MICHAEL WILLIAMS - JEOPARDY
With no formal education to speak of, Michael Williams learned his craft the hard way. He's traveled the world in search of perspective, but found it mostly back at home in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. Self-taught at everything, he somehow managed to break into several higher ranking positions at various Internet companies. He can be found at highprimate.com or on Facebook or Twitter.
Jeopardy is deadly.
I don't mean in the medical sense. I mean, she kills, spiritually. She's the ravager, body and mind. I know this.
I know it so damn well that I'm currently on the floor of a truck stop bathroom with blood in my mouth and a needle in my arm. The needle isn't mine and it isn't enough. I don't know the name of the girl who gave it to me, but I think she's kicked. She hasn't moved since I got in here. She's a skeleton. Whatever liquid lays dormant on the tiles soaks into her auburn hair. It looks too dark to be water. I don't want to think about it.
Jeopardy knows I'm here. She can smell me. Like a goddamn panther with high brown tits and a curled bush that drips and squeezes and pulls your soul right out through your cum.
She knows what I'm doing. She knows why.
She knows I'm trying to escape her.
Her juices are still drying underneath my jeans. I fucked Jeopardy and she fucked me, though I suspect it may be more the latter. I can still picture those juicy, round melons swinging back and forth over my face as she slams down into me over and again.
The needle falls out of my arm on its own.
Jeopardy might approve, if she were here. She loves to torture me. To put me in places I can't function, and taunt me with the final blow. It'll come, eventually. It may even be soon, though I suspect Jeopardy ain't done with me yet.
I haven't lost enough. Self-esteem. Friends. Family. Possessions. Car. House. Jeopardy took them all, but I'm still breathing.
Hell, I'm still getting hard at the reminder.
Jeopardy. She's no different than this here shit in my veins. There's a rush and a thrill to her, but the whole damn thing is so damn dirty and dangerous, it almost ain't worth it.
I can damn near taste the nipple in my mouth and it makes me swell.
I don't think Red over here is breathing anymore. I try to recall her real name, but I'm not sure she ever told me. She just looked like a fellow traveller on Jeopardy's highway and I rolled right on up to her like a goddamned cat and slick as you please.
Soon enough, we're doing a lovers' dance, or rather, more of a sit-across-the-room-get-yourself-off-real-dirty kind of dance. Lots of action, lots of secret shame and no touching. Your own finger up your ass while the girl cuts her inner thigh kind of thing. Acting dirty like no one was there, and trying to ignore the crazy shit on the other end.
Something's coming out of that damn girl's mouth. I ain't sure what it is, but it's that yellow-brown colour that means your stomach's empty and it's had enough.
It takes me a full minute to realize that's a good sign. Dead bodies don't puke, right?
I take a minute to shuffle through her pockets. She may beat Jeopardy yet, and I still need. I ain't done with my mistress. There's a plastic baggie in her front pocket and with all these thoughts of Jeopardy runnin' round my head, I can't help but cop a feel. I try seeing if I can reach down between her legs but the pocket ain't deep enough.
Doesn't matter. Jeopardy'll fuck her like she fucked me and we'll both be in trouble then.
I fire up that spoon real nice and quick with a lighter on the floor beside the girl. The flint is wet and I have to rub it with my shirt to get it going, but soon enough, the needle is full and the belt around my bicep is tight and god damn, I am flying like a goddamn Eagle.
It's an orgasm only equaled by Jeopardy herself, with Karma coming in the back door. It hits that g-spot so hard I damn near pass out, and when the white light clears from my eyes, I'm staring through a puddle of peace, piss and bile right across at Red's grey face. Her eyes are open, but they ain't moving. There's a puddle beneath her cheek.
Someone's pounding somewhere. A vague, relentless jackhammer.
Sumbitch. She finds me again and again, and I raise to my feet and cock my hands and I'm ready to go.
She's through the door before I can stop her. Big, brown tits hung without gravity over a full brown bush and big eyes and a smile that dares me to... to what? Fuck? Fight? Die?
I never can tell with Jeopardy.
I pitch forward at her but she just laughs. I stumble and hit the sink with my chest. I manage to hold on long enough for my knees to buckle, but the porcelain is slick and it's only a moment before I'm on my neck on the floor.
She's on me with my pants down before I can say hello.
Sharpened nails twist my nipples until I whimper, but they don't stop. They seem to be as deep inside me as I am inside her and she pushes and twists until the nipples rip away and she's into my chest, and goddamn. She's going to do it this time, I realize.
The panther has spoken.
Her hands tear at my rib cage. Bone cracks as she peels them back. She yanks at my lungs, my heart, my liver. I impale her, again and again, but she's choking me now, pinching my aorta with her claws and I'm slipping, and slipping and slipping again, and I cum with a faint whine as the noise and the air fades to black...
Jeopardy. Like I said. She ain't medical, but she's deadly.
And she'll get you every time.
When I open my eyes, stale light floods in. It shifts around in a haze for a minute, and I tap my fingers on my chest. It's not open. It's covered in a faded white sheet, like the rest of me. There are bars on the side of the bed and pale grey-green curtains hanging beyond its borders. Everything else is some shade of beige or grey, like a corporate basement version of hell.
The smell hits me before the sound.
Fucking disinfectant smell. Somebody's fresh diarrhea.
Something tugs at my wrists. My first thought is handcuffs, but it's the IV, stapled into a vein deep in my forearm. It's a familiar pain.
I'm awake for almost ten minutes before anybody notices. It's a nurse, young, relatively new. She's got them bags under her eyes like she hasn't slept in days, and she's make-up free, but that's not what gives it away. When she sees I'm awake, her mouth drops in surprise for a second, then she gets a closer look. Surprise gives way to disgust. That's how I know. Old hands start with disgust and work their way back toward not giving a fuck.
“You're awake,” she states the obvious. Fucking genius, this one.
She starts touching me, puts her fingers on my wrist, that cold metal circle on my chest, the little pen light up my nose and in my eyes. Christ, even the flashlight's grey. I roll my head away from her. I know what she'll see. Pupils that don't dilate like they're supposed to. Maybe a little jaundice. We both know what happened.
She goes through her routine, poking and prodding and measuring or whatever it is she does. It's more intimate than I want, but I'm weak as a day old kitten so I don't put up much fight. Still. She could at least jerk me off.
“Do you have anyone we can call, Mister...?”
Wide hips. Hair in a halo like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown. Curves that look like they were drawn by Art Adams in the midst of a Las Vegas revue. Chocolate skin. Big, mocking brown eyes. Fingernails like sharpened files.
I grit my teeth and squeeze my fists tight.
No. Hell, no. She'll come soon enough.
“Anyone at all?”
Empty house. Silent air, no screaming. Sold sign out front. No cars in the driveway. Cold streets. Dirty apartments.
She humphs and she's gone. Good. Fuck her. When she finally comes back, the doctor's on her heels. His cheeks are hollow, and the grey-green of his skin matches the walls around him. He's hunchbacked with apathy. Great. Here it comes.
“You've survived an overdose, Mister...?” he says it like the nurse did, but with more irritation. I give him my name and we go on with the show. This isn't my first trip to the rodeo.
“You've been very lucky,” he tells me, but his voice says otherwise. Lucky for me, maybe, but for him, I'm just another pain in the ass. Another loser taking up time and space from someone who gives a shit. Sure, I'm lucky. He's unlucky he got me. We're both unlucky. Only way we'd both be lucky is if I were down in the morgue instead of stuck up here with tubes coming out my dick. “You've been given a second chance.”
Fuck you too, Doc.
“If I were you, I'd think very long and hard about the way you live your life.”
He hovers over my chart. A piece of paper. He looks at it with disdain. Not even disdain. Bored disdain. The fucker's reading from cue cards. He ain't even here.
“Addiction to the high is a dangerous way to live,” says the man who has probably never experienced a real high in his life. “It's not real living,” he adds.
A sideways glance. He wants to know if I'm paying attention. I am and I'm not. I hear the words, but they're words I've heard before. I know what he's talking about. Settle down. Get a good job. Menial labour. Get clean. Maybe take a wife. Pop out a couple of brats. Retire watching television.
Yeah, I hear what you're saying, Doc.
I look him over. Drab clothes. Hunched shoulders. Drawn face. The whole get-up looks like a art movie about slow trauma. Is that who you are, Doc? You the married man with the bratty kids and the cheating wife? You jerk off in doctor's lounge at the end of the day because you're not getting any at home?
What's your high, Doc? You got one?
“... live a normal and productive life,” he concludes. I don't need the in-between. I know the cure. Stay away from panthers.
“I'm writing you a recommendation for dolophine. You have to take it downstairs at the clinic, but over time, if you prove to be a good candidate, you can get take homes.”
Take homes. Chinese food delivery opiates. Pizza guy docility, right to your door.
He looks at me again. His eyes judge. Evaluate. Forget. I'll be an afterthought in an hour and forgotten completely by the time he gets home.
He hands the clipboard back to the nurse and doesn't even look at her.
“Get his details and leave them for me at the front. I'll write the script before he checks out.”
He turns back before he exits the curtains and glances at the IV.
“When this cycle is done, discharge him. We need this bed.”
Fuck you too, Doc. Fuck you too.
The methadone runs like plaster of Paris through my veins and for the moment, the urge in my stomach subsides. The pit's still there, gurgling and begging, but my eyelids are heavy and I don't give a fuck. I can't stop thumbing the ID card they gave me to prove I'm legally allowed to keep getting dulled, but it's just a dumb reaction. The room's faded into sepia, and the only thing left is a shallow rumble in my gut and a cotton head. I am, as they say, comfortably numb.
Feels like hell.
The room itself is bare, just a shitty old mattress and a duffel bag filled with enough clothes to cover me in public. There's a shower down the hall, a rusty tub with a matching shower head that clanks and jerks and threatens to bust out of the tile whenever it's on. This is my room. There's a closet. I sleep there sometimes. Ain't the most comfortable thing, but when you're sick from the junk and torn from Jeopardy's advances, it's a nice respite. Smells like moth balls and old puke. Probably mine. The smell of the junk hits you pretty good when you first take a whiff. Makes you heave. It's involuntary. The closet is my favourite place. It's safe.
No closet door could keep Jeopardy out if she wants in.
She's torn through doors, walls, relationships, jobs, children, subway stations and alleyways to find me. She even once found me in a dumpster, half dead and covered in leftover spaghetti.
The thought of family drags me back. A brick house. Brown brick, standard. Green-grey shingles. Red door. Alice always said it looked nice. Inviting. Like you couldn't wait to come in. Jeopardy sure hadn't.
I paced the halls after Jeopardy tore through and left it all empty. Dust on the floor. Some shuffled footsteps and dragged boxes to show they'd been there.
Where had they gone?
Sometimes, I wish I'd paid attention.
My focus draws back to the clinic card.
How easy would it be? To go back. To keep going back. To take the little cup with its liquid dullard, that one little chug that made it all better. That quenched the hunger for the high, the unstoppable desire for more.
At least for a little while.
I try to think of her. Not Jeopardy. The other one. Alice.
Did she get her picket fence back? Marry an accountant or a lawyer or someone like that?
Could I be someone like that?
Visions of desks and computers and spreadsheets and overly technical language makes me grimace. Menial labour is better. Lifting rocks. Hammering things. Sawing. Things that make you work, and bleed the desire out of you through your muscles. I could do that, thumb, thumb, thumb. I could be that guy.
Working to work. No high. No seeking. Just the same, over and over, until the body breaks down and whoever's dumb enough to be with me stops sucking my dick and I lose the ability to get it up. Until my bowels void themselves and someone else has to clean it, and then I can just sit there being pissed and lonely until it's time to die.
The card crumples in my hand.
Would she love me like that? Numb inside? Freed of desire? Freed of obsession? Of addiction?
Of course she would. I straighten the card out. It's why she left, and why Ginny went with her. That, and Jeopardy.
I am a series of fallen pillars, I decide. I follow that up with congratulations for such a deep thought. It's not easy to do that when you're in conscious sedation. Maybe I'm learning. Learning how to be no one. You gotta tear it all down to get to the foundation, right?
The edge of the card frays from my constant thumbing. If I do this, I could rebuild it all. Family, job, house, car, the American Dream. Life behind a white picket fence with a Stepford wife warden and a penny ante job doing all the things ex-junkies do for a living. Wash dishes. Break rocks. Pick up trash on the freeway.
I could have it all.
The doctor wants that. Productive member of society. Me. The nurse is headed that way, a doe in headlights, about to be run over, backed up and run over again, ad infinity or however you say it.
My dick's limp already.
It's a way out. It's easy. No more craving. No more obsession. No more lightning down your skin. No more addiction, no more bad decision after bad decision, a demo on the house of your life, chasing that goddamned euphoria, that goddamned bliss.
Yeah, fuck happy, right?
I tell my own mind to shut up. This ain't real. It isn't. It's a chase, an endless chase and maybe you get a little close to God sometimes, but the rest of the time, it's Jeopardy coming in slick as you please with those sharpened stake claws and that goddamned pussy and Jesus Christ, I could fuck her right now.
I press my hands to my face, the front of the crumpled card into my goddamned eye. Maybe I'll learn by osmosis. It's time to give up. To go straight. To do what everyone else does and pray to God that it's that way for a reason. Like they all know the secret, that they were taught since they were kids to be good goddamned people and that would make them happy.
Doc sure looked happy, didn't he?
Can't laugh away that one.
He looked pissed off and miserable, angry at the world, but angry through apathy, like a prisoner screaming behind a double-thick pane of glass. That nurse looked scared as hell. As if she can see the train bearing down and she doesn't know how in the hell she got tied up on those tracks or who done it.
I know who done it.
There's a noise in the hall, like a rustle. The sound of a door blowing open a few inches in a draft. No one was home when I got here. Just me, alone with my methadone low, wondering if the other squatters here with me would understand if I just up and left. It's not like we all pay rent.
I put the card down beside me, pinched between my finger and my thumb.
A whisper rolls in under the sound of the door, along with the creak of a floorboard. For a second, it looks like a shadow moves in the hall, then it all goes still.
The bottom drops out of my stomach.
I know damned well who it is.
“Go away,” I say, as loud and authoritative as I can.
I can practically hear the smile from around the corner.
I ain't putting up with this shit, but the fear is already creeping through my veins and I can feel those nerve endings start to reach up. How many hours had it been since I was discharged? Five? Six? How long does this shit last?
I realize I've been sitting in the same spot, repeating the same thoughts for over an hour. I haven't moved.
“Goddamnit, Jeopardy, if you're there, just come on out!” I call out.
She likes to play games sometimes, when you're low and you think you can finally up and get on the wagon. She hangs out in the corners, the peripheries, a ghost in the back of your eyeballs. She whispers, lower than you can hear, but you know damn well what she's saying. My nerves are at full attention.
“Please. Stop. I'm done. Please.”
It's amazing how quickly I go from denial to begging. Like some fake tough guy who thinks he can stand up to anything, just to find himself face to face with Muhammad Ali. Like anything could stand up to Jeopardy. I fold like a cheap fan. Always. She's got a gut punch like a Magnum. Put your spine right out through your back.
Her smile floats past my ear and I don't even need to hear her say it.
“Fuck you.” False bravado. Last words of a dying man.
There's a breeze come across my face like the wisp of Jeopardy's fingers. Something brushes my lips and I shudder all the way down. My fists clench and my toes curl and my shoulders go up tight around my ears. My eyes squeeze harder than a vice grip.
“I don't need you,” I whisper into the dark.
“You sure about that?”
Her whisper, so close in my ear that I jump half out of my skin. My eyes snap open and my fists uncurl and I look down and I'm hard as hell.
Every. Damned. Time.
The stencil on the entrance buzzer says Denneny, but nobody calls him that. I push the button, say my name and I'm up the stairs in a dead hunch. It's a slow, trudging walk up them steps, but it's not my first time, and maybe not my last.
The halls look like something out of a bad film about flop houses, dirt and stained newspapers and leftover socks and a used condom or seven. A needle here and there. The whole building a collective of fellow bliss seekers, crawling out of their skin on the dirty floor. Scabbing. Flaking. Blistered.
Corb opens the door before I even get a chance to knock and he pulls me right in, slick as you please. He's an excitable one, Corb, and his apartment might be the only one with more than two pieces of furniture in the whole place. There's a couch, dusty rose, and a loveseat, forest green, and a long glass table with a pile of baggies, scales and a lump of the shit. The smell hits me and I choke back the bile in my throat. Corb's gums are already flapping.
“Shit, buddy, heard you had a bad time. Them doctors up in that hospital try and get you quit? I bet they did, fucking do gooders. Always telling good folks how to live. Real folks. Motherfuckers, like you and me, am I right? Fuck,” his nose sniffles like he's got a bad case of pollen, but it sure ain't dandelion dust going up there.
Corb flops down on the couch like a weight was tied to his asshole and his fingers stretch out like they know what they're doing, all without instruction. Muscle memory. A little canister. A mirror. A glass straw. A long line of white.
“Doctors. Go to school for ten years and for what? So they can tell other people how to live their lives? Stick to writing prescriptions and leave us alone,” he rants. “Leave us all alone, am I right, motherfucker?”
He holds up the straw and gestures at me. His eyebrows raise. It's the “you in?” gesture, but I'm not. Not my bag. Powder makes you crazy and full of shit. Straight up the nose to the brain, they say. Not like my stuff. Powder tweaks your brain, you start talking crazy, and lies spill from your lips like a faucet on full blast. You get stuck in your own head, like a mental patient on stage in a straightjacket.
My stuff creams through your veins like that warm feeling you got as a kid drinking hot chocolate in the middle of winter. It hits your heart and flows through you, right up the neck to the lizard brain at the base of your skull and into your goddamned soul. My shit taps something primal. One with the universe-primal, not angel dust, fight the cops primal. That shit's for the real fuckers.
Corb's stuff, the white stuff? It's for the “style without substance” crowd. The ones who like to hear themselves talk. Like Corb. He loves to hear himself talk. Especially about himself.
“Fuck, man, I went there for an ingrown toenail once, and the doctor lectured me for ten minutes about self-medicating, because I had the nerve to take a little bump to numb the pain and left some on my nostril. Fucking doctors, man. Cut your dick off and tell you it's to protect you from STDs. Bullshit. It's to protect you from livin', man. L-I-V-I-N. Fucking bull.”
Out comes the credit card. The name on it is Helen something. Corb doesn't look like a Helen something. White lines split and lay out and snort right up into Corb's pre-frontal lobe or whatever the fuck you call it in the front.
“Folks like that, they don't want other folks getting high. You know why not? Because they're fucking miserable. They can't get hard so they forget what a goddamned cum feels like.”
Flashbacks to a dirty bathroom floor. A tweak in my groin. I know what a cum feels like.
“Folks like that don't get the risk/reward system. You put yourself out there,” he grabs his crotch. “You put yourself out there and you take the risk and you reap the reward. And that reward ain't a fucking nine-to-five job for shit pay and a half-assed blowjob once a month if you can get your hands on some Viagra. There's danger to living, and that's what they're scared of.”
Hmph. Scared of. I know what I'm scared of. The worst thing to be scared of.
Brown skin. Hourglass. Heart ripped out through the ribs.
I know what he's talking about, even if Corb doesn't. Hell, Corb doesn't even believe what he's saying. I can see it in his blustery eyes. He's fucking scared shitless.
“Jeopardy,” I mutter, under my breath.
“Goddamned right, jeopardy! Alex motherfucking Trebek asking the question of life! What is the goddamned infinite orgasm?”
Corb launches to his feet but I'm looking past him. She slips like the panther she is from out behind one of them standing wooden screens like they had back in the Roaring Twenties. I don't even know why Corb has it. Who knows with him? Half his decision making comes smeared with powder.
She stalks around him, silent and shadowed. Her pendulous breasts sway in the dark, erect and beckoning, hovering above those angled hips that bump back and forth so smooth and slick my mouth's filled with saliva in an instant. And she ain't looking at Corb. Corb's never seen Jeopardy. He's talking about the Wheel of Goddamned Fortune now, a rant about the inherent cruelty of fate and something about Vanna White, and how she never seems to age, while Pat Sajak is turning into a crotchety old man right in front of our eyes. He'll be yelling at kids on his lawn before we know it, says Corb. Not like Vanna.
Vanna. Who gives a good goddamn about Vanna when Jeopardy's here? She slides up behind Corb and runs them long nails right down the side of his neck and he doesn't even notice. I notice. I feel it, like it was across skin of my very own.
Vanna ain't got a thing on Jeopardy.
“Fuckin' doctors. Bunch of pill-popping, mood-killing nobodies. And fucking Pat Sajak. I bet Vanna's tits look like they point straight up.”
Corb's not stopping. He's taken two more bumps in the time I started staring at Jeopardy and I don't even know where he's going with the whole damn thing. I don't think he does either. It's not like it matters. I don't care, not when she's here, sliding through the air like a naked beast, her hips beating out a invitation that drowns out old Corb the dealer and walks right into my eyeballs, which can't help but range, up and down, legs to hips to breasts to lips and back again. She stalks around Corb like he's a goddamned stripper pole, her leg rubbing up and down his and her arm dragging like across his pecs and her bottom lip open in anticipation.
Fuck, can I feel the anticipation. I can feel it so hard I'm worried Corb's gonna think he's turning me on. And I ain't going behind that screen to do what I suspect he does for payment sometimes.
“... like a goddamn Greek god...”
I've lost track of what Corb's saying. My eyes fixate on Jeopardy as she skims around the edge of Corb's long glass table, past the remnants of broken white lines and the empty bags of pure plastic, waiting to be filled. She practically slithers up to me, spinning at the last moment to roll around with her bottom toward me like some kind of feline belly dancer. She's back around again before I know it and I slide back against the couch and my mouth hangs slack and I swear drool's about to spill out the side of my lips.
“... a man like you... searching for that ethereal high when all you need is a bump...”
Jeopardy's hips gyrate, slow and deep between my legs. I can smell her. I can smell her damp, sweet centre and now drool is spilling out the corner of my mouth and my cock feels like it's about to burst out of its skin.
“... you chasing the big one. The forever one, and it scares you, when all you need is a quick fix and a cheap rush... gotta stay up...”
Cheap rush. Fuck that. What I need is right here in front of me, full, brown breasts hanging in gravitational defiance just beneath my chin, neck bared, Jeopardy's scent trickling up like smoke between us, a kind of opiate perfume...
“...gotta stay up, gotta stay up...”
Corb's words. Meaningless in the presence of a Goddess. Fuck Vanna White. Jeopardy turns more than letters. She turns your goddamned soul.
“You buying or is this a friendly visit?” Corb snaps out of his pointless mantra.
My attention snaps back to the dealer. Jeopardy leans in, real close, and I say with her, “Give me what I need.”
“I know what you need,” Corb grins. “But I'll give you what you want instead.”
The chill in the staircase feels like a whore's nipple as I make my way from landing to landing down toward the street. With a fresh baggie in my pocket, every corner feels like the opening of a slasher flick, and me some busty heroine calmly walking through her day, never knowing some psycho's about to split her down the middle. Could be worse, I decide. Could be the topless chick who gets shanked in the middle of getting down. Jeopardy looms in my mind and I know I've been there too. I've been all the victims. The hero's always a virgin.
I hit the bottom step and burst through the doorway at the base of the stairs into the afternoon sun. The door jerks open at the same time I push and I tumble-lurch through it into something hard, sombody's body, a tiny frame that sputters and falls to the sidewalk beside me.
I pinwheel in desperation to avoid landing on what's in my pocket and jam my hip on the pavement. I don't see what happens to the girl, but I hear a nasty string of swears best fit for the docks or the South Side of Chicago. Shooting pain in my hip arches my back. It's like a ice pick straight into the pelvis. Goddamnit.
She comes into view slow, through a lens of tears that blur my eyes. Pale. Brownish red hair. Skinny. I wipe my cheeks and give her another look. Even with a broken hip screaming beneath me, I know what she is. Junkie, with a capital fucking J. Just like me. You develop a sixth sense for these things after a while. She's a fucking skeleton.
It only takes a second for tears to blur into flashback.
Fingers in her pocket.
Hot shame flushes up my neck and into my face. I can't will it away. The girl looks disoriented. Put out. Her elbow bleeds from where she hit the pavement. Track marks line the inside of her arms, a pock-marked mirror of my own mottled skin.
“Uh, sorry,” I mumble as I get back to my feet. Sorry for stealing your drugs. Sorry for trying to molest you.
She gets up as well, and grimaces at the bubble of blood that pools on her elbow.
Bile bubbling from her lips.
Sorry for leaving you for dead.
Sorry for shooting up in the middle of your overdose.
She looks me up and down and I know right off the bat that she knows what I am. She knows what I'm here for. She knows exactly what's up. Just not who.
“Sorry,” I mutter again and turn to go. I shove my hands in my pockets and clench the baggie. Butterflies eat at my chest from the inside out. My torso feels like it's getting hotter by the second and every muscle in my legs screams at me to run.
I get about ten feet before she calls me back.
I freeze. Do I turn? Do I run? What would Jeopardy do? I don't even need to see her to know she's watching from somewhere. Watching me with this girl. This little dead girl.
I turn around, because I'm nothing if not a glutton for punishment.
“I know you.”
She says it slow. Her eyes squint and her hair falls in from her face.
“No,” I say. My body screams at a fever pitch to run, but I stand still. Somewhere, Jeopardy is laughing.
“Yeah. From the truck stop. The bathroom.”
I don't want to admit it. Fingers deep in pockets.
“Uh, yeah, maybe, I don't know.”
“You OD'd on me.”
That gets my attention. I overdosed on her? I almost laugh.
“I mean, I wasn't in too good a shape myself but when I came to, you were tweaking out. I called the ambulance.”
Everything after Jeopardy is a blur. Getting your heart ripped out through your chest has that effect.
“Yeah. Stuck around long enough to see the lights and took off. Questions, you know?” she toes her foot into the ground.
“Yeah. Thanks, I guess.”
I don't mean it. Flashbacks of the doctor and the emergency room flip through my brain. Dead blues and greens, greys and beiges. Bad advice, on top of good.
The girl takes a step forward. I fight the urge to flinch, then laugh at myself. For Jeopardy, I put my dukes up. The dead girl terrifies me.
“You were in bad shape. I had to leave. I couldn't stay. You understand?”
She's right in front of me now. Somewhere, the L train screams.
“I guess... I don't...” I stammer out. Ain't much to say to the woman who saved your life. The girl you tried to molest. The woman you left for dead, after stealing the drugs that killed her. And you, if she's telling the truth.
“You don't remember, do you?” she asks. Her eyes are greener than I remember. Then again, nobody's eyes look right when they're reflecting a puddle of intestinal fluids under fluorescent lights.
“No, not really,” I lie. I can feel my fingers in her pocket, pushing against the corner of her jeans, between her legs. Just to see. No consequences, right?
“You been to see Corb?” she asks. There's a tenor change in her voice. A sudden, seeking inflection. I shrug.
“Good,” she nods and takes a step back. She looks up, over my head. Instinctively, my eyes follow.
The bridge of her foot connects square with my testicles and I drop like a burst potato sack. My face hits the pavement before I know what's happening. Crushing pain rockets up from my crotch and I almost don't notice when she kicks me in the mouth. My head snaps back and my eyes swerve sideways and a tooth spirals out of my mouth onto the sidewalk.
Something jams into my jean pockets, but the stars in my head and my sacked nuts keep me from reacting. Between my legs feels like squashed grapes and my face is their equal melon. As her hand pulls out, I reach for her, but she's two steps back and too far gone. The little baggie and my remaining cash buries itself in her bra and then she's running and someone's laughing and I know. I know goddamned well who it is.
Jeopardy's smile burns wide, lit as ever, as she leans over me.
“You always have to learn your lessons the hard way,” she grins.
If I could, I'd give her the finger, but instead, I just clutch my balls on the sidewalk, and try not to throw up.
I should have seen it in her face. The dead girl had me before I even hit the ground. That's the thing with junkies. We're nice normal folks until it comes time, and then all we are is desperate, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what we need. Here we were, having a moment, touching on our shared collapse, showing some humanity and in an instant, she drops me with a pair of crushed testicles and takes everything I got.
That's the problem with vulnerability. It makes you vulnerable. And don't think there's not some fuckers out there who won't take advantage. Some days it feels like everybody's looking for the weak joints. It pays to wear armour.
“What now?” Jeopardy asks as she crouches down next to me, that ever-present grin stretched across her face. Our eyes meet and she tilts her head. It's not a taunt; it's a challenge, and I'm back up on my feet as soon as the throb in my nuts drops below the throb in my face. I turn my pockets out and find nothing but lint. What now, indeed.
The answer to that question leads me here, to the South Grand Book Store, a high end book shop in a mid-end part of town, with a coat draped over my arm and a kink in my neck. It's an old con, learned from a skeezy punker, but it's my go-to for a reason. I slide through the door slick as spilt shit, then trip on the plastic mat and rattle the door frame hard against the bell. Jeopardy follows me through. She won't leave me alone. Not now.
Not when we're so close.
“Open wide,” she purrs in my ear. I grit my teeth. Jeopardy wants me vulnerable. Always has. The more open, the more into me. Figuratively and literally. My fingers go to my chest on instinct.
The door tinkles shut behind me and the whole store draws its eyes in my direction. I know how I must look. Greasy hair. Beat up leather jacket. Dirty jeans and ratty Converse split at the sole. The middle aged woman with the asynchronous haircut behind the counter glares at me until I weasel away from her and head toward the back. The back is where the art books are. You know the ones. Two hundred bucks for crap about cathedral architecture or the statue of David or Gustav Klimt.
If you're asking why, you'd be with every other person here. That's because they're not junkies. They all look like students or shills or hipster lesbians, half of them in button-down shirts with khakis or corduroys, and the other half with black hair waved overtop shaved sides, with combat boots and black tank tops to match. Take your pick which is which.
They have one thing in common though. Their eyes. Locked on me, thin ocular knives stabbing at the thing that doesn't belong. They may be liberal eggheads, but they too resent the truly different. Don't ever kid yourself about left or right and what side of the aisle you're on. It's all about judgment.
And you don't know shit about judgment until you're a addict playing sober in the midst of your need.
I pull a technical manual about the innovations of Frank Gehry off the shelves and place it down on a nearby stack. I add a book about Picasso for eighty bucks and another about the mystical landscapes of Van Gogh and something about Georgia O'Keefe. A pseudo-Mormon looking girl comes up behind me, so I turn my back to her. Best they don't see my face.
Twenty percent. That's what my guy will give me. I total up the proceeds, think back to Corb and grab a heavy tome on Chagall and something thinner about the micro-housing movement. The Mormon girl disappears down another aisle and I redo the calculations. A boy that looks like a recruiting poster for some stodgy corporation painting itself hip glances in my direction. Paranoia creeps like a thousand spiders up my back.
Enough. Should be enough.
The air is oppressive as I carry the pile to a table near the front door. This is one of those converted shops, that used to be filled up with all kinds of books, but now just carries the “right” books and a nook for light pastries and bad Joe. Normally, you'd have to buy coffee to sit here, but I'm not planning on staying long and I don't need any more attention. I can't see nobody's eyes, but even the walls are sweating me, I swear it. It's funny how you think when you're trying to be on your best behaviour. I ain't hardly even sworn, but I still feel like Galileo telling the whole world that ain't shit revolves around it. I thumb through a few pages of Chagall's childish colourscapes and wait. A button-down comes up and asks the woman at the register a question. She slips out from behind the counter to chaffeur him down an aisle, and in the eyes of God, country and hipster lesbians, I tuck the books under my jacket and I'm up and out the door before anyone even notices. The door chime tinkles, and I'm gone.
I speed shuffle past the windows, down an alley, and soon, all that's left is the pounding of my feet and the white noise background of the streets. A siren flares in the distance, but it's not for me. How could it be? Cops don't give a shit about books. Most of them probably can't even read.
I'm in and out of Corb's with barely even a word spoken and next to none heard. My cupboard and my needle await. I'm in my closet before the sun sets, with Jeopardy right behind me. I lean back into her. The warmth of her body offsets the damp cold of the musty cupboard. Jeopardy's fingernails run tracks up and down my arms.
“You're scared,” she tells me.
I fish the baggie out of my jeans.
“Not scared,” I mutter. It's a lie. My heartbeat's up, and I know she can feel it through the back of my chest, straight into her own. She presses up against me and her arms wrap around my midsection like the hard cushioned restraint on a rollercoaster. She squeezes and for a moment, I can't breathe. When she finally loosens her grip, her musky scent fills the close confines of the closet and floods into my nose and mouth. It hangs in my nostrils like an aphrodisiac, a taunt and a promise all rolled up into one. She smells like heaven, and more than a little like shame.
“Liar,” she strokes the underside of my chin with a finger, her nail a sharp reminder ticking like a metronome across my throat stubble by piece of stubble. Anytime. Anytime at all.
What now, I ask, silently. Like I don't already know the answer. Jeopardy's going to fuck me, and I'm going to let her.
Her smile is audible in the darkness.
“You've got to embrace it,” she whispers in my ear.
“Embrace it,” I repeat.
“You've spent your whole life searching,” she coos. “Begging. To get what's in you out.”
The tied off baggie hangs loose in my hands, my fingers poised to slip it open.
“There's a path to heaven inside you. But you're too scared,” she laughs, a quiet thing, like the tinkle on the door of the book shop. The tips of her fingernails scratch down my chest, digging in just enough to feel it.
“A scared little boy,” she squeezes my balls through my jeans, a little too hard. The baggie slips open and the stench hits me like it always does, with a rush of revulsion. Bile croaks up my neck and I choke it back.
Jeopardy laughs out loud.
“A little child,” she scratches at the base of my neck where it meets my shoulder. “Looking for that big high,” she emphasizes the word big. “That high that's gonna last forever.”
Her lips, a brush at the back of my neck. The hairs stand on end, reaching for her.
I squeeze my eyes shut. My body screams, every nerve ending snapped to attention like a million little dicks. Thousands of faces whir through my head. The people in the bookstore. Corb's grinning fear. The dead girl. Alice. Ginny. Faces on the street. Faces I don't even know.
“You can't hide in here forever,” she says.
The closet air closes around me, stifling like cotton. I know outside the door, there's a bigger room, a mattress on the floor and a pile of clothes in a duffel bag. Beyond that, a hallway, a bathroom, a kitchen, another couple bedrooms and the living room where whatever squatters roll through can be found passed out, almost day and night. Friends, I suppose, though I never know half their names, and the ones I do know share just one thing in common.
“You need,” she tells me. “You need like no one else needs. Like all those people out that door never will.”
I rock back and forth, the smell of what's in the baggie mixing with Jeopardy's intoxicating aroma. Empty house. Empty driveway. Footprints in the dust.
“You need that high. That one from deep inside, that one that don't come from no one else. The big one, from some other place, that flies you up to a whole new plane that no one else knows.”
Jeopardy talks in a language I hear, a low whisper damn near drowned out by the relentless pounding of my own heart. It reverberates like a sledgehammer on a cinder block through my head, each smash of the brick a reminder of everything Jeopardy wants for me and everything I can't let myself have.
I squeeze the baggie shut between my fingers.
“You're never gonna find that plane worrying about all them. You're never going to be free until you let go and give in. Surrender. Let them go. Let them all go. Worry about your own head.”
I don't see it, but something in the air moves and I can tell it's Jeopardy's hand, waving away a lifetime of doubts. Of worry. Of the squint-eyed stares of a whole planet. Fictions. An illusive mob, born of paranoid conditioning, dimissed with the flick of a wrist.
“They're watching me,” I murmur. Murmur. Right. It's fucking begging. “Judging.”
“Let them judge,” she licks the side of my neck so lightly it takes the breath from my throat. “You aren't on their plane. Not if you let go. Not if you give in.”
“Give in to what?” I whisper. Tears crawl up the back of my throat.
“The only thing that holds you here is you.”
Her words hit me like that dead girl's foot hit my groin, but in reverse. I don't need to ask the question. I know what she's talking about. It hurts to face it, but I know. I push my own plunger. Always have, always can. Flashbacks of past lives spool around in my gut like regretful open sores, but it's not about that now. It can't be. I open the baggie again and once more, the smell hits me, only this time, it don't turn my stomach like usual. I fumble around in the dark for a spoon and a lighter, but Jeopardy places her hand on my arm, gentle. Butterfly gentle, and I stop. Stop dead.
“Let's get out in the open,” she says.
Tension starches my muscles as she takes my hand. I consider resisting, but Jeopardy's words whisper in my skull and quell my fears and I resign myself to her direction. She leads me out of the closet. Her body cuts curves through the air, a hypnotic sway that calms the turmoil in my gut as she pulls me from the bedroom and down the hallway. I grip the lighter and the spoon in one hand, the baggie and a fresh syringe in the other. We pad down the hallway, past my fellow seekers sprawled across the living room floor like the carnage of a squatter's orgy, up and out of the apartment, headed for the stairs.
The stairs lead to the roof of this eight story slum in the heart of the East End. Jeopardy opens the door. Afternoon light spills in through the entrance and blinds me like a slow motion fade out. For a minute, the sun feels like a shower, a cleansing pulse that scrapes the dirt from my skin.
Jeopardy leads me to the edge. In front of me, the jagged sprawl of the city unfolds like mounds of granite beneath a luminous sky. The city's scent never felt so pure. Dirt, grit and grime crust through the atmosphere like goddamned perfume and I breathe it right into my lungs. For a moment, a kingdom of conceit washes over me, and I am master of all I survey, and this is my queen, right here beside me, naked save for the thin gold chain that binds her navel. Her sex and my need open to the sky and the noisy streets below. There's no crowd up here, no corporate shills or hipster lesbians. No unwashed masses. No politicians. Just me and my lust and Jeopardy, by my side.
“Let go,” she says, so softly it sounds like it's part of the city itself.
I breathe in deep as she slides behind me. Her arms circle my waist and my thighs clench as her fingers undo the clasp of my belt and slips it from the loops in my jeans. She slides the jacket from my shoulders. It falls to the roof.
“Let go,” she whispers again.
She pulls me back from the edge and crosses in front of me. One by one, the buttons of my shirt pop open, and it too falls away. Jeopardy's hand spreads out across my chest and down to the top of my jeans, her lips hovering only inches from mine the whole way.
My eyes drop from the horizon and settle in the big brown pools that gaze over that soft smirk. The button on my jeans pops and Jeopardy's hand disappears behind the denim as the zipper separates tooth by unmistakable tooth. She cups me in her hand, squeezes me with her fingers as she pulls me near. Her free hand roams round the back of my jeans and clenches my behind as she presses in tight.
We embrace, our tongues a mesh of lust and spit, saliva smeared across our lips and chins. My jeans drop and she drags me forward a step by the cock, her hand tight around it, with only the thin fabric of a pair of old boxers in between. I step out of my shoes and leave my pants behind. In my hand, the tools of my demise remain clenched in my palm.
My back to the alley below, she lowers me to the ground, to the roof's naked edge. The asphalt digs in my back as she pulls the boxers up over my legs and strips the socks from my feet. She straddles me, but doesn't sink. She holds herself paused at the brink, her hips over mine, my spine arced out into space with nothing but open air and the pavement below. I'm so goddamned hard my cock feels like it's about to burst, but she just stays there, with the tip grazed against the soft bush surrounding the only thing I want, the only thing in the goddamned world. Jeopardy, pure and utter bliss.
“Now,” she breathes. “Inside you.”
Like an automaton, I begin the procedure. The baggie opens into the spoon. The spoon heats up, dissolves into a noxious brown liquid.
“Inside you,” she murmurs in my ear as her hand strokes the shaft of my cock. “Let it fill you. Let it set you free.”
The syringe fills, and the belt straps around my bicep.
My body hangs half off the roof, so far out that I can't help but wonder how it would feel to hit the pavement from eight stories up. Jeopardy's hips drop slightly, and I can feel her moistness envelop my tip. It's almost enough to make me cum, but Jeopardy would never allow it so quick.
“The fear of falling is worse than the fear of flight,” she smiles. Her lips are soft and sweet, her eyes big and wide.
The needle tears a hole. My thumb pauses over the plunger.
“Come fly,” her lips graze mine.
The plunger descends just as Jeopardy does, and penetrates me as surely as I penetrate her. As God floods through my veins, Jeopardy rides, soft and slow, her fingers tracing across my chest, shifting me further and further over the edge. The city drops away below me, and for the first time, I don't fight it. I don't fight her. I let her ride, and from somewhere deep inside, something new comes. I let it fill me, let it explode from my toes to my head, my mind and God's, one at last. I grab Jeopardy around the waist and roll on top and before I know it, I'm driving into her with wild abandon, our bodies meshed as one, suspended in the open air, finally filled with a white light that burns my vision and ushers me spent, into oblivion.
There's a whitewashed light that drains from my eyes like some sort of sci-fi fade-in as I come to on what feels like a soft mattress and a clean sheet. I rub the crust from my eyes, and am greeted by something that looks like a cartoonist's masturbatory fantasy of heaven. No walls and no ceilings. Everything bathed in white. The sky is white. The bed is white. The floor, the clouds, even the crowd of people in the distance. All dressed in white. I never realized God was such a racist.
I roll up out of the bed and shamble toward the people milling about on the horizon. It's then I realize I'm wearing the same uniform, a white button-up short sleeve shirt and white slacks, topped off with white sandals. Sandals, for fuck's sakes. The crowd grows closer. Pure white sand mushes beneath my feet and up into my sandals and between my toes.
There's something familiar about the people around me as I reach the waiting crowd. A woman with long, bone straight blonde hair and rose sunglasses shoots me a peace sign. In the corner, an angel-faced boy in white plaid is lost in conversation with a pair of heavyset men, one red-faced and jovial, the other, blessed with a wild countenance and an impressive set of mutton-chops. I can't place either of them.
The crowd parts like I'm Moses and it's the damn sea as I approach. At the far end, my wilderness awaits. A bamboo tiki bar, painted white, with white cups and a white sign and a goddamned gorgeous woman in a low cut-white dress that serves only to accentuate the deep brown of her skin. Jeopardy. Tending bar in racist cartoon heaven. Making mojitos. It's enough to make you laugh.
“You made it,” she smiles from the other side of the bar as I perch on a stool. “Wasn't sure you would, but I'm happy you're here.”
“Where is here?” I look around again. Everyone is smiling, or if they aren't, it's because they're lost in conversation or plucking strings or plotting notes on white pads with white pens. The mood is relaxed, an mellow and undisturbed even flow.
I turn back to Jeopardy. She looks better than I've ever seen her, even clad as she is. Her smile is warm, and the challenge in her eyes has been replaced with something softer. More affectionate. Maybe even accepting.
“Not sure you fit in, darling,” I tell her. She laughs.
“That doesn't matter here. What does is you made it. Besides, I'm hardly the only one,” she nods behind me. I turn to see what she's getting at and my jaw drops. A tall, thin man in a frilled white top and an afro waves back at me with a wink and a grin. Faces snap into place. Janis. Kurt. Chris. John. Jimi.
“Holy shit,” I say out loud, before I can even think it.
“Relax,” Jeopardy pours some rum into a glass. “You took your time getting here, but you made it. Lots of folks don't.”
“Made it how? Where am I?”
“You're in the beyond. Not the literal beyond, but something akin. You'll adjust in time.”
“You're more alive than you've ever been. Though I trust you'll come up with something a bit better than the Man from Glad montage after a while. It's a little on the nose, don't you think? Not exactly representative.”
Jeopardy crushes some fresh mint in a mortar and pestle and adds it to the glass. She fills the glass with mix and hands it over. I take a sip. My neck muscles flex involuntarily and the drink dances across my tongue like a thousand hits of ecstasy. There's a sudden shift and white bristles with greens and the sky turns a deep azure. Palm trees burst forth from the ground and in an instant, the only white left is my clothes and Jeopardy's, my shirt, shorts and sandals, and the low-cut dress and sarong that somehow manages to avoid bursting with Jeopardy's curves. Flowers explode from everywhere in a tie dye Gothic sunburst.
“That's one hell of a drink,” I can't help but express my appreciation.
“Everything tastes a little better when you break through,” Jeopardy says.
“And what have I broken through to, exactly?”
Jeopardy chuckles and starts the process of making another mojito.
“Your friend Corb had it almost right, but he was reading words from a book. A pirate's parrot, repeating the words of the damned. The rush kept him in sight of limbo. Like he was standing in the tar pits, while telling everyone he was on top of the volcano. He knew where he was. He just wouldn't admit it.”
“And where was he?” I'm almost afraid of the answer.
“Hell. Like every other person down there who hasn't figured it out.”
Flashes of bathrooms and dead girls and cocaine tables came to mind. Dirty needles, a rancid closet. Crushed nuts.
“Bouncing between. Hell and limbo. Limbo and hell,” she shrugs.
“And the heroin...?”
An old man with bushy hair stuck in all directions walks up and leans in. Jeopardy beams at him.
“Pina colada, danke schoen,” he orders. Jeopardy mixes it up and my jaw hangs slack. The man pays, gives me a squeeze on the shoulder and a friendly smile and he's gone.
“But he didn't...” I think of the little ball of black tar.
“No, of course not,” Jeopardy laughs. “You see what you want to see and you're expanding. You never needed the heroin. Ever. All it did was fuel your existential crisis. Forced you to question your life. The meaning of existence. Gave you a sense of what it meant to be God and an understanding of the purest hell. It was a catalyst. A poor one, but a catalyst nonetheless. Most of these others here went through the same. They had some drive to reach nirvana, to learn the nature of living, of the most intimate joy. Most had a vice to go with it, something to soften the blow when the truth revealed itself, in whatever pieces it could. Some used to inspire. Some found truth in their visions. Most knew what was an illusion, after a while. They all realized, in the end, that what they sought couldn't be injected or smoked or snorted up their nose. That once you got past the bullshit, the fear and the insecurity and the self-hatred, you were able to move on, to the real stuff. To this place.”
“You haven't told me where here is yet,” I feel like I'm stuck in the spin cycle.
“Here is the rest of your life.”
I take another sip of the mojito. Goddamn, it's fucking delicious. There are new flowers forming, the whitewash burgeoning into a kaleidoscope jungle, teeming with life and sounds and the crash of a distant ocean.
“Always so damn cryptic, Jeopardy.”
“You have something inside you,” she flips the sign to the side that says to serve yourself. “Something everyone has but few acknowledge. For those that do, it's little better than that needle you depended on so much.”
Instinctively, I look at my arms. Track marks run the length from my elbow to my wrist.
“It's an addiction.” I know the truth as I say it.
“Nothing else. Once it's inside you, there's nothing you can do about it. You either embrace it, and give it what it needs, or it consumes you.”
I think of my wife. Daughter. Family. House. Car. Corb. The dead girl.
“Her name was Megan,” Jeopardy tells me. “She thought it came only when she was with other people. That's why she accepted your invitation. She thought she could find it through mirrors. Like a reflection of the sun. You thought that too, sometimes, though for you, that was a conceit. For her, it was consumption. She was convinced.”
“What happened to her?” I ask. I don't know if I want the answer.
“She didn't make it. She took her own life after your encounter. Couldn't stop seeing how close she came, how vulnerable she left herself. She holed up for a while, held on, but it was too much. It always is. Ate her from the inside out. You weren't very nice to her.”
I put my drink down.
“I wasn't. I was a bad person.”
“We're all bad people sometimes,” she grins and I see the woman who kicked open the bathroom door, who pulled my organs from my chest, who laughed as I lay with my hands cupped on my crotch in the street. I had that coming. I never should have done what I did.
“You've tasted the other side now,” she reminds me. “You can do better. Don't fuck it up.”
She drains her own mojito and places it on the counter beside mine. She takes my hand and leads me back through the crowd.
“Where are we going?”
Jeopardy smiles. There's a moment of trepidation. I know what that smile means. I touch my fingers to my heart. I can still feel it.
“Shhhhh,” she pulls me through the door of an old tiki hut with no roof and no walls and into her arms. She knows what I'm thinking.
“Is this...?” I ask.
“Permanence is a temporary condition,” she slides her arms around my neck. Her breath is soft against my throat.
“I can leave?” I'm afraid to ask if it's by choice. I know the answer. It's always by choice.
“That is entirely up to you,” her fingers trace down the tracks on my arms, and back up around my neck. Her head tilts back and I'm looking down into her eyes, limpid brown pools that seem to go on forever. My muscles melt and our bodies merge. Her dress slips away, and my clothes fall next to it, and soon, our lips are locked in a way that's entirely different than the past.
The kiss is deep and long and filled with meaning, like a goddamned pinnacle, like we're on the top of a mountain, on the tip of our toes lifting us precariously into the sky. A tightwire act, with Jeopardy as my wings and my anchor, my guide in both heaven and hell.
I pull her into a taut embrace, and her smile widens against my lips. Butterflies whistle through my chest and something flaps its wings in my belly. My insides feel like they're shifting. Her body presses against me like a satori promise, skin melding with skin, moist with passion.
I lose myself inside her as her fingers wend their way up my chest. Our bodies roil, a soft, loving undulation in a room with no walls and no ceiling and one door. We climax together in a slow-motion flash, an extended temporal loop, heaven and fear circling one another like two panthers in a boiling jungle, locked in a dance that never ends.
And as we reach the peak of our frenzied coupling, her fingernails circle gently around my nipple, and twist.
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