New Day Rising
I don't remember much about those days. Bits
and pieces, sure. Wisps, I guess you could say.
But not really complete things. That thing you
hear about lapses in memory, blackouts, all of that's true. I was blacked out for days at a time. That whole period was one big blackout. So you'll forgive me if my memory's a bit fuzzy. I didn't know the stuff we were putting in our arms was ending up in our brains and turning them to applesauce, or else I wouldn't have kept doing it. Ah, that's probably not fair. Knowing who I was back then, if I had known, I probably would have doubled down.
So like I said, I don't remember much about those days. But I remember the guys. I couldn't forget those guys even if I tried, which I have before, believe me. There were a bunch of people in our fucked up fake family, but I guess the main guys you would count was myself, Johnny Boy, Hatch and Boomer. There were always others running around and weaving in and out and getting clean and falling off again, but we four were pretty much the regulars. I loved those guys. Which was a bit weird because Johnny Boy wasn't a guy at all. Johnny Boy was what Joan asked us to call her, saying she preferred to be thought of as a man. I never really understood that. I would prefer to be thought of as a millionaire but that doesn't make it true, you know what I'm saying? Just because she wanted us to think of her as a man didn't magically make her one, you can't get what you want just by closing your eyes and wishing real hard, or else we all would have been clean. Although she was so small and impish she did actually look like a little boy. I always thought Peter Pan would have suited her better than Johnny Boy, but the way she would introduce herself, her real self, making her voice lower than it normally went and stretching out her name real thick, Joooaaaaaaanie, it sounded almost like Johnny, hence, the name. Wouldn't have been my first pick, but it stuck.
She stuck, too. Hung around for years. Always knew just how much she could push or swallow before crossing the line. Knew her body inside and out, I guess from studying it so much, feeling like it didn't really belong to her. Feeling like she was just keeping it warm for someone else. Used to burn herself with cigarettes on her shoulders and her stomach, I remember that, the way those little brown scars looked on the odd day she wore a tank top or something that wasn't just a sexless square. I always thought she would have made a cute petite girl if she tried, instead of pretending to be a boy. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't my type of girl, I prefer a more classic-style lady, shall we say. I went to get a cup of coffee the other day and said I wanted a “tall blonde” and the guy behind me said “don't we all” and I just laughed and laughed. I mean it, I laughed so hard my nose started bleeding, it was a great joke. True, too. But Johnny Boy didn't look nothing like that, and she wouldn't have wanted to, either. She didn't identify much with the size and shape of the body she had been born into, but she knew how to push that body as close to the edge as she could without falling over.
So the first time that fucking new dealer Edoardo ever came around our place, we were all coming down from a fucking crazy night. Hatch had locked himself in the bathroom and now and then we would forget about him, forget he was ever one of us, forget we ever knew anything about him, until every couple of minutes we would hear him running the faucet or flushing the toilet or screaming at the top of his lungs and bringing himself back to the forefront. At some point in the night Johnny Boy heard a huge crack and something like glass shattering and then screaming, but I was too zonked out to have heard any of it. I was lying upside down draping off of the couch, with my legs stretched up against the back wall and my arms dangling down and my head a couple of inches off the floor, just sitting there, letting the blood pool down into my head feeling like it was something entirely new I was trying out.
Did you hear that, Johnny Boy asked me, and I asked hear what, no, hear what, and she told me Hatch had busted up his hand on the mirror again and I took her word for it. I told her to shush up and we sat completely still and quiet for a moment, listening. I guess I heard something like whimpering or moaning coming from the bathroom, soft, though, so I couldn't really be sure, and then the usual turning-on-and-turning-off of the faucet and the hum of the bathroom fan. The usual noises as Hatch tried to regain his bearings after whatever-the-fuck he always did when he locked himself up in there.
Think he's okay, Johnny Boy asked me, and I closed my eyes and said no, none of us were okay. And I didn't mean it in any kind of metaphoric or karmic sense right then, I didn't have that kind of foresight, I just meant that it had been like three hours since Boomer left to get us more drugs and we still hadn't heard back from him and we still didn't have more drugs and Hatch was doing god-knows-what to the bathroom and what-the-fuck were we supposed to do in the meantime but wait it out and try not to fall asleep.
And as I was saying that, I swear to god, Boomer pushed in the door, almost snapped it off its hinges as he just forced his way through, flapping two small bags of greyish white powder in each hand like he was a hummingbird. He had this smug fucking I-am-the-greatest shit-eating grin on his face before he pointed to Johnny Boy on the far end of the couch and told her in that booming voice of his to rinse off those needles, honey, because Papa B had come through in the clutch. And it wasn't until I regained my bearings and got my wits about me that I saw he hadn't come back alone.
Boomer was always bringing new people around to the apartment. To be honest, it kind of cramped our style, always having these strangers and weirdos (and keep in mind this is me calling them weirdos, so they were some messed up weirdos) running through our business, but mostly we didn't mind because he was the one who always got the drugs. Boomer had the connections, see. He knew people and knew how to meet new people, which the rest of us were shit at. I mean try it out, try to picture it. Hello, I'm Reeko and this is Johnny Boy and Hatch and we're three scrawny lanky fucking strung-out junkies, would you like to become our friend and maybe down the road sell us some drugs? Hell no. But Boomer was good at that kind of stuff. He was always meeting new people and bringing new people around the den.
Who's the wop, I asked, melting off of the couch and rolling myself sideways in an off-kilter somersault until I was sitting Indian-style right in front of Johnny Boy's legs. I leaned back and propped my back up against them, and she dug her knees into my back, the tight knobs pushing into my shoulder blades, in a way that she wanted to hurt but actually felt kind of nice, and I knew she would let me sit there touching her. Once I had situated myself up against her knees I turned my attention to the new guy and looked him over, figuring if he was anything like Boomer's usual finds we'd be seeing him around for the next couple of months before he up-and-disappeared without a trace, like everybody we get close to does.
He was a short skinny Italian guy with the nicest calves you ever saw. I'm not usually one to pay attention to those kinds of things, not on other guys at least, but his were something else. He was a semiprofessional soccer player, I later learned, which made sense, you know, running around all day long for hours on end, of course you would wind up with calves like that. But they were something else. And he was always dressed in these real fancy clothes, not beat-you-over-the-head-with-it fancy but practical fancy. High-quality fabric and name brands and stuff like that. He carried himself like a businessman. But at first impression he seemed like an okay guy, all things considered. After a couple months we fell into a routine and he became one of our trusted guys. Always brought the good stuff, always had his beeper on, always rolled up within an hour or two, which may not sound like a lot, but you don't know what it's like when it's 10 in the morning and you're crashing from the night before and if you go to sleep you'll die and you need to score that minute, right that fucking minute, and having that peace-of-mind, that certainty of knowing exactly who you could call for a door-delivery to all parts of the city, man, he was worth every penny. Boomer had found us our guardian angel.
My name is Edoardo, he said, stopped in his tracks and staring right at me. I'll let the first one slide but don't you ever call me a wop again, you fucking junkie, he said, in a pissed but calm, level voice, like this was par for the course, stepping into the center of the room like he owned the place. Which, honestly, he might as well have, seeing as he had what we needed. You guys might not know, you probably don't know what it's like. That kind of dependency. It changes your very body chemistry. We were junkies. We couldn't peel ourselves up off the floor in the morning. Shooting that stuff was our day job, we didn't have any other responsibilities, we cleared our schedules and tied off and went off the grid for eight or twelve hours before we would need to score again, and when we were out, we were fucking out, and it took all of our focus and concentration, not to mention our money, to get back in. So, yeah, Edoardo was holding all the cards. And I didn't like feeling helpless, feeling like I was a junkie even though I knew I was, but I know I would have done anything to get those bags from him.
The only currency a junkie understands is smack. Who has it, who wants it, who can get it at any time of the day. Even real, honest-to-god money is a kind of fake currency, a placeholder until you can trade it in for some more dope. Guys like Edoardo owned us, and we knew it, and for the most part we were cool with it because eventually we all wound up on the floor with a belt tied around our arms, so we were cool with it. When a lowlife scumbag sonofamotherfucker pusher like Edoardo stormed into the room and asked you where the rig was, he would usually cut himself a share of what he was selling to you, and you just smiled and nodded and took it bent over because if you raised any fuss he was liable to walk out and take the product with him, so you usually just showed him where your needles and spoons were and thanked the kind man for coming around. So you can forgive my asking Edoardo where he would like to sit to tie off, bending my knees back to my right in an attempt to partition off and reserve the space in front of Johnny Boy's legs dangling off the couch. That space, against those knees, was mine.
I'm not fucking around, Edoardo said, steel-voiced and cold, staring right through my eyes and into the blackness I'm sure was inside of me back then.
Whoa, hey man, I said, putting my arms up in front of my face and turning away from the beating I thought was coming.
Fuck you, he said, I'm not fucking around. I turned to look at Johnny Boy again, and she had one of her sleeves rolled up above the elbow and she was rubbing her arm and making it red and getting it ready. I heard Boomer rummaging around the shelves in the kitchen, and then I heard a loud snapping noise, and then a series of crashes, stacked plates plummeting off a shelf onto the floor, and Boomer's god-fucking-damnit son-of-a-bitch yelling punctuated by a syncopated hopping noise, and even though I couldn't see him I could picture him clear as day hopping around the floor on one foot, trying not to stomp down on any more broken glass. I knew in his strength that Boomer had accidentally ripped the entire cabinetry off of the wall and sent it crashing to the floor, and I knew this because he had done the exact same thing multiple times before. Boomer never really learned his own strength.
I never did like Boomer much, breaking our plates and ripping the cabinets off the wall and just generally inhabiting the apartment like a bull in a china shop. That kind of behavior can grate on your nerves. He was a beast of a man, over six feet tall. Close to three hundred pounds, with some muscle there under the fat, or maybe on top of it, I don't really know where the muscle rests on a body. But trust me when I tell you he was huge. And he embraced it, he was a cuddly bear of a guy. Real affectionate. Real showy with his affection, liked to wrap you up in a great big hug and squeeze the life outta you, and he liked to do this in front of everybody, like he needed them to understand he was a nice guy despite his frame. When he was lit he sometimes forgot his own strength and might give you a playful slap on the cheek followed by a real wallop, just a vicious smack across your jaw. After two or three good smacks to your jaw, after he beat you, Boomer used to take your head with both of his hands and pull you in to his chest and start mussing up your hair, like you were his kid, gnawing on your ear and making fake chomping noises before pushing your face back away from him like it was a beach ball, often with enough force to smack it against the floor. He liked to touch. I don't know if it was because of his size or because he grew up in the state system or whatever the fuck, but he liked to touch, a real person-to-person connection.
Just as the plates were crashing to the floor, the door to the bathroom burst open and our third roommate took a superhero step into the doorframe, blood-stained shaving cream dripping off of his bony chest and power ranger bandaids wrapped around every goddamn one of his fingers, and called in his singsong voice, DID SOMEBODY SAY DRUUUGGGGSSSS? before leaping out of the bathroom and bounding toward us in the living room like a gorilla, bent over at the waist and pulling the ground underneath him with his gnarled, bandaged hands.
Who the fuck is that? Edoardo asked.
Him? That's Hatch, Johnny Boy said, following the blur of motion with her head. Hatch was a bit notorious in some of the other circles around the city. Known for doing some pretty fucked-up things. Story went he was strung out one night a few years ago and was wigging out and started fighting everybody around him, as we all do from time to time. Story goes, though, he pulled a hatchet out from somewhere, had a fucking hatchet tucked into the back of his jeans or some crazy shit like that, and starts swinging it around like an Indian, trying to slice up the air in front of him. Eventually he looks like he wears himself out a bit and one of his crew comes up to him to try to talk him down and get the hatchet out of his hands when he goes off again and just slams it down into the guy's face, just buries it down to the fucking hilt in the guy's brain, snapping the handle off when he tried to yank it back out. Nobody really knows if it's true or not, but nobody ever called him Christopher after that. He was Hatch. Self-proclaimed. Hatch it was.
Hatch bounded up to me curled up on the floor and hitched his right leg up and placed it up on the arm of the couch, near Johnny Boy, so that he was straddling me. Before I could push him away from me, before I could even get a word out of my mouth, he began pelvic thrusting, rocking his hips forward and backward and and making exaggerated grunting noises with his hands laced behind his head. I put mine up in front of my face and turned my head to the side, but he used my hands as a target now and began thrusting even farther, until I felt the scratchy rough fabric of his pants slapping against my palm. Johnny Boy looked up from the couch, smiled at Hatch like it was good to see him again, then went back to getting her arm ready. IS THAT HATCH, Boomer yelled from the kitchen, and I heard some light tinkling as if he were dancing around whatever dishes and cups now lay broken on the floor. He peeked his head around the doorframe, and Hatch thrust a bandaged finger right at him, still thrusting and grunting at my face.
I used the momentary lapse in Hatch's concentration to push him off of me, my hands almost sinking into and through his soft, thin thighs, like pushing through a harp's strings, careful not to break his frail frame. After a moment or two he stepped down off of the sofa and stared down at me on the floor. Thanks for the quickie, Reeko, he yelled, and winked his eye shut and clicked his tongue in his mouth and pointed a finger gun at me, and I remember thinking you smarmy son-of-a-bitch, just one of those gestures would have been alright, but all three of them? Come the fuck on.
So anyway, Hatch lifted the finger he was pointing at me up to Johnny Boy and then slowly pivoted around in his spot behind him, a full 180 degrees, keeping his arm and his pointer finger out straight in front of him like one of those water spigots that water the grass, just pivoting on his bare feet in a long, slow circle until the bandaged finger was pointing right at Edoardo in the doorframe.
And who the fuck is this? Hatch asked, tossing his head backwards and asking me and Johnny Boy on the couch but keeping himself faced forward.
Jesus Christ, Edoardo said, I don't have time for this, then shifted his briefcase to his other hand and stretched his arm out of his sportcoat, so that he uncovered his wristwatch in one fluid motion, and I remember thinking, man, you know, that's one hell of a move, that arm-shake-watch-reveal. Some guys just have that innate in them, that bodily awareness that comes from wearing a big expensive watch on their fat wrist all day long, just shaking it out of their sport coat and checking it and shaking it back in. Who did I know who owned a watch like that? Who the fuck owned a sportcoat, for that matter? I could barely keep my hospital bands around my wrist, it was so skinny. They kept slipping off, the hospital had to print them on the special double-sided sticky paper they used for the anorexics in the ward next to ours. A watch like that would have snapped my wrist back in half.
You got that? Edoardo said. My words making it through your fucking doped-up cracked-out skull? he asked, tapping into his temple with his pointer finger so hard I could hear the dull thud from my spot on the floor, like a woodpecker bashing his brains in against a stump.
Whoa, whoa, chill, Hatch said, stretching the last word out with his hands up in front of his chest like chiiiilllll, I didn't mean nothing by it. He bent over and picked up one of the dirty shirts lying on the carpet and worked his arms through the sleeves. I think it was one of mine, but I could never be too sure; Hatch and Johnny Boy and I were all about the same size, Johnny Boy naturally tiny, Hatch and me small cause we never ate anything ever because we were never hungry and because a full stomach made the high weaker. Hatch pulled the shirt down over his belly, which was bulging outward a little so that if you didn't know him better you might actually think he was a bit chubby, like those photos of the starving kids in the desert with distended bellies so empty they look full.
Hatch, you still – I began to tell him, until he pulled the brim of the shirt down over his chest and pressed the shaving cream down flat like he forgot it was even there, until it began bleeding through the fibers of the shirt coming out the pores on the other side. Whoever's shirt that was, I thought, he could have it now.
Hatch was a scrawny fella, taller than any of us but rail thin, tshirt hanging off his shoulders (when it wasn't plastered to his chest with shaving cream) and all that stuff. Hatch looked like a junkie. Which was fine, cause he was one. We all were. But he had all those nervous ticks you usually assume junkies got, which for the most part are bullshit, but Hatch was the one guy I knew who actually had them all. He could never sit still, was always bouncing his leg or hugging his knees and rocking back and forth, and he did this weird thing where he would crack his neck real fast, and it looked for a split second like he had been hanged and was still dangling from the noose, head at a sharp angle before snapping it back. Hatch could never just sit still, which was something Johnny Boy was great at, booting and then just sitting on the couch, feeling. Feeling everything and nothing all at once, just sitting perfectly still, and more than once I would have to stare at her smooth, flat chest rising and falling underneath her shirt to make sure she was still breathing. The two of them sitting on the couch after booting used to be one of my favorite things, Johnny Boy sitting perfectly still, Hatch fidgeting around enough for the two of them, I loved that. I used to laugh my ass off watching them. And Hatch would start laughing too and start slapping his knees and ask me what we were laughing at, and I would tell him you, you idiot, we were laughing at you, and he would double down on the laughter, keeling over onto his side and burying his head into the couch cushions and laughing these hoarse barks of laughter, while Johnny Boy just stared at me through half-closed eyelids and a sleepy smile on her face, in on the joke. A different me in a different time would have fallen in love with that look. Anybody would have. But back then we weren't really thinking about that kind of love.
Boomer came back out of the kitchen then with a row of our needles all lined out straight clean and nice on a woodblock TV tray and set it down on the ground in front of us. He was limping and his foot was cut up from the shelf of plates I now knew he pulled down, but if he was in pain he didn't show it, and I wondered if I had ever seen him show any pain, if he felt pain, or if he was just this ginormous freak of a human with freak tolerances who could just take hit after hit – of a two-by-four or of something else – and keep coming, looking for something else to fulfill him. I remember he and Hatch used to slap each other in the face back and forth, I guess they liked the feel of it, the tingly sensation you get when all the little blood vessels right under your skin burst open and the warm blood rushes into your cheeks, I guess they liked that. To me, it always felt a bit hot and uncomfortable. Like pissing in your pants. But they would just sit there Indian-style on the floor trading slaps back and forth and laughing, like it was the cherry on top of whatever they had already smoked.
Don't worry, he's with me, Boomer announced to the room without looking up from the needleboard, and I wasn't sure if he was saying that about Edoardo, for our reassurance, or about Hatch, for Edoardo's.
Are those ready, Edoardo asked, staring at the needles. You know how some people have neutral faces that look pissed-off of like they just sucked a lemon, even when they're happy? I could imagine how unnerving the look he was giving the needles would be if he had directed it at any of us. I wonder now if that was just his face, if that was his neutral look, just a smoldering intensity I don't think I've seen in the years since.
Yep, just about, Boomer said, holding one of the syringes up in front of his face and staring through the glass cylinder, flicking the barrel with the nail on his middle finger.
There's only three of them, Edoardo said.
Hatch and I'll share, Boomer said, reaching out and slapping Hatch on the back and rubbing his spine with his free hand. I could only find the three in the cabinet because some fuckheads didn't put them back last time, but we'll share.
The fuck you will, Edoardo said, and took his sport coat off, careful not to wrinkle it, of course, sliding one arm out of the sleeve and then holding the other sleeve taut as he slipped himself free before folding it over and draping it down his arm. Nobody's getting any fucking diseases and tracing it back to me, Edoardo said, kneeling down and unsnapping the clasps on his briefcase and opening it up in front of him. He craned his neck down low looking inside of it so that, from my spot on the floor leaning against the couch, he almost appeared to be leaning down into it, like it was some kind of portal to another world gobbling him up whole. Not on my watch, no way, he said, and pulled out a new syringe. I mean new new. Still wrapped in the medical plastic wrapping and everything. He put the perforated side into his mouth and ripped it off with his teeth, then puffed the piece of plastic out of his mouth and began examining the needle, pulling the plunger back and then pushing it all the way down before pulling it back halfway and flicking it with the nail of his middle finger, like Boomer did, but better, somehow, more practiced. It made a different noise, I remember that. Boomer's flicking was kind of hard and tinny, whereas Edoardo's sounded like wind-chimes. It was an old-style syringe even though it was new, heavy blown glass with measurement markings printed on the side instead of molded into the cheap plastic like ours were. Don't get me wrong, a syringe was a syringe was a syringe, but that was a syringe, and I wanted it. Boomer can have mine, I said, never taking my eyes off the piece of glass in Edoardo's hand. I want that one.
Fine by me, Boomer said, pricking his thumb with the needle to make sure it wasn't too worn out. I heard Johnny Boy slapping the crook of her arm to get the vein ready, like she had been doing for the past five minutes, and when I finally turned around to look at her I saw her arm was beet red and almost pulsing a little, fit to burst, just begging for the shot and the loosening of the tourniquet. Hatch seemed to be waiting patiently on the other side of the couch, hands resting on his knees and feet flat on the floor, but his eyes were darting around in their sockets and I knew him well enough to know that the inside of his skull must have just been screaming and air raid sirens and double-bass-drummed black metal raging inside his head, pleading for someone to get the ball rolling. I looked down at myself, seated cross-legged and barefoot on the torn-up carpet in front of the couch, stained tank-top hanging off my shoulders, fingernails cracked and flaking off, needle marks you would miss if you weren't looking for them running all up the inside of my legs. I took a deep breath and looked back up at Edoardo, who was looking at me with business in his eyes, firm but not exactly cold, almost reassuring me he was going to take good care of us all. I felt judged, angry that this total stranger came right up into our house and started calling the shots like he was better than us, but even through my anger, I knew that he was.
Now, if we're all ready, he said softly.
He flicked the locks on the inside of his briefcase open and pulled out two baggies of powder and took a mini torch out of a side pouch on his case. He reached over and took the spoon out of Boomer's hand before looking at it with a slightly disgusted look on his face and giving it back, opening another zippered pouch in his case and taking out a polished replacement. He traveled with his own supplies.
Hey, whoa, I thought you said you weren't going to use any, Hatch said, defensive in his tone, literally sick from playing the waiting game and at the prospect of scoring less than he thought.
Cool your fucking jets, Edoardo said, tipping the plastic baggie over and pouring some of the grey powder onto the spoon. I'm not a fucking junkie. No, my job, he said, puncturing a small vial of what I knew to be saline solution with the heavy-duty syringe I wanted and pulling the stopper back, is to get you fuckups high, and I'm very good at what I do. He never once took his eyes off the implements in his hands, yet was present enough to insult us and call us fucking junkies and tell us how much we needed him, how big a service he was doing us, and I remember my blood boiling, though from anger or withdrawal, from the anticipation, I couldn't say. His hands were steady, I remember that. Like a surgeon. Could have been a surgeon, probably. Nerves of steel. Focused on his hands like they were the most important things in the world. Which they were, to us. Nothing mattered more.
Joan, he challenged, be a doll and unwrap this cotton swab for me, nodding down to the open briefcase in his lap, fully within reach but wanting to make her get up off the couch and work for it just because he could. Her arm had been tied off for going on a half hour now and was candy apple red and I was afraid if she didn't shoot off soon and untie herself she'd suffocate her arm, cut off the blood flow for too long. Johnny Boy got up off the couch and slid down onto her knees in front of Edoardo, and I saw her shaking up and down her whole body, like she was shivering, like there was an electric current in the air, and I felt it, too, that crash before the high you know is coming. She reached into the briefcase and fumbled for the cotton swab but couldn't control her fingers, pulsating in the air like she was playing a piano, and she began looking back and forth between her fingers and Edoardo and me on the floor with panic in her face, mouth fallen open, like she had lost control of herself and please, for the love of god man, please won't you just give us the drugs?
You're helpless, Edoardo said to himself, grabbing the cotton swab and running it around on the spoon, soaking up the mixture. You're all fucking helpless. This shit is killing you, he said, sticking the needle into the cotton swab and pulling the plunger back, soaking up the grey liquid and flicking his middle finger against the syringe again to dislodge any air bubbles, and we let him believe he was telling us something we didn't already know.
We sat in silence as he repeated the process for the other needles, the grimy busted ones Boomer brought from the kitchen, listening to him mutter “this fucking shit” and “goddamn junkies” to himself. When he was finished he laid them all out on a hand towel in front of us, laid at our feet, like a tea ceremony or some bullshit. I began patting my pockets for show and darting my eyes across the barren room for anything of value we hadn't pawned yet, dresser, broken lamp, bike frame, but it was all worthless, as worthless as I felt at that moment, and I felt the sudden, irresistible urge to cry come over me. I fought back against the tears with everything I had, hoping it was just the withdrawal still, please god let it be the withdrawal, let it melt away like the rest of our problems once we're rolling again. My chest felt warm and something hot and wet flooded my legs and I realized without opening my eyes I had pissed myself. I wiped my nose on my hand and rubbed the globs of snot off into the carpet.
Well, uh, thanks, Hatch said, grabbing one of the needles and shooting back up and leaping across the room back to the bathroom, taking the length of the room in only four or five graceful strides, like a gazelle, like a beautiful coked-out gazelle, and slamming the bathroom door behind him. After a second we heard the faucet and the tub begin running again and I knew when we all came to again in the morning the water would be the first thing we heard.
The fuck he do in there? Edoardo asked me.
Him? I whispered from what felt like a zillion miles away. No idea. But he likes it in there. Edoardo nodded a little and began packing up his things, putting everything into its rightful place in his briefcase. Boomer crept up beside me, walking on eggshells, prancing on his sliced tiptoes, this hulking bear of a man reduced to sidling up like a toddler to the cookie jar, and I felt him rest his meaty forearm on my shoulder before asking if it was alright if we, uh, you know, then gestured toward the remaining needles lying on the towel, extending the professional courtesy Hatch had foregone.
Yeah, we're done here, Edoardo said. Boomer nodded and grabbed one of the needles with a cool, collected hand and stood up slowly, as if making a show of taking his sweet time, but as he walked out of the living room and into the kitchen I heard his steps grow shorter and more frantic after he disappeared from view. Johnny Boy looked at me, then at Edoardo, then at the needles, then back at me for a split second before grabbing one and pushing herself up off the floor, placing a hand on my shoulder for support and letting it linger there for just a second or two longer than she needed to, as if in apology, before scampering back to her bedroom, the one room in the house we had mutually agreed was private and not for communal use.
And then it was just the two of us. Just me and Edoardo. I remember trying to wait him out, pretending to adjust my socks or pull my pants up while he finished packing up his briefcase, but after a minute I saw he seemed to be waiting me out, too, putting things into and then taking them back out of their designated pockets and zippers, keeping his head down looking into the case but letting his eyes flick up to stare me down through the strands of the oily bangs that were hanging off his forehead and drooping into the empty space before him. I heard a long, slow exhale come from the kitchen, like a helium tank filling up a party balloon, the essence of something or other escaping, followed by the slight shush of Boomer sliding down the refrigerator door, and I knew he was gone.
So uh, hey, thanks, man, I said, nodding toward the glass syringe that rested on the floor halfway between us.
Don't thank me, he said, and when my eyes were still on the glass I thought he was just saying that thing people say to be modest, but when I looked up at his face I saw that he meant it, that he was really telling me not to thank him, not for this shit that was killing us when we were on it and making us feel like we were dying when we weren't.
We sat there in silence for a moment or two longer as he prepared the last needle, the glass one I had coveted and suddenly felt so very stupid for coveting, and in the void between us I heard the familiar fuzz of the hi-fi in Johnny Boy's room click on, followed by the frenetic driving drums of the Hüsker Dü New Day Rising cassette she liked to play when she locked herself in her room and pushed off. I liked the screaming on the song, the layered vocal tracks of the singers just hollering their heads out with the crusty guitars wailing on and on in the background. The first time I heard her play it I told her that was what the inside of my head sounded like, what I heard when I closed my eyes, and she told me she liked it because it sounded foreign, almost aboriginal in its pain. Even though you could hear it throughout the whole apartment it felt like it was our little secret, for some reason, and I liked that we shared that. A couple of months after that first day with Edoardo, maybe a year or two, I would come back to that pad after some time away from everything housed there and hear those drums coming from behind the locked door, like an old friend, waiting to see her emerge, and I remember hearing the tape click off, rewind itself, and start over from the beginning, three times, five times, and then for two straight days, three, until I got Boomer to bust down the door and we found Johnny Boy half-off the bed, lying blue and still. She was swaddled in the latticework of dirty tshirts that made up the blankets and sheets of the bed, with a pointed foot poking out and leaning against the wall at an angle. She was naked, looking like a little kid, just like a ten-year-old boy, with those brown pockmarks and burns peppering her pale body like big freckles. Boomer tried to wake her up, pushing on her chest with his two meaty hands so hard I thought he would bore right into her, but I could tell she had already been gone for days. Her head jerked forward and backward off the edge of the bed with each thrust of Boomer's hands, but I remember thinking, through the wailing of the guitars on the cassette tape and Boomer's heaving breaths and the box springs collapsing and shooting back with each push, that she looked as calm and as peaceful as I could ever remember seeing her, and I wondered why in the hell I had ever come back.
But of course I didn't know any of that then. All I knew right then was that Johnny Boy was booting off and Boomer was already gone in the kitchen and Hatch was god knows where in the bathroom, and that it was just me and Edoardo alone together in the living room. I remember I was trying to stare him down but I could feel myself breaking. I tried my best to sit still and look presentable as my eyes flicked back and forth from Edoardo's hands to the syringe on the floor between us.
Alright, she's just about ready, Edoardo said, flicking any air bubbles out of the syringe. Don't fuck around with this, now, he said, and stood the needle up on its plunger on the floor in front of me.
I, is it...it's ready? I asked, my nails digging into the backs of my clasped hands trying not to shake. He narrowed his eyes at me and looked at me, and I mean truly looked at me, like he was studying me, for what felt like the first time all night. Like he was seeing something he hadn't seen before, and I couldn't tell if he liked what he was seeing or not. But then he nodded, and I reached out and grabbed the syringe in my hand.
It felt cold to the touch, cooler than the dingy living room (which, believe me, could get plenty cold in the winters when the heat was busted) and it stung my fingers when they first brushed over it like it was sucking the very warmth from them. I closed my fist around the syringe and brought it to my chest and held it over my heart for a moment, just for a second, to feel the cold against the tank-top I was sweating through, before bringing it back down and holding it out in front of me. I took a deep breath before guiding the syringe toward the crook of my elbow when I felt Edoardo's hand on my shoulder, pushing me back slightly, asking if I wasn't forgetting something. I must have stared at him with a look of utter confusion, because he began rubbing and slapping the inside of my elbow without saying a word, the shock of which brought me back to the present. Aside from Boomer's bear hugs and Johnny Boy letting me rest myself against her knees and Hatch face-fucking me, I couldn't remember the last time I had felt a real, person-to-person connection with someone outside of our fucked up little hostel. We didn't get out much, and when we did, most people ran. Wouldn't you?
You need to warm it up, Edoardo said, slapping my skin for me. Or else you'll collapse a vein, you know that. His voice was soft, and he kept his eyes trained on his soft hands on my skin, not looking up from the work, like it required the entirety of his concentration. All I could muster up was some kind of grunted thanks.
You got a belt? he asked, still focusing on my skin, only looking up when I hadn't answered after a half a minute. I think I had shook my head no, but I couldn't remember. He sounded like he was underwater; the room felt underwater, and everything seemed washed and hollowed out, like I was inside some kind of diving bell, closed off from the rest of the world. I felt sick to my stomach; I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out and sleep for hours if I didn't get the drugs, but I knew the best case scenario of taking the hit was passing out and sleeping for hours, with a good chance of throwing up in my sleep. No belt, I was able to whisper.
He reopened his briefcase and took out a small black ziptie, the kind the riot cops use to detain rioters and not unlike the kind the hospital slapped on us to keep us from scratching our fingernails off on the boils on our skin. He slid the ziptie up above my elbow, over the deflated balloon that was my bicep in those days, and zipped it shut. Within moments I felt my arm begin to tingle, and after about twenty seconds, seconds whose passage I have no recollection of, no remembrance of what Edoardo must have been saying or how hard I must have been trying not to close my eyes, my entire left arm, from the ziptie down, was numb and beginning to take on a blue sheen.
I watched with tunnel vision as Edoardo's nimble fingers moved with purpose, spritzing his hands with a spray bottle of disinfectant and picking up the syringe. He pressed lightly on the plunger, testing the seal, and when a little stream shot out of the tip of the needle his hands rested at the ready. I raised my eyes and traced his arms up past his shoulders and neck until I saw him looking right at me, until we were looking each other eye-to-eye. I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead and wanted more than anything to wipe it away with my forearm but didn't dare move. I didn't want to be seen like that. I didn't want to feel like that anymore, that particular combination of nausea and ennui and hate. I leaned forward and asked Edoardo to help me, though I didn't know what specifically, in that moment, I was asking him to do.
He put the tip of the needle into the crook of my elbow, resting it against the skin, and though I couldn't feel anything down my entire left side, I could feel that. I had known that feeling enough to remember what it must have felt like, even if I couldn't actually feel it in that moment. I don't know if that makes any sense or if it sounds crazy or what, but that's how I remember it. And then I saw the needle slide into my arm, poking down below the surface of my skin, and saw a plume of red shoot up into the syringe, knowing he had found the vein, waiting for the push. He put his thumb on the plunger, like he was about to inject it for me, when he looked right at me again.
Reeko, he said, and I must have groaned out a what or something, because after that moment I saw his face change. His head tilted down like he was looking at me over the rim of the glasses he wasn't wearing and the ends of his lips seemed to pull up in a perverse smile of sorts, and I saw something change in his eyes, some flicker of malice that was absent before, an edge that he was hiding just out of sight, burst into view.
Don't ever change, he said, and pushed the plunger down.
And I remember in that moment he looked as ugly and as evil as I had ever seen another person look. Before I knew it I was blinded by rage; I felt completely outside of myself, willfully given over to my more animal instincts. I wanted to claw his face off, to reach out and maul him, to tell him to get the fuck out of our house and never come back. I had never before felt such a combination as the anger and weakness I felt with all of my being, the drugs already rushing through my veins like the elevators full of blood in that movie, flooding my brain with endorphins and forcing me to relax and rest even though in that moment what I wanted more than anything in the world was to reach in and suck the drugs out of my arm back into the syringe and pull myself back from the brink, fucking stand up for myself for once and leave Boomer and Hatch and Edoardo in the apartment and run and never look back, but I knew it was already too late. I could feel myself slipping away, could feel the familiar fog growing heavier in my brain, taking on mass and weight as the rest of my body grew weightless and sank through the floor.
I knew I was a goner, that this was one of those hits that knock you flat on your ass and out like a light. Edoardo wasn't fucking around. And I tried to focus all the reserves of my strength, muster up all that was left inside of me, into one last gasp of action, reaching my right arm out and trying to swat his face off his skull, cause him some modicum of bodily harm so that I might rest more peacefully. But I was already too far gone, and my open palm ended up just grazing the bottom of his chin as it passed by in futility, the way a lion cub paws at its mother's face in play. And then my hand dropped like a shot-put, draped across my body like a Ms. America sash, and I lay there with my eyes gaping open at the ceiling.
The ceiling was one of those popcorn splatter stucco deals, the kind that you only find in the rundown foreclosures these days, and somehow I had never noticed it before. To me it looked like a painter's easel, the globs of stucco paint forming jagged mounds and ridges along the flat surface, and I thought of all the unrealized potential in the clumps of paint – the tranquil scenes of domestic life, like Van Gogh's bedroom or the afternoon sunlight trickling through a Wyeth window -- that I knew people, some people somewhere, must live. But I knew in the back of my mind we were the loud chaos of the shapeless, sexless young Nude Descending A Staircase, the empty, barren confusion of Kuitca's Siete Últimas Canciones, the dark room swathed in a dull red light as the blood vessels in my eyes burst from the overdose.
I laid there on my back staring at the ceiling for as long as I could until Edoardo's head poked into my field of vision, jumping in horizontally like they always show in the movies. Through the red fog I saw his smile, and he held that absurd look on his face as his grubby fingers grew larger and moved closer until I felt his oily skin on my face. I tried and failed to overcome the heavy wet blanket of the paralysis and bite them off, until with two fingers he pulled my eyelids down as if I were already dead.