The Umbrella

Part 0 – Object of my abjection

Dave rushed into the crowded 38 bus from the back where they made that new entrance that's always open where you could almost hop in while it's being driven. Dave was the kind of man that would do that. Dave was the kind of man that had done that. Dave had never been the 'almost' man. Of course, he fell face first on some old queen's lap that screamed bloody murder. Like anything would have ever happened.

Dave really had trouble with this easily offended world. He hated the using the word "snowflake" because it was the word of far-right shitheads and anti-choice bigot social media trolls. Still, the word was on the tip of his lips sometimes…

Add to that this systemic racism he had heard about for gay man on dating apps through this MTV Decoded program and he felt like a racist for being attracted to some ethnic groups rather than others. He understood it was racism period brought on my upbringing and stuff no matter how you formulated it. And he felt like a monster for liking Turkish or Indian people and being less attracted to other ethnicities. He didn't even dare say he liked redheads because it felt so objectifying. Still, he got hard on thinking of that ginger he bred last night. Ginger bred? Get it?

"God, I'm everything I loathe in the gay community…"

So, he tried saying 'hello' to Asian people or black people and when they didn't answer, he was almost offended, like he was doing a favour to them. Still he strived to change constantly and be a person he might one day love.

On the same train of thought, he never knew what to call stuff. He remembered his master's thesis when he was learning translation and had to translate the script of three episodes of a never aired in his language (French) TV Show. Big fan of Roseanne - another mess with that hag revealing her true trumptard self-, he chose the first three episodes of season seven. One of those was when Leon emptied the suggestions box, and somebody said to lose the blonde guy (Leon) because he reminded the customer of his mother. Leon said to Roseanne this was her doing but then, a black guy told him to think again. That's what made the scene so funny, but Dave was so afraid to put "Black customer" or "Afro-American customer" in the script because he was afraid it might be offensive, and he would have to justify himself not being a racist and defining the person by the colour of his skin. So, he just put « Customer » and the scene lost its funny.

Even now, reminiscing, he thought that maybe finding a difference of skin colour so funny might not be that funny and be actually offensive. The scene would work with any actor, the funny being you discover afterwards Roseanne paid the guy with pie to act like he put the suggestion in, but she was the one that put it in there.

"God, I might as well crush Cheetos on my face and glue a dead squirrel on my head and start grabbing women by the clam."

You may ask why the hell hopping on a bus would make Dave think of his translation studies. Well, Dave was high as a kite. He had relapsed on drugs over and over the past six months and despite knowing about recovery and a program called Narcotics Anonymous that was trying to teach him how to love himself, he still hated the fuck out of himself and was prone to do his own mental gay-bashing. And some biting, scratching and punching himself more than he cared to admit.

Oh, and he was fond of the Tina and the needle as well which did not help with his promiscuous sexuality and self-loathing.

He was rushing to an interview to be an in-house translator for this big videogame company. He knew the ins and out of it, translation being his job and he was sure he would be able to hide his crystal meth goggles with his gift of the gab and track marks with long sleeves. After all, he had worked there a game tester and half the people were on drugs on the job. He should fit right in.

All to his thoughts, he reached the Subway station he needed to get to and hoped off the bus, still in the back. One of those free rides because he had a lot of life struggles, as he liked to call them.

The weather was rainy despite the summer having been scorching so far. In between what gays called "slamming", he had found the time to go further into debt to buy a suit for the interview, a suit that was already half drenched in sweat despite the fresh weather. Because meth.

He had passed the phone interview round easily while being blown by a guy. Dress code for the interview at that company was business casual, whatever the fuck that was. That's why he had agreed to take the fancy umbrella his now estranged best friend gave him a few years back before he sank into active addiction. Dave did not want to add Chia Pet Cory Matthews-like hair to the mix.

As he hopped of the bus and tripped and ripped his suit pants, he swore in graphic terms, blaming the whole world but himself for his sad state of affairs. He entered the subway station and checked his app for the thousandth time to see where he was supposed to go. Meth didn't help a man who already had no sense of direction.

When the doors of the subway car started to close, he realized and swore some more, making a little boy giggle and repeat "for motherfucking cunt's sake".

On the seat of the bus next to the one he had sat on a few minutes ago lied the umbrella. It seemed to slightly glow, as if blessed by some exterior force. It was about to go on a long journey to the ins and out of London, changing owner on a regular basis, giving it a glimpse of many different lives, all linked through common themes: missed opportunities, broken lives, addiction, recovery and -even when faint- hope.

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful to be willing and able but I am not clean today.

2 – I'm grateful I did not die of that overdose. Though I wished to die at the time.

3 – I'm grateful for that can of cold raviolis. Despite having my electricity shut down, I was able to eat something. It tasted dreadful but it did the job and I didn't barf it.

4 – I'm grateful that I'm at least losing weight. My GP will be thrilled.

5 – I'm grateful my arrest did not lead to a prison sentence. But I wondered if jail would have helped me get and stay clean. But I doubt it.

oOo

Part I: Crack Whore Grandma

So, they had a name for it. They had a name for her. For them. They were called "wrinkle chasers", that category of younger men that like to rock old grannies' world.

"They gotta realize I'm over eighty. He almost had to peel me off the ceiling."

And where you're addicted to crack cocaine, there is a market to get money for your next fix.

"The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor […] All of us, from the junkie snatching purses to the sweet little old lady hitting two or three doctors for legal prescriptions, have one thing in common: we seek our destruction a bag at a time, a few pills at a time, or a bottle at a time until we die."

Strangely, she was all this except the old lady bit. She saw no thrill in getting legal highs. She lived for the adrenalin rush you get when you exchange money in the street and you go home knowing that poison is in your pocket and soon, you will chase the clouds and get plastered.

She knew about this book she was able to quote by heart because she had read it cover to cover many many times in the forty years she had tried to get recovery from drug addiction. She had had long periods of abstinence, both from drugs and sex but she had sunk back into active addiction again. Why? Because her zealous neighbour had trimmed both his and her hedges and cut trimmed her hibiscus to bloody knobs at the same time.

"What's the deal? They'll grow back! I didn't see them behind the hedges. I was doing a good deed! Are they like prized bushes you want to enter into a gardening contest? he had asked."

"Of course, not, numbnuts. It's obviously not about the hedges. It's about me not being able to cope with shit anymore. That's literally the last straw!"

"Don't you mean the last stem?"

She literally rolled over the trimmed hedges and punched him to a bloody pulp. Despite being eighty-four, Grandma was feisty as fuck. She got back to her side of the hedge -through the gate linking their garden this time- and wiped the blood of her face and hands with a lace handkerchief.

"I'll wait in my living-room until you call the police. I obviously am guilty and won't resist arrest. Just please let me thirty minutes to shoot my insulin."

"I… Sure, Mrs Levine… Is that my tooth? Man. This day couldn't get any worse."

Oh, but it could, little boy… And it would. Only an addict would act this way: snap, hit and then admit guilt and turn oneself in.

She went back into the house, down the basement, moved a jar of pickled eggs and found a bag of "insulin" and a few clean needles. In the program, they call keeping drugs when you get clean a reservation, meaning you keep a tiny door slightly open for the day you might to start using again.

She went back up to the kitchen and grabbed a spoon. She prepared the concoction and shot all of it straight into her neck vein.

Relapse don't start when you take the first drug. They start a long time before. Bad hedge trimming is just the tip of the iceberg that sinks a Titanic. And that ship was not going to prison. That ship was going to die right here… Or die trying.

They also talk about a Higher Power in the program of recovery offered by Narcotics Anonymous. This power greater than yourself is, as its name suggests, bigger than us and unconditionally loving. It had decided it was not Martha's time. She had not emigrated from the United States in 1946, just after World War II and struggled all her life to get and stay clean to just die after going WWE on her sweet obliging neighbour. She still had hopes to bang him. And more seriously, deep down, she still had one spark of recovery left in her that would drive her back into the program, a year later.

Addicts often say: I know I have one more relapse in me, but I do not know if I have one more recovery. Old widow Levine did. And she would recover again but before she could do that, she would go through Hell and come back. Don't they say religion is for people who fear Hell and spirituality is for those who have come back from Hell? Narcotics anonymous lied on ground of acute spirituality to become and stay clean and recover from the disease of addiction.

At then 84, Martha would have to go through this ordeal again to reaffirm her desire to stop fighting and surrender.

If God gets you to it, God will get you through it.

What a load of steaming barnyard bullshit! When addicts get clean, they work on something called the twelve steps with a sponsor. They answer a series of questions in writing from a book and then read them out loud to said sponsor. There is a question in step three that asks about the concept of Higher Power: Have I ever believed that God caused horrible things to happen to me or was punishing me? It echoed part of the literature where it is said that it is normal to sometimes be angry at that power greater than ourselves.

Well, raised in catholic faith where it is believed the Lord puts us through Hell for a reason, she never raised her voice to her Higher Power. The latter was a she and she kind and unconditionally-loving and nothing like that vengeful cunt that offered eternal damnation if you masturbated.

When she woke up in that hospital bed with a tub down her lungs and another down her stomach to prevent vomiting, she "un-prayed" to the God of her understanding. Or in that precise moment, the god of her misunderstanding.

"You cunt! Couldn't you let me die? I don't ask for much. I just want to fucking die. I upped the dosage so I could stop feeling permanently. The ultimate quick fix: death. Can't I even have control over that?"

She didn't wait to hear back from her goddess and carried on, sinking into all of her character defects at once.

"I guess not. Well, you made me live so I'm gonna enjoy what life is left in me and use the hell out of this world. I rebuke thee, Higher Power. I'm no longer in the program."

She got out of the hospital soon after being scolded and having seen their on-site psychologist and drug counsellor. Her neighbour had dropped all charges when he had seen her dead -for two minutes- on the floor of her kitchen when he went to confront her with the police. He had however taken a restraining order against her. Each to their own side of the hedge.

Life resumed and reeked of a past she thought long gone. Her retirement pension did not cover her growing crack habit, so she tried her hands at dealing and after having a dealer make her dig her own grave, she settled down and turn to prostitution. Surely there had to be market for that on the Internet. And there was.

. Grannies I'd Really like to… Let's say "friend". Maybe she would have an orgasm again. Old Mr. Levine kept trying but he did not have much to work with. If you get a gherkin into a tunnel at a speed of fifteen mile per hour, do you even know it's there?

Life was a breeze, meaning she was always flying over it. She even went to the gay pride once for funsies and did a big bump of ketamine. She literally felt like she was levitating over the parade like some Supergirl junkie. She made out with a trans boy and like Katy Perry, she liked it. She liked the week of sickness that followed a lot less. Already looking like Skeletor, she lost another ten pounds and her body mass index went dramatically close to the "very severely underweight" portion of the BMI, also known as anorexia.

At the time, she was living in her car to rent her house on Airbnb so she did not care. She used to be a plump Julia Child type of woman so fitting in her car was much easier while being skin and bones. Thank God recovery had allowed her to save in the past and buy a very comfy car whose seats pushed back to allow somewhat proper sleep. Things did happen for a reason and there were rarely for the reason we thought. A Higher Power does work in mysterious ways.

"So, what's the hidden meaning of breaking my back leaving in my car and rummaging through Sainsbury's trash to snatch food away from rats and foxes?"

If she was truthful, she would admit that part of her liked that every minute or everyday was like shock therapy. It really did help a heart that only beats a few times a minute. Crack worked better than her pacemaker. Crack cracked her up. In hindsight, drugs had allowed a very old woman to live a fast life that would have taken down many a younger sissy. Truthfulness and honesty were quite different concepts though and if she had had one second of honesty, she would have noticed a gentle hand was holding her hair when she puked, caressing her forehead when she was feverish and offering a shoulder to lean on when her limping came back, simply waiting for her to be ready to receive more than an invisible support.

In the meantime, she prostituted, she lied, she conned, she rented her home and lived in abject poverty. Her years of abstinence seemed to get further and further away each day she carried on using. That spark of recovery was ever so flickering and threatened to die soon.

Then one day, the stars aligned. There were no Airbnb in the house today so her son had agreed to a supervised visit so she could see her grandson Darren. She had fooled her son into believing she was clean. But something important was missing. She had no money so she could not hold on to her promise. She hopped on bus 38 to get back to her home and saw it. She looked left and right and snatched it with her best poker face.

"Thanks God! I lost it a few hours ago and it's still there."

Some woman looked at her funny.

"What? Me and my dead husband used to snuggle under it when it rained. I lost everything in the market crash of 2008 and lost my house. That's all I have left of him."

She sure had fooled her. The program had told her every character defect started with you, so she had to have lied to herself successfully to be able to pour out such faecal matter onto that unsuspecting woman -and virtually anyone.

She changed for bus 19 and joined her home in Finsbury Park.

"Home sweet fucking home… Oh, hey, son! How are you?

"Fine, mother. You wanted to see Darren. Here he is. You both don't get out of my sight. I hope you got what he asked. He can't handle another disappointment or another naked new grandpa and/or passed out in vomit Grandma."

"I have what he asked. Darren. En garde, little fucker!"

Oops. She had promised to refrain from swearing. Her son frowned. She ignored it and drew the umbrella.

"That's not a sword, Grandma."

"Oh, but it is. You see, I'm MI6. I'm Levine. Martha Levine. I need to hide my weapons in plain sight. Once again: en garde, little fu… fuckwad. Damn, I'm fucking broken. Fuck fuckety, fuck fuck fuck. I'm good. No, wait… Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. That's it. It's all out."

Her son couldn't help it and smiled. She couldn't help but notice.

"Out of the darkness and into the light."

That sentence manifested into her head with a voice that wasn't hers.

She approached her grandson and pressed the button of the closed umbrella, extending it like it was an actual sword. She sparred as best she can with Darren. They climbed on armchairs and tables, laughing and giggling. When Martha dealt a fatal blow, Darren took out a plastic gun.

"Boom! Boom!"

Grandma took out the Velcro and let the umbrella open.

"I'm deflecting bullets with my shield!"

This time, her son laughed, unable to hide it despite his resentment for his mother. For the first time in a year, she showed signs of normalcy and her old self that had to win any game she played. For the first time in a long time, she did not give up on her family or life altogether to run away and use.

As the two fighters took a panting breath, she was her once again. Her Higher Power made herself visible and put her hand on her grandson's shoulder.

"Out of the darkness and into the light. Are you ready to go to any length to get clean and maintain your recovery? asked her Higher Power."

She nodded and burst into tears.

"Mom, are you ok?"

"Better than I've ever been."

She felt unburdened. She felt ready. She felt like she was herself again. Or maybe for the first time.

"I'm fucking Martha and I am an addict."

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful to be thirty days clean again. For the twelfth fucking time. I'm gonna make a necklace out of my red key rings

2 – I'm grateful I did not break my one year of sexual sobriety to sleep with my ex. And that newcomer. And my female sponsor. I'm such a slut or as they call it here, a slag.

3 – I'm grateful to finally be getting housing benefits. I vanquished that job centre cunt without blowing him. He dried up my vagina anyway.

4 – I'm grateful Peter came to my house and taught me the basics of meditation. It's about fucking time.

5 – I'm grateful we welcomed that newcomer. He probably used after the meeting, but he will be back.

oOo

Part II: The Weirdo

He had fallen a few times and lost a shoe but kept running. His dealer was quite big-boned so he had lost him already. Still he kept running. The drug dealer had not properly closed the safe when he went into another room to pick up the scale and his client, our running man, had snatched all the drugs he could grab and jumped out of the window from the first floor. No, the door wasn't locked and yes, that dumb as shit. He had dislocated his shoulder but there was no time for pain. It was time to start running from Fernando. The latter came out the actual door of the building and started chasing him, yelling obscenities in Spanish but forced to keep it a secret why he was running after him. After a while, he realized he was just raising suspicions, so he stopped and headed back home.

"¡Bobo cabrón! ¡Te voy a cortar!"

No need to get the Metropolitan Police involved by making too much of a scene. Sassy girls get the hose. He was a small-time dealer, yes, but he had a ring of meth cooks. He was the only one in London that did not import it from China or Russia. So he had to let this go to not attract unwanted attention. The irony might be lost on him but for a dealer to apply the concept of letting go when he had nothing to do with drug recovery was hilarious.

Javier, our man on the run, was safe but he had taken too much Mephedrone and GBL and the two tended to trigger visual and auditory hallucinations on him and probably some sort of psychotic decompensation. Fernando was long gone but those cartoon-like monsters his drug-addled man had conjured a while back were still after him. He fell again face first in garbage. It was pouring down rain and he kept slipping into the torn open trash bags and meeting the pavement covered in old stinky garbage and coffee again and again.

"Garbage meeting trash…" he thought about himself and the situation as he stopped trying to stand up.

That was until a hand firmly grabbed his arm and put him back on his feet.

"Come with me if you want to live. I'll help with whatever is chasing you."

Javier stood still.

"Did I give you a choice? Come or face the consequences of your actions. I see those bags that fell from your pocket. You're no dealer. You're a user and a stealer. Your supplier will kill you when he finds you."

Touché. He limped and followed the guy.

"Take out your other shoe. You'll walk easier. We're the same size. I'll give you a new pair for when you leave during the night and run away."

The stranger seemed to have him figured out. They walked about a mile, passed a park next to a subway station. It seemed to be a working-class type of neighbourhood.

When they arrived in front of his flat, he noticed the blue door. The only one on the floor.

"They don't really care about harmony and shit around here. If you fix it yourself, they leave you be. The landlord is as poor as us and he can barely keep his head above water with our rents. He is kind, too kind, and maybe we use that to our advantage up to the point that tomorrow, the bank might foreclose on us."

They entered the flat. The hall was covered in very old orange patterned wallpaper from the sixties.

"I like it. It's like staring into the sun. I know this building might not seem like much but we're all tight like we're family. A family we chose, nothing like a blood one you're stuck with at birth. And we don't have rats or cockroaches, apart from the Brexshitters in power. So we're pretty lucky."

Javier could certainly relate all of the above. Despite the drug haze, the words hit close to home. He had cut ties with most his family and was estranged with the rest to prevent them from seeing the mess he had made of his so-called life. He had just run away from his narcissistic pervert of a boyfriend that had kept him under his wing with booze and his drugs of choice. And roofies by the truckload when he wiggled too much. The gang rape videos on Xhamster were there to prove it.

#metoo.

"So, what's your poison? You look like an uppers and downers kind of guy. Are the monsters still chasing you?"

"They stopped but they're staring at us."

Wow, he had let his defences down fast!

"Wait, how do you know?"

"Shhh. Let me help them go away first. So we can talk privately."

"I'm not dumb. I know they're not real. Just like that police knocking at the door is not real."

"Oh no, that is real."

"Oh shit! Gotta go."

He proceeded to throw himself out the window once again.

"I was kidding! And we're on the ninth floor. Unless those drugs let you fly for real, you'll die."

The rescuer had to act fast, but he ran the risk or freaking him out for good and make him jump for real. So he grabbed him and hugged him.

"Not trying to get in your pants. Yet. You need to slow you heart rate. Hugs let out serotonin after twenty seconds and have a calming effect. Is that ok?

"I guess. Is that ok I'm hard as fuck? I crunched a Viagra not long ago. I thought I'd have to fuck my dealer to pay him."

"And you chose to steal from him instead?"

"The end justifies the means."

"Agree to disagree on that one but all in due time."

He grabbed Javier's head with both his hands so they would stare into each other's eyes.

"Will you kill for me?"

He showed the nightstand with his eyes. Javier kept staring over there. It was easy to figure out one of the monsters was there.

"He is the scariest one, right? Like the gang leader?"

"Yes, he commands the others."

Javier looked at the guy.

"Don't patronize me!"

"I'm not, I swear. I can't see them, but you can. They're not real but you do see them. So that makes them a real problem to deal with, so you don't end up in a psychiatric ward again.

"How do you know?"

"I know everything. I'm you from the future."

He started laughing.

"We just have similar backgrounds. I've walked a mile in your shoeless feet. Now listen carefully: make a hand gun and shoot him in the head. The cartel boss first, then the minions."

What did he have to lose? His sanity? Long gone. Like he asked, he made a gun with his hand and shot him right in the head. This brain splattered on the wall behind it and he finally disappeared. Then that weird guy that had welcomed him into his home did the same and started humming the Pulp Fiction theme.

"Die, fuckers! Die!"

It was a blood bath. And then, they were all gone. It was like part of his self had come back.

"Can you make the cops go away too?"

"Sure. Got your phone?"

"Yep. Ten per cent, though."

"Plug it into the dock. Put your favourite song on full blast. Something upbeat. Something you know the lyrics of by heart."

He obeyed. The song started to blast.

"My neighbours and I have an understanding. Ten minutes a day each for tension relief," he yelled through the pop music. Now dance for me, boy! And sing. Like your life depends on it. Cause I'll kill you if you disappoint me."

He took out a gun and pointed it towards Javier. He broke into instant sweats. Where in the hell had he landed? The man threw a nearby kitchen at his feet. The blade sank deep into the hardwood floors like it would have into his flesh.

"I'm not kidding."

Javier sobered up instantly. Once he had shot drugs with guys in a park in the hope of having an orgy outside but the noises of the wind in the leaves had turned into forest sprites whispering into his ears and it had brought him back instantly, making the drugs inactive. Exactly like now, minus the wooden nymphs.

He started dancing and singing to the beat of the worst ever chosen song.

"I'm bound for the broken promise land

To meet my demons and get back my upper hand

Long man can't catch a soul like mine

Miracles are just too damn hard to find"

In what world was Ellie King upbeat?

Moving your body to that depressing song was hard as fuck but he found a way in order to stay alive. When the song finished, the gunman approached him and put the gun in front of his face and fired it. Water came out and sprayed him.

"A good shock and a voice louder than the ones inside your head will clear your mind."

Javier fell on his knees. The man pushed him back gently so his back would rest on the bed frame.

"Now I'll take care of this hard on so you can sleep."

"Are you gonna shoot water at it?"

"Eventually. But for now, I'm gonna sit on it until you come."

"Oh. Ok, then."

He proceeded to take out his clothes.

"Let me do that. Let's do it good, not fast. You've suffered enough. I can see the bruises. You deserve a little tenderness."

He slowly opened Javier's shirt but left it on.

"Open white shirts turn me on. One of my kinks. But bite on that first."

"Is that a dog toy?"

"In a way. More like a puppy play kind of adult toy. Another one of my kinks. Just bite on it."

After all, he had not hurt him since he had met him. That was about to change.

"I scared you so the drugs aren't numbing anymore. You're gonna scream."

He suddenly popped his shoulder back in. Javier bit on the dog toy like a rabid animal.

"Fuck that hurt. You could have warned me."

"That wasn't the idea. But… Après l'effort, le réconfort," he said in French, revealing yet another side to a rather peculiar personality.

He unbuttoned Javier's patterned shorts and tore off his briefs.

"Sorry. My kinky side coming out again. I swear that'll be that though."

He seemed embarrassed.

"I swear this is not how I hook up!"

"I hope so. You'd get arrested a lot.

"Oh, I have."

Another awkward pause.

"Can I kiss you?"

"Usually, my drug-fuelled mind would ask you to rape me into oblivion, but can you please act like you care when we fuck?"

"But I do care."

He kissed him rather passionately and proceeded to bring him relief. Javier never moaned, never begged and never made those kinds of grunts some make when they come. So of course, he did all three while having sex with that stranger. It was the first time in ten years he was having sex without being under the influence or coerced or raped. Sure he had drugs coursing through his veins, but they had lost all their powers and he was having more pleasure than he had had in a long while. He quickly envisioned a relationship with that guy, one without drugs but with all the weirdness. That was him all over. He always jumped to conclusions and he sure went for guys that later revealed to be timebombs. And this was one was like Ke$ha's Tik Tok.

After he came, he quickly fell asleep right where he was, not even bothering to get into the bed. He'd seen worse, from cold damp basements to dark alleys, drenched in puke and piss.

When he woke up a few hours later, that guy was sleeping next to him, holding his hand.

That's when he freaked out. He managed to keep his cool long enough to gently remove the hand without waking him up and quickly dressed. He quickly realized he could not find his phone.

"He made sure I'd stay by putting it away. Bastard."

That's when he saw it on the night stand. The monster was sitting on it.

"Hand gun. Shoot him."

One brain on a splatter, a monster gone and a fully charged phone. There was a text on it from an unknown number.

"Sorry I used your finger to unlock it. That's my number. Use it if you feel like shit or you feel like this life is no longer fitting your vision board."

"What the cunting fuck is a vision board?"

"A vision board is a tool used to help clarify, concentrate and maintain focus on a specific life goal. Literally, a vision board is any sort of board on which you display images that represent whatever you want to be, do or have in your life," said a second text.

"Now that's fucking creepy."

A third text said: "I know, uh?".

Thinking of smashing the phone to make it shut up, he saw something next to it with a note.

"Backup battery. 10 000 mAh. So you never get stranded naked in a stranger's bed that looks like Gollum, with a floor full of used needles and gonorrhoea in your ass."

Now he felt uncomfortable not because of the creep factor rising fast but because it was like that guy was narrating his life.

He went into the hall and found shoes in his size with another note.

"I'm weird, get used to it. I've walked ten miles in those shoes to get drugs and made such blisters I could not walk for a week but still walked to go fuck some guy that was paying for drugs. So, I made blisters on my open blisters. I cried a lot that week when I had to walk to the job centre to not lose my jobseeker's allowance. Maybe you'll use them to go to a healing place. And no, I don't mean my ass. Or do I?"

Next to the shoes was a black umbrella.

"Open me, said the note."

Inside was a booklet and yet another note that both fell on the floor.

"When there are misfits and monsters, open this umbrella. It will ward off evil. It's magic. It was given to me by somebody who had used it to change her life. The booklet is called a Where to find. It gives coordinates to recovery meetings. There you'll find people like you and me. It's not a sect. It's a source of honesty, strength, courage, open-mindedness, willingness and hope. Hope for a happy life without drugs. However, for somebody like me, clean from drugs for four years to sleep with a vulnerable person like you is a bad thing and I must repent for that. I too make mistakes and so will you. But I trust you're on the right path to a happy life worth living. I told you you'd leave during the night. I've been you and, on many days still, I become you again. Now go and live your life. Oh, and my name is Peter. "

As Abed would say: cool cool cool cool.

Time to make that self-fulfilling prophecy come true and run away. With the booklet. And the umbrella. Because he liked that hope idea.

For the first time in a long long time, he smiled. He was forty and from that day onwards, he would never use drugs and mood or mind-altering substances again. No matter what. The road would be long, but he did not care.

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful to be celebrating five years clean today.

2 – I'm grateful I am moving in with my boyfriend.

3 – I'm grateful I was able to make amends to Javier.

4 – I'm grateful to be doing service at the 2018 London NA convention.

5 – I'm grateful Martha accepted to do a main share at said convention. She rocks. She bit me once though.

oOo

Part III: As Dog Is My Witness

I saw it. I saw everything. He did not do it. That guy he was hooking up with died on his own. He went to the bathroom and overdid it. It's like he wanted to die. Now they're arresting my human and those two guys from the dog pound are trying to catch me to take me away.

Left, right, under the bed, through the doggy door. Shit, I forgot I'm fat now. I'm stuck. Well, that's over. If I bite them, they'll think I have rabies and put me to sleep. That's what happened to Raymond when the niece of his owner kept kicking him and he bit her. I might as well let go and let God like my human used to say when he was powerless. Don't mistaken me, us dogs provide unconditional love –like his Higher Power- but he was powerless a lot. He was very willing, but he must have fucked some all-powerful ancient god over in a past life to be so effing unlucky.

It all started when he got me from Craig's List. A dog on Craig's List? Really? Is what you might say, and you would be right. Who gets an animal on that Website from Hell? I'm surprised the door did not open to some gay guy into puppy play saying "Are you my new master? Please be as ruff ruff ruff as you like".

Whatever.

I was glad to get out of there. That human had not time for me and when he did, it was weird. I did things no dog should do. Or see.

My new human, Olivier, or Ollie as he liked to be called to look hip, had plenty of time on his hands. Not saying he was a loser or anything but apart from work, a few hook ups and food issues, he had plenty of time to treat me like I was his husband. But nothing weird like my first owner. Just pure unadulterated love.

He always had time to play, complain about his day, take naps with me and let me climb on the couch to watch Netflix. I love The Ranch!

Anyway…

We had peaceful days until he started bringing that even bigger mess of a recovering addict home. You can say whatever you want about Ollie, but he was recovering. He was not just abstinent from drugs, he was recovering, working on himself and writing and answering all those questions from what he called the steps and doing whatever his lesbian sponsor Norma told him to. He grunted and resisted, all defensive and shit, but he always tried what she suggested, and his life was improving on a daily basis as a result. It still sucked but it was improving.

Miguel, on the contrary, was just abstinent, didn't have a sponsor and stagnated and/or regressed. He always let my Olivier pay for him and never lifted a finger, laughing and pointing when my human dropped a plate full of food or broke something like they were in a sitcom. Well, that was not fucking Roseanne though he was as bad as her. I wish they'd cancel his show and ban him from TV because he was a cunt. He did not use drugs, but he had switched to using people and sex as a bargaining chip. I'm not even sure he was really gay, and their relationship was akin to prostitution: Miguel provided his services and faked feelings and intimacy in exchange of what Olivier was his bitch. However, my mess did not have the means to be a sugar daddy. I wish I could have told him to slap out of it and warned him not to break his year of sexual sobriety for that flaccid dick.

Miguel was like a black hole. Men were not all that he sucked. He was a gaping hole, both literally and figuratively and he was slowly swallowing Olivier. Apparently, he was very good at it and that's probably what kept him around for so long and not in several body bags scattered throughout the greater London. Olivier was very isolated and didn't know the difference between loneliness, which was to be enjoyed, and isolation, that led to co-dependency and to Miguel.

I think he was trying to save him, but he was barely managing to take care of himself, let alone another train wreck. I could see the iceberg so why could he not? Miguel arrived one day with that black umbrella I'm sure he stole that opened on its own on the nightstand and broke his favourite toy robot, the dragon one that looked like Godzilla. An open umbrella in a dwelling is already a bad omen but when it takes down one of your favourite mementos, that thing that like defines you as a geeky git, you should just push the bloody guy down the stairs and be done with him. I did try to make him trip a few times, but he would just not die. Well, until that fateful night where he relapsed in the bathroom, passed out, knocked his head against the sink and killed himself on the sharp glass edge of that IKEA piece of furniture. Dead on the spot.

"Miguel, are you okay? What are you doing in there? Is Darcy with you? Did he make you trip again?"

Hey! That was not my doing! Well, not this time. Olivier got worried and knocked the door open. And knocked himself out. I went on the glass furniture ad realized the door wasn't locked.

That colossal idiot!

I put both my paws on the handle and managed to open the door. I found my mess unconscious and licked him until he came to.

"Darcy, did you eat your poop again?"

Fuck you. But yes, I did.

I yapped and tried to drag him into the bathroom.

"Did Miguel fall in the well, Lassie?"

That never gets old… But he would joke a lot less in about thirty seconds.

"Oh my fucking God? What happened?"

He looked at me. Oh no, you didn't, bitch! I went and grabbed the heroine needle. Yes, I had seen things in my short non-sheltered life, and I knew my meth from my crack. I brought it to him and dropped it on his feet like it was a stick.

"Oh no. Gotta call… Hmmm… Who do you call? I've always been on the receiving hand of overdoses… Let me check his pulse."

No! No sign of forced entry into the bathroom, your fingerprints on his artery, him being dead, the paramedics arriving twenty minutes later on the scene of a not so perfect crime… Or so they would think and call the police.

All I could do was jump on his lap as he sat on the floor of the bathroom crying. I bumped my head on his arms so we could cuddle one last time, because deep down, I knew it was over.

Less than an hour after Miguel had overdosed and died, they arrested my human as the prime suspect in what they later deem "subjectively reckless manslaughter". This could have been the name of the soundtrack of his life: subjectively reckless vs recklessly subjective…

The guys at the dog pound had a TV going on 24/7 so I was able to follow the news that talked about the trial. It was fast and he was convicted of a sentence of ten years in prison without the possibility of parole.

To think it all could have been avoided if they had put me on the stand. Yes, I know how stupid that sounds. But despite all his flows, I loved my human. He was a son, a father, a brother and a friend. And he had no clue. Like at all. But I loved him anyway.

You don't stay long at the pound. If nobody claims you, you're put to sleep to avoid overcrowding.

But guess what? Even if I would never see Olivier again, I would get adopted. All those people I knew nothing about would come together and I'd get another mess, one I would stay with for the rest of my life. Olivier would always have a special part in my heart. He had saved me from that former owner and given me the same unconditional love he was yearning for all his life and had started to get through his program of abstinence. I loved back as unconditionally but it was not enough. I wish I could have done more but I knew this little old lady with short hair wearing an off-white dusty cat suit –his higher power- would protect him from his prison husband until he would be thrown back into the world and resume his life.

I had to surrender and let go like he had taught me through working the steps and doing service. I too was powerless over people, places and things but my own higher power had something in store for me. That new recovering addict and I would save each other's lives. I'd help him through getting clean and relapsing a few times and he would save me from eternal sleep before my time. Not a lot of dogs can say they received that much clumsy unconditional love twice in their life, but I did, and I would not trade one single second of it. Everything happens for a reason: the good and the bad, the success and the fuck ups.

I am blessed. I am content. I no longer resent the past. I accept it. I am not angry at the present. I love it. I don't fear the future. I have faith in it.

The present might be cut short though. I am fifteen years old and my time has come. I no longer can breathe on my own, but I have no regrets. He can face anything life throws at him. He has no reservations. He won't use no matter what. Gosh, he took me to too many of those Narcotics Anonymous meetings! I speak like an addict.

Goodbye, mate. I love you. Goodbye Olivier, wherever you are. You both made life on life terms worth living. I had a life beyond my wildest dreams. Now do the same.

Hey, wait, I've been talking for like a minute. Am I not dying like now? Get your hands out of my throat! I'll cut you, bitch! Oh, that's better.

A chicken bone stuck down my throat? No, sir, I have no idea where that came from…

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful to be celebrating twelve years of life and eight ones with my new human as Ozzy, my new name.

2 – I'm grateful for tummy rubs.

3 – I'm grateful for being healthy in my old age.

4 – I'm grateful for this new puppy he took in. She is simple and dumb, but she breathed new life into that old carcass of mine. The bitch peed on me, though!

5 – I'm grateful for those two fuck-ups that led me to live the best years of my life. They never raised a hand on me, even when I chewed my way through the shoe closet or whizzed in the hall and made fuck-up number two trip in piss. Repeatedly. So fucking funny I peed myself. Again. And he tripped again.

oOo

Part IV: Elemental, my Dear Watson

Syd came out of the XXXL party club. He had successfully injected methamphetamine in the toilet stall but had dropped the needle on the floor during one of the security guards' many rounds. There had been a rise in overdoses in this gay club and it was easy to spot who was not actually watering the plants or plopping a Snickers bar. And then there were messes like Syd that needed to get higher than a kite but had lost all common reflexes after a shot of GBL and previous IVs of methamphetamine mixed with mephedrone -to give it a kick. The guard smiled when he saw a hand bobbing for apples from below the stall's door. The hand met the shoe that had stepped on the needle.

"Is this real leather?"

"Sir, please come out."

Syd slapped the cheeks (of his face) to appear less pale and stared at the neon lights to make his pupils less dilated.

"Sir, I will call the police."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm high as fuck, I'm trying not to pass out and remember how to open a locked door."

Well that was a stupid thing to say. He unlocked the door, stepped on his own boots and fell face first at the feet of the security guard. He slowly pushed away the shoe to get to the needle.

"Any way you'd believe it's insulin?"

The guard grabbed him by the faux leather harness and dragged him out.

"I guess not."

Saying that Syd was thrown out like hot garbage would be more accurate than pretending he left of his own volition, but he liked to live in denial which in his case was a river in Egypt. When your dealer tells you you have a problem at the risk of losing a customer, it should light a fuse in your drug-addled mind. But it did not. Syd was just having a good time and it required drugs in his veins and several balls of spunk up his arse. Or so he thought.

He saw a bright light and thought time had come to step into it.

"You're now banned from the XXXL club. Try to step inside the club again and you will be handed over to the police. Your picture is on file."

That's what that light was.

"Fuck you and your supposedly bear club. It's nothing but muscle queens and junkies in there anyway."

"Takes ones to know one."

"I'm not a muscle queen…

"You're very quick."

"Hey! How dare you!"

He took his phone out.

"Say that again? That fat-shaming thing. I'll make it viral. Your boss already spoke against gender fluid people. Want to add to the reputation?"

"I only said you need to get help. You're not the muscle queen in the story. You're the junkie. You're addicted to drugs. Never said anything about your physique. It's clearly stated in our by-laws: we can kick out anybody caught using drugs other than alcohol inside the premises and we can refuse entry to somebody already on drugs and call the police. Which I am not doing. So, make use of that and scram."

"Yeah, that's going on Facebook."

"Go ahead, your phone is off. And you have your finger on the lens anyway."

"Shit."

He took the shirt hanging from his back pocket and put it on in a swift move that made him lose his balance and fall flat on his face again and chip a tooth. The guard tried to help him back up, but he pushed him off.

"Don't touch me, bitch."

"Just leave, man. You're embarrassing yourself."

As he tiptoed back to the Southbank subway, the guy yelled that they were having a recovery meeting for drug addicts in Packington Street in Islington on Sunday at 7:30 pm.

"Suck my cock, roid rage!"

And then he got lost.

He was so high and paranoid he circled around the drain, unable to locate his rock bottom. He found a dark alley and rummaged through a bag of coloured used syringes that looked like a bag of lethal Skittles. He took one out and dug into his last bag of meth to fill it to grade 4. He needed a big boy's high. He had some left-over water and poured it into the syringe and shook it like he was mixing a martini. He checked around about thirty times like a wild animal and used the dim light of the street lamps to find a vein.

And then he pushed the liquid in.

His ears rang and his pulse accelerated like he was having tachycardia. That was the sign of his immune system shutting down during the rush, hence the best time to catch HIV when you had company in Uranus.

Still, that was pure bliss.

How he wished he had a cock pounding him into oblivion right at that moment but all he could see was a fox going through the trash. Then said fox and trashcans went flying around him and it was like he could see the wind moving around. Like it had a consistence. Strangely in the wind, he saw a black umbrella flying round and round, open but perfectly intact and resisting the violent gushes of wind.

"That's some Mary Poppins shit right there."

He looked down and actually saw the street from above.

"That was some good stuff, I'm like actually flying right now. Oh fuck, I am flying. And I'm gonna barf."

Like Howard Wolowitz in zero gravity, the puke flew around and back into his mouth. As he swallowed and puked back up what was more bile than actual food since he had not eaten for five days, he felt caught in a perpetual motion.

"It's like that Netflix show Russian Doll but not at all…"

A werewolf-like figure emerged and shot a fire arrow in his left shoulder while a guy with long blonde hair kept his hand raised as if to maintain the micro storm making Syd fly round and round. He could literally see the wind coming out of the human hands and it seems the arrows were literally coming out of the bow the werewolf made with his arms. He could feel one was struggling to aim and create the projectiles while the other was overly concentrated to maintain that storm in a bottle. Whatever this hallucination was, he had to interact with it to destroy it or he would have another psychotic episode. He hoped they would be as susceptible as him. He pointed at something behind Wind Dude in a panicked state.

"What the hell is that water beast behind you?"

Fire guy quickly turned around to look but kept shooting fire arrows. He hit Wind Dude with one arrow in between the eyes that expanded into full-blown fire due to the wind and immolated Wind Dude that was soon reduced to a pile of ashes.

As he dropped to the floor, freed from the micro whirlwind, he saw the werewolf run away in a panic.

"The Master is gonna kill me. The Guardian is going to awaken."

He tried to raise his upper body, but he was too weak.

"Whatever was in the needle, it was good shit. I hope I can use some more later."

That's when he lost consciousness. Alone in the dark alley, nobody could see that quartz-like shape forming around his body that seemed filled with all four elements: fire, water, air and earth. They fought it out for a few moments and then vanished into him. He levitated onto the upright position -still unconscious- and, as his eyes glowed in turns to the colours of each element, he created flames in one hand and shot fireballs around. He formed a water sphere in the other and took the fire out by focusing the humidity in the air into the sphere and throwing it around like a boomerang. Dry as the air was, it was easy to slash the trashcans into scrap metal with air blades. Oh, and the vines grew two sizes on the decrepit wall as if they had received industrial strength fertilizers. Or manure. All pointless actions, really, but way cool.

And then, he fell again.

There were only two persons in the world that could manipulate all four elements and he had just become the new second one as the former one had just been tortured by the other elemental master to get the location of the new Chosen One, the Guardian, aka Syd, a man of incredible elemental power who was supposed to be a force for good. The current Guardian would always get a vision of his successor in the weeks before he would die, alerting him that his time has come. Whether it was just courtesy form the Universe or a cruel joke, that's how it was. As you might have gathered, that's also one of many ways the new Dark One, the evil Chosen One if you may, was selected and awakened, as resentments could turn good into pure unadulterated evil.

Since the Master had kept him locked in a dungeon for over a month, he knew the Guardian had had the vision. And he had spilt the beans, right before killing his counterpart by sodomising him to death with a spiked ball to create massive internal haemorrhage. He sure had perfect control over all four elements. Not a lot of Guardians/Dark Ones could say they knew how to make water-based lubricant from ambient water. To be fair, not a lot of them ever had the need for it but the new Dark One was the right person for the job.

Unaware of how strong his army was yet, he had sent his two fucktard jailers who didn't amount to anything.

"Hopefully, he'll overdose soon but I'm gonna make sure he amuses me first. He's already full of resentments so in case he becomes me, I'm gonna make sure he becomes batshit crazy first, so the world goes down in flames and there is no need for him or me anymore because there won't be a world anymore. Insert frantic laughter."

Little did he know the last point would happen but not in the way he had imagined. Syd and Earnest -a rather ironic name- would be the last of their kind, stopping the lineage forever, with only Syd surviving with literally the weight of the world on his shoulders.

oOo

When he came to the next morning, the policeman looking down on him from above had a few questions.

"Are you alright? What happened? Were you mugged? Molested? Assaulted?"

"What is that? Twenty questions? Yes, I was ass-aulted, but I gave consent. Multiple times. Then, I guess I had…"

He paused for a few seconds and thought carefully about his answer.

"…an epileptic episode."

'Cause… Fool me once.

"How did you survive it without any kind of medical attention?"

"It's a miracle. Hallelujah! Praise lady Jesus!"

Luckily, it was your average Metropolitan Police officer and he did not see the gaping holes -pun intended- in his story.

"Can I go home and then to my GP? I need to adjust my dosage, so this doesn't happen again."

"Shouldn't you go to A&E?"

"The episode is over now. My GP will send me to my specialist if he deems it necessary."

"No, I mean the nasty cut where your shirt is torn and your… leather armour is… burnt to a crisp? You might need a skin graft, sir."

Say what?! He looked at his shoulder blade and saw what looked like both a stab wound, and second degree burn. Still high as a kite, he suddenly sobered up and felt all the pain and reality of the moment.

"Shit, that hurts like a motherfucking cunt twat hell fucker spawn of Satan's tits."

The policeman was starting to have doubts about the story he had been fed.

"I smell brown."

"How can you smell a colour? Are you Sheldon Cooper? Oh, you smell BS."

"You're very quick."

He mimicked an explosion with his hands.

"Wow. Mind blown."

It all came back to him. The club, the getting kicked out. The exact coordinates and time of the recovery meeting. This alley where he hallucinated Sailor Uranus and Sailor Mars trying to kill him. Or so he thought. No. That was not possible as it would mean he had been stabbed by a white-hot blade. That was not something you could do with a lighter. Surely, he had used his massive high to block out what really happened and chosen this make-belief instead. But first things first: the dumb cop.

"Are you arresting me, or can I go seek medical attention before I collapse again and die?"

"I want the truth. Were you involved in any criminal activity last night?"

"I'll suck you off if you let me go."

"Are you bribing a police officer with sexual gratification? You know I have to arrest you now."

"I'll let you fuck me."

No reaction.

"Without a condom."

Raised eyebrow.

"You can choke me while you do me and tape it with your phone to brag on Xtube."

He was the dick whisperer. He could tell what you wanted just by looking at your crotch.

Fortunately, the police officer was a premature ejaculator and he couldn't do a headlock to save his life, so any form of breath control fell through.

"Talk about police training. My grandma was a better choker."

"Pardon?"

"It was so good I had an anal orgasm."

Finally free and with the DNA of the policeman on file, he finally got back home to the flat he was house-sitting for a friend of his. It was council housing, so he always had to sneak in and out and never open the door when somebody knocked. But in exchange, he could stay there for another six months and only pay £80 of rent a month plus utilities. A very good deal, especially in the Angel area. More money for drugs. Speaking of that, he had some of that Devil meth left in a drawer. He took it out. He noticed he smelled like piss. Not the clear kind you get when you carefully engineer water sports. The one you get from other druggies that want to humiliate you by pissing up your ass to make you higher until you black out and ten to twenty guys ejaculate in your ass.

Thank god for Prep, doxycycline, chems and having no self-worth.

A cocktail he liked to sip from the tap. He prepared the syringe, diluted the product and proceeded to inject it where the arm bends. When he tried to pierce the skin with the needle, it broke. Thankfully not inside the arm.

"What the actual fuck?!"

He could swear the arm fold area was brown. Like… Soil. Drought-hardened soil. He shook his head and the arm was back to normal. Another hallucination. He transferred the drugs to another syringe and tried the other arm. The needle melted upon touching the skin that glowed red. Like… lava?

"This is not real. I'm going insane."

He tried to take more drugs from the bag, but a stream of warm water came out of his right index and cleaned off the bag whose content spilt onto a nearby newspaper.

"And now the air!"

He moved his hands towards the book shelf separating the living-room from the kitchen. Nothing.

"Thank you, Jizz-us!"

The fourth element was always the hardest to learn for the Avatar. He sighed loudly and then the fell onto the counter top in a loud thumping sound. The loud breathing out had turned into a gust of wind.

"That's it, I'm jumping out of the window. I can't go on like this. Though I might just take flight and head to Neverland…"

He however decided to suck the wet drugs from the newspaper… who caught fire where it was still dry, making the water and the drugs evaporate. He tried to summon water to stop it, but nothing happened.

"Of course. Not when it counts."

He used a tea towel to smother the fire.

"I surrender. I have powers and they are preventing me from getting high ever gain. I fucking give up."

He had been wrong a lot these past few months… Ok, these past few years… The last decade had been a blubbering mess of wrong choices and daily drug use. But in that moment, he was right. He indeed had become unable to use drugs. Not by any choice of his own.

"Is sleep an option or am I going to levitate into Nirvana?"

Right again. He woke up stuck against the ceiling.

"Fuck you."

He took his dumbbells and put them on his wrist and ankles.

He woke up when one of them hit him in the head.

"I hate you. I hate everything. I hate drugs. I hate my life. I hate my inability to stop using drugs. I hate myself."

He started crying.

"Why?! Why?! What do you want? You want me to stop doing drugs? Ok, I'll stop. You're preventing me from taking them anyway. Is that it? Can I sleep now?"

A dictionary slapped his face and broke his nose.

"What more do you want? What? What?! What?!"

All the objects in the rooms started circling around him in a whirlwind not unlike the one from the night before.

"This is not real! I want it to stop!"

Knives were scratching his face and pieces of plaster kept adding to the mix. The water in the basin in the sink kept trying to drown him.

"I'll go to that druggies meeting in Islington at 7:30 pm. If you let me sleep."

It then all stopped. All of it. The wall pieces, the utensils and books, the murder water, the air storm. The room did not repair itself so there was some truth to this delusion. To what extent he could not say but he did not care. It was the beginning of his sixth day without food and sleep, but he still could not fall asleep. The dictionary came back up and slapped him unconscious.

When he came to, it was 6:45 pm.

"Time to not go to that meeting, beotch."

Scissors brushed past his eyes.

"Ok, I'm going."

He grabbed a cleanish top and headed out.

"Cunt."

A light bulb exploded on top of his head.

"I'm going. I'm going. For cunt's sake!"

The noisy neighbours next door came out and looked at him funny.

"What? Never heard voices after a five-day meth binge? I pay my rent. Most months. I can talk to imaginary drug-induced hallucinations if I feel like it."

The steroid case looked at him with glazed eyes. Syd stomped his foot on the floor and said "boo!". The guy cowered but stayed in the hall.

"I'm crazy! Syd murmured in a demented voice that would make Hannibal Lecter piss his pants and call for his mother."

Muscle Mary stepped back into the flat and slammed the door.

"That's right, shrinky dinks testicles. And stay in."

Earth, Fire, Air. Water. Only the Avatar can master all four elements… Maybe he was special. Maybe he was the Avatar. The Chosen One. The Vampire Slayer. The only one able to control all four elements. Or maybe he was having a psychotic break. Or both. A girl can dream, can't she?

The meeting the bouncer had mentioned was at 7:30 pm in Packington Street. It was a candlelit men's meeting. Hopefully, that would turn into an orgy.

Well, it was not. What the fuck, man? Where was Hank Moody? He was not amused but he listened while trying to start a fire in the palm of his hand. Nothing. The candle kept going out, though. At the end of the meeting, the head junkie asked people to celebrate various lengths of clean time. He promised himself not to raise his hand when the countdown would arrive at zero.

"Is anybody clean just for today, who wants to throw in the towel and try a new way of life?"

A gust of wind made him stand up and raise his hand.

"That cunt, he thought."

He looked around for familiar cocks… He could not make out any faces.

"Do it, someone whispered into his ear."

He turned around and looked on his left, but it could not have been that guy as he was fast asleep -or dead- and the seat on his right was empty. Nobody behind or in front of him as they were sitting in a circle. He didn't want to get fist-fucked by a coffee mug if he did not obey whatever forces had led him here, so he walked to the druggie-in-chief.

"I… I guess that's me. I have like zero days."

Everybody clapped. He was handed a white keychain. He could not read what it said due to the penumbra, but he could feel the queen bee hugging the shit out of him and congratulating him without asking anything in return.

"Keep coming back!"

Syd finally broke down and started crying.

"You never have to use again, said the keyring bearer."

It was like a gentle breeze was surrounding him, refreshing, as if telling him all would be ok. It was like his feet were not touching the ground anymore. He looked down and thanked whatever God-like force at work that it was dark because he was ever so slightly levitating. Or was he? Meth did act for a long time on the brain, long after you'd been scared back from the high. Anyway, whatever was happening, it had brought him here and he felt a willingness he had not felt… Well, ever. Like this place, that feeling in the air was giving him what he could not give himself.

He was not sure what was real or not, but he felt something he had not felt in a long, long, time: hope. And for the first time in forever, he did not want to piss all over it.

"Hey? Can I ask you a question? Syd asked.

"Anything, mate."

"Am I super high still or are my pants on fire?"

"We all get that feeling in the beginning. You're just a little too eager. Don't forget: baby steps. And, first things firs… Oh shit, your pants are on fire!"

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful I'm clean. I need to install that clean time counter app 'cause I have no shitting idea how long.

2 – I'm grateful for my mentor. Not my sponsor. My mentor. Turns out that elemental shit was real. I am some kind of Chosen One.

3 – I'm grateful for people in meetings even though I tell them to go fuck themselves when they try to talk to me or tell me what my problem is. I know they aren't preaching but I can't help it.

4 – I'm grateful for that hottie that came in last week. I'll bang him soon. I couldn't care less about the Thirteenth Step. I want his load up my ass. Or mine in his. I'm easy. I embrace my inner whore. And then, I bend over. That was actually my name on my fake idea as a teenager: Ben Dover.

5 – I'm grateful I'm aware this is not what how you're supposed to write in a gratitude list. I'm still learning so please, don't take over my powers and earthbend shit in my friend's flat. There is a fucking tree growing out of the carpet. Not a lesbian bush, an actual oak tree. I can kiss my fragile friendship with my friend goodbye. Meh, I'll just get on my knees and pray...

oOo

Final part: Crazy, party of four

"Is anybody clean and serene, today or in the past week, for ninety days?"

Dave stood up and walked to the secretary under a ton of applause, whistling and some graphic congratulations from Martha. Nicolas, the French redhead hottie and secretary of the meeting hugged him and congratulated him warmly. He gave him his red keyring that said, "Clean & serene for ninety days".

Clean: yes. Serene: getting there.

"Keep coming back! Nicolas said, followed by everyone in the room."

And then, in hush tones he whispered to his ear:

"Good job on not getting hard this time. Sometimes a hug is just a hug."

He blushed. He was still such a tramp, but recovery had made him softer and somewhat of a virgin again. Ish. He couldn't help but remember this very same place, ninety days ago, when she addressed him at the end of his first meeting back from his -he hoped- last relapse. In Narcotics Anonymous, "last" could become "latest" in the blink of a bloodshot eye.

"Hey! she had yelled."

"What now… Miz?"

"Take this. It's raining."

She threw him the black umbrella she had fought her grandson with. Javier saw it and gasped. In the back, Even Syd, way in the back, coming in and out of consciousness, jumped back on his chair and fell on the floor.

Dave was like: "What the actual cunting fuck?!" It couldn't be… Yet it was. His now estranged best friend's umbrella…

"I… I mean… It's… You are…"

"What's you're trying to say is 'thank you'."

"Yeah, sure. I'm sorry. Thank you. But won't you miss it? You're like a thousand years old. A cold could kill you."

"Screw you, you twinky little harmonica blower. It helped me in my times of need. I think it's your time to have it. And stop saying 'I'm sorry' all the time. Like so many of us, you've said those words too much. They don't have meaning anymore. Show us you're sorry by coming back over and over again and staying clean."

"Or die trying…"

He paused and pondered his last sentence and saw her rushing towards him with her fist up. Grand had game! Grandma wanted to play! Grandma punched him in the face!

"Take it out of the meeting! the tea person yelled. We can't afford to lose the room. We can't afford any other room. Nobody will have us if Rocky Balboa over there keeps punching members."

They walked out glaring at each other.

"It's your fault!"

"You threw the first punch, Mother Goose!"

"Tweaker!"

"Crack Whore!"

"Skinny bitch!"

"Dinosaur!"

"Fag!"

"Hag!"

"I like you!"

"So do I!"

It was love at the first sight. Once they were in front of the building, she presented her hand. He fist-bumped it. She was at a loss for words.

"Ok, sure… Booyah, I guess. I'm Martha."

"Dave."

"Nice to meet you, Dave."

"Likewise."

The words stuck in his throat, but he said them anyway.

"You're right, I'm sorry… I mean. I will try my best to come back regularly."

"Don't try. Just come back. Don't make promises. Show your willingness in action. Ninety meetings in ninety days. Or use your obsessive addictive behaviour to make it one hundred and eighty meetings in ninety days. Or more."

"Yes, ma'am."

"That's my boy. Don't leave right before the miracle happens."

For the first time since he had started using on a daily basis and tried to recover on a monthly basis, he had hope. He had thrown in the towel. And he smiled. Then and now and almost every day in between. He had travelled around London to attend all sorts of meetings. And soon enough, he was at the ninety days mark. At the very same LGBTIQQ+ meeting where it had all started. On this day, his hope was renewed yet again. The struggles were real. He had no money to go out for coffee after the meeting or grab a bite to eat but he had become resilient and had learnt the value of a pound again. He would go to the convenience store near Prowler to buy a Sprite or something and then joined his friends at the Nero Caffe. He was too proud still to accept a meal or drink from another addict, but he was socializing and living life on life's terms without a drink or a drug in his system.

What a difference a day can make.

Only ninety of them had passed since his first meeting where his head would not shut up and make him wonder stuff like: what would chairs look like if our knees bent the other way? His first meeting was mostly spent puking in his messenger bag and then realizing he came without a bag because he had torn it to pieces to find some imaginary drugs stashed in the lining. Good thing is, by the end of the meeting, he had a bag.

"Yay! A Kit Kat bar! Score!"

A lot had changed since then. He now got along so well with Martha and Javier they had met not long after Dave got clean. It was as if they were childhood friends.

"Hey, numbnuts! What gives?"

"Oh, shut up, bitch. I'm gonna gut you like a fish."

"Come at me! See what happens!"

Well, most days. Having real relationships were no one was the dominant or dominated one was weird. The first few hundred times they had fought, he kept thinking they would march out and never come back, like so many before. Or just guilt him into apologizing and make him do their will until they broke him. Or have him kicked out of Narcotics Anonymous.

He was so wrong.

They just yelled back and sometimes they hung up or punched him in the balls, but they always came back, hugged it out and carried on living and being friends.

"We're not going anywhere, Martha had told him pretty early. Stop being afraid. We won't leave you if you don't leave us. We won't talk to you anymore if you relapse to protect ourselves, but we'll wait for you at the door if you do come back and want to get clean again. We will always welcome you with open arms. Like they did for me after my last relapse. We will feel betrayed though, but we will pick up where we left off and help you dust yourself off and stay clean. We are friends."

And then his reminiscing was cut short.

"Who's he? Dave asked. He's hot."

Cut as short as his attention span. A bright shining light or a tight ass in skinny jeans and he was in heat.

"We know he is called Syd. Some call him Syd Vicious because he'll take your personal inventory if you try to talk to him. Other call him 'La Bitch' because he will make you cry. But then, so did you. I mean: so do you. He'll come into his own when he is ready. Just like you will."

"I have come into my own."

"The first half is true, Dave. On half the people in that room. "

"It's funny 'cause it's true, Javier said."

All the chairs, coffee, biscuits and literature has been put away. They turned off the lights and headed out the door of the room lent by the Frith Street medical centre.

"Caffe Nero? Cake and coffee after the meeting after cake and coffee during the meeting?

"Non non non, my little moderation club! I have an idea that could help with your recovery, Dave. Come with me. You too Javier or you're gonna stumble on a cock again."

"It's funny 'cause it's sad, Dave said."

They took a string of buses longer than Rocco Steele's cock because Dave had a half-price bus pass and finally reached Vauxhall.

"Battersea Dogs & Cats Home? Are you putting me to sleep?"

He sure had humour.

"Not yet. You're getting shipped piece by piece, Caroline. We're here to find you a friend that will never talk recovery but still give you unconditional love when you refuse it from us, from your sponsor or from your Higher Power."

"So? Everyday? Javier nagged."

Dave showed him his hand and asked him to pick one.

"Think about it: a friend that's not inflatable or that you cannot fuck, Javier added."

"Very funny."

"DO NOT FUCK THE DOG!"

He looked around.

"What? Too much?"

"What do you think? Do you get a whiff of that barnyard odour when you open your mouth? Those adoptions are all based on first impressions. You yelling at the owner-to-be not to engage in bestiality reduced my chances by like seventy per cent.

"Oh, come on, bato. Give yourself some credit. Just let him meet you. You won't even need to talk to make it drop another twenty-four per cent."

Javier waved at the pound employee on the other side of the room.

"Me no speakie well. I'm Spanish. Half of the time, I talk out of my ass."

"You're Colombian, pendejo! Dave reminded him after a loud sigh."

"Again: out of my ass."

They bitched and moaned some more.

"Will you two fuck already? You're both newcomers, we will overlook it. Bim bam boom. You're both sluts. You're both pregnant. And move the fuck on."

And then he saw the pug. The pug saw him. You could swear the animal shrugged, unimpressed.

"Did it snicker at me?"

"I think you guys are soulmates."

"Fuck you. But yes."

"Don't you sass me, bitch. Hey, jailer! We want that one."

The guy slowly walked towards them and proceeded to greet them with his hand full of Cheeto dust. Don't slap away the hand that feeds you. He shook it and then turned around and used a wipe to remove the orange crumbs.

"I'll dip my hand in bleach later."

"Pardon? said the pound guy."

"I want my hand to pet a pooch later."

"Wow, you're bad at faking it till you make it, Martha noticed. He said: 'I'll dip my hand in bleach later.' because you perpetuate the stereotype of the sweaty fat pound guy with poor hygiene eating junk food all day."

"Thanks, Martha. Want to explain some more so I'm denied dog ownership in all of Greater London."

"I'm a bitch. I'm a lover. I'm a child. I'm a mother. I'm a sinner. I'm a saint."

The employee rolled his eyes so far back he saw his skull.

"Take the dog and fuck off."

"What. Really?"

"Listen. You're a mess but you don't strike me as a bad buy. Pay the £135 fee and it's yours. This guy is close to being put to sleep so we're more flexible with the adoption rules. Just come back here on Thursdays for the next six weeks to meet our counsellors and we'll do the adoption backwards so the dog doesn't get euthanised."

"One hundred and thirty-five? That's like the price of a gram of cheap meth."

"Stop talking, Martha said. I'll pay the fee."

"I can't let you do that. You already live in abject poverty."

"Fuck you. Shut the fuck up and accept my help. Swallow your pride and don't slap away the helping hand."

Every fibre in his being told him to refuse. Money fucked everything up. Then he saw his Higher Power petting the dog and giving him the thumbs up. And a couple other fingers.

"Ok. Thank you, Martha. I'll pay you back."

"You bet your sweet ass you will. You'll do my gardening for a month. My neighbour pisses himself each time he sees me near the edges. It turns me on."

"Yes, I will."

His sponsor had told him to answer "yes" or "no" questions with a yes or a no. No need to tell your whole life story to give agreement.

"Good. Don't fuck my neighbour."

"Yes, ma'am."

"That's my boy!"

She paused and seemed to shiver in delight.

"God do those hedges turn me on!"

"What's with you and those hedges? Was like your son conceived against it?"

"Well… she said, looking at her feet in shame"

"Oh, dear God!"

The shelter employee went inside the dog's lot with a leash and brought him to Dave.

"I can't thank you enough. He is the cutest thing I've ever seen. Can I hug you?"

After all the joking at his expense, the guard was caught off-guard.

"I guess."

"I meant the dog but, ok."

He had to admit he had never met such an honest and open bunch. They must have known each other for decades, he thought. Nope. Only twelve weeks. Call it the magic of recovery. Call it fate. They were as tight a virgin's butthole and as open as a slut's anus of the end of Pride Week.

"Here is the dog. Do you want to name him, or should I disclose his name from his previous owner?"

"I want to name him."

"I have to tell you about his personal history and warn you this will be a difficult dog. He has, let's say, seen stuff."

"Like what? He's known sadness and now sings the blues on the harmonica like that chimpanzee on YouTube?"

"He witnessed murder. He's the dog in the 'Un-Ollie' case that was on TV a few months back."

He took a good look at this black and white pug. He was in love.

"And?"

"That's it."

"Ok then. I still want him. And I love the orange flecks on the sides. Orange you the new black?"

"That's Cheeto dust."

He gave the leash to Dave.

"You're into puppy play? he said while jiggling the collar in front of the employee's face. Wanna go on a walk, big boy?"

"Get the fuck out. I beg you"

"Wash your damn hands. I beseech you."

He kneeled and looked at the little pug. It was like looking at a cat's glazed eyes saying: "What the fuck is your problem? I own you now, bitch."

"Hello, Ozzy!

"Ozzy. Really? That's kind of a gay name, said Javier."

"Shut the fuck up, Linda."

oOo

Gratitude list

1 – I'm grateful I'm clean. I've been clean before. Stopping was always easy but for the first time, I'm staying stopped. Just for today.

2 – I'm grateful for Ozzy. He is too smart for his own good but that's alright. He has lived through shit and I can provide some peace for him. That bitch tore the umbrella apart when he saw it. I guess dogs will be dogs. Probably reminded him of something from his past. I had never seen him so aggressive. I rubbed his belly and gave him a treat and it was all forgotten. Dogs will be dogs.

3 –What I'm really grateful for are Javi and Martha. And Ozzy of course but I already said that.

4 – I'm grateful for that hottie that came in last week that I'll bang soon. I couldn't care less about the Thirteenth Step. I want his load up my ass. Or mine in his, I'm easy. I wonder what our children will look like. God, I'm broken beyond repair.

5 – I'm grateful for willingness. I don't feel carried by others anymore. I can ask for help and support now. I do give myself a hard time and beat myself up, but it does get better, and it is worth it. I think I'll have some more cake and cigarettes though. And check my Grindr messages.

THE END