by Young Sung Hero
Wonky, Neil and Lee left the cave as they’d found it: dark, still, and unmoved. Rehab was the same, but what they’d seen changed them. The days following their exploration had left Lee entertaining a profound sense of dread. Something sinister had returned and jumped on his back. A returning resentment, corrupting his attitude.
Wonky Lee became slightly withdrawn. He appeared to be living in a profound sense of time. But whenever Wonky was questioned he would brush it off, saying he was fine. Lee knew that whenever anybody said, I’m fine, they usually weren’t.
Neil’s mental health had deteriorated to the point where Lee could smell his fear. One day, Neil had been tasked with working on the front desk of the rehab. It was simple, just writing down the destination of each resident as they passed. Neil sat behind the desk with a large jug of water which he poured into his shoes, ‘blessing them with holy water’. Then, without warning, he put on the wet shoes, picked up his guitar, and squelched his way to the staff room to serenade Ashley with a love song.
“Ashley, I love you, Ashley, I do.”
The faint glimmer of freedom that Neil had encountered whilst lying in the underground pool seemed a million decades away.
The three of them had desperately wanted to return to the cave. It had made them this way—so it could surely cure their sickness. After all, wasn't the cure always a bit of what caused the ailment in the first place? Maybe it could rid the trio of their disorder and dishonor.
But to their horror, when they did return to the cave, the hole was gone.
“What the fuck?” Lee cried out. His heart throbbed with anxiety. His hands grabbed hold of his hair and he pulled with all his strength. He needed to feel something and the pain would do just fine. There was no hole. Nothing. No way out, and no way back in.
“What are we gonna do?” Wonky blurted, as if he was clucking for heroin and every dealer had left town.
“We’re all doomed.” Neil spoke in a monotone. He stared at the floor. “A million accounts of the world in which we live have left me feeling vaguely vagrant.”
He left the last word floating in the air like a see-through bubble.
Lee looked at Wonky and Neil and wished he’d been able to appreciate the moments past. He couldn’t summon a single good memory. His scalp ached and his mind was blank. He felt a little like an unmanned drone on a freefall flight, destination unknown.
It was no good pretending to be fine, but time passed and Lee, Wonky and Neil were caught up in the rehab’s web of transient movement. Its motion and flow changed direction like a river encountering a tectonic force.
Needles had been discovered in the laundry and the whole community was drug tested. Their midnight blackjack game got busted. Danny the dog murderer puked during an encounter group. One of the residents got arrested for smashing a salad bowl over someone’s head during an argument over a piece of toast. There was another near riot at lunchtime as the kitchen crew had served out tuna that Lee had forgotten to drain of the brine.
When someone asked him, “What the fuck is this?” he replied, “Korean tuna.”
Then there was the thing with Dave. They called him “Breath.” Dave was put in charge of the rehab chickens, but after his first day, one of them had died. Lee had started the rumor that Dave had killed it with his breath. And now Breath had decided to leave before completing his program. He was drawn back, moth to a flame, to the only thing he knew. Three days later they heard he was dead, found hanging from a tree in a nearby wood. His grubby little flat had been taken over by drug dealers whose sympathy had been beat out of them years ago. Lee thought to the popular rehab saying: if you want sympathy, ring your mum.
As Lee thought about Breath, his sense of hope started to flicker. He was challenged by a fear that had crept in by the backdoor when he wasn’t looking.
He was back in the kitchen with Wonky and Neil, preparing a beautiful dinner of sausages, chips and beans. Wonky said, “So, my missus is coming to visit at the weekend. Will you cover me mate?”
“Yeah, I’ll cover you no worries, mate. Tell her to bring some chocolate!” There were always perks of covering someone’s visit, thought Lee.
When a resident had a visit, another resident had to cover them or sit in on their visit to make sure that no drugs or booze were brought in.
Lee hadn't yet met Wonky’s wife. Her name was Cagney. Her mother’s favorite TV show had been the 80's classic detective show Cagney and Lacey. She loved the show so much she’d named her only daughter after one of the characters. Cagney’s mother was a raging alcoholic and she’d never known her father. Cagney was a drug counselor who worked with addicts on the front line, before they’d got into treatment. Wonky had been with her for 25 years, on and off. The “off” was mainly when Wonky was in prison or had gone AWOL. Lee felt slightly envious of Wonky. He was a lucky man to have something like that to go back to when he got out.
Lee thought back to his last proper relationship. A beautiful Italian girl called Ce Ce who melted his heart every time he even thought her name. He’d used drugs in secret without Ce Ce having any idea. When she found out, she felt hurt, betrayed and cheated on. She now hated Lee with a passion and Lee felt it daily. Ce Ce’s anger followed him around like a shadow. Lee was caught on her resentment, unable to jump to freedom.
Suddenly, Neil spoke. “He who will save his life must first lose it. We need the bliss fuck crucifixion and to die into the moment, when it’s too far to turn back we must surrender and let it all go. When we face our own death, we can become like the foetus going through the birth canal—rebirth.” He was staring at Lee as he said this. Lee felt Neil in his head, picking at every brain cell.
Both Lee and Wonky were surprised Neil could even talk. Since their underground adventure, the doctor had put him on some extremely hardcore meds which zombified him. Most of the time he just staggered around like a prematurely born, mute baby deer. Or this. His weird monologues only got stranger. Lee shook his head.
It was time to serve lunch.
“If I put cream on my nipple, would you lick it off?”
The only people left on the table were Lee, Beth, and T.
T and Beth were best of friends. A supporting duo in a sea of loneliness. They were dry drunks waiting for the moment when they would leave the rehab. They dreamed about that first drop of liquor daily. Their behavior reinforced this: they were drunk without even having a touch of alcohol in their systems.
“Yeah,” giggled Beth.
“Do you dare me to, Lee?” T made her eyes seductively smaller.
“Yeah, go on. Bet you won’t.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Lee felt a pang of guilt. He suddenly remembered encountering T a few days ago for inappropriate behaviour. He quickly justified his words by telling himself that when it came to women’s breasts, all bets were off.
Lee’s eyes squinted to get maximum focus as the big, brown nipple came into view. He savored it like a jeweller examining a priceless diamond. He wanted to tweak it but held himself back. He thought to himself that it wasn’t the right time to be a fool.
Both girls fell into hysterics and Lee sighed. Then he excused himself and rushed to the toilet to have a couple of wanks and waste a bit of time. He felt like a teenager, booming music and puffs of smoke the size of onion rings.
The day of Wonky’s visit came and he was more than a little agitated.
“Fuck me, I can’t fuck this up. I’m on last-chance fucking saloon with her. She’s seen me fuck up so much. I need her to see that I’m doing good.”
“She will, mate. You are doing good, anyone can see that.” Lee spoke with a calming air of kindness.
“I really love her. Since being in here, I’ve realized how much I’ve taken her for granted. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s my soulmate, she makes me complete. I’m nothing without her. I’ve fucked her around so much, mate. Prison, other girls, drugs.”
“Yeah, but you ain’t that person now, are ya?”
It was silent, apart from the sound of Wonky biting his nails.
Lee waited in the snug, one of the rooms used for visits, while Wonky went outside to meet his missus. She pulled up in her car and got out slowly, smiling. Lee peered discreetly out of the window and noticed Cagney’s black heels, slender legs, and pull up stockings. Fucking hell. He sighed long. His erotic rumblings gave him a pang of guilt. But didn’t everyone have sexual thoughts about their friend’s wives, lovers, and girlfriends?
The back door of the car opened and a little boy no older than five jumped out excitedly. He turned his head from left to right, taking in all the potential of his new surroundings. He quickly noticed Wonky and ran up to him with pure delight. He reminded Lee of a hummingbird. The little boy jumped onto Wonky with outstretched arms. Wonky embraced the boy with such warmth that Lee thought the boy might combust with love.
The little boy planted a kiss on his uncle’s cheek, then pulled away from the embrace. He looked cheekily behind him and ran. His instigation worked: Wonky chased after him like a puppy running after a ball. Lee walked outside to introduce himself.
“Hi, I’m Cagney. You must be Lee. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Cagney held out a hand. It was long and slender, quite delicious looking. Lee wanted to lick it. He noticed her nails were a deep red: the color of risk, the shade of temptation. His disordered thoughts took him away from himself. In a millisecond, he was staring up at Cagney, who was dressed up as Princess Leia. He imagined her lying beneath Jabba the Hutt, chained by the neck. Lee was also bound in bondage, spread out on the floor. Jabba ordered Cagney to scratch his heart out with those red nails.
“Lee? Lee, are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about something.” Lee looked at her hand and was about to shake it, but then thought fuck it and went in for a cheeky kiss on the cheek.
Cagney smiled at Lee, and he smiled back. He stared at her eyes. They were like two miniature suns and he could feel himself getting burnt by their brilliance.
“Oi, watch out for that one.” Wonky came back with Alfie and planted a kiss on Cagney.
“I’ll take little Alfie here to go get a drink.” Lee could see that Wonky and his wife needed some private time. He wasn’t supposed to leave them on their own, but fuck it. Wonky was his mate.
“Thanks, mate.” Wonky winked at Lee. He looked like the cat who was about to drink some cream.
“Alfie, you go with Lee here. He’ll get you a nice drink and maybe if you’re lucky, a chocolate biscuit.”
“Have you got penguins, Lee?” Alfie looked up at Lee with that doe-eyed, manipulative look as kids get when they want something.
“Who the fuck knows? Come on, kid.” It was difficult to fall out of rehab mode and into a kid-friendly one. Lee realized his mistake and turned his head towards Cagney. “Shit, sorry, bad habit.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Cagney smiled.
“So, why are you in this hospital?” Alfie stared at Lee, expressionless, as if waiting for a late train.
“Well, it’s not really a hospital.”
“My mum says it is and she doesn’t lie. Are you saying that my mum’s a liar?”
Lee paused. This was a five-year-old child who possibly had more emotional maturity than him. “Yeah, I suppose it is a kind of hospital. Yeah, your mum is right.”
“So, what are you in here for?”
“I get a bad head sometimes.”
“A bad head?” The kid put his left hand on the side of his head and started to scratch. Lee noticed that his shoes looked like little pebbles. “When Matthew Taylor goes on and on about Manchester United, it gives me a bad head. Does that mean I’ll go into hospital?” Alfie looked genuinely concerned.
“No, you won’t.”
“Look, kid: here’s your drink and some biscuits.”
Lee placed a weak lemon drink and four cheap chocolate rehab biscuits in front of the kid. Alfie eyed them up with suspicion then looked Lee up and down with a mixture of disgust and disdain. Lee retreated into the corner of the room and pretended to tidy up some cups.
Once Alfie had finished, they headed back to see Wonky and Cagney. As soon as Lee stepped into the room, he could sense something was not right. Wonky sat in a crumbled heap, looking like a wounded animal. Cagney was wiping her eyes.
“Come on Alfie, we’re going.”
“But we’ve just got here.”
The kid’s protest fell on deaf ears. Cagney scooped him up and hustled out of the room. Lee expected Wonky to follow, but there was no movement.
“She’s fucking cheated on me, man.” A single tear rolled down Wonky’s face. That droplet was so clear, it looked as if you could set sail in it. The tear contained more meaning than a thousand words ever could.
“Do you want to talk about it, man?”
“Okay. Well, if you do, I’m here for you.”
“I’m going upstairs.”
And then it was night, and the darkness soon chased him to bed. Lee was fast asleep and having a dream that he was a dentist smashing people’s teeth in with a hammer. A window creak woke him and he opened one, sleepy eye.
As he did, he just caught the silhouette of Wonky climbing out of the bedroom window and disappearing into the darkness.
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