by Young Sung Hero
Rain tapped urgently on the rehab bedroom window. It sounded like distorted Morse code. A furious wind blew around the building, too consumed by itself to worry about the devastation left in its wake. Lee’s insomnia kept pace with the storm, pattering inside his head like a thousand bees. The louder he screamed, the faster they swarmed. When they eventually stopped buzzing, he shifted his thoughts to Wonky.
“We all want happy endings, but the very nature of endings is one of sadness and regret.” Neil lay on the bed picking his nose. A junkie version of Plato. “Are endings ever happy? Are they meant to be, or is it just a figment of our imagination? We are all gonna die alone, is this a happy ending?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “Thanks for that, Neil. Nice bit of light banter in the morning after one of our mates has fucked off to God-knows-where.”
Neil carried on picking his nose.
After Sunday breakfast, the phones were turned on for a couple of hours. Lee was walking past the phone when it started to ring.
“Hello, this is rehab. How can I help you?” He spoke in a fake Birmingham accent. You came out as Yaaww.
“Hello, can I speak with Wonky, please?” Lee recognized the voice as Cagney’s.
“Alright, Cagney. It’s Lee, how are you doing?” Lee tried to stall her to give his mind a few seconds to come up with a suitable amount of deceit.
“Oh, hi, Lee.” The raised octave in Cagney’s voice made Lee feel slightly aroused. “I’m good, thanks. Just getting ready for the gym. I need to work out some of my frustrations. Ha-ha.”
She was trouble. Lee’s internal alarm was sounding off, two to the dozen. It made him feel excited and alive. At that moment, he knew that the best move would be to put the phone down immediately. He couldn’t afford to let any more chemicals enter his bloodstream. One would be too many and a thousand never enough. He was hooked on damn near everything: drugs, women, trouble, excitement, deviancy, sex, gambling, wrongness, money, words, feelings.
“I bet you look hot in your gym outfit.” And with those words Lee plunged the syringe into his vein. The rush that immediately followed signalled that the game had begun. Both players had an agenda as determined as disorder itself.
The conversation followed the familiar pattern of teasing, innuendo, and light sexual gaming. It was just a flickering of the tongue. Verbal soft porn. Enough to make their intentions clear without bringing each other off.
“I need a good fucking,” she said. His mind grabbed onto those words, throwing them against the wall and grabbing them by the hair. He was about to tell Cagney that he’d like nothing more than to rip off her knickers with his teeth when he was suddenly interrupted. It was Richie Rich, a resident who wore an eye patch and reminded Lee of a pirate.
“Off the phone, ya cunt. There’s people waiting,” Richie butted in.
“Look, Cagney, I’ve gotta go. Wonky is stuck in the kitchen,” Lee drawled reluctantly into the phone. “I’ll get him to bell you back.”
He slammed down the phone without waiting for a reply. His track suit barely contained his raging hard-on. He put his hands down his pants to adjust himself and walked away with his dick safely tucked away into the waist of his boxer shorts.
Lee’s attention was soon diverted to the care of Neil. He was supposed to take him to church later that morning. On the way, guitar in hand, Neil chattered about how he was currently living in a multi-verse and how Lee had morphed into a demi-god. The church was a lone concrete lump in England’s heartland. It was cold, grey, and bleak. The building leaned into its foundation like an old cat with three legs. Lee’s heart sank, too. By contrast, Neil looked happy and content.
As soon as they stepped into the church, Lee only felt more anxious. His sleepless nights put him constantly on edge, as though he was waiting for the inevitable car crash. It was the same sense of paranoia that he got after being on a four-day bender in a Hackney crack house.
The congregation was dressed head to toe in tweed. They stood silently lined up, ready to follow each other into communion. Lee eyed them intently. He could make out the intricate design of a polished cufflink on one of the elderly men. What the fuck have these people ever done that’s a real sin? Perhaps they masturbated once over their sister when they were thirteen, or slept with their second cousin when they got drunk at the local barn dance. Not like me . . .
He was a single sinful spot in a sea of morality. Is this what it takes to be normal? he thought. Church for the rest of eternity, to wash away your sins?
Towards the end of the service, Neil got up with his guitar and stood at the front with a group of young children who were about six or seven years old. The kids were going to play their violins. As they started to play, Lee looked around at the children’s parents. He could tell who they were by their shiny, happy faces, bursting to the rim with proudness. Their pleasure was contagious, and Lee felt a smile creep onto his face.
It didn’t last very long. Neil had no belt to hold up his trousers and as the kids plucked and bowed, Lee could see that the pants were slowly coming down, descending like a curtain on a tragic scene. To make matters worse, it soon became apparent that Neil was wearing no underwear. A sprawling mess of stinking, matted pubes emerged from his waistband for all to witness. Lee glanced around him. Instead of smiles, the facial expressions were replaced by shock, horror, disbelief and numbness.
Behold the power of Neil’s pubes.
Not knowing what else to do, Lee smiled at the little old lady sitting next to him. She smiled back politely, seemingly oblivious to the horror of what had just occurred. The song ended, mercifully, and Neil bounded over smiling. He was oblivious to the one hundred angry eyes of the parents, all turned on him. Lee, who was stuck in this reality instead of the multi-verse, felt the parent’s wrath. It stung him more than it did Neil.
“Hello, dear.” The old lady took Neil’s hand and held it.
“Alright, nice coat.” Neil pointed to the lady’s elegant, red woollen winter coat.
“Thank you dear, it’s my favorite. It was a birthday present from my eldest daughter, Susan.” The old lady smiled, her face warmed by the memory of her daughters love and kindness.
Neil slowly opened his mouth. With a straight face, he said, “Like anal sex and AIDS, your jacket is the work of Satan.”
Lee wanted to disappear inside the universe’s belly button.
The little old lady’s mouth sagged open.
“I’m really sorry,” Lee said. He aimed his most-wounded-yet-truly-sorry face at the old lady, then dragged Neil by the arm through the congregation of people. The room smelt of lavender and wholesome living. The smell of disapproval. They’d have to decline the vicar’s offer of post-sermon tea and cake.
Lee and Neil jumped over a wooden gate and walked across an empty field back towards the rehab. Any anger that Lee had towards Neil soon disappeared as he replayed the moment in his mind. How could he be angry at something that was so fucking funny?
Neil put his hand onto Lee’s shoulder to stop him. He looked seriously into Lee’s eyes. Lee felt as if Neil had entered his body, searching for the answers to life’s questions.
“Every day is so wonderful. Then suddenly, it’s hard to breathe.” Neil paused and looked away into the distance at a young magpie resting on a fence post. He coughed. “Now and then I get insecure from all the pain. I’m so ashamed.”
That makes sense, thought Lee. It was a huge breakthrough for Neil to express his feelings so clearly.
“I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring me down,” Neil sang at the top of his voice.
“Fucking hell, Neil.” Lee suddenly realized that Neil’s wise words were actually the lyrics to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”
Neil opened his mouth to expose his teeth. Lee knew the grimace was a smile, but to someone else it might look more like a growl.
They trotted across the field in silence. The only noise was the faint baaing of a distant, lost sheep. As they entered the grounds of the rehab, they both noticed a large hole which was partially covered by a bush.
The two guys looked at each other knowingly. Neil darted into the hole, head first. As soon as his friend’s legs had disappeared, Lee followed. Lee felt a sense of deja vu.
It was the same as before. Even the crunch of gravel under their feet sounded familiar. What was different was the emotional sense Lee got from being down there. Something sinister and uninviting hung around in the air like a bad smell, goading him to inhale. Lee could almost taste the stink and it overwhelmed him to the point that he slipped and fell. He struggled to get up, but the harder he tried, the more stuck he got.
It dawned on Lee that he wouldn’t be able to get up on his own. This was as bad as when nobody came to pick you up from school. Alone, left behind, and unwanted. He was disoriented. Was he a man now, or a boy? Where was his mother? His vision clouded, sinking him deeper into the past. Yet, before he descended into darkness, a long hairy arm floated down from the heavens. Neil. He hauled Lee to his feet and they continued down the hole.
Soon, they found the source of the smell. At the center of the cave, across the pond where Lee had seen his reflection, a body sagged against the wall like a sack of rotting cabbages. Despite its condition, Lee immediately recognized Wonky. The syringe was still in his arm. A bag of brown powder was next to him, still fat and partly full. The expression on Wonky’s face was a mixture of serenity and violence. Wonky’s lips were slightly blue, puffy. He looked half dead. Lee inhaled the stink again, letting himself taste it this time. The bag tempted him. Lee bent down, about to pick it up. A million thoughts raced through his mind, each one a reason why he should take the heroin. Once again, Neil came to his rescue, grabbing onto his wrist.
“You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring you down.”
Lee stared intently at Neil. His face mutated into Christina Aguilera’s. Fuck me, he thought, If I can’t stop taking drugs when Aguilera tells me to, I’m fucked.
Neil grabbed Wonky’s body under the arms and yelled at Lee. “Get up now, now! Lucifer is on his fucking way. We’ve got no time. Wonky will die, you will die, and I will die.”
Neil’s teeth were clenched, lips pulled back like a rabid dog. A trickle of blood ran out of Wonky’s nose. Neil ran back up the gravel path, faster than an addict running after his dealer. Lee followed, holding onto his tatty jumper. His hands gripped the cloth with a mind of their own. Deep down, he knew if he let go, he would die.
They both ran until they got to the staff room. Neil gently placed Wonky on the hall floor. Hearing the commotion, Sandy and Ashley ran out. Sandy took one look at Wonky and put both hands over her mouth.
“Start breathing into him, now!” Ashley said. The urgency in Ashley’s voice pushed Sandy into action. She started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, furiously trying to blow life back into Wonky. Ashley darted down the hall. Lee, in spite of himself, wondered what it would be like to put his tongue into Sandy’s mouth. It’s really not the time or place, he thought idly. But he couldn’t help himself. He was frozen, his hands like claws.
Ashley came back seconds later with a one-inch needle and vial of Narcan. She popped off the orange vial top and drew the liquidinto the syringe. She stabbed Wonky’s arm hard, aiming straight into the muscle.
There was still no breath coming from Wonky. He was still as a winter morning. Sandy started to breathe into his mouth again, while Ashley prepared another shot of Narcan. This time, it worked. As soon as the second shot hit Wonky’s bloodstream, he started to cough. An impressive ejaculation of vomit sprayed all over Sandy’s top.
“Fucking hell!” Sandy scooted away explosively, wiping her mouth.
Shortly after Wonky was revived, he was isolated from the rest of the community. This was standard: people who’d used were kept on their own at least until the drugs or alcohol were fully out of their systems.
That night, the vision of the brown baggie floated around Lee’s bedroom. He saw Wonky’s blue lips, the syringe. The grey film on his friend’s eyes. Lee remembered the time Neil had predicted Wonky’s death. He was glad that he’d got it wrong, but there was no satisfaction knowing that addiction was a threat even after months of intensive treatment. Lee knew that if Neil hadn’t been with him when he found Wonky, he would’ve used that heroin. The fear had returned in full force.
Neil was laid out on his own bed, completely still. Lee looked over at him, hoping for reassurance.
Neil stared at his feet. Then, he opened his mouth and muttered, “If we lose ourselves, we lose it all.”
The next day, Wonky was kicked out of rehab.
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