WARNING: the story contains references to drugs,
scenes of a sexual nature and very strong language.
Ryan had quickly walked out of the motel and down the street, heart thumping madly in his chest, his fingers wrapped tightly around the stolen wallet, deep in his coat’s pocket.
He had never assaulted anyone to steal, before. Not that he felt guilty about it. George had got what he deserved, the disgusting perv that he was. Now he thought he could also get away with not paying the agreed price. Well, fuck him!
Ryan turned a corner and stopped.
The rushed walk had brought on another attack and he leaned against a wall while he coughed and spat, trying to catch his breath.
Perhaps George was right; something was wrong with him.
Heroin and the conditions he lived in had fucked his immune system, he knew it, and he didn’t even want to imagine what other shit could be wrecking his fragile body. STDs, HIV, hepatitis… everything was possible.
It was past caring, by now. He was constantly playing Russian roulette with his life, every time he injected not knowing what crap the dose he had just bought had been cut with, if what he was shooting would get him to overdose, if a customer was giving him a death sentence by not wearing a condom, or if the guy that picked him up in his car was in fact a maniac or a serial killer. There were so many risks he was taking, that getting ill with some cold or chest infection was the least of all evils.
He wheezed again and was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of impotency and anger, as the remains of his life lay at his feet with spit and catarrh. A knot was closing his throat and he gulped it down before hitting the wall with his fist.
You stupid cunt! What were you thinking, beating up your best customer? You’ve just pissed away two hundred quid a week! What do you care if he treats you like shit? He pays you! You said it yourself, feelings are a luxury you can’t afford.
He could not be fearful, disgusted or angry, he could not cry or laugh, hate or love. Not anymore. He was too numb and desperate.
Sometimes he struggled to remember how it felt to experience an emotion.
Occasionally he would get brief sparks, anger, mainly, shame and hate. But they would soon be put out, buried in that part of his soul that was slowly dying, together with distant memories of a boy who had disappeared long before, of a forgotten life and a young love.
Hailey was like him, just as lost and alone.
For months they had shared a squat with another half a dozen desperate losers, a filthy, cold, rat infested, boarded up building, the first dwelling Ryan had found when he had arrived in Brighton.
He was only nineteen and had been missing from home a year already, partly kicked out, partly runaway.
His story was text book, so lame, it wasn’t even worth telling; middle class kid doesn’t get on with his parents, rebels, mixes with the wrong crowd, starts with spliffs at fourteen, by fifteen is smoking smack and, less than a year later, heroin finds a way through his veins. He moves from academically promising to school drop out, gets in trouble with the law, steals from home, makes family life a nightmare, finally goes missing and becomes just another statistics in the crammed drugs files.
But at the squat no one was interested in his or anyone’s story. They could make up their names, invent a different past or have none at all.
Of Hailey he knew she was seventeen and she had been hooked on heroin for as long as he had. She was small and delicate like a child, with large blue eyes and ash blond hair tied in a short pony tail. She’d approached him the night he had arrived, asked him if he would sleep with her in exchange for drugs or money. But he had neither. She’d sat by him in silence and cried.
He’d stayed with her all night, sweating and shivering too, holding her hand tight in his as they lay together, sick with craving.
Holding on to her somehow had made it less painful, not only that first night, but in the days to come. If it was love or desperation, Ryan couldn’t tell, but he soon had needed her as much as he needed the drugs.
He’d forgotten what it meant to feel loved, to know that someone cared if he lived or died. Hailey had given some meaning to his empty days, even if she only moved with him through that emptiness, sharing in his battles and in his defeats and in their impossible dreams. They had drawn them together, whispering in the quiet of the night, embracing under an old, mouldy duvet: all the places they were going to see, the things they were going to have, the life they were going to build.
Feelings… even then feelings were something he could not afford.
He could not feel pain the day he lost her.
He’d just stared at her cold face, at her skin turned a pale blue tinge, her open wide eyes, the needle still in her arm.
He’d stood there in a stupor, while the others were already splitting and pulling him away.
“She ODed, mate,” someone had told him. “She’s gone.”
He’d followed the group in a trance, not daring to turn back, leaving behind his last image of her and everything that had kept him alive.
Perhaps that had been the day he’d stopped to feel and life had become just survival, time simply a prolonged agony to a promised death that wouldn’t come.
Ryan stared into the orange light with which the lampposts coloured the night.
Hailey had peeked into his thoughts earlier, as he lay with George and the man talked to him softly, caressing his face, gently describing all the ways he would like to hurt him and make him cry for mercy, indulging in his sick, twisted fantasies. It was part of the ritual, Ryan didn’t even listen anymore.
Why had he suddenly ached, that night, longed for real caresses and for his lost dreams?
Feelings… where had they come from?
Fucking, fucking idiot!
He pulled George’s wallet out of his pocket and went through its content. First he checked the money and found a hundred and twenty pounds.
And the fucker was palming him off with forty.
There were old tickets and receipts; dry cleaning, a Chinese take-away, petrol. There were no bank cards, strangely, just the cash. He only found the Library’s and various business cards, restaurants, a taxi company, a gay escort agency.
Last, he came across an old black and white picture, a woman holding a chubby baby of about one, smiling at him as she pointed at the camera and the boy were about to cry.
It wasn’t difficult to recognise the baby as George and Ryan guessed the woman was the man’s mother, with whom George still lived. She too was a source of mixed feelings, of love and resentment. George’s mother had a powerful hold on her son. He had often scared Ryan with his ramblings on the subject, his desire to break away, his fear of letting go. Ryan had become part of those fantasies, where George would take him away from his low life to start a new one together, freeing Ryan from heroin and himself from his inadequacies and his domineering mother.
There had been more feverish talks that night, George had come across even more manic than usual, and without warning old whispers and dreams had come back to Ryan, the way two young lovers too had planned their escape, their future together. As he remembered, he’d felt it, the hole that was left where he once had love. He’d been filled with a desperate loneliness and Hailey had come to him.
But he could not afford to have feelings and he’d had to let go of her, pull himself back into the dusty, cold room, with George’s smell, George’s voice, George’s body…
Ryan replaced the old photo and sank the wallet in his pocket.
The cold, orange night was still with him.
He moved away from the wall and walked towards it.
Continues in Part Four