It’d been three weeks since Jim’s episode. Though he was my cousin by birth, he was a brother to me. Least we hated each other the way brothers do. We got on like a cross on fire most of the time. His mother had an ongoing and well-documented problem with the drink. But he was blood. It’s hard to say if I knew him anymore than anyone else. We lived under the same roof but he spent a lot of time on his own. Liked setting fire to things. That I did notice. Used to take apart old transistor radios, televisions and just leave them there. When I was a kid, I foolishly tried to get to know him, I’d follow him on his travels but he’d chase me, bounce rocks off my bap and send me screaming homeward wearing a throbbing egg on my brow for my sins.
He upped and left when he was just shy of sixteen. They joked he was off to join the circus. The mule-headed boy. Turned out it was the navy. He could have had a million dreams of sailing the seven seas in that head of his or maybe just a hatred for the land and all those on it. No-one would know. He was quiet that way.
He lasted a year or so. Hated it enough to earn dishonourable discharged and a broken cheekbone for knocking a Lieutenant Commander on his hole and near off the side of a cruiser. After that, far as I can tell, he drifted from disaster to mere catastrophe.
I got a phonecall from a withheld number one morning. Ignored it twice then answered out of a mix of curiosity and annoyance. It was St Ides. He’d been admitted a few weeks previous. They’d found him by the docks. Lost three pints of blood. Still had to be restrained. It’d taken them all that time to figure out who he was. I was the only relative they could track down. I think they wanted to offload him but I was fucked if I was taking him. Least I could do though would be to show my face.
The nurse explained what she knew as she ushered me through cloud-cuckoo-land. He’d been on medication for some time. Got it into his head that he was fine, that he’d recovered so he binned them. Couple of days later, he was climbing up the walls.
He looked well considering. Bit puffy round the gills but that was likely a side-effect of the tablets. He had bandages on his wrists. Eyes dead in his head. Slow on his feet. But he was alive. And all things considered that was no small blessing.
He didn’t want to talk about shit. I tried. Told him anytime he wanted to open up and all that sort of stuff. I even thought he was listening for a while. Then he leaned over the table, nodded his head to the side of the room. There was a bearded guy stalking the floor, making signs of the cross with every step.
“That’s Marley,” his voice was a croak, like he hadn’t spoke in god knows how long. “Jesus freak.”
“And that little prick is Steinson.”
Fat little guy with glasses. Perfectly round bald head. Bird’s egg.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he eats things. Anything. Hair, coins, shoelaces. Tried to swallow a pair of scissors. Can’t help himself. Keep an eye on him.”
I stayed until the end of visiting hours. We talked some stuff. Old times, nostalgia. People that’d fallen by the wayside. Girls he’d once had a chance with. I gave him some smokes. Told him I’d call by next week. He nodded like he knew I didn’t mean it.
I can’t say if he’d improved or stabilised or whatever they call it. Maybe they’d just given him a reprieve for a while. As I got up, he gave me the slightest smile and said, “Call by soon, bro.”
I made my own way out. Handed in the visitors card at the reception. They buzzed me out. The sun was shining through the trees.
It took me a while to find where I’d parked the car. Patted my coat for my keys, pockets in and out. Fuck. They were gone. I looked around to see if I’d dropped them anywhere. Nothing. I was walking back to the hospital when I saw him. Steinson. Standing at the window. Glaring at me. The biggest dumbest smile on his face.
Darran Anderson is a Pulp-writing Irish deadbeat. He is Co-editor of Dogmatika, 3AM Magazine and editor of Laika (the spacedog) Poetry Review. Further info can be found at http://andyamsterdam.blogspot.com/