Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Molecat Jumaway

We define things in aspects, how we perceive things is up to the individual. A person can be a real bastard but still have a great eulogy because his life looks great on paper. A person can seem lively and exciting until you become his neighbour and then he’s just fucking loud. A homeless person can bring disgust from one person and a tear from another.
I was a volunteer, more or less the emergency doctor, nurse and psychiatrist of sorts at one of the largest halfway homes in the built up, run down areas, just south of central. It started off as a hesitant, last year thesis for my degree. I was a snotty nose, spoilt brat of a student trying to do something that made me look like I actually cared. Girls dig that you know, people that care. The degree was done, I’d earned my right to practice medicine and here I was, still spending most nights at this homeless refuge. Single, I might add, girls don’t dig it as much as they say they do.
There is a non-descript point to when my concern started. It would be hard to stick a needle into time, tie a string and make it red to signify the exact start of my downward spiral. Memories of a boy being thrown into the air by his dad. Photos I would pine over, a father long lost, a father never really known. I guess it really started with Smelly Jack; he was getting worse and worse as I was finishing my thesis. I stayed for one reason but I was glued there for another. I couldn’t leave him there, leave him alone. He had been suffering some sort of delirium and it started off with just the usual painful muttering that half of them had. Whether it was his drinking, the bad diet, the cold, I could not tell you. The muttering soon became hysterical ranting. He did not want to be touched. “Keep away, Unclean!” He would scream as though he belonged in the bible.
He staggered in one day and curled up into a corner. “This is my own fault.” He said with a whimper. “Keep away, unclean.” He muttered as I came over. He had no energy to scream or pace back dramatically, all he could do was lay curled in the corner and mutter at me. I stared down at him, here lay someone’s son, someone’s father. Here lay someone’s husband, someone lost in time, lost and forgotten to us all. I looked down upon him wondering whether this was the reason I stayed then I saw the blood. Inching, swelling out along the tiles from under his coat towards my shoes.
I yelled to one of the other staff and we soon had a stretcher brought in and he was taken out into the back. An ambulance was called and as he lay there we inspected the wound on his leg. It was viscous, I could only interpret that he’d been mauled by some dog, mauled right down to the bone. The ambulance took him away.
My shift had ended, something seemed strange about volunteering and then rushing home to my safe cosy apartment. I always do it though and I did it this night as well. At home I paced backwards and forwards. I cannot covey the emotions that were wracking my brain as they were too numerous. I remember grief, I remember angst, I remember guilt. I ended up ringing the hospital every half an hour. I never went down there, I paced enough from the fireplace to the phone to make the journey ten times over on foot .
Smelly Jack lost his leg, Smelly Jack died in bed five hours later. It wasn’t the leg that killed him, whether it was the shock or being homeless and old he just flittered away.
Well that’s how it started, Smelly Jack was a muttering homeless person when I started my thesis. When I was close to finishing it, he had gotten worse, two years after graduation he died. There were many muttering homeless people, more often than not they muttered.
Between that time and when Conrad started getting worse I wondered whether Smelly Jack had a funeral. I never asked. Deep down inside I really did not want to know the intricacies of the homeless. I did not want to know how they were disposed of, whether their real names were found. Whether Smelly Jack would be engraved on his urn or grave if they ever had one and where it would be kept. That would be too much, way too much for me to know.
As I said Conrad started getting worse. He was over at the south side beds and I kept North. There were other people to attend the South Wing, more doctors in waiting. I wondered with all the PHD hopefuls, did they really care or were they here for the same reason that I was originally here? Did they think they could score extra point with this line of work with their thesis? Did they think they could pick up chicks? As each of them graduated you never saw them again. I guess that I would be in the same boat if it weren’t for Conrad. As Conrad followed the trend of Smelly Jack I watched from my South Wing. These are the forgotten, these are the lost. Conrad or Smelly Jack finding their end in an obscure, lonely way is merely a story that one man tells a woman in bed when he thinks he should open up.
It was a big hall, split in two. Someone made a fuss on one side, you could see and hear it from the other .I watched as Conrad screamed and ranted. I stood there and stared across the vast hall of beds as Conrad backed away from contact. There was a young boy of fourteen, homeless and with asthma on my side and I was soon distracted by his gasps. When I came back to finding out what was happening on the other side I wasn’t all that relieved to find nothing happening on the other side. I lost all conformity then and stalked over from the North Wing.
“What happened?” I asked, maybe a little too forcefully.
The young hopefuls seemed a little perturbed by my advance. I’d never encroached on their territory before. If we had been doctors of twenty years difference later in our lives it would have made little difference but now those three or four years that I had on them made a significant impact.
“He went nuts.” Said one of the young students in a way that only the young can state the obvious.
“Yeah, I know that.” I replied patiently. “Then what?”
“Dunno.” Said the young man and the two of them shrugged.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? What happened to him, where did he go?”
“Dunno, he just left.”
“How long ago?”
“Maybe a few minutes ago…” The guy kept talking but I was already out the door and in the streets.
I remembered Smelly Jack; I remembered his state, the leg, dying alone in an unknown bed in hospital. I knew it could be much worse, a whole lot more bleak, a whole lot more lonely. I could not let this happen to Conrad. I was in the street, desperately looking up and down and around corners. In the distance I saw a man in a large, dark parker walking off. It wasn’t the usual homeless tread, he did not idle or linger or pace. It was more of a determined march. It was probably him.
I chased after him, being careful to not run but walk swiftly, being careful not to make too much sound. The man stopped and turned around, I ducked into a doorway just before his eyes reached my location. I peered out into the street to find him ducking into an alleyway. I again followed and reached the alleyway to find it empty. I cautiously ventured down, checking each nook and cranny. Just as I felt I’d lost him, just as I felt as though he’d entered one of the many darkened and ominous doors he jumped out in a screaming rage. I’m pushed against the bluestone walls, pushed against it with a might I had not encountered. There was manic fury in Conrad’s sunken eyes. His leathered skin was crinkled up with pure rage.
“You want it!” He’s screaming. “You’re following me because you want it!”
I’m trying to make a word in my mouth, a word I have not said for years. There’s a smell on him, urine, smoke, rot and death. I’m desperately trying to mouth the word.
“You want to feel it but you can’t.” The man rants. “It’ll destroy you, it’ll take it all!” He screamed and then he stopped and paused. I don’t know what he was thinking, in my concepts I hoped he recognized me but I could only be have teasing myself. He paused and his eyelids opened a little, his fingers around my arms relaxed a little. I needed to say the word, and this was my chance to say it. Suddenly, unexpectedly his brow furrowed with hostility and he literally throws me. I’m in shock, I’m airborne, I hit the ground with a thud. When I regain my wind I look up and around, he was gone.

I felt that was my chance and I lost it. What happened to Smelly Jack, the plunge that I witnessed that ended in his death was going to happen to Conrad and I had lost my chance. As I had thought, he did not turn up at the halfway house again. It was bleak and cold out there and the other hostel was too far away for it too be a likely option. I ventured there on my day off anyway. I explained to the workers there and described Conrad. I described his looks and they shook their head. I described his shift in personality and they said for certainty that they would not let him in.
I was shocked, the homeless were at the beckon call of unreason, if they turned away those who were unstable they would be turning away half of their patrons. They simply nodded with unease. One of the volunteers gave a deep sigh and explained that he disliked the policy as eventually it meant they were turning away the largest part of the most needy. I agreed with him but only left without a word.
The following weeks seemed shallow, work was work and my daytime practice was as always. I continued to work at night at the homeless shelter but I knew that Conrad was out there in the cold somewhere and I had driven him away. Both during the day and the night I grew listless. I was both easily distracted and easily enraged. I soon realised that I needed to find Conrad, find him quickly as he had moved from the back of my mind and was sitting always in the front of my thoughts. Whether I liked it or not I was now preoccupied with his well being.
I was supposed to be at the shelter but I called in and said I was not going to make it. It was especially cold and I rugged up for the night noting that I had that opportunity. I ventured out into streets where I had last seen Conrad. I walked down the laneway; it was so cold that water between the cobblestones was on the brink of turning to ice. I looked at each of the doorways, backdoors to restaurants and shops and wondered with each whether a homeless man would be venturing through. It was after eleven, closing on midnight very quickly. The doors would be all locked but each one I paused at with trepidation. Each one I would stare at and finally reach out and turn the handle. Each one, to my complete lack of amazement was locked. One of the doorknobs I turned started up a hysterical alarm, I ran down the alleyway and around the corner into more darkened lane hoping that I would not come to a dead end.
I came to a dead end, the laneway turned this way and that. The cobblestones were greased over with moss and I slid to a stop as I came to the brick wall. I looked back wearily, today may be the first day in my life where I would be seriously grilled by police. It was a strange laneway, I wondered whether a car would even fit through here, I doubted it. I started my way back and remembered that I should be looking for a place where Conrad was heading. This seemed like the perfect place, unused perhaps even unknown. There were no doorways to pause and think at. In fact if I had been in a right state of mind I would have wondered why the hell the back road was here for in the first place. Maybe decades ago there were doors and gates only to be bricked up against the insecure narrow lane?
Soon I was standing, staring at what could be my answer. I must of run a long way quickly because nothing seemed familiar. I did not remember seeing anything like this on my way down. If I had seen it then it would have stopped me dead in my tracks like it did now. The bluestone walls along one side on the lane had parted for a brief moment. There was wire fencing, construction signs, little yellow helmet pictures. The wire fencing was bent over at one of the far sides.
This seemed more of a likely destination than any. On the other side of the fencing was the back of a very old building. Through the darkened shadows of the tall surrounding buildings I saw a small garden, dying away at its core. Only the dirt and bricks remained. In the centre I saw a glimpse of a small, dry fountain. It looked like they were doing work on the back wall, maybe erecting a replacement. The place looked like an old dwelling from the late eighteen hundreds and I was surprised to find it amongst the heavy drab city central buildings. There was no light from any of the dwelling’s windows, the place looked deserted. The place looked ominously dead.
It looked like a perfect invitation for a homeless man. It was astounding, this would be prime real estate and yet it looked so abandoned. Something that looked so abandoned was still obviously having work done. There was a gate lying on the other side of the wire and bluestone bricks that would match the surroundings lay everywhere. I bent down under the wire that had been drawn across and moved into the garden.
It was almost as if a part of me had forgotten my aim. As I moved through the deadened garden I was amazed at what this place once could have been and what it had relinquished. In a time before even my parents were born this would have been green and beautiful. I could not say whether the surrounding buildings blocked out all the available light or whether, through obvious neglect but it was far from beautiful now. Nonetheless it was still captivating, like walking into an Egyptian tomb, there was history, there was loss.
Suddenly I was distracted by a slow sound, I raised my head from being completely enthralled and looked around. I walked towards the rumbling, which ruptured, into sound and vicious movement. I instinctively threw my hand up and backed away quickly. A Doberman was chained up, large and black now snapping and stretching it chain to its limits as it tried to reach me. I soon had my heart rate under control and was staring at the large beast. No homeless person would stay here with that thing lurking around. I nearly turned and left and then had a change of heart. I edged around the dog and moved towards the back of the house.
Again another door to stare at, again the minutes tick by as I clutch to reach out and grasp the door handle. This door was probably the oldest wood I had seen, the door handle was old but simple metal. I finally gathered enough steam and turned the door handle. The dog was barking in the background, I was praying it would shut up soon. I had set off an alarm and there was a chance that police would be hanging around the area. The door was unlocked but it took a little of my shoulder to push it open. Again I thought of a homeless man, cold, malnourished, not exactly an easy obstacle.
I was inside and pushing the door closed behind me with all my might. I could barely see, the windows were dirty and let little light through. Maybe I could return with a flashlight? I’d have a quick look around first; I was here now anyway. I moved from room to room. I was amazed, even with the small amount of light that a place like this existed. There were cobwebs and dirt over each window but the inside was clean. Dustless as though used and maintained often. The furniture, from what I saw in the dim light was old, very old. The furniture alone in this place was worth millions. I wondered what it was doing here, what it was used for? I was crossing the kitchen; empty but completely clean. I had decided to leave. I was trespassing, I would not return with a torch. As odd as the place was, this was someone’s private dwelling and I was here like a common thug. I was turning to head back the way I came when I heard a sound.
I stopped dead in my tracks listening, it sounded like a groan or a dog? I thought of the dog outside and kept listening. Maybe the echo of the dog chained up was bouncing of the wall? I moved towards the sound and found an old solid door. I slowly opened it and it swung out freely and without a creak. I was at the top of some stairs and a steady radiance was issuing from below. There were two sounds that I could hear. One was what seemed to be human, a groan and the other seemed like a growling, chewing sound.
Slowly, awkwardly I ventured downwards. A minute later I was standing in the basement of the old house. The place’s interior was filled with a flickering light. I was frozen staring at the horror in the centre of the light. Conrad was on his knees, his mouth open wide and his eyes rolled back. There was a figure above him with his hands on Conrad’s temples. The light issued from the hands. I could barely see the figure as the light from the hands was obscuring the view. Everything around the figure seemed distorted, it’s face, it’s neck seemed stretched, I could barely see it through the light. At Conrad’s feet there was another Doberman making a sound of pleasure as it chewed its way through Conrad’s waist.
I made a yelp and the light went out. There was a growling and a scuttling of paws in the darkness. I instinctively backed away, retreating up the stairs. I moved quickly into the kitchen and soon heard the scuttling of nails up the stairs. The large black dog’s head was soon in view, covered in blood and saliva. I kicked with all my might at its jaw, it made a sound and rocked back a little. I kicked at it again, the dog yelped in pain and was soon withdrawing towards the back door. I was running down the stairs again. When I got to the bottom I stood there and listened, I could hear breathing. Was it Conrad? I moved to where I had seen the little ceremony. I had to just get to Conrad, drag him out. The other man could be anywhere.
The man mumbled as I grappled with him. I could not see anything, I felt around for his arm and threw it around my shoulder. I dragged his sluggish body to his feet and towards the stairs. There was no sign of the other man anywhere. I dragged Conrad up the stairs and out of the house. I was surprised that I was not hindered by the dog I kicked nor the dog chained up. I got to the place where the first dog had been and it was missing. By the time I got to the wire fence I was surrounded by flashing lights. Red and Blue whirling and painting the walls. The police were obviously called in from the alarm. Here I am, a body hanging from my side, bloodied and unconscious and the police with their guns drawn. I was so happy to see them.
Conrad’s ravished body actually aided my story to the police. I was worried that something was happening to the homeless so I followed him here. I did not tell them of the lights, I just mentioned a male attacker and the dogs. An ambulance took Conrad away and I caught a taxi to the hospital he was taken to. I offered to pay for any of the surgery but after an hour on the table they shook their heads in a kind of sorrowful negative. I wondered whether the solid action was gained by practice or habit. I was distressed though, I was not thinking straight.
I sat at his bed, his eyes could barely open. His hand flopped out and I clasped it. His dull eyes looked at me, he seemed to recognise me, just for a second. Before he drifted off I said the word that I had tried to say many a time, I called him dad.

I had nothing but a cleansing vengeance in mind. I was so full of determination that I had nearly forgotten to bring anything with me. It was merely an afterthought that I stood at the doorway to my princely apartment in pause. I only turned and collected the torch because I turned to fetch the biggest knife the kitchen could offer.
What was I doing? I had a PHD, I worked at a successful practise and here I was going out at midnight in retribution for a Father I never knew? Things were financially looking up for me. It seemed callous but now that my Father had departed I had no intention of returning to the halfway house. There would be mourning, sure but I did not have to watch my father each day, wondering what had happened to him. Here I was though, grabbing a knife and a torch and swearing that people will pay for the death of a man who had abandoned us.
Before I knew it I was through the garden and into the house. I was searching each and every room and soon came to the kitchen. I threw open the door recklessly and with the torch on, knife drawn I stalked down the stairs. Where my father had been there was what looked like an altar. I searched the basement room and when coming to the back I heard a clattering of paws behind me. I turned quickly and the light shone on the Doberman’s large open jaw as it sprang at me. My knife slashed out automatically and caught it mid air in the head. It landed on the ground with a thud, scuttled around and sprang again at me. I caught its head with my boot, it hit the ground and went for another attack and suddenly stopped and started backing off. It’s retreat gave me a bad feeling and I turned and shone my torch behind me. The figure that I had seen here was right up against my light. What I had seen before was no trick of light, it’s appearance was drawn out. It’s face long and stretched. It’s nose hung in front of it’s mouth which was open to show sharp teeth. It was grinning.
It’s long spindly hands clasped my head and suddenly the room was filled with light. I felt parts of me being sucked into it, parts of me that I wanted, parts of me that I needed.

Fate is an odd thing; our past manufactures and manipulates us against our screaming, fighting will. The more we deny it, the more it sits in the shadows and reels us in. The more you fight your father’s influence on your own life the more it influences you. Then suddenly, bang! - You’re him, mark for mark.
I can barely remember who I am or what I’m doing. There are moments where I recollect Smelly Jack and my Father, my old life my comfortable, clean life. There are rational moments when I think of it all and tears wet my cheeks. I’m a different man now though, nothing else matters. I have an appointment.
There is a moment where everything is sucked out of you and it seems like the abyss that waits is welcoming. It’s an addiction, loosing it all. All you desire, all you’re thinking, all your rationale, feeling it all pulled out and dissipate into nothingness. There is light all around you and everything that ever made you a man is pulled away. It’s bliss.
You hang there between the hands, mouth open, eyes rolled back. You go away, feeling dirty, unclean and sometimes pass another going in, a past turned into just another homeless person. Unclean, you give each other a wide berth.
I live where I can, the halfway house when I can get a bed. They look at me funny, sometimes I remember and I start to cry. I make sure I go to the one I recognise the most and not the other because the other would kick me out. I cannot remember where I originally lived, it’s gone; that life is sucked from me. I loose more portions each day. I watch myself flitter away like tissues in the wind and I wonder what happens to parts of me. As they are pulled out I watch the dogs watching and waiting. I sometimes have coherency and realise that the dogs are waiting for their slice of the pie, their slice of the flesh left over. One of the dogs is waiting eagerly; a scar across his head from a kitchen knife. A small potion of doggy revenge makes him salivate a little more.
Just like my dad I cannot go back to the life I had, even though I know that I want to.