by Steven Moss
You first noticed it in the supermarket. Getting tired carrying shopping baskets. It got so bad you’d leave the basket on the floor if you forgot something and went back to another aisle. Like Camembert. It’s easy to forget Camembert, so depending how heavy the basket was, you’d sometimes leave it on the floor and go and get the soft cheese. Usually then, you’d remember something else and wander off for that too. That’s when you first noticed it, the breathlessness. Straining for air and arms aching like you’d dragged a truck with a rope. It never occurred to use a trolley. Why would you? You only ever popped in for a couple of things anyway.
Today you don’t need a basket. You just needed some codeine for the toothache and it’s been a while since you bought Camembert. Besides, you’ve only got a tenner left and you’ve got plans for that. The hill out of town seems steeper some days and on this particular day, passing the high street shops, it hits you hard. Hard so you can’t breathe and you need a rest and because a doorway at the back of the shopping precinct seems ideal, you sit down. Tiredness is something of a familiarity nowadays. The doctor said your hemoglobin is low. Like, really low. You shrugged. Asked, ‘Is it important?’ Turns out it is.
You’d rung your friend Pat when you got the news and explained it to him best you could. You told him how you’d stopped working, how you couldn’t lift the boxes anymore. Pat’s a good guy. Your mum liked Pat. Your girlfriend, before you split up, liked Pat. He’s been your best friend for over 40 years, which is a long time when you’re only 45. ‘Sounds shit,’ he’d said. Pat’s studying Classics and Ancient History at the Open University, says it gives him something to think about while stacking shelves at Poundland. ‘So what you doing for cash,’ he’d asked. ‘You know, if I had any spare you could have it.’ You told him you didn’t need money even though you did. You explained about the tests you had coming up and how they said they’d fit you in right away. ‘Seems a bit quick,’ you’d added and he agreed, said, ‘Let me know how you get on, let me know if it’s serious.’ You like Pat, though in truth you’re annoyed he’s healthier than you.
Ten years ago, when Leo died, all the lads set up a Death Pool. You decided it would be a good laugh. Everyone chucked a tenner in and whoever predicted the next death in the group won the pot. You’d even suggested a badge to wear at whoever’s funeral it was. ‘A fucking badge?’ Pat asked. ‘Yeah,’ you said. ‘A winner’s badge.’ You’d wear it as well, especially if Pat died next. Then you gets to thinking, there was something in the way Pat said, ‘Let me know, let me know if it’s serious.’ Then it dawned on you. He had you in the Death Pool.
You don’t know how long you’ve been asleep when you wake up with your coat pulled round you like a blanket but there’s about £3 in change on the floor and someone’s left a half empty bottle of water. People hurry past you. Your tooth is aching so you get the codeine and a couple of tramadol. You got the tramadol off a lad who had a bad back and didn’t like them so you took them off him because you do like them. You think about the joiner who changed the locks earlier and the bailiff who said he couldn’t do anything but give you a letter. You’d thought about ringing Pat but when you spoke to him last he said it wasn’t a great time. Him and the wife were having a bad couple of weeks and there wasn’t much room at his place anyway. Is this how it happens you think, too tired to do anything, so you end up sleeping where you fall. You need a drink to wash the pills down so you reach for the bottle of water but you’re not sure. You hear stories about date rape drugs and the water might be spiked. You imagine being taken comatose after a few sips and carried away somewhere and opened up and your kidneys removed. Or raped. You’re thinking about this when you look up and see a man staring at you. He’s got a blanket and a bag. One of the things with being tired, you haven’t been looking after yourself so you probably look authentic though you know the guy looking at you knows you aren’t legit. He nods, well, it’s more of a snarl and you know it is time to move on. You take the water but leave him the £3.
You pop the codeine and tramadol as you walk and stop at the off-licence where you know they’re still doing three bottles of wine for a tenner. The bag’s heavy but there’s a place further out of town where you can crash so you head there, exhausted, but you keep going until you arrive. It’s getting dark and you open the first bottle. Take a swig. The pills are killing the toothache and you find it easier now to think about what you’re going to do. It’ll be alright you decide so you start on the second bottle and pop another couple of pills. Night time feels like a blessing and the wine takes the chill and you’re mumbling a song in the dark. Singing to yourself because you feel happy and safe. The pills make you a bit sick so you lean over and throw up but that’s understandable so you keep singing the song, the song you used to sing with your daughter. It’s OK you think and you know it’s true. Everything’s gonna be alright.
About the photographer: Kyle Hemmings has art work in The Stray Branch, Euphenism, Uppagus, Black Market Lit, and elsewhere. He loves pre-punk garage bands of the ’60s, Manga comics, urban photography and French Impressionism.