anna.
“Two for me.”
“Four for thirty for me.”
After about ten minutes - a world record perhaps - all the deals were done and Anna left.
“Athlete’s Foot, eh? I didn’t know Terry played any sports?”
“Yeah, he won gold in gouching-out.”
“It wasn’t Athlete’s Foot. My mum knows Terry’s mum, they’re in the same crib team. That broken needle moved around his bloodstream, got lodged in his heart and, being filthy, caused an infection. Then he died”
“Amazing the doctors said the gear kept him alive though eh?”
“She’s lying. The gear kept him lazy and not going to the hospital when he turned yellow, could barely breathe, and didn’t have the energy to even walk upstairs. Mum said they moved his bedroom downstairs a few days before he died.’
“I wonder why he didn’t go to the hospital? Or why Anna didn’t make him go?”
“Couldn’t be bothered, probably”
“Yeah, no, ‘spose so.”
Thanks for reading Dangerfield's Exaggerations.! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Thank you for reading this, it really means a lot to me. A LIKE is lovely. If you could leave a COMMENT and tell me if you liked it, didn’t like it, and maybe why or what or whatever - that would be really wonderful. SHARING it on social media would be AMAZING!
I probably should have said this sooner, but Tracey & Joey is a real documentary, about the woman who did actually get burned to death. You can read about it all over the Internet - here's but one example: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-50890878
Another cracker Chris. I wonder how people with no experience of the lifestyle described relate to these little snapshots of life outside of their normality, where a ten minute interaction contains so much drama, uncertainty and in this case life and death. You captured perfectly the detachment and simultaneous hyper focus of the user as the prize comes agonisingly and ecstatically within grasp. (as I write, my hearing has become 'fox like' as I await the approach of a specific car lol). Once again the reader is unceremoniously thrust into the story and into a midst of a gaggle of characters whose random and often ignored interjections makes the reader (me anyway) feel like I'm holding a documentary camera, swivelling quickly to focus on the speaker - always slightly too late as another one has started talking. It gives the story a feel of huriedness even though not much is happening. A conversation between people intent on ignoring each other.
The sense of how devalued dignity and life itself has become is summed up perfectly in the last sentence, where we learn that a person's life with all its possibilities could possibly have been saved. But no one, not even the deceased himself, could be bothered.
I enjoyed it immensely.