Tag Archives: alcoholism

No Place to Go

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When he enters,
his animal scent clears out the buyers and browsers
and the assistant exits in haste.

I wonder if other charity shops blocked him.
Few operate like Oxfam.

Smiling like he’s a friend,
I take shallow breaths though the nose,
keeping my mouth closed except to speak.

He tells me he got a twenty quid drop and needs to buy jeans.
I ask for his size, and pick out two pairs.

“I’m just a drunk,” he slurs, his eyes
clutching at mine as if to defy me to deny
a universal truth.

I refuse to be intimidated.
“Not just a drunk,” I reply. “At your core, you are who you have always been. You have your history, your memories, your moments of reflection. Once you played in the street, or climbed trees. Once, you laughed at your own antics and believed
you were free.”

“Don’t be pedantic,” he growls,
“and tell me where I can have a shower.
I shit my trousers and I need to get clean.”

He’s been waved away away by every hand I recommend.
Then I remember the leisure centre.
We both pretend to believe that he might receive help there.

As he staggers off along the street,
sleek and limber legs reject his presence. Even the pavement
hardens itself against his weaving feet.

From her place in the past, my mother looks askance.
Tears skitter in the sky as I speak to the breeze.

“I treated him like a human being.”

My mother agrees. That is true, at least.

“If I lived somewhere different,
I would have invited him back.”

My mother silently absorbs the lie;
her kindness inhibits her from lecturing me.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Hidden Layers

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.

Lately, times and dates become smudged.
I only know it was a cold October.
My mother was taking a break away from home.
She meandered along the embankment, noting
how her beloved London had changed.
Wrapped in a warm coat, snuggled into gloves and scarf,
she shivered as the chill
crept through.

She’d looked forward to this ambling trip down memory lane, but now
she missed the warm house, safe from wintry elements,
where a friend from  agile dancing days awaited her return.

She envisaged strong coffee, cosy conversation,
intelligent debate, heartfelt agreements.

Later would come supper, wine, a welcoming bed.

Wine, with its layers of taste
Wine, gulped down, leaving a wide smile, and no visible stain.

She stepped up her pace at the place
where the ground beyond the wall on her left
began to dip.

Glancing that way, she spotted the shock
of cardboard city; the place that street-sleepers might wryly call
their safety zone, where they laughed and cried and fought,
where few found love and many raged in anger and frustration,
where most drank themselves into a stupor to escape racking pain and loneliness,
where flattened boxes raised chilled, aching bodies from
hard, ungiving
concrete.

That night she wrote it in a poem – her hopeless, hollow, agonised desire
to make it right;

to take it all away,
to save, to save… to wash and shave them, change their clothes,
dress their sores, pour a healing salve onto their brains,
to feed and shelter them;
to make them well again.

She described her sense of helplessness for these broken lives.

She said it felt like a punch
between the eyes. Her shoulders curled in, her legs
threatened to buckle.

-<-<-@

“Dear God,” she wrote,
“dear God.”

-<-<-@

When she came home, she showed me the poem.
Though something in me preened in the reflected glory of her elite literacy,
I cried for the plight of the homeless, and for an elusive secret
tucked between the lines;
a message I couldn’t quite read.

Still weeping, I typed her words onto a clean sheet of paper.
This I gave to her, together with the original.

I kept no copy for myself.

Maybe it was down to the drink, but
for whatever reason, the poem was spirited away,
probably thrown out by mistake –
along with other significant documents.

My mother’s words, gone forever.

Those precious words shared the secret her misplaced shame
could never speak, yet they remained unheard.
Years later, a mystery illness revealed the weakness hidden in her genes.
My father pulled out green and amber bottles
concealed beneath the bed, behind her clothes,
inside cupboards and closets.
I smelled the amber liquid as it glugged into the sink,

a picture forming in my mind –
I’m twelve years old, delving through a pile of rags,
discovering empties underneath,
my mother’s brief irritation, her evasion, when I questioned her,
and how, when she found an excuse,
I couldn’t dispel the feeling of unease and confusion.

Did I never guess, or did I refuse to know?

Twenty years on, the clue was there, in the last lines of her poem,
the only lines which have not been – and will  never be – erased from my mind:

-<-<-@

Dear God, dear God,
there but for thy grace,
go I.

-<-<-@

This poem – like many others I have written – honours my mother, who had more positive qualities than any other woman I have ever known. She was plagued for many years by alcoholism, but her love and strength were such that her family had no idea until she started to experience frightening catatonic spells, and was admitted to hospital. Addiction is a tragic disease that often runs in families. She warned me against it, and I took heed. I know I carry the disease, and I owe it to her that I have not allowed myself to become lost in it.

Were she alive today, she would be 102 years old on 14th February.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Another Beer

He swallows another beer as he wallows in loss of a broken doll that he never wished to repair; to mend it would be to lose it forever, and to forego his fun.

He opens another can as he drunkenly hunts for a plan to win her back.

A hundred pounds should seal the deal. The doll will feel a dash of guilt or greed. He’ll sow the seed in her account and it is bound to yield. She’ll buy a bag and run to heel. It cannot fail. By next weekend he’ll possess her again.

But what is this? It’s all going wrong. She told her she’s happy where she is. She doesn’t want the hundred quid and doesn’t want to hear from him.

He drinks another beer and has another think. Another hundred quid should do it. He knows her sort, they’re no better than they aught to be, and that’s why they keep him warm in bed. They’ll do anything for some squid to buy a day’s escape from pain.

She reminds him it’s over, that he doesn’t know her, he only remembers an addict he thought he could buy, and though she can’t recall the sordid details, and can’t recognise the person she was now she’s found a different life, he should know she was only for hire, and the lease has expired. Her body is her own private property, as are her mind and her soul. None of her form, functions or faculties have any connection with him.

He feels frustrated so he takes a break, and has another drink.

Now he is angry, and soon, so is she. Another hundred unsolicited smackers in her bank account, yet still she won’t listen. She should have crumbled and spent it on gear. He’ll speak to her mother; he’s convinced he has tricked her, she thinks he’s a charmer, with his grammar school twang and his good education. She will believe him when he spins his tale.

So he’s texting her mother to say that if she doesn’t help him, she’s not the mother that she should be. He writes that he is in love with her daughter, and adds “You should send her to me.”

His mother succinctly explains (most politely) that he is a git and a pervert also, and that she’s always known it, but had to go slowly and retain his trust, ’til she got her daughter out of his clutches. She’s pleased she’s succeeded, and says that she hopes he will leave well alone. She mentions his age and compares it to daughter’s, she points out the difference of thirty three years, says she’s aware of his filthy intentions, wishes him well and she puts down the phone.

So he necks another beer.

His left arm possessively clutches a bucket of fine filmy dust while his right hand hurls mouldering tatters of insults and sick psycho tricks which harmlessly sink through the rug at their feet. He shouts and he swears and spits evil invective. He threatens to stab them and shoot them and send out police to arrest them…

Pardon me, could you repeat that last piece?

Stab them and shoot them and send out police?

What, all three?

And how will he find them? He has no address.

They were very upset, but now they are laughing. Three months of plotting and drunken scheming and now he is screaming arid threats. Can he do no better than that?

Somewhere in a lonely town, he chokes on his beer…

and the brave phoenix extracts a heap of cash from the bank, slaps it into the hand of a representative of a cherished charity. She modestly waves away the receipt, and whispers “A stranger gave it to me. He thought I looked a bit like someone he knew. He refused to take it back. There was nothing I could do.”

She turns to leave, but briefly turns back. Smiling, she says “Free.”

At last she is free.

.

Quid:- one pound sterling.
Squid:- same as quid.
Gear:- heroin.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Like a metaphor

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She lived her hard life like a metaphor,
this suffering woman, who made no lists,
and never questioned
which may be the supreme sacrifice
amidst so many stolen freedoms.

Sliding from brief sleeptime at dawn,
she’d rush to complete each arduous and loving chore
of housekeeper, mother and wife, before leaving for work,
nimbly cycling; riding with her head held high,
strong legs taking the long, uphill climb in her stride,
and upon arrival, cooking, serving, feeding dusty factory folk,
washing the dishes, then preparing lunch for one o’clock.

So many hungry men,
so many greasy plates to clean and put away.

A simple sandwich and two cups of tea
seemed to be her main means of survival and revival.
She was cunning and her loved ones were blind;
she kept her tipple hidden.

Back on her bike at the end of each weekday,
she turned left at the gates, and from there
it was downhill all the way,
her slight frame edging woods that hid deep, flooded memories of tin mines.
Past the pub she’d fly,
her eyes skimming familiar places,
her mind skimming some secret blunted dream.
Beyond the sawmill she’d ride, beside the ditch along the side of the lane,
where she would sometimes wobble,
and fall in.

When she dripped home, we only saw the mud that clung to her clothes;
we didn’t guess she was immersed in the mire of addiction.

She hid her tipple well.

Written for The Daily Post #Immerse

©Jane Paterson Basil

Somewhere he walks with children

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I loved my uncle Robert even though – or perhaps partly because – he was an irrepressible, irrisponsible alcoholic.

I was nine the first time we sat at the mouth of a river, drinking cider that he’d hidden inside his jacket. My mother and aunt believed him when he said we were looking for shells.

In the mornings it was best to leave him sleeping until late, when he was ready to wake, to evade his ill-tempered hangovers, but the rest of the time he was endlessly entertaining to we children, even though he may irritate anyone over twenty eight or so.

I must have been eighteen when his lung cancer was diagnosed. What with his dicky heart, his schlerotic liver and other complications, his body was not strong enough to survive.

After he died, my brother’s best friend, Pete, with whom I had dallied for a while, wrote a eulogy. The guy wanted to be Bob Dylan, but couldn’t, as the post had already been taken by a better poet.

Pete’s pretentious poem was read out at the funeral, accompanied by his inflatable ego. It claimed that my uncle knew something clever about glass houses which the rest of us didn’t. It sounded good, but wasn’t true; all my uncle knew was where to get the next drink, and how to blow up balloons so children would follow him down the street, in a parody of the pied piper, but without any harm coming to them. He loved children because he never ceased being one.

They laughed as they ran, and so did I, but the laughter stopped for a time after he died.

Maybe I grew up that day, standing with my family as his coffin was lowered into its resting place. I tried to see his face through the wood; to take in the truth of what it cantained. I had seen him several hours after he stopped breathing, and yet it was difficult to understand this final leaving.

My left hand clutched a sodden tissue to wipe my stinging eyes; my right one was plunged deep inside my pocket, fingers squeezing secret balloons in the bright hues he had liked. I’d placed them there with the intention of filling them with air while the grieving trickled dirt into the horrid oblong hole, but when the moment came I thought it would appear pretentious; just as Pete’s poem bore no relation to my uncle in life, so the balloons bore no relation to him in death, and there was a risk they may upset my aunt, who already gave the impression that her face was melting.

Those balloons stayed in my pocket for months before I threw them away. Even then I wondered if, in not inflating them, I had let my uncle down.

The last wisps of resentment cling tenuously as I admit P. had previously written a bitter poem about me, making the damning claim that I was a fake (to which I would have liked, childishly, to respond, “It takes one to know one). The reason? I didn’t love him.

Maybe he thought my uncle did, but Robert was pretty indifferent to all but children, mothers, relatives and alcohol.

The one thing P. said which made sense was:

Somewhere he walks with children

I hope he does.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

Please be well

walking home today,
thinking only of dinner,
leaving the street to follow
a well worn lane;

He must have been
about your age, Paul.
One moment he was not there
and the next he was stagger-stamping my way
as if he had just been dropped from
some shocked alien starship,
rejected for his neglectful filth,
his layered stink,
his scratched and picked skin,
his frightened, frightening expression
which begged to be told how
he came to be so suddenly on this lane,
while at the same time threatening
to kill the first comer.
His legs thrust to the sides,
wobbling like soft silicone tubes
as he zigzagged; a baby trying to walk
with no mother to catch him

Stark eyes slid across mine.
The stench of alcohol and something else
hit me from ten feet away.
I have witnessed several kinds of horror
but I can’t remember seeing
such a wreck of a man.

I shivered
knowing he was some mother’s son
and wishing I had the courage
and the stomach
to hug him

I whispered a begging invocation to the fetid air
please, Paul, please don’t ever travel to
where there is no return.
Please, my son,
be well.

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Written for The Daily Post #Shiver

©Jane Paterson Basil