Chapter 28

The Snake

When people say that someone looks like they've seen a ghost, that's what Xero looks like when he comes to join us all at the table - hair stood on end, dishevelled appearance, face drained of blood. The rest of us are sitting at a round table on which stands a mountain of vital, healthy food, pleading to be devoured. We are being made to feel like truly honoured guests and we are revelling in the luxury. Someone, I can't remember who, comments on how ironic it is that on so many occasions in "the early days", Xero played to so few passers-by in the windswept Dortmund Square on the Headrow in the middle of Leeds. And here he is now, on the cusp of Great Things, at the Best Venue in the Known Universe here in downtown Dortmund. A discussion ensues about whether this is indeed Irony, or not.

Xero sits down and prepares to eat. Louis calls across to him for the pepper and Slingsby looks up at the ceiling. His mouth is wide open, his expression gormless. Everyone laughs at his antics. But his head stays facing upwards. We do a double take, each of us looking at the ceiling and at Xero before each and all, as one, registers that something is amiss.

Louis and I are first to him and we lay his alternately twitching and rigid, bull-like body out on the carpet. His frame is arched and taut, his mouth foaming slightly. Louis reaches into his mouth and removes Xero's false teeth, the two upper front teeth that make way for his mouthpiece when he surreptitiously removes them just before a gig.

I stroke his head, hearing Sally's words from just before we left. I am saying "It's OK Xero. It's going to be OK" and stroking his forehead. As if in an out of body experience, I see this whole scene from up near the ceiling.

We are all leaning over him, muttering reassuring words. Someone has called for an ambulance. Xero relaxes into a deep sleep, breathing normally and oblivious to the panic that has set in around him.


The ambulance arrives quite quickly, within a few minutes. By then Xero has woken up and tried to stand. He looks as groggy as a heavyweight boxer who's gone through fifteen rounds with Mohammed Ali and been pummelled throughout. He doesn't have a clue where he is, or what's happening. Louis goes with him in the back of the ambulance and we hear later that Xero had a second convulsion on the way to the Hospital.

With Xero tucked up in hospital, sedated and under observation, it was left to the rest of us to pack up the gear and put our heads down for the night. The folks at the venue made us feel welcome in their homes. Heinz and Suzi organised whatever material support we needed. I felt worse than useless. I didn't speak German, I had next to no money and I couldn't even drive. So much for being Managerial and in Control. I felt totally unprepared for such a turn of events. Across an abyss that opened up within me, I called out to each and every god I had ever heard of. I pleaded with them to preserve Xero's life.

Gene and Louis coped by erecting brave facades and making out that a minor hiccup had occurred. Of course, they were both desperately worried for their friend's well being, but they managed to keep up the repertoire of jokes. They tried to lighten the tension with witty remarks. I found myself worrying and fretting and finding it impossible to hide my fear-ridden, panic-stricken state.

©barbara christina wuellenweber

At around eleven the next morning we trooped to the hospital to, supposedly, pick up our mate.

"Maybe he's had an epileptic fit for the first time" ventured Louis. "Lots of people manage to live reasonably normal lives with epilepsy."

"He'll probably just have to take it a bit easy for a while, that's all - He'll be right" said Gene and everyone concurred.


When we arrived, he was still under heavy sedation and it didn't take us long to work out the seriousness of the words " INTENSIV STATION " on the doors to his ward. Within a few hours, he had been given a diagnosis. Tests had revealed a tumour in his brain the size of a golf ball. Xero faced up to this grim reality with an outwardly cheerful disposition. He really did have the heart of a lion.

"Maybe it will open up my cerebral cortex and whole new masterpieces will issue forth!" he pronounced, swinging a metaphorical punch at Death itself and knocking it to the ground, before throwing up in a bucket beside the bed.

                                                                                           © Denis Dalby

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