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Amber makes the most money on Friday nights, which means I score Saturday morning. I can only get through a few hours before I start getting the shakes, so Twigsy always expects me before eleven. The wife gets to sleep and wakes up to a shot first thing. Lucky bitch.
Today was the same as any other Saturday. I checked the bedroom to find the ol' lady laying there, needle still pegged in her arm. Luckily, she didn't leave the tie-off on that time. She'll do that sometimes. Leaves her arm looking blue for a good few hours since her circulation isn't so good anyway. I guess that's what happens when you do a lot of dope and don't eat a whole lot. Amber ain't so good at taking care of herself, but I suppose I ain't either. That's why I've been awake for a week and I'm about to go get horse from some guy who doesn't even trust me enough to give me his real name.
The walk to Twigsy's doesn't take long. We used to have a car and the trip took just about thirty seconds, but it ended up getting impounded by the authorities when I got caught driving on a suspended license. The fees cost more than the damn car was worth so we cut our losses and decided to just start walking to do our daily errands. After all, we were on the low end of the city. No matter what kind of demand there was, there was always going to be a supply. When you're an addict, that's really all that matters.
I knocked on Twigsy's door at the cheap motel up the road. It was called the Brighton or the Bridgeton—one of the two. The letters were so fuckin' cockeyed you really couldn't tell. It didn't matter though. Every dope fiend from here to the Hills knows where Twigsy is and they will until he tells them to forget. Even then, the assholes will still come knocking on his door. That's how it works around here. Low-level dealers like Twigsy come in thinking they're gonna just sell for awhile—just enough to fund their habit. Then they overdose or die of AIDS or hep C or whatever the hell else they might contract from sharing dirty needles. I tried to keep my habit clean, but it's hard when syringes are so hard to come by nowadays.
“What's the password, esé?” Twigsy barked through the door.
I could tell by the urgency in his voice that he'd been twirling the pipe. I could smell the shit billowing out from the windows.
“Yo, Twigs, it's me. Ben.”
“Ben who? Answer the fucking question, asshole!”
“Come on, Twigs. I'm too tired for this shit,” I muttered, rubbing my temples. “Is the password 'teener', by chance?”
Twigsy cackled like some kind of maniac. God knows how long the bastard had been awake. Ever since he started dealing ice, he'd been using way too much. He'd get himself tired by slamming H all day and then smoke a ton of ice to wake himself back up. I told him that shit was gonna drive him insane, but he never listened to a damn word I said. Mixing dope with crystal intensifies the hallucinations and messes with your heart rate. It's a hell of a rush, but it ain't good for the mind.
“Ding, ding, ding! We got a winner!”
He opened the door with way too much force, grinning at me wildly. It looked like he'd lost a few more teeth since I'd seen him last. He'd definitely lost a fair amount of weight, as his bones were jutting out from beneath his black wife-beater and his pajama pants were sagging at the waist. Being a beefy guy had worked to my advantage when it came to my addiction. Whenever I lost weight, I didn't lose enough to look suspicious or sickly. They'd have to look at my arms for that.
“Close the door behind you,” he barked as he hurried back into the dingy room and plopped onto the disheveled sofa. He clawed at his face and added, “Come on, hurry up!”
After kicking the door shut, I locked it and rubbed my hands together. I could tell he'd been tweaking for awhile, so I just hoped that the dumbass wasn't about to pull a knife on me and take me for all I got. I liked Twigsy because he always knew when to stop. Sure, he had a habit, but he never was as bad as most of these low lives. He didn't hit his girlfriend, he paid his child support, and he took care of his ma. I don't know what happened to him over the course of the last few months, but he was not the guy that I used to know.
“I gotta cook,” he sputtered, fidgeting in place.
He seized a half-spilled bag of crystal and took a pinch of it between his trembling, bony fingers. His neck jerked back and forth in a panic, until finally, his frantic, clouded eyes found a bloodstained needle. It was leaning against the edge of an ashtray on the table, completely uncovered. I shook my head and reminded myself never to share a needle with Twigsy, no matter how desperate I was.
“Whoa, you're slamming crystal now too?” I asked, confused. “I thought you just smoked ice and shot smack. When'd you start this little habit?”
“Oh, I just smoke crystal if I'm doin' it alone, but if I'm gonna do some horse I just mix 'em together,” he replied with a shrug. “Hell of a head rush.”
I watched intently as he went to add a bit of water from a disposable red cup that had been sitting out for God-knows-how-long. I cleared my throat and gave him a look of disapproval. No way in hell was I gonna witness this moron make a mistake like that.
“What the hell are you doing, you idiot?” I spat. “You can't put the crystal on the spoon first! Remember this: dope before ice if you're usin' a spike. Got it, eh?”
“Dope before ice if you're usin' a spike. Got it. Hand me that bag, homie! Quick! Quick! Quick!” Twigsy bantered, snapping his fingers at me. I tossed him the bag of China white and he kept going. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's some good dope right there. You wanna buy some?”
I perked up a bit once I realized he was actually sane enough to know I was looking to buy. The damn tweaker was full of surprises.
"Yeah, I'd like that. You think I can get a teener and another bag for my ol' lady too? She'll kill me if I don't bring her back something,” I said, pulling my cigarettes from my breast pocket and plucking one out. I placed it between my lips, lit it, took a drag, and breathed, “She's been workin' extra shifts at the strip club and I'm still in between work. Seems like every damn place in the city drug tests and I ain't got it in me to kick right now. Think it might kill me this time.”
“I ain't a quitter and neither are you, Ben. Don't forget that, homes,” Twigsy rattled, torching the bottom of his spoon. “Hey, can you grab me that belt over there?”
I nodded and handed him the leather belt that was on the end table on the other side of the sofa. He took it, tied off, drew the potion into his contaminated needle, and inserted it into a small, bruised hole. I could tell it was gonna be an abscess, but I didn't wanna ruin his kick. His eyes rolled back into his head and his dopey, snaggletoothed grin was enough to make me cringe. Whenever I saw dope fiends that looked like this asshole, I wondered if I looked that bad to normal folk. I mean, I wasn't so bad for the low end of town, but people in the Hills probably could tell I was a criminal from a mile away.
“How's that rush?”
“It's good, esé, it's good,” Twigsy garbled. “You uh, you uh still wanna buy that white? How about some uh—some ice?”
“Yeah, both. Amber made some pretty good tips last night so I'm in the market for a bit of a party this weekend,” I said, blowing smoke from the corner of my mouth as I watched him unbuckle his tourniquet. “It's good white though?”
“Pure as a virgin snow,” he confirmed. “You're gonna like that crystal too.”
I nodded, smoke billowing from my nose. It was creating a bit of an eerie fog in the dark motel room, and I could tell that it was ruining Twigsy's buzz. Out of respect, and partially because I didn't wanna be on bad terms with the last reasonable dealer in town, I put my cigarette out in the ashtray and clicked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. The white looked so good I wanted to try it right then. That syringe wasn't worth it, though. You couldn't pay me to swap blood with this disease factory.
“How much can I buy off you for five hundred? I'm trying to get enough so I don't have to leave the apartment for a few days,” I explained. “Amber's gotta work and I gotta watch the kid. He's in his terrible twos now so there ain't no way I can deal with that shit sober.”
“You shouldn't be usin' around your kid, homes,” Twigsy said, scratching his arm. “My moms did that and that shit's prob'ly why I'm here today. Maybe if she wasn't sellin' it and shootin' me up as a kid, I wouldn't be a street punk now.”
I snorted. The fact that this tweaker was lecturing me was absolutely laughable.
“I ain't shooting him up! I just can't be sick and shit when I gotta watch him. I get agitated, man. I don't wanna take that out on my kid.”
Twigsy was clawing at his face. It was the crystal.
“I dunno, man. I feel bad sellin' to you if you're takin' care of your kid, but I guess you probably ain't gonna be able to change his diapers and feed him and shit if you're sick, huh?” he asked, his words slurring together. “That it, esé?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I divulged, starting to grow frustrated as the dope sickness set in. “I don't have time for games today, man. Amber will kill me if I ain't back with a bag for her soon.”
Twigsy sucked on his teeth.
“Alright, homes. I got you.”
That was all I needed to hear.
By the time Amber woke up, I'd already been on a bit of a morning bender. I could tell by her loud, irritating groan that she was going to harass me for a bag. For some reason, I couldn't help but feel a bit pissed off when she called out for me, begging for her wake-up shot. She never made the walk down to Twigsy's to get our drugs in the morning. If she needed a goddamn fix so bad, she could go get it her damn self, just like I had to.
“Babe, where's my bag?” she moaned, pulling her top on with the bedroom door still open. “I gotta do an afternoon shift.”
“If you want a fucking fix so bad, go walk your happy ass down to Twigsy's and get it!” I snarled, sick of her constant neediness. “I'm not your fuckin' lapdog, Amber!”
She emerged from the bedroom, her eyes dark and her makeup smeared. I'd never seen a woman that looked as strung out as she did as of late. I told the bitch she needed to lay off, but she never did. I had to kick off to live with my back pain and I couldn't get prescriptions anymore. She had a habit, and a nasty one at that.
“You're always an asshole on meth,” she muttered, lighting a cigarette between her lips. She blew it up into the air and muttered, “Not like you could pay for that without me, anyway. When's the last time you made us any money?”
I glared at her. I didn't like when she mocked me for being a bad provider. It wasn't my fault I couldn't just go dance on a pole for some money.
“When's the last time you weren't a whore?”
“Oh, whatever,” she retorted, sucking on her cigarette and throwing her faux leather jacket over her shoulder. “You spend all my money on shit for yourself and you're mad at me? Good goddamn thing I didn't trust you with all of my fucking money, you piece of—”
Her voice was too much. She sounded like my mother.
“'kay,” she said with a snort, before taking another drag. She seized her purse and added, “I'm gonna go get a bag from Twigs and then I gotta go to work. Can you watch Max for awhile?”
“Sure. Whatever. Go blow him for your fix.”
She scoffed and slammed the door behind her. I knew that's what she was going off to do. That bitch didn't have a dime more than I just spent, no matter what she claimed. If I hadn't already shot up a bag, maybe I would have given a damn. Frankly, I didn't care all that much about what she did. My love for her had faded over the years, but she was a hell of a partner in crime. Some days, I really thought about leaving her. Other days, I knew I'd die without her. Our relationship was something like hellfire, but it was all we knew.
My brain was wandering. I grabbed my torch and my pipe.
I'm not sure how much time passed. I spent a few hours lying on the sofa, watching the hand on the wall as it ceaselessly ticked for every valuable moment that I wasted. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The topless woman on the television screen let out a wild yell, but all that I could do was sit there, staring at the fuzzy blobs of flesh that I could only assume were her breasts. That's the only problem mixing heroin and meth. You're awake, but you shouldn't be, so the world starts turning into a fuckin' dream. Everything is blurry. Time stands still, or it moves way too fast. I really couldn't tell you which. Hell, the last two years have felt like days, but every day feels like a year. That's what addiction is like. That's what a habit is like.
Suddenly, I heard a sound. The hairs of my neck stood on end and there was an itch I just had to scratch. Wide-eyed, I clawed at my neck and looked around the small apartment. Then, I heard the sound again, and I was prepared to grab my gun from the safe across the room. I could probably put in the combination and fire at the intruder before he'd even notice me. Sneakiness was key.
Sweat was dripping from my brow and down my neck. Body odor permeated the air of our poorly-ventilated, stagnant shit-hole of a place, and I knew it was mine. I hoped that the bastard couldn't smell me. Then, I heard it again. A scream. A high-pitched scream. Was this a fuckin' woman? Was I about to shoot a broad? What was a broad doing in my apartment? The clock says it's 3P.M. Amber is scheduled to work til eight.
Hungry? Weird thing for a trespasser to say. Was this a goddamn cannibal? Frowning, I looked around the corner and my heart settled. Well, it settled as much as it could after a guy just twirled the pipe, anyway. The voice belonged to Max. My kid. My boy. My pride and joy.
“Alright, alright,” I murmured, putting a cigarette in the corner of my mouth and lighting it. I got to my feet and added, “You scared Daddy, ya know that?”
He looked down at the floor, nervously twisting the fabric of his pajamas in between his tiny fingers.
I gave him a nod as I made my way to the fridge.
“You're damn right you are,” I replied, digging through a myriad of leftovers. Smoke billowed out of my nostrils and I took the cigarette from my mouth to ask him, “How's, uh, a juice box and some pizza?”
I had no fucking idea how old that pizza was, but it was all we had and I couldn't let my boy starve. There was a pain in my heart. Not being able to provide for my kid was one of my greatest fears, but it was our sad reality. If it wasn't for Amber, the kid would probably be dead in a ditch somewhere.
I am a terrible father.
The kid took the cold pizza, famine in his eyes, and all of my failures came crashing down on me. He sucked on the straw of his juice box. The sound made me cringe. The kid should have fresh water from the tap and homemade meals, like other kids have. I never could give that to him, and Amber sure as hell couldn't either. No matter how many times we said we were going to rehab, we never went. Well, except that time I went for a week, detoxed, broke out, and used as soon as I got back to the apartment. She welcomed me with open arms, and we started right where we left off—inebriated and self-destructive.
Thank God. The kid is back in his room.
I need my gear.
I decided to grab the gun too, just to be safe.
The sound of clattering pots and pans killed my nods. Groggily, I rubbed my eyes and looked up at the television. It was muted. I didn't remember doing that.
I listened for another minute, but heard nothing. My kid was in his bedroom. Whoever was in my goddamn house needed to know who was boss, and I wasn't gonna get real far after shooting two bags of dope. Either my tolerance wasn't what it used to be, or the horse around here was getting a hell of a lot more potent.
I need something to balance out these nods.
Twirl, twirl, twirl.
Everything is becoming clearer.
I heard the clattering again, and it reminded me why I woke up in the first place. I shook off the nods. There wasn't much that I'd done right in my life. My son couldn't have me fail him again. I had to protect him. I couldn't just be a deadbeat dad anymore. He deserved better. Hell, even Amber deserved better. She'd kill me if anything happened to him because I was too loaded to shield him from the scavengers on this side of town. I could just imagine her glowering over me. She'd probably kick me out again.
“What the fuck did you do now, you tweaker asshole? You let some moron take our kid because you were too high? What you got to say for yourself, you fuck? Do you even how much of a fuck-up you are?”
I hated when she spoke to me like Ma would.
Angrily, I stood up and grabbed the gun. Then, I realized that in this neighborhood, they probably had a gun too. Feeling a bit anxious about what I might be walking into, I took cover against the wall and my thoughts began to spin out of control.
Who could possibly be in the goddamn house? I locked the front door and the windows were boarded up so they couldn't budge those. Was it some kinda tweaker? A homeless fuck? The CIA?
Oh God, what if it's the CI-fuckin'-A?
I had to take care of it. I couldn't lose the kid, especially not while Amber was out because she'd sure as hell blame me.
I couldn't remember if the gun was loaded. I didn't want to cock it and make noise and I didn't wanna shoot a blank and ruin the whole thing either.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Then, I heard footsteps. They were heavy—heavy enough to make the house shake. I'd never felt the ground shake like that before. There was no going back. All I could do was shoot and pray.
I peered around the corner, my stomach in my throat. He was coming towards me. He was adorned in all black—a suit and tie. I couldn't see his eyes because they were hidden behind dark sunglasses. They glimmered under the dim lighting, just like the gun tucked in the holster at his hip. I had to protect my son. I failed as a father each and every goddamn day I put the drugs in my body and if I was gonna do one thing right, it was protecting my kid. The CIA sure as hell wasn't gonna take him away.
I know I can do better. I'd dodge the cops and explain it to Amber later. We could skip town, detox, and be the parents we've always meant to be. We would get new names. We'd exercise. We'd eat right. We'd have the white picket fence. We'd be normal. I just had to do this one thing.
I pulled the trigger. It was, indeed, loaded.
The guy collapsed. He screamed, but only for a split second. The neighbors probably would just think it was the TV or another one of me and Amber's fights. Gunshots were always going off in this neighborhood, so surely that would raise no concern.
Blood ran down the man's strong chest, staining the asbestos-riddled kitchen floor. It was seeping onto Amber's nice rug and I cursed under my breath because I knew my blood was going to be staining it next. She could probably forgive a dead cop in the kitchen, but she couldn't forgive me for ruining that damn rug.
The body just kind pulsed for awhile. He made gurgling sounds a couple of times and I could not stand that fuckin' noise so I grabbed an old, grubby blanket and threw it over his bloody face. He still had on his sunglasses. Sunglasses look pretty fuckin' stupid on a dead guy, lemme tell ya.
I had to shoot up. I just killed a guy, for fuck's sake.
All of a sudden, the sunglasses were much funnier.
I must have passed out because the next thing I woke up to was the sound of a womanly scream that I knew to be Amber's. My instincts kicked in and I sat upright, even though my skin itched and my stomach was sick. Apparently, I'd overdone it a bit.
“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?”
That was all I heard, and then I started piecing everything together from earlier that afternoon. The clattering. The undercover cop. The gun. The blood. She was probably mad about her rug. It certainly was not the first time the woman had seen a dead body.
“I had to!” I defended myself, getting up from my chair. “There was no other way!”
I accidentally stepped on a needle and winced. It was apparent that I had been too effed up to get my gear back where it belonged. Groaning, I pulled the thing out of my foot. Amber was still crying, her sobs echoing throughout the tiny apartment. I wondered if she was on her period or something.
“You had to?” she shrieked. “You had to? I swear to God, Ben, this is the end of it. I'm done! I'm calling the fucking police, you asshole! Stay away from me!”
“Oh, come on!” I yelled as I approached the kitchen. “We can get away with it!”
“Get away with it?” she screeched. “I don't want you to get away with his, you fucking drug addict piece of—”
“Alright already!” I shouted. “It's just a goddamn—”
I was going to say “undercover” but as my dilated eyes lay upon the bloodied kitchen floor, I stopped. I swear my face had to be the color of China white when I saw that body. While I expected to see those stupid-lookin' sunglasses, I saw something that I never wished to see in all of my life.
It was my kid.
My wife's screams were certainly in the background, but I could not hear her. Everything was silent. The blood all over the floor was my own. It was my own blood! He was my boy! I killed him! I killed my boy!
Amber ran to the bedroom and locked it behind her. I heard her on the phone with the police, but I had no will in me to stop her from calling them. What I did was unforgivable. I deserved to be taken away. I failed as a parent. I failed as a man. I was a fuckin' monster.
I heard the sirens. Then, time stopped.
What would happen if I was indicted? What would happen if I went to prison? I'd have to go through withdrawal. I'd have to face the courts. I'd have to face my wife. I'd have to face myself. I'd have to face what I'd done, and that was enough to drive me to end everything. With my hands shaking and the sound of the police rapping on the front door, I grabbed the very gun I'd used to take my baby boy's life. The barrel fit perfectly in my mouth.
I stared into his lifeless eyes. I had to give him that much respect. After all, I definitely wasn't going where my son went in the afterlife. I just had to look at him one last time as I prepared to pull the trigger.
He was in his all-black pajamas.
There were no sunglasses.