I am dopesick and coked up in my apartment—four bedrooms and a loft I share with five other men.
Not men like me.
The loft is my bedroom, a narrow staircase leading up to it from the entryway, the high white ceiling a dozen feet above my head, my bed pressed against the half wall that overlooks the living room. It is a room of empty spaces, so that all might hear my long snorts of dope, my fights with customers, my shrieking in the night.
The three full walls I have are great and pale and high, one filled with long windows that let in sunlight all day long, the Kansas summer making the room burn with heat, even now in the middle of the night.
GT has stopped answering his phone. He may be in the hospital again for his diabetes, or he may be dead. I neither know nor care which it is—all that matters is that I am sick.
In six years, I’ll hear that GT fell asleep behind the wheel and drove into the Kaw River, all three hundred pounds of him sinking to the icy muck.
I won’t care then either.
My body pours with sweat, the coke making the sickness worse, but I cannot stop snorting it, cannot lie still. To drive off the opiate sickness, I’ll have to deal with someone else and pay retail.
Any profit I made for the week on OxyContin will be wiped out.
What choice do I have?
I bought an ounce of coke three days ago. It has taken months to convince Jacob the coke dealer to front me the ounce, months of patience, of hanging out at his apartment, of giving him outrageous deals on oxy from my hookups.
It is an investment, my time with this man, and it has finally paid off. I purchased inositol to cut the coke. I will double my money if I am careful. Oxy alone will never make me rich because of my habit, despite selling it for 100% profit.
But you must be quite stupid to sell coke and still be poor.
“you got that oxy clean still?” I text Chris from my bed while chopping up a line of coke on the mirror I keep in my nightstand, my legs twitching.
“ya. u stil hangin out wit that white girl?” he texts back.
“can i come thru?”
Chris knocks on the cheap metal front door like he would beat it to pieces. Chris is my height, my weight, his eyes dark circles, hair like greasy bark, but he is more man than I, his emotions closer to his flesh, his fists.
He lumbers up the stairs.
He smells of violence.
I have long since stopped caring if I keep my roommates awake.
“It’s not oxy,” he says, pulling out a small bag of brown powder. “It’s heroin.”
I have never done heroin before.
“Okay,” I say, shrugging. “That’s fine,” I say. There is no question, no fight. Dope slices the world from your bones, leaves only the meat of you, dripping with need.
I’ve never fought it for more than an hour or two.
I always give in.
“Have a line,” I say, handing him the mirror. He blows the coke, shakes his head with a loud snort.
“Knocked a guy out last night, man,” he says, licking his lips and smiling, his teeth massive and white, his lips peeled back too far.
“Oh,” I say. “Nice,” I say. I sit on the bed.
I never know how to respond to these people.
I wish he would just give me my dope and leave.
“You wanna do a straight trade?” he asks, sitting next to me. I need money, but he is still smiling that awful smile. I’ve cut this dope to shit and back, as I’m sure he’s done with his. Who knows who will get the better deal?
Who knows what he’ll do if I say no?
“Sure,” I say. I chop up some coke, pull the cellophane off my Camel Crush pack, scoop the dope into the clear little rectangle of plastic, run the flame of my lighter over the plastic to melt and seal it. He takes it, stares at it, does not hand over the heroin, stares at me.
I look away, look at his arms covered in track marks, glance back at his face, but he is only staring and smiling. His eyes are like pinpoints, but so dark. I imagine his fist connecting with some poor college kid’s jaw last night, imagine the crack as bone broke.
He looks back at the blackened cellophane, then laughs and pulls out a small baggie of heroin, tosses it to me.
“You mind if I shoot a speedball here?” he asks, as though I would ever say no.
“Go for it, man,” I say. I appreciate the respect he shows me by asking.
“Cool,” he says, pulling out a black leather bag and unpacking his gear on my bed. “Check out this abscess,” he says, rolling up his sleeve.
It looks like a stone on his forearm, a golf ball, bright crimson.
It smells like rotten meat.
“Touch it,” he says. He is not smiling. His voice is flat. I obey.
It feels like a stone. “Weird,” I say.
“Squeezed it in the shower this morning,” he says, tying off. “Fucker shot a stream of pus like I was taking a piss.”
“Oh,” I say, adding a line of pale brown powder to the remnants of the white on the mirror. I have no idea how much to do. I don’t care to ask Chris his opinion.
I snort my heroin, confident in my superiority to this junky. I gasp as it hits, the smell like stale vinegar. I feel the sweat drying on my face, my limbs relaxing.
He is cooking his H and coke in a soot-blackened spoon with a see- through green lighter broken in such a way as to make a giant flame.
It could not be more like the movies.
“Should you, like, go to the hospital for that shit?” I ask, chopping up more powder and looking again at the abscess.
“Shit,” he says, the spoon turning even blacker. “You think I want to get locked up? What you think they do when they see shit like this on your arms?”
I nod at the wisdom of this statement, scratching at my wrists, the dope making of my body an inferno, my skin begging me to scratch it away, to dig out the poison.
Dope is not a thing to be discussed with anyone who is not a dopefiend. Medical personnel are not to be trusted. Cops even less.
They do not wish to help you.
They wish to harm you.
“Hey, you got a smoke?” he asks. I hand him a Camel Crush. He tears off the filter, pokes out the tiny ball of menthol, then attaches the filter to his needle, draws the brown fluid through. He sticks the needle in his arm, searching for a vein.
It is not nearly as clean as the movies.
I bring him paper towels as he begins to bleed on my bed. He chooses another spot, and another. Minutes pass. He digs and digs, half a dozen holes appearing in one arm, then the other. Finally he rolls up his jeans, starts to work on his legs. I snort another line.
“Why do you cook it anyway?” I ask him, my eyes glued to the bloody needle as he sticks and sticks. “Don’t it just dissolve in water?”
“Tar?” he says. “Yeah,” he says, focused on his work. “But, you gotta cook out the impurities.”
He finally hits a vein. The plunger pulls back. A tiny coil of blood jets into the liquid in the needle, spiraling like a fractured strand of DNA. My eyes widen. He pushes the dope in, and I can feel his sigh as it hits.
“Nice,” I say, and I mean it. I catch the needle as it falls from his fingers, careful not to touch the spike. I lay it on my desk on a paper towel—he may want to keep it to reuse. I know that this is bad practice, but I don’t shoot dope, and this is not a man I want to piss off.
He passes out for almost a minute. I consider robbing him, consider how poorly that will go. He finally comes to, slaps his own face a number of times, looks at me.
“Hey, listen,” he says, his speech slurred. “I can’t drive—can you drive me to my apartment? My girlfriend and her friends are there.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah—let me grab something,” I say. He nods, struggling to keep his eyes open. I grab my can of shaving cream with the false bottom that has my ounce of coke in it. I know that his girlfriend Julia may buy some, and so may her friends.
They are still in high school.
They are barely sophomores.
It wouldn’t matter if they were twelve or ten or eight—as long as they have money.
I used to think people like me were garbage.
I used to dream of acting and writing.
Of visiting the stars.
My eyes are beginning to droop as well. Oxy gives me energy, but this tar is different—I don’t like it as much.
My body doesn’t discriminate, though, so neither do I.
“I gotta take a piss first,” I say. He nods, closes his eyes. I run downstairs to the bathroom and crush up a few lines of uncut coke I set aside earlier. My nose begins to bleed. I want to stomp on the floor and shout as my throat goes numb, but it wakes me up, and that’s what I needed.
I go back upstairs and find Chris seated, bent over double on my bed, snoring. I go back to the bathroom and snort a couple more lines. My teeth begin to grind, and that’s when I know I’m good to drive.
Back up the stairs. I shake him gently. He wakes with a start, cocks his fist back—I jerk away.
“Whoa, hey, man!” I say, my hands up. I am a coward, not a violent man. If he hit me, I would only curl up on the floor and protect my face.
His eyes snap open and focus on me. He smiles like a fool and lowers his fist.
“Sorry, man,” he says, eyes half closed.
“It’s cool,” I say, grabbing him under his armpits and hoisting him up. I lead him down the steps, his arm across my shoulder, his aching abscess brushing my cheek. It takes several minutes to get down the three flights of stairs and into my Pathfinder.
“Wait,” he mumbles, fumbling with his seat belt. “Wait, wait. Wait. Need something.”
I let him stumble around the parking lot. He comes back eventually, falling into my vehicle. He gets in, shows me a brown leather bag with a padlock on it.
“My methadone,” he says, smiling at me. His eyes roll back in his head. He passes out. I contemplate stealing the methadone, but the risk of what he will do to me is too great.
I wait a few beats, put my finger under his nose, feel his slow, wet breath, and then drive through the burning night.
We are at Chris’s apartment in ten minutes, a brown box on the first floor with two more above it. His girlfriend Julia is sixteen.
He is twenty-three.
I am twenty-one.
I take great pride in not imitating his pedophilia as I contemplate how much coke I can sell these children.
I shake him awake.
“Yo, man, we’re here,” I say. I can see lights and shadows moving in the little apartment. I pull Chris out of the Pathfinder, prop him against the passenger door. He cannot keep his eyes open. He holds out his hand to me. I hand him a smoke. He attempts to light it, drooling all over the filter, the lighter. I finally grab it from him, light a fresh smoke, put it in his mouth. He smiles at the ground. I steer him up to the apartment, knock on the door. I cannot feel my teeth.
She is so obviously a child.
“Hey,” she says, music blasting behind her, the room filled with smoke. I nod upwards, say nothing, carry Chris through the door into the cramped apartment. I toss him onto a threadbare couch.
I wonder what I would have done had I not been a criminal.
Would I have said something?
Surely her mother knew.
Surely someone knew what she was doing.
What he was doing.
Maybe I’m the only one who knew.
I promise you that not in ten million years would I have called the cops on this man. The risk to me for what I did each day was too great. Dope pushed me just over the edge into a world of darker things.
For everyone in the light, I might as well have been buried in an abyss.
There are so many children here. They are leaning up against stained walls with holes punched through the drywall, laughing at a drunk child who has become entangled in the blinds. They are drinking cheap vodka and ashing cigarettes on the carpet and staring at me. I pull out my false-bottomed shaving cream container, break out the coke on a three-legged table with a cracked glass surface.
The boys are athletes and punks, the kind of kids I always wished to be when I was in high school.
Now they are just children.
I’ve cut this coke at least seventy percent with inositol. They think themselves badasses, snorting what is effectively sugar with a dash of blow. I spread an eight ball on the table, cut everyone a line.
“First one’s always free,” I say. I am smiling. I blow a fat rail. I am a god. Chris has not moved from the couch, his cigarette burning a hole in his pants. Someone has lit up some weed, offers it to me. I put a little coke in the bowl. I have no clue if it does anything, but everyone cheers, and it doesn’t matter.
What a sad, pathetic monster I am.
I do more lines, and more. Something shifts, and my OCD wakes, uncoils, begins beating at my brain. I walk against my will into a bathroom that reeks of shit, the walls covered in what can only be black mold, look at my face in the cracked mirror, begin picking at pimples that do not exist.
Five minutes pass, ten. My face is bleeding. Fifteen. Someone calls to me, asks if I’m coming out. I do not respond. I want to walk away. Twenty. Thirty. I must walk away. Several children poke their heads in, look at my bloody face, disappear. I think of the coke in the shaving cream can that I’ve left in the other room. I should get it. I should never have left it. Forty minutes. Fifty. Children are leaving the party. My fingers ache. I would cry if I could. Sixty. Seventy. I want so badly to leave. My feet will not move. Eighty.
In a burst of willpower, I tear myself away from the mirror. I check Chris’ cabinet for rubbing alcohol, wipe my bleeding face down. It feels like an inferno. I walk into the smoky, dim living room. Someone has turned down the music. Only the girls are left.
“We’re sorry,” they say. They will not look at me.
The shaving cream can is gone.
“Who,” I say. I am quiet.
Then I shriek, all of them jumping, startled. “Who!”
They give me a name, a phone number. I call. The boy picks up, laughs, tells me to come find him. No one knows where he lives or will not tell me.
I am powerless.
I storm out of the house, convinced I will find a way to get revenge.
Days pass. I learn nothing. I do nothing. I am a joke, a drug dealer who cannot even recoup stolen money from a child.
And this is how it goes, time after time. I scrape together a few hundred dollars, a few thousand, make a large purchase. I dream of empire and money and women and glory, watch movies like Blow and The Departed, see myself becoming the kingpin of Kansas.
And then it all falls apart.
Someone robs me.
I lose my dope.
I can’t sell the pills fast enough to outrun my habit.
And I tell myself this is the last time.
I remember saying this to myself, clear as God—I am done with this coke, done with Jacob and his shithole apartment and feeding him oxy at cost. I’m done trying to deal. Such a small voice in my head it is:
This is wrong. We can’t keep doing this.
What about school?
We could be an attorney, a doctor... even act again.
We could do anything.
Anything but this.
It sounds so good.
It sounds so impossible.
And an hour passes. And two. I might even sit at my computer and try to write a line or three.
After five or six hours, I hear a different voice, loud and deep and filled with fire, with certainty, with the courage I do not have.
This time will be different.
We just did it wrong.
It was a fluke, that kid robbing us.
We’ll be more careful next time.
We can write later.
School can wait.
Just buy one more ounce of coke.
Or maybe invest in some of that heroin.
We’ll sell it right this time.
We’ll never finish school.
We’ll never have a decent job.
We’re in too deep.
This is our last chance.
Let’s try it.
One last time.
How feasible it seems. So simple. The blade drives deeper. I welcome the pain. My cells are flaming and bursting, my skin withers, and all I can do is look for things to borrow or steal, convince other junkies to throw in with me for a big score and cheap dope.
And I forget the little girl and the man taking advantage of her, sidestep the fact that I sold dope to kids, and head over to Jacob’s house to beg for a front.
Adam Fout works as a marketer in the suburban wasteland of North Texas. His fiction has been published in Factor Four Magazine, Breath & Shadow, DreamForge, and Pulp Literature, and his nonfiction in Oral Fixation.