by Jay Merill
The stress levels he was facing now were unendurable. He didn’t know how he carried on. He’d forced himself to go from day to day and not think about a bigger picture, yet the world demanded that you did. You were supposed to prepare for the future, have a Plan B, take into account what would happen if.…. you were to divorce, die, lose your mind. There were just his two feet and the feel of the ground beneath them as they hit it one after another. Trev felt it was some kind of an achievement to be in touch this far.
What had happened to him was: He had got divorced, lost his job, become homeless. He hadn’t died or lost his mind — yet. The divorce had left him feeling shaky. He’d developed asthma. He might draw in air, in the usual way, but it didn’t reach him. Losing the job was even less expected. Except job-loss was the story of the age — he knew he wasn’t the only one. Trev sat day after day writing out job applications. Or went to the Job Centre where the employees treated you like a supplicant. Trev felt exasperated then depressed. He thought of the phrase, ‘Down and out’. Thought of Orwell. He began to wheeze.
Things got worse. He’d told the landlord of his temporary setback. Something would turn up, he was sure of it. His savings ran out but he was certain Housing Benefits would have processed his claim by the end of the month. After all four months had gone by since he’d
applied. They said the more he asked, the slower things would be. Would only cause delay.
He said he needed to get the benefit by the end of the month; that he was being forced into homelessness. He went to a Law Centre who wrote a letter; went to his MP who asked him if he’d voted for her; said complacently, ‘These are difficult times.’
He was evicted. Selling everything on E-bay he bought a cheap car, stowed back-packs in the boot, his toothbrush in the front compartment. Trev, a man who thought of presentation, even in awkward circumstances, didn’t want to let himself go. Had cash in his pocket for coffee in the morning, breakfast in a café. That first night of homelessness he felt light hearted.
Trev put his name on Housing Association lists, sat in the public library — the one that hadn’t closed down — did more job applications. He said at the housing office, he was homeless because they hadn’t processed his claim. He’d paid in to the system for eighteen years. Said all this quietly, politely, for that was Trev’s way. But he could hardly believe he was human any more, hardly picture being real. It was a Kafkaesqe nightmare. He couldn’t breathe.
Ten months now and still his benefits hadn’t been processed, his Unfair Dismissal claim hadn’t gone to the Tribunal. He had to get rid of the car. What next? He’d arrived at the point where he couldn’t imagine a next. Trev sloped along winter streets looking for somewhere to sleep. In central London there were many like himself. He passed vastly expensive flats kept empty by owners who didn’t even live there; passed overcrowded high-rises, smelt the penury; said to himself, ‘What a world.’ Thought of Zola’s ‘Fats and Thins’. Those relatively few who were growing fatter and those multitudes whose daily lot was thinning them down to nothing; thought of the word, Savage.
It’s a year now since Trev became homeless. He sleeps in a niche in the wall of Waterloo Station. Tonight it’s raining hard. His cardboard sleeping-base is soaked. Hot air blows through the grating of a croissant-shop. He loses himself in the wafting smell. Thinks of Dickens and Joe-the-Crossing-Sweeper. The word Bleak comes readily to mind.
Thinks of the fat-cats sleeping in comfy beds or partying. What could they understand about anything he’s going through? He thinks of Atwood’s dystopian Oryx and Crake, with its sealed-off compounds and mass of scavengers roaming outside the gates. Thinks of Jack London’s People of the Abyss; wonders if anything has really changed.
Note: This story originally appeared in Night Train, in September, 2008.
I wrote the story ‘Trev’ in a state of fury and distress. A close friend of mine who was ill at the time, had recently become homeless through no fault of his own and received no help. ‘Trev’ is an entirely fictional character but the thoughts and circumstances in the story reflect something of this situation. ‘Trev’ was written fairly quickly and I sent it off to The Big Issue, a well known journal in the UK on homelessness. They decided to publish it. This was followed by my mini series titled ‘Trev’s Friends’, in which I tell the stories of four other homeless fictional characters — ‘Adie’, ‘Cooper’, ‘Rue’, and ‘Wendy’. Here is a link to these stories: http://www.bigissue.com/features/2789/memories-me
Fiction by Jay Merill is forthcoming in 3AM Magazine, Epiphany and Prairie Schooner. Stories have appeared recently in Apeiron Review, Blue Lake Review, Citron Review, Corium, Eunoia Review, Foliate Oak, Literary Orphans, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork, Wigleaf and other great publications. Jay has 2 short story collections published by Salt and is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. She lives in London UK and is currently Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. http://www.womeninpublishing.org.uk/writer-in-residence-jay-merrill/
FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)
Change seems essential for narrative, so a story that ends with the possibility of nothing changing seems especially bleak, doesn’t it?