“What made you change your mind?” she asked as she drove. He hated driving because he was like a dog when he was in the car: Speedometer, radio, cell phone, passenger, cigarette, his own scattered thoughts, all competing for his attention.
He swerved a lot. Even when he wasn’t under the influence.
“Well, look at me–I’m sweating like a stuffed pig, my mouth is as dry as a wool blanket, I’m shaking like I have Parkinson’s disease! My life is total shit!”
“How can you say that? What about us?”
She made a pouty face and her face got red.
“Oh, babe, don’t do that–you know what I mean.”
“No–fuck that. That’s how you really feel. I know it.”
“What can I say, I’m just an addict.”
“And I’m in love with an addict.”
“Then I guess we’re both fucked.”
They drove silently around looking for the guy he used to get his drugs from. He could barely contain himself; he was so jumpy and full of facial tics. He was gaggy and irritable. He smoked half a pack of cigarettes in fifteen minutes.
The sky was gray, and the temperature was high. There were no people on the streets, just gray buildings. They drove past old warehouses. This is where they had gone to get the drugs before, where all the warehouses were, next to the railroad tracks. He had her slow down. The car was barely moving. Finally, he told her to stop.
“I might as well get out now,” he said. “You stay here.”
“This isn’t my first pick-up,” she said. “Just be careful.”
He tapped his pocket. “Got my protection.” A gun with no bullets.
“Kiss me,” she said, as he got out of the car. He leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the lips. She wanted another.
“Oh, sweetie, your lips are cold.”
“Yeah, like I’m already dead.”
“Don’t be silly. Good luck. Hope you get what you need.”
As he walked away from the car, he thought, you would think I would have at least one bullet. What’s the big deal? Go buy some bullets. I hang around enough paranoid gun-nuts, maybe they would let me have a few, even though none of them liked me.
“Here,” one might say, “now go shoot yourself and leave us alone.”
Yeah, and then she, the woman who had just dropped him off, she whom he considered “his woman,” would be free to find another addict to coddle. The thought made him jealous. She had come close to dumping him many times before. There were plenty of other addicts to choose from; her apartment was full of them. You would think she ran a half-way house — there were so many. Many were less annoying, and a few even had jobs.
He walked around the corner of the warehouse. The corrugated metal walls were gray and rusted. The warehouse took up the whole block. Boy, it was big! He imagined it storing nothing but what he craved. The door was about half a block down an alley lined with weeds. A regular door, almost like the one you might find in some suburban home, except that it was metal and gray with a few bullet holes in it at about chest level. The door was open about an inch.
There was a growing giddiness within him. The sweat stopped dripping into his eyes and his body managed to produce a tiny bit of saliva. He had gone through that door a million times in the past to get what he needed, and his body knew that. It was like taking the dog to the dog park in the car, and you don’t even have to tell the dog where you’re going, the dog already knows. As you get closer, he wags his tail, does circles in the back seat. He knows that there will be lots of dogs to play with when he gets there. The dog starts whimpering and howling. That’s how he felt.
If I feel this way now, this far from the door, do I even need to go through it? Do I even need the stuff I crave?
Well, of course, you do! It isn’t the same thing at all! Don’t be stupid!
You could go to a party and drink ginger ale and have just as much fun.
Oh, stop with the ginger-ale-at-a-party bullshit!
Every step he took brought him closer to the door. He walked slowly; then he walked faster, but he chided himself for that.
Control yourself, for chrissake.
Can’t, I’m an addict.
To an outside observer, his movements seemed jerky, like he was fighting himself. He found himself smiling and tried to control the smile. He found himself swinging his arms back and forth, back and forth, like he used to do on his way to his grandmother’s house when he was a kid — grandmother who loved to feed him chocolate cake and cookies and never used the whipped cream from a bowl, always had the kind in a can that you could get high from.
He could almost touch the door now.
He shuddered in fear, of the kind that the fan feels just before meeting his idol.
He was next to the door. He almost walked past it. It was hard to stop walking like he had become addicted to it. He had to tell his feet “we’ll walk more later, I promise.”
He faced the door and pulled it open. Darkness and coldness confronted him. The light did not penetrate far into the inky blackness, like the light from a remote-controlled submarine exploring the deepest trenches of the ocean. He saw his silhouette surrounded by a halo of the gray concrete floor. At his feet, a tiny tumbleweed of dust tumbled from an unfelt breeze.
The darkness and the coldness turned the inside of the warehouse into a cave.
Dammit, I’m scared. There, I said it. I never liked caves. Stalactites.
He hadn’t expected this. He thought a light would be on. He thought people would be inside, counting money or moving packages of drugs, and protecting those packages with machine guns and knives. He thought there would be people in different parts of the building with walkie-talkies, and they would radio in “All Clear Green Zone,” “All Clear Red Zone” at precise intervals. Drugs deserved protection, after all. Of course, it had never been like that before, but it should have been.
He texted his woman. “Drive around to the door. Not sure if anyone is here. Need your help.” She might have an idea.
Maybe I can get her to go in and look around for me. She’s fearless. She’ll do anything I ask her to do, as long as I say please and promise to never make her cry and to always love her. But do I love her? That was an odd question. Never thought about it before.
He waited by the door, leaned against the wall, and looked up into gray skies for inspiration. He saw crisscrossing power lines that looked like industrial spider webs, and he felt like a fly about to be ensnared.
She hadn’t responded to his text. That was strange. Usually, she responded to texts immediately. What was going on? Do I walk back to check on her? Stay here and wait for her? The corner of the building, where she had parked, seemed far away. There were railroad tracks across the road from the where the car was parked, and he could see a line of freight cars.
I need my drugs, dammit! Sweat dripped down into his eyes and he didn’t care. His mouth went dry again.
I guess I should have called ahead. But the guy said never to call. Maybe he got raided. Maybe he found Jesus. Maybe he’s dead.
The freight cars were painted burnt orange, tan, light green. They were covered with graffiti and blocked the horizon. He could see, fuzzy in the heat, tips of faraway desert mountains over the rail-cars.
There’s got to be a light switch. Most of the time light-switches are next to the door.
“Hey!” He yelled. “Hello!”
He felt around the doorframe for a light-switch, but there was nothing there.
“Jesus Christ!” he cursed as he slammed shut the door, relieved at least that he could shut out the darkness and the caveness.
Where the hell is she? He wondered.
There had been no movement. No cars or trucks drove down the street at the end of the alley. No one dropped off packages or picked up packages, no commerce of any kind, legal or otherwise. It was as if he were the last man on earth.
He checked his phone to see if he had missed her text, but she still hadn’t replied. He sent her another. This time, he added exclamation points.
“Getting scared,” he also added.
Face it; there’s no one inside.
Do I go back to see if she’s still parked there or do I stay here? Maybe someone will show up who can sell me something. But what if something happened to her? He took a step toward the rail cars.
He walked extremely slowly toward the intersection like there was a hand pushing against him, trying to keep him from moving.
The crunch of his shoes on gravel filled his ears between the beats of blood pounding in his temples.
“I hope she’s alright,” he thought. He thought about this afternoon. She told him that last night he had passed out drunk on her couch. His cigarette had fallen from his fingers and landed in his crotch, and she had to go down there and retrieve it before it set her couch on fire. She didn’t care about his crotch.
“You gotta stop doing that,” she said.
Man, he realized. I’d probably be dead if it weren’t for her!
I’m such a self-centered prick!
It is a disease now. The doctors say so.
But hey, we’re not chained together–she can dump me anytime she damn well wants to, and good riddance if she does. I don’t need her.
He reached the corner. The car was gone. He suddenly felt as if he had gone outside on a morning when it’s only 10 degrees in the middle of winter in just his shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Or like when people say they are in the presence of a ghost, and the temperature drops twenty degrees. The ghost of his drugs, the ghost of his car, the ghost of his woman, whom he might love. Maybe it wasn’t love. Maybe it was mutual exploitation–was she using me, too? That bitch.
Is she dead? Is that why I feel like I’m in the presence of a ghost? Maybe someone killed her and stole the car. Could happen. Hear about it all the time.
“Hello?” he called out. “Are you there?”
The car was gone. She was gone. He didn’t have his drugs. That weird cold feeling wouldn’t go away. He shook, his teeth chattered. His stomach felt like it was trying to digest itself. Usually, the body gets used to a feeling and stops noticing it, but not this time. Awareness stayed with him. He walked over to where the car had been parked.
There was a narrow sidewalk, cracked, with weeds growing out of the cracks. He glanced over across the road. The freight cars had started moving. A low-pitched hum reverberated through them as they inched their way along the track. The graffiti became animated and mimicked his own jerky movements.
I just want my drugs. I just want my car. I just want my woman.
Maybe someone will show up. I should wait.
Thankfully, he still had half a pack of cigarettes.
He smoked and sat cross-legged on the narrow sidewalk and watched the freight cars. He placed his cellphone on his thigh so that he could watch for incoming messages. Smoking calmed him down a little. The cars were still moving when he had finished his cigarette, so he started another from the end of the first. The cars were still moving when that cigarette was almost finished, so he started a third from the burning coal of the second.
After the third cigarette, he got up, his legs a little stiff, and started walking. The cars rolled to the right; he walked to the left.
He hoped someone would give him a ride home, or someone would offer him some drugs.
Shawn Yager likes to write. He’s had a few stories published in print and online. He loves hiking. His favorite movies are The Seventh Seal and Easy Rider. His current excuse for not finishing Moby Dick is that there are too many footnotes in the edition he owns, and they’re distracting. The last excuse was that the font was too small. Currently he’s reading The Wedding Song, by Naguib Mahfouz, which is very short.