‘Are we on the train?’ Julius would say to me, over and again, sitting at the window of the flat in Kings Cross with nothing to see but bricks. ‘Is this the train?’
‘No Jules, you’re at home,’ I used to say. Weeks went by and still he’d ask me with increasing anxiety, ‘Am I on a train now?’ until eventually I began to say, ‘Yes darling. Yes, we’re on the train,’ later embellishing to try to find exactly what it was that would please him: ‘Yes, we are on the train. We’re off to Brighton for the day,’ and then, for whatever reason, Julius would close his eyes in satisfaction and lean his head back at last to sleep. The journey is all he seemed to crave. He never asked when we might arrive. Maybe he thought nobody could die on a train.
AZT wasn’t working for Julius. It either came too late for him or it didn’t agree with him or it simply wasn’t the miracle we’d hoped for. In fact, it seemed as if Julius became sicker the moment he started taking it. I would study the boxes of tablets which didn’t look that much different to his painkillers or antihistamines, always with frustration, rarely ever hope. One day I recognised those very same pill boxes sitting in the cabinet of a friend of ours, a friend who hadn’t told me, or perhaps told anyone, and I never mentioned it and he disappeared not long afterwards. I have no idea what happened to him. I never heard about a funeral.
Poor Julius was spared at least the horrid lesions that we’d all come to dread, but in the end even that might have meant less suffering for me than watching him lose his mind.
‘Are we on the train now?’
‘Yes, darling. We like our train trips, don’t we? Let’s have a little sleep until we get there.’
There were two other funerals on the same day as Julius’, both of them people we knew, organised by families who never bothered to find out if anyone else was being buried that day. They never knew who to invite in any case, we just heard on the grapevine and showed up there. They were horrified when people arrived looking even sicker than the boys they had buried. That was my 1980s anyway.
Greg Thorpe is a writer, artist and curator in Manchester, UK. He has been published in Best British Short Stories and runs an art/teaching project about the history of HIV and AIDS.
gregthorpe.eu | gregthorpe.contently.com