Harry lay asleep on the cold linoleum floor of his bedsit, right next to his bed, Harry never slept in his bed, Harry felt more comfortable on the floor. Harry didn’t however find the cold hard floor more comfortable than his bed, it was just that on the floor he felt more secure, the security of the floor, it’s all-round lowness, you can’t get any lower, relieved him of a crippling anxiety. The bed offered a comfort he didn’t deserve, a comfort he hadn’t earned. Soon he would sell the bed for a bottle of scotch but for now he held onto the idea that maybe one day, one day soon, he would gravitate to it, would feel secure enough to crawl between the sheets and rest his head on a soft pillow.
Harry opened his bloodshot eyes and stared without focus, he could hear a baby cry, for a moment some dormant, long forgotten response told him to care for the child, wind it, feed it, change it, clean it, love it? But those days were long gone; Harry’s girls were long gone too.
Harry’s focus changed to a can of cheap cider sitting proud – as proud as a cheap can of cider can be- within arm’s reach. There was a time, way back when, when a fraction of Harry’s mind still tried to protest, it said ‘Harry mate, you are an alcoholic, I know it, you know it, even the dog knows it, we need to talk about this, we need to seek help, time’s up dude, time’s up’ After many years of refusing to go away that part of Harry’s mind finally chucked in the towel and fucked off. Harry was free to be alone.
He reached out for the cider but the cider took a step back and then stood its ground. Cider liked to tease, cider liked to make life difficult for Harry, it was often out of reach or unattainable. He rolled over in one swift and elegant move seizing cider around the throat; he put her to his lips and drank the remnants of her contents, including a fag butt. Harry decided it was about time he gave up smoking, smoking was bad for his health. Oddly the part of his mind that nagged him about the dangers of cigarettes still hung around, he had nowhere else to go, he would go down with the ship if need be, he was loyal like that.
Harry coughed and spluttered, the shakes were on the way, he needed to score some booze before too long. He looked around the bed sit, nothing left to sell, just him and the bed left, he’d even managed to sell the toilet seat.
Various plans crept without shame into his head; go to his parents place and beg for money was always a good option, mum would cry and dad would berate him, then chuck him twenty quid just to get rid of him. This plan was a last resort, only to be deployed under extreme necessity; other avenues must be exhausted before playing the shame card.
Standing now, staring at the dark brown, red tinged piss evacuating from his limp penis, the baby’s shill cry pierced his brain. He needed to get out, out of this shit hole and onto the street; the streets were paved with gullible, self respecting people with change in their pockets.
Givers fell into various categories; you just had to spot them. There were the youngsters who still believed that they could make a difference, the world would eventually grind them into a pulp but for now they gave. Then you had the elderly at the other end of the spectrum, not all of them gave, old men would either drop a sandwich in his lap or tell him to get a job. Old women rummaged in vast purses, produced a coin and made him promise to buy some food. Busy mothers rarely if ever gave, nor did workers on a lunch break but tourists did, it was a pay off, made them feel better, less guilty for having a holiday.
Harry had no mirror, hadn’t seen his own reflection for a while, his reflection wouldn’t even recognise him now. His hair was a tangled mess of greasy wisps, his scalp covered in sores and scabs, his once handsome face gaunt and waxy. His piss stained jeans struggled to stay on his hips – he’d sold his belt too – his scrawny body, under nourished and anaemic had trouble supporting itself, if it wasn’t for the lace-less boots Harry wore he’d blow away in a slight breeze.
On the landing, across the hall, the baby cried. Harry went over and found the door to apartment 23b ajar, he went in. On a mattress by a crib a young woman lay in the foetal position with her hands clasped over her ears. In the crib the baby cried. Harry picked the thing up, the thing stopped crying, he moved it to the kitchen sink and undid the heavy, soiled nappy, balled it and binned it. Harry then removed the dishes from the sink, ran some tepid water, testing the temperature with his dirty elbow and plonked the thing in the sink. The baby let out another cry, then busied itself with a bottle top. Harry washed its dirty arse with washing up liquid and then dried it with an almost clean tea towel; his hands were shaking but he persevered. He looked around for a clean nappy and caught the mother’s eye; she was sitting up now, looking at him with slight intrigue but nothing more. ‘Nappy?’ he asked.
Mother pointed to a lone, unused nappy near the sink, partly hidden under weeks of debris and neglect. Harry grabbed the nappy with one hand and held the baby with the other; he skilfully fitted the nappy to the baby and then placed it back in the crib.
‘You need anything? You need food for the baby, for you?’ he asked.
The mother, nodded.
‘I’ll be back, hold your child, she needs love and stimulus, she’s jaundice, needs to go outside, get some fresh air’ He said.
The young girl nodded.
Harry went out onto the street. He had to shuffle himself along the pavement with painful dogged steps, head down; he relied on his internal navigation system. Harry had spent his life in this town; he grew up in the suburbs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, high up on the hillside, ‘Snobsville’ the locals called it. From there he slowly made his way down, it had been a gradual descent, so slow at times he hadn’t even known that he was in fact falling.
When his second wife finally packed their two children into the old Volkswagen estate and drove off, leaving him for the last time, his gradual descent turned into a tumble. Suzanne and the girls went, then the business, then the house and finally the will to change, to climb out of the pit of despair he found himself in; he was in freefall all the way down to the cold linoleum floor.
The bedsit was a slight cut above the shop doorways and occasional hard mattresses offered by the charity shelters. For two years he’d flit from park bench to shelter, from doorway to prison cell and back to the shelter. They had found him a place of his own, fully equipped by well meaning donors, as soon as the last occupant had died of hepatitis. There was still a stain on the tiles where the poor guy had lain undiscovered and decomposing for two weeks.
Harry had sold everything in the bedsit that wasn’t nailed down.
First he needed to get a drink, to get a drink he needed money, to get money he needed to beg for it, to beg for it he needed to aim for the town centre.
Harry shuffled along, head down, no real thoughts, no real plans, no memories either. He’d banned memories from his mind, they hurt too much. The man he was never existed, any impact he may have made on the world and the people around him never happened, Harry was a ghost. Sometimes he’d be sitting there, begging for change and some old friend, work colleague or, once or twice, a family member would stop, chuck a few coins in his lap and move on. No one recognised him; he was just another drunk, a drunk like the one they used to know. Only that drunk was well fed, well groomed and a bit of a laugh. At first everyone saw him as a social drinker, someone that needed a bit of Dutch courage, and someone who knew how to party. It was years before close friends and family voiced their concern.
‘I’m not a fucking alcoholic, ok? I don’t need a drink, I like a drink, there’s a difference. I don’t drink at home, I’m a social drinker.’ He lied, not just to them but himself.
Slowly all those people began to distance themselves, slowly Harry found himself drinking socially on his own.
Market day in the town centre offered a lucrative return for his efforts and by lunch time he walked out of the off-licence with a carrier bag full of cheap cider clones.
He drank two clones on a bench by the war memorial, urinated in the tulips and shuffled off towards the shelter.
‘Hey Harry, long time no see’, said the chirpy girl on reception. ‘You want some lunch today, kinda looks like you need it’.
‘Please’ said Harry.
‘What you got in the bag Harry?’ and before Harry could answer, ‘’you know the rules, no drink inside, hand it over; you can have it back when you leave’.
Harry handed his clones over the counter and shuffled into the dining hall. Junkies, alcoholics, schizophrenics and odd bods, ate, dozed, stared into oblivion or spoke to the voices in their heads. He hated this place, this he thought was hell on earth where soulless vessels void of human inhabitants gathered. Dirty, dismal zombies, mankind’s rejects each and every one of them.
Harry shuffled up to the food counter, took some apple puree, a pot of creamed rice, a banana and two soggy sausage rolls and shuffled back to reception.
‘You can’t take food out Harry’ said the chirpy girl.
‘You got to many cants’
‘Sorry Harry I don’t make the rules’
‘It’s not for me, it’s for someone else, someone that still has a chance, c’mon let me go’
The chirpy girl’s face furrowed, the chirp went out of her eyes, a new face now, less chirpy, more thin lipped and resolute.
‘Eat the food here or hand it back, those are your choices, you decide’
‘I’m not hungry, for fuck sake don’t be a bitch about it, just give me my bag and I’ll go’
The thin lipped girl hit the panic button under her desk, alarms rang, schizophrenics began to groan and rock in their chairs hitting their heads with trembling hands. A pissed off junkie began to shout his disdain, ‘fucking alcoholics’.
Two heavy built security guards came out of a side door, the thin lipped one pointed at Harry. Harry still clutching his stash of contraband looked around him for a way out, he was in total lock down. Oddly he felt like laughing, he also felt like making life difficult for these fucking do-gooders with their bloody stupid rules.
Harry moved away from the reception area and headed for the food hall, someone threw some potato salad at him, someone else lobbed a crusty roll, the roll sailed through the air, missing Harry, it plunged into the face of one of the security guards. The guard let out a wince before he reassembled his lumpy face, putting it back to gormless. Stale bread hurt more than fresh bread Harry had time to reason before ducking the next food missile. He could feel laughter bubbling up inside of him, years of unused mirth was swelling in his gut; it had no place to go other than out.
Someone tried to stop him with a rugby tackle but failed miserably, their outstretched, slightly embarrassed body only contributed to the felling of one of the pursuing security guards. The guard went down like a sac of shit as the first giggle exploded from Harry’s mouth.
He clambered over the food counter, grabbing an apple on his way and still clutching his bounty managed to squeeze his way through a service hatch and drop onto the kitchen floor. The food hall had erupted with jeers and laughter as the remaining security guard failed to open the kitchen door then decided to follow Harry through the hatch, he was bigger than Harry. Harry looked up to see the head and shoulders of his pursuer appear in the opening, then after several attempts the head and shoulders retreated. Harry laughed as did just about everyone else.
The kitchen staff eyed him nervously, one young chef held a knife up, more as a warning than a demonstration of bravado.
Harry made a dash for the back door; he opened it, more alarms, and stepped out onto the street to find a mounted police officer and a police wagon waiting for him. Harry crumbled, his legs gave up and he sat down on the pavement crying and laughing so hard he started to choke.
Harry was bundled into the back of the wagon, still holding his two sausage rolls, apple, banana, apple puree and creamed rice.
Eventually, after several hours of wasted police time he was free to go…they let him take his food too. Now all he had to do was get his cider clones back.
Off he shuffled, interior navigation system booted in. The police had given him a carry bag for his food and he clutched it close to his chest, he felt a real sense of achievement despite his ever growing need for alcohol.
Harry had a pit inside him, a massive bottomless pit that craved like a motherfucker but could never be satisfied. All his life he’d tried to give that pit what he thought it wanted, but by doing so all he did was make it crave more. What he should have done was to starve it maybe, or actually ask it what it really needed. Talk to the pit and the pit would say, ‘I need you to love me, respect me, understand me, and fill me with pride and self respect. You should have put others first, spent time with your kids, held your wife a little longer and asked for help, sort out the real problem not feed the symptom. As a consequence, your dreams have passed you by on the wind; there is nothing left now but me.’
Harry knocked on the shelter door; there was a long pause as the security camera eyed him with suspicion. Eventually the door opened and thin lips came out holding his bag of clones.
‘Take it and piss off Harry’ she said.
‘Ok’ said Harry.
By the time he’d got back to the bedsit he’d drank enough to stop the shakes. He went across the hall to 23b, the door was as he left it, ajar, he pushed it open, the young girl sat on the mattress with her baby in her arms, the baby slept.
‘Did you go outside?’ he asked.
‘Yes, for a little while, she liked it’.
‘Here’s some food for you both’ said Harry handing over the carry bag.
‘No need, we’re sorted, I did some shopping, my money came through, but thanks anyhow.’
‘Ok’ said Harry and left them alone.