Content warning: mental illness.
With his throat the scene of an alien autopsy and anxiety washing over him in waves, James thought about the work he had to do to get another job and fund existence in an area once called the murder capital of Western Europe. Right on cue, a final reminder dropped through the letterbox from the gas bastards. He went to the kitchen in nothing but his boxers and watched the letter burn off the gas ring. He singed the hair on his fingers and threw a glass of water over the flaming letter on the laminate floor. The smoke detector magnified his stupidity, and he violently waved the red dish towel in front of it like an exhibitionist matador. The noxious fumes and ill health made him cough and open the window to view the endless grey. He imagined sliding off his boxers and leaping out naked to fly majestically above all the world’s problems. Why he was naked, he did not know. It was best not to question every thought he had, even when his mind wanted to dwell.
He shut himself away in his claustrophobic bedroom again and removed a bit of porridge from tufts of hair trying to scramble their way to a complete beard. The silence was unsettling, but he could no longer listen to the radio without lyrics taunting him or igniting catastrophe in his fertile and paranoid imagination. Even inoffensive pop songs as deep as an ant’s grave were becoming apocalyptic prophecies demanding immediate attention.
Stop it, he thought. No more thinking about gruesome deaths from films and the news. It wasn’t going to happen to him. There were no gangs, rapists or thieves. Nope. Fuck all like that in sunny Glasgow. Nothing was going to happen to his family, either. Everyone was safe. The world was a peaceful utopia. He was definitely real and did exist. The fact the flame from a gas ring burned his skin seemed to be confirmation of his existence … unless he imagined the pain of burning, but how could he imagine burning if he hadn’t experienced it in the real world? Was he innately able to feel the sensation of burning? What if he was about to die? At least he wouldn’t have to pay rent or council tax. How the fuck was this one-bedroom hovel a B tax band? But what if there was no afterlife? And what if there was and it involved working sixty-hour weeks to pay a landlord, who alleged he was God and turned out to be some chancer? What if he was a fictional character in a past life? What if that fictional character was real? What if he was a fictional character at the mercy of a sadist writer? What if? What if? What if?
A quick chap on the front door and a rattle of the letterbox made his heart sprint like a fugitive. Lynne rang his phone several times, and James eventually answered it after dissecting the ramifications of speaking.
“Am outside your door,” she said, looking at a door that could be blown open by emphysema. Lynne despaired when she saw James so pale, emaciated, lost and robotic. “What you doing?”
“Nuthin,” James said, looking at the symptoms of Lyme disease again on his laptop and putting the lid down.
“Do you wanna go a drive?” The words crash, river, drown and dead all filtered through his mind.
“Naw, am fine.”
“You should keep yourself busy.”
“Aye,” James said, biding time and agreeing to anything until she left.
“What about a walk?” Fuck no. He’d already gone outside to the disgusting backcourt and around the block in the last two days to appease his mum’s ramblings about fresh air like the air was clean and carrying the secrets to mental health.
“Naw, am awright.”
“Are you gonna go on the sick or the dole?”
“You’ll need to do something. You’ve no more wages coming and hardly any savings.”
“Thanks fir the reminder.”
“There’s no shame in it.”
“Ah know there’s nae shame in it.”
“Okay. How are you feeling anyway?”
“Am awright, Lynne. Youse don’t need tae keep me oan suicide watch.”
“Don’t even joke about that.”
“I’m gonna pick up Amy. Come over to ours later, and I’ll cook you dinner.” He did miss his wee sister. Who wouldn’t? But he didn’t want to be an utter mess around her. Lynne was a different matter. She was once married to his father. That made her an expert at seeing disasters.
“Is Steve gonnae be there?”
“No. We’re taking a wee break at the minute,” Lynne said, pulling out an envelope and leaving it on the table.
“Some money towards your rent and bills.”
“Ah don’t want it,” James said. “Ah can manage.”
“Just take it, James. You don’t have to be at war constantly.”
“Am gonnae go tae some job agencies later oan. Take it back.”
“Just keep it!”
“You don’t have it tae give. And ah don’t want it.” Lynne took the envelope back after James shoved it in her hand, but discreetly put it through the letterbox when she left. That would tide him over until the next crisis.