The Rehab From Hell
“That one," said Doctor Luersson pointing to the picture. "That's the one I want. He'll be fun. There's no point to it if it isn't fun."
Spittle flies from his mouth on the last word. It lands on the picture of a tired looking man posing for his mug shot – his arms stretched tightly behind his back and a set of numbers across his chest. But for all this he looks angry, gazing defiantly into the camera as if to say yes this is shitty, but I'm not going down without a fight.
"We can even pick him up tonight."
The fat cop yawns and slowly gets off his ass. "He's this way," he says disinterestedly. "Serving a 24 for contempt, but you can have him early. The two orderlies follow him down the corridor. "Do you guys still use butterfly nets?" he says. He is the only one who laughs at the joke.
The big one holds up a cruel looking set of restraints. Thick stiff leather, buckles, straps and locks. The cop suddenly feels nervous. The orderly's smile doing nothing to reassure him.
"No, we are much more humane nowadays," he says.
"I thought he was just going into rehab?"
The other one turns to him and stares into his eyes. "You can never be too careful with an addict. Ever see Silence of the Lambs?"
"That one with the guy who ate people?"
The fat cop stops. "I don't think this guy ate anyone?" but the orderlies have moved on. He hurries to catch up on his short legs.
The man is a little dazed. "Where are you taking me?" he murmurs as they push him up against the wall and begin to put the straps on him.
The big orderly smiles and tightens the straps on the man's upper arms until the prisoner cries out in pain. "Hey!" he says sharply, but the orderly just pushes him back into the wall. He moves his face in close to the prisoner's left ear. "It's rehab time," he whispers.
He's shivering. The tiles are cold beneath his bare feet. This whole place is cold and the stiff pyjamas they have given him are no protection against the cold. They are a horrible green colour and they smell like they have been in storage since the First World War.
This rehab centre sucks. It matches his pyjamas. It looks as if it hasn't been renovated since the twenties.
The nurse hands him an old army jumper. He looks at it with distaste. But he quickly shrugs it on.
"My feet are cold. Don't I get shoes?"
She looks at him with contempt. "Addicts get socks only," she says, holding out a pair of predictably green socks as if they were a particularly odorous dead rat. "And do up your top button." Her high pitched Scottish whine is perfect for her smug superior tone. It cuts through his aching head like a sharp knife.
He snatches the socks and sits on the bench to put them on. "Thanks Nurse Ratched."
He is struggling to shove a sock on when the two orderlies approach. "Come on fellas," he says as he sees the restraints. "Not those again. I'll come peaceful like." Even though he is tired and cold he smiles, trying to do his best to win them over.
"You're an addict," says one of the orderlies. "You can't be too careful with an addict."
Once again he is lifted up, twisted around and strapped up: arms, wrists, ankles.
"Where are we going now?"
"To see the doctor."
"But it must be four in the morning."
"The Doctor likes to work nights," replies the orderly. "Quieter during the dreaming time."
"Okay," he says, baffled by the orderly's strange statement. He tries a different tack. He shrugs as best he can. "Do I have to wear these things all the time? I am only going to be here for two months. It's just rehab for God's sake!"
He turns to House. "Listen bud: you're an addict and you're going to see the doctor and we don't take chances until he says it’s okay."
“What do you think I am going to do to your precious doctor?"
"You still got teeth?"
"No, that's Spike from Buffy.”
"Very funny," says the big orderly as he grabs the straps at House's arm, giving him a little shake. House looks over at the nurse, hoping for a little support, but she is just staring intently at him with an expression of contempt. "I told you to do up your top button," she spits as she comes over and does it up. "You can't be going seeing the doctor with your top button undone."
"Looks like I am not the only loony in this bin," says House to himself as the orderlies pull him away.
The doctor's waiting room even looks and smells like an old doctor's office. There’s brown chairs, a hat stand and a nurse sitting behind a big brown desk.
He watches fascinated as the nurse behind the desk presses a button on a big old fashioned sixties style intercom system and leans over it. "He's here," she says.
The doctor looks like those doctors in 1950's smoking ads, except he's got those silly little round wire rimmed glasses that make him look like that Nazi villain from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
He sits there quietly as the doctor writes. The unease that has been gnawing at him since they came for him at the police station has been growing.
Eventually the doctor looks up at him.
"Hello Peter." he says with a trite smile. "My name is Doctor Luersson. You may call me Doctor Luersson. How are we today?"
He know he's not going to like this guy. "Tired, cold and pissed off."
The doctor just looks at him with pity. "Oh so sad," he says to himself. "Now what are we going to do with you?"
"Hello. I am right here."
"I'm not sure of what course to take," mutters the doctor to himself.
"What are you going to do?" His voice is thick. Although he is tired beyond belief this feels wrong and he feels afraid.
Finally the doctor looks up at him. "Why Peter: we are going to make you all better."
"All better and all normal."
"What about these," he says shrugging to emphasise the restraints.
Luersson gives a small tight smile. "They are very humane."
"Not from my perspective they aren't. They hurt."
Luersson ignores this remark and taps his teeth thoughtfully with a pen. "But I think we can dispense with those for now. I don't think you are going to be violent."
He snorts. "Oh yeah – I’m going to go on a killing spree," he says sarcastically.
But Luersson is now looking intently at him. He leans forward. His beady eyes lighting up with interest. "Do you often feel the urge to kill Peter?" he asks seriously. "Would you like to kill someone?" he adds as if somehow this can be arranged. The words 'clock tower' run through his head.
"What? No!" he says disbelievingly. "Although I could rethink my policy when it comes to moron shrinks," he adds under his breath.
The doctor thumps on the desk and he looks back at him. "So, do you suffer often from uncontrollable fits of violent rage," says Luersson questioningly.
He looks daggers at Indiana Jones Nazi Doctor Guy. "Not usually – no," he says darkly.
"I think I will still order a jacket for you though," muses the doctor.
House eyes him off. "A jacket," he says sceptically. What is this guy on? "I'm a size 44," he says. "Long or short: I don't care. And I look good in blue."
"Ha ha ha," says Luersson politely, emphasizing every 'ha' as if he were coughing. "They said you were a wit."
"Don't believe a word of what they say. It's all lies."
"You know about lies, don't you Peter. Every addict knows about lying," says the doctor.
He doesn't want to deal with this now. "Look, I have had a big day for a little addict and I'm tired. How about showing me to my presidential suite and save the condescension for tomorrow?"
"Rudeness will get you nowhere Peter."
He smiles sarcastically. "Please?"
"Much better. Perhaps there is hope for you yet?"
"Here's your room. Isn't it nice?"
House looks around. It is pathetic. White tiles on the floor and half way up the wall. And to top it all off someone had decided to make the room even more attractive by painting the walls a nauseating shade of gherk green. In one corner there is a rickety looking iron bed, like something out of the nineteen thirties.
"No it isn't," he drawls.
The hand comes out of nowhere. One second he is on his feet and the next, with no hands to break his fall, he is on an intimate basis with the floor, the blood from his split lip dripping onto the white tiles. Then big hands grip him and he is pulled upright.
"Better than an addict deserves," says the orderly. There's that word again. The word that changes everything. "So – is it nice?"
"Very," gasps House, still trying to put a little contempt in his voice. He'll call this one Brutal.
He is dragged over and pushed face down onto the bed. They undo his restraints and leave him alone. He doesn't move. He hears them lock the door as they leave. He knows he should be angry at the way he has been treated, but right now he is just too tired to care.
He doesn't know what time it is. He presumes it is very early morning by the murky light coming through the little barred window set high up. His world is now just white tiles and gherk green, made all the more sallow by the low wattage bulb. White and green. Even the blanket is green.
It's a crappy thin blanket, but he doesn't care. He wraps it around him. It's cold in his 'suite', but he sweats as the drugs in his system ooze out of the pores of his skin. Eventually the pain wears him out.
His dreams go back to the moment he lost control. One minute his world was just fine and dandy then the next the cop was turning it on its axis, spinning him around, his big rough cop hands touching his body, fumbling through his pockets, finding his drugs.
Time is passing, marked only by the rhythmic sound of the cop’s gum as he chews repetitively at it like a big fat Jersey cow. He is standing facing the side of the police car while the cop calmly sits on the hood while they wait for the impound truck for his motorbike.
He is getting cold and his wrists and shoulders hurt from the cuffs. Minutes stretch into hours stretch into days stretch into years. "Hey cop, are you going to put me in the back of the cruiser or just leave me here forever?"
The quiet calm "Would you mind facing the car please," is the only response.
"Look, you wanted to humiliate me and you've done it," he counters, but he still turns back and faces the car.
The cop says nothing. He just slowly gets off the car and comes around behind him. Casually the cop uses one hand to push him against the car. He hates how easy it is. He feels the painful thud in his chest as he hits.
"You have been arrested on drug charges." He can smell the putrid peppermint flavour of the gum. "You are an addict and you are in my custody. You will do what I tell you to do." The cop is pushing him harder and harder up against the car.
The pain in his ribs becomes unbearable where the cops fingers are pushing against him. He cries out. He is spun around. He feels giddy. He wants to puke. He feels like he has been on the roller coaster ride at the fair after eating too much candyfloss. The carnival music rings in his ears. He swallows the nausea and eventually manages to look up at the cop. The cop smiles at him. "Wakey wakey Peter," he says and pulls back a fist:
House's eyes snap open and he gasps. It wasn't real, he reassures himself. The cop hadn't hit him. But he still can't forget how that night made him feel. He'd been so God dam angry.
He hears a voice. "Rise and shine sleepy head," it sing songs. Jesus, what now? He feels like he has just been asleep for two seconds. Welcome to the wonderful world of Detox Land.
He pushes himself up and looks over to find the source of faux cheeriness: Nurse Ratched.
"Pass me a bucket then go away and leave me alone."
"Now none of that. We all know addicts are lazy, but you must get up and face the world."
Oh God. He groans and pulls himself up. His life really was one horror after another.
The big hall is lined with black and white linoleum squares. One patient, an old man, is hopping from black square to white square. "Black and white, white and black," he mutters as he hops.
He looks as the new arrival is pushed past. He can feel the pain. The lions always go after the wounded animal in the pack "Black for you," he thinks sadly. He is surprised when the man turns and looks at him in puzzlement before he is moved on. Had he heard him?
The Black and White Man stops hoping and stands there on one leg thinking. A house? That's not right. That's a man. He checks again. It definitely is a house, but not a house… a House.
He wanders in through the big green door. He sees rusty and dented armour piled up next to the entrance. He sees the strange delicate precious thing, encased in glass – hidden and protected. Not very well, considering it is just stuffed down the back of the couch. Although he has to admit: it is quite a clever hiding spot. Not many people would think of looking there – unless they needed loose change.
He looks into the fridge. Nothing there. Always a troubling sign. He looks over at the man’s beautiful grand piano. You can't make beautiful music on no food Mr Building.
The closet is tidy, meticulous. Totally at odds with the rest of the place, which, quite frankly is a mess. He senses a woman's hand. No, this is not the doing of a woman… but a Jimmy?
A Jimmy, he thinks. He gnaws on his check. There is something familiar and disturbing about that? He will have to think about it. He shakes his head and continues on his way. Hoping from one black square to another.
the offensive this time. "I want to make a complaint," House bursts
out angrily. This place is creeping him out. "I want out of here. You
don't hit patients. I'm checking out."
The doctor raises an eyebrow. "I wouldn't advise that," he replies lightly.
He's worried. The doctor looks a bit too smug. "Why?"
"Even with the DA dropping the charge regarding the drugs you still pleaded guilty to all the other charges when you agreed to the rehab deal."
"If you don't complete your time here with us I will have no choice but to inform the police. You will be taken into custody and sentenced for the crimes you pleaded guilty to."
"The detective informs me that with sentence could be anything between twelve years to life imprisonment."
He pauses for dramatic effect. "Depending on his testimony."
And the cop’s testimony would have been damning:
There is a pathetic little metal chair in the centre of the room with about five feet of space around it on every side. That's where he sits.
He's bolted to it and it's bolted to the floor because a man can get angry when you tell him he hasn't paid his debt to society yet and has to go back to his state run shithole of a life.
He looks behind him and sees the cop sitting there, in the same spot he sits in every year, smiling away with his big dumb cop grin. Even after all these years his stomach falls at the sight of him because he knows as long as he is sitting in that seat he has no chance of parole.
He doesn't listen. He's been through this degrading little ritual too many times. He just wishes the bastard would stop smiling at him with his big dumb cop grin.
House blinks. Where had that thought come from? But he notices the doctor is smiling the same big dumb grin.
"So I suggest you cooperate fully," says the doctor. "At least here you have some hope of rehabilitation."
He doesn't move as the doctor comes round and stands in front of him. He suddenly feels very old and weary. Twenty years in prison will do that to a man, he thinks absurdly.
He feels uncomfortable under the doctor's gaze. What is so fascinating about him? The doctor reaches out his hands as if to touch his face. House jerks back as if he has been shocked. "What do you think you are doing? Get off me you pervert." He raises his hands, but the orderlies catch hold of his arms and hold them immobile. Brutal grabs a handful of his hair and holds his head still.
The doctor pays no attention to the outburst, but continues to examine his face like he is a work of art. "So blue," he mutters to himself. House can do nothing as the doctor gently strokes his cheek. The doctor's hand feels cold as it traces down his cheek stopping just under his chin. He pushes his fingers painfully hard into House's neck and House feels the pulse of his blood as it pushes rhythmically against the doctor's fingers.
Abruptly the doctor breaks away. "Shave him," he barks at the orderlies. "And give him a decent haircut."
"There you go friend." He looks at the man reflected in the mirror. It looks nothing like him. The man in the glass looks tired and sad.
He reaches up and feels his bare chin. It has been a long time since he's seen himself like this. It is part of an identity he'd tried to forget ever existed. He'd liked his comfortable scruffy persona. He'd adopted it as soon as he could get away with it. The scruff went with the clothes and the music and the sex, the booze and the drugs. The antithesis of everything he hated about his father's short back and sides ‘yes sir no sir’ military world.
He'd forgotten how young he looks with no fuzz. He feels vulnerable without it.
"Short back and sides," says the barber proudly. "Very fashionable."
"Yeah," he says dryly as he gets out of the chair. "In 1932. What if I want to have long hippy hair?"
The barber suddenly stops and narrows his eyes. Gone is the genial little man of a few seconds ago.
"Only faggots have long hair," says the barber. "You're not a faggot are you?"
The change in the man shocks him. He takes a step back. "I don't think it's politically correct to call them that anymore," he says.
The barber comes up close to House. He remembers being taken by his father to the barbershop of the little town near the base on a Saturday. He remembers sitting on the big wooden box the barber had for kids and the whir of the electric razor as it chimed in with the lazy afternoon heat.
He remembers the barber roughly pushing and pulling his head as he cut his hair. He remembers the barber smelled like Brill Cream. He remembers the prickle of hairs down his T-shirt afterwards as he sits at the ice cream parlour, shoving the gooey mix into him as fast as he could so he could order another one before his father came back from the hardware store.
He remembers throwing up in the car on the way home and he remembers his father stopping the car. He remembers walking the rest of the way home.
He remembers admitting he ordered a second ice cream. He remembers the shame. He remembers the words his father used cut into him harder than the strokes on his bare backside. Gluttony is a sin. He doesn't eat ice cream again for years. Even the sight of it makes him feel ill. He never wants to go to that barber again. He asks his mother to cut his hair until they are posted elsewhere.
This barber suddenly looks like the one from his memory. He must be dreaming. That was 40 years ago. But he still has the same Brill Cream smell. His heart begins to pound and he can feel the shame of long ago clogging up his stomach.
"I'll call them any damn thing I like sonny," says the barber. He emphasizes the 'sonny' as if House really is the eight year old boy. He presses himself up against House. He wants to shake him off, but he can't. He's as helpless as he was in front of his father on that Saturday. He just stares as the barber looks him in the eye. "And I'll string 'em up alongside the Jews and the niggers."
"Are you a Jew and nigger lover too?"
An image of his best friend Jimmy, with his floppy hair, long suffering frown and kind brown eyes, pops into his mind, but suddenly there is something wrong. Jimmy is thin and starving. His clothes are ragged and his head is shaved. He is wearing a striped uniform with a star on his breast that says Jude. He is kneeling in the frozen mud.
A man in a black trench coat is standing over him with a gun in his hand. He realizes it is him. It looks like him, like he looks now. His face clean shaven and his hair short and plastered down with Brill Cream. What has the barber done to him?
Jimmy doesn't look up at him. He stares down into the ground. Blood drips down Jimmy’s face. He knows Jimmy has been beaten. Beaten by the clean shaven House in the black SS uniform. But still this Jimmy will not give in. He will not beg or grovel. He is taunting House's weakness with his courage in the face of death. Hot shame courses through his body as he raises the gun.
He hears the shot and watches as the body, what used to be Jimmy, falls face first into the mud with a sickening thud that rattles his soul.
The barber smiles.
House turns and retches. Fortunately there is a little sink near him. He throws up what little he has in his stomach violently into it. The bile tastes like ice cream.
Eventually his spasm stops and he washes himself off with trembling hands. It is just the detoxing, he tells himself. The detoxing mixed with the memory and a crazy imagination.
Even though it is cold he is sweating: a classic symptom of detox, not hot shame. Jimmy isn't lying rotting in the mud. Jimmy isn't starving. Jimmy is fat and happy and alive.
It's just because Jimmy is pissed with him at the moment. That's where the Nazi thing came from. Jimmy will come and forgive him and be there.
He can't smell the cordite from the gun or the perpetual stink from the ovens or the strange lethargy he feels as he walks away from the body: just another dead Jew. There isn't schnapps and roast beef for dinner and he isn't going to fuck Helen the maid so hard she will scream, but it doesn't matter because she is Judisch and expendable and he'll send her to the ovens and get a new one soon. He isn't going to drink until he passes out and Gunter his batman has to gently prize his boots off his feet so he can polish them for the next morning.
None of that is real. He rubs his hands over his wet face. That's not him. It's all in his imagination.
He turns to the man. The barber is just standing there, watching him.
"Gluttony is a sin Peter," he says. House stares at him wide eyed. He can feel a drop of water as it runs down his face. He starts to speak but the barber says "Look, here's Tom, come to take you."
House whips round and sees Brutal standing there. Where the hell had he come from?
He's still stunned as Brutal grabs the back of his jumper in one of his huge fists and begins to pull him backwards.
"You be a good boy now," says the barber. "I'll see you next week."
Brutal casually swings him round, puts one hand on his neck and pushes his head down, so like the Jimmy of his imagination he can do nothing but stare at the ground as he is taken away.
"And try not to eat too much ice cream," calls the barber man.
He feels like shit. He should be resting, but he is jittery and angry and wound up and he hates his new haircut. He is leaning up against the wall outside his room. He'd decided to explore his new world but that didn't take long His new world is small.
The refectory is particularly unexciting. It smells of boiled cabbage and comes complete with all of three broken Lego blocks, a couple of crayons and some National Geographics.
So it is either sitting in there watching the guy with the weird ears drool or the big hallway, as he automatically begins to think of it. A few other patients are meandering around it too. This must be where the cool kids hang out.
The big black and white squares that cover the floor are also rather cool in a funky retro way. The black and white hopping man seems to like them. For an old guy he has stamina. He's been hopping all day. Hopping from black to white and white to black. But House notices there is one black square he avoids. Every so often as he passes he stops, points to this particular square and looks at House intently.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it." Don't step on that particular square or you'll break your mother's back," he says.
He must have said it too loudly because Brutal's 'hey' echoes down the corridor. Everyone freezes. It is only then he realizes he can’t hear anything else. All he can sense is the silence ringing in his ears and Brutal's 'hey' as it passes through like an express train going through a station.
He watches as it passes: whoo whoo!
He sees the Black and White Man point to the square. It is whirling away like water going down a drain, but there is no noise.
Jesus, if this is life not on drugs, he will take up heroin just as soon as he gets out. Somewhere in his mind he thinks he should be able to hear the black gurgling down into wherever like a bathtub drain, but all he can hear is the ringing, like a bell.
A church bell.
Calling him to church.
And he should go because he is the priest. He is the one they all come to and he can’t disappoint his flock. They believe in him. He is their religion.
Sometimes he hates their blind love and devotion. Why can't they see the big gaping hole where his faith should be? It feels like it has been cut out of him. He feels like a puppet man at a cheap carnival show: pulled this way and that by his strings for the amusement of others.
He trudges up the hill to the church. It is hot today. The streets are empty and all he can hear are the cicadas in the dry crackling heat.
He stops by the village well and leans against it. He stares down at the dark cool pit. It looks so enticing: dark and cool and quiet. His suit is hot and he can feel the sweat trickling down the back of his shirt. He leans over the side of the well to get a better look…
He leans a little too far.
Suddenly he's kneeling on the black and white floor. He's aware that someone has a tight hold of the back of his jumper. Which in a strange way is reassuring. He feels like he has been dreaming which is silly because he is awake and in a hallway.
He looks up. It is the old man who likes to hop from square to square. He smells like soap and talcum powder and old man and father: like his own father, but without the bitter burnt smell of anger his father always carried.
"I must have fallen," he says slowly.
"Falls can be nasty," says the Black and White Man. He helps House to his feet. "Don't do it again, okay?"
"Don't step on the crack," whispers House.
The old man straightens his jumper and pats him gently on the shoulders. House doesn't mind the touch.
"Good boy," he mutters before he resumes his hopping.
Brutal pushes him up the line. "Hello Deirdre, this is Peter. He's an addict," he says as he waggles him back and forth by his jumper. Christ he is beginning to hate that jumper.
"Oh an addict you say." The woman, Deirdre, smiles at him as she grabs a plastic cafeteria tray and spoons some unappetizing brown mush onto it. She has large crooked yellowing teeth. He imagines them crunching their way through food, smashing through flesh and bone alike, while juice and spit dribbles down her hairy chin. He can't stop staring at them.
A small shove from Brutal brings him back to reality. A wave of heat rushes over his skin. Just the detoxing, he tells himself.
"Say hello to the nice lady." Brutal turns to Deirdre and smiles sadly. "He isn't too bright."
Deirdre clucks in sympathy. "Oh, poor lad," she croons as she cocks her head. She gives Brutal an understanding look. "Those poor addicts," she whispers mock conspiratorially as if he wasn't standing right in front of her.
He wants to shout out. He's not stupid. But Brutal's hand on the back of his jumper makes him feel like a puppet. All he can do is whisper the word 'hi', complete with a stupid little wave.
"There's a good boy." She leans forward and speaks slowly and loudly to him. "How's about I give you an extra helping of apple puree for desert? Would you like that?"
That's the last thing he wants, but he smiles weakly and she takes this as a yes and slops two spoonfuls of some disgusting looking grey slush onto his tray.
Brutal pushes him over to a table and returns a minute later with a plastic spoon and cup.
House pokes gingerly at one of the piles of slush on the tray. "What is this anyway?"
"It is Deirdre’s very special shepherd's pie."
"Could have fooled me and the shepherd."
"I'm not feeling hungry. I'm detoxing remember."
"So you want to be treated special because you are an addict?" He grabs House head and forces it so he is staring at the food from an inch away. "Eat it all," he spits in House's ear. "And drink your cordial," he adds as he leaves House staring at the slush before him.
He picks up the plastic cup and looks into it. It's orange cordial. His unfavouritist flavour: none of the hyper goodness of red food colouring or the weird creepy artificial taste of lime green cordial. Orange cordial – the most insipid drink on the face of the Earth: it figures.
Most of the patients here are like ghosts. He's not a particularly social person, but after so many days of heavy handed orderlies, any sign of a friendly face is welcome.
He's cranky and shaky and he wants to talk to someone.
Some of the patients seem a bit more with it. There’s a young skinny kid with track marks up his arm who smiles at him briefly.
They are both in the bathroom. He makes his move.
"Hey kid," he says softly.
"I'm not supposed to talk to you."
"Oh come on. I'm all sweet and fuzzy. It can't hurt."
"I gotta go," says the kid. "I really shouldn't be talking to you. Sorry."
House stares intently into the sink. "It's okay." His voice is quiet.
He must have sounded as depressed as he felt because the kid stops. "You in for drugs?" he asks.
The kid motions. "You got 'em," he says. "Track marks man – mark you out as an addict."
House looks bewildered.
"You be a marked man Mr Building." The kid comes up him and takes hold of him by the shoulders.
The kid looks him in the eyes. "You don't care the kid is crying," he says. "All you are looking at is the pure pure flame as it cooks the stuff. The stuff that is going to be running like a sprinter through your veins until you feel like you will explode like when you come with a high class hooker."
House begins to sweat.
"You roll around on the floor in happiness until the bitch comes home. You don't care the floor is filthy and the dog shat on the rug. Youse been floating on a cloud. The sweetest fleetinist cloud in the world. Then the bitch comes in and starts screaming and all you want to do is shut her up. So she dead, the kid dead, hell – you even popped grandma cos it seemed like fun at the time. So everybody dead, except you. You the one who get 300 years. You the one they fucking up the ass till one day you worn out and useless and they put the plastic bag over your head and you can't breathe no more."
The kid slaps him playfully on the arm. "That's what those track marks mean man."
After the kid has gone he just breathes deeply. He doesn't want to call it hyperventilating. Eventually he calms down and rolls up his sleeve. He looks down at his arm. He can see needle marks, but he’s never shot up.
How the hell did they get there?
"Where's the boy? He was here yesterday. I was talking to him."
The nurse looks at the orderly. "Delusional," she says sadly.
"I'm not delusional!" he yells.
"Now now, raising our voice isn't polite is it?" She motions to Brutal.
He realizes what this means. "No… wait. Don't get excited," he says with his hands out as he backs away.
He doesn't get far. They grab him and he is pinned face first to the wall. The straps are pulled so tight he can't stop his groan. Brutal grabs his sweaty hair and yanks his head up, looking into his eyes. "You can't complain now addict. You asked for it," he sneers.
He looks down in disgrace because on some level he agrees with him. She dead, the kid dead, hell – he popped grandma for the fun of it.
They make him sit on the floor in the big hall near the orderlies' station so they can keep an eye on him. People pass him by, but no one says a word to him all day. It’s like he doesn't exist. People just step over or around him. He just sits there sweating and hurting and shaky - and by the end of it desperately wanting to pee. Tears of remorse leak from his eyes. He didn't mean it. It was going to have been his last hit. He is sorry. Why don't they understand that? He doesn't want to die with a plastic bag over his head.
Only the Black and White Man stops on one of his passes and looks at him.
"It's better if you don't ask questions."
House slowly raises his head and tries to focus on the man through the pain. His eyes are so hollow they look like two black voids. "Yeah," he agrees. "I think I have worked that one out now."
They make him scrub the big hall with a toothbrush. Keeping an addict occupied is always good says Doctor Luersson. It's part of the therapy. He had always thought it was more group therapy and art classes, not mindlessly staring at linoleum from a distance of two inches while you scrubbed it with a toothbrush.
He is scrubbing away when he sees white sneakers hit his field of view. Oh brilliant, he thinks.
"You missed a bit," says Brutal.
"That bit." He points randomly.
"That's half the hall. I've been at this for two days. No way I could have fucking missed that."
He should have expected it. But the fist still catches him out of the blue. The little induction talk he had received had emphasized it. Addicts don't swear – along with no talking unless spoken to, singing, masturbating and yelling. What was worse he wondered – masturbation or singing?
Brutal picks both him and his bucket up and carries them to the end of the hall.
"Do it again," he says. "And do it properly this time or when I walk down this hall in ten years’ time I will pass by your desiccated skeleton holding a toothbrush."
"Yes sir," he mumbles sarcastically. He fishes the toothbrush out of the water and begins to scrub. How come his life is so full of sunshine and puppy dogs?
He trudges slowly down the big hall. Every bit of him aches. Even though it is only time for breakfast he's exhausted. He's been rised and shined at some ungodly hour. Then washed and scrubbed and inspected from his fingernails to behind his ears to make sure he is clean: because cleanliness is next to godliness. He wonders what God has against hot water for the shower.
He stops for a rest and leans against the wall. He nods slightly to the Black and White man as he hops past. He knows better than to try to talk to people any more.
He puts his head down and stares at the floor, for once thinking of nothing.
Eventually he rouses and pulls himself upright. He'll get in trouble if he is late for breakfast and he doesn't want that. He lifts his head. He starts. Fuck! It's the Black and White Man. He is standing perfectly still a few inches away from House's face. House didn't even know he was there. House stares at him. The Black and White Man stares back. He blinks a few times.
"Get out now. Just go to the phone in the day room. It will be okay."
He blinks again, presses something into House's hand and hops off.
House looks down at the shiny quarter in his hand.
He looks into the dayroom. He swallows nervously, but no one seems to notice him. He begins to walk towards the phone. He can't believe no one has spotted him. He expects that at any moment Brutal will be yanking him back by his jumper.
But Brutal is just standing there. He can't see him. He almost wants to poke Brutal in his massive stomach to see what will happen, but the memory of the Black and White Man's haunted look reminds him he is on borrowed time.
He's shaking right down to his socks when he puts the money into the phone. He can't help looking around every few seconds. No way is this real.
He's picks Jimmy’s work number and he prays that he's in his office.
The 'yelloDoctorBerman' is so normal he wants to cry with relief. He doesn't realize how much he has missed it the sound of his best friend’s voice. He can't speak. Oh brilliant. Of all the times to be struck dumb.
"Is there anyone there," says Jimmy. "If not, I'm hanging up."
"No, it's me," he says quickly. "House," he adds. Just in case Jimmy didn't get it. Jimmy’s not stupid, but sometimes he can be a bit dumb.
"House – what the hell are you doing heavy breathing down my phone. You haven't broken out of rehab have you?"
"Jimmy. Take me away from here," he blurts out. He can hear the pathetic whining in his voice. When did he become so pathetic?
"House, you have only been there a few days. I know this will be tough, but you have to do it."
He looks around again. "No, you don't understand. There's something wrong. This place is really really wrong. It’s evil.”
"I'm sorry House. I can't do anything."
He jumps as someone taps him on the shoulder. It is the Black and White Man. His time is up.
"Okay," he says tonelessly. 'Bye." He puts the phone down. There is no cavalry coming to save him. Jimmy doesn't understand and he won't do anything. He's screwed.
The Black and White Man helps him over to a table. There is good healthy breakfast slush and orange cordial waiting ready for him. He picks up the spoon and stares at the soggy mess.
The Black and White Man gently rubs his back and at this he gives in and makes one dry heaving sob and begins eating his slush.
"He seemed very upset."
Even though Jimmy can't see it Doctor Luersson smiles sympathetically. "Addicts can be like that. They get paranoid."
"He said the place is evil."
Luersson laughs. "Did he really?" He tuts thoughtfully and inspects his fingernails. "Well that is a new one. Don't worry Doctor Berman: we'll take very special care of him."
"Are you sure. I could come and see him..?"
"No, don't you worry Doctor Berman. It is better for the programme that he doesn't have any distractions. We know how to deal with these kinds of situations."
He is standing in front of Doctor Luersson's desk.
"I'll ask you again Peter. Who gave you the money for the phone?"
He doesn't look at the doctor. "No one. I found it."
"Very well Peter. I can wait."
House looks on in confusion as the doctor picks up a pen and begins to fill out forms.
He has been standing in front of the desk for two hours now, staring at the carpet. It's a nice carpet, but not that nice. There are only so many life affirming messages you can take from carpet. And this is the Hallmark card of carpet.
He should just walk out of this office, but for one he is not too sure what would happen if he did and secondly his arms and legs are so heavy he feels as if he is dripping into the ground like candle wax, cold and dead and stuck fast.
Luersson's voice startles him out of his thoughts. "So, will you tell me the name of the person now?"
House looks up at him. It takes all his strength to lift his head. "No," he spits bitterly.
"You're an addict. Of course you'll tell me. An addict has no morals. No friends. No conscience. All they think about is their next fix. You think you are any better than a street junkie just because you like designer drugs?"
He doesn't reply. He's not going to tell this bastard anything.
"All right then. If you won't cooperate, we will just have to segregate you for a while... to make sure it doesn't happen again."
He narrows his eyes. "Segregate?"
"For your own good."
Crap, he thinks as the door shuts behind him. This isn't segregation. This is the hole. The only colour, the only thing, in the white tiled room is the red bucket in the corner. He spends a few minutes examining it.
It's a nice bucket.
Even though the light in the room is bright and he is cold he begins to doze off. That's when he hears it. He jerks awake. It's dark now. Pitch black. He swears he can hear someone crying.
He listens closely. It sounds like a girl.
"Hey, it's okay," he says into the void. "It's not that bad."
The whimpering continues. He doesn't know what to do.
"Come on. Talk to me."
All he hears is sniffling.
"Are you frightened?" I would be. This place scares the bejesus out of me. He has a thought. "Is it dark where you are?"
"Where are you?"
"I'm in a cupboard."
"Why are you in a cupboard?" he asks slowly.
"The Stasi came."
The Stasi came. What the hell does that mean?
"Okay," he says. He runs his hands over his eyes. Stasi: Nasty bastards from East Germany. The Cold War: right. It figures.
"They took papa and mama."
"But they didn't hurt you right," he continues.
"They called me a whore. They said I would like it."
"Oh." Oh fucking shit 'oh'.
"I didn't like it."
I bet you didn't. "What's your name?"
"Now you listen to me Sasha. What I have to say is really important." He suddenly has a thought. "What year is it?"
"1963 of course"
"Well Sasha from 1963 – what those fuckwits, sorry – bad men - did was wrong and bad and it is just really wrong that they can get away with it." He was getting loud now. "Wrong – do you understand me?" He calms down and shakes his head. "Totally wrong."
Even though it is dark he put his hands over his eyes. "It has nothing to do with you. You have to understand that. I wish I could see you because I bet you are pretty and clever and will one day become president of the UN."
"I want to study medicine."
"Well good for you."
"What is your name?"
"House, Peter House, but I am not important."
"But I like you Cupboard Man."
"That is nice of you to say. Who doesn't like strange men you meet in cupboards?" Jesus this place was weird. I really believe I am talking to a girl in a cupboard, he thinks. Maybe I really am insane? "But right now I want you to get out of this cupboard. Do you have a relative you can stay with?"
"I have an aunt."
"Is she nice?"
"She smells funny."
"They all do. You go to that aunt and you tell her what happened and she will look after you."
There was silence.
"I want you to do this for me okay. You can do this."
"Do it for me okay?"
"Okay Mr Building."
"House! My name is House. I'm not a freaking apartment block. Why does everyone call me that?"
"Okay Mr House."
"That's better. You go now Sasha. You go now and you never look back. One day you look me up. I'll see you then. I'll find out how pretty you are."
At this he pulls his legs up, puts his arms around them and closes his eyes. He rests his head on his knees. He's tired. He just wants to sleep. Talking to people in cupboards takes it out of you.
The next time he opens his eyes the light is on again and Brutal is standing in front of him.
"What the fuck were you doing?"
Brutal cocks his head. "Don't lie. They heard you."
"I thought I heard someone crying," he admits.
"You didn't hear anything."
He eyes Brutal's closed fist. "Yeah, right. I didn't hear anything," he says sarcastically.
"Too fucking darn right you didn't."
"Okay," he says with a wry smile. How come Brutal gets to swear?
She will be okay now.
It will all be okay.
Just not for him.
Just a dream Peter.
Just a dream.
He's in the white room. The lights flicker. They die. He is in the dark. He can't see his hand in front of his face? He must be dreaming. He feels the cold tiles beneath his naked body. He smells the disinfectant and cold. Everything here smells that way.
He gropes around and finds a wall. He leans up against it and waits, unease and dread growing inside him. He tries to wake up. He doesn't like this dream. Then he hears the laughter. Soft, faint, then nothing.
Eventually he relaxes. Maybe he had been imagining it? He reasons to himself. Maybe he really is going insane. That would be ironic: only he could go insane in an insane asylum. He hears the soft chuckle from behind him, then the skitter of feet. Oh God.
He knows it is there is standing over him, but he can't move. There is a soft caress over his now beautifully clean shaven jaw. It's like a lover's touch.
He feels a trace over his chest. He wants to beg. He tries to speak, but his mouth is dry and his voice empty.
The silence now is terrifying. What is it doing? He listens, but the silence is total. He starts to slowly crawl away, but he only manages to crawl a few feet before it pounces with a giggle and drags him back.
Then come the hands over his body: touching, probing, feeling pushing, pinching his flesh.
He feels its mouth at his left nipple sucking gently, then slowly moving down his stomach. He can feel the trail of slime it leaves.
A hand pulls his head back and his neck is smothered in slimy kisses. He smells its putrid breath and shudders. A tongue licks the sweat from off the top of his lip. He feels a hand reach down and grab his genitals, squeezing them in a tight grip that makes him cry out. He feels the breath of a soft slow 'shush' in his ear and he clamps his teeth together and his eyes tight shut.
Then it is all over him. Sucking and licking every bit and crevice of his body. There is nowhere it doesn't go. The only sounds are his harsh shallow breath and the horrible wet sucking of its mouth.
He wants to scream, but all he can do is cry silently. He feels its rasping tongue as it laps up his tears.
After it has its fill it leaves him there on the tiled floor. The slime coating him dries hard and thick.
He lies there panting. Just a dream Pete. This is just a dream. Please let this be just a dream.
carry him down the big hall and lay him gently on his bed. He looks peaceful in
his sleep. They carefully strap his arms and legs to the frame of the bed and
reach for the gag.
After it is buckled in place they check that the patient can breathe normally. They know the gag is essential because when the patient wakes up he will remember and he will scream and scream and scream. When he does this it will make it difficult for them to watch television and they are all excited about the Moon landing. Satisfied all is in order they leave the room.
wants to punish him. He was a nice guy. He paid his taxes and his hookers. Why
did everyone feel this insane need to make him suffer for a few harmless party
He draws his legs up and rests his head on his knees. It's just him and the red bucket again. He can't even remember what he did to get the bucket again. It's all lost in the fog of misery that marks time in this place. In ten years from now will he be still be sitting here next to his bucket?
He eyes the bucket off. He doesn't like it so much anymore. In fact he decides he downright hates it. But maybe he is being too harsh. Maybe it's just like in any relationship: too much closeness makes the partners feel suffocated. And it is not as if he or the bucket can go anywhere, so it isn't really fair to blame the bucket. After all, the bucket is very faithful.
Maybe it wanted something more from life, but it has never run off with a young guitar player called Paulo for a life of decadence and cheap gin in Spain. It is here waiting for him every time. Big, bold and bright red. A comforting constant in his life.
Pete House is truly blessed.
He giggles to himself. Oh God, he must be going nuts.
When he wakes later he opens his eyes but it is dark. He has fallen over in his sleep. The tiles are cold, but he is warm. He is never warm in this place.
He props himself up and listens.
Scrabbling. Pathetic futile scrabbling.
That's all he hears at first: Scrabbling. It's pathetic because it is all they can do. It's futile because all the doors are locked.
Then he hears them calling out. Begging for help. Pleading because they know what is happening.
He stops at one door. He can see her frantic eyes as she begs through the little window. He looks down at the keys on his belt and continues on his way. He whistles.
Then he hears the screaming. He smiles. They are really panicking now, but now it is too late.
The fire is intense. It warms him.
He wishes he had some marshmallows.
The lights come on.
He draws his legs up, holds his knees, puts his head down and begins to sob.
He can still see the fire in his mind.
"I knew he would be good."
"He's feisty. I'll give him that."
"Too good to let get away."
"And who'll miss him anyway? No one could possibly love him."
Jimmy. The one word he's heard uttered in this horrible place that brings him hope.
He wants desperately for Jimmy to see him now – clean and sober and such a good boy.
So he crawls, he grovels; he shovels cold slush into his mouth and tries to smile although inside he wants to die, because there is the promise of Jimmy.
Every day the doctor says Jimmy might be coming tomorrow. Every day he pushes through the crowd to the notice board. Every day he checks to see if his name is on the visitors’ list. Every day his name isn't on it.
Every day he sits in the common area with the other rejects, mindlessly pushing the three broken Lego blocks around. Every day the doctor claps him on the shoulder and tells him to keep his chin up and that he is sure Jimmy will come tomorrow. And every day he believes him and carries the hope in his top pocket because there is nothing else he can do.
He should have known better.
Then one day they take him into a room and he hears everything:
"I am sorry Doctor Berman, but he isn't feeling very well today."
"Oh, that's unfortunate." He can't see it but he knows Jimmy is rubbing his neck.
"There's no way…"
"No, I'm sorry."
"Okay then. I'll go. Tell him I'm sorry I missed him."
He hears the doctor's fake sincerity as he assures Jimmy that he will.
He rubs the wall nearest where he thinks Jimmy is. Willing him to know that he was thinking about him, willing him to know he was here, just a few feet away, waiting for Jimmy to come.
He hears Jimmy murmur polite goodbyes. No, please, don't go, he thinks as he bangs his head on the wall. He can see them laughing at him. He knows he is feeding them, but he can't stop. He turns and stares at them. The nurse and the orderly look like jackals. It was a trick, he realizes. It was all a trick.
He knows what he must look like. A pathetic excuse for a man in 1950's striped pyjamas and an ill-fitting snot green jumper.
He bangs his head on the wall harder. It feels good. For the first time in this horrible place he feels in control. He'll kill himself and then he'll be safe from them. He bangs his head again and laughs as he feels hot blood run down his face. He's winning! But his victory turns to despair as he is pulled from the wall and held fast.
Suddenly the doctor is standing in front of him.
"Oh no my boy, you can't escape from us that easily," he says.
They put a straight-jacket on him and arms are strapped around him.
"I think Peter needs some special treatment," he says to the nurse.
His breath hitches in a half sob. So that was this was all about? It's just feeding time for you is it?
He doesn't resist as they carry him down the big black and white hall, his feet dragging on the linoleum. The Black and White Man looks on sadly. "Black for you," he murmurs to himself as they pass.
He just lies where they have left him and waits.
When it comes it looks like Jimmy.
That makes it all the worse.
is so special about this Jimmy person," muses Luersson. "We better
find out hadn't we?"
He wouldn't be Jimmy like the Jew faggot in his class with the glasses and the brogues, he'd be James like the movie star.
And he's got the car to prove it.
But he has to pass math or he'll flunk and he'll go to juvie. So he goes to Jimmy the nerd.
They are studying, or trying to study out in the park by the lake. Jimmy is sitting on the bench with the books spread in front of him. He is sitting on the table smoking a cigarette.
"Look, you were the one who wanted to do this. Please pay attention."
He smiles at Jimmy.
"You are such a nerd," he says happily.
Jimmy pulls off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Yes I am a nerd. Now pay attention."
"Yes Mr Jimmy."
"Why am I doing this again?"
He blows a very bad smoke ring. He thinks he looks cool. "I don't know."
He didn't know why he did it. He doesn't know why he does anything.
He is 'riding around in his automobile' as Mr Brown would say and all is cool with the world on this hot Louisiana evening when he saw them.
They were picking on the faggot and it got him riled.
He was whip thin, lean and dangerous. He didn't give a shit and everyone knew it. He was a crazy man. They were afraid of him.
It didn't take long.
After he hands Jimmy his glasses. "Fucked big time man."
Jimmy examines the twisted mass of metal and crushed glass. "Guess so," he agrees with a smile as he tries to stick them back on his face. "Third pair this year," he says sadly.
"Rock and roll Jiminy Cricket – rock and roll – that's what you need."
He goes over to his car and turns on the radio. He turns it up loud. Elvis is playing. He's seen him once when he sneaked into the movie house one night.
Jimmy's just standing there like the lemming he is, but the music is getting to him.
He pulls out a flask. "This be the nectar of the gods Jiminy." He hands it over. "Don't spill it," he adds conspiratorially.
Jimmy takes a sip and begins to cough.
He laughs and laughs.
"It's not funny," Jimmy eventually splutters.
"Oh it so is man."
But Jimmy looks so lost. He goes over to him and puts his arms around him. He holds him close. Jimmy holds him back.
They don't understand.
"Hey," he says eventually, pointing up into the branches of the tree. "That your tie?"
Jimmy follows his gaze. "How'd they get it up so high?"
"You'd be amazed at what the stupid people can do Jiminy."
And in the next second he has bounded up into the lower branches and is pulling himself up higher and higher.
"Come on down. If you fall I'm not going to catch you."
"If I fall on you I'll be fine pudge boy," he yells down. And with a whoop he launches himself at another branch, barely catching hold of it, his legs cart wheeling in mid-air as he struggles to pull himself up.
Jimmy squints up at him. "I'm not fat. I'm just big boned. That's what my mom says."
"Believe what you want," he says dismissively. He has spied the object of his quest. Jimmy's tie is dangling enticingly in front of him.
"Here you go Jiminy Cricket."
down from where he is sitting on the picnic table. He's bored with math.
"Why do you still call yourself Jimmy?"
"I don't know."
"It's a baby name."
"It's my name." Jimmy fumbles for his books. "It's special," he eventually spurts out.
"It's pathetic and soft and weak – just like you," he taunts as he pokes Jimmy in the tummy.
"My dad calls me Jimmy."
"My dad calls me Jimmy," he mimics. "Do you call him daddy too?"
"You don't have a dad. How do you know? Your dad left you because he didn't want you."
"You take that back faggot."
But Jimmy has the advantage now. "Your dad left because he hated you – just like everyone else hates you," he shouts. "I hate you too."
He stares at Jimmy for a second. He tries to smile. "Well fuck you too Jew boy."
He walks away.
He feels a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Don't cry."
He doesn't look up. "I'm not crying faggot. Go away."
And Jimmy does.
But Jimmy does not go far. He goes to the edge of the clearing. He finds a tree and slouches down on his haunches and wraps his arms around his knees. It gets dark and it gets cold, but Jimmy stays and watches Shiva over him.
He doesn't know Jimmy is there.
That night he challenges Duke to a race.
The irony of it was he was winning.
No one told the tree that.
After his funeral, when all the cool kids have left, Jimmy goes to his grave and says a Jewish prayer.
Jimmy grows up, obeys his parents' wishes like a good Jewish boy, becomes a plastic surgeon and marries a good Jewish girl. He moves to Los Angeles. He doesn’t like it, but it is very lucrative for plastic surgeons and very far away from his parents.
He has two beautiful children whom he loves deeply and a swimming pool that he hates because he is always the one who has to clean it. His wife nags him to get a pool cleaner. She tells him he looks stupid trying to clean the pool himself and that this is the third time he has dropped his glasses in the pool. She tells him he should get contacts or eye surgery like everyone else in Los Angeles. She tells him he makes her life, the kids' life, and everyone's life a total misery because he is such a total loser.
One day he is driving home and he hears the song on the radio. He remembers back to that day. He laughs at the memory of his tie in that tree and the James Dean wannabe nearly breaking his neck to get it out just because he could.
He is still fiddling with the radio, trying to get a better signal, when he misses the turn and hits the tree.
It isn't like anything he had ever imagined. He's wandering alone through the wood. He hears laughter. He follows the sound. He squints up. There is a figure sitting in the lower branches of a big old tree like the ones from his childhood.
He drops down next to him. It is his James Dean wannabe. He is still seventeen: a cigarette tucked behind one ear.
Jimmy feels old and hot and ugly in his double breasted $1700 suit, but Wannabe puts his arms around his neck and whispers in his ear:
"What kept you?"
"Did Nurse Williams tell you to do up your top button?"
"And did you?"
"I don't know sir."
"You don't know?"
"Rules are there for your own good Peter."
"We must all follow rules."
"And when we break them we must be punished."
"Are you sorry?"
"Are you lying Peter?"
"You are lying aren't you? Addicts always lie."
"No sir. I'm not lying sir. I am sorry sir."
"You are only sorry because you got caught out. If you hadn't got caught you would still be wasted 24/7? And your top button would still be undone even though Nurse Williams told you to do it up."
"No sir, I really am sorry. I am learning sir. I'm sorry sir."
There was that word again: sorry. The one word he would never have uttered in a million years. Now it comes rolling off his tongue every day.
He was always sorry for something.
He was sorry because every single thing he did was wrong because addicts did everything wrong.
Sorry was the only defence he had, but it was a pitiful one. They would just look at him in disgust; tell him addicts always lie, but that soon he would really be sorry.
"Are you really sorry?" Asks the doctor.
The peculiar thing is the music. It mixes with the gunfire as the Americans kick down the doors and begin to wreck the house and kill her family.
One rips open the curtain. She sees a dirty black gun.
"Hey Sarge. Another one." She winces as the gun goes off and she tries to stay silent as the gun goes off.
The screaming and yelling dies down as the soldiers start to leave the house and she hears their big ugly cars drive away. She crawls out slowly from her hiding place. Her nanna sits in the corner next to the body of her mother. Even in death her arms are still curled protectively around the daughter she failed to save.
She is relieved. Warm urine flows down her legs. She is not going to die. But she is angry. Who are these men to come here and pass judgment on her family? Nanna did nothing but sit in the sun and make food for the men.
Then she locks eyes with the man in the doorway. He is not like the other soldiers. His gun hangs impotently from its strap and his helmet dangles from his hand.
Another soldier appears behind him, jostling him. "Hey look - we missed one. Come on man – just fucking shoot the bitch," he screams, still pumped by all the killing.
He doesn't move. He just stares at her. He is afraid of her.
She tells him to come to her and he does. She tells him to kneel on the floor and he does. She stands in front of him and slaps him hard across his cheek. He doesn't say anything. She gets angrier and angrier. She hits him over and over again until she is spent.
When he finally looks up at her there are tears in his eyes, but no anger: only shame and horror at what has happened in this little house today.
She pulls away and buries her head in her arms and weeps for her family. She is not surprised to find the next time she looks up the soldier is gone.
"Are you really sorry you didn't do what you were told Peter? You disobeyed Nurse Williams' orders."
"Yes sir," he agrees dully. ""I broke the rules. I didn't do what Nurse Williams told me to do," he mumbles miserably.
But she lived. So fuck you.
The doctor looks at him for a second. "Yes, that's what I thought."
"I don't think you really are sorry, but you will be very sorry, very soon," says the doctor. "I think we will have to change your treatment plan," says Luersson.
He sits on the edge of his bed: waiting. He doesn't exactly remember what they do during intensive therapy, but he knows he doesn't like it.
He knows he doesn't like it because they always have to restrain him when they come for him.
He waits for them to come for him. He hopes they might forget him today, but they always come for him.
He looks up when they open the door.
"I'm sorry, but there has been no word from the governor," says the warden.
The guards put their hands on his shoulders. They feel heavy.
"Can I see my momma," he whines.
"Sorry, but it's time," says the warden, motioning to the guards.
"But I wanna see my momma. She'll be worried," he mutters worriedly as they put the chains on him.
The priest puts his hand on his chest. "Now now." The priest reaches out and does up his top button.
Then he is out in the big hallway as he walks the last mile.
"I'm scared," he whispers to Officer Martin. He likes Officer Martin. They play chess together on Officer Martin's big black and white board.
Officer Martin puts his hand on his shoulder and he feels strangely calm. "It will be okay. I'm sure the governor will call."
He takes in all the witnesses: Done up in their Sunday best like they were going to church. But the looks on their faces make him frightened. Their eyes look cold and dead with hatred.
"There's a lot of people here, aren't there," he says in awe. He turns to look at Officer Martin. "Have they all come to see me?"
"You don't think about them. You just make your momma proud."
"Yes sir," he replies. But suddenly his legs have stopped working. "Officer Martin, I think I need a little help. I'm not feeling too good."
They pick him up and carry him over to the chair. The heavy leather straps go around his wrists, ankles and torso, binding him to the heavy wooden chair. The sponge is placed on his head under the 'frying cap', as some call it.
Officer Martin is just about to put the strap around his face when he speaks. "Will you tell my momma I done her good," he asks.
"I will," says Officer Martin. And Officer Martin will. After the execution Officer Martin will go outside and talk to his mother and watch as the she sobs in grief over the death of her only son.
Then Officer Martin will go and find the killers: Tommy Ruteger and Daniel Delaney. They will be drunk as skunks up on Briar's Hill near the old mine. Officer Martin will hear them as they laugh at their own cleverness. 'Good riddance to poor white trash' Tommy will say. Daniel will raise the whisky bottle he stole from his pappy's liquor cabinet in salute and say: 'And my momma fired his stupid bitch mother. She done lost her job. I never liked her or her retard son anyhows.”
Officer Martin will step out and they will see him and Tommy will piss his fancy pants in fear. They will try to run, but it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. The mineshaft is deep and pitch black. It will be black for Tommy and Daniel.
Their bodies will never be found. Mrs Ruteger will take to her bed and she will be dead before the New Year. Mr Delaney will wonder where his best whisky is and blame the new maid.
The warden stands by the phone. The clock hits midnight.
He's panting now. His eyes are wild with fear. The vinegar from the sponge is running down his face. It tastes salty and it stings.
The warden nods and he watches as Officer Martin pulls the lever down.
His body arches as the electricity runs through it. He screams into the gag. After an eternity it stops and he goes limp: a broken doll.
"Good boy Peter." The doctor brushes his hand through House's sweaty hair. House whimpers softly. His eyes are open, but seeing nothing. "It's all over now. You made your momma proud."
The Black and White man sees him curled up in the corner of his room. He wonders how much of him is left.
The Black and White Man sighs as he watches the House. His eyes are dull. They have been pumping him full of that man-made fire they love so much. He clicks his fingers in front of the man's face, but the House only shrinks back and mumbles something softly to himself, crying out for something.
He tries to see what the House so desperately wants, but he finds himself in a Japanese Zen garden, standing by a little stream. But the garden is wrong. It makes him dizzy. It is like an Escher come to life. Bridges twist and turn. The trees are grotesque and misshapen.
The garden is not made of sand. It is made up of the dried ground bones of those who were taken too young. The sun is burning and it makes the sand glisten like glass. The only coolness comes from the little stream.
He sets off down a twisted path. He passes the stone idols of long forgotten gods. The King of Kings lies half buried in the sand; Anubis leers at him; Mictlantecuhtli drips with the blood of his sacrifices; Kali waits patiently, knowing she will win in the end. He stares at Kali and watches as the blood begins to turn the sand around her red.
He hurries on through the maze of twists and turns, but he ends up where he started – by the little stream. This time there is a bridge over it. He understands what this means: go. He crosses the bridge.
The Black and White Man stares at the House for a minute thoughtfully. He puts his hand on the man's forehead and he falls into a much needed dreamless sleep. The Black and White Man is intrigued.
"I told him everything and he says he doesn't want to visit you or see you ever again."
House scrubs at his eyes. He doesn't want to cry in front of the doctor. The straps of his jacket jerk around. They always make him wear the jacket now, but if he is good they leave his arms free. It makes it hard to grab things through the thick material, but the doctor says it is for his own good.
"But I remember he came and you didn't let me see him." he says uncertainly. He thinks that happened. He wants that to have happened.
The doctor smiles at him sadly. "No, that's just what you thought because you are delusional."
"No, you lied to him. I remember it. You said I was sick but I wasn't." He's getting angry and confused now. The white hot fire burns in his brain, but he knows that Jimmy came because Jimmy always comes. No matter what, Jimmy always comes. That's like the sun and the moon – no matter what the doctor tells him. No matter how many lies they tell him, he knows.
He doesn't realise he hasn't seen the sun or the moon in months.
He starts to rise, but the doctor's sharply calls out his name. "Peter," he says coming around the desk and putting his hand on House's chest. "Do we need a little time out?"
His breath hitches and the anger seems to flow out of him, his body now filling up with fear.
"Just delusional," murmurs the doctor softly, but he pushes his fingers hard into House's chest. Five little prongs worming their way to his heart. They hurt.
"Am I?" he whispers, desperate to catch on to something and try and make sense of this crazy situation. The fire is growing. The memory of Jimmy is growing fainter with each passing second.
"I'm afraid so. Addicts become delusional when they detox."
He feels like a little boy with too short pants, a snotty nose and scabby knees.
"So no one is coming?" he asks pathetically.
He's being dragged along by his ear. It's easy to do because they stick out so much and all the other kids tease him and call him jug ears. His big clunky boots drag on the wooden floor. He knows it's coming near Christmas and that means oranges and the old men from the local pub will be saying it’ll be over soon and their boys will come home.
He knows they won't. They'll all die in those places with the funny names – Someplace and Yippy and the beach where the Australians gallop around on horses all the time.
He knows this and he tells Ruth Parkinson from number seven and he makes her cry until Mrs Parkinson hears and gets mad because her eldest Billy is over there. She grabs his arm and takes him back to his aunt's.
Mrs Parkinson doesn't know Billy is already dead. Shot on the first day there and still lying where he fell, buried in a crater. He won't be found until 1986 when he gets caught in a French farmer's tractor plough and is finally released from the battlefield and laid to rest high on the hill in the soldiers’ cemetery. They will identify Billy through his watch. Ruth will go over for the funeral and the old women from the village will touch her gently because even now the pain that comes from the fields makes their bones ache. Ruth is 76 years old when she will say goodbye to her brother. Her mother is long dead and gone and she dies never knowing the fate of her son.
Every so often his aunt stops and smacks his bare legs as she mutters about the injustice of having to take in her poor dead sister's brat. How she never wanted him. How no one ever wanted him.
"I'm sorry, but I even contacted your mother and she said she wanted nothing to do with you," says the doctor.
It's cold and dark and lonely in the cupboard under the stairs. The only warmth comes from the stinging on the back of his legs. His aunt's words are ringing him his ears. 'Died to get away from you, your parents did. No wonder Jimmy doesn't want to see you'.
"I'll just go back to my room then," he says quietly.
The white hot fire is raging.
The backs of his legs are stinging.
The doctor smiles. "You do that."
He doesn't bother to look at the lists anymore. No one wants to see him. He just shuffles past the crowd. He waits patiently for ten minutes outside the nurses' station until one of the orderlies deigns to break away from the television and unlock the supply cupboard. He's never in a hurry now. It will always be another month, then another month, until there won't be any more months left in the whole wide world.
He clumsily grabs his bucket of cold slimy water and heads off. He nods to the Black and White man
But as Mr Building comes closer Mr Black and White realizes something is different this morning. There is nothing. He puts out a hand and the man stops.
The House looks around as if he can't work out why he has been stopped. Eventually his eyes settle on the Black and White Man, but there is no recognition. Not a trace of his once blue eyes remain. His pupils are completely black. He can see the fire raging in them.
"I'm sorry," says the Black and White Man.
"I have good news Peter."
Good news? It is hard to hear the doctor over the fire. Sometimes it fills his head completely.
"It is time for you to go home."
"Home," he whispers.
"It's time for you to become a productive member of society again."
Not here? No more being cold and orange cordial? Like before? He tries to remember but he can't. All he can see are the flames.
"That's right Peter. No more orange cordial. But there will be rules."
"That's right. And if you are bad you will have to come back here until I determine you are better. Do you know what that means Peter?"
His insides clench with fear. That's all they have left him with: fear. "Yes sir."
"Do you want that Peter?"
"Good boy Peter. I really do think you are all better now." Luersson pauses. "But we will see won't we?"
"Yes sir. I'll do you proud. Even though I'm a filthy addict I can be all better now, just like a normal person."
"That's right. We will be watching you."
"And if the worse comes to the worse we will just have to keep you here forever won't we?"
"Forever can be a very long time," says the Black and White Man.
"You don't want that do you Peter?"
He nods silently and the doctor seems appeased.
"Very good Peter. You are learning. No one wants to hear what you have to say anyway. An addict's opinions are worthless. Just do as you are told and hopefully you'll be fine."
"Hey Mr Building: how's it going today?"
"I'm going to be a productive member of society."
"That's good," he says slowly. "You're getting out then?"
The Black and White Man frowns.
This isn't good.
It is only a matter of time now. The universe is very particular about its balance. It took a few turns around the garden, but he finally understands now.
Luersson may have just made a terrible mistake.
He looks at the shelf for a second, wondering which brand to buy. He never knew there could be so many.
"Difficult choice huh?"
He looks around. There is a woman standing next to him. "The kids like this brand," she says as she holds a bottle out to him. "It's cheap and relatively healthy."
He smiles and takes it. "I'm sure your kids will like it too."
"Uh, yeah. I'm sure they will. Thank you ma'am."
He puts the bottle of orange cordial into his trolley, smiles at the lady again and continues on his way.
He’s walking down his street.
He stops and thinks. House? That’s his name. Someone wants him. He turns. It’s Doctor Berman. His friend from before. Not his friend anymore.
“Hey House, you’re out. How’d it go?”
“It went fine.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Of course I enjoyed it.”
“Nothing you want to tell me?”
“No, but thanks for asking.”
“So lunch sometime soon?”
“That sounds pleasant.”
The man stands in front of him, staring intently. “Okay,” he says again. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Will do buddy.”
Doctor Berman gives him an odd look.
He smiles again. Always better to be safe than sorry. “You take care now. Don’t forget your umbrella. It looks like rain.”
watches as they take the piano away. He shuts the door as they leave. It
doesn't matter. The piano is a frivolous distraction and he doesn't think he
would be able to play now anyway. Music takes soul.
"You’ve redecorated," says Jimmy from the couch.
House's flat is practically empty. The piano is gone and all the shelves are bare except for what looks like a set of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.
"Hello Doctor Berman. How nice to find you in my home," says House.
Jimmy gets up. "Do you like it?"
House looks away. "Of course," he says unconvincingly.
"House, look at me," he orders sharply.
House immediately meets his eyes. He says nothing, but waits expectantly. Jimmy can see him shaking slightly. There is uncertainty and fear in his eyes.
Jimmy takes a sudden step towards House. House flinches, but doesn't move. He just stands stock still as Jimmy comes in close and looks into his face.
Now they are practically nose to nose, like lovers about to kiss, locked in place by the tension. Jimmy looks curiously into the big black pools. He can see the fire.
He tests the water with his big toe.
He dives in.
The alarm goes off at 5.30 AM on Thursday morning. He listens to the wireless while he irons his shirt to perfection. He brushes his teeth. He brushes his hair and shines his shoes. He puts on the inexpensive cologne they told him to buy. He does everything perfectly. Today he has to go there. He hopes and prays with everything he has that he looks like a normal better person.
He jumps. His friend Doctor Berman is standing on his doorstep. "Take me with you," he says.
House looks at him. "You'll get in trouble," he states flatly.
But Jimmy just laughs. "No I won't."
He stares down at his shoes. "I'll get in trouble." He feels bad about putting himself first. He is an addict. He knows he deserves it. He just doesn't want to make them madder than they will already be because he is afraid. The fire is roaring.
"Follow me," orders Jimmy. "I'll drive."
"Nice to see you."
"How's the man, or rather should I say… boy?"
He smooths the particularly hideous tie his wife had given him for Christmas. "Not good. You know what it is like with amateurs? No finesse. I can't believe it took me so long to work it out."
The Black and White man nods in agreement as Jimmy continues. "He's a strange one. I'll give you that. It isn't often that ones like him come along."
"What are you going to do," asks The Black and White Man.
"Take care of it. I hate it when people go freelance."
"Glad to hear it. Mr Building… House: he's… interesting. It would be a shame." He continues hopping down the big hall.
"That's right: as long as he's interesting."
Doctor Luersson does that prim little smile thing doctors do. But is has no effect on him. He is far too old. "Oh Doctor Berman. That is so noble of you. But tragically I don't think you know what you are dealing with here…"
But then Luersson sees the other man's eyes flash. Jimmy is getting bored with this charade. "Or maybe you do," Luersson says. Now there was uncertainty.
"Maybe I do," says Jimmy. "Maybe I do."
He hands over the clipping from the paper. Luersson sees the headline: Fire Rages through Broadchurch Sanatorium. Shocking Loss of Life.
"You killed them all didn't you," says Jimmy sweetly. "Even though they were screaming and banging on the doors and begging you? You enjoyed hearing them beg didn't you?
You even swallowed the key to make sure they couldn't get out." He points to Luersson's abdomen. "It's still there you know. I can see it. Lodged in your lower tract, just below your fourth rib."
He shakes his head. "You should have listened to Mr Black and White. The universe is very particular about its karma.”
“I'm not the kind of guy who is really into karma. I'm more your chaos type man. But even I know enough to respect it."
Jimmy takes a step towards the doctor. "But you are being foolish. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. It's sad really." Luersson watches as Jimmy smiles. "And we all know what happens to fools."
"I had no idea he was your friend." Luersson stammers apologetically.
"One: so you think I care? And two: it annoys me because that is just sloppy. Always do your research."
"Isn't that what he said? Did you pay any attention to him when he said that?"
Luersson spreads his arms. "But it's what I do."
Jimmy grins. "Not anymore." He puts out a finger and watches as Luersson melts from the inside out.
“You should have known better. Don't play with my toys."
He rubs the back of his neck in frustration. “I really do hate amateurs.”
He nods to the Black and White Man on the way out.
"Sorry. I think you will need a new place to stay."
"Wherever there is linoleum I'll be there."
The Black and White Man breathes a sigh of relief. Order has been restored. For every white square there must be a black one. And for every black one there must be a white one. It is a delicate balance.
You can't interfere too much. You have to let the children work it out for themselves. But the other guy is a bit more hands on. He gets angry a lot.
He looks at the flames that will be coming in a few minutes. Better get back he thinks. Things to do; so much paperwork to be filled out. It's not all sunshine and puppy dogs you know. Damn he hates Touched by an Angel.
House is standing where he left him. Nervously smoking a cigarette.
"All taken care of."
"I don't have to see the doctor?"
"I don't have to come back next week?"
Jimmy walks to the car. "And take that bloody tie off."
"Oh and do you mind if I borrow your matches?"
House is asleep. Snoring unattractively on the couch. He reaches out his hand and runs it through the sleeping man's hair. Fire and drums ring through his head. All angles, angels and stubble. How could anyone love this? But then even the Devil needs distractions. The trick is not to gorge yourself in one go, but to take it nice and slow with love and care.
House's eyes pop open, his breath hitches with fear. The pupils are black: the fire is still raging in them. But then they slowly fade back to blue. It will take time, but he will get better. He will get his old 'nothing's changed' House back. He strokes House's hair softly and House begins to snore again.
Jimmy smiles sadly. House's eyes were pure blue, so blue. They remind him of nature documentaries about Antarctica. So easy to read. That's the way he likes them.
House's pain is all his.