Richard Bellworth wasn’t the kind of person to ordinarily worry about health and mortality. He was surprised then by how hard the news that he had just a day left to live hit him as he sat one dreary afternoon at his local doctors’ surgery in Rickmansworth, West London.
“You’re sure?” he pressed Dr Greene, an orange-bearded man of forty two who was wearing just the right kind of rehearsed blankness the situation required.
“I’m afraid I am, Richard. The tests were perfectly conclusive. Would you like to have a look at the scan?”
“But this can’t happen? People usually have months, years even. I’ve never heard of this situation outside of clichéd philosophical debate.”
“It is extraordinarily rare, Mr Bellworth. But it does happen. You might well have slightly more than twenty four hours. A day is just the closest approximation. Two days is possible but highly unlikely according to my interpretation of your results.”
Bellworth, who was bent over in his chair with his sweat-polished hands clasped tightly together, let his head flop forward dejectedly between his knees.
“I wish there were something I could give to you to slow it down, Richard,” the doctor continued. “I really do. But there is nothing I can prescribe other than the suggestion that you make the most of your remaining time. Please do this. Twenty four hours is more than the blinking of an eye.”
“What’s the point of living one more paltry day?” Bellworth countered sincerely, miserably. “I might as well end it now and spare myself the anxiety. Life is only of value in certain amounts.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised how much can be experienced in a day, Mr Bellworth. Look at the matter another way. Knowing the precise time of your death is unusually luxurious. I doubt it’s an advantage that will be provided to me.”
When Bellworth left the surgery that afternoon he pulled out his mobile and made a mental note of the time: 14:43. Give or take a few hours he would be dead by the same time the next day. He knew not how to absorb this notion. It was too big, too strange, too unexpected. He walked back to his apartment block in a state of dreamy thoughtfulness, a million sentiments and intentions wrestling in his soul. What’s the point of living one more paltry day? This question repeated in his hollowed-out imagination like a gunshot echoing in a cave.
On the way back to his housing block, Richard’s stride was interrupted by a short and stocky teenager in a black hoodie. The youth smiled at him and held out a gloved hand to display transparent baggies of white tablets and unevenly coloured powders.
“Any pills or lines for you today, sir?” the youth said in a sharp-edged cockney accent. “Something to take the edge off?”
Bellworth glanced into the child’s eyes through an empty frown. “Take the edge off what?” he returned.
The boy shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever’s making you look like that. You should see yourself. You look like you don’t give a fuck.”
Richard looked down at the drugs on offer. “What are these? What are the powders? Don’t use slang names. Use the chemical names.”
The boy was confused by this question, but duly explained the contents of each individual bag: cocaine, heroin, MDMA and amphetamine.
“How much for the lot?” Bellworth asked.
“For the lot?”
“Yes, for everything?”
“I don’t know,” the boy said, his frown deepening. “I’d say two hundred would probably cover it.”
Richard reached into his jacket and pulled out a brown-leather wallet. He handed the child all the loose notes inside it, which came to three hundred and fifty pounds.
“Have you done any before?” the boy asked handing over the drugs. “I wouldn’t combine them. Try to take it easy, yeah? Start small.”
In his apartment bedroom (he lived alone) Richard laid out the drugs on the counter and marked the identity of each substance with a post-it note lest he forget what the boy had said. He then fired up his laptop and searched for the appropriate doses for each drug. He also exercised google with additional enquiries like ‘What music goes well with heroin?” and “Good things to do on cocaine.”
When satisfied with his education Richard decided to begin his experiments with the cocaine, the effects of this substance being most familiar to him from films, books and the testimony of work acquaintances.
“Start small,” he muttered to himself, carving out a short line with his library card. Satisfied with the look of the poison to be consumed Richard then rolled a post-it note into a thin tube and snorted the powder up into his left nostril. The burning sensation from this administration was almost unbearable. He staggered backwards and squeezed his nose shut, confident that blood was about to issue from it.
And then it hit him. His dulled brain lit up in a thousand different places.
“Oh my,” he said out loud, steadying himself, his dopamine levels surging like German armies into once peaceful territories. His mood was quickly transfigured from a condition of confused depression to one of serene and perfect happiness. Fear disappeared. The sunlight pouring in through the window seemed to brighten by ten or more shades. His anxieties and shock from the diagnosis became small in the shadow of a new, invincible confidence. “Oh my.”
He sat down on his bed and looked across to his bedside table, bare except for his phone, some playing cards and a well-worn copy of the Book of Mormon, the last of which had never seemed so ridiculous, so ancient.
“This is incredible,” Richard whispered breathlessly as the heat from the sunlight warmed his back. “I’m incredible. This is the best thing ever.”
He went over to his laptop and made a music playlist on YouTube, including songs by the Garbage (Run Baby Run), Rolling Stones (Start Me Up), Pink Floyd (Interstellar Overdrive) and Frank Sinatra (The Best is Yet to Come).
Each track, played at the highest possible volume, made him swoon and smile like the embrace of a beautiful woman, a tall, bronzed Goddess from the Amazon, with thighs like tree trunks and a Christmas tree smile.
The dose steadily wore off. Richard’s mood lowered accordingly. His euphoria reduced to bubbling anger. “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” he asked himself aloud looking at his flushed face in the mirror. “What the fuck was I waiting for? This has been the first hour of my life I haven’t wasted.”
He took another line, slightly longer this time and logged into his online banking account. He had twenty thousand pounds available in his account, plus a two thousand pound overdraft. It would be enough.
Bellworth browsed the web for five-star hotels in central London and decided impulsively on the Marriot on West India Quay in Canary Wharf. Here, he booked a room for two nights for just over two thousand pounds. He packed his laptop and some other things into a trolley bag, taking care to conceal the drugs in a deep pocket in the inner lining, and left his apartment for the last time.
“Would you like to have your breakfast tomorrow in the restaurant or brought up to your room?” the receptionist asked Richard in the lobby of the Marriot. She was beautiful, Slavic, dirty-blonde, maybe little more than twenty years of age.
“I’d like it brought up to my room,” he said. “Please just leave it outside.”
The hotel room Bellworth entered was a lush mixture of wine-red and cream white. The bed was a double and took up about fifty percent of the floor space. Facing the headboard was a large plasma television and below this a neat little camphorwood desk with a leather-bedded ergonomic swing-chair. The whole east side of the room was a thick-paned window overlooking the Thames and the sun-kissed grey glass skyscrapers looming prettily the other side of it. The other wall was blank except for a pre-Raphaelite painting depicting sirens bathing seductively on the shores of a white-sanded Greek island.
Richard insufflated a third line of cocaine and logged onto the hotel’s wifi. There was something missing; something that had been missing for far too long; the entanglement of flesh, heavy breathing, perspiration. And never in his life had Bellworth felt so interested.
To this end, there was only one person he could think of contacting; Eliza Collins, a sex worker he had once tried, along with his church fellows, to convince to leave her amoral trade and convert to the LDS faith. She had refused, and hadn’t taken long in doing so, but in that brief time, she had captured a part of Bellworth’s imagination and possessed it still.
He found her website and clicked through several of her newest photos. She was still as radiant as he remembered her; sultry, tall, dark, mysterious, Hebraic. He phoned the advertised number. Her voice, which still bore the carvings of her homeland of Croatia, quickly replaced the dialling tone. Richard didn’t give his name, fearing she would remember it from their past encounters, and supplied only the address of the hotel and the room number. She promised to be there in under an hour.
Bellworth’s attention then turned to the other drugs in his trolley bag. The amount of cocaine he had snorted had left his mood balancing uncomfortably on a fine edge between euphoria and despair. He needed something more relaxing, he decided; something that would help him reflect on his situation more consistently. And he decided his best bet for this project was heroin.
Bellworth, a respectably squeamish soul, had no intention of injecting any substance into his veins, even on this, his last day. Instead, he prepared the powder the same way he had the cocaine, cutting up a (much smaller) line for intranasal administration.
The heroin seemed to take slightly longer to alter his perceptions than the cocaine, with a good few minutes passing before a curious, warming pleasure started tickling at the backs of his legs and across the back of his shoulders. The happiness provided by this substance was deep, holistic and extremely relaxing. After five minutes or so of blinking and stumbling in front of the television, Richard allowed his loosening body to flop backwards onto the neatly made bed and closed his eyes. His consciousness quickly degenerated into a fuzzy state of somnolent bliss in which any thought that occurred to his mind was created likewise in his perception. He thought his dreams and dreamt his thoughts. This was the greatest feeling he had every experienced, greater even than the cocaine, greater than sex, or any he had yet enjoyed. It lasted for half an hour or so, after which he eased smoothly back into regular perception.
Bellworth’s re-emergence from this heaven coincided perfectly with a light, feminine knock upon his room door. He straightened his shirt and ran a levelling palm over the bed he had worried. He began to feel anxious. How would she react? Another knock sounded, a louder, more impatient one this time. He opened the door.
“Hi,” Bellworth smiled at the girl, who was dressed casually in jeans and a tight punk t-shirt. He expected this of her. She always wore such clothes.
“Shall I come in?” she answered, frowning suspiciously as she studied his face.
“Yes,” he answered promptly and moved aside to allow her to pass. “I’m not sure if you remember me, Eliza,” he remarked having closed the door behind her.
“I do,” Eliza replied casually, sitting down on the bed where Richard had just lain.
“Really? You don’t seem very surprised. I would have thought the circumstances of our prior meetings would make this one seem quite odd to you.”
She laughed. “You’re all hypocrites, Richard.”
“You remember my name?”
“How could I forget it? You and your friends practically stalked me for a period. Don’t you remember yourself? So, tell me, why are you now enslaved to the temptations of the world? You seemed quite into your shit back then.”
Richard looked away from her. “It’ll be hard for you to believe this, Eliza. But I’ve received some unwelcome news about my health. According to the results of a scan I have little more than twenty four hours to live.”
“Right,” she replied sarcastically.
“It’s true, Eliza. I have no reason to lie to you. I found it hard to believe as well. But there we are. My number has been called.”
“Well, if that’s true, shouldn’t you be preparing for your journey to heaven? Why throw it all away now? Isn’t this a major spiritual faux pas? What we’re about to do, I mean. And don’t you have a wife for this? I thought Mormons were married off a few days after the baptism.”
“I did marry, Eliza. But I don’t have a wife now. Let’s not talk about that now. The only thing you need to know is that I’m living the last day of my life.”
“I accept that, Richard. But what I’m pointing out is that you surely shouldn’t be sinning on this day of all days. I don’t want to talk myself out of three hundred pounds, but it does seem a little odd. Explain it to me. There’s time. We have a full hour.”
Richard sat down next to Eliza on the bed. “I lost my faith some time ago. That’s why I’m no longer with Linda. Linda was my wife’s name.”
“I could have probably worked that out.”
“She’s still a part of the church. It was me who suggested the divorce. She didn’t want to go through with it. I insisted.”
“And now, what, you’re making up for lost time?”
“What’s the most disgusting thing a client has asked you to do?”
He repeated the question.
“Why do you ask?”
“I haven’t the time to explain everything today, Eliza. Please just tell me.”
Eliza took a moment to think the question through. “The most disgusting thing? That’s quite difficult.”
“What’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
“The first thing? The first thing is that bloke who asked me to pee on him. But there are probably worse things my memory is supressing for my own sake.”
And with that Richard stood bolt upright from the bed. “Pee on me, Eliza,” he ordered confidently. “Money is no object.”
He rushed over to his trolley bag and took out the packet containing MDMA.
“Pee on you? You’re serious?”
Richard loaded a rounded spoonful of the powder and gulped it in one. “Perfectly serious,” he answered turning back to face her. “It sounds delightful. Are you able to go at the moment, or do you need to have a drink?”
Eliza shrugged, still stuck in a state of bemused astonishment. “I had a coke an hour ago.”
“So did I,” Richard laughed.
“Really? Well, I did, too. I think I can probably go in about ten minutes or so.”
“Excellent,” Richard declared clasping his hands together with a loud clap. “That’s excellent. We’ll wait until then, then.”
“Why did you lose your faith?”
“I’d really rather not discuss that, Eliza. I’m feeling very up. The past is something of a downer.”
“What did you take over there?”
“Over there?” Bellworth pointed to the table. “That was MDMA, which is ecstasy, isn’t it?”
“How would I know?”
“I don’t know. I just thought you might.”
“Because of my profession?” Eliza frowned. “Because we’re all on drugs?”
“No. That’s not what I meant.”
“Do you know what I do when I’m not working?”
“No. But really, Eliza, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I listen to Kate Bush and I garden. I grow flowers in the garden behind my house. Just because my job isn’t boring doesn’t mean I’m not. You see, this is what you and your friends couldn’t understand. You saw me as the polar opposite of your wholesome little sect. But I’m probably more Mormon than you in some ways.”
“You almost certainly are now, Eliza.”
“But even back then I could see past the dazzle of your teeth. You couldn’t understand that I was content. You didn’t want me to be content and healthy and happy. It didn’t fit with your worldview. You wanted me to be on the streets looking for my next fix of smack. I’ve never even smoked weed.”
The MDMA was beginning to take effect in Richard’s brain. His mood was rising rapidly back up to the heady plateaus of his cocaine doses. But it was very different kind of euphoria to that produced by either previous chemical. It was more meaningful, more emotional, tinged with sadness.
“You’ve lived more than I have, Eliza,” he slurred with drivelling affection. “You’re wise beyond your years. I’ve wasted everything. I’ve thrown away every opportunity. I lived for the day after tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow never came. It never comes.”
“And now you’re squeezing everything into twenty-four hours? I don’t think I have that much pee.”
They shared a laugh together. Richard felt a connection that wasn’t there. Eliza sensed her mistake and so tried to get things quickly back on track.
“OK, Richard,” she said, pulling off her skirt and pants, exposing long, perfect legs to Richard’s keenly charged attention. “Lie down in the bathroom. I’m ready to go.”
They went into the bathroom wherein Richard lay down flat, Eliza stood astride him, his face more or less directly beneath her. She allowed a stream of warm yellow urine to pour from her body onto his face and into his open mouth.
“This tastes of more than you realise!” he cried as the yellow-gold liquid splashed and splintered upon impact with his lips. “This is what I could have had! This is youth! You are so much wiser than I! Never stop, Eliza! Never stop! I repent! I repent madly! Go forward into Soho. Go forward and be the happiest you can be!”
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