Frankie talks to the nurse
Will I be ok?
You’ll be fine, you didn’t take too many.
That’s all there were.
The nurse laughs,
Frankie shakes his head.
I wasn’t looking forward to the New Year.
Aye? We see it a lot round this time;
you’d be surprised
how many are glad they pulled through.
Frank goes home
with a sheaf of leaflets
websites, telephone numbers
of groups, dates of meeting nights.
If he feels low or symptoms recur,
he should contact his Doctor or
He piles them under his bed
wanting to forget
the whole episode.
a memory comes floating in:
it was half term, Frankie was bored,
Mam sent him off to Dad’s garage
down a back lane
It was dark inside the big wooden double doors
he remembers the oily floor, the pit
rubber tyres piled taller than him
cans of petrol, a car on a ramp
number plates, wrenches, tools
haphazard on metal shelves, workbenches.
No-one else around
but in the faint light fingering through
a grimy window
he saw Dad
looking into a small metal cupboard
he didn’t notice Frankie enter
or approach him
Dad jumped a mile high,
Frank briefly saw a pile of paper
envelopes or letters,
Dad locked the cupboard saying
over his shoulder
Way, son I wasn’t expecting yer
He turned back to face Frankie,
who thought he would be angry
but Dad smiled, put his arm around Frankie’s shoulder
steered him out into the bright sunshine
Fancy a bar of chocolate?
is what Paddy says
the night he sits by Frankie’s bed in the hospital.
He whispers it:
Sorry Frankie, sorry.
Frank is soft and dozy
not sure if he’s dreaming
so he makes his hand move
or thinks he does, he wants to
touch Paddy to see
if he’s really there
then he feels fingers
and he smiles even though
his eyes are closed.
Then all he hears is the soft plop
of the bag of clear liquid
they drip into his arm
the quiet footsteps of nurses
who come with little torches
they lift his eyelids and shine them
into his eyes, they mutter
so low he can’t understand the words.
Once or twice he thinks he sees Dad.
There’s a squeak of wheels
as patients are wheeled in and out
the crisp shift of sheets
as they make beds,
Frankie just drifts
in and out, thinking:
in this nowhere land.
He looks like a bairn, white faced
with a green tinge round his nose:
Sorry Mam, is all he says
she says For What ?
Then he gives her the bottle. She doesn’t understand:
Have you been nicking stuff ? Taking Drugs?
He sits down, his eyes glaze –
I took them all.
How many? She says, How many have ye taken! ?
as she gets her mobile, dials 999
she’s gabbling Ambulance, send an ambulance!
Frankie starts to vomit onto the floor
then a man’s voice, clear, slow
We’re on our way, what’s the bottle? How many missing?
She screams I divvent fucking know.
Hurry jesus christ hurry.
It seems hours, but it’s only five minutes later
the house is full of green suits and yellow jackets
rubber tubes and the smell of vomit and Frankie so limp
and Mam crying and trying to hold her mobile
and she can’t her hand shakes that much
she prays to God, to Mary and Fucking Jesus, the Pope
any bugger to save her Frankie
then she’s in the ambulance
she can’t remember his date of birth or her address
and the man says:
He’ll be all right. Don’t worry.
is a round drum, white and plastic,
small enough to fit in his pocket.
There’s a green label with information:
do not give to children under 16
ask your pharmacist if you’re not sure
how to take them;
the tube rattles quietly –
it sounds harmless
It is cool and smooth
and smells faintly
of dust and elastoplast,
He takes it out of the bathroom cabinet
it drops and rolls, rattling away
under the bath.
He stands for a moment
listens to sirens racing past outside,
Mam downstairs, with the washing machine on.
He bends down, lies with his face on the cold floor
searching under the bath with his fingertips
there’s bits of cotton wool and floss.
Then he feels the smooth drum –
he wants it now.
He empties the toothbrushes
out of the plastic mug, rinses and fills it with water.
He avoids looking at his face in the mirror,
he struggles to get the lid off, he twists the cap
so the two arrows meet, he pushes with his thumb
Mam shouts up the stairs Frankie?
Quickly he pours the tablets into his palm
throws them into his mouth and starts to
Frankie lies in bed, zombied
staring at the ceiling.
He sees no point in getting up.
His radio alarm is babbling quietly
then he hears it – music
that takes him back to primary school:
sitting on the carpet in a circle.
A good neat circle
with our feet tucked in, not kicking our neighbours
she puts the tape in the cassette recorder
looks round at everyone
and presses the button:
it clicks, there’s a hiss, a pause –
the piano notes sound
this woman sings so sadly:
Have you seen owt of my bonnie lad
And are you sure he’s weel oh
He’s gone ower land with his stick in his hand
He’s gone to moor the keel oh
he remembers looking out of the window
seeing the river, the cranes, their empty hooks
swaying gently in the wind
he imagines her tall and worried
walking beside the water
her hand up to her eyes
searching, singing, getting the reply:
Yes, I’ve seen your bonnie lad
Upon the sea I spied him
His grave is green but not with grass
And thoult never lie aside him
Here it is again, her song
circling his heart,
and Frankie makes a decision.
Pain is clear, it’s white, it’s sleep
it’s quiet like snow,
that’s what he wants.
Pain is clean, it’s water, glass
that’s what he wants.
Pain is sharp, it’s stripped
frozen ice, raw like wind,
bitter and cutting –
he cuts because he thinks: I’m weak.
Because I’m weak, I can’t stop cutting.
If only Frank could gather all the stuff
he hates about himself into one hand
he’d cut it off.
Paddy’s gone to a party
Dad wants Mam
to go down the club with him,
she’s hesitating, making excuses,
Haway, Marie, it’s only once a year
my Mam comes out and has a bevvy
yer divvent want ter miss it.
Mam doesn’t want to leave Frankie
I’ll be alreet Mam, I’ve got me phone.
She gives him a look,
I’d rather stay at home Frankie smiles
I cannot be fashed with noise and folk.
I’ll watch a DVD instead.
He feels like shite.
he wants to be on his own tonight.
He’s got it planned:
four bottles of Vodka Ice
a brand new blade
(a Stanley Knife he gave to Dad for Christmas)
He locks the bathroom door
runs the hot until it’s steamy
peesl off his clothes and starts.
He slides into the water,
his skin goes pink,
He take a swig
his insides fizz.
Holding the blade,
carefully he draws a line
thin and red, the blood
flows like tiny tributaries
into the sea – letting the badness out
sinks lower, slicing the blade
again and again, it stings
but drinking numbs the pain,
until the bath’s a bloody mess.
He’s all dizzy, the blade is slippy
in his fingers, he’s light-headed
wondering if he’ll go too far,
wondering Do I care?
Then Mam is hammering on the door:
Frankie! Let me in, you hear?
Dad busts it open with his shoulder
God Almighty! Is he dead?
Frankie turns his head and laughs
No Dad – just havin a bath.
Mam kneels beside him
her eyes are full,
Ah Frankie, love, why?
then they both break down and cry.