Don knew Kim was pissed, and while he still had his wits about him he cared very much. But he also knew as time ticked by he would care less and less until he cared zero. Caring zero was inevitable.
He turned off King Drive and drove west. This was a shit neighborhood. The only thing that made him safe here was the fact that his truck was known. The people in this hood had nothing to lose and saw every opportunity to gain. So when Don and his truck started making the rounds off Vincennes and up the number streets, then back and forth the sides until he found his guys; reliable guys, guys who were always there but would sell a motherfucker out if they had to, the hood left Don alone.
When he got to about six blocks off his mark, they ignored him. At about four blocks he got the stare. At three blocks he got the nods to where to turn down; to what block, to what alley, to the back of what building. He didn’t have to get out of the truck, just go slow enough to flash The Skinny how many then roll down his window to toss the money out for the shit. Then he rolled up his window and he was out of there. The rush started working him. He was approaching zero.
By the time he hit Chinatown, Don knew he was in the clear for good so that made him feel at ease. By the time he hit Chinatown, Don knew he made it and that was a thrill. By the time he hit Chinatown, Don knew Kim would be at home waiting for him and he tried not to care. He moved away from zero.
He pushed the opener button halfway down the block so by the time he got to the garage he could back in. Backing in made it easier to pull out in the morning. He got out of the truck and hit the button. He locked the door behind him and walked to the apartment. Don felt his jacket pocket for his bags, then his smokes. He knew everything was there but checking reminded him that he accomplished his goal. He had his shit together.
He found the back door unlocked but he locked it behind him and then put on the chain. Walking through the kitchen and snaking his way down the hallway he found Kim sitting on the couch watching some show on the Food Network. He looked away from the screen. The thought of eating made his stomach churn. She heard him come into the room but didn’t acknowledge him. She just stared at the TV. Don stood there for a couple of seconds just looking at the back of Kim’s head and trying not to see the pork chops with mango salsa being prepared six feet away. When the show went to commercial she muted the TV and turned around.
“You ready?” Don asked her.
Though Kim met his look straight-on her eyes were empty. She didn’t utter a word of reply but simply got up from the couch and walked down the hall. Don slowly followed.
He got to the kitchen just as Kim was pulling the middle chair away from the table to sit down. This meant he would be sitting at the head of the table with his back to the wall. Seemed kind of fitting.
He stood next to his spot and pulled out his cigarettes. He tossed them on the table, and as he reached for an ashtray with one hand, his other hand found the bags and he tossed those on the table too. Kim didn’t move. Then he remembered. Don unchained the back door and went down the stone stairs which used to lead to a crawl space under the building. The door had been boarded up for decades; unused, and the void had long since been filled with cement, but it was too expensive to rip out the stairs so they stayed. He pulled a piece of brick away and stuck his hand in the hole. Don pulled out his treasure then put back the brick. This is the only place he could think to hide his kit so it was out of the house but still at the house and where no one would find it but him. He moved closer to zero.
When Don entered the kitchen this time he knew he wasn’t going back out again. Seeing Kim sit motionless at the table killed him. He started moving farther from zero until he remembered the feel of his kit in his hand. She wanted to do this. He said to himself. This isn’t on me, she asked for it. Armed with that thought he took his seat at the head of the table.
He didn’t look up as he unpacked. He knew what the deal was. He pulled out the needle and he felt Kim flinch.
“Don’t worry, it’s clean.” He said looking up to the worry in her eyes. Their faces were close as they both hovered over the table. He could have kissed her, part of him wanted to but he knew she wouldn’t like that.
He pulled out alcohol swabs, like the ones a nurse uses before she gives you a shot. He pulled out a spoon. It was a cheap spoon, one you could bend the handle of. He opened his cigarettes and took out his lighter.
“Excuse me.” Don said and he got up. He took a saucer from the cabinet and poured a little water in it then set it on the table. Then he left the room and came back a second later with a cotton ball. Normally this would be a rushing moment for him. But he wasn’t there. And while he was happy to get this done before the sick set in, he felt a different hole in his stomach begin to grow.
Don looked up at Kim again and waited until she looked up at him too. He wanted to plead with her, Just please go away. But those words weren’t coming. Instead, she pleaded with him. Without saying a single sound, her eyes begged him. They begged him to do what she asked, to give her hope and joy and love again. They begged him to do the right thing.
Don looked down and pulled a little piece of cotton from the ball and rolled it into the shape of a Tic-Tac. He drew some water into the syringe. He opened one of the alcohol wipes and cleaned the tip of his needle and then wiped the spoon before opening a bag and pouring the contents in. He squirted the water over the powder; just enough, he often marveled at his own accuracy. He stirred. Then Don held the lighter under the spoon and they both watched as the mixture bubbled a bit at the edge.
“This spoon can get hot if you’re not careful.” Don said. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to make conversation or draw a sympathetic laugh but Kim gave him nothing.
Dropping the lighter, he picked up the cotton Tic-Tac and placed it in the spoon. He picked the syringe up again, put the needle in the middle of the cotton, and drew the mixture into the tube. Then he cleaned up his mess.
Don looked at the needle. “I’ve done this too many times to count. I’ve done this so fucked up I don’t even remember doing it. But this is the first time I’ve ever been nervous.”
Kim looked up at him, her eyes were wet. “Then don’t be nervous anymore.” She shook her head, “I mean, be nervous about something else. Be nervous about me. Think of me. Please.” She reached out and touched his arm, Don pulled back slightly, afraid she would touch the needle. “Please Baby, think of me.” Kim blinked and two perfect tears rolled down her cheeks, one from each eye. It was like an old movie, and it broke Don’s heart.
“I can’t.” he said. “Don’t make me choose. I know it doesn’t sound good but it’s not fair.” He was being to feel angry for being put in this position. Or maybe it was just an excuse to get his way. Do something Kim, do something to fuck this up. He thought to himself. But nothing changed.
She stared at him, no more tears, her eyes became bullets. “OK, then do it! Look at me while you do it.”
Don pulled a band from his kit and tied his arm. He hadn’t shot his left for quite some time, choosing between his toes instead. A vein made itself known.
“Look at me.” Kim sneered and whispered at the same time. Don looked up at her and looked back down. He got the spot on the first try and pushed the plunger. Then he looked at his wife.
The warm rush flowed from his arm to every vessel, every vein, every cell of his body. The drug knew the way to each sensory cell. It surged and then expanded, making it self at home, getting comfortable, and nuzzling in. Don was thrilled and relaxed at the same time; it was a cooling, chilling shudder that took hold, but it was comforting and inviting. It let Don know he was going someplace special but that everything was going to be just fine, he was going to be just fine. He was going to be taken care of. Just fine. Don wanted to smile but thought better of it. Instead he opened his mouth and exhaled long and deep like he did after he made love to Kim. He saw in her face that she recognized that sigh. And then he saw the hurt wave over her like smooth ripples on a small lake. He closed his eyes and let his body feel heavy. He felt himself going away, and then a big cloud wrapped itself around his middle and hugged him. The cloud pulled him backwards slowly and it spread its soft and foggy self all around. Don was in his cushy place. It felt like it looked on TV when angels slept in clouds. It caressed him and held his close. Just fine. Don opened his eyes again to see Kim just staring.
She thinks I look happy, Don thought. She thinks I have a choice.
Don was at zero.
Lynn Olejniczak is a proud Chicagoan who just completed Second City’s course on Comedy writing. She continues to work on a novel which haunts her and is plotting out her first sketch comedy show. One is funnier than the other.