BLUE HIGHWAYS: Evening with a Junkie by robin postell

“What happened to your arm?” I ask. He mutters something indecipherable. I don’t bug him about it. A big bump on his forearm where he missed his mark, too lazy to belt it up, I reckon.

“What’d you do last night?” I ask.

“Methadone,” he says, “And cocaine.”

The bar is filling up but his eyes are empty. He can’t concentrate on sitting here in the booth talking, wants to bolt. “Let’s take a ride,” he says. “You got a car?”

I rode with Virgo, I say, she doesn’t want to leave yet. Neither do I. Hemming and hawing, I suggest maybe in a little while.

“Alright,” he nods, wanting to pull out his little plastic bag of dope and do whatever he wants. I want to watch. But he’s gonna have to wait and so am I.

June’s a clean cut boy, disguised as a biker. Remnants of sooty grease make black smiles on the end of each finger. Tight Levis that would look ridiculous on a frat boy, old and worn, make him look even longer and leaner than he is. A goatee and a scruff on the cheeks add two years to his face. A navy serge baseball cap with The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones stitched in gold above the bill perches crooked on his crown, shadowing his face and his shadow-filled eyes.

Three quarters of an hour later, June sits on the sheepskin rug in my bedroom and rummages through his pocket for his works. I’ve caught him.

The anxiety that flattened his eyed begins to lift. Knowledge that the edge is about to be sanded to a smooth curve stills the friction that’s been gnawing his guts for the past eternity of minutes I know he’s counted one by one since we first met up at the bar.

“You okay?” I ask. We both know he is not, but will be once he’s gotten that needle in his arm. He nods.

“You got a mirror? Something to lay this out on?” he asks, his head bouncing off the cardboard cut-out glitter-covered stars that hang from the ceiling by invisible thread. I look around. The setting makes this scene all the more surreal. A stuffed Elmo from Sesame Street that giggles when you mash his belly waits and watches on the floor by the bed. Christmas lights brighten up a stormy summer night. Stark white whets are a backdrop to his glamorous darkness. A dozen feather pillows soften the blow of his hard presence.

“Here’s a picture of my mama and daddy on their senior trip to Washington, D.C.,” I say, handing over the sterling-silver framed 3X5 black and white photograph. There are white worn creases that say it was folded once in someone’s wallet. June waves his hand away, shaking his head and narrowing his eyes.

“No, you don’t want to do that,” he says. I might as well have pulled out a Bible and asked him to shit on it. “Can I use this?” he asks, picking up a small plastic-framed mirror that my mother had given me the last time I visited her down south. She said it was good to use when you plucked your eyebrows or put on mascara because one side was normal and the other magnified. Mama wouldn’t approve of this usage but she wouldn’t be surprised, either.

“Sure,” I nod, relieved he’s found something. My mind drifts. He’s got me thinking crazy but I dive in anything for the vicarious thrill. I want to see him shoot up, jab that needle in his arm, travel down the long and winding blue highways of his veins with him. His face and voice will change as the dope hits his bloodstream. The adrenaline starts pumping through me as I watch him organize. The needle is long and hard. He manages it in his long fingers with a loving disgrace.

I start thinking that I’m disappointed he’s an IV drug user because that’s going to deter me from having sex with him. He might be a clean boy underneath all that dirt, but even clean boys end up in dirty places that won’t ever wash off. And it’s clear June’s been jerking off in the face of God for quite some time now, testing the limits for reasons I doubt he even knows. Long enough that it’s made him a little or a lot crazy. I think about him getting wasted and some guy giving him head then sliding him the salami in the heat of it all. It could happen. More than possible in a world where boundaries get swept away, lines drawn futilely in a sand that doesn’t try to resist the sort of missteps lives like June’s make along the way. June’s homophobic, though, but that doesn’t mean anything. You never can tell what a man will do when he’s beyond that edge most just live on. There’s no limit to a potential spent and ignited at the same time.

“Can I tell you something?” he asks, his voice thick with a southern cadence, sounding as if he should be sipping on mint juleps on the front porch of a plantation a hundred years before tonight. Instead of white linen or seersucker, he’s as greasy as a wrench. You can smell his good blood, though, healthy in spite of his abuse. The smell is rich coming off him – a deep, lusty stench. “I’m not interested in sex when I do this shit.”

“That’s good to know,” I say drily. “I’m not either.”

“If I’m not fucking, I’m shooting up. If I’m not shooting up, I’m fucking,” he says, matter-of-factly – simple matter of substitution.

He began melting down the coke in a spoon. “You want some?” he asked, an afterthought, a courtesy. “I got some clean needles if you do.”

“Nah,” I say.

“You sure?” he offers once more – ever the polite southern gent.

“Why? Does it make you nervous that I don’t want to do it?” I ask.

“No,” he says, sobering suddenly. “I ain’t that complicated.”

“I was gonna say,” I return, a lilt within my monotone.

“Nah,” he shakes his head. “You’ll do a line, won’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say.

June works fast. I don’t notice that he does it, but when I re-enter my bedroom from a short trip to the bathroom to pass time looking in the mirror at myself, applying lip gloss, then removing the stickiest part of it so my hair won’t get caught in it, he has it all out for me, ready. On the bed, lined up thick, rocky, fat on the mirror are four rails of cocaine. Moist, but rocky, I note. More like meth, although not yellow, like when my daddy and I used to do it years ago.

The stuff has a gray tint to it, dirty-looking. He ought to have good blow since he does it all the time, I think. Maybe this is the real thing. Maybe the really pure stuff looks like this. You always hear tall tales about the pure stuff. The really pure stuff. The myth. The legend. This wasn’t what I’d imagined.

Rather than break the momentum of the moment by going for the mirror, I wait a few minutes to watch him set up his rig. Besides, I’m dreading numbing out. I could say no, not do it, but I feel that familiar foreknowledge that somewhere in my subconscious I’ve already decided to do it. So I prolong the descent.

Rather than waste time tying u p his arm, he jabs the needle in randomly. The flesh rises up, a tiny but mad mountain.

“The muscle tissue won’t absorb the drug,” he explains, a look of consternation rolling across his face. “Damn.”

The room is dim and I ask him if he’d like me to turn the lamp brighter. He says no, although I think he would prefer the light, just so he can get his work done. Yet he also fears it, I realize, and this causes me to cock my head sideways. June doesn’t want to disturb the ambience either. He’d rather suffer through the meager glow from the Christmas lights than drench it in the rude glare of a 60-watt.

“Sometimes they run from you,” he tells me, referring to h is veins. They have had enough. “Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, Daddy used to date teenaged coke whores. I remember them talking about it.” A casual nod follows as I watch him idly.

“Your daddy shoot up?”

“Anything he could melt down,” I nod.

“Did he give you a lot of problems?” he asks.

“Yes,” I nod.

I lie day, belly flat against the floor. He’s a foot away, sinewy legs folded with half grace, half stiffness. He’s tall, like Alice in that little room in Wonderland. His body’s angularity defies a natural serpentine quality about him but this is the drugs, I reckon. Even snakes get stiff when they’re close to dying. June seems as close to death as a person gets without doing it altogether and it is this about him that I’m drawn to since death and life are always battling, pretending peace is one another when I know from looking at him it ain’t neither and it’s both and it doesn’t matter either way unless you believe separating the two somehow makes a whole.

June’s in between, completely. I struggle to understand him, gauging his body language against his eye movements, his appetites, his eagerness and restraint – all complicated strategies for an uncomplicated junkie whose only true drive is the next fix.

His narrow torso tapers like the throat of a snake where h is ribs decline into the hips. June and food probably aren’t friendly when dope’s aplenty and his skin stretches tight enough to prove it.

I might as well be watching cartoons on Saturday morning, the way I’m lying here watching him. Virgo walks in the room and sits on the edge of my bed, smoking a cigarette. I watch her face to see what she thinks of the situation, expecting, even after all these years, some judgment. There is none. Only a hint of a line belying subtle consternation. She’s thinking about how I always get us into these things, probably. About how I love bringing strays home. But she loves it. Deep down she loves it and is glad that it’s me and not her.

June nods towards the mirror and offers Virgo a line but she shakes her head no. “I gotta work tomorrow,” she says and June shrugs and says okay. It would make him feel better if we were all fucked up together although the less we do the more he’ll have. He realizes he’s the performer for my evening at this moment, but this doesn’t unsettle him enough to reveal it and I doubt he cares since June’s whole schtick, even the drug fiend shit, is I’m guessing at least half or more a role he plays.

He plays it better than anyone else. That’s why he’s here.

I know he doesn’t have much and I’m wondering what he’s going to do when it’s allgone and he realizes he’s got a pocketful of empty needles. I don’t wish that kind of agony on a dog but I know it’ll probably come before it’s all over.

But he does run out. I give him the couple of lines he’d laid out for me, just to keep him happy. The pain in me ain’t nothing but a twitch compared to the gnawing silence I instinctively know has him in its maw. Happy ain’t here, but happy wasn’t on the menu anyway.

I just wanted to watch what happened when June got personal.

“It it weren’t for sex I’d prefer the company of men,” he says. “It’s late. Early. Probably 5 a.m.. I’m thinking I’m sleepy and his baggy’s empty so I’m praying he’ll be able to pass out. We lie side by side on my bed in the dark.

“I don’t blame you,” I say. “Most women are pussies.”

“Do you ever have trouble pissing?” he inquires.

“Only when I was in boot camp,” I say, referring to the couple of years back when I was on probation for a drug offense and remembered how hard it was to piss with twenty women running around with no stall doors to hide you.

“I do,” he tells me. “Especially when I do heroin. I’ll just sit there…stand there….stand there,” he corrects himself, “and it just won’t come out. Then I’ll rub my ass and I’ll finally piss.”

I nod. “Uh huh,” I say, not understanding this concept but nonetheless accepting since it’s June. He doesn’t want me to think he sits down and pisses, I can tell. Suddenly he reaches for the lamp on the night table and flips it on. One move and he’s crouched bedside, rummaging through his belongings on the floor.

In spit of it all, along with his work, the thin syringes, the cotton swab, and the bent spoon, is a lone blue toothbrush, symbolizing one last reach towards purity. “Hold on,” he says. “I’ve gotta brush my teeth.”

“What’d you do to me last night while I was asleep?” he asks, making the third time, maybe fourth. It isn’t clear why he keeps asking. What does he think I did?

“What do you think I did?” I ask, irritated. He’s serious. What could he possibly think I was capable of, to draw this sort of response from him.

“I don’t know. I just think you did something to me while I was sleeping,” he repeats. “What’s you do?”

“I gave you a blow job and I fucked you up the ass with a strap-on,” I say flatly.

“God-dam,” he exclaims, a blush rising to his cheeks. Then, recovering quickly, “…and I ain’t even sore.”

This puts us into a thoughtful silence. It’s clear that he has one thing on his mind and one thing only. Dope. He asks me to give him a ride. I say okay. The sunlight makes everything different. He directs me to a friend’s house, an old decrepit shack with a crooked screen door. A good-looking girl in cut-off shorts and a white v-neck T-shirt opens it and waves him in.

“Bye, Doll,” he says. Makes me feel like I’m a 40s pin-up. “What you getting into tonight?

“I don’t know, I stammer, hedging. He seems to think he’s gotta make something happen. I’m thinking about how it’s over now, about h ow now I’m free, and healthy, and alive. But I like June. Still, committing ain’t my style.

“I’ll give you a call,” he says. “Maybe we can run around tonight.”

I nod, turn, thinking: Now, look, it’s Saturday night. Don’t fuck with Don Juan on a Saturday night.





2 thoughts on “BLUE HIGHWAYS: Evening with a Junkie by robin postell”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s