Since my wife tossed me from my house in the middle of spine-stiffening New England winter and moved in her boyfriend Tommy—the owner of a bar from which I have been banned—I had been sleeping on Toby’s couch, which was beside a pellet stove that pumped raw, dry heat through his apartment. I woke that morning, dripping in sweat, but still cold and shaking from the dope sickness. As the sun beat on the snow outside—tanks of daylight exploding in the window frames—I pulled an old fleece blanket over my head. From the couch, I could smell the coffee brewing, and in the kitchen, Toby and Joe were talking in low voices. One of them was cleaning dishes, the silverware clanking in the sink.
“Nick and I can’t keep fronting you, Joe. Enough.”
“What are you talking about? I bought us some dirt the other night.” Joe was nineteen and an H-bomb. I suppose the fact that he was nineteen is a significant detail here, but I’m not sure why it matters. Maybe because Toby and I were older, much older—I was pushing forty and Toby hopped that fence two years before. Somehow we viewed ourselves as too old to be junkies. Like mudslides demolishing muddy terrain, we had fucked up our lives to the point where it didn’t matter how much heroin we used. But Joe, he was young, and that mattered.
“You bought that shit three weeks ago, Joe. We can’t keep fronting you.” Toby used the term “we” as if he and I had blended into the same bloodstream, drying up in the same wrecked vein. By that point, our savings accounts had dwindled to drips and our unemployment checks barely covered our habits.
“Fuck this,” said Joe. “I’m going to get some money.”
Toby said, “It’s fucking cold, Joe. What are you going to do?”
“I’m getting money, man.” The door to Toby’s second floor apartment opened then slammed shut, and Joe was gone.
Toby’s cat Clancy climbed onto my chest. Sick and sweaty and unsettled, I swallowed my own spit, nauseous. Toby came into the living room, and I poked my head out from the under the blanket. Clancy scattered. “Tell me you have some dirt,” I said.
“That fucking kid,” said Toby taking a framed picture of loons on a lake off the wall. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bag of mostly beige powder and a couple of small rocks. “Let’s get filthy,” he said and started cutting a couple of lines with his driver’s license.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “He’s just a kid, Toby. There’s still hope.”
“There’s no hope for that fucking kid,” Toby said and ripped a line up his left nostril.
Joe returned an hour later, or two hours later, or three minutes later, holding a Burger King bag with a piece of cardboard tucked beneath his arm. His cheeks were wine red and wind-burned, and he was grinning. “I got cash,” he said.
Toby and I were sitting on the couch, watching the Patriot’s pregame on the television. Our cigarettes burned in an ashtray on the coffee table, wisps of smoke dancing through the tanks of daylight.
“Did you rob a bank?” Toby asked, his voice the echo of an old man’s voice.
“I stood in front of the shopping plaza holding this sign.” He held up the piece of cardboard, the backside of a broken down box of beer. In thick black marker, he wrote,Homeless, anything will help.
Stunned, I blinked rapidly, the old pangs of my conscience waking and stabbing my chest. “What the fuck, Joe? That’s junky behavior.”
Joe shook his head. “No, man. It’s all good. I made fifty-two bucks, got a pair of gloves and Whopper-value meal. I would’ve had more, but this chick cop chased me out, threatening to arrest me.”
“People actually gave you money?’ Toby asked.
Joe grinned and looked at me and slapped his forehead. “I forgot. Nick, I saw your ex-wife, man. She was in the car with Tommy and your kids were in the back. Tommy gave me ten bucks. Your wife wouldn’t look at me, though. She doesn’t me, does she?”
Without the heroin streaming through me, I might have crumpled; I might have started thinking about my kids at that time, the year before, when they woke up on Christmas morning, gasping and squealing at their presents beneath the tree. Without the heroin streaming through me, I might have cried, or I might have coveted my old life and my own wife and everything that seemed to fall through a chute with one swift swoosh. Without the heroin streaming through me, I might have felt like an H-bomb, but it doesn’t matter. Instead, I shook my head and said, “Never get married, Joe. It will fuck up your life.”
“I have fifty bucks,” Joe said. “Let’s buy some dirt.”
I nodded, blinded by the daylight but still smiling like a fool. “Let’s get fucking filthy.”
Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire. He is the author of three collections of poetry—Not So Profound (Green Bean Press, 2003), Teaching Metaphors (Sunnyoutside Press, 2007) and After the Honeymoon (Sunnyoutside Press, 2009)—a collection of short stories, Frostbite (GBP, 2002), and several chapbooks of fiction and poetry. A chapbook of short prose pieces titled Hangover Breakfasts was published by Bottle of Smoke Press in 2012, and Marginalia Publishing recently released a novella titled Some Sort of Ugly.