By Young Sung Hero===============
Simon Benton and Lee climbed down from the loft and were both perched upon their single beds. Like mismatched opponents in a ring, they differed both physically and mentally. Lee sat silently with his chin resting on both of his sweaty palms. It might have been a yoga asana: The Water Lily. In the opposite corner, Simon was emphasizing his words with choppy hand gestures that mimicked uncoordinated karate moves.
The loft was as good as a fort. Delighted at having found an outlet for his youthful energy, Simon was restless, excitable and happy. But Lee felt empty, drained, and homeless, like a walking time bomb.
Lee remembered someone in Amsterdam once saying to him that if a person didn't have a destination then they couldn't get lost. He was obviously talking shit—but maybe not. Lee felt as lost as he'd ever been.
As Lee looked down at the grubby, wooden floor, he could feel a dark childhood thought creeping in but dismissed it with a shudder. Get over it, ya wanker, he shouted to himself.
“And then I said to her, there's no way you're not going to let me see Tony. That's my boy, see.”
Lee pretended that he was listening to Benton's story. He knew that it was an important one. It was to Simon, anyway. But at that moment the only real sounds going on in his head were his own. This was a problem as Lee couldn't trust his own voice. If he were to have an argument with himself, there would only ever be one winner. How could he try and explain the strangeness inside him, or the darkness that he sensed in the loft? His not-too-distant memory consumed him, but why speak up at that very moment? It would be pointless. Or so he thought.
Lee had been taking drugs in one form or another almost every day of his life for over twenty years. He had no idea how he was meant to feel or what was real and what was merely a symphony of emotional confusion. One feeling was like a high pitched violin string; the other, a low note, a bass twang. He had no idea which one was authentic.
“But you see him now. That’s the main thing, Simon.”
Lee looked at his watch. It was 7pm. Simon noticed Lee's head movement and took it as a cue.
“Ah, we've got a check in, cocka. The NA group.”
Lee chuckled to himself at the use of the word 'cocka.' You'd get in serious trouble if you called someone that where he was from. Bloody northerners. He grinned.
Simon and Lee were the last people into the group room. Everyone in the room was sat silent and still like oppressed lambs waiting for the slaughter. They were sat in a circle so perfect it was as if aliens had beamed them down from outer space and placed each person carefully down in their exact spot. As Lee sat, he was sure that the circle was about to consume him. Regardless, if it spit or swallowed there would be no pleasure. One of the residents who had a Senior House Manager badge did a register to make sure nobody had fucked off on a drugs or booze bender.
Even though he'd just spent a good few hours with Simon Benton, he suddenly noticed that he was wearing bright purple flares. “Fuck me,” he muttered.
Paul, the guy sitting next to Simon, looked fidgety and agitated, as if his skin were too tight for him. Next to Paul was Neil, who was looking to the ceiling for answers and also sniffing his armpits. Next to Neil was the crack house head nod girl. Even though they'd swapped saliva, Lee had not yet found out her name. She stared intently at the floor, looking as if she wished it would swallow her up. Wonky Lee sat next to crack house head nod girl. He caught Lee's eye and balled his hand into a fist. He made minute jerking movements by his mouth and poked his tongue into one side of his cheek, making it throb. He mouthed the words blow job at Lee and nodded his head towards crack house head nod girl. Lee started to smile, and quickly looked away before he started to laugh. When Lee got a hold of himself, he looked back over at Wonky.
“She's wetter than a mermaid’s minge,” Wonky mouthed.
That was too much for Lee. A trickle of laughter turned his snigger into a torrential downpour.
The senior house manager raised his voice in a controlled manner. Not quite a shout, but louder than a normal tone and one that definitely contained menacing undertones. Like an animal displaying bright colours it conveyed the message, Do. Not. Fuck. With. Me.
A few minutes later, Ashleigh and Sandy walked slowly into the room. They looked straight ahead as they strutted in, too proud to even glance at anybody. They reminded Lee of two cowboys riding into an unruly town and ready to take it by the scruff of its neck.
“Today we are going to have a slightly different group than normal.” Ashleigh sounded like a firm headmistress. It made Lee feel strangely aroused.
“Half a bottle of vodka was found in the store room, so we're going to have an honesty group.” If Ashleigh was the bad cop, Sandy was definitely the good cop. Her voice was gentle and soothing. This also turned Lee on. As he started to get a semi, he felt weird but also relieved. At least it was all starting to work again.
Ashleigh looked around the room. Her gaze stopped briefly on each person it was as if she was trying to make people melt with her guilt-seeking-beam eyes. Lee's plan was to look down at the floor as she reached him, but instead he stared back and, without thinking, winked. A small frown on Ashleigh's face didn't need any accompanying words. Oh my God, thought Lee. He wanted to disappear under a soft duvet. He really didn't mean to wink at her. I bet she thinks I'm some sort of sexual deviant.
Lee caught Sandy's eye. She'd seen the wink and was backing up her co-worker with a fierce scowl. Fucking hell, they're like a rehab Cagney and Lacey, Lee thought to himself. Wonky Lee had obviously seen the wink. He chuckled.
Lee looked back up at Ashleigh and he couldn't believe it when she winked back at him. At least, he was 65% sure that it was a wink. A grin slowly rose to his lips, but he pushed it down, keeping it secret. He glanced over at Wonky Lee and rolled his eyes.
“Typical,” he muttered.
Wonky frowned, as if to say, What the fuck are you going on about, ya crank?
If people were arrested based on how guilty they looked, then each person in the honesty group would've been cuffed and read their rights. Guilt and shame are two emotions that work in tandem to control addicts and can at times tighten those chains of bondage.
The circle sat in complete silence. The mood was flat, shaped by its own guilt but without even a vague promise of relief. To sit in the pain of the past was awkward and itchy. The taste was lemon flavoured bitter.
Five minutes passed, and nobody said a word. The group was set to run for an hour and a half and Lee wondered that if the silence remained perhaps they could all give up and go for a nice cup of tea. Another five minutes. Time’s pace teased those it continued to torment. His life of addiction, secrets, and lies consumed Lee on a daily basis. Now, to look around this room, he could see how regret sucked the life out of each and every person in the circle.
Lee's head was anything but silent. In fact, the quieter the room became, the louder his head screamed. Electric shocks pinged around his cranium like a bright neon ping pong machine.
CUNT, THIEF, LIAR, CHEAT, NO FAMILY, NO FRIENDS, WRONG UN, MISTAKE
Lee looked out of the window opposite. An early evening moon engulfed the sky with its magical light from outer space. Lee stared at the moon. It felt as if it was bursting with answers but refused to give him one.
He brought himself back into the room. The noise in his head continued until it stopped on a thought about honesty. Lee pondered the recent work he'd done on his own honesty---how he’d related to taking those pills on New Year’s. He always thought that he was an honest person. He knew that when he was using heroin, he would lie to all his friends---but it was always for a good reason. He didn't want to hurt them. He just needed to borrow money, else he'd be sick. But in that awkward, endless silence, he felt forced to delve deep within.
Was it honesty to say that he could see his lies could not be justified?
Lee's memory was so addled by the years of drug abuse that it was like a computer on its last legs that struggled to simply boot up. But once it got warmed up, the memories came.
The first lie that he could ever remember telling was after his mum had hit him hard across the face with the hand that had her wedding ring. Like a brass knuckle, it was. He was told that if the school found out the truth, he'd be taken to live in a children's home where the kids got beaten hard every day. His fear overtook any desire to be honest as he looked his teacher in the eye and told her that he'd walked into a door. He couldn't tell the truth. Fear of the unknown was greater than fear of his own reality.
“I've been brewing hooch in my bedroom. It's behind my radiator.”
A young lad called Liam melted under the excruciating peacefulness. Lee glanced around the room. A few people were smirking, but the others didn't look up from the blank wooden floor. Liam looked relieved to have broken the silence.
“I've got a mobile phone in my bedroom.”
“I brought some porn magazines on my last town visit.”
“I had a wank in the greenhouse.”
Once Liam had open up the honesty shop, a flood of customers now poured in.
“When I'm meant to be doing my morning house jobs, I've been hiding round the back of the kitchens and smoking with Wonky Lee.”
It seemed that Simon Benton didn't want to go down alone. Lee looked at Benton's face: it reminded him of a content baby, suckling milk from its mother's breast. Wonky Lee was staring at Benton as if he wanted to cut off his balls and stick them into his mouth.
“You fucking grass,” he mouthed without blinking.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” Benton looked towards Ashleigh, who was facilitating the group. He was looking up at Ashleigh and Sandy eagerly, as if looking for a reward. He was a schoolboy who’d just given them an apple apiece.
That night, after lights out, a few of the boys were playing blackjack in Wonky Lee's room.
“Fucking hell, did you see the meltdown crew earlier?” That was Fred. In his posh accent, the word down sounded like darrrn.
“Especially Benton, fucking grass. Oh, Miss! Miss! Me me!” Wonky had his hand up, impersonating a 5-year-old kid in a classroom trying to win the teacher’s praise.
“And you kept that hooch quiet, Liam.” Lee looked over to Liam, the youngest person in the room. He wondered how a kid that age had ended up in rehab with a bunch of hardened men. The kid was only about 19. He's got no fucking chance, thought Lee.
Liam smiled and chuckled, like kids do at that age when they aren't quite confident enough to give a straight answer.
“Did you see Ashleigh wink at me?” Lee spoke, putting down his third winning hand in a row.
All the boys started laughing loud.
“Fuck off, Lee, ya twat. That's what we called the rehab delusion. Get used to it. The longer you stay in here, the more will be revealed.” Fred’s sense of humor was as dry as a good martini.
The laughter died down as the card game got serious again.
“Well, I know what I saw.” Lee was convinced of his perceived truth. In his mind, Ashleigh had definitely winked at him. But everyone laughing at him made him feel like a cunt.
“You are all plotting against me,” said a voice. With all the laughter and chat, everyone had forgot about Neil, who sat quietly in the corner.
“Who's fucking plotting against you, Neil?” Wonky's voice was rather exasperated.
“The people in Lee's loft—plotting, conspiring, planning. The little girl in the loft, it's all part of the game.”Everyone was pissing themselves with laughter and rolling their eyes. That is, everyone apart from Lee. He froze. All he could do was look down at the black fan of spades he held. An all black hand of cards.
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