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A Strange Warmth

by Nigel Gordon

Moments after I had pressed the plunger a strange warmth once more flowed into my body. The grating rawness of anguish, of hopelessness, of exclusion faded into an oblivion where I wanted to keep them.

"Right kid, that's twenty you owe me. You can work it off and get another fix or pay me, which is it?" Jarrad asked. Not that he needed to ask, he knew only too well what my choices were. I might be in my late twenties but still could pass for a late teen and my body was still in good shape. That is one thing that I can say for my regular spells in prison, they kept me in shape. I would make us of every session I could take to use the prison gym. Sometimes I thought the only reason I was still alive was because of my time in prison, it gave me a time to clean out my system of some of the junk I pushed into it.

Don't get me wrong, I never went in addicted and came out clean. My addiction was such that they had to support it even whilst I was inside, I would get daily doses of Methadone and counselling. Not that the counselling could do much good, half trained psychologists talking about things they did not understand and pushing forth theories they had been told but which bore no resemblance to the truth of my situation.

I took the job Jarrad offered, as he knew I would, there was no way that I could pay him and there was a chance of a tip which could buy some food. It was a big black guy down Belgrave Gate, he had me sucking him off until he was rock hard then threw me onto my back and fucked the hell out of me. I lay there getting pounded, not that it had much effect for me, these days I never get an erection or response from down there. It just a job and I do it, whilst doing it this time though I suddenly thought of Mike.

I wanted to forget Mike, to forget that hint of a promise, for that promise is what drove me here. It was two weeks before Christmas that my cell door opened and Mike walked in, plunked his stuff down on the unmade bed across from mine and asked which cupboard was mine. Once informed he got on with sorting his things out and making his bed in the experienced way that only someone who has moved a lot around the prison system shows.

He was doing ten and was getting out on two thirds, been transferred up to Leicester from the Island for local release. Not that it turned out that he was local but the powers that be had decided that Leicester was to be his place of release. From our talks over the next few days it became clear that he was more at home in London, Paris or Madrid. In fact from what he said he had not really lived in England, let alone Leicester, for the last twenty years. He had to now though; he would be on licence for the next three years.

You might be wondering what he had done, I think he told me but I was not concerned about it. There was no way you could get concerned about what somebody had done inside; you were all in the same boat. Just do your time, however long or short it may be, and get out.

Mike was gay, he did not try to hide it or the fact that he was attracted to me, though he never made a move on me. Not that I would have rejected it, he had funds so could have got me some burn. Half and ounce for a good fuck, I've sold myself for less at times. Don't get me wrong, I'm not gay, I just do what I need to do to get by. I had a wife at one time and I have a daughter, though I've never seen her, me and the missies had broken up before she was born. I felt bad about that but then I felt bad about most things.

That's what H gives me; it makes me feel good, at least for a time. I've never felt good about myself, from the time I could understand things I knew that I was not wanted, that I had destroyed my mother's life. She could have been something, got herself a good husband, if she had not been stuck with a half-cast brat. Eventually she got rid of me, dumping me with her mother. I knew then I was not wanted.

That was the strange thing about Mike he never came onto me like some pad mates I had been landed with but he always made me feel that I was important. Like that first evening when we got our dinner, they gave us the breakfast packs for the next day which also contained our tea and coffee for the next day. The packs came with four tea bags, one sachet of coffee, five sachets of sugar and five of whitener. It turned out he did not take whitener or sugar, also he did not drink coffee. Most lads would have traded them for some burn or something they wanted, not Mike, he just turned to me and asked if I wanted them.

It was the same over the TV, he actually asked me if there was anything I wanted to watch. It was as if I was important, as if I was somebody. I have never been important, I have never mattered to anybody, yet Mike managed to make me feel that I was somebody. He took an interest in me and I don't mean he wanted my body. With Mike there was something more, it was as if he wanted to know who I was, what I was. I found myself talking to him, telling him about my life and telling him things that I had never told anyone. By anyone I mean anyone and that includes myself. Suddenly I was talking about things which I had never thought about before, about how I had always been rejected and outside of things.

My mother never really wanted me, in fact she would have got rid of me before I was born except it had taken her so long to pluck up the nerve to tell her mother, my gran, that I was on the way that it was then to late to get rid of me. Gran though worked out that I could be useful, a grandson together with the three brats she had from a marriage that was failed before it started, gave her the points to get a larger house. My birth got them moved from a nineteen fifties three bedroom council house on the outskirts of town to a larger four bedroom Victorian property up near the railway station. That is where I grew up. My mother, my aunt – her elder sister, my uncle – a younger brother only six years older than me, gran and myself, to be joined later by a couple of more brats all by different fathers.

Until I was four I shared a bedroom with my mother but then when I started school gran decided I was too old and I moved to share a room with my uncle. He had just started at secondary school and also just started to find out about sex. Now he had something to play with, me. He also found that it pushed his status up at school to be able to offer me to his friends and some of the older boys. I quickly learned it was best not to be at home when he got back from school and to stay out as late as I could.

A kid on the streets is something to be used. The local youths soon found that they had a use for me. I was under the age of criminal responsibility which meant that I could not be arrested, only picked up and taken home. So I would be given packages to deliver, packages of drugs, in return for which I would get the chance to sit in a warm room and have a cola or some squash, sometimes with a shot of something or other in it.

As I lay on my bed in the cell I found myself telling Mike all about this, I had never told anybody in the past. He did not seem fazed or upset about it; it was as if the past did not matter. All he said to me was that the past was the past, what was I going to do with my future?

Nobody had every talked to me about the future before. What future is there when you are sitting in an eight foot by twelve foot cell waiting to go up before the beak? I had been on remand for twelve weeks when Mike arrived in my cell and it looks as if I would be on remand for another twelve weeks at least. I was up for assault, which had never taken place, and for shoplifting, which had. For the shoplifting it would be twenty eight days to three months, given my time on remand, over four months, I had already done that, the assault though was a different question, I could get real time for that.

Mike asked me what I would do if I got a long custodial. I had no idea; you just do your time. If you can't do the time don't do the crime, that's what they say. Not that it is that easy, sometimes the only way you can survive is by doing the crime. When I'm out I need my fix and not all dealers are as obliging or have the contacts that Jarred has, they want cash, so I shoplift. I'm not into mugging, housebreaking or pulling cons on old dears. Anyway I'm good at shoplifting, I even shoplift to order. You want some toys for the kid's birthday; I'll get them for you at half what you would pay if you got them in the shop.

No way had I thought about what to do if I got some serious time. I would just have to do it, wouldn't I? Mike though made me think about what I could do, he talked to me about education and about building a life for the future. He showed me that I could use being inside to get clean and that once I got clean I could stay clean. He did not lecture me about how I had messed my life up with drugs, he just asked me what I thought of it and I told him. It was a mess.

He was always open with me about the fact that he fancied me but he never pushed it. It was nice to know that he did fancy me. That gave me something, a sense of being. I could use that fact to get my own way, to get what I wanted, though I did not have to. I suddenly found that I just wanted what made Mike happy, it was something I had never experienced before, the need to make somebody else feel good.

Mike always asked me what I wanted to watch on TV or if I minded if he put his radio on, he always wanted to listen to the Archers. It was strange to me given that everybody else just told me what they were doing and I had to fit in. I found though that I soon learnt what Mike liked to watch and listen to and I would be asking him to put those on. There was a good feeling that came from making Mike happy, a feeling I had not known before.

Christmas was an eye-opener. I don't know how he had managed to do it but on Christmas morning on my table was a small package wrapped in decorated paper, also and envelop with my name on it. A present and card from Mike. The present was a bar of chocolate, not much but he had taken the time and trouble to decorate some paper to wrap the bar in. I could not remember when anybody had done anything like that before for me. It made me feel that I was important.

When I asked Mike why he had done it he said he had done it to make me happy. He told me that it had been worth it just to see the look on my face when I saw the package. I think it was then that I started to realise that I was falling in love with Mike, which was a bit surprising as he certainly was not much to look at and was twice my age. He was though the first person to think about me.

The fact that he was thinking about me made me think about myself and I did not like what I found because basically I found nothing. There was nothing about me that said me. Everything about me was a reaction to something outside me. It was as if I did not exist. Mike though somehow seemed to be able to find something that was me; he brought me out from wherever I had hidden. That scared me somewhat as I had never taken any time to find out about myself. Mike made me look at myself because he told me that I was somebody, that I was important.

The week after Christmas he talked to me about my future, about what I could do, what I could make of things. He also showed me how I was not as stupid as I had thought, in fact, when he got me to do an IQ test he had, it turned out that I was slightly above the normal IQ level. That surprised me and I could not understand it until Mike explained that in order to survive the type of life I had been living I needed to be smart. He explained that IQ was not about being cleaver but about the ability to be cleaver if you had the knowledge to use, all I lacked was the knowledge to use.

That's when we started to talk about me going to college. Mike suggested that if I got a long custodial I should get my NVQs in prison and I could use them to get on a course when I got out. If I did not get a long custodial I could go for one of the access programmes run by the local colleges and then go for a diploma course. We talked about me going for a qualification that would enable me to join the Register of Exercise Professionals.

Being convinced I could do something was totally new to me. Nobody had ever suggested it to me before. Mike though not only told me I could do it, he actually showed me how. He laid out a step by step plan that I could follow. We spent a couple of days talking about it because I really did not think it was possible but he made me see that it was, though I was not sure that I would be able to do it. Mike just kept telling me I could.

On New Year's Day for once he did not give me a choice about what to watch on TV. It being a holiday we were banged up all day. There was an unlock at eight for cell cleaning and showers, then we were banged up for the whole of the morning till twelve thirty. I had laid down on my bed immediately on bang up but Mike had sat at his table and was doing some writing, he was working on a degree with the Open University, though why he wanted another degree I don't know. Suddenly he got up and switched on the TV changing it to BBC Two. This was unusually because he would normally ask me first if it was OK to put it on, especially as I was listening to his radio at the time, but for once he didn't. As the TV came on I heard the strains of some music that I knew I should know but did not recognise. Mike explained that it was the music of the Strauss family and the programme was the New Year Day's Concert from Vienna.

He told me about the concert and about Vienna. When he spoke about the place I could see it in my mind and could feel something special about it for Mike. He said that he would like to take me there to listen to the music of Strauss, I told him I would like to go.

After that we talked about things we could do and places we could go. Mike was honest we me from the start and told me that if I went with him most of his friends would presume that I was his lover. I told him that it did not matter, they could think what they liked, but inside I found myself wondering just what it would mean to be his lover. Sex did not affect me one way or another but the idea of being held in his arms had an attraction that I had not experienced before.

The following week Mike was released, he promised he would write to me. Once he had left the cell everything fell back to where it had been before. I got a new pad mate who immediately took charge of the TV remote and told me to shift my stuff from the cupboard I used and put it in the other as he wanted mine. I did as I was told. I missed Mike, I had enjoyed the dreams he had spun for me, though I knew they were just dreams, things like that could not happen for me.

Two days later a letter came. It was from Mike. It appeared there had been a problem with the hostel he was supposed to go to, there had been no room available, so he had been sent to one outside the county, though he would be moved back as soon as there was a place. He had sent me a stamped address envelop and also five pounds so I could get some extras on my canteen, I wrote back to him that night. His next letter was longer and I guessed things were not going well for him, he had planned everything on being in Leicester but was now stuck over sixty miles away and could sort nothing out. One thing though he sent me his telephone number, I was able to get it put on my phone list and the following Saturday I phoned him. Told him I had a plea and directions hearing in the Crown Court on the Friday, the 1st of February. He said he would try to get to the Court for it but would have to get permission because of his curfew.

That's where everything went wrong. It was a plea and directions hearing, a formality, I would say how I was going to plead and they would make directions for my hearing. They shipped me off to court early and I did not bother to take any of my stuff as I knew I would be coming back. I spoke to my brief shortly before the hearing and we agreed I would plead guilty to the shoplifting, well I had no choice, but not guilty to the assault. We had just finished discussing the pleas when we were called into Court. The Clerk of the Court stood up and read out the hearing details for the Judge and stated the charges. It was at that point the Prosecution stood and announced that they would not be offering any evidence on the assault. Well that came as a complete surprise to me, it seems that my brief had only just been passed a note to the effect as the hearing opened.

The Judge then ordered that a plea of not guilty and a finding to that effect be entered for the assault. I was asked how I pleaded on the shoplifting, I looked round the court to see if I could see Mike but there was no sign of him, then I pleaded guilty. He looked at the papers then sentenced me to three months and instructed that I be taken down, which I was. A few minutes later my brief came down to see me to get the paperwork sorted out. He told me that it had come out that the CCTV evidence that they had been going to use turned out in the end to show that I had not done the assault. The shoplifter in the CCTV being dressed like me but quite a lot bigger, they had placed the charges on the word of the store security before they had examined the CCTV.

I was angry, I had been on remand for five months by then and only got three for the shoplifting. On three I would have been out in six weeks. Then I realised that if I hadn't been on remand I would not have met Mike. That's when it hit me, all my stuff was in the prison, I did not have his address, I did not have his phone number and he had not been a court. He would not know what had happened and I did not know how to contact him.

Half an hour later I was released having already done more than my time on remand. There I was in Wellington Street with forty six pounds of discharge grant in my pocket, no where to go and no idea of how to contact Mike. To make matters worse it was snowing and I did not have a coat. I made my way round to the housing department and registered as homeless; they gave me a list of hostels but told me they were all full. They were right, I went to each one and put my name down but there was nowhere available to stay, it looked like I would be sleeping in the car park. One thing though I was able to sort out using the Dawn Centre as my mail address, with that I could sign on for benefits.

My main problem though was getting a fix. I had had my methadone last night but by mid-afternoon I was getting jittery and knew I needed something. On Friday I could see the doctor and get a script but that was three days away, I needed something now, also needed a coat and something to sleep in. A visit to Rackham's solved the coat problem, though I nearly got caught, a nearby camping store resulted in a sleeping bag. Then it was up to Highfields and hanging around till I saw a dealer I knew. Forty quid got me a bottle of methadone and took up most of my grant.

Once it got dark I made my way to the multi-story car park that served a block of offices on Regent Road. If you go up to the top of the stair case you can find spot where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Most people with cars on the top floor will go up by the lift and at this time they won't be parking and going down. I sat in the corner of the stairs, in the dark, wishing I was back in my cell, wishing that I was with Mike.

I tried to find Mike but it was no good. Managed to find the phone number for his hostel in the phone book at the library, phoned it but they would not tell me if he was there, said they could not give out information about residents. When I asked if they would pass on a message they said they could not take a message as taking one would tell me if a person was there. I knew then that I had lost Mike, I had lost the chance to be somebody that I wanted to be.

That night I saw Jarrad and got some H, it gave me that strange warm feeling.

Life returned to what it had always been for me, living out of a rucksack, sleeping rough and doing whatever needed doing to get to my next fix. I was back to needing two shots a day, most days I could lift enough to get the stuff but not always, then it was a case of doing jobs for Jarrad and his friends. I didn't mind but I didn't want to think of Mike.

I had done well over the last couple of days, lifting boxes of Valentine chocolates is easy and I got a good price for them, which meant I had been able to buy some junk. Better still a place had come up for me at the Dawn Centre and I managed to move in. Now at least I had a room and access to a shower. That's the problem of living on the streets, it is hard to keep clean.

I got back to the Centre just after seven, too late for the meal but I'm never that hungry anyway, H does that for you. I checked to see if there was any mail and the girl at the desk said there was a package for me. Why would there be a package for me? It was just over a foot long, a wrapped tube about two inches across. I took it up to my room and unwrapped it. Inside was a clear plastic tube with a red rose in it. A red rose, why in hell would anybody send me a red rose, then I remembered it was Valentine's day. Opening the tube I removed the rose, around its stem was a piece of paper, unwrapped I read a telephone number. There could only be one person it was from.

It took me nearly an hour to beg, borrow and steal enough money to make a phone call. Then I had to find a pay phone that worked so it was nearly half past nine before I dialled the number. It rang five times then a voice answered "Steve."

"Yes," I replied, "how did you know it was me?"

"I've only just got this phone and the only person who has the number is the one I sent to rose to. Are you OK? I did not get to the court till gone eleven and they had thrown you out by then."

I wanted to lie, to say everything was fine, but did not. I told him I was in a mess and back on H. He told me I needed to get sorted out. He was still in Worksop but would be back in Leicester on Saturday, just two days away. We arranged to meet. My money ran out and I went back to the hostel, with a strange warm feeling inside me.

That was six years ago, now I am lying on a bed in a hotel. The bright morning light reflects off the snow and pours in through the window, I can see Mike standing by the table set before the window. We could not get here for New Year, anyway there was no way he could have got tickets for the concert, but he has brought me to Vienna for Valentine's day.

These last six years have not been easy. In fact at times they have been bloody hard and all has not gone as I intended. Oh I set out to give up the drugs but it was not easy, even with Mike's support. Sometimes I fell back into my old ways but he was always there to pull me out. I even ended up back inside, once for stealing off him, even then he stood by me.

I get out of bed and he comes over and embraces me. We kiss and a strange warmth fills me. For now I have what I need and I know there will be a red rose on the table, there has been one each year for six years.

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