Every so often I share on this blog a piece I’ve written at one of the two writers’ groups I go to. Here’s one I did a couple of weeks ago. I don’t quite know where this came from – it was in response to a jumble of words (of which ‘cockroach’, ‘pallid’, ‘clown’ and ‘towering’ made it into the piece). I suppose the time of year and the miserable weather had something to do with it. Anyway, since we are still in the Christmas period, just about, here you go ….
How have I come to this? The question often comes to me when I wake, when my mind is at its clearest: clear enough to see what I have become, not so clear that I understand. Was I not once respected, loved, gainfully employed? Did I not once have friends, money, a house? For a home now I have a damp cardboard box and a grubby sleeping bag, with a bottle of Thunderbird for central heating; for money, a baseball cap full of small change; for friends a few rats and cockroaches. Not the junkies across the street, that’s for sure. Call me a drunk if you like, but I consider myself a better class of addict. At least I don’t rent my arse out to strangers. Who am I kidding? I almost envy them, in a way. At least they sometimes get to spend a night in someone’s bed.
It’s always worst at this time of year. The Sally army came round yesterday and gave us all mince pies and Santa hats. I’d rather not be reminded what day it is today, thank you very much! Still, the hat is warmer than a baseball cap and I managed to swap the pies for a can of Special Brew. Kind of wish I’d kept ‘em now – I’m starving, and the Brew is long gone. Still, there’s an inch of ‘Bird in the bottom of the bottle. That’ll do for breakfast, I suppose. I take a swig from the bottle, then another one. All gone.
I can’t tell you how cold it is. Not the sharp, icy cold you get when it freezes, but a kind of wet, clinging cold that seeps into every part of you. There’s a clammy fog, so thick I can barely see across the street. It’s not fully light yet and the fog has a pale, eerie glow to it like some alien mist from a science fiction movie. This is not the kind of place you want to be when you wake up, or any time at all. It’s starting to freak me out.
A shadow moves through the fog, silhouetted from behind by the light of a street lamp. It moves almost silently, yet in jerky, robotic steps. And it’s coming this way! As it approaches, the shadow becomes bigger and bigger. What is is? Jack the Ripper? Or the ghost of Christmas yet to come?
I’m scared now. I should run, but my numb legs will not obey me. All I can do is squirm in my box and hug the sleeping bag around me. Now the figure is towering over me and at last I can make out features: a pallid, ghostly face with deep-set, dark-ringed eyes like a clown. An arm stretches out towards me.
“Bring it on,” I say to myself, “but make it quick.”
From the face a voice issues, high-pitched and oddly cheerful.
“Happy Christmas, mate,” it says. It’s one of the junkies from across the street. I extend a hand to meet the one held out to me. And I take a mince pie.