Joey was taking his own sweet time sticking the needle into my arm. ‘Will yeh hurry it up?’ I tell him.
‘Hold still, woman,’ he growls, ‘I can’t find a good bleedin’ vein here.’
‘Look.’ I pull down my jeans. ‘Go in here instead.’ I point to a spot on my left leg. ‘Jus’ do it.’
I’m lying on the sofa, shivering. The flat Joey and me share in Joseph’s Mansions is an ice-box. Give me cloud nine, fast.
‘Come on, Joey.’
He blows on his fingers and does it.
I wipe blood off my leg, wondering where he got the smack. This morning he was stone broke. He looks at me as if reading my mind.
‘I’m fuckin’ warnin’ yeh, Liz.’
‘Jus’ tell us, Joey.’ He usually isn’t this touchy.
‘Shut your face, woman.’
He waves a fist, looks at me and thinks better. Last time he tried that I hit back harder. Now he’s wasted with the sickness, he can’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.
‘Tell us, please, Joey?’ I ask ever so nicely, ‘I’ll keep me trap shut, swear.’
‘Han’bag,’ he mumbles,rolling his eyes. ‘Volvo stops in Amiens Street,’ he shrugs, ‘I smash in the windscreen. End of story.’
Volvo. Money there.
‘An’thin’ in it?’
‘Hardly an’thin’. Nothin’ really.”
‘Any money left?’
Broke? He’s lying because he has to have his Christmas supply. But I don’t care anymore. Thank God for smack. ‘Good gear, Joey.’
‘Better be. I paid enough for it.’
I wake up and stare out the bedroom window. Joey is outside on the balcony staring down towards the North Strand, smoking and coughing his guts up. I look past his shoulder at the watery grey clouds nearly touching the tops of the cranes on the docks. God, I hate mornings. The first day of the rest of your life, they kept saying at the Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Detox. Hard to imagine I stayed clean as a whistle for a whole month in there. Barely home when my arms get itchy and I just had to score. When I told Joey he laughed.
‘Smack never lets go of yeh, woman,’ he says. ‘Jus’ enjoy it.’
I never took him for so poetic, but he loves smack more than life.
I drag myself out of bed when someone hammers on the door. Joey is staring at DaffyDuck on Den TV.
‘Are yehfuckin’ deaf?’ I shout, ‘someone’s at the door!’
‘It’s only Marian.’
‘Let her in,’ I tell him, ‘she’s your sister.’
He doesn’t budge, so I let her in. Her new baby, Jason,is in her arms. For once he isn’t screaming his lungs out. ‘Is he in?’ she whispers, gawking past my shoulder.
‘Shite. I’ll come back later.’
Joey doesn’t like the baby in the flat and Marian is dead scared of her brother. I don’t know why, because his bark is usually worse than his bite. Lately anyway.
‘Liz?’ Marian sticks her head in the door a couple of hours later. ‘Is he still there?’
‘No, he’s gone to the Pier Inn for a pint or ten.’
‘Good, I’ll come in for a while.’
She flops on the sofa and stares blankly at the TV. She seems even more low in herself than usual. I’m sure as anything that she hasn’t been right since having the baby last month.
‘How’s Jason?’ I ask after a long silence.
‘Okay, I suppose.’ She starts chewing on a fingernail.
‘Lay off, Liz,’ she says. ‘He’s okay, like I say.’
‘Where is he then?’
‘Up there.’ She tilts her chin toward the ceiling, ‘some-one’s mindin’ him for me.’
‘Who?’ I demand, ‘Who’s mindin’ Jason?’
‘He’s okay I said.’
The nervous way she says this makes me feel edgy. ‘Sure?’
‘He’s been scream in’ all day.’ She darts a look at me, then turns away. ‘I jus’ wanted him to stop cryin’, Liz. So I shook him a bit, yeh know?’
‘An’ he stops cryin’?’
She doesn’t answer, just stares through me.
‘Is he okay now?’ I make a fist and feel like hitting her. ‘He’s asleep,’ she says in a faraway voice.
‘Shite, let’s go.’ I pull her off the sofa.
‘Where?’ she yelps.
‘To see Jason is where.’
‘No!’ She pulls away, flopping back onto the sofa like a beached whale. ‘Jus’ let him sleep. He’s good now.’
‘Marian!’ I grab her hair and eyeball her. ‘We’ll go up to Jason. Jus’ to check he’s alright.’
‘No!’ She tries to pull away from me.
‘Christ, I’ll reef your fuckin’ hair out if yeh don’ get up! You’re not supposed to shake babies hard, yeh know?’ I see such fearful eyes that I let her go.
‘A quick look, Marian,’ I smile like everything is okay, ‘I’m sure he’s grand.’
‘Not now, Liz,’ she pleads, ‘I’m jaded tired. I’ll jus’ sit here for a few…’
‘Marian Gunnary!’ I scream in her face. ‘Get off your bleed in’ backside this very second!’
All this is doing my head in. I promise myself a fix as soon as it’s sorted out.
‘I should’ve called an ambilinst, Liz.’
I stare down at the baby. An ambulance won’t help. Marian stands at the doorway looking like a dummy in Guiney’s Stores.
‘They’ll blame me!’ She howls at the ceiling. ‘Whah do we do, Marian?’
I may as well be asking the wall. Marian comes across the room, all hunched up like my granny. She stands over the baby, not blinking an eye.
‘I only wanted him to stop cryin’, Liz, swear to God.’
Reefing into her isn’t going to do any good. Her being locked up for this won’t help neither. ‘Whah’ll happen to me, Liz?’
‘Pick up Jason.’
She bends over, then stops.
‘Do it,’ I say hard. ‘Pick him up now.’
She does it. Marian’s used to having someone tell her what to do.
‘Now tell him yeh still love him.’ I wait a moment. ‘Tell him, Marian.’
As she tells him this, tears fall onto Jason’s baldy head. She’s bawling and hugging and kissing, saying she’s an awful bad mother. I never saw her do any of this when he was alive. Fat lot of good it is now, but then it isn’t for Jason. I saw it being done recently on Oprah. This doctor woman says that when your baby dies stillborn, you should have the chance to hold it and hug it and all. That if you don’t you feel brutal afterwards, maybe even for the rest of your lifelong days. Jason is close enough to being a stillborn for this to work.
‘Now wrap him up in his baby blanket.’ While Marian does this, I take a black plastic rubbish bag from under the sink.
‘Why the bag, Liz?’
‘It’s to bury Jason.’ I hold the bag open. ‘Put him in here.’ She just stands there, hugging the blue bundle. ‘Marian?’
I take the bundle from her and put it into the bag. I have to keep my head straight, as she’s no help at all. If she wasn’t Joey’s sister I’d leave her to sort this out herself. I tie a double-knot in the bag and it’s ready.
‘Where will yeh bury Jason?’
I don’t know yet.
‘Shut the fuck up while I think.’
Then I know just where to go.
‘We’ll go down to the river after dark. The bag will float away on the tide.’ I’m talking as if it’s something I do every day. ‘In the mornin’ we’ll get the ferry to Liverpool and stay over there for a while. Angela will put us up in her gaff.’
I hope my sister will. Last time I saw her she reefed into me for living with Joey. Still, she sent me a Christmas card. Even asked me to come over and visit her sometime. Sooner than she thinks.
‘Liz?’ She bites her lower lip. ‘Who’ll tell Joey?’
‘Leave him to me.’
Joey sits watching horses racing on Channel Four.
When I tell him that Jason is dead he doesn’t blink an eyelid. Not even when I tell him I’m taking Marian away for a couple of weeks.
‘How much, Liz?’
Fair dues, he’s getting right to the point. ‘I need a hundurd.’
He just laughs in my face. ‘Ninety then.’
‘Eighty,’ he grunts. ‘An’ I want it back, or else.’
‘Sure,’ I lie.
That Volvo must have been loaded. ‘Never mention this crap again, yeh hear?’
‘Yeah, I hear.’
He cares about her. Most fellas would stab their sisters for eighty.
Some of the neighbours will wonder about Jason when we get back. I’ll say he’s been adopted in Liverpool. People will believe that. Just like when I gave up my baby three years ago. I don’t let myself think about it. I was fifteen, not fit to be a mother anyway, like the social worker said. That woman was right. I have my own life to live. ‘When I gev the baby up it was all for the good,’ I tell Marian with a straight face.
‘Yeah,’ Marian mumbles.
‘Maybe Jason is better off.’
I smile at her, glad to have that sorted out.
‘A break at Angie’s place will do us the world of good,’ I say. ‘They do have loads of shoppin’ malls in Liverpool. We’ll have a great time there.’
Last I hear Angela is taking two hundred mils of methadone a day. Withdrawal from all that would surely kill her. I’m certain I’ll be able to get on methadone dead easy over there. Here they make you tell your whole fucking life story and fill in forms and all that shite. There we’ll just go to a clinic and get sorted. Methadone doesn’t give a high, but it’s only for a few weeks. Then we’ll be back, all geared up with a bang.
We’re both standing on the stone steps leading down to the river. Marian is waiting for me to make the first move.
‘Will yeh say a prayer for him for me, Liz?’
‘Why ask me?’ I tell her, ‘Say one yerself.’
‘My prayers are no fucken good. I killed him, didn’t I?’
‘You’re not…?’ But she is serious. ‘Well…whah will I say?’
‘A Hail Mary or a … somethin’.’
‘Okay.’ I look around to make sure we’re alone, then clear my throat. It’s a long time since I prayed out loud.
Not since my Communion.
That done, I grip her hand and move down the steps. Waves lap over the bottom step that disappears under water every few seconds.
‘Here goes.’ I squat down, open the pink hold-all and take out the plastic bag. ‘Bye, Jason.’ I toss the bundle into the river. ‘God mind yeh.’
Marian just stares out into the blackness. As we watch, the bag is swept back in and bobs against the pier wall. The tide is coming in. Great, just what I need.
‘It won’ work, Liz!’ Marian hisses. ‘He won’ go away!’
Suddenly she’s scrabbling on her knees to the very edge, stretching a hand out. The bag is barely out of reach.
‘Get the fuck back, yeh mad bitch!’ I shout in her ear. ‘Yeh’ll only get drownded!’
I grab her by the hair, dragging her away from the edge. It’s for her own good, else I swear she’s going to jump in after that bag. I haul her by the hair of her head back up to the top step.
‘Stay here!’ I roar into her wet, white face. ‘I’ll take care of this mefuckenself!’
Marian sits on the step. She’s bawling her eyes out, her whole body shaking. Her wails echo through the Hibernian Shipping Warehouse nearby. If I didn’t know better I’d swear she wants us to get caught.
‘Lissen, Marian,’ I say as quietly as I can, ‘d’yeh want us to get caught?’
She shakes her head once, rubbing tears from her eyes with a coat sleeve.
‘Then grab a hold of yerself, will yeh? You’re no help to me like this, yeh know?’
I tell myself to stay cool, not take it out on her. She isn’t doing this just to annoy me.
‘Jus’ yeh stay here,’ I say, taking a long, deep breath. ‘I’ll do it meself. I’ll make sure it’s gone for good an’ all this time.’
I leave her sitting there, face buried in her hands, and barrel down the steps again. I pull the bag out and shake freezing water from it. Gripping it just above the knotted part, I swing it round and around, faster and faster. I’m spinning on my tiptoes, just like one of them fat Russian ones in the Olympics. I’m starting to get dizzy, so I let it fly far out into the river, almost falling into the fucking water myself. I hear a loud splash in the distance but see nothing through the blackness.
‘Yeh hurted Jason!’ Marian runs down, screaming in my face.
‘Hurted?’ I look at her as if she has two heads. ‘Jason can’t feel a bleedin’ thing, Marian. He’s beyond bein’ hurted or an’thin’ like thah, yeh know?’ I shake my head in disgust, ‘Here I am, doin’ the best I can an’ this is the thanks I get? Fuck this for a game a cards!’
‘I’m sorry, Liz,’ she whispers after a moment. ‘Can we go home now?’
‘Yeah.’ The moon slides out from the clouds. ‘Let’s go before anyone sees us.’
She says nothing as I lead her away from the steps. As we walk along Spencer Pier I look back over my shoulder and curse under my breath. I’m nearly sure I see the bag drifting back in. The moon disappears and it’s jet black again. Maybe Marian is right. Maybe Jason isn’t ready to leave her yet. Shite, now she has me at it. I get a quick grip on myself and say over and over in my head that it’s turning out okay. After all, it’s only the bloody tide being awkward on us like this. The same tide that will surely tum and take Jason off and away with it long before daylight.
We’re back in Marian’s flat. It’s just before midnight and I’ve sent her straight to bed. She must be exhausted because she’s sleeping like a baby. I can’t sleep, so I sit in the freezing front room, smoking her cigarettes and waiting for Joey to show up when the pubs close. I need to get a bag from him awful bad. I know he’ll give it to me when I tell him I’ll bring back good smack from Liverpool. I wish to God I was on cloud nine. Joey says I’m always chasing my first hit. Who isn’t? Cloud ten, he calls it. But it only comes once. Marian said something the other night that made me think. Cloud nine, she says, is the feeling she had before ever taking her first hit, the last time she ever felt normal in her life. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Whatever, I suppose I’ll never feel that good again. Never mind. Smack will help me to forget everything else for a while. Maybe the worst is over. The ferry to Liverpool is sailing in a few hours. Marian will do what I say. She just needs someone to do the thinking for her, that’s all. Christ, what would she do without me?