It was loud and dark like the beginning of time. A flashing strobe light competed with a throbbing bassline.
Lee's eyes strained as he tried to make out the writing on a tattered 12” record sleeve. But he wasn't worried—he knew his records inside out. As soon as the sleeve touched his skin he could feel its sound. His hands were covered in sweat stigmata. They couldn't perform miracles but they could make people dance.
The crowd jumped like curious young lambs in a field, comfortable within their flock, far too busy in their own bubble of musical intoxication to notice the DJ struggling to hold it together.
Whilst crouching down, back to the crowd (under the pretense of picking out the next record), Lee took three large bumps of cocaine off a shiny coin that he'd found on the floor. He'd been happily bumping away all night, but those last three hits had made him feel edgy and slightly paranoid. Someone had put a large dose of sparkly MDMA crystals into his Jack Daniels which he was now also feeling the effects of. The thought of getting back up to face the 400-strong crowd of dance floor hooligans made his head tremble like jelly.
He hated this feeling. It was like long, sharp, dirty nails scratching the inside of his brain. He suddenly remembered the two tabs of valium inside his Comme de Garçon shirt pocket. Glancing down at the platter, he judged the tune to have at least three minutes remaining.
Plenty of time, he thought.
He knew the way he was feeling that he could probably shoot his load on cue, as if his life depended on it. He needed—now—to get those valium down his gullet as quickly as possible. He ripped open the packet, stuffed the pills into his mouth and swallowed hard like a working girl on her final client of the night. The duo of blue 10mgs washed down with half a pint of Jack Daniels and Cola with a Sambuca chaser. The relief seemed to be immediate.
The rest of the night floated along like a monkey on a magic cloud. He played the last record (a splendid reggae version of No-Diggity) and received more smiles, bumps, attention, applause. Instant gratification.
He'd not only got through it, he'd once again smashed it.
After the gig he ended up in a random flat in East London taking more drugs, drinking more booze, and talking more shit until he was led into a bedroom by a girl with no name. Her name didn't matter.
They were followed by another girl who couldn't been more than eighteen years old. More coke. (Sniffed off arses, cunts and tits but none blown up the arse as he'd suggested. Some people don't know a good thing when you tell them.) The room reeked of amil nitrate and stale sex. The smell and vibe seemed to fit the weird techno that emanated, magically somehow, electric.
It reminded him of Goa.
His timeframe and memory became more patchy as the chemicals took over. Images flashed by: one of the girls fucking the other with a large, orange strap-on. The girl getting the strap-on fucking had his dick in her mouth; it felt like a stray dog licking his toes or a scene from Monty Python. It wasn't at all erotic, but rather sleazy and comical. He thought he was going to vomit, but still got off on the wonky sensational overload.
He vaguely remembered shouting: Smash her fucking teeth in! whilst swinging a towel around his head.
It was a standard Saturday night. Nothing special or different—just typical. It did what it said it would on the tin; so why would he change it?
He rolled out of the flat on Cheshire Street, just off Brick Lane, at about 5pm on Sunday. His nose dripped burning chemical snot. His brain felt like it was being squeezed out of his head like a preteen kid squishes a banana. Brick Lane was busy with young people carrying on the weekend and tourists doing what Time Out had told them was cool.
Each time Lee did the walk of shame he could feel people passing him actually peer inside his cranium. He walked with his head down, looking to the pavement for clues and hints as to why he always ended up in this predicament.
A heavy heart pounded. A little man internalised intent, donned boxing gloves and sparred with tearful organs begging for mercy. The last uppercut connected with vigour, a standing count the only option.
He inhaled deeply. Then held onto a lamppost, trying to regain composure and steady himself. The stale smell of dog and human piss seeped up the nostrils like an unwanted visitor at a shit party. The post Saturday night vomit aroma lingered in the air like ammonia in a crackhouse.
Lee felt like he was going to have a heart attack. No. Maybe his heart would explode, he thought—a heart explosion, right out of his chest, spraying his insides all over the street corner. He said a prayer to God, swearing never to do coke again. What he really meant was that he wouldn't do . . . as much coke.
His mouth was a dry cactus and his soul was just as spiky. Perhaps water would soften everything up? A liquid quenching to knead his insides into a softer mold. Yes. Water.
He jumped into a corner shop to buy a bottle of Evian. The spectacle-wearing shopkeeper reminded Lee of the Asian version of John Lennon. He looked Lee up and down, but refused to make eye contact, more out of fear and confusion rather than disrespect. A lyric from Lennon's 'Imagine' popped into his drug addled mind:
Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try . . .
The tune sunk in and wouldn't go away. The earworm delivered an unexpected gloom; he wanted to smash Lennon's face in, the hippy cunt.
The water cooled and soothed, but didn't take away the fear. With a sweat on, heart palpitating, Lee suddenly realized two twins taunting him from behind—pain and regret. There was only one thing in the world that could immediately rid him of these ailments.
And, as luck would have it, in a house two streets down they regularly offer such delights on their daily menu.
As soon as the thought entered his head he perked up. He almost started skipping gayly down the street, with beautiful pigeons flocking around him. For a short second it was like a scene from Mary Poppins. But the image died as quickly as it was born when a one-legged pigeon walked (stumped?) onto the set. It hobbled along the pavement eating a mangy piece of fried chicken. It stopped and stared up at Lee. He stopped and stared back.
"Wanker," he said to the gimpy pigeon.
Lee stumbled down the street until he reached his Mecca, his Shangra-La: a battered, graffiti-laden door with the number 73 hastily scribbled upon it.
More a lighthearted afterthought than a statement of intent, he thought.
He knocked three times and waited. Eternity. Each second carried into the future, raining into the head like rusty nails made from raw anxiety. The butterflies turned into caterpillars engulfing the stomach, ready to feast on unhealthy desire. Anticipation.
As people die, babies are born, he thought to himself. He stood alone outside the decrepit crackhouse, no longer part of the world. Self absorbed, self abandoned.
Finally, a skinny Bengali guy with a gold tooth and eagle-like eyes swung open the door, almost breaking from its hinges. The guy's hair was shaved almost to the bone, apart from a small tuft at the front. The little swirl of hair was as greasy and as it was black. Lee thought that if he got close enough to the guy, he could see his own reflection off the shiny strands. The dealer's jeans hung loosely, exposing grubby boxer shorts from the top, and almost covering his brand new Nike Air Max at the bottom.
“Yo Lee . . . what's up?” He held out a hand covered in gold sovereign rings. His nails were long and beyond dirty. If he were your chef, you'd definitely refuse the food.
“Alright Sid.” Lee kept his greeting to a minimum. He wasn't there for a pleasant Sunday chat.
Sid turned and Lee followed. He knew that hell was round the corner, but couldn't wait to get there. Comfort was coming, and comfort would find him. Comfort beyond comfort. The crackhouse smelled a bizarre melange of the essence of grandmother, sour vinegar with a touch of burnt plastic.
Inside the corridor, the wooden stairs leading upwards were full of holes. Every step let out a creak or a squeak. The climb felt like an expedition to Everest. Lee's legs got heavier with each step. As he got higher the oxygen seemed to thin and Lee's chest began heaving with a ever-quickening cadence.
Fuck, Lee thought, why can't this bastard dole out the goods on ground floor?!
He could see the crack of Sid's arse as he tromped up the stairs. He thought that, if they really had been on Everest, Sid would freeze to death, arse first. At least he'd be able to rob him of all his drugs.
Achieving the summit, Lee's mouth was sticky and dry. The Evian had long since lost its quenching power. He was tired, but triumphant. Although there was no flag to pin in the snow, he did have £25 to buy two rocks of crack cocaine and a double bag of Afghan heroin. He knew he had another £375 from his wages stashed away in his back pocket, but he swore to himself that he wouldn't spend that on drugs.
Beyond the stairwell, Lee continued to follow Sid, turning right into a room with dirty cushions thrown around the floor and an old TV set pushed to the corner stuck on BBC1. Lee grabbed a cushion to move it out of the way. He tossed it next to a girl seated with her knees up. The girl's eyes were half closed and her head hung, dangling between her legs. He thought she was probably still alive. But he didn't really care. What he came for lay beyond the girl with the nodding, dangly head.
“Two and two, Sid,” Lee said as non-chalantly as he could.
Sid turned and approached a dresser that looked as if the carpenter intended it to be placed in a crackhouse. Sid reached for middle drawer. Funny he keeps it there, all in front of everyone, Lee thought.
He threw his money to the dope man and waited, eagerly, like a starving child with his hand held aloft at a U.N. food bank.
A man in the corner inhaled on a crack pipe. The sucking noises perked Lee's ears. As he looked at the freak, he noticed the crackhead's eyes were wide, and so were Lee's. The noise. The smells. The decrepit stench of lust gone amok and brains slowly frying. The high. That's what it's all about. Right now. Right here. Lee's nerves blazed with expectation. He knew what was coming.
Sid turned from the old dresser drawer and tossed four small balls containing Lee's immediate future into his hands. Feeling the succulent packages in his palms made his mouth water as if he were about to taste the most delicious food ever prepared.
And just like real food sustains the body only if it's eaten on a regular basis, so too would the packages in Lee's hands bring only temporary solace.
Fuck it, he thought. I'm hitting this bitch now.
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