Written by Christy Smyth, a Creative Writing student from Chesterfield, living in Liverpool. Digs Alice Cooper.
An orange tablet is dropped into water, leaving its trail as it breaks, fizzes, and fills the space till there is nothing but shades of orange which bubble and froth. A speck of what was once the tablet floats back to the top, till that speck, like all things, fizzles out into nothingness.
‘Rough night?’ Mum asks, coming from the other end of the kitchen, fag in mouth and rattling with jewellery.
Michael re-forms images of the night before. Filled with lines and pills, happiness and heartbreak, and a small foetus growing inside his ex-girlfriend.
It floats, fizzes, and fills the space.
‘Not too bad.’
They smoke and watch Jeremy Kyle, even though they’ve seen these people before and know who the father is.
Yeah, but ow can you be a good dad, yeah, when yer always (censored) stoned?
Sunlight creeps through cracks in the closed blinds, illuminating the plumes of smoke, the charity shop Buddha, and the glass nick-knacks.
‘Ave you got any mates coming over?’
You can’t be a good dad, yeah, when yer always off with yer (censored) waster mates!
Brad arrives in his orange B&Q work shirt, filled with energy, making the two lumps laid on separate sofas seem even more deflated.
‘Eyup, Brad.’ says Mum, getting off the seat holding a ketchup stained plate. ‘How’s work?’
‘Not too bad, Karen, just here on my break.’
They head up to Michael’s room, roll cigarettes and listen to The Specials. Empty Monster cans and Rizla packets lay all around, gathered throughout the week, ready to be cleaned on Sunday. Weeks like this have passed before, and will continue to pass. Michael imagines a different room, cream sofas and tasteful IKEA furniture, slogans on signs, ‘Live, Laugh, Love’, colour coordinated trays of pot-pourri, tidily arranged magazines on coffee tables, inoffensive articles on how to make the perfect quiche, the sound of a baby crying, heard through a monitor. He snaps out of it, back, into his own room.
A change must come. But not now, not for a baby, not for Hannah and her Huraches.
‘Owt interesting happen after I left last night?’ Brad asks.
‘Not much, just got fucked up. Madeline got off with Eddy, and I caught Danny passed out with Harriet on top of him. And then Hannah fucking told me she’s preggers.’
‘Nah mate, she’s preggers as fuck.’
They smoke, exhale loudly, and shake their heads. ‘Do Nothing’ plays, volume half way. Michael lays back on the mattress, his head against the wood-chipped wall, and heavy with thought. Dead loved ones, lost jobs, gone-down dealers. They’ve stopped Adventure Time. He can feel these crises culminate into one big crisis. These smaller burdens no longer stand alone, they combine and fall on Michael’s shoulders.
‘You know what you should do,” says Brad, as the light from outside catches his face, ‘Is go see my mate, the wise man.’
If there was a joke or pop-culture reference in there, Michael fails to get it.
‘I know this guy Kevin. I can give you his number if you want. He’s wise as fuck. Does decent tens too.’
And since he has nothing to do, no weed to smoke, and no Adventure Time to watch, he takes the number before walking Brad back downstairs.
Mum is back on the sofa, eating Cheddar on Ritz and drinking Lambrini.
I just don’t know what to do anymore Jezza, I’ve given up to be honest.
‘See you later, Karen.’
‘See you later, love, have a good’un.’
‘I’m heading out too Mum.’
Outside, free of the heavy smell of smoke and gone-off food, they separate to follow two very different paths.
[Got this number off a mate, can u sort a ten?]
[Yh mate, txt me when ur outside Ayer Court.]
Kevin, the wise man, is not like other Shaman types. He does not live across a wild sea, but Michael does walk along the canal. He does not live up a tall mountain, but Michael does trek up Jawbones hill. After getting to the run-down tower block, and climbing the stairs to the top floor because the lift is broken, Michael arrives at the wise man’s door. He is not greeted by a hooded figure, he does not knock thrice upon the door, he is not asked three questions before entrance is permitted, he just rings the doorbell. It sounds the opening theme of The Generation Game.
There is some shuffling and grunting before the door opens, revealing Kevin. Big, bald, and breathing heavily, he wears a blue dressing gown and fluffy fox slippers.
‘You Brad’s mate, yeah?’
The flat is minimal, the curtains pulled back to let in the last light of the day, a small kitchen area with a microwave and kettle, a bed with a big grey blanket and several pillows, multiple stacks of books piled high, religious texts, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, ‘The Illuminated Blake’, ‘The Viz Annual 1997’. Michael tries not to sneeze from the combined scent of cannabis and cannabis incense. There is a tank in the corner with two fish — even they look stoned, not swimming anywhere, just gormlessly staring at a colourful pebble castle as Kevin perches over to feed them. They swim up for food, then back down to their castle.
‘Brad tells me you’ve got a bit of trouble.’
‘Uh, yeah, I guess.’
‘You guess? Your ex was preggers last time I heard.’
Michael looks from the fish to Kevin, surprised, as always, by how fast these things spread.
‘Brad tells everyone everything.’ Kevin says, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in this building knew your pin code, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name.’
Kevin’s phone buzzes. He takes it out his pocket, looks at it, sighs, and puts it away again.
‘How do you take your tea?’
He offers Michael a pillow to sit on, puts the kettle on, and adjusts some birthday cards that are stood on the counter.
‘Your ex, is she fit?’
‘She’s alrate, yeah.’
The kettle grows louder, rattling on its stand, steam billowing, it clicks, and subdues.
‘This, like all things, will pass.’
‘Not to offend you mate,’ Michael says, ‘But Brad sold you as some sort of wise man. And that seems a bit more fortune cookie than Confucius.’
Kevin smiles, spooning sugar into the two mugs. ‘I don’t have the answers. I just smoke weed and chat shit.’ he hands Michael his tea, who receives it, half expecting that when he finishes his fortune could be read in the leaves. ‘Though, if you ask me, there’s nothing to stop you from having a kid. You look old enough.’
‘Who wants a kid at any age? I’d rather be smoking weed. On me own.’
‘Ave you never seen Jeremy Kyle? There’s not a baby on earth that could change a man who doesn’t want to be changed.’
Michael considers this, sips from his tea, feels its warmth inside.
‘We all get a girl up the duff every now and then,’ Kevin says, ‘It’s not a problem, it doesn’t matter. Nowt really matters, unless you make it matter.’
He finishes rolling his joint, lights it, and throws the match into the fish tank. The fish, mistaking it for food, float to the surface, then, realising their mistake, back to bang their heads on the glass, then to the colourful castle.
Kevin’s phone buzzes again. He turns it off, and puts it in a draw.
‘Let’s get a Chinese, I’m bare hungry.’
They make their order as Kevin puts on the TV and rolls another joint. For a roach, he tears a bit off one of the birthday cards, revealing a row of blue biro kisses. He passes it to Michael.
‘Your birthday recently?’
‘It was yesterday.’
Later, there is a sharp knock at the door. At first, they assume it is the Chinese, but within a couple of seconds it comes again, louder, and with an accompanying voice.
‘Kevin, you fucking shit, I know you’re in there.’
‘Shit.’ Kevin says, as he opens the door, revealing a thin blonde woman. She has a mean face and is wearing a leopard print coat. Cradled in one arm is a baby who looks like Kevin. Bald and chubby with lots of folds.
‘Where’s my fucking ring gone?’
‘I dunno, why do you want it now anyway?’
‘You fucking took it didn’t you? You know how much it’s worth.’
‘I bloody paid for it.’
‘Oh yeah, with what fucking money? You may have bought it, but I fucking earned it. Wasting my fucking life away with you for two fucking years.’
Michael follows them back and forth like a Tennis match. Her, hands on hips, spitting words into Kevin’s face as he stares back, blank and deflated, a man defeated, a man without answers.
‘Listen, I don’t know where it is, so just fuck off yeah, I’ve got company.’
‘Oh, am I embarrassing you in front of your fucking stoner mates. Who is it this time?’
She bursts past Kevin into the room and looks at Michael. Sat, watching Ace of Cakes, a mouthful of Pringles.
‘And who the fuck are you?’
‘His name is none of your fucking business, now fuck off before I get John on the bell.’
She huffs, turns around and walks back through the door, still screaming as she does.
‘I’ll be fucking back for it, you know. I’ll get someone to kick your fucking head in.’
Just as she leaves, a confused Chinese man in a red hat comes to the door. He looks at the angry woman walking away, then to Kevin, then to Michael. He shakes his head, takes off his hat, exhales deeply, and says something. Something that perfectly summarises that moment. The most hilarious, witty, and brilliantly timed punchline. The piece of wisdom that both men need…but they don’t understand. They don’t speak the language.
They eat their food in silence.
‘You came here for my advice Michael; I don’t really have any. You caught me in a transitional period. I don’t really know which way is up at the moment. I’m sorry.’
Michael snaps open a fortune cookie and unfolds the note inside.
‘Land is always on the mind of the flying bird.’
What a load of old bullshit.
Michael finishes his food, thanks Kevin for his company, and buys a ten. Then he’s gone, back into his thoughts, where there lies a vast weight of what was once a speck, which will sink to the bottom, till the weight, like all things, descends into nothingness.
- Follow Christy on Twitter @christysmyth182