The needle lay beside him; his hand still gripped the leather belt wrapped around his bicep. He was gasping for air, a death rattle had formed in his throat and sweat was dripping on his forehead.
He pulled the belt tighter and he watched his arm go white. A purple topped vial laid beside him with some white residue stuck to the inside. He tried to put the belt into his mouth and after several failed attempts, got it taut enough to reach over. He picked it up with ease but found it difficult to get the cap off. Rubbing the vial against his leg the lid came off and the residue with it. He touched his finger to the powder and then to his lips.
He bit down hard on the leather and winced at the pain. Time fell apart as he fought against the agony. It seemed like an hour had pass. The pain receded with nothing but a numb face to show for it. He grabbed the belt out of his mouth and yanked it tighter. Hocking up a loogey he spat at a duck that was sitting by the pond. He caught a glimpse of colour as it flew away: red on brown. He peered across the pond at the rising sun and he could started to feel small.
“So this is it.”
It hadn’t always been thia way. Once, he had been bored. Like a nail in the wall he had sat snugly day by day, thinking the wall was there for him to be nailed too. It wasn’t until he slipped from the wall that he realized the truth. Nails are easily replaced.
His real father was dead before he was born, and his mother had always kept it that way. She had remarried soon after to a man who designed the world’s most premiere rollercoaster’s. You could probably tell just by looking at the man. One leg was ten inches shorter than the other. Every time he walked through the house it looked like he was in the process of creating a masterpiece.
When he was born his doctor had passed him onto his mother who then passed him onto his nanny. For a few brief moments he had known his mothers touch. He remembered every detail of her, right down to her fingerprints.
He didn’t want to move around too much. His heart was beating fast enough. He was hungry, but he didn’t think metabolising food would be great for him in the long run. He took a deep breath and could feel a sharp grating at the back of his throat. He lurched forward and threw up. Blood and bile cascaded out of him and landed on the grass. Try as he could, he couldn’t stop it. His stomach was agony and the bloody pile was beginning to spread out upon the lawn. Eventually it stopped and he leant back to let the vomit dribble down his chin onto his t-shirt. He said out loud to no one, “A Jackson Polick painting” He looked down at his arm. It was starting to go blue. He heard the rustling and looking up he saw a flock of ducks slurping up his puke. “Fucking fowls man.”
It wasn’t until he was ten and he started to read that his parents mattered. He wasn’t until then that he realised he hadn’t seen his mother for years. The last time was when he saw his mother was when he was five and it was his birthday. They had all gone out on a boat his parents bought for him.
She had been wearing black shoes with two-inch heels with inset diamonds, his father with black leather shoes. His shoes had smelt like the library in the summer house. He had been a sickly child throughout and much had been made about the clean air on the east coast. His mother always took care of him when he was sick but never any other time. But his sickness came on so often that this did not matter too much. The rolling of the boat had troubled him though and he had thrown up yellow bile over the side. His mother had given him some medicine, but it did not help and soon blood appeared in his vomit. His family had rushed him to the hospital and when he woke up his mother was not there. He got better after that.
His father was around often but was never close. A wall of humans encased him in his daily doings and the only moments in which he was received were ‘scheduled meetings’. His life had seemed uncomplicated when he was young, but then he was too distracted. Being one step removed from the family and surrounded by servants he acted like brat. He strode around his house and people cleaned up his mess.
Reading had the most fantastic effect upon his soul. He felt no need to be outside his head and he stopped acting out as a result. He was patience incarnate: cherishing these meetings with his father. The calmer he was the longer they were.
He spat again and the ducks scattered. It was not surprising, he thought, everyone flees from death at some point. The blood had tasted of decay.
Initially, he learnt by rote: a regime of learning that involved repeating facts. This was quickly cast aside as his tutors realised his ability and they developed other aspects of his education. He always struggled to write, not the words but his hand writing was staggered disgusting to look at. A bank teller once asked if he was using the wrong hand. This had always been the one skill he wished his teachers had forced upon him. Sometimes he liked to pretend that he could and that it was just the rock. That the track marks upon his arm not only looked terrible but had caused his muscles to degenerate into rubbish. He had decided long ago never to infect his left arm, a form of bargaining with his addiction. He kept his promise and sometimes it felt like his only trophy in life.
When he was eleven his father who after what he now presumed was six years of loneliness and celibacy, had a religious epiphany. He decided to convert to Judaism. He also decided the son of his wife was old enough to join him. His father, Conan, had fortunately been circumcised years ago when his foreskin had been pulled so far back that it simply chose not to roll back down again. They had opted to cut off the excess skin in a surgery that required local anaesthetic.
He was not given that same luxury. On his eleventh birthday his father scoffed down all the old scotch in the house, took his hunting blade out of his drawer, sharpened it to a fine edge, sterilised it in some moonshine, gave moonshine to his son, and then proceeded to re-enact an ancient Jewish tradition.
Due to his father’s inebriation and the size of the knife he had actually proceeded to slice off more than skin. With his son passed out in front of him he had grabbed his cock and sawn right through it. As blood gushed from the stump his father had then taken a hot poking iron he had left in the fire and cauterized the wound.
His nurse had later found his father slumped over his desk smeared in blood. They searched Conan and upon finding no wound they searched for him. The found him curled up in a corner: pants down but not quite man less. She rushed him to the hospital and he turned out fine. His father had paid for all of it to go away.
He paid off the doctors and the nurses and child services. The police force was already in his pocket so no investigation occurred. He hadn’t blamed him. Nothing looked as grim as two balls hanging underneath a charred stump. Who wouldn’t want to hide that away? He has always been surprised that there was no conscious dissent amongst the staff. Did no one care for the boy?
He could feel his bowls slipping away, and he hated his inability to stop it. “That is all my life is,” he thought, “Just a loss of control”. He never had his hand in anything. Handed a good life he found he could neither tinker nor play with it. But it didn’t matter.
He began to sing. In the morning breeze out floated the melody and words. ‘Woke up, got out of bed. , dragged a comb across my head.”It was so beautiful that even the birds stopped to listen.
The blood on his lips was beginning to dry and as he sang the quality seemed to die.
A teacher was discussing memory and how the brain freezes certain moments and locks them away.
She had asked the class questions about their lives increasingly scaling the detail she required for you to continue in the game until only he was left. “Where were you on July 7th 1986?”
“That was the Day of Strawberry Jam but no Milk. My parents had taken a cruise into the pacific and had left me on shore to watch. I built several sandcastles that looked like my summer home. I believe we were at Port Hammer.”
The teacher probed further with her questions before losing her calm and calling bullshit. They had taken him to the office, then home, then to the doctors.
He had an almost perfect memory. From birth until this moment he had the ability of perfect recollection. He even had some foggy strains of darkness and warmth that he associated with pre-birth.
People had told him he was graced by god, and that what he had was a gift. He didn’t see it as such. As he got older it became harder to deal with as often the slightest smell would send him into one of his memories. The days he could not remember were his most cherished. It is not often you have no memory of getting addicted.
He had been at a party: barely seventeen. His friends were few and even they struggled. His father had made him promise not to drink alcohol but some of the seniors decided to play a prank on him by putting roofulin into his water bottle. He had passed out on a bed in a dark part of the house.
When he woke up he could still hear the music thumping, except it had some kind of distance to it. He had felt serene. Like nothing mattered. Slowly his eyes drifted down to his arm to see a needle jutting out. The needle was half-full with blood and he felt sensational. The roofie was beginning to wear off and most of his senses regained full functionality. He pulled the needle out of his arm and went downstairs. He rejoined the party but no one seemed to want him there. There was a quality in their voices that spoke treason. One boy, a man rather, had approached him “How is it hanging stumpy?” Some people laughed, but mostly they just shuffled around awkwardly. They could not look him in the eyes. He didn’t care. Every sound made sense. He was in bliss.
Heroin took a hold of him and his addiction ripped apart most of his life. His father threw him out and then married a nice Jewish lady. He wasn’t invited to the wedding. They had a son and when the son had turned one his father and the women had died on one of his rollercoaster. They had derailed. She was crushed and he was beheaded. Seventeen other people were on that ride but no one reported them.
He received his inheritance in trust. His father had stipulated in his will to gain full access to his fortune he would have to prove he was clean to the executors. If not he could only access two-hundred dollars a week. It was enough to live. For years he tried to live side by side with it, but it always consumed everything. All was cast aside or sold to fuel his infinite hunger.
It was seventeen years after the death of his family when his half-brother started to look for him. His name had been spread around the streets, his real name that is, so he had no trouble avoiding the investigation. They eventually found him through the money, same bank every week for seventeen years with the same teller. He couldn’t have made it easier for them. He was buying some crack vials when his brother had approached him.
“On matters of appearance you look like a man with no promise”
“I have plenty of promise, it is always just easier to break them.”
He started to tilt away, if the man was a cop he wasn’t going to get away, otherwise he wouldn’t bother a citizen no matter how rude they treated him.
“I don’t believe we have met,” he shouted after him not even bothering to chase, “Evan Dance. I’m your brother.”
“I don’t have a brother.”
He had tried to walk faster. If the boy wasn’t a cop he still reeked of authority. He got a block or two before he looked back. The boy was just casually strolling after him, as if he was at a park keeping an eye on his kids. He panicked and shifted the weight of his bag on his shoulders. He didn’t want to dump it but he might have to at the drop of a pin. He turned back around and noticed a black Sedan off into the distance. ‘It’s a sting’ he thought. He looked to his left down into the block. He scanned his right, another empty street. The Sedans engines could be heard in the distance and it started to wheel towards him. Thinking quickly he unstrapped his bag and hurled it across the street at a bunch of corner kids. “I’ll be back for that,” he said before turning around and sprinting off. Blood pounded in his ankles and he felt the hurt of sickness charging through his body.
He got about a block before he realised he couldn’t go any further. He keeled over and his breath sounded like it was being modulated. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his inhaler. He could only manage one puff before he collapsed in a heap on the ground. He could hear the crunch of gravel behind him for which he assumed belonged to the tyres of a black sedan rolling onto a driveway. Shortly after, as he stared up into the sky the boy leant over him.
“I meant your step-brother, arsehole.”
He puffed and puffed, choosing not to respond.
“I am fine. You want to go get some coffee?” Evan demanded.
The pain subsided for a moment, as did his visions. He tried wiping the tears off his face but only managed to spread the blood from his chin onto his shoulder. It was getting early. Joggers would be getting up soon and he sure hoped he died before he had to inconvenience them for help. He felt like a maudlin puppet. Sad for the end of the show and angry that he couldn’t control himself.
He wondered what they put into his vial. He couldn’t remember in all his years of walking the streets ever hearing of a chemical so foul being mixed in. Either it was good or it was cut or it was poison and killed you straight away. Not slow. Not acid slowly turning your insides out. He twisted his head and stared at the clock tower up high on the town square. It had only been another four or so minutes, but those minutes in agony were transforming the time. He put the belt in his mouth and dragged his fingers across his seat and found a loose nail. He shuffled along and hooked the belt into the nail to keep up the pressure. He rummaged through his plastic bags and spotting a butt on the ground with some residual tobacco he slowly reached down and grabbed it up. He lit it and struggled down a puff. He wasn’t usually a smoker, fearing the whole cancer thing but, ‘what the hell’ he thought; ’you can’t die twice.’
The best place to get high for him had always been the library. Not one of the ones with classical shelves stacked upon shelves and no room to read, but the modern ones with computers and floor space and privacy. The one thing he always liked about himself was no matter how hard he was into it, he always looked clean. His face might have been degenerating for years but you could explain away ugly with genetics. Long shirts covered up track marks quite easily and the constant flow of money was enough to wash his clothes every four day. Some weeks he would get behind but he still managed to look kept.
So when he went to the library not one person doubted that he was an upstanding citizen of society. He would cook the shit in the toilet and get kissed for a bit before sitting down and putting a book on his lap and spacing out. The only problem came with attempting multiple hits.
When they went to get coffee they went to the library shop and he slipped out for a couple of minutes. He took off the top of the toilet ceramic and reached in for his little plastic bag. He cooked and then shot up. He must have fainted because he was awoken by a knocking on the door. It was one of the guards. Their coffees were cold when he got back.
“So,” he said before stopping to cough for a moment.
“So why are you here?” the hobo interrupted trying not to blink so much.
“I have run out of cash.”
“So what you want to hold ten bucks or something? Pay days not until tomorrow.”
“I want you to get clean,” he said quite coldly.
“Yeah, sure you do.”
“I want you to get clean and for you to split the money with me.”
“My trust is close to running out. My father only gave me enough to grow into an adult, nothing more, and he put most of the stuff into your name. I think he thought you would be sober by now. Or dead.”
“Then why don’t you get a job. I am sure he paid for a fine education.”
Evan took a sip of his cappuccino. He leant forward, “See those men outside. They aren’t with me. They are with a third party who is interested in getting a loan back now rather than over the course of a lifetime.”
“Yes.” There was something in his brothers voice, a pang of regret perhaps, or maybe fear.
“How interested are they?”
Evan slumped back. “Very. I just don’t know what else to do. They wanted to do you, but I couldn’t let them. Look I don’t know you at all. We grew up year’s apart in different times. But I am here now and I need help and bloods got to be worth something.”
“Clean blood at least. And we don’t share any blood. My father wasn’t your father. We only shared names. Why don’t you just call the cops?”
“They can get past the cops, not much to protect me from these people.”
‘It is almost pathetic’ he thought. ‘Suckers going to be on his own.
He got up to leave, “Yeah I’ll think about it.” Evan grabbed his arm.”Please, I need this. I need your help. I don’t want to die.”
The hobo paused, “Why did you ask me?”
“Because Josephine said you would help.” Came the reply and with it a world of regret and pain. A perfect memory was far from perfect if you can never forget the worst parts.
Josephine had been his nanny for most of his young life. When he grew older she essentially became his mother. She was the only one who upon discovering his addiction tried to help him. She was the last one who left him.
“How do you know her?” he queried, a struggle hiding his emotions.
“She was my mother too.”
“Well fuck, at least we got something in common.”
He gathered his thoughts; this had to be a gambit. A pawn sacrificed for the bigger picture. “I will let you know, give me a week.”
He scratched his stump; even on the precipice of death a basic action like this was still needed. It was eerie, dying wasn’t what he expected. It was painful and he was very afraid and he didn’t want to die. But as soon as the pain subsided he felt almost normal: just another man slowly dying in a world full of them. A tune came to his head and he began to hum ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’. He only wished that there was someone here to watch him die. If no one watches you die then you are already halfway forgotten.
He looked down at his arm. It was green but turning black. There was no longer any sensation in his shoulder and he could feel strings of numbness developing in his back. His head was pounding and his temples felt like they were being kicked from the inside. ‘It lays you low, this world’, he thought, ‘You get that grinding feeling in your stomach that never quite goes away. The more days you waste the louder it gets until you don’t hear anything else.’
The visions were increasing in intensity and little by little it soon became all he could see. The ducks turned to birds of prey, squawking just outside his line of sight and the autumn grass in front of his eyes transfigured into a field of broken beer bottles. The lake stood apart, except for the colouring it had taken on. It was pus green turning black. He looked down at his arm and saw all the colour was flowing out onto the grass and slowly dripping into the water. This should have concerned him, but it didn’t.
After the coffee break he had returned to collect his bag from the corner kids. He approached with some sense of calm, knowing that these kids would try very hard to bug him. A white crack head in the middle of a black neighbourhood, they thought they had the advantage. But he was also a regular customer for years now, which meant he had some leaning with the corners. “Hey Antony, where is my bag?” he said as he approached, speaking directly to the tallest amongst them. “What you want fool, I ain’t have your bag.” Came the response as Antony stood up at a measly 5ft, tall for his age but still a child. “You know exactly what I am talking about, I threw the bag to you about an hour ago.” They were all dodging, laughing at him while seeming to laugh at something they said. They didn’t take him very seriously. Antony stared him down for a moment before turning to laugh at something someone said. In that moment he saw his chance and whipping a needle out from his pocket he stepped forward and grabbed him by the neck pulling him into an embrace and held the needle to his throat. The corner kids fell silent. “Where is it?” he repeated. He couldn’t see Antony’s face, but he could feel him stiffen up. Sometimes something as basic as sharing a needle could rattle these kids.
He held the needle closer and the boy struggled for moment but found no advantage. Without saying a word he nodded to one of the smallest hoodlums who ran off into the backstreet and returned with his bag. “Is everything in there?” Antony shook his head and indicated to another boy to come forward. Reaching into his pockets he pulled out a couple of bags of heroin and a couple of vials of crack. “Throw it behind me” he said as they stuffed his drugs into his bag and threw it across the street. “Thank you boys for being so cooperative.” He let go of Antony and kicked him forward before backing across the street slowly. There were a few cars around but nothing that close. He reached down for his bag always keeping an eye on the group which seemed to steam with a collective hatred.
“Adios” he said before turning to run. As soon as he turned a primal cry came from one of the smallest hood, who launched himself across the street at the behest of Antony. The Hobo sprinted off without a second thought and didn’t even consider the sound of a thud and tyre brakes behind him. He was several blocks away before he even dared to look back. No one was following but down the block a couple of cars were parked in the street and were surrounded by people. It was only then he processed the thud he heard earlier. His breath stuttered for a moment but he knew he had to keep moving.
He had rationalised it. The guilt remained but it was tempered. He concentrated on avoiding his brother which wasn’t as difficult as it seemed because he wasn’t even trying to keep tabs on him. He squatted in an industrial yard for what had probably been a mirror factory for several days fighting hunger with drugs. His brother was a threat to what he had, what his life meant. To succumb to such an influence would ruin him. He was an addict and before that a boy. That was all he ever wanted. The more his paranoia ate away at him, the faster he would use. He went through his entire stash in three days.
At the end of this he looked at his last bit of rock and wept. He couldn’t do this anymore. He had caught a look at himself in some broken mirror and had seen something shocking. A skeleton with shit covered clothes. He looked at the mirror then back to the rock. He brought it up to his eye and stared at the white stone. On the vial was a little flick of blood and as he studied it further he noticed some mold. He felt ill, not like a physical illness but like something was slowly trying to remove his jaw with a butter knife. He itched his left arm and he started bleeding. He was flabbergasted, staring down at an arm he had kept so clean for so long. He look back at the vial and in a fit twisted around and launched it into the air. It flew several hundred yards before plunking against a metal rubbish bin.
He turned back to the mirror and sat on the floor edging closer and closer to the reflective frame. He rested his forehead against the cool almost metallic material and slowly drifted off to sleep. In his dreams he dreamt of car crashes and throwing up yellow bile before waking up in a sweat. He had slept through the night and he could feel the illness coming on. He decided that getting up wasn’t worth it so he removed his trousers and catheter and threw away his plastic bag full of piss. He pulled his bag closer to himself and connected a new one to the thin plastic tub that ran up into his medically created urethra. A wave of illness hit him and turned to his side to throw up. His vomit was black. A niggling sensation started at the back of his head and his leg shook in time with it. But something was keeping him down. He couldn’t move. The pressure was not unfamiliar with getting ill. He had felt it before. He knew it would only get worse.
Hours passed and the need was always there. A craving so strong it used every method it could to beg. His body seemed sluggish, but his mind was highly active. All he could think about was getting high. It was like a drum beating in the back of his head. That need for movement slowed down time. Everything wanted that next hit. He tried to read but couldn’t. He tried to eat what little food he had, but only managed to throw it up. Yet it was still building, like it was coming to a point. The drum beat was building.
The next morning he was unable to move. He sat in a corner of the dusted out warehouse and felt his stomach collapse in on itself. He used his arms to level himself against the wall as his impacted bowls loosened into a monsoon. His knees were aching and his shins felt ready to split. The smell, although not as concentrated in the unconfined space, caused him to retch, threatening to make his insides to come out both ends. His shit was a gooey mess of vitamin deficient black and blood red, caused by him wiping so much that he opened up the skin around his anus. His shivers were back and kept causing him to slip down the wall, something that could render the most selfless hero a coward. In between spurts at around midday he constructed a seat out of a two buckets and planks. The shit came and went every couple of minute. he tried to feed himself in between those times but his system would just shoot it all out again.
He awoke and realised he must have fainted. He slowly pulled himself up into a seated position and used his blanket to mop up the sweat that covered his body. The need to use was still there, but it felt controlled now. His body ached and he decided to move about. He walked along the building coming to the rubbish tip and scanning the ground he found what he was looking for. The little glass vial. It hadn’t smashed after he had thrown it. He hadn’t known it straight away, but he had figured it out during the night. It was very early morning, light was just beginning to show but no sun was to be seen. He looked down at the vial and sighed. He returned to his hideaway, gathered his things, and walked towards his favourite spot: the lake.
As he sat staring at the lake knowing his life was slowly draining away he wondered who poisoned him. If it was his brother or his brother’s people he hoped that somehow in some way they would find pain for their crimes, just as he had. He wondered if that child had died. He really hoped he hadn’t. All his life he was just a player. A puppet pulled in all directions. First his parents and then his addiction. He wished he had been strong enough to take back some part of it. He looked down at his arm and saw it had gone black and he laughed. The type of laughed that has all the blood and humour and life packed into the back of the throat to give it a raspy sound. The laughed turned into a cough which turned into a tear. The lake looked so wonderful this time of year he thought. Pushing himself from his seat he took the belt in his hand and was tempted to let it go, to let the poison rush through him and bury him in the pain. But he didn’t. Just because others played with his life did not mean they could play with his death. He staggered forward, towards the shore and waded into the freezing water. The ducks that had earlier been eating his vomit were now dancing upon the lake. They stopped to watch this man slowly drift out. He reached the centre and lay on his back looking up into the morning sky. He fell beneath the surface and twisted around. Peering at the bottom of the lake he found a rock just light enough to bring to the surface. Holding the rock above his head he exhaled and then, then he let go.