Love, Lockdown And The Ghost Of Christopher Hitchens
by Writer 3
"You shouldn't be here," said Julian.
His words were slippery with alcohol.
"I agree," said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens was in Julian Barry's new build flat north of Dalston Junction. He knew that Julian's dad had fronted up the deposit and that Julian was locked down, like he knew that Julian's girlfriend, Susan, was locked down in Clapham and that her mum had gifted the money: to give her a start.
For Julian and Susan that was how things were done.
These things were in the ghost of Christopher Hitchens' head but he had no idea how they had got there.
Julian sat on his yellow sofa.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens floated six inches above the stripped pine floor of Julian's living room.
On the coffee table in front of Julian were four empty bottles of craft beer, a half-finished bottle of Smirnoff vodka and a Pernod branded ashtray.
Julian was lanky, a thirty-something frame topped with a knot of blond hair. His head was long with eyes set around a prominent nose, his face framed by sharp-edged cheekbones which petered down to a goateed chin. He wore a white, collarless shirt, black jeans and personalised DMs.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens watched as Julian's small, blue eyes slid across the flat: the pine floor, the three modern patterned rugs, the two blue armchairs flanking the sofa and the coffee table, a square window looking south along the Kingsland Road, an oak bookcase on the top shelf of which were stacked No Logo, Bonfire Of The Vanities and The Collected Works Of Christopher Hitchens.
My work thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens as Julian's eyes came to rest on the half-drunk bottle of Smirnoff vodka.
For a moment it seemed that Julian was more confused by the half-finished vodka than the presence of a ghost, then Julian's view fixed on the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"Who'd believe this?" said Julian.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens did not know who would believe this.
Julian pointed a slim finger at the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. "Too much," said Julian and passed out.
Julian was on his iPhone, the line of his body drawn against a blue armchair.
In the ashtray on the coffee table were the butts of two joints. A third was in Julian's long-fingered hand.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens occupied the same space, six inches off the floor, opposite the yellow sofa. He had no idea of how much time had passed.
"This is my third attempt, Susan," said Julian and bent the line of his body forward.
Julian, his focus straight ahead, was side on to the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"I just wanted to check you were okay with the lockdown," said Julian.
There was no-one at the other end, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. Julian was leaving a message on voicemail.
"Dad still has that copyright position open for you when this is all over," said Julian.
Beyond Julian the ghost of Christopher Hitchens could see that the living-room ran into an open plan kitchen. To his right was a half-closed door to what appeared to be a bedroom.
A clock on the kitchen wall showed ten to two. The kitchen was a Bosch fridge and washing machine, a cupboard and units clustered around a sink. Under the clock were two candles, one in a red candle holder, one in a green holder. Both candle holders were embossed with Asian script.
In the living-room Julian hung up, turned and saw the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"You again," smiled Julian and looked approvingly at his joint.
"Perception modifies reality," declared Julian. "You got that right. But you are a ghost."
Julian and Susan were under lockdown due to coronavirus, understood the ghost of Christopher Hitchens but he did not know where the understanding came from. Like he knew that Julian and Susan had been seeing each other for six months.
The bits of information inhabited his head.
"I don't know what I'm doing here," said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
Julian looked at his mobile phone. "Me and you both," he said.
His smile was full of teeth.
"Bloody answerphone," said Julian and looked stumped. Then: "I have an idea."
Julian got to his feet.
He swayed, looked at his joint. "Give it five minutes," he said and sat down.
Julian was in the kitchen. He unplugged an old Nokia phone from a charger.
The clock on the kitchen wall showed half past three.
"I knew I had kept it," said Julian triumphant. "For emergencies and what-not."
The smoke of dope hung around the flat.
"In case she's switched all the numbers in her address book to voicemail," continued Julian.
Why would anyone do that, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
Julian waggled the Nokia.
"Now we'll see."
The words tripped from him as he returned to the living-room.
Julian couldn't keep a straight line, noticed the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. As he walked he tilted from side to side like a boat tacking against a wind.
"Still here?" said Julian and raised his hand which contained the small, Nokia phone at the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. "Now we'll see," he repeated and sat on the yellow sofa.
He dialled a number.
"Susan," he said.
The call had been answered thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
Julian's face made up as pleased. "It's Julian," he said.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens watched Julian's face pale at Susan's response.
Julian's lips compressed to a line.
He bent forward and the ghost of Christopher Hitchens thought that he was going to vomit.
But he simply stared at the wooden floor between his feet.
Susan's reply had sobered him.
"We can work this out," said Julian.
He had lined up the words and attempted to march them into the mouthpiece but the formation could not hold and the phrase slurred down the line.
What must it be like to be at the other end, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens? What were they hearing?
Julian straightened up out of his bent stance.
"He's with you now? During lockdown?"
Julian's words slipped and blundered around a world suddenly unfamiliar.
Susan replied and Julian's face pinched.
"Bloody Geoffrey Davey, some fucking mate," hissed from him. "What's he got?"
Which, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens, invited a list.
Susan at the other end appeared to provide it.
"Well, good luck to you," said Julian. "I hope you bloody infect each other."
Julian hung up.
"Plenty more fish in the sea," said Julian and stood.
He was unsteady but he held.
He walked into his bedroom.
Through the open bedroom door the ghost of Christopher Hitchens could see a double bed flanked by bedside tables, a chest of drawers, an Extinction Rebellion poster on white walls.
Julian slid open a drawer in a bedside table, took out a small pill holder.
He stepped back to the living-room.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens could see that the silver pill holder was embossed with a map of Europe.
"Been waiting for the right occasion," said Julian and walked through to the kitchen and took a Craft Beer from a cupboard.
"Like gold dust, barbiturates," said Julian returning to the living-room and plonking himself on a blue armchair, his right side to the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
Julian took a barbiturate from the pill box, placed it on his tongue.
"Bottoms up," he said and took a swallow of Craft Beer.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens heard the front door of the flat slam, followed by the sound of Julian in the hall.
It was night beyond the square window. In the dark the ghost of Christopher Hitchens threw off a faint illumination which enabled him to make out a quarter past ten on the kitchen clock.
Julian switched on the light as he entered the living-room. He smelt of alcohol and dope and the promise of good times. A giggle escaped him.
"Always in the same place," was directed at the ghost of Christopher Hitchens as Julian crossed to the yellow sofa.
Julian was wearing a dark, padded Boss jacket and Armani jeans. A Tate Gallery tote-bag was over his left shoulder. His bloodshot eyes worked the room.
Everything was as it was, nothing had changed apart from Julian, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
Julian fished two baggies from the Tate tote bag and tossed them onto the coffee table.
"Susan was good sex but we've moved on." Julian offered his understanding as he shrugged out of the Boss jacket.
Beneath the jacket, Julian wore a black cardigan over a blue Levi tee-shirt but they seemed an ill-fit.
Julian had become bedraggled, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. The world had found a loose thread in him and kept pulling.
He was unravelling.
Still, the ghost of Christopher Hitchens noted, Julian's bloodshot eyes were set to determined as he took a seat on the yellow sofa.
"Are you okay," asked the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"Great, mate. Better than you. You're dead. " Julian rearranged the baggies on the coffee table. "No more questions," he instructed.
Julian leant back on the sofa . "We have to make or own fun during lockdown," he said. "My own opinion is enough for me, right Hitch?" and took a bottle of Absolut Vodka from the Tate tote bag.
Julian looked at the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. "You don't mind if I call you Hitch?"
"Sure," said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens and his left hand indicated the two baggies laid out on the table. "What you got there?" he asked.
"Top stuff. Primo," said Julian. "Cocaine and heroin."
"You've taken them before?" asked the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"What, you're my dad now?" said Julian. "Ghosts not got memories? What did I say: no more questions," and shook his head. "Everything you say comes through me, or drunk and drugged me," reasoned Julian. "So maybe sober me is providing a warning to myself."
The conclusion seemed to satisfy him.
"What are you saying?" said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"Shut up, boring me," said Julian and poured a shot of vodka.
"I do have agency," objected the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"You sound like a book. Christ, you'd think I'd do better than this," said Julian.
Walk away, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens but could not bring himself to.
Julian opened the cocaine baggie.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens watched as Julian took slugs of vodka between lines of coke.
"This is my world," said Julian. "Mine."
Less than an hour and he had passed out.
Julian was on his Nokia, chanting abuse at Susan's voicemail as his uneven footsteps moved him around his living-room.
How did I know it was Susan's voicemail, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens, I don't remember him making the call.
He looked at the kitchen clock. 8:30.
Outside the light had drained from the world.
Evening, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens. He had misplaced a day. How had that happened?
"You always had that meanness about you." Julian's words were angry down the line. "Nothing was ever quite right. You couldn't allow that. And the job at one of my dad's companies – you can forget that. Off the table. You seemed up for it when I put your case to my father but under it all you had a take it or leave it attitude. Mind you, to be straight, with the copyright job in the balance I thought you would have kept us going until you were in position. Talk about misjudgement. Well, I can tell you that's done. Gone. Just like you. Which is for the best now I've had a chance to think about it. Have a nice life with Geoffrey or whoever."
Julian hung up.
He turned to the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"Don't you get bored floating in the one place," asked Julian and waved his left hand.
The action appeared to unbalance him.
"Forget it, you're just," said Julian and tapped the side of his head.
He shuffled to the sofa and sat.
As the ghost of Christopher Hitchens looked on Julian tried to arrange himself comfortably but didn't seem to be able to find comfort.
Julian reached for the bottle, took a gulp, laid out the last of the coke and snorted it.
He regarded the heroin.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens watched Julian jerk awake. The angles of his body were propped on the yellow sofa. His pupils were dilated. His lips muttered phrases which careened between his father, Susan and Geoffrey: each of them had their part in putting him here.
Each had to take their responsibility.
What the ghost of Christopher Hitchens thought was: get over yourself.
But Julian was going to show Susan and his father and bloody Geoffrey. Julian was going to show them all.
Julian managed to get to his feet and walk with a junkie's care to the kitchen.
He took a tube of aluminium foil and a paper straw from the cupboard next to the sink, tore off a portion of the foil and folded it into quarters.
He struck a match, lit the candle in the red holder and returned with the lit candle, aluminium foil and paper straw to the living room.
He placed the candle and foil next to the remaining baggie.
Heroin, thought the ghost of Christopher Hitchens as Julian arranged his body on the yellow sofa.
Julian focused forward on the small baggie of heroin as he lips incanted: Susan, Dad, Geoffrey.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens looked on as Julian tapped the heroin from the baggie onto the foil and held it over the candle flame.
The heroin was turned treacly by the heat of the flame and began to give off fumes.
Julian used the straw to inhale the fumes.
He blinked slowly, looked at the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"There's nothing there," said Julian. "Nothing at all."
"Don't," said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
The word surprised him.
He watched himself say it as though he was watching another man.
"In for a penny," said Julian and inclined the slope of the foil over the flame, kept the heroin moving.
It took him thirty minutes to die.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens watched as Julian forgot to breath.
It was almost peaceful.
It was almost nothing.
Tanya looked up from the stones and cards of her lockdown seance.
The ghost of Christopher Hitchens floated six inches from Tanya's thickly carpeted floor.
They were in what appeared to be a studio flat.
A double bed, a chest of drawers, a small, round table with two Ikea chairs. On the table was a Clap For The Homerton NHS leaflet. On the cream painted wall an old, framed Greenpeace poster.
Tanya was sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor.
She was small, gym trim, in her twenties with her dark hair pulled into a pony-tail. She wore an oversize white shirt and blue jeans. Her wrists were braceleted.
Her brown eyes danced on the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
"It worked," said Tanya. "Cool."
"I don't know what I'm doing here," said the ghost of Christopher Hitchens.
End of Love, Lockdown And The Ghost Of Christopher Hitchens by Writer 3