Jimmy the drunk has ghosts. He’s one that has flown too close to the sun and brought back things which haunt him. His present addiction is merely there to keep his soul stanchioned to his body. Jimmy is good for light conversation to pass the time waiting for the bus or while you are keeping your toes warm in a pub. You spot him a pint and he’ll chat about what you like. He’ll listen to your gripes and punctuate them with ‘nae bother pal’ and ‘they’re all gadgee bastards’. His anecdotes are light and entertaining. He’s good for catching up on local gossip and the background of the various characters that wander the streets in the neighbourhood. He’s the one who told me that the mayor of Leith came here to work on the Forth rail bridge. The mayor of Leith is an enormous Jamaican who is either smoking cigarettes in the bus shelters or watching the football through the windows of pubs. He’s got an equally enormous mane of thick dreaded hair and beard and carries a serious looking length of wood which is employed as a cane, a tool for perusing the contents of bins and a deterrent for the drunks not cowed by his stature alone. His army green jacket is tattered and the wind blows the stuffing around him like dandelion seeds. Occasionally during these breezy chats with Jimmy, glimpses of his past peek out that explain his present condition. He has seen dark places and done dark things. Things I believe he needs to keep saturated in an alcohol haze to prevent those dark memories from gaining too sharp a focus before his attention. Sometimes his vigilance slips and he reveals those memories to me. As he speaks the words he gets a distant look in his face as if he is trying to see past them and move the topic of conversation along. Out of courtesy I have never pressed for details and obligingly joke away his revelations.
What I do know is he used to be a courier. He took suitcases and sometimes cars filled with cocaine. The men he worked for were the villains made for movies. His employer’s particular perversion was to mark his associates with a knife scar on the cheek. Sometimes Jimmy has told stories about the violence he has seen but more often the topic comes to the money he had and wasted. The other fact I know is that he also used the contents of his deliveries. These reveries are a mixed bag. Like the money, the drugs brought lots of fun stories of excess and excitement but they ultimately left him in his present state. I have heard the full spectrum of drugs, guns and girls stories. There is one that is probably the most poignant, sad and bizarre. I’ll try to compose the fragments I remember Jimmy telling me.
Jimmy’s employers tolerated a degree of usage of the product of their trade, but there were certain rules which had to be abided without exception. Obviously any adulteration of what you were meant to be delivering was frowned upon but most importantly you were strictly forbidden from smoking it. Cocaine was part of the business; crack was for the fuck ups. I suppose the outlaws of society must also have their mores. It was this particular condition of employment that Jimmy fell foul of. Jimmy knew the consequences of his transgression would not be palatable as seeing punishments being meted out were part of his training. He was on call at all times. Therefore it was risky to smoke in his flat as at any point a man could enter the house with a job. He carefully hid any evidence. He hid his pipes with paranoid care and when he indulged he would blow the smoke behind the curtain into the open window in his back bedroom. This went on until some event, the details of which Jimmy could never bear to recount, made him decide to leave the country and clean himself up. He only took nothing but a backpack with some clothes and a cat carrier with his Persian cat also named Jimmy.
He found a hotel room, filled it with food and drink, and bunkered down, prepared to endure the cold turkey cure. Jimmy had assessed the experience as, “Horrible. Absolutely Horrible. A pain nothing like it.” It was worsened considerably by the fact that during Jimmy’s using days, his cat was in the habit of sitting in the window sill sniffing at the open window that Jimmy would expel his crack smoke. As a consequence the cat also became addicted and equally suffered this horrible pain Jimmy described. I have never seen regret and anguish so deeply etched in another human’s expression when Jimmy describe the cat’s yowling from withdraws and the fits that wrecked its little body causing its tongue to loll and its mouth to foam. Of all the things Jimmy blames himself for; it was this innocent cat suffering that haunts him. I suppose it is easy to analyse this and say it was the animal’s vocal sufferings that trigger memories of his own withdraw experience or that the animal is just the token which stands for the summation of his crimes for which he feels culpable. I don’t know but I do know that a few days after he told me how he strangled the cat to end its misery I found Jimmy in the worst state I had seen him. It was so bad that I paid the costs for a room in a men’s shelter where I knew he would be safe until he regained his balance.