Johnny’s story

Bryan Larkin as Johnny

Bryan Larkin as Johnny

“Must have been about  3 in the morning. I was spark out. The phone goes by the bed. I’d had a few beers, bit of a hangover coming on, so I was like – what, what? Gave me a fright. It’s never good news in the night, is it? And…

And it was him. Garbled like. Sobbing. But, basically, saying he was going to kill himself.

Wakened me right up. Then I thought it was a joke, but no… So I put on my gear, and Maria wakes, sits up and says – what is it? And I say – It’s Vince and she says – What? And I say – It’s nothing. But she… she looks, you know, and the bed looks warm and cosy and I’m thinking – sod this… and getting back into bed…

But, no, I think – I’ve got to go over. I put my shoes on. My hair’s sticking up and everything. I go out into the stairwell. It smells of piss or damp. I don’t like going into the close at night. Not since I got into an argy-bargy with that bam upstairs and he came back down and tried to malky me with a samurai sword – swear to god. You can’t really see it but there’s a scar there, on my eyebrow.

I remember everything about that night. Outside, it’s raining. Not a lot. Street smells clean. And empty. The street lamps are orange. There’s weeds in the gardens. And chip papers and stuff. I get into the car – a white Nissan rustbucket, not like Vince’s car. It won’t start. And I’m thinking, what if the police come along? Like, just when you don’t want them? Am I over the limit? Nah. Look like a burglar or something though.

So, the car starts. Radio doesn’t work. I wanted to get it fixed, but at the time I was potless. I’d fallen out with the gaffer on a job, and walked off the site, and didn’t have much work.

So, it starts and I’m driving over to his place. I always liked that area. Wish we could move there. And all the time I’m thinking this is insane. Go home.

So, I pull up at his place and press the buzzer. No answer. Ring his mobile. No answer. I’m getting agitated, angry. But eventually I try the door and it just opens – go upstairs. It’s quiet. I feel all… I don’t know – nervous. The stairwell smells of polish or something – it’s dry – my wet footprints on the stone steps. It’s well swept, and nice green tiles. I always liked the tiles.

At the top floor, his door is open. All the lights are on. In the lobby, the mirror is smashed, like someone’s punched it, and there’s blood on the wooden floor. And I can hear sounds from the kitchen – groans. And he’s lying on the kitchen floor. And there’s blood on the cream tiles. The cleaning lady keeps them nice. He doesn’t have a bird – lots of birds, but no bird. He keeps himself to himself. You never know what’s going on in his life, really.

And right away, I think someone’s stabbed him, you know, my brother, maybe cos of me – don’t know why.

So, I go over and it’s just blood from his hand – where he’s punched the mirror. And he looks at me and says – Johnny, help me. I want to die.

And he keeps saying it.

And I don’t know what to do. So I get him up, and I notice the oven door is open. And there’s a big kitchen knife on the worktop. And I’m thinking – fucksake. I’m scared of knives, after the samurai thing. And he’s talking – about leaving the house. About mum and dad, all sorts of stuff from way back, and I’m thinking that’s not true – I was there. So, we’re arguing, and he’s raking in the cupboard, and pulls out a big packet of paracetomol and starts eating them like he’s going to take them all – and I wrestle them off him, I mean, you can’t even kill yourself with paracetomol, can you?

And he wants to go into the attic and I’m talking him down. And sometimes he says something funny, and I laugh and he doesn’t. And he looks at me. And always out of the corner of my eye, there’s the kitchen knife, and I want to put it away, but don’t want to draw his attention to it.

I mean, this is Mr easy-ozy, mr happy-go-lucky, mr sail-though-life, normally. Got a long fuse. But I’ve always thought if he ever kicked off, I wouldn’t want to be around. And I’m thinking all sorts of stuff – about if I have to punch him, and when, and how hard. If he picks up the knife. Or phoning the police. Now that is fucking madness. Or just being home, and wishing it would all go away.

But talking to him is like nailing jelly. It’s like hours. Stopping him going out the door. Talking. Shouting, yelling. Humouring him. I’m amazed the neighbours don’t phone the cops. I’m knackered. And, eventually I’m like – suit yourself – if you want to go down the Clyde and jump in, on you go.
And that seems to calm him down. So I say we’ll sort it out in the morning and he should go to bed, and that kicks him off again. So I sort of manhandle him into his bedroom and leave him. Shut the door.

I go into the bathroom to wash my face. He’s got these poncey face-washes. And I want to laugh. But I start crying. It just comes over me, all of a sudden, and I feel so lost and lonely, and I wish mum was still here, and I remember how she died, and what she said to me before the end.

‘Look after your brother.’

I think she always knew. So I lay down on the bed in the spare room, and conk out. And I wake up suddenly, it’s light.

I go into his room to check on him. The bed is empty. Hasn’t been slept in. I’m shitting it. Where is he – what has he done?

But I go into the living room, and there he is, sitting on the couch, still dressed. The wreck of a man. Quiet. Like one of those towns in Florida after the hurricane has passed. And I say – You alright? And he says – Yeah.

And I said – you want a cup of tea. And he said, there’s no milk. But I made one anyway. And, now, any time I have tea without milk, it takes me right back.

So, then I say – what do you want to do? Should we go to the hospital? But he doesn’t want to go to the hospital. So, he’s got the internet and we find an emergency number for the doctor, phone it, but they won’t come out – want us to go there. Some fucking emergency service.

So we go down in my car. He’s quiet. And before we go in, he says – don’t tell anyone, eh? The doctor sees us – nice guy. Talks to me – asking me questions, like I know something. And he gives Vince a prescription, and it’s not like – bam – but near enough. He’s back, not quite his old self, but you know, the same guy. And that’s how it’s been. A bit up and down, but he’s bang on – sticking with it. I go round, help him out. We play golf. He’s changed. I think he’s a better man. Before we were just brothers but now, you know, we’re like real friends.

We never really talked about it, not for ages. Then Vince he just sort of accepted it – that’s just how it is. And now we can laugh about it. And, the thing is, life’s got better for me since. I don’t know why.

The doctor said it can happen to anyone, any time, but I think, you know, mum’s death and all that, really knocked him sideways.

So I dropped him home, and he wanted to be alone. And seemed fine. I went home, and Maria was still in bed. And I got back into bed and, you know, at that moment, I felt like the luckiest man alive.”

NB This is a fictionalised account, based on a number of real life interviews, devised to help the actors in the see me commercials get inside the skin of the character, and understand the kind of background history and emotional impact which mental health problems can have.