Full Moon Gone Mad
by Stewart Lowe
Chapter 1 A Night For Ben to be Flying
I should be able to control my own feet. That would seem to me to be the minimal requirement of a functioning fucking human being. I’m not talking about a bairn because that’s a completely different kettle of fish but me, a grown man, about to enter his 32nd.year of life , I should be able to control my feet.
And I can’t
I see my legs down there, where they’ve always been, and I look at my feet and they’re doing a little dance. A little dance of madness. Moving around the cracks in the pavement .Picking at the fag ends of somebody’s life between the paving slabs. Frightened about something, but not sure what is is. A shadow somewhere at the back of my mind.
I’m standing about on the pavement on a cold February morning, waiting for the arrival of my dad. I am wearing my Hibs strip. My hands are shaking uncontrollably. Not frost bite but, definitely a biting of sorts. Thoughts and ideas with sharp points eating me up. The football in my shaking hands needs to be inflated before the match can begin but just the thought of a game brings back warm memories. I place the football between my legs to hold it there in some clever acrobatic pose and blow into my cupped hands. I wish I had grabbed a jumper but the past is always round the corner waiting to catch me out. The things undone. The things unsaid. The headlines never written. A day in the life of the manic depressive.
I watch the paper boy going about his job, his hood up and the wheels of his bike spinning. I remember how delivering papers was my first real job until I met the angry man in the flat above the chip shop who grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and shook me until my brain was loose. I put dog pooh through his letter box late one night when he had gone to bed, the house lights put to sleep, and I sneaked up the stairs with my delivery.
I have always been one for revenge, especially when my disorder is in the up phase, when energy and me are inseperable, truly united and the wheels are rolling along.
My dad is taking me on a journey. He reckons that I need to be away from home, escape to a different environment, so that I can scrape through this episode. His words. Scrape through. The words remind me of burnt toast for no good reason and I have the image of a knife travelling along the surface of my body,the hard,rasping sound and those nasty, black,burnt bits spinning off into space, missing, beyond all logic, the bin open at my feet.
Anything other than the Hell of Ward 23.I was deeply shocked to discover that Ward 23 had changed its name. It is slightly unhinging when a place you think you know changes its name without a vote on the matter, as if my bedroom could suddenly be renamed the garden shed, and thus be devoted to a completely different agenda, without any warning or discussion.
I tell you the truth, we all need anchors and the way in which those in charge of us change things willy-nilly is, in my eyes, a clear sign of how little regard they hold us in.It is an outright attempt to befuddle us, the patients ,who are, lest we forget, the very reason d’etre for their existence. I said as much to Dr. Scott, who has a smile that crinkles up his whole face. He shrugged his shoulders and gave nothing in self-defence, not a scrap of an argument. He is a foreigner by all accounts so should be at home in my world where I always feel like the outsider, a foreigner in all but name.
He has always worn a white outfit somewhat frayed around the edges. He has an annoying habit of looking pleased with himself, his little beady eyes seeming to dance behind the dark frame of his glasses. He continues to wiggle his crossed leg in contentment, no matter how the conversation is progressing. Many a time I have wanted to say that there should be a rule against such happiness in a place like this, a place where happiness or , at best, a sense of sleepy contentment, requires the liberal use of drugs. The drugs I am referring to come under the heading of medication. They are legitimate drugs, given out with gay abandon. They can completely fill the palm of my hand and it does not do to wonder how you will swallow such a rattling of pills.I have consumed in my time a veritable mountain of them, my liver screaming for a day of rest. I have obliged by making a decision to leave the pills in their tight little compartments and, in recent weeks, I have re-discovered the real me.
My dad reckons he wants to save my soul,like it’s hanging around somewhere on a washing line and when he can get to it, he will unpin it , wrap it carefully under his arm and stash it safely away. He’ll give it a good talking to in his own time, the way you do.It’ll need a bit of an iron ,what with the creases but worse things will happen.Parents can ill afford to be sniffy when it comes to looking after their offspring.
Last night I was surprised to find thatI was being taken, in handcuffs, to a new signpost in my life. As I have already indicated, Ward 23 was no more. It had been renamed Hermitage Ward, not that I want you to think it had had a complete overhaul and that money had been involved. A new name was far cheaper than a coat of paint in any event.
The police officer was , thankfully, in the process of releasing my hands from the handcuffs which , in the blink of the eye , allowed me to make a gesture of astonishement.I rubbed my eyes on hearing the words from the mouth of the only professional on duty at the time, a very good looking nurse who was far too interested in the police officer at my side. I would swear in court that they snogged at the very moment when I bent over to re-tie my laces. I would have liked to have that observation recorded in the proper manner but with mad types like myself the rules go by the board and it is enough that you get a cup of weak tea in your cold hands while you are waiting for the procedures to move on a pace.
I was being admitted to Hermitage Ward, the nurse said once again.
“Arrival at four minutes past five,” she recorded.”Just in time for tea.”
One hand fiddled with used paperclips and they made an enticing sound as they jiggled around in the little dish.I stood on tiptoes to make a more accurate observation. Six or seven, seven or six, of the little silverfish in a metal container of the stainless steel variety. Later I caught sight of her leaving the office, a paper clip in her hand but she had drawn the object out into a straight line of metal with which she dug at her teeth, presumably a lump of gristle from the hospital dinner having lodged in a crevice. The hospital food is of the poorest quality, not fit for a dog. There was without doubt more protein in the bowels of a silverfish.
She was in on the joke so she couldn’t keep a straight face.I could also tell from her expression that she recognised me from previous incarcerations and I bet she had been involved in the theft and disappearance of a pair of my Levis or, even worse, given my jeans to her boyfriend as a reward for a good fuck. They were always stealing your stuff, the staff, and always looking non-plussed when you brought the matter up. What I say is what can you expect when you pay them peanuts. After all, you can only afford morality when you have money in your pocket. The man on the street, pockets lined with a variety of crumbs, has a more down to earth view of right and wrong, making decisions according to which way the wind is blowing.
Hermitage Ward , she repeated, over and over again like a nightmare sequence in a movie. She was enjoying the moment, and was not in the least suprised by the look of confusion on my face. I was most surprised that my eyes could register any emotion at all, what with its contents gone on gardening leave and my boss, a kind man with a nest of children wrapped up in their beds at home, seeking to unravel the mess I had made of their computer systems. I did not seek to cause him trouble but you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs open.
She took a sip of her tea, boiling hot, the steam giving the illusion of mystery to her fine features as she ran a very red tongue along her lower lip where a milky bubble clung on for dear life. She blew into her cup, a proper china cup, with some Egytian pattern on its surface, contrasting so forcefully with my polystyrene affair I was holding . Hermitage was not a name I was familiar with,I wanted to say, but the expression on the policeman’s face told me he wasn’t in the mood for pointless banter. He began to whistle some inane tune, as if his mind had been occupied with an intricate point of law and had found it, after careful consideration, most satisfactory.
“ Ward 23,”I shouted,”is my other home,the place I retire to when the human race gets too much for meThe doctor told me that. I had to have no qualms about interrupting thought or human activity.I don’t know ANYTHING about Hermitage ward.”.
I had broken too many rules,lived my life on the edge for too long, to be taken seriously. I wiped my brow and blew my nose. The policeman grabbed my arm in a determined manner,and sighed at the predictability of the whole situation, having lived through such mayhem many times in his career.
“There have been some changes since you were last here. Improvements.”
I refused to play along. Like a spoiled child ,I wanted to bend the world to my whim and it was deeply annoying to find that a complete stranger had her finger on my pulse.
Ward 23 was only a step away. However reaching it had proved a difficult journey in times past. It was up three flights of weary steps.I had to make my way past paintings brought to fruition by artists who were simultaneously inmates. The half-drawn heads and faces peeking through dark green paint were repeated ad nauseum , and what made matters worse was that the artists had invented the most curious foliage,with trees and limbs of trees all over the place in a dream sequence gone mad. They made no sense at all. Very spooky. I hated the green of the foliage which reminded me of the council railings around the five-a-side pitch.
The paintings were so terrifying it almost made you feel glad to arrive at the door of ward 23. Ward 23 consists of a funny set of rooms growing out from a sordid, long corridor,a corridor stuffed to capacity with settees smelling of piss and stale cigarette smoke.It was not the sort of place you would take your granny to visit. Above the hatch where they administered the drugs was a dark streak.It was too high to be the consequence of normal activity and must commemorate some very important, violent event, an inmate who had successfully pursued a course of revenge. This was , as I knew from personal experince, a common occurrence. I was convinced a murder had been committed on the very self-same spot and the mark above the hatch was a blood stain, the type of evidence my police officer would have been delighted to examine.It was a real crime with real victims. I was determined to get to the root of the matter and I was sure that every return visit brought me closer to the source of the mystery.
Hermitaage Ward,she repeated, as though the whole kit and caboodle of us was deaf and stupid. I heard her well enough the first time and the policeman, well, he didn’t care in the slightest where they put me as long as he could get back to real police work , catching thieves and bad men , not scouring the city streets for folk off their trolley.Just because their mammies and daddies are on the phone at all hours, complaining that they have lost the best baby in the world and how did it turn out like this anyway, my baby who could play the violin in front of the whole school and who made us so proud and nowa days my baby is completely unrecognisable.
Of course the nurse was correct.I had arrived in time for teatime which made no difference at all because it was always inedible. Even the chips had a strange taste. I lived on toast when I was there, toast and runny margerine.
I hated it. And even if my dad hadn’t a clue what he was taking on, anything would be better than that living hell. Cause, after all ,the love of my life wasn’t even there so why should I wait around. I decided to give it ten minutes and noted the time on my watch.Ten minutes past five.
I recalled the love of my life, her dark hair smelling sweet and bitter at the same time, the smell of stale smoke something I have never grown used to but her body is a gift from another planet, its perfection something you should investigate in the laboratory, which is probably closer to the truth than I would want to admit. After all the world is built on a pack of lies, perforated walls constructed everywhere to keep your secrets open to the world. She said she would wait for me, wait for my return but you can only predict so much , only control the odd eruption of intelligent behaviour. The rest remains a mystery, waiting for the light of day, waiting for the eye of truth to see through the perforations, see them for what they truly are. Still the whereabouts of her flat remained a closely guarded secret. No man with a scooshing liquid would ever be any the wiser.
The love of my life was missing but my ring was there in a greasy mess of soap around the handbasin in the gents toilet. I was stunned. I stood there trying to take in the miracle of its reappearance, the black-stoned ring that was part of the very fabric of my existence.
I realised that its reappearance was part of the great plan. Everybody needs a great plan, a sense of where they are going so that you can be aware of the times when you need to take control, the times when the great plan is playing tricks with your mind. I lifted it in my hands, carefully, and wiped the soap and wet from its surface. Would it still fit? I placed it on my finger and it was as though power had been resumed, as if all the electricity wires with their complicated dance of excitement had been switched on . I was glad the door of the toilet was locked because I remembered the bad man who took it from me in the dark of an evening when he reached across the kitchen table and held my hand in his grip. He squashed my knuckles together until they bled and I showed not a sign of my fear even though I was on the very point of meeting my maker. No words were exchanged as he twisted the ring from my finger and left me alone with my cold tea and shaking legs and the knowledge that the world was a bad place. The bad man had ancestors who were born and raised in Niddrie and he had been put on this planet to make every waking and sleeping moment of my life a misery. To have yourself shaken awake in the middle of the night, to find his hard face leering down at you is not a pleasant experience.
I recalled my cowardice but consoled myself with the fact that very few men on this planet would have dared answer him back. He could do anything to me and I would play dancing bear to his tune. Just thinking of him there in that quiet space made me want to pee myself.
I had worked out that there were different kinds of people in Ward 23. On a superficial level we just looked like a bunch of nutters but if you took the time to study the inmates you would have realised the situation was much more complicated. There were three general types resting their inadequacies in the comfy seats. There were the mad, the sad and the bad. However, real interest in the subject came with the discovery that those three groups existed in different combinations. There were the mad-sad group and that was a deeply depressing sub-group. There was the bad-sad group whom it was best to avoid especially on a Monday morning but the real vultures were the mad-bad group who were to be avoided at all costs. Sean, bless his cotton socks,was one of those, a perfect storm of mental disturbance. A quiet game of scrabble with Sean could turn into a very scary movie. You had to have a very flexible spelling arrangement with Sean. Silence was golden. Say nothing as the oddest scramble of letters appeared on the board. He had the ability to fashion the most interesting combination of letters into words which rolled off the tongue. One smart arse jokingly asked if Sean had Polish blood in his body and pointed to a word on the board which had an imaginative use of zeds and x’s. It was at those times when you appreciated the skill of the doctors who had to walk the plank with Sean in a one –to-one interview situation. Unpredictability was the only predictable quality of Sean’s make-up.
I exited the toilet very cautiously. It tended to put you on your guard, the thought of Sean being in the corridor, smoking in the smoke room or worse of all, Sean resting on his laurels in the bedrooms.
My dad visited in the early evening.Whenever I was inside he coiuld never stay away. The umbilical cord was still intact.I sometimes wondered if he was really my mother and my mother was just a regular visitor to my life, someone I knew but nothing more than that. I had a story I wanted him to listen to.
“Dad, the water of Leith is stinking. I watched a dog crawl out of it the other week, a stick in its mouth.The dog made it to the side of the river and puked up its guts. The dog staggered a pace or two and began to shake like a thousand volts of electricity had passed through its body. It toppled over, stone dead.
Don’t tell me that’s natural. Don’t tell me that’s a good sign. And another thing. The fishermen along the side of the river are not catching any fish. They’re looking out for mischief and crooks and vagabonds.
A river full of dead fish. You don’t take one of those fish home to feed your family.
Stands to reason it’s a front for something else. You go along and study them. Watch their movements. They havn’t a clue how to fish. Lines caught on bushes. They don’t wear the right clothing. You don’t wear polished shoes when you are going fishing. That’s a detail they forgot about.”
My story worked.
He left in a hurry, too fast to do him any good, his feet disappearing down the concrete steps of the stairwell and only stopping to maneouvre the front door catch which was a bugger to work. No devils would make a quick escape through that door let me tell you.I imagined him running across the courtyard and fidddling with the key to the car door and little devils, wearing jambo’s football tops, knocking at his every crevice to gain entry.
I decided to leave Ward 23 straightaway.
It was only a short bus journey back to my flat in North Fort Street.
I looked around the smoke room. Nobody I knew. A fat bloke sat opposite. He was drinking tea and brushing his teeth. A lassie who looked like a witch was picking at her hair. She was wearing a tempting short skirt that made an impression but the last thing I needed was a relationship with a witch.
Beside me a young lad was curled up. He was wearing one of those fluorescent jackets workmen wear. I suspected he had been hired to make changes to Ward 23 but had learned to his enormous disappointment that there was no money to effect change. He had put away his scaffolding but chose to hang around.
It was easy to escape the place. You just had to sign yourself out. You were given a return time but if you don’t turn up they just extended the time,making it a very flexible piece of elastic.
Mind you,I had to admit that last night, in my flat, on my return, was a bit of a cracker. You would have thought my old man could have read the signs. After all, he had lived through it all before even if he was on the outside. But then again ,they were all on the outside. My mother . My sister. The police. The fire brigade. None of them had a handle on me. Last night,after binning what passes for tea in that place, I had left Hermitage ward well behind and had returned to my flat in Leith. To stake my claim. To show them who was boss.
Last night turned out to be the last straw. In the end, I had to escape them all. I had to dig my way out. Naked interference. Sticking their noses in where they weren’t wanted. My mum and dad are nice people but they don’t understand me. I look at them and there are times when I think I would be better off without them. They certainly would be better off without me. No argument. After all, I’m unlovable. Like a crocodile with a split personality.
My mum she’s the fusser. Fusses about this. Fusses about that. Panicking all the time . God knows what she would do in an emergency. I see her eyes all in a dizzy and her head is going up and down, backwards and forwards like some puppet . She wants to help but, well, to put it politely,she’s hopeless. Blood on my knee invokes the last rites. Death is always imminent like a number 14 bus coming down the Bridges and taking the corner too quickly for its own good. That image sums up my life very neatly. I’m a number 14 bus about to lose control. And you might get hurt,you might get confused at the way it all ends but don’t worry about confusion. Confusion provides its own comfort. Confusion is a rite of passage. It was for me anyway.
My dad. He’s the scary one . He was round here one night last week, warning me about this, telling me about that. Friendly advice, he calls it,twisting the long hairs of his beard over and over again. Take your medication,he says. Don’t bully your brother. Get a grip . He shouted his little bullets at me and I shrank to a wee boy on the settee, him telling me off for truanting or stealing money from my mum’s purse. But I’m not a wee boy and I can take control. I can size up the situation.
I should feel sorry for him , the lost figure before me, growing older by the minute. He doesn’t take enough drugs ,in my opinion, not that you can give that kind of advice to your old man, well, I can’t anyway. I havn’t that kind of relationship with him. I just present the pictures of the marijuana plant in all its guises,all over the walls, and let him draw his own conclusions. We’re more like ships passing in the night than anything else. I saw him the other week, out of the corner of my eye, giving soup to a useless crowd of no-gooders on the Bridges. The wind was fierce, always is up there, and he held a little cardboard cup of soup, held it out to this dirty old man, who was sinking faster than a dead ship, and the soup catapulted into the air to come down in his lap, at least on his smelly blanket , and the ungrateful bastard made as if to stand up but he couldn’t make it and my dad fetched another cup of soup, like there was an andless pot of soup for types like that and my dad was pathetic. I wanted to run up to him and slap him about the head and say, get a grip, he’s lost, a waste of space but I couldn’t and I didn’t.I sometimes think he’s the child and I’m the dad. He needs me more than I need him. It is best to be honest, to tell the truth as it is.
Last night I sized up the situation.
I needed a fag so I said, dead politely ,always catches them out, could I go to my bedroom for a fag and they agreed. I was the compliant child playing the game they wanted me to play. They were pleased to get rid of me for a minute. Hold a hurried conference in my absence ,gabbling about the police, about how they would transport me back to the ward, about how many times the nurses must be told that I’m not well.
In my bedroom, it’s magic. It’s high up. Three storeys in this row of terraced houses. On a night like last night ,I was the man in the moon.
I opened the window and the wind blew all the bad stuff away. The fag smoke flew like drunk bats into the dark. I looked out and there was rain in the wind , big spots as though a storm was brewing. My head was clearing itself,becoming a deep,calm pool where it was easy to make a decision.
You see it was a night for flying. A night for Ben to be a flying eagle ,daring to look the full moon in the eye. I was an eagle with wings the size of Princes Street. And the moon was a bad moon, full of its own importance. It told its own story to the cold night sky.
Outside the window is a balcony ,not a balcony with a wee crappy metal fence around it but a balcony like the edge of a mountain top. I was at the peak of my powers and I could see more than the cars below. I could hear the rain pattering on the roofs of the cars ,bubbles of moisture performing like trampoline artists. I could see more than the dog turds on the pavement. I could see more than the half-drawn curtains on the flat opposite where the lassie was combing her hair in the mirror. I could see more than the angry couple in the flat at the corner ,with the door banging on a Friday night when she loses the place and when she slaps the bloke across the face ,the sound travelling right into the pocket of my heart where I collect good thoughts and keep them warm and dry. Yes,that night on that roof on the 3rd.February 2012 with the Edinburgh sky vast and weary, I was god of all I surveyed. It was time for a new mythology.
My feet were dancing for joy. I felt like the good people of Iraq watching that statue of Saddam Hussein come crashing down and all the dust rising into the superheated sky, and, for a second ,shutting out the killer sun, but only for a moment ,because the dust ,like all dust, will settle into nooks and crannies where it all belongs. I am a collector of dust.That Saddam ,I knew all about him. I had seen the secret documents in soft, sweaty hands long before Blair and Bush. The weapons of mass destruction hidden in caves in the mountains ,hidden behind rocks bigger and heavier than the rock that Jesus pushed aside, the holes in his hands leaking heavenly bubbles of blood. I told my dad loud and clear. I said you don’t know the Middle East. Its people are good people who won’t take the invasion lying down. I saw that in their faces as Saddam toppled down, tons of hardened concrete which never belonged in the desert.Not now.Not anytime. The cradle of civilisation was not a place for concrete blocks. Concrete was for motorways. Concrete belonged to airport security where you made sure entry was forbidden.
I even constructed a drawing to help my dad because a picture can say more than a thousand words and, even though my hands were shaking, the drawing said everything and I stabbed at the outline with the stub of my pen to make it the situation crystal clear.
I find it is best to have transparency. We are not all double agents. Jesus told it how it was. I admire his honesty in the face of corruption.
Clarity is what I sought. I’m a great believer in making everything crystal clear. I knew where I was and you know where you are. Confusion is the enemy of clarity as I said to my mum earlier that evening. It might have been only ten minutes ago. It might have been a long week ago.Time is of the essence. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, then that is your problem. If you don’t understand me, then you are not on my side.
Because, after all, we’ve choices to make. Decisions to take. Either you love me or you don’t. There’s no half-way house. My mum tells me she loves me but then, when I say you’ve got to trust me, she stands back , to make it clear she knows better. I can read her every gesture, her lips a hard line, her eyes winding me up.
I’m sorry for their stupidity.
I’ll do it my way. I’ll solve the ups and downs of my life. The fact is I love Anne and I have never loved Marlene. That’s a fact. I couldn’t stand the way Marlene needed me, needed to have me about all the time.She would phone to tell me she was about to top herself but what did she expect me to do. I was director of operations . I had life and death decisions to make. I had a computer company to attend to. Tred softly with Microsoft. There’s only room for one boss. Because when the chips are down, you need to know someone is at the helm ,someone who is not afraid to act. You can’t always have a safety net. Namby-pamby Health and safety. Check this kidney. Check that liver. If a pill is as good as its word, then it’s better than a politician, better than Blair. A pill never lies.
Now.Tomorrow and forever.
You couldn’t just ring me up willy nilly and demand my time. I mean you wouldn’t phone Gordon Brown and ask him to sort out a problem you were having with your bin men ,the fact that they left your cardboard blowing about the streets of Leith on a Monday morning. Gordon Brown had to tinkle with figures .He had to make sure the Defence Budget wasn’t crumbling like that statue .He had to be responsible.That’s the way it is. And me. I’m responsible.
I said to myself, I wish I had a camera in my brain to record the moment as I swung my head along the panorama spread before me and the rain growing firmer and the wind blowing up a storm. The streets of Leith are not the streets of Edinburgh. In Leith trash rules. The moon was contaminated, hidden by ths sudden crowding out of the clouds.
You think there is nothing new in the planet but that’s a great big lazy lie. There’s nothing new if you allow yourself to think that way.
When I was up on the roof on a night like that, my mind fresh and vigorous with the power of a blow torch, I’ve the speed of Superman and the climbing skills of Spiderman.
I stepped the two paces to the edge and the roughness of the stone parapet against my soft hands reminded me of how man has fallen. Once upon a time we struggled against the elements and there was dignity in our conflict .Rain. Fire Water. Now we’re all hiding in our glasshouses, never daring to feel the rawness of the world.
Now it was my turn to test the fickleness of nature. There was a fifteen foot drop to the ledge below. I climbed on to the rim of the parapet and stood straight and strong and my hands felt the cold heat of the stars dotting the heavens.The moon was a child’s drawing of the moon, its bright yellow too real to have been invented.
Below me a car thumped its undercarriage on the speed bump and some kid smacked his ball against a John Lewis van.
Nobody lifted their heads.
For a second the wind caught me in its hands and lifted the hairs on the back of my hands and I could tell gentle from rough. For a second I thought of ending it all but the river of life pulled me onwards.
I looked at the climb ahead. My plan of escape. Once on to the neighbouring roof there was a climb along some ten houses to the bank on the corner. Drop on to the flat roof below. Drop from there to the street.
I knew what to do. Below me a ledge, solid like Saddam’s concrete face. I lowered my weight on to the edge of the balcony and spun myself around until I was hanging from the mountain. Below me I knew there was a meeting place for a landing. The scrape of the rough stone against the arms of my jacket.I felt a key in my pocket hard against the wall ,a rib poking out. You had to know yourself. You had to have a feel for engineering. Trust. The moment you let go in that Leith darkness. Would I ever land again or like some landslide just topple and roll ,topple and roll, and land on the grass below staring up at the sky, staring up at the faces of the loved ones around me, dad, mum, Ellen, Polly, Rosanne ,Patrick? I would have the last laugh. I was in charge. The decision maker extraordinaire. My family just didn’t get relationships, the dance of human intercourse, more satisfying than a fuck.
My fingers were letting go. Straightening. I was slipping free. Gravity would win the day.
I let go and thump, the feet slipping , the knees aching. A crack of my cheek against the wall and rough little stones leaving a message on my right cheek.
I laughed out loud in my head. I had outmanoeuvred the whole kit and caboodle. Left them high and dry. I could hear voices. An escape from the concentration camp. The imagined lights flying around ,turning dark spots into clean daylight, lights flapping like bright birds of prey.
“Where in God’s name is he?”
My dad in the front garden ,flustering, the bird of sense long flown away. He speaks to Donald, the new love of my mum’s life.Donald smokes a fag. He’s gagging for a pint . W e are all creatures of habit .
“Donald , you’ve been here all the time. Have you seen him?
I’ll go upstairs . I’ll sneak out on to the roof.But it’s no night to be out there.I wouldn’t send my worst enemy out on a night like this.”
“He must be up there. He can’t escape the bedroom.”
“Maybe, he’s climbed over the roof upwards. Maybe, he’s gone over the roof. Susan has phoned the police. We need the fire brigade.He’s not a bird. He can’t fly.He belongs inside.”
I was now on my belly ,a snake ,moving along the rim of the rooftops. I could see dad and Donald.Two old men outfoxed. They had moved too far from their roots,too far from the beginning of time. I was the one who knew what to do in an emergency.
Even here on the edge of the roof I could hear a television play out the end credits of Eastenders. The dum-dum-dum of the closing credits belonged to me , not some fictional character in an imagined world of props where the walls are feeble and temporary.
I wondered what world picture I hovered above. Were there loved ones in the nest below? Just rising from settees to put the kettle on. Two people can say so much with a cup of tea.
I had the opportunity to glimpse different worlds, to see people as they really were without the faces they put on ,hurriedly, when the door was pulled open and the visitors arrived unexpectedly early.
Along I crawled. Below me more signs of ignorant panic. A police car shouting to the world and then, joy beyond joy, a fire engine. A real winner. A cup final hat- trick. A fire engine beats a police car no bother. Rock. Scissors. Paper.
I now lowered myself quietly on to the bank roof and, moments later, lowered myself on to the pavement, just missing a dog turd hiding there. I moved across the street to the dark corner opposite and was able to survey my work. A crowd was gathering. People love a good dying scene and my mum was at ease and comfortable with the disaster movie. She would be there . A wreck. Comfort in the arms of the street strangers who had their own story to tell. Pity I was dusted down and invisible, a smooth James Bond.
I looked at my knuckes, the skin peeled back .My soft hands were bleeding and two nails were bleeding. Small price to pay.
I needed a fag. I even started to whistle and I never whistle but success makes fools of us all. Perhaps, it was the whistle which gave me away because when I looked bakwards to the scene of my glory I spotted two old men who were pointing in my direction.
No problem. I took to my heels showing a clean pair. Ferry Road was completely ignorant of my existence. A dog walker taking time to pea at a lampost . A car waiting to exit on to the street ,window down and that old Beatles tune -
There are places I remember,
Some have gone and some remain.”
Pulling us all somewhere different.
My legs were strong and I crossed Junction Street at a gallop. I spotted an archway, a perfect hiding place. Inside a yard of sorts ,one light high up in the building. An assortment of recycling bins. I sneaked behind one. It was surprisingly cosy finding this particular corner of the universe, a spot which was basic enough to meet my needs.I smoked a quiet fag, the day’s images flickering past me. I laughed inside. Being a hero takes many shapes. I heard the patter of feet in the street.Moments later my dad stood above me. That was not the image I wanted the day to end with.
“Son, you need to come with me.”
Perhaps he didn’t see me after all. Just stay silent.
“This way ,dad.”
My sister was directing dad towards me . What a betrayal. I will never forgive her.
My dad rested an arm on my shoulder.
“You need rest.”
An officer took over.He was not the same agent as earlier in the evening. I would only stay for an hour or two.I wasn’t enamoured of Hermitage Ward. I was aware of the roughness of his uniform across my face, as he lifted me. He placed me in the back of his van. I was in a cage, a place for a mad dog. I watched my dad and my sister.
A long time ago, in a different life, we three had had fun together. At a fun fair. The lights flickering, the music loud. We had raced from one ride to another, making the most of the closing moments of an unforgettable day.And here we were, we three on a windy, wet night in Leith , at the end of another unforgettable day. Some things never change.
I saw my sister shake her head and ,I am sure, a tear was in her eye. I smiled but nobody took any notice. I would have shaken the bars of my cage but preferred the trick of silence.
Ward 23 would never hold me. Hermitage Ward simply didn’t exist. I will always believe in the moon before I believe in the power of the medication I am reluctant to take every night of my wholesome,life-affirming existence and turn it into a trick of the mind.