Brian – The Life of
Brian stumbled over the belt from his dressing gown and had to catch himself before he fell down the stairs. He paused to catch is breath, chest heaving and swearing to himself as he continued.
‘Another bloody grey boring day’ he said aloud to the empty hallway.
After standing over the kettle for what seemed an eternity, with tea in hand he slumped into the worn out grey sofa.
He picked up the remote and scanned the channels finally stopping on another rerun of Stargate.
As the speakers blurted out a jumble of noise the picture blurred and he began to yet again assess his life.
42 yrs old , living on benefits, a council house that he knew he was likely to have to give up soon. It was three months since Lorraine had left with the kids and now the house was devoid of life, just a cold stark shell. Memories swirling around him teasing him with visions of a fabled ’happy’ past.
It was funny how when he thought back, the arguments were superficial, meaningless now without substance. Most in his recollection were about money, or rather the dwindling reserves that they had built up over nineteen years of marriage. ‘Marriage’ he mumbled, even the word seemed dated these days.
The battered mobile began to vibrate, Brian glanced at it and resolved to ignore it, it couldn’t be Lorraine, not now, more than likely it was some flaming PPI tele-sales. Why they kept ringing him he had no idea, he had never had a blasted loan, he found himself wishing that all of them would just fuck off and die. ‘die’ what a silly little word that means so much. ‘Die, to die, death, torment, mourning, release’. He knew that his thoughts were stupid, even pathetic but still they held a fascination.
A loud knock at the door startled him. He began to stand up but then flopped back down into his seat. What was the point in answering it? It would either be the postman, asking him to sign for a letter, or worse the bailiff come to hassle him yet again for the arrears on his water bill.
There was another rap, but all it did was steady his resolve not to answer. The banging continued for a further few minutes then silence. After a while he plucked up the courage to sneak a peek out of the window. At first he could see nothing, no one at his door, but wait that silver escort did not belong there. Then a noise from the back of the house, a clatter and bang. Someone was there, prying spying on him. He felt his stomach churn, the acid taste rising in his throat.
Were they here to evict him? Had he missed a letter from housing? Had he done something else wrong? Was it the police? Was it some local kids trying to break in? if it was he would give them what for. Brian looked around for something to use as a weapon. Something heavy, something firm. He took a deep breath, looked around the sparse room, and tried to relax. What was happening to him? This was not who he was.
He walked through the kitchen and tugged at the back door handle, ‘damn’ he said as he realised it was locked. He turned the key and after the briefest of pauses he again pulled at the door. As it opened he moved forward and tentatively poked his head beyond the door frame.
‘Hey up’ a disembodied voice came.
Brian felt himself jump and spun around to see a figure dressed in maroon coloured overalls staring at him, a cheery smile the most prominent feature.
‘Where’s yer recycle bin mate?’ he was asked.
Brian felt himself redden but also calm. ‘Er the kids’ gesticulating with his hands as if drawing a circle around him, ‘they er, they bleeding keep nicking ‘em. ‘ he stammered out the explanation.
‘ah well, don fret mate, give the council a ring and they can sort yer another one out’. At that the workman turned and left. Brian stood there for a moment, embarrassed that he had behaved so dramatically.
Brian again slumped into the settee and focused upon the TV. ‘Ah time for the news’ he thought as he pressed the worn out buttons. The familiar red banner under the presenter read ‘Chancellor announces further austerity measures’. The news reader’s monotone voice in contrast to the half grin upon their face. To Brian it was as if they were thinking ‘ha I have got a job so it doesn’t bother me you losers’.
The camera panned over to a slimy looking man with dark short hair, a navy blue suit and a blue tie indicating him to be a ‘Tory’. To Brian it didn’t matter which party they represented, they all seemed the same these days, all corrupt and out for self promotion. The Eton accent proclaiming that this person had no idea what austerity meant, he would not even blink at spending Brian’s entire weekly income on one single bottle of wine. The smug face forming an almost cartoon expression of seriousness as he droned on about how these new measures were needed to ensure that the deficit could be significantly reduced by 2016. By now Brian was only half listening , taking in the basic message but not the detail. The overall message that benefits would be cut further, that services would be reduced, that the poor would become even poorer.
Brian switched off the TV and laid back. The grey mist descending around him. He tried to think ’happy thoughts’ but couldn’t formulate any. The despair growing, Brian was self aware, he understood that he should not be feeling this way. He knew that things could be worse but was unable to think how.
He felt trapped, stuck within this tiny cage. Yes he was mobile, he could get about, he could walk even run if he put his mind to it. But to where? He had friends, people when he had some money he could go out with, socialise with, but that was before, before he lost his job, before Lorraine left with the children, before he lost his world, his meaning, his will.
He tried to concentrate, there must be a way out, something he could do to end this torment. But what?
He stood up, picked up his coat and with an imitation of confidence strode out of the house. He cleared his head of all consciousness and opened the rusting iron gate. Without a glance back at the unkempt garden he picked up the pace. At the end of the close he turned left and headed towards the town. His gaze wondered, eyes moving from a straight ahead view to scanning the path. The endless grey tar only giving in to the occasional crack or blur of brown where some feral dog had fowled the ground. When he bothered to glance up there was only dismal skies and the monotone mass built houses to see. The drone of traffic further dulling his senses and directing his thoughts further into the abyss. Even the blank or at times suspicious looks from passers by only adding to this.
Brian ambled past a row of shops, glancing into the windows, sub consciously wondering at how what was a vibrant area, almost affluent ended up being solely made up of charity shops and take-away’s.
His vision now increasingly blurring, all his senses shutting down en mass, the world spinning into a mosaic of black and white.
Brian felt as if he had awoke from a nightmare. He felt devoid of pain, almost cheerful. Who was that? A figure became solid to him, the features forming into a face, a friendly face, a recognisable face, a face from the past. He could not understand how this could be possible, the confusion building. The face belonged to Lorraine, he looked directly at her and was saddened that her eyes were filled not with joy but with sympathy.
Her gentle voice asking him how he was feeling now. He tried to sit up but felt restrained as if his limbs were tied down with straps. With a start he suddenly realised it was not Lorraine, the face belonged to someone wearing the uniform of a nurse.
‘Where am I?’ he demanded.
‘Mr Blake’ She stated as if taking details for a form, ‘Mr Blake you are in the Hope Wing, it’s a mental health assessment unit, can you remember what happened?’
Brian tried to think back but all he could remember was the grey mist. He shook his head. The nurse explained that Brian had been found in a heap on the path. After being assessed in A&E a decision was made to place him on a section under the Mental Health Act. She went on to say that they believed that he had experienced an overload, what would have been described in the past as a breakdown.
Brian again tried to remember what had happened, but there was no recollection.
The Nurse explained that they had a care plan in place for him and that he would be reassessed after 72 hours. She gave him a small cardboard cup with four pills in it and a glass of water. All she said was, ‘these will help‘.
Brian woke up to a piercing scream, then the rapid footfalls of a number of people hurrying down a corridor. He lay motionless, at first a feeling of anxiousness giving way to a wave of apathy. The same Nurse came to discuss Brian’s needs with him.
There were then numerous interviews, meetings and groups over the next few days. He was pressured to tell all of his life. Soon the conditions of the section were lifted but Brian remained in hospital for a few more weeks.
Upon his release he did not return home, his home was no longer his. He was given a council flat in a small sterile block. All the memories from his family abode now fading. The prescription medication keeping him numb, forming a gate against the despair, never quite closed but holding back as if he were trapped in the event horizon of a black hole. No thoughts to the future but living within a timeless world.
Even his battered sofa was now gone. In its place a small 2 seater ikea bed settee.
On the odd occasion that he found a dog eared picture of his family in a drawer, or left on the side he would almost absent mindedly attempt to think back, but then be distracted by the TV or the echoing foot steps of the old lady next door dragging her shopping up the concrete steps.
At least he had visitors now, they may be paid to come and see him but were company, some link to the forgotten outside world. Less and less would Brian venture out.
Time moved on, the support provided was cut further and further, the disability benefits that had made life almost bearable for a time after his hospital discharge now removed. The daily visits from his CPN waned to weekly then monthly. Soon they too stopped. The ‘Austerity measures’ were putting a greater strain on what was once a welfare state. Health and Benefits were hit the hardest, hospital wards lying empty, people unable to get even basic non urgent care. Most state benefits now were only provided with numerous conditions to be met by the claimant. Suspending of benefits was the norm.
Every town and village had local food banks operating as this for many was the only means for them to survive. No longer a welfare state, Britain had become a Charity state, and for many even this was not enough to sustain them.
It was eight months after he had moved into this new self contained world that it happened. The vagueness won over, he took his medication, had his tea of a microwave meal. Sat down wondering if he had already taken the pills. A wave of panic took him, if he did not take the pills then the demons would break through, he took his medication, had a bath. As lay down in the tepid water, a question formed, had he taken his medication?
When Brian rose from his slumber he was amazed to see not just Lorraine standing there but both his children. He jolted awake, staring at the impossible vision before him. His thoughts now coming with clarity. A unfamiliar emotion, overwhelming happiness, but more, hope. It could not be true, surely it could not, at last the horror was over, the pain had gone.
It was three days before anyone decided to check on Brian. It was only that the old lady next door had not heard the TV blaring out. When someone finally took the decision to break into the flat they found the withered body of a man.
At the weekend the local paper had a small obituary simply stating that Mr Brian Blake 42 had died on the 13th June. He was a widower surviving his wife and two children who had tragically died in a car accident. He had no living relatives.
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