CHAINED • by David R. Gilbert

I look down at my arm. I cut it. It bleeds. It’s mine. I look into the mirror. A familiar stranger looks back at me through the glass.

Rock star — a name I’ve carried with me for some time. Is this it?

“Where are you?”  my manager, Jimmy, calls to me from behind the locked door.

The blood is trickling down my arm and off my finger tips, gently splashing onto the tiled floor. I hold my arm and squeeze the open wound. The pain is real.

The pain.

“Get over here, you little bastard,” he says as he removes his belt.

I abide. He strikes. I cry. He speaks.

“You’ve brought this on yourself.”

Later, I go to him. He’s sat in his chair, a half empty bottle of whiskey at his side. I say I’m sorry. He looks through me. He talks about my sister.

“Cassie would have been eight today.” he says, and looks over at the picture of his daughter on the mantelpiece. “There’s no good left in this world, boy.” He drinks. “We’re all going to hell.”

“Hurry up in there,” Jimmy says. ” You’re on in twenty minutes.”

I hear the roar of the crowd. They expect. I split the powder and take a line. The light brightens and the sound of the bathroom fan becomes clearer and sharper. He bangs on the door. I open it.

“What the hell have you done?” He grabs me by the arm. The blood is bright and brilliant against my pale skin. My nose is burning.

My nose is burning.

I pick it up and play and it feels different. I write the words and it feels different. The sun comes up and I fall asleep. I wake in the afternoon and the feeling’s gone. I split a line and start again.

At the hospital there are people everywhere and they stare. No one sees me.

“This is all we need,” he says. “What were you thinking?”

“He’s dead.” I say. The words linger.

They stitch my wounds and we leave. He drives and talks, I sit and listen. He says that he understands my pain, but I shouldn’t have done what I done. He says this could finish me.

“We’re all going to hell,” I tell him and fall asleep. I dream of Cassie and Father together in brilliant light.

“Wake up… Get dressed… We’re celebrating… A masterpiece, that’s what they’re calling it. 500,000 units… Gold.”

 We drive to the bar and everyone’s there. We drink. We dance. I see her and she sees me. She sees me. I walk her home. The lights go out. We fall asleep in each other’s arms. I wake in the night and the moon is full and illuminated. I stand before it, naked and true. I take a line and create another masterpiece.

“I love you,” she says.

I tell her everything: Cassie, Father, the beatings. She hates him. I say it wasn’t his fault. She says it wasn’t my fault either. 

“Wake up…Look at this.” Jimmy hands me the newspaper. It’s morning. “They’re saying you’re finished… It’s over… I’m leaving.”

“I’m leaving.”

“Please don’t.”  I’m suffocating. She’s crying.

“I can’t take this anymore. Goodbye.” She leaves me.

The loneliness grows inside. It feels familiar. I take a line, it numbs the pain. The pain returns. I take a pill; the pain subsides and then returns. I push the needle into my arm and a wave washes over me and drowns my pain. The tide recedes and leaves something behind. I feel numb.

My name is David. I am an addict.

They welcome me. I push them away.

I can’t take this anymore.

The walls are screaming. Insects scurry across my pillow. I lie on a bed of razors. A face appears and touches my forehead. The room is on fire. I see the devil and he sees me. I scream. My voice is lost in the flames.

You’re going to be all right.

I’m alone amongst these people.

Jimmy leaves me at the hotel. I’m alone and numb. I cut myself. I feel something, it’s real… tangible. I cut myself again, deeper. The pain grows then slowly dissipates. I slip into the darkness and try to forget. But I remember. I remember sitting with my mother and father when we were all together. I remember Cassie’s eyes and his smile when he looked at her. I remember her in those last days when she was the most sick, yet her eyes still sparkled. I remember them lowering her tiny coffin into the ground. I remember the drinking and the shouting and the beating and my mother leaving and me staying; and I should have hated him but he was broken and he was my father, and he needed me. Now I am here and here is nothing. Here is death. I let life slip through my fingers and watch it as it falls into the abyss with Me, or I, or Was, or Tomorrow, or Yesterday; and none of that meaning anything in the end. I’m neither alone, nor loved, nor hated, nor loathed; I am a memory of what once was. I am gone.

“Wake up.”

The pain returns. I’m here. There are many people and many machines. I lie on the bed.

“I thought you were…” She trails off. She’s crying. Her face is familiar amongst the other strangers. She touches my hand. I remember. I look into her eyes. I see her and she sees me. She tells me she came as soon as she heard.

“He’s gone,” I say.

“I know,” she says, and holds my hand.

“He’s all I had.”

“You have me,” she says. A single tear rolls down her cheek. “I’m sorry.”

I tell her I’m sorry and she kisses me. We make promises to each other. We start over.

And now I’m here, and here is life. Tomorrow is uncertain, ambiguous and unknown; but I walk towards it, and dare to hope.


David R. Gilbert lives in Coventry, England, where he spends most of his time reading, writing and time travelling. He is a father of two beautiful boys who inspire and infuriate him in equal measures.


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