His head was always a mishmash of yellow’s, purples and blues. Knife was a dead ringer for Trevor Reznik; the character played by Christian Bale in the film ‘The Machinist’.
Knife liked that gaunt look; the fact he also had an extreme case of insomnia which led to him only snatching at sleep over the past years, and his body withering away to almost nothing was fine with him. He was tall, dark, green-eyed and wiry, and still fast enough.
For as long as Knife could remember; life in the crashed out, burned out, second-hand lane. ‘This is where my life’s at’ was the constant rattle on his mind.
The loneliness hurt so much; Knife hummed soothing words to himself:
"Give me more than one caress
satisfy this hungriness
Let the wind blow through your heart
Oh wild is the wind, wild is the wind" (C =Tiomkin/ Washington)
Knife followed the wind through his mind and remembered bits and pieces of his family life; his mum Bella, was a fussy, loving, caring soul. His dad Dermot was a guttersnipe; a Roman Catholic bigot who hated the pope’s hat. Dad was always drunk and aggressive, always giving it large ‘’get out of my house you good for nothing shit’’ Knife could still feel the harshness in his dads words “and don’t fecking comeback, you’re not fecking wanted here in this house; you worthless piece of trash!” Knife just always felt in the way of something he could not quite grasp?
Knife always obliged his father’s requests; when you’re out of your skull 24/7 what was another hour out in the cold and drab, grey rain. A chance to get some headspace, find some warmth. Try and work out what it was you had done wrong; but never in a victim way, always in a way that felt real and true. Knife had been born hating the ‘bleeding-heart Liberal mentality’. He could only care for what was real.
The bruises of Knifes life throbbed; the flashbacks gripped him night and day; the voices multi-dimensional squeezed at his senses. No colours of the rainbow; just the colour blue, the very deepest blue; then it turned to black, the colour they say is not a colour; black. To Knife; it was a colour.
Reach-out I will be there
"And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said I've lost control again,
and of a voice that told her when and where to act,
she said I've lost control again". (C =Sumner, Hook, Curtis, Morris)
Back to the here and now; He was rolling in the black, falling, sliding, punch whiskey/vodka drunk; eyes wide shut; mouth wide open. Puke in the sleeping bag; earwigs patrolling; loud, soft whispered voices, rats strolling.
The soft tones of one voice danced through Knife’s fugue state; it belonged to Polly, a local Outreach Worker who worked for a local homeless charity called ‘Sofa-Surfing’. Knife sniggered at that the thought of using a mattress to surf a Californian wave; sofa-surfing dudes!
“Knife can you hear me”? She called out anxiously. Knife could hear Polly’s voice but it simply became enmeshed in his fetid booze dream. No response came from him.
Knifes most recent home was a dirty disused basement beneath a ramshackle derelict pub previously known as ‘The Swinging Cats’ in Dickens Town.
This was Knifes home for now; where he crashed. Warm and snug, the basement was protected by dilapidated wooden fencing. It was peaceful. Here, cats were for friends, spiders for parties. A dirty worn sleeping bag, stained with a pastiche of human excrement and discharge, an old Walkman radio/tape headset and a bottle of Bell’s.
To Knife it seemed like more than enough to get by on, crisps, stale bread, cold chips scattered about his den; whatever he could scavenge, scrounge, afford. Back in those days Knife gave the pub as his address and collected his dole money from the local DWP. He wouldn’t go without his Bells and fags; he hated the red tape but knew it was a means to an end. He knew that Penny looked out for him, keeping the wheels to aid his poverty turning.
Polly’s sweet Angel voice broke into Knifes REM cycle. He could hear his name being called. Remaining in his sleep paralysis he managed to mumble; ‘Yeah I’m ok, let me sleep’. He trusted Polly he knew she was safe somehow. He could mumble for her.
Another gruffer irritated male voice broke into the darkness that of Geoff the Senior Outreach Worker:
‘’ Come on Polly: leave Knife now, let him sleep it off; we’ll come back around to check on him later in the week.’’
Polly retreated gingerly from the hovel, she felt lost and unsure and genuinely concerned she questioned Geoff ‘’ But when will we give Knife his news’’?
Geoff took Polly’s pointed question on board as he started up the Outreach Land rover engine. ‘’Get in now, let’s go, things will keep for now. ‘’ He replied back to Polly as she entered the vehicle. Geoff simply wanted to keep a lid on things. He knew from experience things could easily change.
Polly hummed softly to soothe her jangled nerves; she felt a close affinity with the life-cards Knife had been dealt:
"I step off the train
I'm walking' down your street again
Pass your door
I guess you don't live there anymore
It's years since you've been there
And now you've disappeared somewhere
Like outer space
You've found some better place"( C= Thorn/Watt)
"The jean genie lives on his back
The jean genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean genie let yourself go oh" ( C= Bowie)
Bowie roared his song through Knife’s headset. Knife swam through his nightmarish visions, he rolled with the sounds; un-medicated, self-medicated. No secure rooms here, no control and restraint, no lecturing, no mental health stroking and poking. Psychiatrists are disingenuous fake messiahs, who miss their mummies; thought Knife In his mad, crazy headspace. He sniggered aloud in his cloudy sleep. ‘’I don’t belong to any system. I’m outrageous, I scream and I ball’’; hummed Knife; diving deeper into the faceless chasm of his rollercoaster brainscape.
"Kick your shoes off; let your hair down (Go berserk) all night long.
Grow your beard out; just weird out (Go berserk) all night long." (C= Yauch, Criss, Rubin, Brown, Gist, Horovitz, Mathers)
Oh violence, yes the music of violence; to tell everyone to leave him alone and feck-off; to get pissed out of his skull and kick the shite out of whoever got in his way!
Knife’s tornado rolled on; he let it sweep him up and away.
He had lived in the wreckage of cruel home, prison, bail, and probation. More landmarks in his life; a liberal blueprint existed for Knife to indulge in; so he accepted the do-gooders invitation every time. He always fell into it with ease; it was almost laughable.
He knew in his schizophrenic mind that it was ultimately up to him if he really wanted to change. He often got the feeling in care meetings he’d attended previously as if his care-workers and Doctors were versed in the art of magic. They seemed to have all the tricks; were well versed in patronization but had no real idea of the organic complexities of mental illness; they were completely in the dark; Knife often thought this. He was often reviewed/assessed in roomfuls’ full of faceless people ‘tosspots’! He would often say repeatedly to himself in his mind; whilst smiling to help get him through the monotony.
‘’There is no magic in me deciding I want to change he thought. But I don’t want to.’’
Some bleeding hearts would call Knifes life ‘A Revolving door’; but it was never really how Knife saw it. A ‘convenience store’ seemed a much more apt title. It was what society expected and provided. Who doesn’t love a convenience store with a revolving door’?
Knife enjoyed drink and drugs; they eased the trauma and pain of unsatisfactory relationships and the physical and emotional abuse and scars arising from his upbringing.
Deep down he knew he was a walking cliché but society had provided him with a victims coat so he wore it; he had no reason not to.
He knew as well his brain was Wind scale and needed fixing. The Tsunami waves were hitting him harder than ever. I think the Professor’s called it ‘insight or a lack of insight Hmmm’?
Nevertheless a fond memory broke through his alcoholic stupor. In the memory his mum was cooking him a hot-meal, smiling and sharing small-talk with him.
However circumstances would always dictate that his father would get drunk; become violent and diminish any happiness he felt; also the voices in his head were mean and spiteful and always paranoid and never left him alone. Just small snatches of love and happiness smattered here and there to feed his hungry heart.
A cold wind swept through the pub basement. Knife snuggled deeper into his filthy sleeping bag. In slumber he kept climbing up; and then down the endless ladder that was his life; unremarkable, forgettable and definitely not marketable.
A George Michael tune crept into his unconsciousness and soothed his anguish:
"Turn me back in time, maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner and we never would have met
Would you care?"
Yeah, yeah… turn a different corner. Knife serenaded. (C= Michael/Ridgeley)
Dickens Town snapped into life; people milling and spilling. There were people who cared and people who did not. Money beings, poor creatures, educated minds, illiterate folk, class division. There was always some bloke playing Johnny Cash songs outside the local cathedral. Nobody ever listened he never made enough to buy himself a pint. Knife liked the busker’s version of ‘I Walk the Line’; he always hung around for that one and said ‘thanks’ to the bloke when he had finished said cover version:
"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line" ( C= David, Mcalpin, Crowell, Lou Carson, Wise, Cash, Weisman, Bacharach, Twomey)
Knife had street mates but had never known true love; and often wondered what it would feel like?
But there was always the endless humdrum; of what appeared to Knife to be a pointless existence.
He couldn’t find anywhere to park his baggage and be accepted. He could find no end or beginning. He always felt in his lifetime that he probably should be doing something constructive with his life but things just seemed to slip out of his grasp.
It was time for Knife to energise, to invigorate himself, to wake.
Knife stretched out, trying to squeeze the sleep out. He had some ducking and diving to do; he’d been off the streets for too long now.
Knife had some street acquaintances to catch up with, do business with; drop-outs; they were ghostly grey folk who had slipped through society’s do-gooders net. He could get what he needed from these street survivors anything dodgy, illegal.
They gave him nothing else.
Knife grabbed his gear together, striding out, reaching out ‘it felt good to stretch his legs out’ he thought. He sang aloud:
"I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer would you be mine
Oh I heard it through the grapevine; oh I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey, honey, yeah" (C= Whitfield/Strong)
Back in the Outreach camp there was a paid Liberal social conscience at work. The wheels were turning and burning.
Knife had heard and digested the Governments solutions to problems such as his many times. He reckoned that they did not genuinely care and it was all about political point scoring to keep votes and stay in power. He saw Government as class driven and vacuous but was grateful for the whiskey and drug money they gave him in their disingenuous endeavours; to fight poverty and social disadvantage.
If he did have the power to turn back the clock; who knows what might have been.
But so many things would have to be different; he concluded.
The Outreach Team is luminescent.
‘’What shall we do about Knife, Asked Polly he just doesn’t seem to be engaging with us and we’ve got his Birthday presents from his mum with a card and a letter; but he was so out of it last week we couldn’t hand them over and it didn’t feel right to leave them, not without an explanation about his mum and how she would like to see him again?’’.
‘’Tough call Geoff replied, he’s been out of his mums life for so long now, why should he even care or listen to us?’’.
Quietness hit the Outreach room. Silence, fumbling in the dark for answers not easily found. No easy solutions that was for sure.
Care plans unfulfilled; the bit of life where ugly truth reveals itself and the multi-disciplinary team methodology is bested.
Tom; a younger member of the Outreach team speaks up clearly and with conviction:
‘’In my opinion I think it’s worth us trying to give him the stuff from his mum again and then offer him any extra support if he needs or asks for it. When he finds out his dad is no longer in the picture it might give him a bit of space, time to clear his head’’
Senior Geoff interjected: ‘’ that might work Tom; but it also might be too much for him to handle emotionally. I think it’s worth a try though and we should at least try and give him the stuff from his mum; and at least give some sort of explanation of the circumstances and just see how he takes it. We could increase our Outreach visit’s for a bit just to keep an eye.’’
The Outreach Team disassembled and whirred back into ‘street mode.’ For each member of the team it felt better to have finally decided on some sort of strategy for Knife. Polly’s heart felt lighter.
In the meantime while the Outreach team deliberated about Knife’s future; the Council’s barrow boys were in and wreaking destruction to Knife’s little pub doss basement. This had been his home for yonk’s; but now he was being made homeless for the umpteenth time. He knew the local neighbours had snitched on him; they did not like him being there. A petition had been raised, signed and agreed; to give him the royal boot. Knife’s homeless Outreach Team had been bypassed.
Knife could see that his few belongings; his headset, and sleeping bag had been thrown into a skip placed in the nearby car park; along with his unfinished whiskey bottle. Access was denied to the pub basement; fresh new wooden boards were nailed tightly over the old ones. All gaps were covered; new barbed wire hung around the top of the fence structure. Knife could just about stretch his body upwards from the top of the steps leading down to the basement and smell and see that the hovel had been sprayed, disinfected and fumigated. Knife’s little friends rats, mice, spiders, pee-bugs had most certainly perished. Always death, destruction and barriers thought Knife. Human kinds ‘piece de résistance’.
Knife was confronted with this gloomy picture when returning from his scrounge-rounds; he was able to witness the enforcer’s handy work. He had seen it so many times. He felt the need to shout, protest do back what had been done to him; anger revved up inside of him but he reminded himself of how pointless anger would be here in this situation and parked it. He may have lost his pub nest but he did not fancy a night in a police cell.
Sighing he traipsed himself over to the skip and reclaimed his few bits and pieces including his bottle of whiskey. He turned around to take one last look at his former doss house; now a sealed tomb. He had found so much peace and solitude under those pub floorboards; Knife felt sadness kick his guts deep from within, he fought it back and took a long swig from his whiskey bottle. It was late afternoon, a nip was in the air, time to get moving; he had to reach out and find somewhere for the night.
Knife strode out once more onto Old Dickens’s Street; working almost in clockwork tandem the Outreach jeep quickly drew up alongside him. Polly wound down the front passenger-side window, she called out to him. Knife was walking parallel to the jeep on the left-hand side of the pavement. He could see and hear Polly clearly.
Polly shouted out to Knife:
‘’Knife I’m sorry about what’s happened; we knew nothing about it; do you want us to try and sort you something for tonight’’?
Knife kept his head down; eyes fixed ahead, striding out. He did not want to enter into a conversation about anything. The voices in his head were building to a crescendo; he needed silence; peace, quiet. Knife needed somewhere to gather and reunite his thoughts. He felt gate-crashed.
Polly could appreciate and understand Knifes reluctance to engage but she persisted and shouted out again: ‘’I know you’re not feeling great Knife but your mums been in touch with us; she’s told us, she’s left your dad for good; I’m sorry if this is too much Knife but we wanted you to know.’’
Tom the young Outreach worker called to Geoff the driver to pull the jeep over; he then cautiously opened the back left-hand side passenger door watching out for pedestrians, as it was a narrow pavement and then as soon as the coast was clear he jumped out from the jeep carrying a large brightly coloured birthday bag; in it were Knifes birthday presents from his mum.
He dashed quickly to catch Knife up dodging pedestrians as he did so; he got a few feet in front of Knife and then stood assertively in the pathway directly in front of Knife; he knew he was taking a risk as he could see Knife was looking distracted and stressed. He tried hard to meet Knife’s eye gaze and stay cool, calm, and collected. He stood firm in front of Knife; who had by this time slowed down and was returning Tom’s gaze; he thrust the bag of birthday presents forward into Knifes eye line and said firmly and with some empathy:
‘’ These are from your mum Knife, it was your birthday last Tuesday, she wants you back in her life again Knife; please take them they are for you.’’
Knife looked hard at Tom; he knew instinctively he was safe; he also looked at the bag and could see wrapped presents, and cards with his name on. Moving quickly Knife tugged at his sleeping bag and pulled open the top half of it and held it out to Tom like a sack; he fought back the thundering voices in his head and tried to keep control: ‘’Drop them in here he said; I’ll check them later’’ (then he said to Tom curt and sharp the bit he always found the hardest. ‘’ Thanks for bringing them mate’’.
Tom understood Knifes request. In the circumstances it was the very best the Outreach team could hope for; to get this close, to get this connection. Tom lifted up the birthday bag and lowered it carefully into Knife’s well-worn and malodorous sleeping bag. He stood aside as Knife swung the sleeping bag and its contents over his left shoulder as easily as a postman’s sack.
‘’Watch where you’re going with that’’ shouted out a passerby as the sleeping bag whizzed over Knife’s shoulder a little too close for comfort.
Tom could see the upset in Knifes eyes, beneath his beard and the grime. Knife ignored the irritated passerby, nodded his head to Tom and strode away quickly towards his destination.
Knife did not want to shed a tear; but he did feel sadness and a sort of emptiness and heaviness after hearing the news about his mum and dad.
In amongst his madness as he walked purposefully up an alleyway and onto a rough common he repeated over and over to himself in his mind:
‘There are no happy families; this is my life; as I know it’.
It had been so long but he paused for a moment feeling the weight on his back of the sack full of his mother’s wrapped up love, regrets and guilt. He remembered his mum Bella well. The voices stilled for a moment and he felt a surge of mixed emotion sweep through his guts. He allowed himself to feel the feeling; he felt tears well in his eyes but he just could not give it up; too much pain; too many hardships endured, too much neglect. He could not, would not, allow his tears to fall.
Knife turned suddenly deciding to take a new direction; the opening verse of ‘Love will tear us apart’ courses through his mind and veins:
Evening began to set; Knife disappeared from view, searching, seeking, hurting, and trying to understand what else he had to lose in his life and whether he could ever trust or love again; he knew a powerful force was trying to reshape him?
"When routine bites hard,
and ambitions are low and resentment rides high,
but emotions won't grow,
and we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads."(C= Curtis / Hook / Morris/ Sumner)
Hmmm taking different roads, mumbled Knife. Maybe……..
Written by: Andrew Christopher Alison
30th August 2014
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Andrew Alison.
Published on e-Stories.org on 30.08.2014.