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Vein and Vainglorious
Clint Catalyst

Another knock at the door.

"Okay, let's take some action," said Mark, entering with pen and yellow legal pad in hand. His smile was laced with formaldehyde.

"Airick gets the boot: signed, sealed, delivered."

I noticed light streaks of hair on Mark's knuckles, a strawberry-blond down.

"No," Desiree said, her eyes averted.


"I should do it." She continued, "I'll write it. I want to do the right thing." So Spike Lee, she was, pulling on her Kamel Light–that being Kamel with a K, the company's futuristic retro re-launch, an ad campaign marked by dry millennium irony, stylish '20’s uniforms and bob haircuts.

I sat on my mattress and gently gnawed the insides of my mouth as I listened to Desiree and Mark deliberate who should do what and why.

This was the first time I'd ever formally kicked out a housemate. There'd been a slew of informal episodes, piles of clothes being thrown out the front door, sensational arguments over stolen jewelry and unpaid phone bills, whiplash screams over who was cheap or rude or to blame, or Dana, the roomie who couldn't argue for shit but still got the last word on her way out the door, pelting me in the face with some white-trash bean dip concoction.

I woke up to Mark and Desiree looming above me, two shadowy towers surrounded by glaring fluorescent light.

"We need you to sign here," said Mr. Mark.

I had fallen asleep while they did the dirty work, pun not intended. A quick scrawl of my sobriquet, and Klonipin and I returned to the z's.

There I was, a worthless drug addict participating in a conspiracy plot against another worthless drug addict. What was right and what was wrong whirled around my subconscious like tunes in a dj booth; it was becoming increasingly complicated to pursue a single line of thought.

The following day, after Desiree tacked the 30-day notice to Airick's door, I awoke late in the afternoon to find that we'd been served a surprise via certified mail. An eviction notice.

Call it hyper-karma. Call it another obstacle in my path. Whatever you call it, while I was a great fan of the complicated, this was an unwelcome pain in my ass.

So we were losing the apartment.

In the last four years I had lost a pair of Armani glasses, my favorite vintage candy pin-striped shirt, the deposit on my last three places. I'd lost a ring of housekeys. A leather trenchcoat when I was robbed at gunpoint. Nearly a month's worth of mail when I stopped paying rent on my P.O. Box.

I'd lost alternative music to the mainstream, the Goth subculture to Marilyn Manson. Shit, I was into nine inch rails, not the band!–I even lost the desire to keep up with what cool had become.

Lost downtown, Love Lost, Lost and Found, I was always losing things: both grandparents on my father's side, three friends to the ravages of AIDS, and contact with countless others. Oh yeah, and the person I used to be to a nasty addiction.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was nothing new, really should've been expected after all.

"Now what are we gonna do?" I asked Desiree, thinking what goes around comes around, even if nobody knows it.

Desiree sighed, considered it a hot second.

"Get drunk."

Well, she said it first–and we were off, pooling our funds at the downstairs corner store, counting out every last penny and nickle for our purchase. Of course we were buying vodka. Apart from $12 margarita pitchers from Puerto Allegre, vodka was Desiree's poison of choice. But no charcoal-filtered cheap stuff tonight; our living situation had reached its nadir. We were maudlin; we were drinking as our only recourse, our own little house party hopped up on Skyy.

The way I saw it, these things were diametrically opposed. Skyy Vodka in its expensive cobalt-blue bottle, the stuff of cross-processed ads in fashion magazines, and our apt., which was soon to no longer be our apartment, in a glorious state of dilapidation. Moonshine would have been more appropriate–corn liquor brewed up in a backwoods still.

As you might've guessed, my tolerance for uppers is surprisingly high. With alcohol this is just not so. It's practically nonexistent; I'm a teenage girl, affected by the fumes alone. So the fact that I was already comfy from tranks put me at Fully Loaded after a few sips, stupidly giggling and staring into the open mouth of the plastic glass before me. A harmless drunk. A happy drunk.

Desiree, on the other hand, was really drinking the sun down. Slamming 'em.

"Squalor," she sang, then took a slug. "I'm living in squalor."

Another slug, then, much louder, violently so: "AB-SO-LUTE squal-orrr...."

A hysterical drunk.

Out of nowhere, Desiree grabbed a frying pan from our pile of dirty dishes and lunged at the video game, one of those bulky, rectangular relics, some race car crap that somebody had given Airick. He loved it; Desiree hated it. So did I.

I watched as she, pummeled it brutally. Smash. There went the outer glass pane into a thousand pieces, falling and twinkling like shooting stars. She didn't shriek or anything; she yowled in joy and disgust, laughed maniacally and scrambled among the broken bits, swinging the frying pan in a victorious dance, like she couldn't believe this was happening but wasn't it funny?

Talk about squalor!

But the actual video screen, the monitor, was something else. Those things must be made of kryptonite or something. They're indestructible. Desiree pounded and pounded until her anger collapsed to exhaustion, the frying pan curled in on itself like a leaf.

"You've gotta try this," she panted. "It absolutely will"– bang –"not"– bang– "break!" Desiree tossed the spent kitchenware aside. Defeated, it fell to the floor with a metallic clang. I retracted a hammer from my room. She was right; the video screen wouldn't break. The metal hammerhead bounced right off it, as if the screen were a trampoline.

"Whoa," I was saying as I plopped onto a chair, one of those hard plastic ones reminiscent of public school cafeterias. "I'm waaaay polluted."

Just then, the answering machine kicked on.

"Where’s the phone?" Desiree slurred as she turned up the volume, "Oh, it’s your mom. Want me to—"

"Uh uh. I can’t deal." My head shook no. She flicked the switch silent.

"Besides, we’re on a mission."

Desiree gave me a quick nod and sped down the hallway, her hair an obsidian flame.

"Hey Airick, Air-ickkk," she trilled in a demented cackle. "Check out my latest installation art piece. It's called game–"

Then she made an airy Star Wars sound, a cthoo cthoo chtoo chtoo bullet simulation.


She flipped her hair and roared with drunken laughter, really baritone stuff from her diaphragm. Desiree was pleased with herself. She slapped her hands together, slapped the thin luan of his door, all the while ha ha haaa ing. I forced myself up to get in on the action; this was freaking excellent!

Airick's door opened a crack, just the length of his chain-latch.

"The police're gonna be here any minute," he muttered and peeked through the slat. His teeth were chattering, and he looked kind of wobbly and pitiful–feeble. Man, he's been up a while, I thought as I stood there, taking in another night's episode. Did he really call the cops? Time for some miso soup and a disco nap! Then I swear, he shielded his face with one of his hands, nicotine stains on his smoker's fingers and bitten-to-the-quick nails, and sealed his door shut. What did he think, that Desiree was going to hit him? Give me a break.

Sometime in the course of these inebriated antics I must've contacted a dealer, because all I remember next is "coming to" with a needle in my arm. Desiree was sealed up in her tomb of a room. My left forearm was distended with little landmines, flushed deposits from skin popping and painful misses in the circulatory neighborhood. The apartment was an eldritch quiet. Darkness was indisputable. It stretched and threatened danger.

Either I'd arranged a felonious exchange, or I had drunk luck locating a reserve baggie in my room–one of those glassine savings accounts tucked away in CD jewel cases or albums' inner sleeves and often by my failing short-term memory. I have countless memories of hiding my stash at high-speed, ensconcing it in a title that seemed significant in the amphetamine-brazen moment, 50,000 Watts of Power or Void Dweller–things like that; mnemonic devices which failed me almost instantly. I'd be ready to re-up and then I’d forget which hiding place I'd chosen, unable to fine-tune my whirlwind of thoughts to the appropriate frequency.

This habit I had when I couldn't get my other habits together, the mad hunt for meth, was an enormous affair in a close proximity: a jumble of cardboard covers and plastic cases being thrown about. But I was high. However it had come about, I was blazing, drifting through our apartment in random ideation, my body being bandied about like my thoughts, the flow of movement being snapped off like bits of brilliance bifurcating into nothingness: I was in the kitchen, finally tending to the mold blanketing my pots and pans; then I was in my room (Wait. Now what did I need from in here?); then I was back in the bathroom, lost in the mirror's reflection, this stranger before me, his eyes black tide pools, his hair tit-length and the consistency of something tossed in an oily vinaigrette.

What's happen–find a new apartment? I should go downstairs and get a paper–no later wait till later now I've really gotta write, work on my thesis it's past due what to do what should I

What I did was another shot. A ridiculously large one, the spoon so full I couldn't draw it all into a 1 cc, feed it in a single stream to a vein.

The drugs took my balance, knocked me back on the toilet seat. The sensation hit my brain like a hot wet tongue lapping my pleasure centers. Warm waves, a tsunami through the blood canals; an electricity flickered between my teeth and seared my spine. Move, my mind commanded, crystal meth stomping down on its accelerator, You have to move.

I stood up and wobbled for a moment on my legs as the circulation shivered painfully back into them. My appendages were asleep again. Do I have diabetes? My grandpa did; dad does. What was wrong with me?

My eardrums rang with the flat's silence and the air felt charged, textured with electrical currents, collecting and forming shapes. Nightmares were awakening, stained and featureless specters entering this vault of an apartment, three-dimensional, real. The air was slate and vision was a thick, oily fog. I felt something wet winding itself around my neck and wrists.

Then my body split into two parts: one part floated near the ceiling like a lost helium balloon, bobbing along, detached, and the other part could watch me, Clint Catalyst, like a creature of myth, a character on a late-night television program.

I watched Clint Catalyst stare into the violated air, his eyes dark and decaying, his face whitening like dry bone. He was starved impossibly thin, his body dangerously slight and twisted, a parched root, an exposed nerve with a charcoal-colored Current 93 t-shirt and pajama bottoms draped over it. There were elaborate symbols around the folds of his left arm where entire sagas had been tattooed, pierced in a frantic deliberation, punctuated with vulgar red flowers, the bluish-purple of bruises, tiny dark pinpricks centered in the darkness. The track marks were like a passageway into the meaningless rubble my life had been reduced to.

But there was something more, yes. His obvious proximity to death disturbed me. He was dying, pathetically, tediously: his skeleton jaggedly asserting itself beneath his loose clothing, his movement measured in inches.

Long, thin pink and white marks braided his inner arms, rope-like scar tissue that held the ruined beige together. They were, he was, trying to tell me something. Something simple, elemental: that this life was an illusion; that I can step out of it. The chains will drop from my upper arm, tourniqueted, stretched to its limit, tight. The air can become clear as a winter evening instead of just cold, and my flesh can be transformed. Skin can turn, the molecules rearranged, created. Identities can be shed like stained bandages.

Then in a red flash I was back in Clint Catalyst, he and I the strangers each. Again, I was housed in these interior regions–a slum, abused and infested.

Pain struck me in the flesh of my arms like meteorites which are still part fire. My skin was embedded with scarlet; there were speed bumps trapped beneath and between layers of epidermis. I looked in the mirror and found my face was a smear. It was like a television program where, for protective reasons, they used special effects to block out someone's features with swatches of cubistic blurriness. As I breathed, the image swayed like intricately colored sails.

Seething with poisons, the darkness of the evening hung without mercy. The air was scarred. Contaminated. It was lethal with static fumes and the contagion of spirits. As I said, nightmares were filtering in, born from carcasses, boiling over with ash, and I was scared. I retreated to my room and bolted myself in for protection, somehow scratching my right thigh in the process. The soft cotton of my pajama pants ripped as the skin of a peach, blood oozing through a tattered slit of material.

Outside, the wind whipped and moaned like someone being brutally raped. Even in my bedroom, the choreography was constantly moving, swirling clouds dark as pitch, shadows hovering above me, vultures descending to feed with a wet, throaty snarling. No, a buzzing.

These spirits were a black swarm of wasps. I burrowed in my bed, yanked the covers up around me, peeked out to see if they were gone. They weren't. I braved an arm beneath my mattress, felt for the hammer and retracted it, abruptly slung it in the air, attempting to fend them off. I battered at the evil smudges with a fierce determination.

Somewhere in the apartment, the phone began to ring. Once, twice, over and over. The machine picks up, outgoing message starts, Hi, we're not home but–click. Machine picks up, outgoing message starts. Click. I froze and listened. After several tries, the caller decided to leave a message in what must've been a last resort.

"Clint. Hey Cliiint....I miss my Peeps. Wanna pick up the phone now?"

It was Filip, his voice bouncing off the hardwood floors, invading this private terrain.

"Hello hello hel-loooo?" Pause. "I know you're home."

I couldn't bear the thought of talking to him, of attempting to contain how insane this moment was. But I also couldn't bear the thought of battling the interminably dark night, which had lost all increments of distinction, the shadows hissing at me, alone.

I threw the bedsheets off me and bolted to get the phone, still clutching the hammer. I swung it into the stormy air as I ran into the kitchen, trying to shield myself from the contamination hanging above me, around everything. Nearly busted my butt in the process, skidding in my socked feet.

The appliance wasn't on the cradle. Fuck, where had I left it?

"Pick up the—"

There it was, resting on a Ramen noodle wrapper, on the counter.

Then "Hey, I'm home," I was telling my cordless phone, breathless, the plastic cold in my clutch. "Just couldn't find the damn thing."

"Oh," Filip said with a friendly chuckle. "I wondered. What's up, baby?"

"Wanna come over?" I cut to the bottom line, eliminated chit-chat. My left hand remained wrapped around the hammer.

"Good. Bring some hooch," I blurted, wondering mid-sentence if he had indeed answered or said that he'd stop by. His voice resembled that of adults speaking to Charlie Brown. "Crown Royal and Coke."

My ears were ringing.

"Please, I mean."

"All right," he concurred, and I was off to bathe, peeling off my clothes and stashing my paraphernalia. The drugs I left on the edge of the sink; I'd decide what to do with them later, but knew this time the hiding place would be someplace obvious. I was in no condition to play Nancy Drew.

The hammer stayed with me, though. Yes, I carried it into the shower. Water beat into the tub and I beat the tiled wall sporadically, chanting nonsense to keep the evil spirits at bay. Unscrewing the shampoo bottle cap with one hand proved to be particularly challenging.

The tub had a greasy film. Oh yeah, I remembered, I should be doing this in flip-flops. Then, I don’t even want to think about it.

Afterwards, I utilized my blow-dryer to dry the wound on my leg, speed up the scabbing process. Gotta keep up the appearances, you know–though I didn't want it to look like I was trying. I ran the dryer across my chemically-scorched hair; it was brittle and tangled together in clumps like weathered snakes. Next, I moved to my bedroom and shifted hanging clothes, struggled to pick something semi-presentable out of my closet. I decided on a well-worn pair of CK jeans, fresh gray cotton socks, and a long-sleeved t-shirt my neighbors around the corner had given me, the folks from Gothic.Net. It had a stiletto buckle boot printed on the back, the slogan "Nice Boots . . . Wanna Fuck?" on the front, an alphabet of white letters piercing the warm black fabric.

Oh yeah, and the speed. I slid it beneath my meth artpiece, the Jenny Soup frame. Figured it was as good a place as any to hide it. The hammer, of course, already had a spot saved beneath the boxsprings.

An earthquake broke out within my ribs; my chest shook from the tremors. The floor where I stood was swaying, so back into the bed I went, attempting to arrange myself among the tangled comforter and sheets. This would serve as a temporary stopgap until I figured out what to do.

There I was, lying alone in my thrashed bedroom until Filip arrived, enduring. Thinking, I need Valium, Klonipin. Dilaudid–something to control the liquid enormities flowing in my head.

My tongue was hard, dry, and tasted, strangely, like sand.

Come to me, help me, I called without words across the stormy gulf separating us, meager attempts to render the night tolerable and erased of danger.

Until–ding dong–there he was, asking, "Hey baby, how's it going?" wrapping his thick arms around me, a shiny silver pot in one hand, brown paper bag in the other.

"What's that for?"

"Oh," he said, breaking our embrace. "I thought I'd cook you dinner." He smiled a smile involving arched eyebrows.

Dinner? I couldn't imagine eating; the drugs were too fresh in my system.

"Great." I felt the right side of my face quiver, twitch. "What're we having?"


I turned and twisted my way up the stairway jagging out from our flat like a serrated tongue, his shoes and my socked feet hitting the ancient wood in dull thuds, wavering up.

"Great. Great," I said, stepping into the foyer.

"Whoa! What happened here?"

I followed the trajectory, his gaze. Oh. The video game. Broken glass and plastic. I'd forgotten about that. It blended into the ruined scenery now.

"You like it? It's Desiree's latest installation art piece."

Either he didn't get the joke or he didn't think it was funny.

In the hallway, a light bulb was dying in spasms, an erratic strobe. The kitchen's floor was cold beneath my feet, so I pushed a clearing aside on the counter propped my carcass up on it.

He put the water on to boil.

Filip's eyes were blue, a gorgeous blue, blue as the flame on the gas stove. His skin a powdery shade of tapioca, smooth and even except for his face, the palette he blotted white with MAC studio fix, N1 back when they still manufactured it. N presumably stood for nuclear–I’ve never known anyone that light naturally. Except for a couple of the vampire stripper crowd, that is–but their look was purely supernatural, a facade Filip was striving for. Too bad the fade of powder on his neck proved otherwise.

"So what's up?"

I hate when people ask me that, especially if we're on the phone. Makes me feel put on the spot, as if some producer just granted me a thirty-second slot in which I'm expected to pitch the newsworthy plot of my life.

"Mmm Uh Hmm," a mumbled I don't know and shrug.

Hmm. What's up? Well, let's see: there's a whirling feeling inside me, and around me the night is aiming its shadows, cobalt darts. I am absofuckinglutely losing my mind, my apartment, any reason to live. My complications are enormous and my actions unjustifiable. And, to top it all off, quelling these shudders as they pass through my body is a task I don't think I can handle, though I'm trying, just so you won't know I'm strung out. That's what, what's up. But "Nada," was all that came out, suppressed hysteria lurking behind my breathless voice.

Filip opened his jacket and extracted a matchbook from the breast pocket, each gesture intricate and refined. He paused, studied the stick’s flame as if it contained mysterious equations, fed it to a PM Intl, then extinguished the match with a poof.

"Where's your trashcan, baby?"

"Use the big one," I said, cocking my head towards the checkered linoleum floor. "Everybody else does."

Then, "Hey, give me one of those."

"You don't smoke."

"Sure I do," I lied. "Every now and then."

Filip placed one between my lips and fired it up. The cigarette tasted lousy but functioned as a good distraction, a prop. Gave me something to cling to, just like in that song by The Smiths.

"Are you even inhaling?" Flip blew out a thin stream of pollution.

"Huh? Of course I am."

I shaky-handed the cigarette to my lips, released a mouthful of smoke.

"No you're not." He laughed. "I knew you weren't a smoker! And are you blushing? "

"No." My voice grew small. "I'm not."

"You are! You're blushing. Aww," he put an arm around my shoulder.

"I never thought I'd see you blush," he said with a flush of victory. "Here. Let me show you how."

and then he did–he showed me how; how to breathe in and fill my lungs with nicotine. Twenty-seven years old and I had to be taught how to huff a cigarette. I wanted to crawl into myself.

"Voila!" Filip announced the pasta was done, although I hadn't seen him pour it in the pot.

I assumed our ladle was lost somewhere in the rubble of dirty dishes, Xerox that for the colander, so he dabbed his cancer stick out on the countertop and used a fork to dole out the portions. He split the mucousy feast into halves–wet and glistening and covered with Ragu paste–and thrust a plate at me.

Filip dug in. I pushed the food around on my plate with the clink of silverware. Eating was hard work when the drugs were eating away at me, coursing like piranhas through my bloodstream. My goal was five bites, though I rarely made it past two or three, the food thick and tasteless. This pasta was particularly bad.

"What's the matter?" Filip pulled a stray noodle into his mouth with a slurp. "You not hungry?"

"No, not really. Plus that cigarette."

"Took away your appetite?"

"Made me feel kind of sick."

"Aww. My little lightweight." Filip smiled, his cheeks bulging with another bite.

Yeah, your little lightweight. I donated my dinner plate to our science experiment of a sink, the dishes pure Petri.

"Mind if I fix a drink?"

He jauntily motioned to the brown paper bag, Go ahead.

"It's just this work for grad school. My major project. It's killing me," I told him, fingering the purple fake velvet pouch, cracking the cellophane seal of the Crown Royal bottle and twisting its neck.

I poured a generous serving of, a splash of Coke and sloshed it around the shell-white plastic cup.

"Cheers," I toasted.

Filip finished and plunked his fork onto the empty plate, immediately lit up again. When he hit the cigarette, the cherry flickered in his eyes.

"Cheers," he monkeyed, the word floating in a wisp of smoke.

I gulped the liquor. There was something hard in me that wanted him, no matter how awkward it might be, which in turn got me hard.

Anxiety crawled through my limbs and the taste of adrenaline twitched the back of my throat, fingered up the scotch-coated walls. Were we going to get it on? We needed to get on with it!

"Nice shirt," he said, expelling another long gust of exhaust. "And yes, I do."

It was about time!

"Oh yeah?" I went, all faux-naive. "You think so?"

"Uh huh." He stubbed his ciggie in the sink, popped an Altoids from the tin he had on hand. Just like Odysseus, ever-ready.

For this sex scene, it was lights out–not even the glow of a candle–so he couldn't see the lesions adorning my flesh, the private cache of bruises. We kissed in a distracted way. His mouth tasted like a pasty ashtray. I kind of liked it.

Our coitus was a prolonged spasm, my performance commanded by fear and undefined schizophrenic insecurities. Everything was jerky, off-balance. I couldn't catch his rhythm. He kept bucking against mine.

"You know what we need? A little jump-start."

A beat, then Filip asked "Hmm?"

"You know, a line. Maybe we should do a line."

Filip made some kind of noise, which was followed by the embarrassingly loud sucking sound of me pulling out, like a boot stuck in mud or soil pulling water.

"I think I might have some . . ." I mumbled, extracting the framed surface, pseudo-casual. "Yeah, here. Bingo."

By then, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, so I cut the stash by pale moonlight. Left a reserve in the baggie, hacked the rest into two neat rowlets: one moderate in girth and size, the other borderline gigantic.

"Just do what you want. I'll take care of the rest," I explained and leaned forward, tying my coif back with a loose strand, my voice an ornery whisper, vaguely conspiratorial. "Then we can go all night."

Filip yeah-baby smiled at that and huffed up a bump no longer than my thumbnail. Mine was the length of the mirror's width. Ten inches? Twelve inches? Something ridiculous. And the drip, the drip was like gargling with ammonia.

We bumped and grinded, but his booty leaked. I should've learned from Airick–speed lets more than just your inhibitions go. I didn't have tissues in my room so I grabbed a towel from my laundry basket, stifling my gross out.

Man, fags have to deal with getting shit on so many different levels.

"Of course I won't tell anyone," I promised and I didn't, though here I am writing about it now. Good thing Filip's not really his name. It's the nom de plume of the nickname known as his name.

Wiped up and whacked out, and within minutes I was crawling back into his body, pulling him toward me by his hipbones and shoving in with a wet slurp. Filip's torso folded back, the arches of his feet cupping the air, we thrashed stickily on my faded black bedsheets and matted rug floor. The mattress had slid off the boxsprings and neither of us bothered to fix it.

I pressed hard, harder, shook him into a liquefying sensation but could not come. Finally my cock softened and slowly slipped out. Spent I was, exhausted.

"Here, let me help you with that." He reached for my unit, but I waved his hand away and lay down. His body heat was like a radiator; I was slick with sweat.

"It's okay, honey," he coached, embracing me as if I were some impotent old geezer. My body went rigid. It felt like there was something stirring beneath his skin.

Filip stroked my hair. I pushed away, to the side of him, not really anywhere else to go–the two of us on my twin bed crammed on the rug covering the theater ticket sized stub of hardwood–and my hair ran out between his fingers, long, stretched out like ivy.

I drew myself out, struggled to catch my breath. A sour odor found its way to my nose. Buttjuice and B.O. Yuck.

Filip’s hands tapped the mattress nervously. He was tweaked. Couple specks of dust and he was off his rockets, his sex raised and swollen.

"So," he said, propping himself up on an elbow. "My little Peeps."

I felt harried, that something was being expected of me, other than the obvious. Conversation, I suppose. Boyfriend stuff. I was short on material.

"Yeah." I tried to rearrange my mouth in the shape of a smile but dry lips snagged, clung to my teeth. What was I supposed to say? I felt stripped, exposed. It was so much easier to ignore him when we were having sex.

I weaved a hand through the rubble around me, negotiated objects, scampered into a rough estimate of my clothes. The material was gelid, felt gummy. Involuntary tremors accompanied my every labored move.

"Why’re you getting dressed?"

"You know what? I'm thinkin' maybe I should move in. Give San Jose a try," I shifted gears.

"Really? You mean it?"

"Sure. Sure," I said, though I cannot imagine what I was talking about.

It's unbelievable, the things you hear coming out of your own mouth. At least me with mine.

"Aww, Peeps–that'd be so great."

Would it? Immediately I had a rush of remorse about what I'd done. Bullshit. Bullshit. You are so full of shit, mocked a voice in the back of my skull and blotted out whatever Filip said next, speed chatter about fixing our new place up. Glass pipe dreams.

I rearranged myself, attempted to hide from the situation and his uncomfortable touch. Boxer shorts slid beneath my hipbones. In the blind search I had put on Filip’s, which were several sizes too large.

Something resembling a sigh escaped my lips.

"Is something wrong?" A kiss landed on the side of my jaw, sloppy and scented of stomach gases.

Filip lay coiled next to me, restless, rolling from side to side. Fidgeting, groping at me desperately. The mattress squeaked with every movement. It was brutally ridiculous. My genitals pound pounded, and a venomous rage snaked its way through my veins. I wanted him here; I wanted him there; I wanted him gone.

Is something wrong?

Minutes and the enormity of the situation accumulated and something seemed to tighten, grow in my gut, claw at the back of my throat.

Images of me, a kept boy, trapped in Silicon Valley without wheels, my hubby away at work. Images I neither wanted to see nor feel.

But I was tired, the struggle gone out of me. Strung out / hung out and cheap for the taking.

"Nothing," my lips said. "Nothing’s wrong. At all."

I was striving for nonchalance, though these words had bordered on shrill, so I closed my eyes and invited blackness into my head. And blackness accepted my invitation.

At some point, the pitch of night drained into dusk and Filip left for work or San Jose or somewhere. I’m not certain, wasn’t really sure of much of anything.

What I do know is that I wanted to move the mattress, cover up the rust and "water" marks on the boxspring ticking, though I never seemed to get around to it.

The day was gray, overcast. Frosty. I piled on a wool sweater assaulted by lint, two pairs of socks, and remained bolted in my private abscess of a bedroom.

It began to rain, first a few stray drops against the glass pane with a plop and a splash, then torrents piercing the sky in spears and daggers, deliberate, aiming for the wasted city below. The window flexed and clattered, throbbed with the deluge. The rain had a voice, a sharp howl. It said something I couldn’t understand.

Was I alone? Was anyone home? I wondered but was too bummed burnt-out bananas to go look.

But no, there was someone else in the apartment, someone among the shadows; I was sure of it. I unbolted my door and peeked around the frame, stared, waited, looked again, but he was quicker and always dashed just out of sight.

I spoke out loud to hear myself. It’s the drugs, I said. Get a grip.

Then it dawned on me there was a towel decorated with someone else’s poo in my hamper. I spazzed and tossed it out the window, the plush rectangle meeting the alley’s slick concrete with a thick lazy slap. From all directions came the sound of giggles and excited voices. What’s that freak doing? a female voice mocked. The girls downstairs can see you they’re laughing at you

I shuddered, retrieved a bundle of sage from a garbage-choked corner, lit it, struggled to believe in the power of that white light shit. Tried to get on intimate terms with the room, all in an effort to mollify the paranoia. I wanted it, needed it on my side. It felt like a shrinking box, shadows swollen on the walls. So many of the dark smudges around me, I was being buried alive. And my body, that skeleton with skin shrink-wrapped on it, begged me for food.

Figures I don't have the pasta when I need it, was my pretzled logic.

In the meantime, time passed or failed to. Dismantled itself like a drag queen slipping off her heels.

My mind was busy, but there was nothing. Thoughts did not flow. They dribbled. From the cradle bars. Song lyrics flashed in fragments, strobe lights on the underside of my eyelids. Comes a beckoning voice / It sends you spinning.

I felt like I was late for something, was forgetting something, when actually, I'd forgotten everything I'd ever learned. Following the footsteps. Feeling had been edited away and I'd been edited away. Of a ragdoll dance. Not dead but something else. An ellipsis. We are entranced. What was human in me had been consumed, and all I wanted was to slow down my head, if not stop it completely. Spellbound . . .

All I wanted was my head to feel like my own again. At least sex with Filip, someone else touching me, almost made me believe I was there.

But Filip was gone, and the rain battered down and I was zero, a nothing, empty. My room was plagued with shadows, though I couldn't cast one myself.

I heard but tried not to listen to the metallic cries of the 24 Divisadero outside, screeching muted in the hallucinatory periphery. Rest was impossible. Besides, the black-lava tongued monsters rendered sleeping and waking indistinguishable, anyway. I was trapped between these places.

And there were grainy, malevolent shapes, everywhere. Darting about, everywhere. It was a show-down. I closed my eyes and pulled the covers over my head, but Siouxsie Sioux and the shadows were living Spellbound inside my skull.

Covers back, back up. Work through this, I chanted. Write it out. A spiral-bound notebook and blue Sharpie from atop my stereo. I tried to get into the rhythm of language but it kept disappearing, pen poised over the lined paper, fingers shaky, expectant. So I composed memos to myself: we don’t have history; we have the present / from kosmos to circumference / spiritual vocation: aggressive truncation. I fingered the pages with bungling digits, ripped them out, let them fall about my room, certain these messages would give me insight later. Yeah, right.

My eyes were dry in their sockets and I was terribly thirsty. No spring water in the flat, so I sipped H2O from the tap in a recycled Gatorade bottle. It tasted like pennies. I’ve heard ass described before as tasting like pennies, though I can’t say I agree.

I was freezing, though my edges were thermal. The pores of my skin pushed out poison, toxic perspiration which made the skin under my sweater itch. My lower back was sore and balled into knots from my staying up for days, and my nerves were the frayed cord of a weathered telephone line, subject to sparks and eruptions. Obviously, I was short-circuiting.

Desiree clomped distinctly up the stairs, like a proud pony. I heard the tinkling of keys at her bedroom door, the gentle roar of the television set that she never turned off, and I froze, afraid to face her. All those times I had pointed the finger at Airick; I couldn’t handle her jabbing hers at me.

Suddenly, I had to pee. Badly. Rather than brave the bathroom, I let it fly in the discarded Gatorade bottle and tossed it out the window. Whew.

She stalked the hall, came to my room anyway.

"Phone." She knocked once tersely, opened the door I neglected to latch, offered me the phone. Desiree wore a calico blue knee-length 50’s style dress, the prim and proper kind, with little cream-colored checks on it and matching buttons, sensible collar and cuffed short sleeves. I couldn’t help noticing that it was a good eyebrow afternoon; they were penciled crisp and perfectly arched like the McDonald’s logo, except carbon black instead of yellow and not conjoined in the middle. Her face fell into a blank fury.

"Well, I see you’ve had a full day," she sniffed, her chin uplifted. Her small mouth was a serious red line. "Or however long it’s been." And shut the door.

My lair resembled hurricane wreckage. Stacks of blue-inked chicken scrawls on torn scraps of paper covered the rubble like a rumpled blanket.

"Hello? Clint," a voice queried through the appliance. "Clint?"

Oh shit. It was my mother.

"Hi, Mom," I said, suddenly fighting a quiver in my voice.

"How are you, pookie? I’ve been tryin’ to call you for days."

"Fine. I’m fine." I felt tears begin to well with despair and an incomprehensible longing.

"How’ve you been?"

"Busy. Really busy."

"With your major project? For school?"

"Mmm hmm."

There was a cautious pause that I did not fill.

"Honey, I mean, how’re you doin’?" She added, "With your problem."

My problem. Silence encircled me like a necktie, a noose. I felt so inert, and when she asked me, "Do you need to come home again?"–her intuition for the miserable was purely maternal–the choking noise I fought to control in my voice broke into maniacal sobs.

"Oh Mom," I wailed. "I’m freaking out!"

From somewhere, I heard background voices, snickering at how I blubbered. Was it Airick? Desiree? Another figment of my mind?

"I’m fuckin’ losin’ it!" I slapped my leg for emphasis; the unhealed scratch smarted. "And the apartment. We’re–I’m–losing another apartment."

Mom and I went back and forth until it was decided she’d arrange a plane ticket. By then, ropes of snot clung to my shirt.

"Everything’s gonna be fine," she said, to which I replied–in words she couldn’t hear because she was then so far away, on the other side of the dial tone–"I love you, Mama."

I dropped the telly and quickly changed clothes, shoved my limbs into a wrinkled white oxford from my short-lived temp career and paced back and forth in the postage-stamp sized space, two steps turn three steps turn two. This was my perimeter: that apartment, my bedroom, this frame which held me. I stumbled amongst the debris, the set of another day’s episode of As the World Burns.

The cordless rang. I answered it, voice still thick and mucousy from sobbing.

"Clint? Are you okay?"

The voice was familiar to me, though perky, pumped-up.

"Who is this?" I barked, bitter that I hadn’t screened the call.

She laughed. "It’s Jade, silly. Who did you think it was?"

Great. Her timing was impeccable. My former partner-in-crime called to let me know she’s been clean six months, and I was crazy beyond belief. Deal the coup de grace, why doncha?

"Hey, Jade, can you hear that beeping? I think the battery’s dying on my phone," I lied and then promptly hung up, ripped the power-pack from its guts, and threw the gray plastic shell down the hallway.

Six months. "Just One Time" had smeared another six months.

"So this is it. This is the end," I said, bolting back the latch, and the youthful sense of infinity that got me to this moment in life was gone.

Nancy Reagan made it seem so simple: why is there nothing within me that can only say no?


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