Alice smelled of soap and coffee. Each night, like the lights of the city, she changed her eyeliner – green, red, pink, blue – and smoked long cigarettes she kept in a 1960s Italian tin case. She was menopausal, getting rounder in the waist, thicker around the jowls. Yet she remained attractive, especially in the eyes. They were dark and piercing and she looked at you as though she knew something you didn’t. She talked a lot about her daughter who lived in Australia. She missed her very much but they hadn’t spoken in years. Most days Alice sat on the porch alone. She said the wind made her feel alive. ‘Don’t worry, honey,’ she told each of us. ‘Everything will be okay.’
When Simon came in he had dried blood on his face and black shoe polish in his hair. He struggled to remember his name, or his reason for being there. His nose had been broken several times in his life and it sat on his face like an ugly reminder. He was sallow and sickly. ‘Talk into my eyes,’ he shouted, ‘because my ears don’t work.’ When he looked at you he wasn’t looking at you but past you. There wasn’t enough water in the world, he said. But he didn’t like conversation. He once had a gun put to his head. He lasted three days before confusion sent him back into the street.
TALL BARRY & SHORT BARRY
A double act, they sat in the corner and knitted scarves. One was tall, bone and withdrawn. The other short like a cigar. Occasionally their threads got tangled and knotted. They laughed infectious laughter. And because we glance off each other, because we hate each other, because we are each other, they knitted for all of us.
The spirit man, old Danny the Scot. A whiskey drinker with a purple nose. Scotland was now a distant memory. He was a walking heart without a home, an old man who had lived far longer than he’d expected. His voice was soft, complimenting his frail figure. Sometimes I caught him peering at a photograph which he put away in his wallet whenever anyone got too close. The deep lines in his face were like rivers and his wide blue eyes were lost in some withdrawn echo.
A flower with no sunlight. At home she baked and prepared packed-lunches for her children. Her face was tired. She acted sooner than the rest of us. Her dreams had limits.
Still with fresh skin, Bruce demanded respect. He had no hair and his pink baldhead shone in the light. A silver spike glinted in his bottom lip. Bruce wore everything in black. Shoes, shorts, jumper. His coat hung from him like a cape. He was a fighter. I was scared of him, agitated in his presence. He was a man drawn to our destruction.
Richard the round man, loaded with nonsense. He wore a slug under his nose and a hat on his head with a propeller on it. During group therapy, with his booming voice he’d declare, ‘I’m doing great!’ and slap his thigh. ‘I’ve having an amazing week. I’ve come to some realisations.’ This is why I disliked him. He forced us to applaud his delusions, when we all knew the truth. The truth? The world is caked in madness. And we had swallowed all we could.