I had an artist friend, described creativity as a need to get back to the point of origin; tie up loose ends. He lived with a woman hooked on heroin. She despised me without knowing who I was, described me as the type of man she detested. In slack moments she’d smile.
“I see you now. You can’t hide.”
She hung out with the kind of derelict scared the hell out of me. Needle marks along arms and legs like rows of fake jewellery.
The artist took her to parties where she shocked with a brazen attitude, cultivated at the sewer’s edge.
It was amazing she was still alive. To look at, she was nothing special, but she could turn it on. Men danced with her like a cheap turn in the penny arcades.
I suppose some imagined curing her with slavish devotion. For her part she gave little ground. Was I interested? No.
I’ve never been false, not in the way people want to believe. Yes, I lie. I cheat. I steal. I care little about the feelings or perceptions of others, and never will.
My (former) artist friend struck gold, mining a seam of rich clients who clamoured for the dead stuff he produced on demand. What they saw in it is anybody’s guess. He phoned to ask if I’d take care of his junkie (ex) girlfriend, locked the doors to his heart and ran off to join the circus somewhere in the sun.
The junkie got in touch eventually. “Max says to call you.”
There was a long pause.
“Do you need anything….. Money?” I was fool enough to offer, and she was unlikely to refuse.
I heard a stunted laugh at the end of the line, and then a snarl.
“Someone owes me.”
I briefly considered telling her it wasn’t me, and to find some other sucker. Whatever I gave was sure to be implanted in some limb or another. It was of little consequence; she’d be dead before winter. And I could sleep with a clear conscience, if I chose.
She snatched the money I provided.
“We’re both losers.” Was meant to be her lasting legacy.
I have to admit I thought she’d want more from me, but I wasn’t disappointed she didn’t contact me again. She had a set of friends I couldn’t handle. I’ve lived with a fault all my life, lacking a caring attitude. I’d been told many times, and although I was able to pretend when the need arose, people saw through the pantomime into the heart of me. It was a black place, devoid of feeling and commitment.
I suppose I was cut out for the kind of role where a heart of stone is able to obtain goals that serve it well.
Hangman? Executioner? Torturer? Businessman?
If I was searching for anything, it remained obscure. Meanwhile it suited my game to stumble on, going from affair to affair, never learning and never wanting to care. I broke hearts, trampled on dreams, crushed hope and shattered confidence. A real bastard in fact.
You’re sure to have met me, or one of my kind.
When my mother died I inherited a house I’d forgotten how to live in. I knew it wasn’t mine. It didn’t feel like home. It felt like a cage, reminding me I’d been a child once. All the times I’d waited to be punished. The bed I’d wept upon. Nothing had altered through a blizzard of intervening years. The whip hand poised to fall.
I wanted to pull it down. I didn’t believe anyone could be happy living there.
Haunting those empty rooms, standing on tip toe, wanting to believe the ghosts of past times were genuine. Nothing stirred but dusty motes caught on the shadow breath of negative energy. The echoes as I walked sounded a false note; mine to be sure.
When I touched the keys on Grannies heirloom piano the sound reflected discordantly off paisley patterned walls.
I should have set the place on fire. No one would have cared. The neighbours were Philistine with their precious preoccupations mounted and stuffed, displayed for all to see.
The house was sold, and the money when it came through became just another figure on a page containing rows of figures. I knew it would do me little good. I should have given it to charity. Instead I waited for it to be stolen. More than once encouraging thieves I knew to be more enterprising, but most proved obvious.
I thought about frittering the money away on wine, women and gambling. But the women I met were far too decent, and I won too frequently on the horses to take it seriously.
I should have sunk it in the stock market, or put it into the theatre.
I knocked at the door of the junkie girlfriend and pressed a cheque into her hands. She was half-naked, pathetic and cold; approaching the morbid stage of her eventual decline.
“What’s this?” She demanded.
The words appeared to sting. She stared, first at the cheque in her hand and then at me.
“I don’t need this.”
I should have left, should have put the whole thing behind me. I couldn’t even do a good deed without suffering criticism.
For once I felt superior to her, wrapping her in a duvet from the bed.
“Get yourself into rehab.” I suggested.
“Why? I want to die.” Was her fatal retort.
In the months following, more than once I regretted the actions I took that day, driving her to the gates of a clinic where I deposited her into the care of others.
It was the final throw of the dice, after which I abandoned her to her fate, in the same way accepting whatever fate throws my way. I’m too much of a coward to want to die however.
Sometimes, the words my artist friend used came back to haunt. Every stroke of the pen is a means to get back to the point of origin. So, with us, within our actions and intent.
For a time I studied the oriental Art of In-action. It appealed most strongly for an uncaring man, but I learned the only path for a right thinking person is to care. After which whenever I spot a tiny ant upon the ground I think twice before crushing it to pulpy dust.
The actions with the junkie girl have sealed my fate. Simplicity in practice, it is not. I don’t expect others to follow my career path, or to want to see into themselves. It wasn’t something I set out to do.
For now I’ve decided to play piano, and later visit a woman I know. She practices hypnosis, and can put me under for a magic hour. She hands me a bowl of tea with Jasmin petals floating. I see my own fate, floating on the surface, but am I drowned or can I be saved?
“It isn’t symbolic.” She smiles.
She smiles on both sides of her face. Just when I’m wondering if what she does is something I can learn from, I’m told the next client is due. Outside the door I observe the junkie fly into view; it should be a broom stick, but instead it’s a brand new car.
I guess I’d imagined her in the mortuary, and now I don’t know how to react to the change in her. I saw myself through the junkie’s eyes. She was right, I was pathetic.
There’s a time in a man’s life when he reaches a point of no return. I suppose I’d gone past that point, the junkie had shone a light into a dark corner and there, lurking, was a demon I’d never encountered before.
Now the demon stood before me, silent and menacing. A swift glance into the eyes told me she remained hostile.
The fairy tale promises ‘happy ever after’. It’s not like that in real life. I knew I had to embrace the demon to calm the threat it posed. I lacked courage, my arms at my side.
“Why are you here?” I asked the reformed junkie.
“I’ve come to save you.” She responded, in a similar tone to Salvationists I’d encountered. “Like for like. I see a need in you.”
We must have regarded one another with odd dispassion for several long seconds, caught up in that torpor of confusion in which nothing experienced previously can prepare for what is about to occur.
We went somewhere; she told me all about herself. It was a different story to the one I’d made up in my head. I suppose I provided snippets of my own Reality show. She nodded. I never knew what it meant when people nodded. I’ve always been suspicious about non-verbal communication.
Afterwards when we parted I went home and stared into the mirror, unable to detect who I’d become, and if I smiled, the mirror refused to smile back. In fact my face was frozen. I knew I had to guess what was false, what was true, and neither were particularly flattering for me.
I should have listened to the artist; I should never have put down traces. Now I can’t find my way back. I’ve become dependent on others. It’s a mystery how life evolves. If you look for me, I’m the one with the white stick selling false platitude. In fact, don’t look for me.
The demon and I have become close. I ask nothing of her; she asks nothing of me. We play piano, laugh, take turns being resourceful.
It won’t last; one of us will break the spell.