The sun was moving west, and its rays fought through the clouds to cast long, skinny shadows over the dilapidated tenements of East Purgatory. The elevated highway concealed the surface streets surrounding the Johnny’s Pizza that rubbed up against the Port Authority. In a parking lot decorated with soda cans, used prophylactics, and glass vials, the skeleton man sat on a concrete division, flipping through the photography book that he’d lifted from Laz. Waiting for junk was a major part of junk. Throughout his decade-long journey to dependence, he had logged hours upon hours sitting in parking lots identical to this one, waiting for some unnamed savior to relieve him from his personal hell. The waiting was part of the game. Junk is not a kick. Junk is a way of life. He could remember reading this sometime during his formative years before the habit had impregnated him with the sickness. When he was on the fix, his loneliness was kept at bay. Junk was an ever-present shadow that acted as a sort of companion, albeit not a compassionate one. A shadow for his shadow that could be seen in the dark.
The last week without junk had been a strange and suffocating experience. He could not understand why anyone—himself included—chose to give up junk when they had funds and access to it. This last time, the separation was brought on by a feeling of impending doom that he could not shake. Even Dr. Cooper’s treatment had stopped being effective. A body can only sustain itself for so long when it fears sleep and waking. So, as to why he decided to punish himself by withholding junk, it may have been just that: a self-administered punishment, a cleansing of the soul. An allotted period of time for his body to regenerate and replace the junk-sick cells. It was also an attempt to rid himself of the horrific nightmares and paranoid delusions that sullied his existence.
The doom had invaded his dreams where giant humanoid insects carried him off to their colony as an offering for their monster queen. In other dreams, he was dropped into a freak-show zoo where the zookeepers were hermaphroditic gorillas that raped him to death and strung his entrails around the enclosure as if they were tinsel at Christmastime. These experiences were further complicated by the fact that in these dreams, he was viewing the scenes from an elevated position as if he were a ghost who had abandoned his body.
The doom invaded his waking moments by manifesting itself as Manchurian children trained by the OSS and sent into the world to aid with the purification. This level of paranoia made it hard for him to exist in the real world. Every time he passed a child on the street, he would feel an urge to kidnap and torture them until they told him who had sent them. He was aware of the futility of this endeavor because any properly programmed Manchurian candidate would be unable to answer his questions. Still, he found himself fantasizing about dissecting these agents of chaos and probing them for information. Removing their limbs one by one until all that remained was a rectangular torso.
The first three days of withdrawal had been excruciating. His stomach knotted and unknotted. He felt nauseous constantly, and when he wasn’t having the runs, he was vomiting green bile. To swallow a piece of dry toast with tea was a task that required a realignment of his energies. On the fourth and fifth days, he laid around his apartment, eating cold chicken noodle soup from the can. On the sixth day, a degree of normality returned to his body as the majority of the junk-sick cells had been replaced with uncorrupted ones. He had coffee, eggs, and toast for breakfast. He was able to take a comfortable shit for the first time in months. He sat on the toilet bowl, groaning, and felt the hard turd slide out of his rectum and past his sphincter as it plopped into the water. Peering down between his legs, he inspected the single piece of shit, about six inches long and a bit bigger in diameter than a quarter.
After breakfast on the sixth day, he took twenty dollars from his monthly earnings and left his apartment for the first time in five days. Creeping down the stairwell, his twiggy legs provided a weak foundation for his frail body. That morning, while looking in the mirror, he became aware that over the previous five days, his weight had dipped from bulimic to anorexic, and now, his jeans hung hopelessly on his bony hips. Gripping the slimy, grey wall for support, he worked his way out of the stairwell and into a small courtyard to the benches surrounding an empty fountain.
When the tenement had first opened over thirty years ago, the courtyard fountain was an object that instilled a sense of pride in the residents. The skeleton man remembered stories he heard growing up of residents congregating around the fountain on sunny afternoons with the children playing in the open courtyard. The men would sit off to one side, enjoying games of dominos, while the women sat across from them, darning socks and playing mahjong.
Now, the fountain housed a foot of still water, and no one gathered in the courtyard except for junkies and pushers. The four angelic stone children who once let freshwater stream from their genitals into the pool had been abused and distorted. One had been decapitated, the soft baby face replaced by the head of a demented goblin. Another had been chopped down at the ankles and taken away, a massive undertaking for simple vandals. Of the other two, one had remained relatively unscathed except for enduring years of environmental exposure and oxidation, and the other had been spray painted with heaps of cheap paint. If someone was to look closely, they would see layer upon layer peeling away, exposing more than fifteen different colours ranging from pitch black to aqua green.
Working his way into the desolate courtyard, he aimed for the fountain and took a seat next to the spray-painted statue. By the time he sat down and began the arduous process of getting comfortable on his cadaverous ass, a young pusher dressed in baggy jeans and a wifebeater emerged from the shadows and sat down next to him.
“Ain’t got no junk. Got benny strips. Ten bucks get you a day.” He surveyed the pusher and recognized him as a tenement kid he had scored from previously when he did not feel like straying too far from his nest. The kid was probably no older than fifteen. His expression was serious, and under his wifebeater bulged the grip of a small handgun. Kids like this used to work in crews to disperse culpability; however, in the last decade, drug enforcement had become such a low priority that there was no need, or monetary benefit, to working with a crew, assuming you had a connection of your own.
“Yo, you deaf? If you ain’t want shit, the fuck you sitting around here for, confusing the proprietors.” The skeleton man did not want benny strips, but he also could not muster the energy to go any further and find junk. Defeated, he slipped his hand into his jeans and produced two balled-up ten notes. The young pusher grabbed the money from his weak hand and stood up, dropping two pink capsules on the ground as he sauntered back into the shadows.
The skeleton man sat waiting on a concrete division in a Johnny’s Pizza parking lot. The strips had got him through the sixth day, but he hated the way they toyed with his delicate brain, producing visual and auditory hallucinations that rivaled his nightmares in severity. On top of that, the strips destroyed what little appetite he had, forcing him to chain smoke instead. This morning, he’d decided that this was not a life for him. He missed his routine; he missed junk. This same morning, he made a promise to himself: he would obtain more junk this afternoon, the afternoon after that, and every day after that. Damned if those nightmares were going to interfere with his lifestyle.
He sat waiting with a pocket full of cash, the last of his monthly salary. Looking at the black and white photos in Tulsa, he felt his dick harden and his balls scooch up towards his lower abdomen, tightening the skin of his scrotum. His thoughts turned to masturbation, and he realized that it had been months since he had last ejaculated. While he played with himself through the pocket of his jeans, he watched a haggard, middle-aged prostitute sporting a miniskirt and halter top climb into the passenger side of a transfer truck cab. “God, I’d even fuck that trash bin,” he said to no one. The truck spewed black smoke from its stacks as it moved away from the curb. The black exhaust clouded the street, obscuring a small grey car as it pulled into the Johnny’s Pizza parking lot and stopped next to the skeleton man. Without saying anything, he stood from the concrete barrier he was perched on and made his way to the grey compact. The driver cupped his left hand to light a cigarette before he threw open the passenger side door.
Sitting in the passenger seat, the skeleton man produced a wad of fives and tens from his pocket and dropped it in the cup holder. The driver quickly counted the money and then double-counted it. Satisfied with the total sum, he spat ten small balloons he stored in his cheeks into the palm of his hand and passed them over to the skeleton man, who eagerly pocketed them. Without exchanging a word, the deal was complete. Nearly an hour of waiting for a thirty-second transaction. The skeleton man exited the car and shut the door. He watched as it pulled out of the parking lot, turned left, and headed north towards the industrial park, leaving him standing by himself in the desolate parking lot.