It was mid-July and the air was so thick and so wet that it had begun to feel as though my apartment were submerged beneath tropical waters. As though if I were to kick my feet I would propel myself across the room like a frog in a child's aquarium. The late sun reddened as it set, dying of its wounds into twilight after a day of struggle.
The old Black Sabbath reunion t-shirt I was wearing, on the front of which an angel reluctantly shook hands with a grinning, tuxedoed man beside a spectral farmhouse, clung to my back with sweat. I peeled it off and threw it in the corner, and slumped over again, struck by lethargy. My long, greasy hair clung to my face and neck. We will all sweat in purgatory. I stared at the wall and licked my lips, but my mouth was dry. They say that an intense, unquenchable thirst often precludes death. This is what it feels like in the womb. This is what it feels like in the primordial ooze.
Some lady newscaster on the television announced that the elderly people who were living alone in the city and couldn't afford air conditioning were succumbing to the heat. I sat up and checked the clock. She said that the federal government had declared a national state of emergency. She urged listeners to remain indoors and to stay hydrated. She said people should conserve water: "There was a shortage due to lack of rainfall and because the earth had split open in a great fissure and the damned of hell were farting and screaming their displeasure."
I nodded my head and closed my eyes and tried to stay very still. In her coolly urgent voice, the newscaster announced that the temperature had increased so drastically that people were stroking out, falling face down on the searing pavement and sizzling there like bacon in a frying pan. Their brains cooking in their skulls like an egg in its shell, the piss steaming in their bladders.
The seas were boiling over, and had become a vast, churning stew of seahorses and octopi and a billion tons of plankton, narwhales and eels and every ship that has ever sunk and a billion corpses all decaying. At the shores of every sea and every ocean the destitute and starving gathered, eagerly spooning and ladling into buckets, bottles and pots to feed to their starving children. The children's bellies were swollen; their mouths had become thin slits.
I had dragged myself out of bed sometime earlier to make a phone call. The night before I had nodded out with my cloths on and woke up soaking with sweat. I felt like I had the flu, but this was not the flu. My muscles ached and I felt as though if I were to move very much at all I would vomit and I was nowhere near the garbage. I couldn't sit comfortably no matter how many times I changed positions.
I was waiting for the man to bring me my medicine. He was late because his kind are always late, because they have all the power and they know it and because they are slothful which is why they sling dope for a living in the first place. He had said: an hour and a half. Far more time than that had passed, and he hadn't even called. I could wait a few hours. I always expected to wait. But now I was worried that he wouldn't show up at all. The worry was useless though. As soon as you stop thinking about it they always show up. I tried to redirect my attention to something else. I turned on the radio. I looked in the mirror. I looked sick, but hey, everyone knows the more dope-sick you look, the more the pretty, rich girls want you.
"White light...ooooooh white heat!"
I moved an unlit Lucky Strike cigarette nervously in my mouth. Lucky Strikes are an American legacy. They taste like steel mills and world war two and gunpowder and patriotism and bottling up your emotions until you die pale-faced and clutching your chest in your easy-chair.
I thought about cowboys and wished I had a pearl-handled revolver. I looked at the clock again. He was probably fucking his girlfriend or watching baseball. Maybe he was stuck in traffic. Maybe he had fallen asleep. Fuck, for all I knew he could be bunkered down in the restroom of a McDonalds vigorously buggering his own asshole with an electric toothbrush. How long had it been? Hours. That's normal though. That's fine. The radio played.
"Well baby let's blast off..."
I stood up and slowly stared at my reflection in the long mirror on the wall. I stared at my reflection. I looked like a devil sick of sin. Like a staggering, stumbling geriatric whore working the Vegas strip at 3 am. That's a ridiculous simile, just totally ridiculous. The radio played.
This heat, I thought: The sun will inevitably die out and then expand into incomprehensibly vast, world-incinerating fire. How many millions of years will I have been dead when that finally happens and how much of me will be left to be incinerated? Or will it be as though I had never existed at all, not even enough to make up a speck of dust on the tip of an ants pecker?
I'm nothing. I knew that. Just another person on this miserable planet and when I die it won't have mattered one bit and I might as well have been a tick or an alligator or a pussy fart. If I were a rock star, or a prophet or the son of God, my life would mean something. I'm just a loser and a hopeless drug addict, a waste of oxygen and a burden. But in reality, the world will not end in fire, but in ice. The sky will darken, vegetation with wither and brown, the animals will starve and mankind will spend its last days hungry and shivering and chasing each other down for food in a desperate attempt to survive for just one more day. At first they will kill each other with bullets and when there are no bullets left then they will kill each other with knives. When the knives rust and break, they will kill each other with their hands and their teeth.
I thought about being a living, breathing, shitting, squirting organism and the bad taste in my mouth which was caused by bacteria butt-fucking, and I'm close- we're all so close-- to being a monkey, just a little grey hunk of frontal cortex away. But what I was really thinking about, or trying not to think about, was dope, and where was this motherfucker? Where the fuck was he?
When you are dead you can finally be clean, stripped of all but bone and left to bleach in the sun, your bodily imperfections consumed by decay. Your big nose and all the fat you could never lose, purified, and if you have been nothing all your life, you may take solace in knowing you made a fine meal for some scavenger, a jackal or a crow or some other majestic beast.
But just then, sitting in the heat and the stink, I could feel the toxins dripping from my pores: the nicotine and the alcohol, the junk and the grass and the cocaine. But what my pores were really doing was opening up wide like a billion tiny mouths all yearning and screaming for junk. Junk makes you sick but you are sick without it. That is not an accident. Why is it that we crave drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and blatantly infectious whores?
It is because we crave death.
I had lost count of how many times I had looked at the neon-green blinking numbers of the clock. I still saw them blinking when I looked away. I looked at my hand. I counted my fingers. There were still ten. I turned on the TV. It was Wheel of Fortune. "Fuck wheel of Fortune," I mumbled. I turned the channel. I stared. I wasn't watching the television at all. I was looking at the phone. I tore my eyes from the phone and forced myself to stare at the screen. I watched an hour of Looney Tunes without thinking of the time. Daffy Duck got shot in the face. I checked the clock, I sat upright, I panicked and forced the panic back down again.
Oprah came on the TV, she stood up, her spine rigid, her head held high like a great conqueror of nations, her hands pressed down flat against her desk. Her eyes seemed to bore into the crowd, hypnotic, mesmerizing. She seemed to take up the whole screen. She stared intently into the faces of the speechless studio audience, her lips pulled tight, her face blank, expressionless, betrayed only by her eyes. They were they eyes of a monarch, a monarch who saw a new and glorious era, a reign in which everyone and everything she sees is hers.
Suddenly her expression changed, it became soft, gentle, almost motherly. Her lipstick was bright red. Her teeth were blindingly white. She had remained twenty pounds overweight for some time now, knowing full well that her ratings skyrocket when she is in one of her "fat phases", because all the housewives relate more to her then. No one wants a leader in whom they can't see themselves reflected. Then her smile vanished. She straightened her neck. Her eyes blazed at the adoration and servitude of her subjects and the simple knowledge that she could liberate or exterminate them with but a word.
"Cure us," they said; "save us".
I walked over to the air conditioner and flipped it on, shivering at the cold air. I walked into the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door and stared. Nothing. I opened the cabinets: dust and plates. I opened the freezer: frozen spinach and ice-cream. I don't want to scoop ice-cream, I thought to myself. It's too hard to scoop when it's this cold. Life is so hard. "I'm so fucking pathetic!" I shouted. I punched the freezer door. My hand hurt. I pushed down on the knuckles and they ached, throbbing. I laughed out loud. I sighed. "Over a little bag of shit, over a little bag of worthless fucking garbage. That's all it is, worthless fucking garbage."
I got up and took a piss and told myself to calm the hell down. Back in the kitchen and poured a glass of tap water. It was cloudy. It tasted stale, somehow, and so did the air. I spat the water out. I was stale, not the air, not the water. I was stale. "Fuck this," I said to myself and then I shouted: "Fuck it!" I didn't even want it any more. The phone rang and I bolted to pick it up.
"Yeah, it's me. I'll be there in half an hour. I got held up." His voice was deep, monotone, impersonal, and unapologetic.
I hung up. "Motherfucker." I threw the phone at the couch. I took a deep breath. That always happens. They always show just when you're giving up hope. They know somehow. It's fucking telepathy. They wait for the very last second to appear, just when you're getting up to leave. And they always have an excuse and it never makes sense. They mumble it and you nod understandingly. Some absolute bullshit and you smile and you say: "Yeah of course, it's cool man..."
My stomach hurt. I went and sat down on the toilet. I farted loudly. This is modernism at its finest. I checked the volume of my cellphone, and balanced it on the sink. I checked to make sure the volume was on. I sat there, feeling the sweat run down my back, and closed my eyes. I felt my heart beating, slowly. The phone rang and I picked it up before it could ring again.
"Hi sweetie." It was my mother. I barely kept from screaming.
"What's up?" I said irritably. She chuckled.
"Hold on, hold on, just give me one minute... First off, how are you?"
"I'm fine ma. What do you want?"
"Okay...." she said with her well-practiced therapists' calm, "I was wondering if you remembered that we have a lunch appointment for tomorrow at three."
"Oh. Yeah, shit."
"See?" she said. "You forgot. "It's a good thing I called..."
"Yeah ma, it's great. Look, I really gotta go..."
"Okay." she said cheerily. "Ok. I'll talk to you later."
I waited for her to hang up. I put a cigarette in my mouth. I looked at the little pink flowers on the wallpaper. The walls were sticky in the summer. The bathroom tiles were warm. A drop of sweat ran slowly into my eye. It burned and I rubbed at it with the palm of my hand. The phone rang. It was my mother again. Did I know where the diner was?
Back in the living room I picked up the newspaper and then quickly put it down again. I was only interested in the comics. The N.Y. Times doesn't have comics. They're too good for funnies. They're too good for humor. The phone rang. I picked it up, faking apathy, even to myself. If I stop caring, he'll show up.
That's how it works.
It was my grandmother. She was looking for my mother. She wanted to know if my mother had gotten the curtains fixed. I didn't know.
I hung up and flipped on the television. It was Star Trek, the original. Captain Kirk was making a speech. He paused, gazing at the camera, his eyebrow raised. I forgot I was waiting. I closed my eyes and yawned and then I was asleep. It seemed like mere seconds later that the phone rang. I picked up. "Hello?" I yawned. I no longer expected him to be on the other line. It was certainly my mother or grandmother calling about curtains or the exact addresses of diners.
It was really him. Finally, when I had given up all hope.
"Come outside," he said. I said nothing. I hung up the phone and picked up the folded bills from the bed. I grabbed my keys and left the apartment without locking the door. I felt a wave of relief, as though I had found a campsite stocked with food and blankets after days lost in the woods.
Outside, I glanced up and down the block, looking for cops and the nosey Russian doorman from the building next door. I sat down on the stoop, preparing for the next stage of waiting. That is why they call it "chasing the dragon", because the dragon is always late and never shows up when he says he will because the dragon is usually just a fucking lazy idiot. I watched people walk up and down the block.
Well I'm just waiting for a dear, dear friend of mine...
There were two girls walking up the block, with their arms around each others waists, sharing a cigarette. They were about sixteen and trying very hard to come off sexy, swaying their hips when they walked. They kept glancing over at me, and then quickly looking away. I laughed and they immediately stood up straight and walked as quickly as they could, their faces blank, their eyes wide, their spines rigid. Once they were a few feet passed me they started to whisper to one another, as though I could no longer see or hear them. I glanced up the block.
He would be in a car. It was a one-way street. He would be coming down the hill, if he ever came. I stood up and paced. I lit my cigarette. Now the nosy Russian doorman from the building next door was watching me. He wasn't so old but he had white hair. I stared at him until he looked away. I heard a high-pitched nasal voice. It was my neighbor, Nancy. Not now, you stupid cunt.
"Hi. How are you?" Nancy was small and pear shaped. Her eyes squinted from under hair that looked like someone had put a cereal bowl on top of her head and cut straight its edge. She was wearing a long dress that looked like she had made it herself out of old drapes. She was the mousiest woman I'd ever seen, she was pathologically shy and scared shitless of everything and everyone. But I felt bad for Nancy, so I usually tried to be nice to her when she was feeling courageous enough to talk instead of scuttling by without speaking.
But not right now. This was the wrong time. God, for Christ's sake Nancy fuck off, just fuck off. I had a thought. Maybe won't know what's going on. Maybe if he comes I can just get in the car and cop and she won't have a fucking clue. She's like a little girl anyway...
"It's a beautiful day." she started enthusiastically.
Nancy stared up at the sky, smiling childishly. "It's just so beautiful outside I didn't want to stay indoors. It's a gorgeous day, isn't it gorgeous?" she said, finally looking at my face.
"Huh? Yeah it's real nice." I answered.
"What are you up to today? You should go to the botanical gardens. The lilies, the begonias, the geraniums are all in bloom. I was just there. It was so gorgeous." Her squinty little face beamed at me. I wanted to hit her. Get away from me. Get the fuck away from me. She kept smiling. I looked at the ground and exhaled a cloud of smoke.
"You're still smoking?" she asked.
"Uh...yeah. I guess I am."
"It's so bad for you...you should really try to quit. Do you think you'll quit anytime soon? They have medication to help people quit now. You wouldn't have to do it on your own. You would have help," she said, eagerly.
"Yea, I've uh...heard about that. They're doing amazing things in medicine nowadays." I said. I started to chuckle. This was obviously a joke being played on me. I almost began to pray she would leave.
My cell phone rang. Nancy started to speak again but I quickly raised a finger to silence her. It was him. He would be there in twenty minutes. "Don't worry about it." I said. "It's no problem. I'm not in any rush. Take your time. Why hurry?" I said, vomiting sarcasm. I glanced at Nancy. She looked uncomfortable. I cleared my throat.
"Well," she began awkwardly. "I guess I'll talk to you later."
"Yeah," I said. "I guess so." I didn't look at her. She turned and walked inside, her head bowed, like a punished child. My head fell back in exasperation. A woman walked her dog down the block. She was wearing a ridiculous purple hat with long feathers poking out of it at random angles. It looked like a pheasant was roosting on her head. Her long nose pointed ridiculously in the air and her dog looked very much like her, the same expression on its long, inbred face.
A mother and her two children walked by. The kids couldn't have been more than six years old. They yelped a chorus of questions at her, tugging at her sleeve. She was carrying grocery bags in both hands. She looked like a pack animal. She turned and shrieked at the kids.
"Shut up! Shut up! Just shut your horrible little mouths!"
Her face was quivering with anger. For a second she met my gaze and we both just stared at one another until I broke out in a spasm of laughter. She huffed loudly and shooed her children away up the street. I laughed until long after she had turned the corner and was out of sight.
I'm going to try to nullify my life...
Then I heard a car horn beep. I looked up. He was double-parked with the motor running. It was a shiny black SUV, its bright spinning rims bought with my money. I walked slowly across the street and got in the passengers seat.
I said nothing.
"What's up?" he said. It wasn't a real question. I couldn't see his face. It was dark in the driver's seat. "Sorry it took me so long... I had a lot of other customers to get to first...there was a lot of traffic...you know."
"Oh, don't worry about it man. It's no problem." I reached out my hand to give him the money, but he didn't take it. "Here" I said, impatiently, trying to put the money into his hand. I wanted to go inside and get on with things. He shook his head.
"I don't want money." I was confused and he could see it in my face. He smiled. "I ain't taking cash these days." What the fuck was this guy talking about? All of a sudden it hit me.
"Listen, if you think I'm going suck your dick you're out of your fucking mind," I said, my jaw clenched, my fists balled up.
"Nah, nah," he said, chuckling. "Nothing like that. I ain't a faggot."
"So what do you want?" I turned around nervously to peer out the rear window. He answered with one word but I was sure I misheard him. "Wait, what?"
"Blood. I want your blood, man," he said, deadpan. He wasn't even looking at me. He was glancing down, checking his phone.
"What the fuck for?" I asked. I felt sick.
"That's none of your business. I don't tell you what I spend your money on. If you want your shit, you pay what it costs. If you don't want it, the door is unlocked." He wasn't angry as he spoke. He smirked. He had me. He knew it too.
I sighed and stuck my arm out. I stared at his face. He looked away. I kept staring as he produced a syringe from the glove compartment. It was a new one, still in the plastic. I turned away. I feel myself sneering. I was pathetic. He drew my blood quickly and competently with a practiced hand. He knows he's got to do it fast. This would be hard to explain to a cop. I sat there for what seemed like a long time. A wave of nausea passed over me.