If the world is round, why does it feel so flat? thought Lee as he lay in his worn out, single bed.
He directed his question at the ceiling. In the middle was the little door to the loft. Tired as he was, his weary eyes were drawn back to the unassuming hatch as if it had an invisible magnetic field and was holding the world together.
One of the worst things about coming off heroin (and there were numerous) was how it fucked with a person’s sleep patterns. For weeks, months, and even years after banishing that intense love-hate relationship, sleep was nothing more than a meaningless word. Lee’s insomnia was the pattern of a complex Scottish tartan. Although he was past the point of going cold turkey, he'd not slept properly in over a month. Two hours a night was the average, if he was lucky. It left him feeling mentally and physically weak, as though he was on a constant comedown from acid.
He thought about Christabel. The deeper he went, the more he realized why she was so important to him. She had been the first person he could remember who'd been kind to him. Was she even in this rehab? He was sure he'd spotted her on his first day in, but he'd not seen her since. And after all, he’d been completely whacked out that day. Not exactly a stellar eyewitness.
He turned over, restless. The lack of sleep and constant barrage of emotion left Lee feeling chronically confused. Exposed, like Adam after eating that fucking apple. Lee wondered if Eve was foxy, or what. She must've been, he thought. Imagine if Adam couldn't get it up because she was a dog. That would've been it: game over, no human race. Of course Eve was fine, thought Lee. She was the blueprint for all of womankind and there's some fucking hot women out there. Lee liked women—perhaps even more than he liked heroin. It wasn’t just the commingling of the flesh, either. Lee loved the thought of romance and love. For him, the expectation was all. Once he’d gotten somewhere, the reality just became another memory. He acted on his desires and then moved on to something else. Perhaps that was why he had such strong thoughts about Christabel.
She was the best kiss he'd never had—from the lips he'd never tasted.
As he lay in bed, tossing and turning, he wished that he could turn his brain off. His thinking was zigzagged violently, like a stolen car traveling 100mph up a busy freeway in the wrong direction. Lee hung on for a moment, careening through the images and words that crowded his imagination. His thoughts lurched sickeningly, then darted down a long, dark tunnel. Was this sleep? Suddenly it all crashed, straight into the side of a big truck. Lee flipped high into the air. He landed on top of his mother.
Lee was still at school when his mother kicked him out. It was a few months before his 16th birthday. His mother had moved some random Greek bloke into their home. Lee recalled smashing the guy’s car up, holding a knife to his throat. Fucking greasy cunt, he thought. Even all these years later, he could feel the rage rising up as that bastard came into his head. His mother’s outright rejection of him was beyond painful, but at least it was an excuse for him to stop going to school—one in a long list of institutions that he didn't like. He suddenly found himself sharing a flat with an older friend who was also a drug dealer. It was perfect timing, in a way. The acid house scene exploded—raves all night, pumping music, the best drugs he could get his hands on. He could dance all night in fields, snog girls, and make money from selling ecstasy. Who needed a mother? They were old technology. Out of date. Done.
His body jerked, and he was awake again. Lying there, Lee suddenly realized that he'd been consumed by pure, poisonous resentment towards his mother. It had eaten him away and affected how he'd related to the world and everyone in it. Yet he hardly knew this woman—the one who’d thrown him over, kicked him out, and then disappeared, not even chasing after him when he left. Who was she? For the first time in his whole life, Lee started to think about her story.
His mother's name was Shelia. She grew up in rural Ireland with her parents, Tony and Eileen, and six older brothers. When she was about ten years old, her mother ran off with another man, leaving her husband and family to fend for themselves. They were a poor family and when their mother left them times became even harder. At least twice a week, Shelia would have to stand outside the church waiting for the food pantry to open. Picking up a handout. Shelia's father started drinking heavily and beating the children, blaming them for their mother’s disappearance. Shelia was forced to take on her mother’s role. Her childhood became one long slog of cooking, cleaning, and tending to the seven men of the house. The women’s lib movement was alive and well, but not in rural Ireland. She was stuck.
When she was about 14 years old, her first boyfriend got her pregnant. Abortions in Ireland were illegal, so she had to have a horrific backstreet termination. Soon after, she began drinking. It helped to dull the memory, the shame. If she had a childhood, or an adolescence, it was over too fast—cruelly taken by someone who didn't need it.
Later, Lee's father came into her life. They had some happy days—for a moment, there was a glimpse of better times for them. This was short-lived. When Lee was about eleven, his father disappeared to somewhere in Africa, “for work.” He never came back. Every time Sheila looked at Lee, it reminded her of the only man she really loved.
She'd rejected Lee the same way she'd been rejected herself. The cycle was repeated, damaging another generation.
So Lee was on his own. About two years and many raves later, he met a girl called Heidi. Lee had been screwing around since the age of 13, but Heidi was the first girl that he ever fell in love with. At least, he thought that it was love. The feelings were unfamiliar, a strange smelling food with an unrecognizable texture. He could remember holding her and burying his nose in her caramel-colored hair. The sweet smell of her made the world seemed okay. She sounded like a pretty birdsong. But as young love lives, so it must die. The day that Lee found out she'd cheated on him, he felt like a male praying mantis whose head just had been ripped off by his mate. He was on the harsh receiving end of sexual cannibalism. Heidi took his head off, and tore his heart out while she was at it.
He wasn’t satisfied with her tearful confession—crocodile tears, he suspected. He figured he’d look into it so he went to see Chris.
Chris was one of the guys from whom Lee got his wholesale drugs. He was a heavily tattooed biker with a Devonian accent who was a lot older than Lee. Chris was always proper sound with Lee. He'd often cook him up some dinner and give him up to a kilo of skunk on tick or a few hundred pills. Lee liked Chris a lot, but he knew he was shooting dope. It was obvious. Sometimes when Lee would pop round and Chris's eyes would be droopy like a cartoon dog, or he'd disappear into his bedroom for a few minutes. Coming back, he’d sit in his chair and start nodding off. When Lee turned up that day, Chris was straight and could see that something was going on. And Lee told him the whole sad story.
“Do you know who the cunt is?” Chris looked genuinely angry. His face was a dark shade of red.
“Yeah, I know of him and where he drinks.” Lee looked down at the floor. His voice was low and soft.
Snap went the clap of Chris's hands. “Right. We'll go there with a few boys balaclava’d up.”
Chris disappeared into his bedroom. He came out with a baseball bat and a can of CS gas which he tossed to Lee.
Lee smiled at the gesture. It felt good that someone was willing to look out for him.
“What I really want is a bit of gear,” he said. The words were now out—they could never be taken back, ever. The 40-year-old coin that would pass through a thousand hands and bear witness to a thousand stories had now started its journey. You cannot halt an addict determined to self destruct any more than you can stop the sun from setting in the West.
“You don't do this shit, Lee. Come on, man.” Chris frowned and looked disappointed.
“Chris, I've done it loads of time. Come on. I'd do it for you.” Lee lied as easy as breathing. All he wanted to do was remove the pain, which was so intense that it drilled into the very being of his existence like a fracking operation gone wrong. A lie was fuck-all.
“If you don't sort me out, I'll have to go and score downtown.” Emotional blackmail. Easy as a lie, for Lee. The sick, chewed feeling in his stomach crept into his throat.
Chris knew that a fresh face like Lee would get ripped off downtown by the desperate junkies. They'd see him coming a mile off.
“Look, man, this is gonna be a one-off. Okay? You don't want to end up like me, stuck on this shit, having to do it every single fucking day. Wake up in the morning and score off some prick before I get sick. Repeat all day,” Chris's voice rose with each syllable. He was sending a warning to his friend. But Lee's ears would be asleep for another 25 years. Not even the kiss of a beautiful princess would awaken him.
Lee was already imagining the illicit taste of the forbidden fruit. He imagined this luscious, robust, complex flavor. He thought of Nancy Reagan. She was cramming the 'Just Say No' message down the throats of the youth with her prissy little hands. It seemed obvious to go against the old bag.
He had already decided that he wasn't going to inject the heroin. He'd watched his sister inject when he was a young kid and was terrified of needles. Either way, the option was not on offer to Lee because Chris threw over a rectangle silver foil box. They’d smoke the heroin. Lee froze as it dawned on him that he was about to break his last taboo, perhaps the sweetest taboo?
“Give it here, ya muppet.” Chris could obviously sense Lee's uneasy vibes and took control of the situation.
Lee passed Chris the foil and in a graceful, practiced movement the foil was opened, a small sheet ripped off, and a sprinkling of powder thrown down. This was gently burnt with a low flame until it went hard and resembled a beetle. Chris's movements were seamless, like that of a chef in a restaurant or perhaps a conductor, waving his baton over an orchestra.
Chris tore another bit of foil and folded it, like a magician ready to surprise. With a flash of his hands he'd constructed a shiny tube with which to suck up the smoke.
Lee remembered holding that tube in his hand but not understanding how he was now fully committed. These vows didn't need formalizing.
“Do you take this heroin to be your lawful wedded wife?”
“To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer?”
“I now pronounce you man and heroin addiction, you may kiss the bride.”
Now came the kiss. It was the one that Lee had never tasted and when it came—Jesus, did it deliver. As soon as it hit his bloodstream, he couldn't give two fucks about Heidi or her cheating ways. Heidi who? In fact, he didn't give a shit about anything. This suited him just fine. More than fine, it was the truest of true love—at least it was in the early days.
Lee snapped out of his reminiscence. Asleep again? He could feel his head playing tricks on him. It kept showing him the highlight reel, cutting out all the shitty bits. And there was plenty of bad shit.
Lee sensed a presence at the foot of his bed and when he lifted his head up off the pillow he was confronted by Neil, who stood bollock naked with a peculiar grin on his face. Lee thought of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
“Neil, what the fuck are you doing?” Lee raised his voice, as people do when they are confronted by naked men in the middle of the night. He realized that it might wake Benton up, but when he glanced over he could see that Benton hadn't moved an inch.
“Have you got a light?” It was a simple question.
“Over there, on the side.” Lee pointed to the window sill. Despite the surprise, Lee wasn't angry at the intrusion. In fact, naked Neil had been a good distraction from the risky smack thoughts.
Neil strolled over to the window. His manner was so formal, Lee could imagine him wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella. Neil grabbed the lighter then pointedly stared out of the window, taking in all that the full moon had to offer. Turning, he looked Lee in the eye . . .
“The sun is the source of my fears whilst the moon remains static like a single unshed tear.” Neil left the last word swinging in the air.
Lee couldn't help but notice Neil's massive penis. It swung on his thighs like a baboon’s tail, dancing in the moonlight.
Fuck me, you could do some damage with that, thought Lee.
Suddenly Lee's sleep deprived brain started its own word association game. Damage – hurt – pain – rejection – mother – girlfriend – heroin. The marble rolled through the pinball game between his ears, setting off lights and tripping levers.
Rejection. The word appeared like an ancient knight on a mountain top leading an army of men into battle. A light lit up the darkness. Rejection suddenly morphed into protection and the sound of the Massive Attack record with the same name came floating into Lee’s head with so much clarity it was as if God himself had piped the music through the clouds. Like it'd come down from heaven and floated through the sweet nectar of goodness and into that rehab deep in the English countryside.
I'll stand in front of youtake the force of the blowProtectionI'll stand in front of youI'll take the force of the blowProtectionYou're a boy and I'm a girlBut you know you can lean on meAnd I don't have no fearI'll take on any man hereWho says that's not the way it should be
Tracey Thorn’s voice wrapped Lee up in a warm womb of safety. An angel in a sea of contempt. Lee started to cry. He was confused, suspicious, lonely, and sad. He was so goddamn tired. His eyes suddenly felt old and worn, as though he’d spent hours searching the four corners of the world instead of his tiny slice of memory.
“She's your protector.” Neil said pointing to the ceiling.
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