BY YOUNG SUNG HERO
A sharp breeze stung Lee's cheek. A temporary pain imprint was a minor inconvenience. His memory involuntarily darted back to a time when his mother had beat his badly sunburnt back with a large wooden spoon. There could be nothing more permanent than that moment — tainted time that filled him so.
The past pain contrasted sharply with the present pleasure of Christabel's exploring tongue in Lee's mouth. Lee could hear the familiar opening bars to Chic's 'Good Times' coming from the Karaoke; the irony was not lost on him.
The need to look Christabel in the eyes while they kissed was overwhelming. The whole experience reminded him of a summer river overflowing its banks. Before he had a chance to look up, there was a commotion from above. He glanced up and squinted his eyes a little at an imaginary sun. Sitting on the edge of the roof rapping Tupac's verse from 'California Love' Geoff was perched. He was staring straight ahead whilst flailing his hands around to the tempo of the verse:
“Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreaming Soon as I step on the scene, I'm hearing hoochies screaming.”
Lee broke quickly from the tight embrace, and when he glanced back—to his astonishment and disappointment—he realized his kissing partner was not Christabel, but the head-nod girl from the crack house. She immediately sensed his disappointment and dashed away without a parting word.
“Good times, these are the good times Leave your cares behind, these are the good times....”
Within minutes, the invisible pull of the commotion drew the whole community outside. Screaming, shouting, and the flapping of hands soon settled upon the whole scene. Lee soon realized it was Geoff everyone was concerned about and not the snogging party he and the nodding girl from the crack house were engaged in.
Why do people do this? Fucking unnecessary, thought Lee.
Then Lee heard a huge bellow of laugher coming from the driveway. It was Sandy arriving for her night shift. The sight of Geoff weaving disoriented on top of the roof, rapping away, proved too much for her. Lee noticed a few staff members staring disapprovingly at Sandy. Ashley gave her the sort of evil eye which could have reduced a grown man to tears. Sandy twigged on but soon tried to turn her guffaws into a fake cough.
Half an hour had passed. Now, the place was swarming with police. Five police cars, two riot vans, a pack of police dogs and about twenty overweight police men and women in uniform wandering about the grounds. The only thing missing was a helicopter with an illuminating spotlight. Lee thought that it was more appropriate to a dramatic hostage situation rather than a Tupac-obsessed addict slightly off his head on prescription pills.
The old bill send up what Lee assumed to be a negotiator to attempt to talk Geoff down. The negotiator official was skinny, wore sensible glasses, and spoke with a calm voice. He reminded Lee of a grown up version of the milky bar kid.
The roof was quite high; if Geoff were to slip, he would die for sure. Of course, the potential for harm was what made it so exciting for those watching from below. Addicts love danger almost as much as they love drugs.
“Jump, ya cunt!” Shouted a fierce looking, wiry man.
“He's a fucking crank, that boy," Wonky said. Then added, "Last week he did a dirty protest in his room because he was challenged over his behaviour. He better not get us nicked for doing those pills,” Wonky whispered the last part into Lee's ear.
Lee was in complete agreement. At that moment them getting caught for the pills seemed far more important than Geoff's likely death if he were to stumble and fall. Sick addicts are selfish people. But recognizing his selfishness in the current situation, Lee felt a tinge of pride. Maybe change is coming yet? he thought. He knew, though, that he and Wonky were still up to their necks in disorders. Lee quickly brushed away the thought, because the drama around them had intensified.
Lee looked up and saw a policeman holding out a cigarette for Geoff. Geoff reached for it, but the cigarette was just too far for him to grab. As he reached, he suddenly slipped on a pair of loose roof tiles. Down below, huge gasps illuminated the night sky. Geoff had begun to slide down the roof! His momentum carried him further, and it appeared Death would soon accept Geoff into his loving embrace. Before he gained too much speed, Geoff's huge feet became entangled in a metal drainpipe at the edge of the roof. Then, the unmistakable sound of bones breaking. An almighty crunch made a few people in the audience gag. One person actually vomited onto the grass.
“Where's that fucking cigarette?” Geoff managed to croak out.
“We better not get caught for taking those pills,” Wonky repeated to Lee.
A well-orchestrated team of fireman eventually brought Geoff down to safety. The drama was over. They rushed him to hospital with a badly broken leg in several places. Soon, the crowd dispersed.
After Geoff was carted off, Lee retreated up to his new room inside the main house. It was almost 10.30 p.m. Lights out was at 11 p.m. He slowly climbed two sets of wooden stairs, which creaked with the undying hunger and lust of a thousand addicts in rehab. He wondered how many of them had "made it" after their stint in this facility. What were the doing now? Were they even alive? Too many questions. Besides, Lee was tired. He just wanted the evening to be over and done with.
Lee headed straight for his bed and flopped down, exhausted, like a newly born animal. The bed's springs poked uncomfortably into his back. A nice reminder of life's spiky nature.
Out of the corner of his eye, Lee caught the gentle tracing of a spider's web decorating a window frame. A sullen Daddy Long Legs hung precariously, upside down. Death would be the creature's only salvation. Lee noticed a tinge of pity creep on the hairs of his neck. He wondered about the fragility of life, the unfairness of it all.
Self-pity appeared as magically as if someone has just rubbed a genie's lamp to conjure it. Luckily, the emotion didn't have time to settle because the bedroom door soon opened and in strolled a tough looking, grey haired face.
“Alright, I'm Alan.” It was "Mad Alan," the nonce murderer. Lee soon realised it was him who had been shouting at Geoff to jump off the roof.
“Alright, Lee,” Lee replied in the same non nonchalant fashion.
Alan made no eye contact nor did he offer Lee a hand. He peeled off his Nike tracksuit and exposed a white vest and gold chain. So far, Alan was ticking all the stereotype boxes of someone who'd done a lot of time in prison. Alan pulled a chair over to Lee's bed, reached underneath it, then silently took out a box and placed it on to a small table.
“What's that?” asked Lee.
“Jigsaw.” Alan answered, snapping like a hungry croc.
Lee scanned the room for clues. Alan certainly owned a lot of toiletries. They resided above a small sink. Shaving lotion, twice over. Deodorant, two containers. Aftershave, four bottles. Shampoo x2. A canister of shower gel, and lots of toothpaste too. And off to the side in one corner Lee spotted two tubs of vaseline. Perhaps he got a taste for arse in prison? thought Lee, slightly concerned.
A small radio stood on top of Alan's wooden drawers. One side of the radio was a small potted plant. A simple lamp sat on the other.
Alan's accent spoke with a South London twang with menacing nasal undertones. He wasn't a big guy, but it was obvious that some of his prison years must have been spent in the gym. An air of institutionalisation followed Alan around. His steely eyes looked straight ahead but darted around making head movement redundant and unnecessary. He tread slowly and carefully when he walked, as if each step were a thousand. He appeared to be wasting time.
Out the corner of his eye, Lee watched Alan fidgeting with his jigsaw. He was utterly immersed in the activity. It was now just him and the jigsaw inhabiting the room. Lee guessed Alan to be about 58 years old. And, somehow, Alan seemed to be in some sort of pain. Or maybe it was that pain simply resided in this hardened man's life, and he dealt with it as best he could. His expression never wavered. His face was granite, immovable—like a worn out Hollywood actor who'd ruined their face on Botox.
Alan descended deeper into his jigsaw. The persistent silence made for uncomfortable viewing. Lee found it difficult to sit with himself, even if he were alone. But throw a guy who killed a sexual freak into the mix and the awkward jitters became too much to bear. Lee crumbled.
“How long have you been in here?”
“I've been here 8 months,” Alan said, not wavering from concentrating on his jigsaw. “I was meant to move into the cottage next to the Welcome House but you've come in; so I gotta fucking stay here and share this room with ya,” Alan said, flaunting a brash contempt towards Lee. “I've been locked up for a long time and was sent here by the home office. That's why I isolate a lot.”
Lee heard Alan's voice betray a glint of sadness, but he brushed it off assuming that no hardened criminal would ever show loneliness or despair.
After a sleepless night, a loud knock at the door startled Lee from the nirvana of sweet blissful sleep.
“Wake up call! Get up!”
Alan immediately jumped awake. Lee felt Alan's weight land on the floor and send a vibration through the floorboards to Lee's bed. Alan briefly stretched his arms then swiftly made his bed all in one unbroken motion. Alan's quick, sudden industriousness Lee found as impressive as a joined-up, tai chi move.
By contrast, Lee rolled onto his side and cursed. The addict in Lee had woken before he did and the addict demanded to be fed. His stomach growled, reminding him that, after all, he was a creature with needs. Lee gritted his teeth and clenched one hand into a fist whilst the other gripped onto the side of his bed, trying to will away the sweet siren call to heroin. He bit into his pillow as a single teardrop mourned for the window-spider that now lay dead on the floor.
“You kept me awake all night. That's going to mess up my whole week.” Alan was more than happy to share his displeasure. “Next time, go downstairs.” His tone was blunt, but direct. Lee face began to flush with heat.
As soon as Alan exited the room, Lee stepped to the jigsaw table to look where a 2000 piece puzzle lay dormant, waiting for someone with more patience than him to complete it. His hand darted into the box and grabbed a couple of pieces; they were intricate and strangely delicate. Then he strutted over to the window and threw them out with a grin on his face. Fuck you Alan, you prick.
Lee walked downstairs and entered the dining room. He made himself a cup of tea before going outside to have a smoke. Neil was already outside and stood, facing a wall. When Lee walked out, Neil slowly turned to face him.
“Do you know if you take the O out of good you get god?”
“Neil . . . what the fuck are you eating?”
Neil looked at Lee without the slightest expression on his face and replied: “A daffodil.”
After breakfast, Sandy called to Lee and asked him to step into her office. She sat for a moment, brought her fingers together and leaned in.
“Have you got something you'd like to tell me, Lee?” A serious frown came upon her face.
“No.” Lee didn't have a clue what she trying to get at.
“Something to do with Geoff . . .” she said, slowly, letting the statement stand, hanging.
“Look, I've got no idea how he got onto the roof; I was downstairs the whole time. I didn't even go up there.” Lee's fluctuated his voice up and down as if to emphasize his innocence.
Undeterred, Sandra let it drop: “I know that he gave you some rivotril tablets.” She stared hard into Lee's face.
“Oh.” Lee didn't bother denying it; he knew that the game was up. “I didn't ask for them.” Maybe there was still time for damage limitation.
“Well . . . " Sandra stood, saying, "Lee, even though it's totally against the rules here, I understand why you took them. You did your detox extremely fast and you felt like shit. I get it. The biggest issue for me, and something you need to look at, is your dishonesty. You would've happily sat with that lie. The reason you're here is to change your behaviour. You've now put the drugs down and it's time to take a serious look at yourself. Behaviours are deep rooted, Lee. Sometimes, we have no awareness of ourselves." Sandra held out a piece of paper, and said, "I want you to take this sheet and answer the questions on it by tomorrow, please. And Lee, you are now on your final warning.”
Lee looked at the sheet of paper. On the top, emblazoned in bold font, underlined and italicized stood the title, "Honesty." The worksheet had about ten questions to be answered. Lee folded it up and put it in his back pocket.
Sandra continued, “Now I want you to move your things to room twelve immediately. You'll be sharing with Simon Benton. We feel that Alan isn't the best person to support you.”
Innit that the truth, Sandra dear—he's a prick, thought Lee.
Simon Benton was an over friendly rock climbing enthusiast. He'd ended up in the rehab because of the alcohol problem that ruined his marriage and caused him to lose his job as a steel worker in the north of England. So rolls the series of events of the addicted.
Lee packed his bags, and snatched a couple more of Alan's jigsaw pieces before moving into room 12. Simon Benton was already in there, unpacking his stuff.
“A up, Lee . . . do you see that loft hatch up there?” Simon pointed up to the ceiling like a young kid buzzing from too much fizzy drink. His face was contorted into a world of confusing possibilities.
“Me and you are gonna go up there and explore!” Simon grinned from ear to ear as if he'd won the lotto.
Lee slid a chair under the spot, climbed up, and pushed the lid off the loft hatch. Simon passed him a torch.
“Always come prepared,” Simon said chuckling, wiggling a finger at Lee.
The loft was musky. One hundred years of no ventilation had invariably shaped its smell. Inside, it was dark and still. The torch's beam highlighted a million dust particles dancing freely in the air. Lee continued to let the torch explore the space until the light suddenly landed on a mysterious silhouette. An unknown object, a person? A strange clump of packages? He squinted his eyes before gasping for breath. A young girl stared back at him from the edge of the loft, eyes wild like a hunted tiger, cornered and trapped. Lee turned the torch off, then back on again. But the same image continued to haunt him.
The girl in the corner was a five-year-old version of Christabel.
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