Hunt down the orphans and kill them – 3

April 2011

Just another dull Friday morning at work, the same preprogrammed behaviours, like mad bears in cruel Eastern European zoos, swaying their heavy heads to some inner dirge, pacing the bars, no reason, no thought, no motivation. In my time at the jobcentre I must have seen thousands of ‘customers’ and like everyone else who works there, I’ve become a tired automaton, mindlessly trotting out the same empty spiel over and over again, not even listening to the responses. How’s it going? Seen much to apply for over the last couple of weeks? If I can just get your signature. Right, I’ll just grab you those job details…over and over, thirty, forty, fifty times a day. And this morning, as always, we get someone who doesn’t turn up for their interview but we get a phone call, he’s down at the local NHS walk-in centre and is going to be another half hour. Yeah, whatever, so what, I’ll see him when he gets in. So he gets in and I go down to collect him and try to inject a little levity into it all, establish a little quick and easy, facile rapport.
“Illness or injury?” I ask him, as we commence the long walk down to my desk.
“Are you ill or are you injured? You’ve just been down the hospital?”
I walk round the desk, key my password into my computer, peer up at him, about to start the routine, not really giving a toss now whether he’s ill or injured or Jack the fucking ripper, let’s just do the pointless, glum waltz and leave the dance floor.
“Are you squeamish?” He asks me.
“No.” And I’m not. I’ve worked in hospitals and nursing homes and seen all manner of death, disease and disfigurement. I’m not squeamish.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” But now I’m not that sure, and as he begins unbuttoning his jacket and rolling up his sleeve, I’m even less sure. It’s the unmistakable stench of rotting flesh. Dead people, dead dogs, a sirloin steak left out in the sun, your mother, your sister, your baby – everything made of meat stinks the same once it’s dead, and it’s a smell you never forget, like shit and fish and gas. I look at what he’s showing me, at what’s left of his arm. From his wrist down to the elbow the bone is completely exposed, the flesh around it is a putrid, wet mess of dripping tissue, green sponge smeared with thin white pus. I’ve seen shit as bad as this before, but possibly nothing worse, and it’s all wrong, it’s all out of context and sets my nerves jangling, I shouldn’t be seeing and smelling this HERE, not in a well lit office on a Friday morning when I’ve got plans to go and see a band this evening. I want to shout “HOLY FUCK!!!” but I don’t. I force myself to stay calm, to coolly regard this atrocity. He’s silently daring me to freak out. I refuse. “Fuck, man,” I say, “That’s not good, is it?” And it’s not good. It’s heroin and it’s gangrene. I deal with him, he rolls his sleeve up and he’s gone. I’m shaken. Really shaken. I struggle for breath, and every lungful I catch is sweet and heavy with the odour of his decay. But it’s not the physical horror that rattles me. I have a son at home, barely a year old, and I think, this wreck, this fucked up junkie, was someone’s little boy once, and now he’s dying, he’s ruined, he’s never going to get better, he’s going to wake up every morning with a horrible desperate fucking NEED for the junk that’s devastating him, wake up every morning in a cage of dying meat and endless hunger. I couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. Every time I so much as thought of raising food to my lips I was stricken with the memory of that suppurating wound.
When work was over I wandered into town. I’ve got a very precarious mental balance at the best of times, my equilibrium’s pathetically dependant on such arbitrary factors as what I eat and when, whether I get enough or too little sleep – the slightest deviation from the ideal can result in a sudden and protracted slump in mood, all my emotions contract down to an untouchable kernel of unreasonable despair. I could feel the process beginning as I walked around the shops, could feel the grey mist settling over me. My wife picked me up and we went off to the gig. I struggled to talk to her on the way there, struggled to hide the discomfort I could feel rising around me like a glass wall that I knew could soon imprison me, struggled to be normal. When we got to the pub I had a pint. Take it easy, I told myself, don’t drink too much on an empty stomach and a rapidly souring mood, it’ll all end in disaster. But as is often the way after a couple, a third seemed to make perfect sense and then another and so on until I was standing watching the band, swaying, blinking trying to clear my vision, trying to clear my mind, but too late now, misery and drunkenness and the whole world my enemy, love an irritation, the seething paranoia and the wild sensation of victim hood, rising nausea, perception shrinking til I was hardly taking anything in, the rotten meat aroma still in my nostrils, everything in my mind obliterated by booze and confusion, serotonin depleted, synapses firing blanks into the darkness, nothing working. We left the pub. When I’m in this state I just walk off. I don’t know what I’m trying to walk away from, myself probably, but the faster I walk the faster my own bastard footsteps dog me. I lost my wife, somewhere in the midnight streets, and trying to get back to her just got myself more lost. I walked miles of country road, criss crossed the same dead roads in town, came upon my own staggering footsteps at just about remembered crossroads, wandered into fields, tripped and fell, sat in a deserted playground and rolled a spliff in the dark, smoked it, fell asleep for a while, woke in a swing, cried at being lost, walked and walked for hours, nothing in my head, NOTHING in my head, no understanding of who I was or what I was doing or why, just the same stupid glum bear, shaking its head, trying to rattle loose its glued-up brain until, at about 7am I somehow stumbled upon the house we were meant to be staying at and stood outside weeping, for all the things I had done wrong and the broken mess that was my mind.

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