Exemption – Part One

“I have another interview tomorrow” I said to John. He was sat across from me.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. A call center.”

“Jesus. It’s come to that?”

“I know. I know.”

We were round at his house. His flatmate was out somewhere. I liked John but I found him sort of depressing. My flatmate Graham and I called him ‘The Mood Hoover’. He was downer man, no doubt about that. But a good guy. He served a purpose.

“Have you found anything?” I asked, looking up at him as I licked the Rizla and spun the joint up.

“Nah man. Haven’t been looking. What’s the point? I’m only going to find call centers.”

He just sat, slumped, on the couch, gazing at the TV. I tried not to look at it. But everywhere I looked there was something that depressed me. There was a coffee table between us in the middle of the small room. It was covered in shit. Dirty old plates with ketchup dried onto them. A mug that had a mouthful of tea left in it, the milk curdling and rising to the top of the brown liquid like ice caps. There were nightclub flyers with rectangles ripped off them strewn across the table, roached for the thousands of spliffs smoked in that room. I saw the bills from British Gas, the Glasgow City Council and Vodafone sitting on the magazine rack under the surface. His big bag of grass was sitting on top of the bills. There must have been five ounces sitting in there.

“There’s nothing out there” he said, looking at me after I lit the joint and leaned back.

“I know. It’s pretty fucking barren isn’t it?”

He nodded, watching the joint in my hands. I looked around the table for his ashtray. He watched me looking. He watched the joint looking.

“Just use one of the plates” he said. I looked hard at the crusty plate before leaning forward and flicking the ash onto it. I would have preferred to use my own hand. “I stopped looking a while back.”

“So how much are you getting on the dole?” I asked. I knew it couldn’t be bad if he could afford rent, weed and ketchup. Well, the weed paid for itself.

“Well it’s not just the dole. I get a hundred pound a week from them. I get council tax exemption. I get disability.”

“What? Disability? What the fuck’s wrong with you?” I asked, holding out the joint.

“I’ve got M.E.” he said, reaching out for the joint.

“M.E.?”

“It means I’m always tired.”

“Always stoned I think is what it means” I said with a laugh. I leaned back in the arm chair again. That weed was really strong. I could see how it could keep you out of the workplace. I felt like I was sinking into the chair. I tightened my grip on the arm rests.

“Naw man. I’m fuckin’ ill.”

“Yeah” I said looking back at the TV. There was an Xbox 360 under the TV. There were unboxed CDs spilt across the floor. I wondered how many disabled people in the UK had an Xbox 360 to numb their pain.

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