The South Carolina night settled in on us. I drained the last of the thick liquid hydrocodone and realized that it was not enough. The fingers of dopesickness probed at me. I looked at Bonnie. The cigarette was burning down between her fingers. She did not move. I plucked the cigarette out of her hand and dropped it into the ashtray. Five days and it was all gone. This was one hungry monkey. It was chattering in my mind. I did not decide to go out and cop some dope. The dope decided to go out. I was just going along for the ride.
Bonnie opened her eyes. “Where’s my cigarette?” “I had to take it out of your hand. It was burning your fingers.” She looked at her hand. She closed her eyes. Her head started to droop down like a sunflower getting bigger on a small stalk. She opened her eyes. “Where’s my cigarette?” “In the ashtray,” I said. “Oh,” she said and reached out to her pack on the coffee table. She took one out. Put it in her mouth. Picked up the lighter and flicked it lit. She sucked on the cigarette and then sat back as the smoke drifted out of her mouth and nose. She closed her eyes and sat still. The cigarette burned slowly down to her fingers.
I took the cigarette out of her hand and dropped it into the ashtray. I made a cup of coffee. Smoked a cigarette. Went to the bathroom. Tried to urinate. It wouldn’t come out. I always go to the bathroom before I get high because sometimes I can’t urinate for hours. I’ll feel like I have to go but then I just stand over the toilet and try. Sometimes I sit down on the toilet because I get tired of standing. If I close my eyes I’m fucked. I could be there for hours. I did not sit down this time. I didn’t urinate either. I was just ready to walk out the front door when Bonnie opened her eyes.
“Where are you going?” she asked. “To get some dope,” I said. “But you don’t know the city. Wait till morning.” “I’ll be sick in the morning.” “Please don’t go. I have a bad feeling.” “I’ll be all right,” I said. “You don’t know the city.” “I’ll be right back. If things don’t look good, I won’t keep trying,” was what I said to her. My disease always lies to me too. Addiction only remembers what it needs.
Then Bonnie saw the helmet in my hand. “Oh no, don’t take the bike,” she said. “Please.” I didn’t want to waste time talking. It was getting late and Charleston was a strange city to me. “I’m going.” “Don’t get beat. Make sure the dope is good,” she said. “I’ll wait up for you.” She was lighting another cigarette as I walked out the door. The heat had been beating on the blacktop all day. I could feel the softness of the tar as I wheeled my motorcycle into the street. I popped a tar bubble with my shoe, climbed on the bike. Turned the gas petcock to on. Tweaked the throttle once and then kicked it. It coughed and then roared to life. The straight pipes talked internal combustion at me. I popped down into first gear and headed into town. The light at the entrance to the highway was read. I stopped for a minute. I could feel the sun rising from the street in the dark southern night. Friday night traffic.
In and out. Six exits to go. Bonnie and I had taken a cruise through Charleston the other day. A junkie is like a dowsing rod when it comes to heroin territory. I crossed into a certain area and I could feel it down to my bent cells. The streets had that slowbusy of dope areas. People clustered on the corners. Bars, candy stores, check cashing places, package stores. Some people in New York had told us about copping in Charleston. They said the dope trade was controlled by the Blacks there. In the Big Apple the New Yoricans have the best stuff. In Lowell, Massachusetts the Dominicans control the coke and spillover into the junk. If you cop from a Black person there you stand a good chance of getting beat. If you cop from a white junkie you will get beat unless you know him. Maybe you’ll get beat whether you know him or not.
In Boston the Puerto Ricans have the fair street stuff. The Orientals have the real mother-lode mind-fucker but it’s hard to get an Oriental connection. They only deal to a select few. The Blacks are down a couple of rungs on the dope ladder in Boston. The feet of the ladder stands on the white junkies. That’s how some of the stories go. You can’t believe anything you hear or read when it comes to the racial stuff. They say that dope is the great equalizer. Brings us all down to the same manure pile. Life is like that. Somewhere in the hidden zone are the dealers who don’t use the product. Some junkies meet one of them once in a while. Some junkies disappear. Some are found in bathrooms or condemned tenements with blood filled syringes connected to their veins.
Nowadays every dealer stamps their bag with a name. So it can have a reputation that stands on its own. There are times w and in the newspapers. Every junkie zeroes in on that bag and area. Junk is only a stepping stone to the big high. That’s how it is. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask any junkie. Down the exit ramp. Into the city. Cross into Blacktown. Busy streets. Flashing teeth from night-face as I cruise slow down dope-street. Waving me over. Neon lights flicker, hurt my eyes. “What’s up?” he says. “Lookin’ for the ‘boy’” I say back. “You a cop, white boy?” he smiles in sound at me. I laugh and pull up the sleeve of my shirt. Those railroad tracks running up my veins are great convincers. “I’m not holding but I’ll take you to someone who is,” he says. I jerk my thumb back. “Hop on,” The motorcycle shocks creak as the big man gets on. I feel his hands on my waist as I take off. I try to remember his face but I am at a loss. Black mustache. Teeth flashing. That’s all.
I wonder how many people he has passed dope to in the dark summer nights. I wonder if he remembers any of their faces. Addiction only remembers what it needs. We move through the city streets. There are dragons moving in my mind. I kick the motorcycle through the gears. We’re moving and the red lights don’t mean a thing. The mission is the only thing that counts and there is no stopping us now. My addiction is talking to me. It whispers sweet shit into my ear and I know this monkey is a liar. He motions me out to the highway. I look back at him.
“House connection on the outskirts of the city,” he hisses at me. I throttle down and the dope man’s hands tighten up on my waist. I lean into the back highway curve hard and scrape the footpads on the cement. Sparks kick off like shooting stars and wink out into the night. Just like young men on dope-city streets dancing to deadly drive-by rhythms, the sparks become dark spots devoid of life.. “What the fuck,” says the dope man as suddenly my engine is freewheeling. It screams into the night and the road pressure is gone. The pounding pistons are freed from the confining transmission and I pull the clutch lever in and hit the shifter over and over. I know that the cylinders are frying in boiling oil and I snap the throttle back to idle. I pull the clutch lever in again and tap the shifter; nothing and the dope man is shouting in my ear. My head is with the engine. They both howl in anguish as nothing is happening. I shut the engine down and my addiction is screaming in my ear in multiple voices. My head is a dark and dangerous neighborhood. I hate to be in it alone at times like this. The dope man hops off and I roll my machine to the shoulder of the road.
The night is hot and dark. I am sick and sweaty. I wipe my face and the road dirt grits into my skin. The dope man is asking me questions. He wants to go. He wants to stay. I have the money. He has the connection. We are trapped together by our addictions. I need a flashlight. The clutch cable has broken loose My disease has broken out in my mind like a chattering monkey. It beats on the existential bars of a prison of its own making. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. I want a fix. I need a flashlight. There is a car slowing down. They ask if they can help. Flashlight. I ask for a flashlight. “This will be quick,” I lie to the Black man from the city. I wonder if he knows I am lying. The dope keeps him locked to me and my money as sure as it sends me out into strange streets to do things that scare me down to my dying soul.
“We’ll go up ahead and make a call for you. Keep the flashlight,” the guy in the car tells us. I nod and they pull away. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. My addiction wants hime to stay and reassures him with things that might never happen. It knows he is the stellar connection to blisters, pus, disease and denial. Riding high on a dead white horse, I am a knight chasing dragons that whisper lies to me in the middle of the night. I believe everything like a child knowing his parents are lying again but how can the world shake like that. The man from the city leans down to see how I am doing. My fingers are working. The cable seems to slip back into place. I can’t picture the man’s face and I wonder if I should look up to see what he really looks like. My addiction bends me to my task. The man wants to go. The man wants to stay. And his addiction makes him wait. And wait. And wait. My fingers bleed from the fury of the quiet clutch cable. The bike bleeds oil into the street. I need to call my wife. I need to hurry up. I need to get some dope. I need to hook this up. Why does this always happen to me? I need to lie to the dope man. He wants to go. He wants to stay.
I hear the dope man yell but my addiction is talking to me and I do not understand what is happening. Suddenly I am lifted into the air. It is a bluntingfeeling. The air is out of me. I fly. I bounce on the road. My body is remembering something it forgot long ago. Metal sounds crashing. There is a bird bouncing on the road. I am the bird. There are sounds that defy my ears and then—-all is still. In the heat’s silence dead engines and deactivated metal ticks time backwards. I smell the grass and the earth bleeding under me. It is freshly torn and wounded. As I lay there I know. This is how death comes. Like lights in the night bearing tidings of metal pumped by oil and gasoline and misruled by blood beings.
I am afraid to move. I am afraid to think. I am afraid to die. I am afraid to breathe. I am afraid not to breathe. My body feels alien to me and the smell of grass is sweet as my breath comes back to me in shuddering gasps. I think of dead animals crushed on the side of the road and the fear twists my mind into shapes that it cannot sustain. Stop! The thinking. Just breathe. That is all I have to do right now. I remember about punctured lungs. There is no hiss of air whispering through shattered ribs. I laugh and cut it off quick as the pain spits through me. The voices! I hear voices! “Tell them you were driving.” A man’s voice. “No. Not this time.” A woman’s voice. “Please. The goddamn motorcycle is sticking through the engine block. We can’t get out of here.” “No. NO! I’m not going to say I was driving this time. There is too much involved here. This man is dead. That man is dying. No. Not this time.” She said.
Sometimes someone says something that changes the way you look at things. Anger. I want to rise to this occasion. Shake them. Tell them. Kill them! For caring so much. They don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to die. Not right now. But they are in trouble. And I know that things are a little worse than that for me and the dope man. Just then I notice that something is different. The voice in my head. The chattering monkey. Quiet. My addiction is wanting me to know that I am in this one all by myself. When I was in prison it would leave me alone in my cell. Up. I want to get up. I try to move my legs. Something is wrong with them and they will not work. And deep within myself I know that there are other things that are not working well.
There is a man and a woman standing by a truck that has parts of a motorcycle embedded in the radiator and engine block. He is drunk. She is well on her way. There is a man lying in the middle of the road. Blood spills from his body and his head is twisted at such a crazy angle that, just by looking at him, I know he will never rise again. I am in a prone position on the grass by the side of the road. I want a cigarette but I cannot move well enough to reach them. Cars are stopping and people are standing around me. None of them seem to know what to do, But they’re not leaving just now. Sometimes I wonder about whether we are sort of psychic and emotional parasites. What draws us in, like visual vultures, to an accident scene to stare at the dead and the dying? I am drifting and try to will myself back. I know that the only will that will work here is God’s will, whatever that may be. There is a woman leaning over me. Her eyes are beautiful.
A man comes running up and says to me, “The ambulance is on the way. Everything is going to be all right.” I know that what he is saying is not exactly true. My addiction always fed me bullshit too, but she had a more convincing argument. I never liked to be confused by facts anyhow. The man ran away. He probably wanted to tell the dope man that the hearse was coming and everything will be all right. Who the fuck knows? The beautiful lady was still there. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.
I thought of a number of things but I just wasn’t up for it at the moment. I could hear the man who had been driving the pick-up truck that had turned me and the dope man into road kill tell the police that we were broken down in the middle of the road. That wasn’t quite right either. I thought it would be a good idea to smoke a cigarette while I waited for the ambulance ——or to die—-whichever came first. After all, my lungs were okay.
“Smokes. In my pocket. Could you light one for me?” The beautiful woman didn’t give me any shit about it being bad for my health. Pulled them out of my pocket. Put it in my mouth. Lit it. I sucked in the smoke.
The dope man was dead. I did not remember what he looked like. The man who hit us was drunk. His girlfriend would not say that she was driving and he was worried about the trouble he was in. My motorcycle was wrecked. My wife was at home waiting for me to bring in the dope. I remembered that I had been dope-sick and I had been in a big hurry. I realized that I was not in a hurry anymore. I took another drag. This was the best cigarette I had ever smoked.