by Young Sung Hero
The shocking sight of Christabel almost made Lee’s eyes bleed. He'd convinced himself that his sightings of Christabel were a figment of his madness, the insanity of detox delusion, an emotional debt of addiction. Yet, here she was, a karmic bomb ready to bust his back with a heavy payload of burden.
He glanced over his left shoulder, desperately searching for a way out. Not finding one, he scratched his chin then glanced towards the front door. It was her, but something was out of sync. Her appearance felt somewhat incomplete. Her beautiful dark locks were now matted and greasy and her olive skin now looked like a flaky undercoat. The entrance framed her in an embrace. She was a walking ghost, a magnet for Lee’s unwilling attention.
"It never gets any better out there, does it?" said Frankie.
"What?" Lee didn't hear the full sentence. On top of that, Frankie spoke with an extremely fast Durham accent, which made most of his words sound like a sped-up cartoon. At times, Lee was unsure if what came out of Frankie’s mouth was part of the English language.
"I said, it Never. Gets. Any. Better. Out. There. Does. It . . . You soft southern shite!" Frankie rolled his eyes at Lee, half joking. Frankie thought that everybody from the South was soft and the fact that Lee always asked him to repeat what he said only added to his view.
"Yeah, Sandy told me that she was in here a while back and fucked it off to go back to the madness. You must've been in here with her for a little bit, I reckon. Apparently, she’s a fucking crank, into her tarot cards and all that weird freaky shit. They'll be taking her over to the welcome house, that's for sure. Look at the state of her. She looks like she could die at any minute now."
"Christabel." Lee tried to raise his voice, but what came out was a pathetic whimper.
Christabel lifted her head a little. Her eyes met Lee's. He could see that she was chasing dragons, not dreams. At that moment, he wasn't sure that he liked her but he definitely loved her. Lee’s stomach knotted. He suddenly became aware that he couldn't just sit and stare at her. He couldn’t let her be a wound that he picked at forever.
She showed no hint of recognition, but this didn't surprise Lee. She'd probably wouldn’t have known her own mother, she was so far gone.
Before he had a chance to talk to her, Mike and Ashley bundled Christabel into the staff room.
Neil wandered past. He looked Lee in the eye and said,
"Mash up," said Frankie, leaning back into his chair. He held his hands out like a zombie and stuck his tongue out at the ceiling.
"What's ketchup got to do with it?" Lee was once again confused with Frankie's bizarre speech.
"M.A.S.H. U.P. For fuck’s sake, you southern pansy! Come on, let's go outside for a burn."
Lee didn't know what the fuck Frankie had just said. He smiled and followed him as he got up out of his chair. He glanced towards the staff room before following Frankie out to the smoking area. He couldn’t believe that she was back. She was real, alive, here. Reassurance felt completely alien to Lee. He imagined that this feeling was like the one other people got when their loved ones were safe, warm, and asleep in the middle of the night.
As Lee touched the lighter flame to his roll-up, he noticed Neil had silently wandered outside, too. He didn’t sit on one of the wooden benches. As usual, he was singing nonsense—nonsense that made sense only to him.
“Ebony. Irony, living in perfect disharmony.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Neil left the smoking area.
“So, did you fuck her?" Frankie’s question taunted Lee to the point of offense.
“No, you dick. She’s an old friend." Lee stared through the smoke, trying to work out if his statement were true.
Frankie knew not to ask any more questions. In rehab, people knew when not to pry.
That afternoon, Lee settled into his one-on-one session with Sandy.
“So, we think that you’ve made good progress since you’ve been here, Lee. The time has come for us to make a plan for the next stage of your journey.”
Lee hated that word. Journey. It made him think of overcrowded British Rail trains that smelt of piss.
Lee stuck his thumb into his mouth. It made him feel safe. He inhaled. The room smelt of charity shop.
“Have you been buying your clothes secondhand?”
“What?" Sandy frowned.
“This room smells like a fucking old-people’s waiting room.”
“Oh, right." Sandy chuckled, exposing her shiny, white teeth. “Well, it won’t bother you for long. We think you’re ready to move onto the next stage of treatment, supported housing.”
Sandy explained to him that he would move out of the rehab into what was essentially a halfway house with others who’d also been through the rehab. Unlike rehab, he would be mostly free to come and go. There would still be some restrictions, such as an 11 p.m. curfew, house meetings, no guests, and cleaning duties. He would also have to write a weekly planner.
“Obviously the big no-no is drugs and alcohol. If you use, you would immediately get chucked out. You’ll be pleased to hear that Neil will be coming with you.”
Neil drove Lee crazy with his madness, but in the moment he felt a certain comfort knowing that his weird friend would be beside him during this next leg.
Lee had been so absorbed with life in the rehab that he’d given no thought to his future beyond. But what Sandy was offering seemed ideal; it would give him a chance to get on his feet and work out his next move. Lee didn’t even mind the restrictions. In fact, the thought of them made him feel safe. The 11 p.m. curfew, though...
His thoughts automatically went to girls. Dating. I’ll deal with that problem when it arises, he thought.
Sandy was glad that Lee had no questions.
“I’ll get the ball rolling," she said. She picked up the A4 paper in front of her and shuffled it into Lee’s file.
“When will I be leaving?”
“It depends on when a room becomes free in the supported housing. It shouldn’t be long"
He just loved a vague answer.
“Tonight, I need you to be on night cover." Sandy managed to say as Lee was walking out the door.
Night cover was when members of the community took turns sitting outside another resident’s room. Every hour, they’d have to check if the person was OK. Night cover was usually assigned when someone was suicidal, or self-harming. It was even used to shut down exclusive relationships. Cock blocking, basically.
“Who do I need to be on night cover for?”
“For Christabel. She’s come back to us.”
“Christabel!" Lee’s voice rose like an unsteady wave.
“Don’t be like that." Sandy misunderstood surprise for displeasure. “Christabel was there for you when you were in the welcome house, detoxing.”
“Was she?" Lee was genuinely surprised.
“Yes, she was. You probably wouldn’t remember, because it was during the worst moments of your detox. She wouldn’t leave your side." Sandy glared at Lee.
After dinner, Lee went over to the welcome house. Neil walked behind him, purposely scuffing his cheap trainers along the dirt track.
When they reached Christabel’s room, Lee turned to Neil.
“You wait here and keep look out.”
In utter seriousness, Neil replied, “Yes, Lee. I’ll look out for the plotters. They are everywhere. Hiding amongst the Whores of Babylon.”
Lee ignored Neil’s outlandish rantings and took a deep breath.
The room smelt of moonshine. Lee thought that if he could somehow absorb the surrounding atmosphere into his bloodstream, he’d be well and truly fucked.
Christabel sat on top of her still-made bed, arms wrapped around her knees. She pulled them tightly to her chest, trying but failing to keep the demons at bay. The way that she rocked back and forth told Lee that the battle was hardly over; she was in the midst of it. He slowly walked over and sat in a wooden chair next to her bed.
“Lee!" Her recognition was immediate. For a second, it seemed like Christabel was given a brief respite. “I went back out there so you didn’t have to.”
And with that, she was lost again to the madness of withdrawal. She started to wriggle and squirm, making an uncontrollable noise that was so intense it threatened to blow out the glass windows. Lee jumped up off the chair and flung himself at her, pulling her into a tight embrace. It was to comfort himself as much as her. For a second, their eyes met.
“I was brought back as a junkie angel. I’m here to protect you." She looked deadly serious and squeezed Lee’s hand, as if to reinforce her statement. “You don’t know it, but you are surrounded by angels. We’re stuck in Hell. But not everyone is an angel.” The words trickled from her mouth, the first drops of the purest water falling from a perfect, silver cloud.
Before Lee had a chance to react, Ashley rushed in and injected Christabel with something. The effect was immediate. Christabel’s eyes closed and she collapsed on the bed, taken to a temporary heaven once again.
Neil rushed in.
“Sorry, man, I couldn’t stop the Whore of Babylon.”
Ashley stared at Neil. If looks could kill, he would’ve been a dead man walking.
Surprisingly, Lee didn’t feel any confusion or fear. He was happy to know that Christabel was safe and near. He had no expectations for himself. The only thing he knew was that he was well—as she would hopefully be, too—and he felt a sense of strange acceptance.
He wasn’t on drugs or running from himself in a flurry of fear or anxious anticipation. It was something truly miraculous. Any talk of junkie angels vaporized as soon as it left Christabel’s lips. It wasn’t something he needed to deal with. He’d heard so many stories and seen so many fucked up things in rehab. Finally, he was taking life with a pinch of salt. And in his mind, maybe Christabel was a sort of angel.
The next morning, Lee sat inside the rehab ‘mongrel’ bus. It was a short drive to the halfway house. He tried to get a feel for what was to come. He was thinking about Christabel and Wonky. His mind, jumbled, now felt the opposite of yesterday. At this moment, he felt completely discombobulated and afraid. One friend was missing in action; another had apparently come back from the dead. If ever he wanted heroin, it was now. He wanted every question in his head to immediately disappear and knew only one way to achieve this.
The halfway house was a large, detached building with a huge garden in the back. There was a small, separate building next to it which was the staff room. As he opened the door, a woman swivelled around in her chair to face him.
“Hello, Lee. We meet once more.”
Bella, the Medusa lady, stared at Lee with the friendliest of venoms. Next to her sat Matilda, the woman Lee had almost killed in Switzerland.
Lee stared at them both and almost melted on the spot.
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