‘Let’s take the lift next time.’
‘There isn’t a lift.’
It’s a long way up, time, height, life.
The man in front of us, the man who opened the street door, is as easy in his frame as an elephant in sweats. He puffs and blows and hauls himself up tread by tread, making it seem like an expedition to find the apex of the planet rather than a trip to the top flat.
Finally, we arrive outside a beaten white door, with the tell-tale signs of previous forced entries. The man stands to the side, too exhausted to make any kind of gesture, his gills flapping, his lank ginger beard waving like a filter-feeder on a rock at high tide.
‘In there,’ he squeezes. ‘Good luck.’
I knock and push at the door.
A continent of unmade bed. On it, Dorota, cross-legged in red satin hot pants and a Fairytopia t-shirt. She blinks out at us from a canopy of blond hair.
‘Please. Help him.’
‘What’s been going on then? What’s the problem?’
A man sits on a beer crate facing the bed, nodding forwards and then straightening just as suddenly, like one of those toys where you push in at the base and the whole thing collapses.
‘I don’t need nothing. I didn’t call no-one.’
‘He was eating pills like sweet, goddamn. I give them to man across hall.’
‘Fuck off, did I.’
‘You kill yourself. See what happen.’
‘What have you taken, Norman?’
‘Nothing. Leave me alone.’
It’s like in Star Trek. Captain Kirk, Spock and maybe Mr Sulu, or Bones (I didn’t have favourites; I loved them all equally, for different reasons. I loved the whole goddamned family). The team, fresh from the bridge, landing on the planet of danger, phasers out, paws up, Spock checking his man-bag for readings as soon as he moved from the spot. Picking up an anomaly, Captain. Frowns, quips. Always a glossy shine for the dangers they faced.
I loved them, but even then, small and clueless as I was, deep down I knew I’d never have made it that far. I knew even the Klingons would have been twitchy and calling for more psychological tests.
‘Did you take these pills to hurt yourself, Norman?’ says the Captain, holstering his weapon.
‘Like you care.’
‘We’re paid to care, Norman.’
‘What have you taken?’
‘I took them before he could take more,’ says the woman, lighting another cigarette and toking on it like a spot-welder.
‘I’ll be needing them later,’ says Norman.
The fat man, watching over us with his foot in the door, takes a step into the room.
‘Don’t think I’m holding on to these tonight,’ he says, waving the blister pack in the air and then dropping it onto the floor. ‘I’m not having Norman banging on my door in the early hours.’
‘He’ll eat them all.’
‘I need my sleep,’ says the fat man. ‘It’s important to me.’
‘Norman?’ I say. ‘Norman?’
My eyes glitter.
‘Jim,’ snaps Bones.