Vicious circle – a short story

The smell of fresh coffee fills the ampleness of the local community centre. Its bland, beige-painted brick walls are covered by different textures of children’s artwork – bright futures expressed on thin paper stuck to the wall by pieces of old Bostik. The comforting sound of an industrial fan contrasts with the faint snoring of one of the recovering addicts who has now dozed off. The group is huddled in old orange student chairs, forming a small, yet detached circle of people. Marie is engulfed in her sharing.

‘And that was the turning point. Up until then, I was the spitting image of innocence. No smoking. Drinking at special occasions only. Damn, I wouldn’t even eat deep-fried food. But I guess all these restrictions just kept on adding up. Life comes in chunks, and if you just keep on denying yourself little nibbles off it, you’re going to reach a boiling point. And that’s what happened at that party. I don’t know if it was the red wine – I wasn’t used to drinking back then. But yeah, all it took was that first step. And as soon as I took that leap, I understood how liberating it all was, how I’d been depriving myself of living, and since I had started, I saw no point in stopping! Or better, I couldn’t stop.’

The man who had been asleep wakes up, looking around in an uncomfortable daze. He coughs and crosses his arms on his belly, preparing himself for another nod. Marie goes on unfazed.

‘It was like seeing myself from an outside perspective, doing all the things I’d never see myself doing.’

Stephanie joins in approval.

‘And then came the self-loathing…’

Marie rejoices.

‘Exactly! When I finally woke up from that night, I was ashamed of myself. I’d always been the one criticizing the girl who did this, or did that… And that’s exactly what I’d become, and I hated myself for it. I guess that’s where it all spiralled outta control…’

Geoff, the bearded man in the hat who had been taking it all-in whilst staring into the distance, adds his two cents.

‘Addiction acts in weird ways.’

Michael can’t hide his excitement at the feedback and leans forward in his chair – its legs scrape on the gym floor – startling the sleepy man with the hanging gut. He says:

‘I feel like writing helps me process it. And your speech then Marie, my word, some amazing analogies you made there! We should record this!’

Marie raises her withered palms to her face.

‘My god, no way! These are my deepest secrets! How can you be entertained by all this?’

Michael’s eyes bulge in excitement as he scrapes his chair once more an inch closer to the centre of the circle. The sleepy man is unimpressed. Michael goes on:

‘Marie, I mean no disrespect, quite the opposite. I just find life fascinating ever since I discovered writing. It’s what’s gotten me out of the hole, and that is the whole point: drug addicts are seen as the bottom of society, with no contribution to the world whatsoever. Yet, here I am, a three-time published novelist who survived a sea of ecstasy!’

Silence ensues and Stephanie crosses her right leg over her left towards Michael. Geoff in the hat joins in.

‘I thought you were deep in heroin, not pills.’

‘Yes Geoff, I meant it lyrically. See, this is why I get up in the morning: meaning.’ He locks onto Stephanie’s attentive gaze.  ‘The myriad of ways of seeing the world. Marie’s speech just makes me want to write and show how us junkies – or recovering junkies, pardon me – can have a say in the world!’

Michael winks and smiles at Stephanie, who looks away.

‘Is that all that we are to you? Inspiration for your next novel?’ Marie asks, ghastly troubled.

Geoff resets the angle of his hat and calms the mood.

‘Remember everything we share in this room stays in this room.’

Michael shuffles back into his chair. Stephanie is entertained.

‘I’ll make sure you don’t leave either otherwise. You promised, Michael.’ she says.

Michael smiles at her and regains momentum.

‘Both interesting and scary at the same time, Steph.’ She grins. ‘You guys don’t understand. We are all subjects of a wider experiment.’

‘That’s enough for now, Michael.’

Geoff clears his throat and lets a much-needed pause linger. The blaring fan takes over for a beat or two.  

‘Who would like to go next?’

He looks around the room of crossed-arm onlookers. The man with the gut is asleep again.

‘I’ll go.’ Stephanie says, inching further in as Michael had done before. ‘I’ve been struggling now that the twins go to school every day. Making sure everything is spot-on used to be how I’d get my mind off things. And I swear, if it weren’t for the twins, I wouldn’t be here. But every time I’ve dropped them off and come back to that empty apartment, I just see no meaning in life. And this is just primary school, who knows what will happen once they decide to leave for good!’

Michael gets up for a refill of his coffee and Geoff regains control.

‘Steph, if you’ll allow me. It seems like you are struggling with keeping yourself busy outside of the twins. Now, we all know how the miracle of the birth of those two beautiful boys has helped you throughout the years, but there is more to life than motherhood. Have you considered going back on the dating scene?’

Michael sits back down and slurps on his polystyrene cup, holding himself from commenting.

‘God no! It was a monster of a man who introduced me to ice.’ Stephanie says. ‘My life would’ve turned out fine if I hadn’t met him! Why would I need another man?’

Michael slurps his coffee loudly and is now incapable of restraint.

‘You wouldn’t have had Jax and Cody if you hadn’t met him.’

Geoff isn’t happy.

‘Michael, please, refrain from making smart remarks. This is a space for confiding. Completely free of judgement.’

‘It’s only true! What about a woman then? Nothing wrong with that.’ Michael says, hiding behind his cup again.

Marie struggles in her chair and bites her lip. Stephanie barks back.

‘If you really knew me, as you claim to do so often, you’d know that our Lord and saviour does not approve of such obscenities. Come on, Mikey.’

Michael now leans back in rejoice.

‘As Marie said so herself, all it takes is that first step…’

He winks at Marie and her lip quivers in horror.

‘How dare you, you monster?’

Alright everybody, that’s enough!’ Geoff says.

The man in the corner wakes up and the hypnotising sound of the rotating fan takes over once more. Michael reads the room as if to understand if the meeting is over. Geoff sets his hat on his knee to wipe his forehead, revealing a long-gone hairline. The hat goes back on and he resumes.

‘So now, Michael, seeing that you are in such a talkative mood today, would you like to share?’

Michael leans forward once more and sets the now-empty cup down next to him.

‘I thought you’d never ask. Alright.’ He clears his throat. ‘So, I’ve been experimenting with my writing methods and inspirations, and it turns out that all of my past experiences with drugs are what lead to my most productive writing periods. But that has got me thinking. Is there inspiration in sobriety? Which made me look at writing, and in consequence at life, in a whole different way. I now find that a joint in the morning helps me…’

‘Michael!’ Geoff slaps his leg and takes his hat off again. He holds it with the authority of his right hand but struggles to know what to do with it. ‘Look around the room. We are all here because of drugs, and here you are suggesting more drugs as a solution for your lack of ideas? Do you listen to yourself?’

‘Come on, Geoff. You don’t really consider devil’s lettuce problematic, do you?’

Geoff puts his hat back on in discomfort.

‘That is beyond the point.’

‘Alright, alright. Do forgive me, everyone, I did go a bit off-script. But anyway, long story short, I’ve been reconsidering my options and now that I’ve embraced my former drug abuse, I’ve come to the conclusion that, yeah, I’m past this addiction and I’m keen on revisiting it.’ Marie gets up and the fan blares mechanically through the discomfort. ‘But not in an addictive way. And in answer to your question Geoff, no, I do not listen to myself until the actual words come out of my mouth. Doing so would be jeopardizing the expressive process.’

Geoff gets up and sets his hat on his chair.

‘Alright everyone, disregard Michael here for a second. Mike, seeing you are ready to put all the work we have done thus far behind you, I am going to ask you to leave now.’

‘What? What happened to “confiding free of judgement”?’

Michael gets up and walks towards the coffee station. Even the sleepy man is now awake, watching it all unfold. Michael has a long sip of his coffee and readdresses his audience.

‘You know what, I don’t need this. I am cured and I’m ready to start a new, fresh life. If anyone wants to join me you know where to find me. Anyone?’

He looks around the room and sets his eyes on Steph to finish his round of inquisitive gazes. She looks away.

‘No one? Ok. I’ll leave. Just know you’ll miss me around here!’

The door latch opens and Michael turns around one last time.

‘So long, suckers!’

The comforting sound of the silver fan takes over the room once more. Geoff exhales and sits down, the hat now back in position. Marie is thrilled with this conclusion.

‘OK.’ Geoff smiles at the circle, exhaling. ‘Now that we got that out of the way, who would like to go next? Steph, care to continue?’

Stephanie inches her chair forwards and stares at the glistening floor ahead. She grabs her bag, gets up and jogs out through the circle with a cheeky smile on her face. Geoff stands up in such a fuss that his hat falls back. Marie covers her mouth in horror.

‘Steph, don’t! It’s a sinking ship!’ Geoff yells out as she pushes the door latch down. ‘Remember the twins!’

Stephanie pops her head in one last time.

‘I’m just following your advice to go back into dating! Thanks, Geoffie!’

Geoff gets up and turns the industrial fan off. He picks up his hat and the man with the gut sets himself into position for a well-deserved rest. The roar of a V8 blasts from outside as Michael’s tyres screech in all their glory.

Geoff sits down.

‘Alright… Well, who would like to go next?’

(adapted from my play Vicious Circle)


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