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Everybody Hurts by Ian Ayris
With her last few breaths, Mum said she loved us all. The look in her eyes when she looked at me and told me, it was like she was lookin back through time, seein me as a baby, like I was everything she ever wanted – all her dreams come true, something to love and to hold and to help through this world with all the love she had.
And she did. She fuckin did. From my first breath to her last.
She was a bag of bones at the end. Could hardly talk . I remember sittin by the bed one side holdin her hand, Charlie round the other side holdin the other. Holdin all his tears in he was, Charlie – holdin em in with everything he had. Becky, bless her, she was sprawled out over what was left of Mum’s legs, huggin em so hard, like she could stop her goin if she held on tight enough.
But she couldn’t.
None of us could.
I’m in the house on me own, sittin in Dad’s chair. Charlie’s down the boozer. Becky don’t live here no more. Moved in with her Martin couple of months back - soon as we put Mum in the ground. Said she couldn’t sleep in the house with Mum and Dad both not there. Too much for her, she reckoned. Her room’s same as it was, case she wants to come back – all her Goth posters on the wall and all that Save the Planet shit - pictures of leopards and trees, and all that bollocks. Her and Martin’s got a little place in Romford down by the dog track. Martin’s legs are still all crippled up since last year. Doctors reckon he’ll need sticks the rest of his life.
I’m still livin off what Mum left – insurance mainly, and a wedge she had in the Post Office. Becky said she didn’t want none of it. Wanted me to have it all. I didn’t have the heart to argue. I don’t need much anyway. Rent’s cheap as fuck, and it ain’t like I’m a big eater or nothing.
Funny thinkin me little sister’s in her own house, and I’m still sleepin in the same room I been in since I was born. When I say funny, I mean, it ain’t laugh-out-loud fuckin funny. I mean, twenty-six years starin at the same fuckin ceiling. How fuckin depressin is that? But I can’t never see meself leavin. Movin on, you know. Tracey wants us to get our own gaff, but I ain’t ready. Too much of me here. Would rip me in half to leave. Dunno what that means for us – me and Trace – the future, you know. But most times, I don’t care. All I can think of is now. Cos when people so close to you ain’t there no more, now is all you can think of, otherwise you start wishin em back, and you can’t never get into that fuckin game cos you’ll never come out.
I’ve fuckin learnt that one.
And besides, if me and Trace get a gaff together, move in, unless it’s closer to the Boleyn – and I can’t see that happenin – it’d just mean further for me to go watch the Hammers of a Saturday. And how do I explain that to her without it givin her the fuckin hump, me thinkin the Hammers is more important than her?
Always used to make me laugh when Dad was like that with Mum, throwin the Hammers in the mix. He’d wind her up about her bein his first love, and she’d fold her arms, lookin at him, half-smilin, knowin what was comin next. My beautiful darlin, he’d say, you are my first love, then he’d go slowly towards her, hips swingin, his arms stretched out, ready to wrap round her, and then he says, Well, after Mooro, Bonzo, Devs, Brookin, Stretch, Psycho, Alan Taylor and here he’d lean across and whispers in her ear loud enough for me to hear, cos he knew I was waitin for it . . . and standin in the Chicken Run. And she’d hit him with a tea towel, or whatever else she had to hand. She knew he never meant it, Dad, but I always had a sneakin suspicion part of him sort of did, you know.
I’d never get away with bein like that with Trace – like Dad was with Mum. I wouldn’t fuckin dare.
Trace, she knows I ain’t copin. And I know all she wants to do is take all the hurt away. But it’s my hurt and I’ll do what I fuckin want with it.
Charlie still sleeps in the room he had with Mum – Mum and Dad’s old room – even though she was down here in the front room at the end. The last day we took her to the hospital, we all knew she weren’t never comin out. Layin over there, she was, on the settee, under a blanket. Was hardly any of her left. I remember thinkin how strong Mum was, you know, how she used to be. Always had a pinny round her, always a dinner ready and waitin, a cuppa at a moments fuckin notice. When Dad went, Mum just carried on. With me banged up and Becky not even ten, there weren’t nothing else she could do.
Then her and Charlie got together, and he loved her so much.
Seein Mum with that blanket pulled tight over her that last night she was here, her thin hands grippin it up to her chin – breaks my heart thinkin of it. White and clammy, they was, her hands – so bleedin white. And her face worn down so much it was like the only thing what told you she was still alive, was her eyes. Bright as anything, they was. Shinin all tears and love and lookin like she was seein something beautiful in every moment, even though none of the rest of us fuckin was. They stayed like that till the very end, her eyes. As the rest of her just sort of shut down really slow, the light in her eyes, it got brighter and brighter. Then suddenly, it just went out. Just like that. Like all that love and beauty what was in em just took off somewhere else.
Cos that sort of love, the sort of love Mum had, the sort of love what was in her eyes - it don’t never die. Not ever.
Just finds a different place to shine.
I open me eyes quick. Don’t even remember closin em. It’s still dark. There’s a creakin upstairs on the floorboards. Then the sound of Charlie havin a piss. Pisses all night when he comes back from the boozer, Charlie. Says it’s his age. Can’t hold it in no more, he reckons. The creakin starts again, door shuts, and Charlie’s back in bed. For two minutes at the fuckin most, till he needs to piss again.
Dunno how he sleeps in there, Charlie, what with Mum gone. Closest he can get to her, I suppose. When Charlie come on the scene after I got banged up, he treated Mum like a fuckin queen. Saw her through some dark times, he did. Aunty Ivy’s said about him movin in with her and Uncle Derek up in Clacton. He says he’ll think about it, which sort of means he won’t. But I don’t reckon he can hold out here much longer. You can see his heart breakin by the minute. Fuckin horrible to see, it is. Reckon he’ll be gone after Christmas. New year, new start. All that bollocks.
The floor’s creakin again upstairs. Fuckin hell, Charlie. Can’t fuckin be right, pissin every five seconds.
I try and close me eyes to the sound of Charlie pissin, but it’s no good. I get up and open the curtains a bit. They still ain’t fixed that streetlight outside Kenny’s old gaff opposite. Used to be it flickered on and off all the time, like it was Kenny’s way of talkin to me after he got killed. But it ain’t done it for years, that streetlight.
Flickered, you know.
‘You still up?’
Charlie. Never even heard him comin down the stairs. Standin in the doorway, he is, scratchin his bollocks and squintin his eyes. He knows I don’t sleep. I stay up all night sometimes, sittin in Dad’s chair just sort of starin and grindin me teeth. I’ll get up and have a bit of a pace about when me legs get stiff, then sit back down and wait for the sun to come in through the windows and the start of another endless fuckin day. I do drop off sometimes, but it ain’t never for long. And whenever I shut me eyes, I don’t never dream. There ain’t never no pictures, no sounds, no colours, no nothing.
I take me eyes off Charlie and move me head down slow till I’m starin into the carpet. I blow me cheeks out, and breathe deep.
As I’m starin into the carpet, I can hear Charlie’s breath rattlin in his throat. After a while, he says, ‘Night, son’, all quiet, and I hear the door shut soft behind him.
I breathe deep again, through me nose, and I feel me heart slowin down. There ain’t nothing else I feel other than me eyes not blinkin. And I wanna stay like this forever. In this chair. Alone. Me eyes not seein, just starin, me heart gettin slower and slower, and slower.
Till it stops.
But I know it’ll pass. All this. It did when Nan went, and Grandad. Even Dad, sort of. And Kenny. I know it’ll get easier with Mum. Just take a bit of time, that’s all.
Sometimes in life you lose people, but they don’t go nowhere. Like my old mate Thommo. Been in the same nuthouse something like ten years now. He ain’t dead, but enough of him is to cut me in half evey time I think about him. Sometimes I think it’d be better if he was dead.
Least it’d give him a break, you know.
They’ve shifted Thommo out to a different ward. A quieter one. A better one. I say a quieter one, but they’ve always got the radio on. Sometimes it’s all right, but mostly it’s shit. Geezer there says to me once it’s all about the background noise. Said it’s so the poor bastards what live there have got something else to listen to, other than the shoutin and the screamin what goes on in their own heads. Gives the staff a bit of a break as well, he said, when it all kicks off and one of the inmates goes Garrity. Gives em something to listen to while they’re holdin em down and shovin a needle in em.
Thommo ain’t got it as bad as some. Got his own room for a start, which is a touch.
Tracey and Keith come and see him with me when they can, but they both work, so mostly it’s just me. Thommo’s different when Tracey’s there, more settled you know. Me and Keith hardly know what to say, so we don’t say much of nothing, really. Dunno what difference it even makes to Thommo, us two bein there – me and Keith. Ain’t like he even takes no notice of us.
Another visitin day. Me and Keith goin up the big fuck off hill to the nuthouse gates that look like they come right out a horror film, I’m thinkin I won’t never get used to one of my best mates in the whole world bein banged up here. Worse than fuckin nick. Quieter ward, or not, it’s still a fuckin nuthouse whatever the fuck way you dress it up. Keith managed to get a day off last minute. He ain’t see Thommo in ages. I’m a bit worried about Keith, if I’m honest. Always comes out here worse than when he went in. Does something to him, you know.
Once we’re in the grounds, it’s down this gravel path to a massive buildin standin like one of them haunted mansion things - monsters on the roof, and everything.
We’re goin up the ward with one of the nurses. Some rap shit comin out the radio. Fuckin bollocks, that shit is. Not even fuckin music. The nurse who’s takin us up the ward to see Thommo’s Irish. Like most of the others here. I ask her how Thommo’s doin. She says he’s doin all right, settlin in, you know. She says it in this sing-song way all the Irish nurses here have got – so cheery it fuckin hurts. Like some bastards nailed headphones to your ears, and stuck on any fuckin thing by Right Said Fred on full blast.
Thommo’s room’s the last one at the end, just before you get to the day room where they got the telly. And as you get closer - nearer the telly room - there’s this smell of stale piss comes up towards you. And then you see em all in there, in the telly room - the others. Sittin in these armchair things, all facin the telly. Some talk-show bollocks on. Reckon none of em know a word what anyone’s sayin. Does for a change of scene, I suppose, somewhere different to sit in your own piss, but not much fuckin else. Every time I see em all in there, I get this sort of sadness come over me, and it breaks my heart. What a fuckin life. What with the fuckin smell, no wonder Thommo stays in his room day and night.
The nurse knocks on Thommo’s door, and I’m hopin he’s awake inside. I’ve bought him a four pack of Wispas special and I’ll have to eat em all meself if he’s asleep. Not that that’s no fuckin hardship.
I fuckin love Wispas.
‘Visitors, Lenny,’ the nurse says.
‘Might’ve nodded off,’ she says, mostly to herself than to me and Keith.
She opens the door up slow and pokes her head round.
‘No. He’s awake. You can go in,’ she says.
And we do, as she goes off up the ward singin to herself. Fuckin do my head in spendin two minutes with someone that fuckin happy. Do my fuckin head in.
Thommo’s sittin there like usual, on his bed, starin at the wall.
See, what Trace does when she’s with us, is she goes over to him, gives him a kiss on the head, and sits down close next to him. And Thommo snuggles up and lays his head on her shoulder, and that’s how he stays the whole time we’re there, till we have to say goodbye.
But Trace ain’t here.
‘You all right, Thommo?’ I says, cheery as I can.
Thommo looks up slow, but sort of straight through the both of us, like we don’t mean nothing to him. Cuts me in half, it does, when he looks like that. But he can’t do nothing else.
Just the way he is.
I’m tryin to keep a happy smile on me face, but you can’t do that too long in a place like this. A place like this, see, it sort of pulls any smile you got right off your face, stamps all over it, and gives it back to you all fucked and flat and broken. Anyway, how can you be fuckin cheery watchin one of the best mates you ever had trapped inside his own head, where all he hears is the sound of his own fuckin screams? Keith’s worse than me. Was in nick longer. Too close for him, this is, bein here. Too close for us both, but it’s worse for him. What with the shit he had to put up with. He’s just leanin against the wall, lookin at the door, like he’s tryin to open it with his eyes.
But just Keith bein here, bein here with me, I know it’s everything he can do.
I’m sittin in the chair by the door, lookin round Thommo’s room, at the bare walls and the bed that’s just like everyone else’s bed in here. And the nuthouse sheets and the covers what’s the same as everyone else has got. And me eyes set on the empty shelf just as you go in the door with nothing on it. I get up and go over and open the wardrobe by Thommo’s bed. As I go past him, Thommo don’t move an inch. Inside the wardrobe there’s a few T-shirts – proper ropey-lookin ones - a couple of pairs of jeans, and some shoes and trainers and bits at the bottom, all just chucked there. All of it’s shit. I get him stuff, when I can, Thommo. But I ain’t minted, so second-hand clobber’s best I can do.
I get Thommo other bits and pieces too, when I see em. You know, stuff I think he might like. All of it charity shop. Got him some puzzles once, but he went through this thing of eatin the bits. They said to take em away, the puzzles, so I did. Didn’t want Thommo chokin on em. Then he went through this phase, they called it, this phase of takin things apart – not smashin em to bits – but, you know, just sort of tearin pages out of magazines and books I’d bring in. Then there was this little clock I bought in once for him. Took the back off some fuckin how, and undone everything inside. Had it all laid out on the floor, he did, when I come to see him, neat as you like. Like he was tryin to say something to me in the doin of it.
Like a prison cell in here, it is. Only worse. I can see it’s suckin the life out of Keith, him just bein in here. Does every time, like I says. But he still comes. Cos he’s our mate, Thommo, however fucked up he is.
Time goes by, and I can’t stand it no more.
I go over and ruffle Thommo’s hair. Tell him we’re off.
He don’t even look up.
Keith’s got this gaff just off the Bethnal Green Road. Been there since he come out of nick. Parole board got it for him, or something. Proper little, it is – one of them bedsit studio flat things. In the job he’s got he talks to kids about not goin inside, how to keep out of trouble, and all that. Turned out a right good fella, Keith has. Considerin. Makes me really proud, seein how he is, you know.
So I’m standin outside Keith’s gaff and I ring the buzzer with his name on. There’s a little bit of a wait, then his voice crackles out the speaker thing. Tells me to come up.
Keith’s place is upstairs. The flats downstairs are all shut down and boarded up, and. the hallway and all up the stairs stinks of puff and curry. The puff’s comin from the door down the landin, and the curry’s comin out the flat opposite Keith’s. Whole place is a bit of a dump, if I’m honest – sort of like everyone that lives here don’t give a shit. Other than Keith. Keith’s gaff’s fuckin immaculate.
‘Good to see you, mate,’ Keith says, openin his door wide.
‘All right, Keith’ I says, and I go in.
There’s a settee soon as you go into Keith’s gaff. All black leather. You can tell it’s second hand, cos there’s some bits have got all worn – but it’s so fuckin comfortable. And there’s an armchair just the same. The curtains are shut, and there’s a lamp standin up in a corner throwin out the only light there is. Bob Marley’s playin low from one of them tiny music system things on a shelf on the wall opposite the telly.
Was never into Bob Marley, Keith. But it’s his heritage. Where he comes from. That’s what he says, anyway. Cos that’s what Keith’s found since he come out of nick, you know, he’s found who he is. That’s why he’s so into the job he’s got. Sees all these youngsters wanderin about, searchin for something, thinkin bein in a gang or doin over corner shops or sellin drugs is who they are. But it ain’t. All that’s just what they’re doin on there way to findin out who they are.
Keith tells em it ain’t till you fuck up really bad and end up in nick, or fuckin worse, you realise it don’t have to be that way no more. He tells em they got a choice. He says that’s what really gets to em. Like the sky’s just fell on their head. Thing is, he tells me, sometimes it’s too late and some of em won’t be around past eighteen if they carry on.
And that’s what keeps him goin, you know, Keith, thinkin how he fucked up and how lucky he is to still be here, and that everyone he saves is just another one of him that he can stop havin to go through what he went through.
He’s made up with his mum and dad too, Keith. They never wanted to know him when he went inside. Never wanted to know me, neither, cos they reckoned it was all my doin. Thought I was to blame. Keith tracked em down a few months back. Took him a while. Found em in some gaff Watford way. Quiet there, you know. Moved from round here when we all got sent down. The shame of it, I suppose. Old people, they are now. Older than what Mum and Dad would’ve been.. Traditional people, Keith’s mum and dad. Old fashioned. But when Keith turned up on their doorstep after all them years, and after they clicked who it was – they wouldn’t let him go for holdin him so tight. That’s what Keith said.
Cos your kids is your kids, see. And whatever shit they put you through, whatever grief they bring on your doorstep, they’ll never stop bein your kids. Not that I got none. But you don’t have to have kids to know that. It’s that bond, see, and you don’t never break it.
There’s posters on Keith’s walls. Not loads, not like in Becky’s room, just a couple. Tasteful, you know. There’s one of Bob Marley off the Legend album, and a sort of psychedelic peace poster thing over the gas fire.
‘You wanna tea, John? Or a beer?’ Keith says, shuttin the door and goin into the kitchen.
I tell him a beer would be good. Could just do with a beer. Keeps the darkness down, you know.
I sit in the armchair and see he’s got a telly, at fuckin last. Big fuck off thirty-two inch.
Keith comes out with a beer for me and a tea for him, and plonks himself down in the armchair.
I says to him about the telly, and he tells me he got it a couple of days ago. Sale on, he said. Some shop. Got a video player too, but said he ain’t worked out how to use it yet.
I ask him how his mum and dad is.
‘Sweet,’ he says.
He never used to talk like that, Keith. Used to talk normal, like me. But I suppose workin with the kids, you gotta end up talkin like em, you know, talk their language. How you get through to em, I suppose.
‘Becky?’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I says, ‘she’s good.’
And we sit there, me and Keith. Me and my best mate. The best mate I ever had.
A couple of beers later, I ask Keith how his job’s goin. He tells me how much he loves it, but how fuckin sad it is sometimes, you know, with how young some of the kids are nowadays, and how it reminds him of us - how we used to be - and how they don’t listen, thinkin they got it all sorted out, the whole fuckin world, and how he knows they’ll end up banged up or dead and there ain’t nothing he can do about it, other than tell em that’s what’s gonna happen, then let em get on with it.
‘Fuckin sad,’ he says.
And as I’m sittin here listenin to Keith, and how much he loves what he’s doin now, and how clean and tidy his gaff is, and how he’s got a new telly and video thing, and one of them little hi-fi things on a shelf, and Bob Marley playin low and them posters on the wall, I’m wonderin where me own fuckin life is goin.
Never heard Keith talk so fuckin much. He’s changed. In a good way. I mean, he’s fuckin sorted. He asks me if I’m all right. I tell him I am, but he knows I ain’t. Not by a long way. He leans forward from his armchair, looks right inside me and sees all the fuckin tears and dark and hurt what I’m carryin.
‘You got to look after yourself, mate,’ he says, soft and quiet, like he don’t want no-one else hearin, like it’s some sort of secret, even though there’s just me and him. He says about if I need to talk, he’s always here.
I sort of laugh, and say cheers, mate. But he means it, and he fuckin tells me so. I swallow down the tears, and say cheers again. But I say it smaller this time, sort of like the words I got deep inside are squeezin themselves up to me throat, no matter how much I try amd keep em down.
He tells me there’s a geezer where he works who talks to the kids when they’re all proper wound up. Calms em down. Sets em straight. Says if I want his number.
I know he’s only tryin to help, but I don’t need to talk to some cunt I don’t even know.
Another beer, and it’s time to be off. Been a good night. Like I says, he’s the best mate I ever had, Keith.
Dunno what I’d fuckin do without him.
(to be continued.....)
If that extract didn't get you chomping at the bit to read more about John Sissons and his life I genuinely don't know what your heart is made of. That said, if haven't already it'd probably be a good idea to read the first two books first.
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