Written by George Gad Economou
“We’re fucking outlaws, man,” Dave said and had a good swig out of the wine bottle.
“Outcasts,” I corrected him and almost violently wrung the bottle out of his grip. “But, it’s alright. Where the fuck’s your friend?”
“She’ll be here, don’t you worry,” he clapped me on the shoulder and wrestled the bottle out of my hand.
“Hope it’s half as good as you described it.”
“It’s as good as I said, man.”
I didn’t reply; I just took a swig of wine.
“Don’t do that, man!” He protested when I rolled up a cigarette. “People’ll think we’re smoking weed!”
“They can smell it if they want. It’s just my smoke.”
“Yeah, but…” Without another word, he pointed at my leather jacket.
“Act inconspicuous and even the pigs won’t bother you.”
“We don’t look innocent!”
“We don’t look guilty, either. As long as you keep your trap shut.”
“Fine,” he groaned in exasperation and fished his pack of Prince out of his shirt’s pocket.
We both exhaled plumes of smoke at the green moon in silence.
It was about one-thirty in the morning of a Wednesday; in Aarhus, Denmark. Very few people were out, mostly bums and winos that had nowhere else to go. I had a place I called home, a tiny one-room apartment imbued with bad memories and whispering ghosts, but I had a long wait until I could catch the first busses.
Besides, if the deal went down smoothly, it could potentially solve some of my problems. If it went south, it’d solve all my problems.
My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at the sight of a tall, blonde woman heading our way. We sat in the park right outside the public library, a place where bums slept, winos drank, and users took the poison of their choice.
She crossed the park with magnificent debonair, her high heels clicking on the pavement, her long legs naked under the short coat. At first, I thought she was just a drunk girl with a rape fantasy.
“Stella!” Dave shot up, abruptly emerging out of whatever field of insipid thoughts he’d been wandering in just a second earlier.
“Hey,” she greeted him coldheartedly, planting an algid kiss on his cheek. My kind of woman, I thought sullenly.
“This is Peter, the friend I told you about…”
“Nice to meet you,” she shook my hand, her tone stating I don’t give a damn who you are.
“Likewise,” I smirked.
“So,” Dave said, his childish excitement getting on her nerves just as much as it got on mine, “shall we…”
“Yes,” she nodded.
We crept behind some dense bushes away from the lamplights, away from the world.
“Here,” I said and handed her the small plastic bag containing an 8ball of glass.
Without a word—and I started liking her more and more—she procured a glass pipe from her coat. And in the swift moment it took her to do so, I noticed her nakedness.
I arched my eyebrow; suddenly realizing I knew nothing about her. For all I knew, she was an undercover cop. I rolled another cigarette while she filled the pipe; thinking this could be the last cigarette I smoked as a free man.
She lit the pipe and had a drag; no way she was a cop. No sane cop would go that far to gather evidence. The 8ball alone was more than sufficient to put me behind bars. A dense plume of blue smoke came out of her half-parted lips and she leaned back with a glint in her eyes.
“Good,” she cleared her throat and lit the lighter again under the pipe. “Very good.”
Dave glanced at me with a glistening film of enthrallment in his eyes. I shook my head, hoping he’d get the message and remain silent. Miraculously enough, he did.
“So,” her voice grew heavier after the third puff, “how much?”
“Six hundred,” Dave said.
“For an 8ball?” She asked, hopefully.
“Per gram,” I corrected her.
“Bit much…” She mumbled.
“Well…” I elbowed Dave hard on the ribs and the rest of his sentence was drowned by a grunt.
“That’s the price,” I said. After all, if I was to risk my neck nightly, I might just as well cover some other expenses.
“Fine,” she nodded and bit the corner of her luscious lips. “Six hundred per gram. Thirty grams every two days.”
“All right,” I nodded and dragged long from my cigarette. I should find new supermarkets, I thought. I feared that the clerks would eventually pick something up if I bought all the cleaning chemicals I needed for the deliveries from the same store. “You’ll come to pick’em up.”
I wrote down the address; a big bakery just a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment, away from downtown.
“Bit too far,” she protested. “Fine, it’s a deal,” she added when I sat up.
“See you in two days, then,” I said and we shook hands.
We crawled out of the bushes and almost synchronously both she and I fixed our long hair. Even if someone saw us, they’d have thought something completely different had transpired.
I raised my eyebrow and ran my gaze up and down on her body; aside from the film of madness in her gleaming eyes, I was impressed by the thought behind her outfit (or lack thereof, however you want to put it).
We went our separate ways. A tiny part of me wanted to escort her back to whatever hellhole she called home, make sure her outfit (and the haziness engulfing her mind) didn’t lead her straight into some grotesque scene. It wasn’t out of chivalry I wanted to do so; it was simply a case of protecting my newfound business partner.
On the other hand, I felt quite certain she could handle—and probably exceptionally well—any unlucky bastard that decided to give her trouble.
“We did made it, man!” Dave chirped and clapped his hands.
I don’t know why he always said we did made it. Perhaps, it was some sort of emphasis that somehow worked in his brain. Maybe, he thought it was a good combination of we did it and we made it.
With the thought that in two days I’d be ten thousand krones richer warming my heart, we entered the only pub in town that stayed open late even on weekdays.
Of course, the ten thousand were still a faraway dream. I only had a couple hundred in my wallet. Dave had even less. We ordered draft beer, clinked glasses, and lit cigarettes.
Some deity decided to play a trick on me—whatever boozehound god sits up there watching us sure loves me!—and Purple Rain came through the speakers. I drank up and ordered double bourbon (well, rotgut).
“Why am I carrying most of the stuff?” Dave whined as he shambled behind me carrying three bags filled with heavy bottles of cleaning chemicals.
“‘Cause I’m the one risking my neck; and having a back that doesn’t ache helps.”
“Right,” he panted.
“Almost there, don’t give up now!” I chuckled and lit a cigarette. In my postman’s bag, I had three bottles of supermarket rotgut that clinked beautifully after every step I took.
He collapsed the moment he stepped into my apartment. I aligned the three bottles on the counter like soldiers ready to jump into a fray to determine the fate of the crumbling world.
“And I’m gonna have to do this every other day?” He whistled the words out.
“If you want your cut, yeah.”
“There’d be no deal if it weren’t for me.”
“True,” I shrugged. “But, then, I wouldn’t have to cook glass every two nights risking blowing the whole place up.”
“You want to blow yourself up.”
“Be that as it may,” I agreed, everyone around me knew of my suicidal tendencies, “I still have some shit to do before I go out in a blaze of ice fire.”
“How about a drink?” He asked.
I got the box of wine out of the refrigerator and poured two waterglasses.
“So, you’re doing it tonight?” He threw himself on the blue foldout couch, still huffing and puffing.
“Yeah,” I nodded and sat crosslegged on the worn-out leather desk chair.
“Will you cook…more than…” He mumbled hopefully.
“Probably,” I shrugged—of course, I would. We both knew it. And I knew he wouldn’t leave till he got a taste. “So, where do you know her from?”
“Stella? From my neighborhood; she doesn’t live there, she just…hangs out there a lot. Kinda like how you always sit and drink in the dives downtown, even though you live in a nice suburb.”
“You always complain about your neighborhood, man.”
“You try and live there for a day, motherfucker,” he rebuked, some vivacity appearing in his voice. “Every single morning I am awoken by fucking Indian music; my goddamn neighbors have to play that shit at seven in the morning sharp.
“You’ve got nice, polite Danish neighbors, man. They probably tiptoe around in their apartments so they don’t cause any disturbance.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty quiet,” I concurred.
“So, anyway,” he let out a heavy sigh and choked down half his glass, “Stella hangs around the neighborhood. I often see her in the park, in the mall; sometimes, in the shooting gallery, too.
“I guess, you can imagine why she comes…” He winked meaningfully. I didn’t care for her reasons, as long as she paid up and didn’t nag, complain, bitch…
“So, you figured you should tell her about me.”
“After I’ve known her for a while and after she mentioned she needed some good glass for her and some of her friends.”
“You sure she’s got credit? Will she pay up?”
“I’m sure she will,” he nodded; the faint uncertainty in his eyes didn’t give out many promises. “Besides…don’t you know that shark, the…”
“Well, if she doesn’t…”
“I’m not asking him for any favors. He’s good enough company for a few drinks, to tell a couple of stories, but that’s it. Besides, the price for hiring his goons could very well be your kidney.”
“‘Cause he knows my internal organs are not worth a dime.” I drained the waterglass and refilled it. “So, if she does swindle us, we’ll find another way to get our money.”
“Whatever you say, man,” he lifted his open palms and accepted with a thirsty glint in his eyes the refilled glass.
I observed him eyeballing my bookshelves, mumbling under his breath the titles and authors; with a faint smirk, I drained my wine and poured me another.
“You know,” he cleared his throat, “I read quite a lot back in juvie.”
“Yeah,” he moved his gaze to me. “I really liked Bukowski and Thompson, man. Made me feel that if they made it, I could, too.”
“They had talent,” I rebuked, far more sternly than I intended.
“Are you gonna make it?”
“Nope,” I shook my head, smirked, drained my glass—and, as was my wont, refilled it mechanically. “You can live in madness all your life, but if you don’t have talent, you won’t make it.”
“Writing’s a craft, ain’t it? You just need to hone it.”
“You need to have it; though, nowadays, what with the whole creative writing courses business, people believe otherwise. The world today encourages us to believe we can be anything we want. As long as we believe.”
“Sounds nice,” he said dreamily.
“What do you want to be?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s a good start,” I rolled my eyes, then a cigarette.
“I guess,” he said heavily, “at some point, I’d love to go back home, you know?”
“Probably not,” he dropped his head. “Besides, even if I could, how would I…look them in the eye, you know?”
“Yeah,” I drew a deep breath and dragged a long puff. “They say families forgive everything.”
“You think they’d forgive what I’d done?”
“It was pretty…low,” I agreed.
I knew his story; he’d told me the first time we met, when we shared a case of lukewarm Tuborg in the same park we met Stella. At sixteen, he raped his fourteen-year-old cousin. Did time in juvenile prison, then, they let him go. I guess his whole “I’m a killer, man” gimmick wasn’t true. Had he indeed killed two guys in juvie as he claimed, he would have been transferred to an adult prison—or death row, can’t remember which state he was from.
“I was young, stupid, and high on backwoods glass. I just…she walked around in them daisy dukes, man, I…”
“That’s not an excuse,” I sighed.
“I know. Anyway, I did the time and…hell, I still am! It’s just a different kind of imprisonment I deal with, you know?”
“You can’t complain, man!” He erupted. “You live in a nice neighborhood, in a nice little apartment; you got your books, you got…”
“Yeah?” I arched my eyebrow when he paused.
“Never mind,” his voice dropped and so did his gaze.
He knew about Emily; about her OD’ing in my arms, while I, too, chased dragons in flaming meadows. He knew about Christine, who found me half-dead with the spike in my arm and nursed me through cold turkey, only to leave for Copenhagen to pursue her studies and dreams.
It was, after all, a couple of months after Christine had left I first met the “killer”; back then, I drank in parks and dives, telling all about her to whoever was patient (or inebriated) enough to listen.
“So, when will you start?” He asked, impatiently.
“Tonight. Has to be dark; don’t know if you’ve noticed, it’s not exactly a secluded spot.”
“Right,” he nodded. The circular nature of the apartment complex sure wasn’t very illicit-activity friendly, especially when said illicit activity required an open space, or, at the very least, an open door to provide some much-needed fresh air.
“And you won’t be getting any, either.”
“You’re crazy enough as it is.”
“Ha! Look who’s talking!”
“I’m fully aware of my madness; and how to control it.”
“Two nights ago you were cursing at cars and punched some advertisement boards!”
“Just shattered the glass,” I shrugged.
“I don’t care for terminologies.”
“Don’t you think it should be tasted before you sell it?”
“I’m the best taster there is.”
“And you think you can be objective?”
“I’ve smoked enough to qualify for the position, yes.”
He gave up; eventually, he’d get some. He’d pester me enough and I’d cave in. He knew it, I knew it. I just…I guess, I just knew the effects it had on him and, in all frankness, didn’t feel comfortable being the one releasing a sex-crazed werewolf on the more or less peaceful streets of the town.
“All right, man,” he leaped off the couch and almost crashed down on the floor. “Gotta go. Let you to…do whatever you’re gonna do.” He clapped me on the shoulder and headed for the door.
I didn’t bother to get up. I refilled my glass and leaned back on the desk chair. I put my feet on the desk and had a long gulp. I watched him stagger toward the bus stop from the window.
I wondered what Christine would think if she could see me; if she could see me cooking glass to make enough money to cover my booze tabs. I drained the glass and went for another.
I drank and smoked, listening to Hank and George Jones, all afternoon; somewhere in the middle of Lost Highway I passed out and in the dream, I sat in a honkytonk sharing a bottle of Maker’s Mark and tales with the outlaw poet.
At about 2am, I woke up and almost toppled off the desk chair; breaking my neck after a violent hangover wake-up is not the way to go. I sank a glass of warm wine to soothe the headache and reclaim the pleasant buzz.
It was sour and warm; better than nothing.
I lit a cigarette and went to the kitchen; opened the front door and peeled a battery off, taking out the lithium tape. And that’s all I’m gonna say about the procedure.
By six in the morning, right on time to close the door before the super came out to mow the lawn, I was done; a very inconspicuous piece of glass, weighing in at thirty-two grams, sat on my kitchen counter. I cut the extra two grams off and put the big chunk in a small plastic bag.
With the tiny chunk between my fingers, I sat on the couch and just stared at the little piece of death. I placed it atop the copy of Wild Boys sitting on my coffee table, then grabbed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I started reading with a cigarette dangling from my lips; had to kill a couple of hours till the supermarkets opened, so I could buy some booze.
I lifted my gaze away from the powerful lines of the great Doctor and stared at the glass; the one sitting so innocently in my kitchen would provide me with enough cash properly to raid a liquor store and get all the top-shelf booze I only eyeballed from my stool at the end of the bar.
Hell, I thought, the kind of money offered will allow me even to save! It was an unprecedented occasion, knowing I had a job (as illicit and potentially lethal as it was) that might allow me the luxury of a savings account!
Surrounded by the two great heroes, the ones that made it because of (and not in spite of, as most would falsely claim) the madness of their lifestyle, I picked the tiny chunk up. Too long, I recalled.
The first time, I was chased down by the intergalactic police for the criminally sane; and I had Emily, the love of my life, by my side. We battled a genocidal ghoul whale that resided in the lake by a lakehouse; we drank the alien policemen under the table and robbed them clean.
We had it good back then—fueled with way too many substances but I wouldn’t call it Fear and Loathing in Jylland. It was just a weekend trip that could have seen us locked up for life, but, instead, only created half-remembered memories from a time I was in love and Emily wasn’t just a phantom touch on my shoulder during crepuscular nights of nothingness.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I leaped to my feet and in a frenzy searched my closet—its doors had too many holes on them, covered by pictures of my heroes. The first hole, concealed under Fitzgerald, was created during the last time I stepped into the ring with ice.
I wasn’t alone; who was with me? I can’t remember. I only remember the intense lovemaking by the closet, her head causing that first hole. A broken bottle of good wine; she kicked it to the floor trying to climb on my lap amid a stupor and drug haze.
The pipe was still there, hiding under piles of unused towels. Dirty, reeking, too many lips, and memories, imbued in it. I didn’t care. It was time for another trip, for another harsh war with the goddamn bugs starving for my muscles.
A tremor overcame my hands. I could hardly hold the lighter steady. It’d been too long and, most importantly, that glass pipe, and the little chunk of glass inside it, withheld way too many memories, wonderful sensations despite the ensuing madness.
I needed a pick me up. For a few delightful months, I had fought the blues off with nothing but rotgut and glass. Quite a few people told me it wasn’t the right way, that I treated one illness with a more severe one. These people do not belong in this story, nor my life.
Besides, it worked for me. I’m not advocating it to anyone, but I’m a firm believer in doing whatever works for you.
The first drag was strong. I burst into a body-seizing coughing fit and plumes of smoke escaped my lips. The strong, stale taste got stuck in my throat. A burning sensation rushed through me; another drag, longer. Less coughing. Back on the rocking horse.
I leaned back after a couple more good puffs, exhaling the final cloud of blue smoke. Emily’s mesmerizing eyes appeared in there, but only for a brief second.
My mind raced; I felt good, despite some bugs already crawling under my skin. The alien invaders were awake, slowly eating away the useless; though, even the damn bugs avoided my liver like the plague.
I scratched my skin, viciously at first, and drew first blood. Gradually, and despite the increasing haze, I calmed down and could enjoy the effects without turning homicidal. After a long time, I did not want to jump in front of an oncoming truck; I felt as if I could defeat the page, that I could accomplish everything.
I moved to the desk chair and attacked a blank Word page. Words flowed freely through my fingertips, I was moving with the speed of sound, it felt magnificent. Even the bugs devouring my insides felt familiar and I didn’t bother them.
I poured a tall glass of gin, neat, and swilled down half of it; something to calm my palpitating heart, to stop the wild race. It’s all about pace, about the golden line that lets you go on for decades.
Take everything in too hurriedly, too hungrily, and you’re gone, ruined, eviscerated.
What came through my fingers didn’t make much sense; glass-poems with a nice dash of strong, cheap gin. Most were about Emily, some about my frustrations at my life, the country I lived in…felt good, taking it all out in poems that are probably unpublishable due to obscenity and offensive themes, but it’s better than going on a rampage on the streets attacking everyone on sight like a rabid banshee.
Those poems are what’s left of that night; of that insane night of cruel thoughts, genocidal wishes, and unadulterated madness. The incomprehensible structure, confused spelling, and horrifying lines are what remains from that brief, yet magnificent, trip.
I woke up at about noon; body aching, some scratches on my arms, head throbbing as if it was being nuked by evil forces, limbs numb. I dragged my dead ass off the blue couch, the pillow all too soft and commanding me to stay down.
I crawled to the bathroom; cut my hand on a shard of glass—apparently, I went all Buk again and threw the gin bottle, once it was done for, at the goddamn wall. The bleeding and sharp pain, however, brought some clarity back into my dazed mind.
Leaving a small, sanguine trail behind me—that once upon a time would have horrified Christine, the one woman that came close to making me want to escape the madness—I heaved into the toilet.
I shoved my head under the tap and let the cold water strike my skin for a good five minutes; finally, with some semblance of clarity of mind, I opened the fridge and grabbed a cold beer. Chugged it down, opened a second bottle.
I rolled my eyes and scoffed when I checked my phone and saw about fifteen messages and countless calls from Dave. No respect for the cook, no respect for the cook’s right to some alone time with no distractions.
Gave him a call and his voice trembled. He wanted to set up the meeting with Stella. I told him to tell her to meet us at the bakery in three hours. It’d be still early in the afternoon, some people would be around. Lower chances for a gang of gun-wielding morons to make an appearance.
It was a small town and we only had a small department of Hell’s Angels (mimicking, though mostly in outfit and bikes, their American counterpart) and gangs existed in the part of town Dave lived in. Not mine.
I had two and a half hours to subdue the hangover and sickness; I drank the beer up, cracked another. I’d stick to beer; couldn’t afford to show up at the first meeting blacked out. I often get crazy drunk and that could ruin the business deal.
With all the blinds lowered, I smoked and drank in darkness. Cranked up some nerve-soothing music; Hank Williams and George Jones. The glass trip brought back cruel memories from back when I had someone to be lonesome for me. I drained the beers at an ever-increasing pace, finally defeating the hangover.
My heart palpitated; not from fear but enthrallment. In a couple of hours, I’d have enough money to raid the nearest supermarket and break Mencken’s golden rule (don’t buy more booze than you can carry on your back for more than four blocks) once more; and this time I wouldn’t have to choose between hooch and food.
Hank moaned the blues like only he ever could and I stared at each plume of grey smoke I exhaled, searching for Emily’s long-lost gaze. The only embrace that ever truly kept me warm and safe was forever gone.
My alarm went off; it was time to hit the shower, get dressed, and shamble down to the bakery. Dave sent me three texts just to ensure I’d show up.
The walk was long, exhausting; I smoked and retained a look of perfect apathy. Only a true psychic could know what I carried in the inner pocket of my jacket. Not giving a damn helps a lot; when you don’t give a damn whether you live or die, whether you end up incarcerated or in a gutter missing a (useless) kidney.
“What the hell did you do last night?” Dave cried in exasperation when I arrived. He and Stella stood outside the bakery, sipping coffee and munching on some pastries.
“Never mind that,” I shrugged him off. “All good?” I addressed Stella, who simply nodded.
People walked by us, entering and exiting the bakery, perfectly unaware of the reason we went around the corner. Dave acted all conspicuous, his shoulders hunched as he perused our surroundings with bulged eyes.
“Quit it,” I scolded him and he straightened his back, yet sweat kept running profusely down his forehead. Nice killer, I chortled to myself.
“Where’s the product?” Stella asked, and her lower lip quivered.
I glared about; no sign of gangsters, guns, undercover cops. Some bushes along the small street and families buying pastries were all that surrounded us. The shouting and demands of children the only sound blaring through the air.
“Here,” I patted the pocket of my jeans. “Where’s the cash?”
“Here,” she pulled the bills out of her purse. I eyeballed them, rather hungrily, and they seemed alright.
I took the product from my jacket and she giggled dryly and knowingly.
Dave just gazed about, the most anxious watchdog in history.
We did the exchange. I counted the bills and she examined the product.
“Looks good,” I said. “Likewise,” she replied and her lips curled in a brilliant smile.
“See you in two days,” she stated. “Are you coming?” She addressed Dave.
“Hum…no, I think I’ll stay with…hum…”
“Suit yourself.” She sauntered away. And, god damn it, it was impossible not to ogle at how her magnificently firm buttocks, perfectly embraced by her skin-tight jeans, wobbled.
“That went well, huh?” Dave asked.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Come, it’s time to stock up.”
“I’m gonna carry everything again, ain’t I?”
“Nah,” I chuckled. “I’m getting booze, too, so…no man could haul it all off on his own.”
“There goes my back…” He groaned.
“Now,” I reminded him and patted my jacket, “you can afford a chiropractor, man.”
“Right,” his eyes instantly beamed.
A surplus of cleaning chemicals (I just didn’t know if Dave was gonna follow me home after every deal) notwithstanding, I filled the cart with booze. Well, supermarket brands, but the liquor stores required a bus ride and I just wanted to drink; the morning beers were wearing off and the hangover had returned with a vengeance.
I bought four six-packs of beer, three bottles of bourbon (rotgut), three bottles of (well) vodka, three bottles of (well) tequila, four bottles of (bathtub) gin; a couple of six-packs of tonic and soda, as well as one bottle of scotch. It is bragging, this list; it was the first time in my life I could afford so much hooch in one haul and without having creeping thoughts about rent money and food.
I’d put some of the bills in my jeans pocket, so I wouldn’t suddenly procure eighteen thousand krones out of my jacket—while I doubted the cashier would suspect whence the money came, the last thing I needed was catching the eye of a wannabe mugger.
Dave did the heavy lifting. And as he grunted and moaned and bitched and nagged, I wondered if Mencken, the lion of literature, would reply to my long letters, as he did to Fante’s.
Dave collapsed against the kitchen counter, and dropped the four bags he dragged behind him, the moment he stepped into the apartment. I fixed him a waterglass of scotch and water and even threw a slice of lemon in it. I could finally afford to be fucking fancy!
I stuck to straight-up gin. Money or not, my liver and mind were used to brutal well variations.
“Hope you’ve got enough for a while,” Dave panted and threw himself on the couch. I knew it’d be a real chore getting him back up to his feet.
“For a while,” I shrugged and lined up, almost religiously, the bottles on the bookshelf reserved for booze. The untouched for ages margarita glasses were there. Once, I used to fix margaritas and coat the glasses with blow; now, I only drank straight from the bottle for there was no one around to impress.
“So, it went really well, huh?” Dave, after a long rejuvenating sip, grinned.
“Yeah,” I concurred.
“Well, we did made it, then!”
“Sure looks that way.”
“You were smoking last night, weren’t you?” He pointed at the glass pipe I’d forgotten on the coffee table, atop the copy of Fear and Loathing. Sometimes, my apartment was a drug bust ready to happen; the cops wouldn’t even work up a sweat.
“Had to taste the product, man,” I shrugged and lit a cigarette. The gin glided nicely down my throat, assaulting the hangover with brilliant brutality.
“Right,” he sighed. “Got any left?”
“No, sorry. I only made a small sample.”
“Will you make some for me next time?”
“If you keep helping me with carrying the supplies, sure. Here.” I handed him his cut.
“Might make breaking my back worth it.”
“You can even get a new apartment, man. Away from that neighborhood you loathe.”
“Yeah,” he said dreamily, staring at the money.
For both of us, it was more money we’d ever thought we’d see, let alone have.
And, for a while, things did look bright. I spent my earnings lavishly, in liquor stores and dives buying rounds to all my fellow drunkards and bums, so there weren’t that much left to call savings, but I didn’t care.
It was a healthy deal, it went smoothingly, and I had no trouble cooking every second night. I didn’t really overspend, I just cherished the fact I could afford both booze and food, and bought a few books I’d always eyed but never could afford. Neat editions of John Milton’s work, leather edition of Shakespeare…
All I needed, after all, was the safety pillow of some cash around to help me sustain my carcass till I finally found literary recognition.
But, as it always goes, all good things must come to an end.
The deal had been going on for a few months; I had made enough money to see me through a few more months if it abruptly ended. And…it did. I got a call from Stella, who delivered some awful news.
Dave was dead; he’d smoked enough glass to go completely and helplessly batshit crazy. All his demons came out and he scratched his arms to a bleeding point while he roved the streets of his tough neighborhood yelling racist obscenities to anyone that crossed his path.
Well (and I’ve often thought this will be my end, too, especially when I get crazy mean drunk), he screamed the wrong words to the wrong crowd. At least according to Stella, who heard it the day after, when she went there to sell my glass (and whatever else she liked doing in that part of the town).
Almost no one knew who he was; no one knew how to contact his family back in the States. No one was there to take care of the funeral, of…well, I had to. He’d been a friend, I’d spend a lot of time with him. And, after all, I was one of the few that knew him and, quite frankly, the reason he got so damn high to lose his damn mind.
In the end, I’m the killer, man!
“So,” I said to Stella and handed her a lowball of rotgut, “it was a nice little service, huh?”
“Yeah,” she sighed deeply and drowned the sorrow with bourbon. “You know, it was really depressing seeing…what, five people? I mean…”
“He wasn’t a very friendly guy,” I nodded.
“Why did he like you?”
“Beats me,” I shrugged. “Maybe, it was because of the drugs. Maybe the drink. I…don’t know,” I resigned.
“Yeah, I…I guess, I liked him because he was honest. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if I didn’t agree with most of what he said.”
“Honesty is quite rare nowadays,” I concurred. “Maybe, that’s why he liked us.”
“So,” she drained her glass and demanded a refill with just a glance, to which I immediately obliged and I topped my glass, too, “what do we do now?”
“About the deal? We can sure keep on going, I mean…”
“Probably not,” she groaned. “Now that the guys know I knew Dave, they…kinda blacklisted me. They wanted to beat his ass for a long time, it’s just…it’s only now that it happened.
“And I was advised to stay away. Besides, I don’t…really live there, you know. I’m…not from that part of town, that…”
“We’re both gonna lose a shitload of money, huh?”
“I wasn’t making that much anyway, so,” she shrugged, with an indifference that assaulted my poverty-ridden head and soul.
“Why did you do it? For the thrill of it?” My voice came off way too high-pitched.
“Give or take,” she chuckled dryly. “I just…it was a way to escape the routine, you know?”
“No, I don’t. You chose to deal hard drugs in order to inject some excitement into your life? Go out, get drunk, do someone hot and stupid. That’s what people do for excitement.
“They don’t deal motherfucking meth!”
“I’ve done it all,” she continued in the simplest, most matter-of-fact manner, “and needed more. Needed that exhilaration of walking around carrying illegal and highly dangerous drugs.”
“You’re more insane than I,” I rebuked. “It’s probably why Dave liked you.”
We both laughed—rather sorrowfully—and then went back to drinking in silence. After we polished the fifth of bourbon off, I offered to make a batch of margaritas for refreshment. She agreed.
Standing over the blender, its thunderous buzzing blaring in my head, I was reminded of happier times. With a heavy sigh, I coated the glasses with salt—no blow around—and poured the cocktails.
“Thanks,” she licked her lips and her eyes betrayed her increasing dizziness.
I wasn’t doing that well myself; the tequila declared war on the bourbon. A Mexican-American conflict erupted in my stomach that became the Alamo and I sank the drink, hoping to drown the fighting soldiers that turned and twisted my stomach.
“Strong,” she noted and set the half-empty glass on the coffee table, visibly struggling with similar effects.
“Only way really to feel it,” I winked (I think) and had a long sip. I put on some music on my computer. Cranked up one of the old playlists. Aerosmith’s What It Takes was the first one to pop.
And then, as if even the shuffle function wanted to toy with me, Purple Rain came up—the song under which I first met Emily’s eyes, the song under which we danced in the middle of a crowded dive.
I closed my eyes, swallowed the lump down, and drained the margarita. The ongoing war in my stomach was what I needed, to heave and pass out hugging the porcelain seat.
It was Stella, who had to go first; flailing about, she leaped off the couch and rushed to the bathroom. Her heaving sounds didn’t affect me. I was too accustomed to the sound of others hurling.
It was the puff I dragged that did me in; my stomach whirled and the Earth rotated way too damn fast around its axon. I hurried to the bathroom, blatantly ignoring Stella still hugging the porcelain.
“Hey,” she said dryly, as we both rested our heads on the seat, staring at each other.
My heart skipped a beat, despite the brutal reeking scent rising from the bowl. It was all like it used to be a few years back, when Emily was alive. She and I, too, had often spent mornings hugging the toilet while battling to keep our intestines inside our bodies.
It took a couple of flushes for the bowl to clean up; we washed our faces and returned to the couch. I fixed two Bloody Maries (with gin, instead of vodka) and we drank in silence while our heads, and stomachs, regained some semblance of normality.
We passed out on the couch leaning on each other; when we woke up, a few hours later, our half-empty Bloody Maries were the most welcome sight. Warm, a bit stale, but precisely what we needed.
“So, you cook to escape this?” She asked while we nipped on fresh Bloody Maries.
“Nope,” I shook my head, lit a cigarette. “I cook to sustain this.”
“And you called me insane?”
“Fair enough,” I shrugged and we clinked glasses. I cracked two cold beers and the icy fuzziness was all my dry throat and twirling stomach needed.
“What will you do now? I mean…” She cleared her throat.
“I’ve enough to keep me going for a few months,” I explained. “Then…it’s back to poverty, I guess. At least, I do get welfare aid for as long as I study,” I shrugged.
“You study?” She arched her eyebrows—she’d have been less surprised had I told her I’m a professional hitman.
“Yeah, biology,” I nodded. “Well, now I’m doing my minor in dramaturgy.”
“Biology and dramaturgy?” She scratched her forehead. “How are they…”
“They don’t combine,” I chuckled. “I’m just trying to figure out what I want.”
“And what is that?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here,” I chugged the beer down, leaped off the couch, and got two more.
“As long as I can afford booze and a roof over my head, I’m happy.”
“Don’t think I ever met…”
“Someone like me?” I added with a smirk to the comment heard way too many times before.
“Yeah,” she dropped her gaze and scuffed her feet.
“It’s alright; I can say the same thing about you,” I leaned toward her and it was one of the few times I actually meant what I said.
She bit the corner of her lips and our glances met; our lips touched and I slipped my tongue in her mouth. She reciprocated and, admittedly, I thought perhaps this is the replacement I needed, the one to push Emily deeper into the well of memories.
Now, those that covet a feel-good story and a happy ending are about to be gravely disappointed. Stella and I didn’t last; we belonged in far too different worlds. For a few months, we were together; I even lived with her for a short while in an apartment complex where rich kids dwelled.
But, as is my wont, I fucked it up. We couldn’t be together; we ended it quite civilized, though. That’s the happy part of the ending: I returned to my tiny apartment, to my hooch, to my writing.
Eventually, the glass-money ran dry and I had to scrape by with the study-aid check. It wasn’t much but they sufficed for rent, booze, and an occasional meal. And I was more than alright with that.
I did see Stella again; once. Perhaps a year after we broke up. She was engaged to some guy, also the offspring of a wealthy family. We didn’t talk much, we simply exchanged pleasantries; clearly, the guy was befuddled that his fiancée knew a downtrodden barfly.
I imagine she’s now married, perhaps a mother, and has put her days of escaping her routine via dealing ice behind her.
Dave, that crazy bastard that’s always been a good friend, is…well, probably a pile of bones being gnawed away by maggots.
As for me, I’m still a drunkard, still fighting the rejection slips and the whole show, don’t tell advice from people too obsessed with their creative writing courses. I live in a different country, I stare at a different sky outside the window; I have the same hollowness within, my suicidal dreams only fade away when I’m plastered.
I’m still searching for a place to find new Daves and Stellas, new kitchens, new dive bars—so it can all be like it used to.
Text © George Gad Economou
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