Author: Nuit and Fourleaf Clover
Disclaimer: I certainly didn’t invent Steven Shaw or Joe Byrne of course. These are pure wild imaginings for which no one would pay me, even if I asked them. Apologies to David Storey for borrowing his difficult and emotionally restrained character. Joe I think is used to me taking liberties (ha!)
Warnings: Only sex and complete confusion
Summary: An opium dream takes Joe Byrne to places he couldn't have dreamed about. This idea was conceived by Fourleaf Clover who has written 2 parts of it- this introduction and the third part where Joe finds himself as Orlando at the stage door. Mine is where he finds himself in 1960’s Britain and the life of Steven Shaw, a character from David Storey’s In Celebration.
It is a weird premise for sure, but inspired by an overwhelming flood of feeling and gratitude at seeing flashes of ‘Joe’ walking around on that London stage, live and in person.
Some kind of Paradise
Eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath, and, to the guilty man, for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure from blood; and, to the proud man, a brief oblivion for Wrongs unredressed, and insults unavenged. – Thomas de Quincy, Confessions of an Opium Eater.
He does it, he says sheepishly, shifting his weight on the stony ground from one foot to the other and backing his spine to rub up against the spindly tree, because he’s always done it. His own words make him smile gently, half to himself, because he knows that’s a poor answer and he wants to explain, to be helpful. It’s just that these days sometimes it’s hard to make the words come out right. Perhaps, he ponders with a laugh that doesn’t quite hide the unease in his eyes, that’s a skill that rusts from disuse.
Just Ned and Dan and Steve, and what might as well be silence under the measureless bowl of sky, day after day. Not much in the way of words needed when it’s just about whether you live or die that day. As for those occasional moments of exhilaration - a gentler sun on your face; the final surge of a horse as it carries you out of the river; evading the traps one more time - aren’t these things always better treasured for being unspoken? Other times, maybe there’s Tom or the others, and then sitting around the fire, it’s all about ideas so grand that the words torrent out on an easy stream of whiskey and bravado until you hardly know any more what you truly believe. When you’re a boy, fists in your mother’s skirts, barely catching your breath in your haste to tell her everything, you find out from the harsh looks, the dismissive pushes, that talking about what you feel isn’t what is expected of you. By the time you sit in school, legs dangling over the bench, the fear of sharp words or even blows lowering your eyes to your slate, you’ve learned to choose very carefully what thoughts you share. Much later on, you find that women don’t always silence you. Soft and giving, shining for you until it’s like sitting in the warmth of a fire, they lull you into lowering your guard and maybe saying more than you meant to. Perhaps it’s no surprise that out here it’s almost a relief not to have to express anything very deep or meaningful.
Ah well. To start at the beginning, back then it was just something to do. Him and Aaron, just a pair of young larrikins, them and the Chinese they’d always kept company with. Sticky black nights oozing into empty days. Decisions to be made, realities to be faced, all made hazy and distant by the curls of smoke. He never cared much for it though, did Aaron. He thought it a fine enough waste of time and he didn’t bother so much after a bit. Just another way they drifted apart.
Not like that for you though. From the start it was like coming home, as if your very heart knew it straight off and begged to be allowed to stay. There’s pleasure to be had in company, pleasure in a good horse, a fine view, a good meal. Yet more pleasure - and, aye, the pleasing too - with women. But this was pleasure like no-one could ever have imagined. Celestial vision they called it, and it was that right enough. But it was more too. It was a feeling of peace and belonging, far beyond anything daydreaming or deep sleep ever brought. It’s different now though. The effect long-since diminished by custom, now it’s merely a way to grab blindly for the a fleeting connection with the rest of humanity; sinking for a few hours into the relief of feeling the way you once felt all the time. The stuff’s still easy enough to buy – Ned writes it off to overhead – but it has the mastery of you, body and soul.
You can’t describe it, he says finally, working hard with cupped hand and pursed lips to light a cigarette. Everyone finds his own dreams through it and if you aren’t about to try it for yourself, well, it’s a poor job anyone can do of conveying what it’s like. He can say what it’s not like more easily. With the brandy or the whiskey, he says, his hands doing the explaining when the words don’t, the fire builds slow at first, warming you inside until after a bit you can’t think straight and right there’s the welcome oblivion.
With the stuff, right off you see the sense in everything, the order of the world all clear out before you like being on top of the ranges on a bright day. Lying in the cold, barely sheltered from the drizzling rain, the horses shifting restlessly, earth pushing up the damp into your very bones, the blackness descends over you like a blanket, inviting sleep. There’s acceptance there, love even. No crying out for people to understand you, or you them, no cold, no exclusion, no fear in their eyes, no waiting hangman’s noose. There’s no outlawry in opium dreaming.
He scratches his thin beard and trying to make his eyes kind, he says that maybe it’s like swimming in the creek. You know, how the water closes over your head and there’s another world down there. Your eyes clear, and you can see things but they’re blurred. But imagine you just keep on going down, no worries about breathing, and your vision gets clearer and somehow your body seems less and less important. No sense of the infinity of hard ground, or the eternal rolling rhythm of a horse, just peace and your own mind with another place to explore…