First chapter of Deadbeat, one of many stillborn novels. Written in 1999. Almost definitely not very good.
It’s there somewhere, shrieking in the darkness like a wounded, idiot beast, and it terrifies me into a stunned wakefulness. I lurch from the dank tangle of clammy, spunk stained sheets and stand naked and shivering in the gritty darkness, looking for it. I find it at last and smack it until it falls silent. Its digits glow a baleful red – 5.30am. It’s barbaric. Every tendon in my leaden body yearns to crawl back into bed and a pumpkin sized headache swells and surges in my creaking skull with every throb of my juddering heart. 5.30am. Outside, a lunatic wind batters at the windows with an insane ferocity, snatching heavy fistfuls of rain from the grey dawn and lashing them against the trembling glass. It’s still dark. I flick a switch and the room is flooded with cheesy orange light. I slump back down onto the bed and light a cigarette, wincing as the smoke curls around the rank cavern of my ulcerated mouth and swarms through my bruised guts, stirring my aching bowels into reluctant life. Still naked, yawning, cigarette in one hand, rubbing my tender abdomen with the other, I pad through to the bathroom in the dark and sit carefully upon the icy toilet seat, cringing as my feet sink into the sodden carpet with its leprous peppering of spindly, sinister toadstools. I void my bloated intestines in a raucous explosion of sulphur and scorching, liquid shit. It’s gotta be cancer, or something equally terminal. My innards are in a terrible condition – all riot on the intestinal front – not at all the way things should be within a young man of 25. I flick the cigarette butt between my knees into the stinking gloom of the toilet, wipe my arse, stagger around the flat pulling on dirty clothes and making breakfast. Coffee and toast. The toast makes me gag, the coffee corrodes my stomach. I smoke another cigarette before the television, shivering, irritable. Work looms. The TV news is full of the same old shit. Some over excited blacks running around in Africa butchering each other with machetes, some weasel eyed, acne addled white teenagers stamping on an old woman till she bursts like an over ripe aubergine, then pissing on her and running off with her handbag. Large Hadron colliders. Local politicians standing outside municipal buildings, looking cold, kipper ties flapping around their ears. The Balkans. Algeria. Homicidal fundamentalists and financial catastrophes. All a load of bollocks, and in a minute I have to go downstairs, straddle my push bike and cycle for five miles through the psychotic, bellowing weather to a job I hate.
I’ve tried over the last few months to do away with any kind of thought during this part of the day. Thoughts here, in this dead zone between inertia and grudging action are counter productive. Thoughts are not needed. I need to be on auto pilot, to wake up, go to work, do my hours of brain numbing servitude and then come home again – without ever being aware of the horror of it all. But I can’t. I sigh, collect my bicycle from the kitchen and sling it over my shoulder. I leave the flat, lock the door behind me, make my way carefully down the narrow stairway and out onto the slippery front step. I walk down the path. Snails crunch beneath my feet like eggshells. I picture their grey flesh pulping through shattered shells and feel even more nauseous. Fucking weather. The wind grabs my hair and sculpts it into laughable shapes, the rain plasters my trousers to my scrawny legs, dribbles down my skinny neck. I have to stand on the pedals to get the bike moving, pushing off into the wind. Movement is like flight from a monster in a nightmare, exhausting, ten ton limbs moving in slow motion, great, clumsy futile pistons. I hiss through my teeth. “Oh for fuck’s sake, fucking hell, fucking bastard weather.” Worn out already, sick to my stomach, I crawl through town. Cars pass me, their tyres sizzling on the drowned road, their taillights bleeding into puddles in the cracked tarmac, their occupants dry, getting where they want to go without effort. Struggling up the bridge over the motorway. I stop for a moment at its peak and look down at the cars and lorries heading someplace else. Lucky bastards. What I’d give to be heading anywhere else.
Work came and it went, and it left me a few hours of the day for myself. The rain had stopped but after 8 hours of sitting hunched over a monitor beneath an epilepsy inducing stuttering striplight in a cold office my clothes were still damp from my early morning cycle ride to work. I pedalled back along winding, crumbling roads through fields of mud beneath a low, grey sky, through the congested, steaming traffic in town, to the house. The muppet in the flat below me was playing classical music at floorboard rattling volume as I shouldered the cycle and stomped up the stairs to my hovel. Coffee first, and a sit down in my clammy clothes. A gratuitous, unenjoyed cigarette as I sat steaming in front of the electric fire. What to do, what to do? I spent all day at work wishing I was at home and then when I got home… I had nothing to do. Or I had too much to do, millions of ideas and projects and murmuring ambitions all clamouring for space and attention in my overcrowded head, dragging everything stalled to a fuming, slack jawed gridlock. The hours I’ve spent just sitting staring into space, listening to the faint hum of my thoughts going on in a different room, feeling unplugged, unreal, elsewhere. Must do something, I thought, must do anything. Because I’m going nowhere. Quarter of a century of survival and nothing to show for it but bad guts and a messy history. And it was beginning to dawn on me that nothing was going to happen unless I made it happen, and that, frankly, there wasn’t really that much I was capable of making happen. As a kid I used to dream that one day I’d be a famous artist, or a writer, or a pop star, but I was never sure how I was going to achieve any of these lofty aims. But that didn’t matter. It was destiny, it would just happen, somehow, by itself. But it hadn’t, and for the first time I was beginning to consider the possibility – no, the probability – that it never would. I’d never bothered doing anything because I’d always nurtured the quiet, sure conviction that one day, like a mucous slicked larva crawling from a glistening, turd-like chrysalis, I would emerge from my dowdy, economy sized existence, flex beautiful wings beneath an adoring sun and soar to take my place in the hallowed heights reserved for the special people. But I was still, resolutely, an ugly, earthbound caterpillar. I was ordinary. I was bog standard, workaday, common or garden, just like every other fucker, nothing special. And I didn’t know what to do. What do ordinary people do to fill in all that empty space between birth and death? I didn’t have a clue. I just knew that I had to do something. A shadow was falling across that empty space, eating away at the plains so that all of a sudden the dark horizon seemed shockingly close. Something, something, got to do something, got to DO SOMETHING…
I have a wank. It just sort of happens, in the absence of anything even approaching sexual desire. One minute I’m sitting there in my damp clothes, breathing in the musty, poor person’s aroma of damp laundry and thinking idly about how my life is crumbling away to fuck all, fiddling distractedly with my cold, shrivelled cock with one hand, stubbing out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray with the other – and the next minute I’m engaged in a full-on, trousers round the ankles hand shandy scenario. My heart beats faster, my headache pulses in sickening synchronicity, my erection wanes and dwindles so within minutes I’m yanking away at this floppy, fishy bit of damp meat like an angry sparrow battling with a stubborn worm. I try to arouse myself with tired old clichés – troupes of double jointed lesbian nuns armed with dildos and whips go flouncing through my desperate mind with no effect – likewise an utterly unbidden (I swear to you) image of my mother cooking Sunday dinner. I feel my testicles shrivelling and my heart pounding more violently in the dented bird cage of my chest. I look around for something to come into, a scrap of tissue, anything, and all I can find is a stale sock wedged beneath the settee. I clamp it over the end of my cock as I come, juddering and hissing, a few watery spurts of cold semen pulsing into the stiff material. I lay there for a few seconds, staring at the ceiling, listening to the thunder of classical music from below and the droning of a hoover from above, mind purged of anything but a slowly building feeling of misery. This is what it’s come down to. All my hopes and fears and all the grown-ups who told me of their bright hopes for my future, and the teachers who told me I was ‘going to make it’, and all the blind, idiot dreams I believed about the nice, clean, happy, comfortable life I was going to grow into, had all been rendered down to this: An emaciated 25 year old stuck in a soul-rotting dead end job, no friends, no girlfriend, no phone no pool no pets (too many cigarettes) laid on a crumb strewn thread bare carpet of some damp and stinking rented room, spilling his oily seed into a rancid sock. I begin to cry, silently, gurning, face slowly contorting through a range of expressions of ugly misery in the way men cry, and when I’m gargling on so much snot I can barely breath I blow my nose on the sock, forgetting to what grisly end I’ve just employed it. A streamer of coagulating sperm hangs from my nose and I make a strangled, half-shout of disgust and rush through to the bathroom – leaving my trousers behind me – to wash it off. It’s unfair. It’s shit. It’s a horrible dirty mess. Hoovering, a care in the community case listening to Classic FM, the bullying wind jemmying the window, wanting to get in and have another go at me, the drone of trucks and cars going round the corner. Talk to me. Talk fucking shit cunt smacking the cold porcelain of the sink with the stinging palm of a skinny hand, tears trickle down the rubbery grooves in my fucked up face, blind eyes swivelling heavenward, to an empty heaven and a dark constellation of mould and mildew on the yellowing artex and drugs. That’s. Bath, wash, brush some of the thick, cheesy plaque from my teeth. Drugs. Go out, a bit of money, just some hash or something, or some booze or something. Deep breaths now. Whooaaa. Nearly lost it for a minute there. Nearly went off the deep end again. Got to get out. Fresh air and change of scenery and drugs. I put the immersion heater on. Wipe a slick of snot from my top lip with the heel of a bruised hand. Go shopping.
The doors gasp open and the noise and stench fall upon me. I feel my heartbeat catch in my chest, lurch, slap out a perky drum roll and increase its tempo as a feeling like panic seizes me. There are people everywhere and they all look utterly hostile. Mean eyed pensioners peer at and prod the glistening produce, surly bull necked men swing their wire baskets like cudgels as they stomp down the aisle snatching at foodstuffs. The last bastion of the now defunct male hunter-gatherers – Tesco in East Yorkshire. Hideous, fat women, skin pallid dough stretching at migraine inducing hues of manmade fibres, bristly chins and lank hair, raucously squawking at unhappy, petulant children, yanking at their arms like medieval revellers dislocating the tender, cooked legs of some roasted fowl. Dodgy looking school kids furtively stealing sweets. The occasional young drop out, smashed on smack, stuck together with Evo stick, the tertiary syphilis postulating gait of intense sessions with the bong. And me. Sock fucking failure, tall and pale and frightened, hauling my clattering limbs into the fray. I grab a basket. Right. What do I need? I can’t remember. What am I doing? Buying some food. Some booze. Some bits and pieces. Then going home, getting something to eat, catching a bus to the next town to score some hash. Going back home. Anaesthetising myself in front of the TV. I pick up a loaf of Happy Shopper bread, dump it in the basket. I feel sick. The smell of food and the bustle of all these vicious people is making me feel dizzy, a thousand feet tall and insubstantial as breath. I pick something up from the freezer section. It has a picture of something unrecognizable as anything food related on the box. I only know it’s food because the box’s alleged contents have been photographed dumped onto a plate and bordered with chips and beans. It’s some kind of pancake thing filled with some kind of shit-quality meat bits – powdered testicles, eyeballs, hoofs, tatters of punctured entrails and shreds of skin, slaughterhouse sweepings mechanically retrieved and processed for the sustenance of the poor. It strikes me, not for the first time, that to be poor in this country means to be constantly under the weather, coming down with or making a faltering recovery from some vague malaise or nameless bug, and there’s no way to get the nutrition you need to clamber into a state of reasonable health. Once you’ve bought your fags and your booze and your hash and all those other necessary spiritual analgesics required just to get you through the pointless succession of grey and joyless days, then you don’t have enough left over for real food. Just crispy pancakes and Value baked beans and mechanically retrieved meat and Happy Shopper bread and supermarkets’ own brand cornflakes and skinny burgers full of grease and gristle and anaemic mince and dented tins with the labels hanging off. Sighing, I drop the pancake things into my basket. No attractive women in sight. No attractive women as far as the eye can see, even with binoculars. Not round here, in this town which holds 1 percent of the county’s population and 10 percent of its smack heads. I drop 8 cans of strong lager with no name that would mean anything to anybody into my basket and pay a fat woman who looks like she was poured into the little cubicle behind her till. Other people regard me with resentment, challenging eyes looking me up and down looking for a weakness. To the cigarette counter. The girl there, acne, bulbous, bloodshot eyes, straw hair, knows me and has a packet of 20 B&H waiting for me. She smiles. I smile. It is our little joke. Hoho. Haha. Fuck off. I pay her and go back to the flat. Dump the food, smoke a fag, sort out some change and some money for gear. To the bus stop.