BY YOUNG SUNG HERO
Lee fell to his knees stunned, shocked and confused. The seizure distorted all of his senses like a twisted, resentful migraine.
“Out of the way, make room. OUT. OF. MY. WAY!” Sandy said, rushing into the room whilst barging over onlookers with effortless strength. The skin on her face distorted, as if yanked in a thousand directions by invisible Lilliputians.
Strange faces circled Lee, hovered over him like dark angels—distorted, twisted, deathly, strange symbols and scientific imagery flew around him as well. He was a dying animal about to be devoured by a huge vulture, an image he had once seen in an old oil painting hanging in a dusty English church. He imagined his childhood friend, Christabel, her face pressed against his, taunting him with her smell.
Then . . . discontinuity. Blackout.
Everyone else stared on in disbelief as Lee began to foam at the mouth; then all at once he sat upright and screamed like a newborn babe dangled over a roaring fire. The surrounding crowd that had gathered looked on in terror. Confused, they glanced towards each other, searching some sort of collective comfort. None was forthcoming. The nonsensical hysteria had eaten it all up.
The staff was suddenly faced with an unknown. What-to-do-in-case-of-seizure wasn't in their detox recovery manual. A careful observer would have been able to smell the scene itself—the aroma of an infected fear and adrenalin-soaked banshee was hard to hide.
Fucking hell, I didn't sign up for this shit. If this one dies I'll be stuck here all night doing paperwork. And I'm meant to be watching Ghost with my boyfriend later on, Sandy muttered unhappily under her breath.
Lee continued sputtering nonsense like a crazed fundamentalist speaking in tongues. His eyes were wild and ravenous like poisonous mushrooms. The fit intensified to the point that a casual observer wouldn't have been surprised if Lee self-combusted.
Suddenly, nurse Ashleigh rushed over and plunged a large needle into Lee's chest.
When Lee came to, he was still as early-morning dew. His arms and legs dangled over the bed like a string puppet resting between shows. He felt exactly like a babe wrapped tightly in an tattered, itchy blanket. It was the polar opposite of comfort.
He realized that if he were religious he would have screamed Lord have mercy! from the highest spire. But there was no mercy in addiction; it was relentless, a wounded bull pounding down the cobbled streets of Pamplona charging over innocent bystanders.
A raw, throbbing toothache, Lee's heart was inside his head. Everything was so mixed up. He began to breathe deeply from his open mouth and focused his gaze on a pair of trees standing proudly outside the window next to his bed. He spotted a huge birds nest and imagined himself climbing inside, curling up, and falling into a deep and relaxing sleep.
Waiting for the cloud to lift, he yearned to be free of the past and disappear into clear air. He then fell asleep with the frustration still percolating in his skull.
When he next woke, the daylight broke through the windows.
“Good morning, Lee . . . how are you feeling?” Ashleigh emphasized the words good and Lee. She bounced into the room, full of life with a trace of coconut in the air surrounding her. Her smile would have gone well on the front of a holiday brochure, and she even had the tan to go with it. (Although Lee suspected that it was fake.)
“I'm ok,” he lied.
“We were worried about you. I've read your notes and there's nothing about fits or seizures; has this sort of thing happened before?”
Lee was impressed how Ashleigh could go from happy to concerned in one agile swoop.
“No,” Lee replied as nonchalantly as possible.
“Can you remember what was going on for you before you had the fit?” She turned and glanced out the window as if looking for the answers outside.
Ashleigh wore tight, skinny jeans. As a reflex, Lee checked out her arse. It was round and tight. He imagined himself softly spanking it as she lay on his lap. It surprised him that the thought didn’t arouse him. Must be all the drugs that they pumped into me yesterday, he thought.
As if reading his mind, Ashleigh replied, “We had to inject you with Fosphenytoin. We were quite concerned, really. At this morning’s staff meeting it was decided that you'll do your detox in here, away from the community. You're in The Welcome House; people often come over here when they first arrive if they're too anxious, or need time to adjust. It can be understandably overwhelming to come into this environment and face change, especially when you're detoxing. It's a huge change for anybody. We want to make sure that you are safe.”
Sounded fine to Lee. He hated being around people when he was doing a cold turkey. He needed to be alone to get his fucking head together.
“You'll have two key sessions a day with Sandy, and different members of the community will bring you your food and come over to give you support throughout the day. We'll give you bits of work to do as well which should help you adjust.” Lee saw that Ashleigh was trying her best. He felt a tinge of guilt coming over him, but soon brushed it away. No time for that, mate.
“Ok.” Lee felt like a spirit with no voice. All he could think about was Christabel when he had seen her the other day. Was it really her? My childhood friend? The only one who ever loved me really? But it can't be! She died! Hit on the road! The questions kept coming. Stirring. Mixing in his mind like a fruit smoothie in a blender. He had to find out.
Ashleigh stayed a few moments longer. Her voice was soothing, but it wasn't enough. He needed someone to hold him and tell him that it would be okay, because he didn't believe that he would be.
Before Ashleigh departed, she threw a large, orange notepad onto his bed.
“There’s your daily diary. You can write whatever you like in it.” She smiled once more, then slipped through the door, exiting.
Lee looked at the pad, and then turned to his side. His thoughts were elsewhere. Christabel.
It wasn't possible, but he knew what he had seen. Had his mind imagined Christabel’s death? Created a plot to fill in the holes when she really just left him? He started digging into his memories. Were they now all floored, null and void, a joke on the eye of the beholder? He had heard on a news programme or somewhere, that over time a past event or memory can change in the mind of the person remembering it, slightly morphing each time you revisit the story, passing itself on from one neuron to the next like Chinese whispers. He knew that the memory of his time with Christbel may have taken on a life of its own, ebbing and flowing like a freeform river. What the fuck is real? He had seen that girl in rehab. She said her name. Hi, I'm Christabel. But could it really be . . . her?
The thought made his stomach clench like salt thrown onto a prune. Thoughts started spinning, much like when he would look up at the stars and think about the beginning and end of time. About nothingness. About everything.
When Lee had first met Christabel, he was an extremely unhappy little boy and he didn't know why. He had no idea that getting beat black and blue by his mother for wetting the bed wasn't a normal way to be treated. That was real. The pain was real. He didn't make that up in his mind. He remembered also being tied to a tree and left for hours in the pouring rain.
At the time he couldn't identify the shame, humiliation and fear that would end up following him around like an undercover spy. When his mother would make him lie in a freezing cold bath until he shivered—he thought that this sort of thing happened to everyone.
When he met Christabel—and she treated him kindly—he wanted to hold on to her for dear life. But when she left he didn't want to enter real, kind relationships any more. At five years old, he decided to be done with ever trying to form meaningful relationships. They just hurt too bad.
Throughout his life, whenever he met someone who was kind, he threw himself headfirst into a relationship of intense passion before eventually rejecting that person. It would've been obvious to any therapist the reasons behind Lee's behavior, but Lee just thought that he was a cunt or a shitty human being.
When he was 16, his mother had ordered him to leave the home. He was just a child who tried to defend his father’s house when she shuffled a new boyfriend in. Holding a knife to the geezer’s face and calling him a “muggy cunt”, and smashing up his car probably wasn't the best way to approach matters.
Still, she had chosen the new boyfriend over the son that she bore. Lee remembered getting home from school, and his clothes were packed into a few plastic bags. Then she ordered him out into the cold winter’s night. He couldn't make sense of it then. Or now.
A few hours had passed in The Welcome House. Lee then heard a knock at the door. It was the strange guy in purple socks and sandals. He entered with a somber face. Lee retreated to the bed, but the strange guy just stood there. Then, he spoke.
“Do you know that we live in a multiverse? We have different memories floating about in each one.”
The purple-socked man stood silently at the base of Lee's bed, perhaps waiting for clarification of his statement. His stare was absolute, but not threatening.
“What's your name, mate?” Lee asked.
“Neil,” the man said.
Neil . . . Neil, orange peel. When will I see you again? A random phrase from the 80s TV show The Young Ones came into Lee's mind. Memory is a fucked up thing, thought Lee. We never know what might be plucked out at any given moment. Things we need are forever lost in a soup of cells, yet pointless trivia trickles out like dripping water out of a loose tap. Lee softly chuckled to himself.
A big smile grew slowly on Neil's face. He looked utterly lost in the game.
Then came another knock at the door. It was Wonky Lee and Geoff, carrying a tray full of food. They didn't wait for Lee to answer, and rolled straight in. Lee was glad it was those two; there was something about them both that he liked. More than just their cheerfulness. Maybe it had to do with their directness.
“Neil?! What the fuck are you doing in here? You’re meant to be over at the main house. Now get your arse back over there, man,” Geoff barked.
Neil silently disappeared without saying a word.
“Fuck me, mate! We thought you were a goner.” Wonky Lee put both hands palms facing up in front of him as if he was weighing up options.
“Yeah man, shit they pumped you full of. Some hardcore shit, you lucky fuck. You must feel like a perforated tea bag. Come listen to my truest feelings, all my peers doing years beyond drug dealing,” Geoff said, then busting out some Tupac lyrics for no apparent reason.
Lee thought a good name for Geoff would be Lurpack as he was as yellow as the buttery spread. Whereas Geoff was yellow, Wonky Lee was more a ghostly white. Lee sat up and looked at himself in the mirror. His complexion was somewhere between the two. The three of them looked like the Three Junkie Musketeers.
They told Lee that they'd arrived about two weeks prior. Wonky Lee was on probation after another prison sentence, and Geoff had been found unconscious in the middle of a road before they hauled him in.
“It's alright in here; there's some weird rules, but you get used to it. There's a few mugs, but fuck ‘em! We could do with a few more girls, but ya can't have everything can ya?” Wonky Lee looked towards Geoff as if needing backup.
“I ain't looking at no girl! I've got a fine one waiting for me when I get...” Geoff said, then stared out the window lost in his own private trance. “…out of here,” he finally finished his thought.
The two lads made Lee happy. He liked listening to their stories; they took his mind away from the weirdness consuming him.
“Girls love love letters. I'm telling ya, G. I've just written my girl one, she's gonna love it. What I've done is mixed some Tupac lyrics with some Pink Floyd lyrics. It's probably the best love letter ever written!” Geoff was apparently excited by his genius. His exaggerated hand gestures and raised voice gave his boldness away.
“You need to write ya girlfriend a letter at least once a month; it keeps the love flowin’, man”
“Listen Geoff… the only rule I've got about birds is never go out with one whose nose is bigger than ya dick,” Wonky Lee said with utter seriousness.
Lee glanced out of the window and spotted a pale white girl wearing large hooped earrings that dangled like grapes on a vine. Her flowing liquorice-coloured curls covered her shoulders. She was staring at the TV screen without blinking and her knees where held tightly to her chest. She was hunched up shivering, bound tightly in a thin blue blanket. She looked like she was trying to suffocate the pain. For a skinny girl she had really big calves. She caught Lee's gaze and mouthed a faint 'Help me.' It was Christabel.
Lee waved back, then looked away to battle with his own torment. And memories.
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