Berlin. Kreuzberg. If you don’t know it, you may want to look it up, especially its 20th century history. The street is Weinerstrasse. No reason you should know that one, unless…
It’s late evening; but that’s hardly important.
He pushes open the heavy double doors to the battered, grey-facade altbau. Immediately he is part of the wonderful l’odour of sweat, piss and dirty cheap kebabs. Into the darkness, his eyes take a few moments to adjust. He comes to a pock-marked stairwell dotted with the marks of abandoned bubble wrappings. Ha Ha. He has a grin plastered on his face like the sweat-matted hair on his forehead.
He swings around the banister. He is in need. He is counting the stairs. Two more flights. His nose assaulted by another familiar smell: somebody hadn’t made it passed the first landing.
But he presses on insouciant. He is climbing the stairs to “Peter’s” apartment, passing the second landing’s scrawl-graffiti “Matthias was here” heavy-footed, a slight stumble. You’ll be meeting Matthias later: Matthias went on a drunk the day Chapman filled John Lennon with six of the best in Strawberry Fields and now it’s thirty years plus later. Not all fans have the luxury of going out with a bang and Matthias has a liver and then some. HE was doomed to endure. Thank the Lord for Jagermeister: you know… settle that old stomach.
Another half-flight surmounted, a broken window, some smears of vomit against ripped-up fingernail scratched wallpaper that’s barely visible beneath the grease. He reaches the last half flight: then the front door. Peter’s Battered Door. It is worn in places from a thousand thousand knocking knuckles, patchwork of posters and cartoons cut out from newspapers. Peanuts to you! A series of buzzers and buttons cluster on the wall beside it. Only one works. He knows the one. BZZ BZZZZZZ BZZ-BZZ. He is listening for sounds within: be there, be there, be-there-be-there-be-there. No more singular purpose than the pursuit of the True Faith.
Sounds within! The door is opened and a familiar paleface peers out. He’s recognised and passes the untermensch with a “who the fuck was that?” unspoken; reply to a jack-o-lantern smile. Irrelevant. Peter is in. The Doctor is in and he perceives; provides with a flick of the wrist. He, suddenly all co-ordinated, catches the fingernail size bubbles and turns to find a corner of the kitchen without faces.
He blinks his fingers under command, delighting nonetheless in the procurement. It has not been too long since the previous tickle for the desperation to have set in, plus doxepin helps. But it has been many hard-travelled hours. Long enough to feel the tide of emotions that well-up, that had been dammed up, beginning to overflow – where all music is the sweetest, most beautiful, most poignant; where life is at its most fatally cloyingly tragic.
“Focus,” he tells himself. He bites at the bubble, pock-pock-picks away the endless wrappings clumsily burned into a seam. A moment’s chagrin: is it light? Is it shite? It is mostly rocky, light-brown, DE-light-ful brown, into the spoon. Scattering of Vitamin C. Needleful of water; and a needleworth for luck. FIRE – whoosh – bubblebubble, not too much or it burns away the ‘good stuff’. He snips a cigarette. It shortens the filter but that’s just more nicoteen for after the deed is done. Filter into needletip, needletip into brown liquid. Golden brown, texture like sun: mantra of a thousand junkies. I can have a dark-side, have a dark-side too: dreams of a million wannabe junkies. Pull back the plunger and the needle fills.
And then the search for a vein: or what would be a search, since some are born luckier than others and for some the veins bulge, inviting, ‘feed me, feed me’ and for some they are sunk, deep, reluctant little whores needing a coax each time to pop their precious cherry-blood. He is “lucky” if you can call it that. Outside, somewhere indistinct, strains of travellers plying the trade on the roadside cafes: TOO Fucking Pretty. He goes for the pulmonary vein. 27mm needle, slip it in, tuck it under the V of Arterial Disaster and there she bursts into the chamber: booooooooooo-ooof! Blood mixes with the brown, and then he pushes the plunger. Hand steady as a surgeon. Every last drop, save the “I retain self control” mostly-blood dregs with the air bubble that lingers at the end of the chamber. His needle is slipped out, he spits on fingertips pressed softly against the little pinprick.
And it comes on strong… and he is lifted, he is lifted. The gypsy-song fades to a pleasant background, the sweat, the stale-urine odours, the black and tan apartment: all recede. He is back.
The washing-up teetering in the kitchen sink like so many drooping Chinamen becomes a joke once again. Silly bastards. Why don’t they sort that out? “Hell,” he thinks, “I’ll do it.”
And minutes after his tickle, He’s standing over the sink – doing the washing up. Scrubbing the dirty dishes, placing them neatly on the draining board (which soon fills up) and then on the stove. Dreaming away: arms’ length, of his transit of the day.
This morning he had been in Paris, playing denouement L’Asssomoir with the bums at Gare du Nord: at the end of a long binge up and down France. Knowing the flight was coming. “Eyes wide, like a child in the form of man” – even the syprup was sweet. He had made a friend, that morning. He had been offered a pull on an Evian-bottle filled with orange’d up something-alcoholic, wordless, just before the first trickle of the commuter flood.
“Les types,” is all his friend could grunt.
It’s all too awful but he knows He is the disenfranchised, the born-too-soon, born-too-late, born-too-wrong. No notion of blame. He doesn’t hate the suits; the blithe, the unknowable familiar. It’s just a sadness and he knows the cure.
Further flashes of recollections are indulged as he finishes filling the sink with hot bubblefoam water: the TGV to Cologne, suppurating in a 1st Class compartment – may as well be hung as a wolf as a lamb? – flash of the old Mastercard and some deliberate English: pretend tourist. Just drunk. Youthful high spirits it might once have been but it’s been a decade since the epithet was apposite. Binge? Binge sounds pointless and self-indulgent. He feels it was neither…
Hauling across the platform at Cologne, thanking the Lords of the I.C.E. for timetable coincidence. The Berlin InterCity Express is on the very next platform. Minimum haulage. Drag the bag up the steps, into the carriage. Corner seat. ALWAYS the corner compartment seat. Rapping impatiently against the window as he waits. It was becoming more of a need by then.
Flish-flash: Wolfsburg and its Isenbard Kingdom Brunel overhead hanging monorail snaking above town and river – following its course. Dusk. The monorail’s illuminated interior passes close to his train. It is full of people, whizzing by. HALF WAY. Flash. Magdeburg. Pointless Bundesliga word: but under ninety minutes to Berlin by that point.
Then the thrill of Spandau. Hauptbahnhof. Ostbahnhof. No memory of getting off the train, of making his way onto the U-Bahn: none but the familiar smells and the grinning Donor-vendors. More garlic sauce, boss? And then he’s at Peter’s building…
“Hast du keine waschpulver?” he called to the other room: the livingroom-cum-bedroom-cum-waitingroom. Where Peter is; and whoever else. These are the first words he has spoken since Paris.
“Kleideschrank,” comes a reply. Could be anybody’s voice.
He finds a third-full bottle of washing-up liquid. Third-full, you note. Not two-thirds empty. It’s not even THAT close any more…