Waking up, he rolled onto his side and looked at the clock.
It was early, probably too early to actually get up. He propped himself up on one arm and listened. There was
somebody down on the couch sleeping, their slow, rhythmic breathing indicating deep
slumber. Otherwise the house was quiet.
He slowly sat up, tucking his legs underneath, and felt around for a glass. Finding
one, he nestled it between his legs and felt around carefully for the bottle. It was in the
same spot he generally put it in, and he uncapped it and took a large mouthful. The
bourbon went down in a hot ball, and he silently burped. Pouring a glassful, he recapped
the bottle, giving the cap a deft spin. Eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness, he took stock of
his surroundings. It was a cramped loft-space, with a vaulted ceiling that only cleared his
head by a two or three feet when sitting; he had to shuffle around on his knees. There
were two framed cutouts to his left that served as windows from which he could look out
on the living room. He liked this. It made him feel like the guy in the t.v. show "taxi" in his
little booth, surveying the comings and goings of the others. He had two national flags,
made out of filmy polyester, that he had tacked up for drapes. German and French. There
were pinups on the walls and the ceiling. He could make out Miss February's Chiclet teeth,
smiling innocently in the dark. He had a makeshift bookshelf with a selection of books that
he liked to reread, and a pile of unused medical textbooks. Assorted papers and magazines
on the floor, with a collection of VCR tape cases. There was a sheet hanging from the
ceiling, blocking a set of stairs that led down to the living room, 13 or 14 shallow steps.
Once he could see, he grabbed a pack of cigarettes and shook one out. The match
flared and ruined his night-vision, so he felt around for the ashtray, putting his fingers in
the ashes before pulling it closer. He wiped his fingers on the sheet. He alternated drags on
the cigarette with gulps of bourbon, and he smiled in the darkness. He pushed the German
flag-drape aside, and looked down. It was Mike on the couch. Finishing off the glass, he
uncapped the bottle and refilled the glass halfway. He lit another cigarette with the end of
the previous one. It was starting to get a little light out, enough to see the smoke rings he
blew. He put the butt down, and reached over and lit a candle. The bourbon was beginning
to really kick in, and he rubbed his face, pressing hard on his eyes. His stomach gurgled.
He knelt and shuffled over to the stairs, drink and smoke in hand. Avoiding two steps he
knew were particularly loud, he padded down, and then at the bottom of the steps,
realized that he wasn't wearing any clothes. He muttered "Shit." Not recalling who was
there besides the housemates, he went back up and put on a pair of blue surgical scrubs,
throwing the cigarettes in the back pocket. Going back down the steps, his stomach was
more insistent, growling loudly. Picking his way around empty beer and liquor bottles, and
red plastic cups with cigarette butts floating in stale beer, he went to the bathroom and
turned on the shower. When the bathroom was filled with steam, he disrobed and got
under the water, moving the bar of soap over on the ledge, and placing the glass of
bourbon next to it. He urinated and let the hot water run over him. His stomach gurgled
again, and he doubled over and vomited, the amber liquid diluting and running around his
feet. Holding on to his knees, he dry-heaved a few times, coughed, straightened up, and
had a sip of his drink. He turned off the water, toweled off, and threw the scrubs back on.
When he went back into the living room, Mike was sitting up, watching the
television. "'Sup Jeff."
"Yeah, not bad, but I think I only got an hour or two-- it was a late night."
"Always a late night for you, dude." He stretched and yawned, turning back to the
"Yeah, well, you know how it is, someone’s gotta make up for all the lightweights
around here. fucking grad students, you’d think they were eighty years old."
"Shit, man, are you drinking now?" Mike said, shaking his head.
"Yes. I'm thirsty. I need sustenance."
"Whatever, man. you're fucking crazy, I swear."
"Like I said, gotta balance out the lightweights."
"It's six o'clock on a Sunday. you know? Sunday morning."
"What, you're religious now?"
"I'm just saying. Nobody drinks at six in the morning on a Sunday. It's crazy."
"Well, I do. And it's good for you, and you should try it. Try watching the morning
show with a beer or four-- it's much more entertaining."
"No thanks, man. Don't get defensive-- I don't care what you do, really. I'm just
saying you're pretty hard-core." He added as an afterthought "Six o'clock, shit."
Jeff sat down at the coffeetable across from Mike, and lit a cigarette. They sat
quietly for a while, the television droning on. After some time, he got up, went upstairs to
the loft, and refilled his glass again halfway. Looking down to the common room, he saw
the rest of the people who were waking up slowly trickling into the living room, one in the
kitchen, brewing a pot of coffee. There were the housemates, Mike and Walter, and a
smattering of girls who had spent the night, mostly graduate students in the anthropology
department at the university. He grabbed one of the unmarked VCR tape cases on the
floor and shook it lightly, listening to the rattle. There was a muffled metallic clink. He
tucked it into his pants and crawled over to the bookshelf, selecting "A History of the
Boston City Hospital 1905-1964". He opened it up to the middle, and took two small wax
paper baggies out of the hole he had cut into the center of the book. He went back down
with the case and the baggies, and sat down at the coffeetable.
"Anyone mind if I get high?" He asked this to no one in particular.
One of the girls said "You asked us that last night, and you went ahead and did it
anyway. Why bother asking?"
"Well, it's the classy thing to do, and I'm a high-class motherfucker."
“Does your whole high-class existence revolve around ‘getting high’?”
“Yes, now shut the fuck up. is it any business of yours?”
“You’re not right. you’re just....not....right.”
Ignoring her, he opened the case and pulled out a bent-handled teaspoon, which he
placed on the table, along with the baggies and some cotton balls. He took out a short
orange-capped syringe, and placed it lengthwise in his mouth. He got up and went in the
kitchen, got a glass of water, and went back and sat down again. Opening one of the
baggies, he asked "Anyone want some?", muffled by the needle in his mouth.
"No way." said Terri, one of the girls. A couple of people came over and sat down
to watch. He emptied the bag into the spoon, and drew water into the syringe, then
squirted it into the spoon. He flicked the lighter, and held it under the spoon until the
liquid sizzled. Putting a tiny bit of cotton in the spoon, he stuck the needle in the cotton
and drew up some liquid. Everyone watched. Setting the needle on the table, he lit a
cigarette and opened a pre-packaged alcohol swab, running it over the crook of his arm on
the inside of his elbow. Switching the syringe for the cigarette, he held it up to the light
and flicked it.
"Why do you do that?" asked Walter, one of the housemates.
"To get the air bubbles out. The bubbles can give you a heart attack."
"Heart attack? you're shooting drugs and you're worried about a heart attack?"
"Shut up, man, you fucking asked."
"Whatever." Walter shook his head, and sat back watching the television,
monitoring with a sidelong glance every now and then.
Satisfied with the flicking, Jeff grabbed an adjustable green cat-collar that doubled
as a tourniquet, and wrapped it around his bicep. Pulling it tight, he put the end in his
mouth to hold it. He tapped his arm with a finger, and selected a spot in the crook of his
arm. He pushed the needle in and eased back on the plunger. A little spot of blood
appeared, and he let the strap fall from his mouth.
"And here we go." He slowly pushed on the plunger, the small red spot
disappearing, along with the rest of the liquid in the syringe. They all watched. One girl
held her hand over her mouth, as if she had just tasted sour milk. He pulled the syringe out
and a small drop of blood formed on the skin where the needle was. He started counting
aloud, as he put a cottonball on the spot and bent his arm around it.
"Seven, six, five, four, three, oh, oh, holy shit." He leaned back in the chair, and his
mouth hung open, still holding his arm up and bent. "Ohh. oh, god." He reached over with
the other hand and pulled the tourniquet off slowly, letting it drop into his lap.
"What does it feel like?" asked one of the girls.
"When it’s good dope, it’s like an hour long orgasm in a warm bubbling
Jacuzzi--no, better than that. But I can't really put it into words. It's like God is kissing
your insides." His eyes were half-open, and he was absentmindedly scratching his belly and
crotch. "But when you don't have it, or you run out...." he trailed off.
Walter got up and went into the kitchen.
“How do you know it’s good? I mean, if you can’t like sample it or whatever? or
can you? I don’t know anything about this stuff.”
Jeff scratched, and was silent. Pans were banging on the stove in the other room.
“Well,” he began, “I knew this particular shit would be good because last week there was
something on the news about how all these people were dying in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn
from heroin overdoses. This means that it’s really pure. The best shit is the shit that’s
killing motherfuckers.” He paused, scratched. “So I knew to ask the guy for the good
stuff. He knows.” The overnight girl stared.
“You mean you got that stuff deliberately?”
“Of course. What, you think I’m going to spend my money on crap?”
“I guess not.” She said this while studying the floor.
The banging of the pots continued, everyone flinching with the BANG each time.
No one spoke. After a few minutes Jeff got up, still scratching, and packed everything
back into the tape case. He went up the stairs and sat on the mattress, smoking. He closed
the German flag-drape. He laid down and let the world drift away for a while. After some
time, he became aware that people were leaving, and he sat up. The front door shut, and
the house was quiet. He poured a drink and went downstairs, turning on the television.
The produce guy on the morning show was saying to “Never ever ever” put tomatoes in
the refrigerator because they lost their flavor. He heard the distinctive sound of Walter’s
truck pulling into the driveway, and mentally sighed. The front door opened, and Walter
came in and sat down. Jeff said “where’d everybody go?”
“The beach. Nevermind. I cannot believe you.” He squinted, looking at the
television. “I let you live here, rent-free, and you shoot up in front of guests. Are you
kidding me?” He looked over at Jeff. “Now I look like a fucking idiot. Is that how you
treat a friend?” He got up and started to pace across the room.
“I don’t suppose so.” Jeff continued to stare at the television.
“I mean, I thought that you were down on your luck, this was a temporary thing,
and you’ve been here for three months, you have no job, you stopped going to classes,
you were a month from going on to your residency, and now this.” Walter threw his arms
up in the air. “This is absolute bullshit. You think I’m stupid? You think I don’t know
what’s going on? You need help, man. You do realize that, right?”
“I could use a couple of bucks, that’s for certain.”
“What? Are you insane? You’ve got to get out. You’ve got a week. I don’t care
where you go, I’ll give you a ride to wherever, but you have to leave.”
“So that’s it, huh? Thanks mom.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“If that’s it, that’s it, I guess.”
“Yeah. Like I said, you can stay for the next week in order to get your stuff
together, make phone calls, whatever, but I swear, if you take anything, if you go near my
room, I will kick your ass from here to the next life. I’m not joking.”
“All right Walter.”
“Okay. I’m doing this because I can’t take this craziness anymore, and I know it’s
trite, but it’s for your own good.”
“All right Walter. I got it.”
“Okay.” He blew out a long breath and went to the other end of the house.
Jeff got up and went back upstairs. He sat for a while, smoking. He sat and
thought about the grads at the beach with the white sand, sunlight glistening off the waves
and children laughing. He thought about wearing a suit and a red silk tie, maybe a clean
white lab coat. The smell of an expensive leather briefcase filled with patient histories. A
black BMW. He poured another drink, and wondered if it was still too early to call the
guy in Brooklyn.