BLOW, PUSH, BLOW
The bottom's breeze blows joint smoke with the hiss click steam of grinding steel, sizzle drippin' metal. The bottom of the peninsula stretches rock jag ocean bitten fingers to the south, Virginia Beach side. The houses across the channel from the bottoms have Spanish clay tile roofing. Three story stacks housing Abercrombie & Fitch for a perfect couple.
I parked my car in an empty gravel lot across from 143C Beechmont. Justin wanted me to sling mid-fuckin'-day so we could bake and shake at night.
No tramways ran through there, and the bus system stops at Jefferson, just before it hit white picket fences. The bottoms. You could tell who wasn't from there based on whether they huffed around on foot, or had wheels. It was the neighborhood where you wake up at five- smelt metal on the side of a Navy Carrier-down half a handle of Henny at the pad-shut eyes-sleep-repeat.
I slammed the driver door shut, and felt the ziplock bag double wrapped around a tooth of glass.
I stepped onto the creaking wooden porch, rusted nails grew haggardly out the tops of the boards like limp dying flowers from cracked soil. The whole hood is part of a city project, sliding locals a lil to the left so they can build another bridge tunnel connecting the peninsula to the main land. Overhead, the constant buzz of Hummers, BMWs, and Lexus motors hummed on top of the towering bridge that casted a shadow on the project.
I wiggled the hoodie around me, loosening it up, trying to puff up a small wiry frame that stood for a close hanger inside of it. The bone tip of my knuckles ratted on the door. I hated it when people took their time to answer. I would've scanned the windows first, but the shut blinds didn't let me peek through.
Several locks clicked clacked free on the inside. My sweat greased fingers curled around the grip of my belt knife. I held the spring down with my index finger and popped the lock with my thumb. Pulling it out was like swatting at a mosquito, an unconscious habit that happened in a millisecond.
The door popped open with a suctioning sound. A gangly woman stared with sunken eyes, pale irises that looked too goddamn milky. I think her hair was blonde once, but at the moment, bleached. Glass can carve jowl folds in people's faces with a steak knife. Hers trailed down onto her neck, breaking apart at the meth blossoms around her upper breasts. The chain lock stretched from the frame to the door. She peered at me with half her face behind the door. One hand pressed against the door, the other I couldn't see. I gave her a smile. Tweakers that have been doin' this for a year are jumpy, especially when they're dealing with new mules they've never met. God knows what she had behind her back.
"You Kristofferson?" She carried a Virginia twang that I thought was only found fifty miles west from the coast.
"Yes ma'am." I said. My name's Craig. Most drop offs don't need an exchange of names, but for the jumpier ones, names create a face, a concept. WASP names steadied people's nerves the most. Bernard, Quinton, Clarence…I could be called fuck face so long as the drop was clean, and paper's made.
* * *
Seventeen years old and the ship yard shits out seventeen hundred job positions. Closes its doors on the projects that were built for it. One thousand and seven hundred people sit on their porches, killin' forty after forty while the shipyard grinds out the sound of steel smelting, of metal plates bending.
After graduating high school, I watched friends sail westward to universities. Get the degree their parents told them they deserved. The guys that stayed behind were the people I wasn't supposed to fall in with. Everyone from the trailer park tried community college for the first half of the semester, and either drunk from freedom or inevitability, dropped out and signed up for the shipyard.
The one thing that the shipyard and bottoms does right though is throw down. The amount of blow and E that pumps through Beechmont Street coulda been canoed through. Beechmont's where Justin trickles in. A retired marine drivin' a forklift for the docks. Biracial Hawaiian and black, the guy's the kinda guy a white fuckboy like me needed to get in. He bakes, and needed someone that could walk by cops in suburban zones without getting his nuts grabbed and searched. He needed Aryan trailer trash. I needed community college tuition, working water, trailer upkeep, food, a future.
* * *
"Gonna be a Ben." I told her.
The door closed, and I heard the hollow metallic slide of the chain lock scrape off. She opened the door again. A smell of burnt canned tomato sauce wafted warm through the doorway.
"Mind steppin' in? I don't want someone standin' on the porch while we do this." She said.
"I ain't steppin' in your house, ma'am. Shoulda done a night drop." I told her.
"Got other business going on at night, hon. You can step in, or I get another fuckboy from the trailer park to flip for me."
I breathed deep, trying to get the Oxy to pump a bit harder through my veins, trying to soften my muscle tight heart. I felt my arteries flexing. I'd have to snuff another back in the car.
"Hope you got 'em fuck boys ready." I turned and creaked down the rotted wooden steps. My feet hit the pavement, and off in the distance the sun glinted off the top of a police cars siren that had just turned onto Beechmont. Patrolling his route most likely. Explains why no one was on their porches at the time, they learned the routes. Probably would've noticed that if I wasn't buggin' off Oxy.
I snapped back up the stairs like a bungee cord was tied to my scrawny ass and the door frame. I clutched my belt buckle, and hopped in. Me and Mom ate cereal without milk that morning. I tried running that through my head, a mantra. My bank account was as empty as the wallet in my pocket.
Spatterings of grey dotted themselves across the sickly flesh colored carpet. Maroon vein stains painted themselves across the crumb covered floor. That shit was organic, wrinkle puffed and vein ringed-like gram's skin. Stretching over time and space. I was afraid to step on it cuz I thought it'd shoot a dying yip at me. The ten degree drop made me shiver. In the blue cool of the room, the red warm smell of overcooked tomato sauce wafted over me. Bare minimum furniture clinically scattered around the living room. A cat scratched foam couch, and god-knows-what stained wooden coffee table. Cat hair stuck to the black stains on its surface. There used to be more furniture, little indents in the carpet showed that much.
She swiveled back over to me. Her fingers tapped her clutched forearms laying over her chest. Her collarbone stuck out as much as her eyeballs.
"You said a hunnid?" She tapped impatiently at her thin arms. I tried not to look at the freshly coagulated scabs that spattered across them, trailing up to her shoulders, getting lighter in the chest and lower neck.
"Gimme a sec." She turned around the kitchen's corner, and put her hand to her pants' back right pocket. A black rubber ribbed handle stuck out from it. Probably a shiv.
"Take the time you need." Breathing through my mouth helped with the smell.
I heard a cry rising up from the table. Tight, forced, air was gushing from a choked larynx. Through the tables and chairs, I saw the lined bars of an aluminum white baby crib. The whiteness made the orange and brown rust stand out tenfold.
* * *
A year ago our cuz got hopped off the wrong blow, had a rough night. Tried to strangle her baby in the crib. Auntie Rhea shut it down before she finished it, and we wound up with sole custody of him. Mom and dad'd be off workin', I'd sometimes have to stay home, hold Baby Gil when he cries. Ma says babies lose their shit when they get dragged out of their homes. I thought the guy was fucked no matter which trailer he was in.
There'd be nights where he'd wake up screaming. High pitch wails that stab through walls, pillows, and blankets. I'd try all the tricks, hold the head, support the butt. I'd sit with him and breathe in the moonlight on our back porch, the site across from me was the mosquito filled creek, clogged and bogged down by Styrofoam cups and plastic bags. I didn't stay out too long, worried about them suckin' the fat kid dry. Sitting there, holding his body, he was soft and warm. Boneless. Untouched. The bottoms had yet to give him a love kiss. His mama damn near did it for him.
I imagined as he got older, the concrete would reach out a hand, and stroke the kid's face. Brush away soft gentle clay, and find a hard, cracked, and calloused surface underneath. It'd be a screamin' process, but he started it young. Maybe it helps, maybe it cements him. Either way, I told the folks that he had to get out of the damn trailer park.
The lawyer fees for the kid's case piled up, one by one. Lose a car, but it's all good, I can borrow a friend's, lose a utilities now and then throughout the months, but neighbors always help out with water and oven heat. Groceries were one thing that we couldn't slim down on. Not with a fat suckling baby in our arms. My parents didn't question where I got the money from, maybe a part of them knew, but didn't wanna know. We needed the food either way. I wanted to drop out, get a full time job, stick to landscaping, but Ma wants me to push through. In the end, maybe we can all get out of that goddamn park.
* * *
"Problem?" she stood back in front of me, five twenties in her hand.
I pulled the baggy out, slapped it in her hand, and whipped back the twenties.
"Nah, we good."My eyes were still glued onto the crib. The child never stopped crying, the hollowed living room echoed the squeal, making the house cry. Bouncing off the walls, off the yellow shade stained glass windows, off the plywood closet doors. The house itself wailed and moaned at me, cried at me. I started backing to the door, my hand slipped from my belt buckle to my side, fingernails dug into skin in both my clenched fists.
"Don't leave yet."She set the rock on a cutting board already laid out on the counter, "Just wanna make sure it's good."She beat the rock with the bottom end of a steak knife. I just wished she beat louder than the baby's crying. She raised the knife, and dropped it down on the counter, hard enough to make the utensils jar jiggle a bit, but that goddamn child's voice silenced it.
A part of me wanted to take a step towards the crib, peek over its edge, see if he at least looked…all right? Normal? The child's screams grew louder, the pitches and wails clawed through the air. Like snake scales, I could feel the sound scraping and slithering in my ears. I clenched my teeth along with my fists.
I didn't want to think about how he looked. I stared down at the carpet instead. Its sickly yellow, grey and maroon hues didn't help none.
She snorted the line, and her eyes did a dazzling dance, rolling into the back of her skull. Her mouth euphorically left open, as if waiting for manna to fall from heaven and into it. Her face scrunched up, I thought her wrinkles couldn't sink any further. The baby's crying became a crescendo, a crashing wave that washed over me as tangibly as iced water, prickling my skin, squeezing my heart into exhausted quick paced beats. I felt cold, but I sweated.
"We good?" I spoke, but I didn't hear myself speak.
She nodded her head while yawning, and rubbing her nose with the backside of her thumb.
Back in the car, I stamped Oxy on a cigarette wrapper, smashed it with my metal flick lighter. I turned the music off, and watched cars I'll never own zoom by on the bridge above the bottoms. I plugged a nostril with a thumb, tilted my head up, and snuffed down the chunky powder. My hands shook too goddamn much, made choppin' it a sloppy job. I sucked my lips in, and clogged both my nostrils. I felt my face being sucked in with the Oxy, scrunching into a wrinkled carpet that looks too goddamn veiny. If I kept it up, I'd probably squeeze out a few wrinkles.
I watched the street lights wink on. Seizure - like lights flicked orange and white chaotically across the pavement. Four Oxys in, and the kid still screamed in my fuckin' head. My nostrils hurt, shakey hands don't powder pills up very nicely. I'd be better off snorting specks of asphalt.
He was still breastfeeding. He screamed just like my cousin's baby. Throat no rounder than a dime, air gushing and pushing its way out-desperate. We baked in Justin's shack, slung in the projects, it passed from my hand into hers. From my hand to her nostrils, to her blood veins, to the brain, to the liver. Processed, synchronized, assimilated. From her breast, to the kid.
I was four Oxys in, and he still fucking screamed. Beneath the waves and the rustling of trash blown down the street, the screaming was still there. I tried not to think about how veiny the carpet looked.
Justin kept calling me. It was the fourth time my phone rang.
I knew, one more bump, it wouldn't silence it, it'd dull it, put the screaming behind a wall of pillows. It went from my hand to hers.
* * *
I started selling to high schoolers. Wasn't much of a problem. I was one of them. Walk into the Red Pelican with thirty grams worth of shrooms, ketamine, crank, snuff, acid, salvia, purp. Tell me how you wanna feel. I'll make you feel it. Best goddamn psychiatrist available. Walked out of there with three to four hundred easily. Selling to high schoolers is easy, became even easier when you have a few years on them. Use the same tricks that were done on you. Call them out, don't victimize them though. Level 'em up, is what you're doin'. It's a game. All a game. Lose a life? Restart. People on the left and right already did it. You don't do it, you don't belong here. Not in the park, not in the bottoms. And you can't escape the bottoms. You do belong here. Push the baggy a lil closer to their faces. Make 'em sick with wantin' it. Remind yourself of the kid at home. Swallow everything down, pride, disgust compassion…keep swallowing 'til there's nothing left of you but doing, nothing left but do. When you can't swallow no more, you rush, blow, push. Crush oxy, bring on the static. Make the swish and fuzz in your head louder than your conscience.
* * *
I punched the glove box open, punched the door to it clean the fuck off. I punched the speedometer, cracking the glass cover and my knuckles at the same time. The warm blood trickled over my clenched fist, filling the pores and spilling between my knuckles. More oxy, more punching, more oxy…it went from my hands to hers…
Ten minutes later, I flew down I-85, overpassing the projects, the shipyard, the tourist saturated beaches and meth filled swamps. I drove, but I drove nowhere. It was midnight on a Tuesday. All lanes were empty. I was a single blood cell being pumped through hollow veins. The sound barrier's 767 miles per hour. My Toyota yoked and yawned at seventy. A simple enough trick, break the sound barrier, break the screaming.
I felt like I never left the wailing walls of that fuckin' house. They stretched around me. Organically. I knew I could drive from one end of the peninsula to another, fall asleep in my bed, and I'd dream of that screaming. I'd imagine holding Baby Gil at night, I'd imagine his soft smooth skin turning carpet yellow, veins pressing through like worms trying to break free from his body. His mouth opens to scream and no noises come out, except for the sound of rushing wind from the I-85 overpass. He goes limp, had no bones to begin with, and drips thickly, like beer foam. Between my fingertips, he slides out and there's no holdin' him, no scoopin' him up and keepin' him in a pot. The cracked pavement of the street swallows him whole without even a gulp.
This is status quo, this is status quo. Meth heads fuck and thunk out children. It happens. No one forced her to get hooked, and she had her fuckboys ready to dish out more. Someone woulda supplied her, the kid was born in a fuck or be fucked situation. Got the wrong hand of cards. This is status quo, five of 'em probably bite the dust while popped to a tit every night. Chances are I just slung to one. There's easily five more on the block. Fuck it, Justin started like that, he's okay, he's fine. Got his shit together better than me. This is status quo.
I guess that was it. The fact that it was status quo. Meth babies die, if they don't, well, you got me and Justin. We were just spinning the wheel of a perpetual motion machine. If it wasn't my hand, it woulda been someone else's.
But it was my hand.
I was going Seventy eight miles an hour. Highway lights flashed by like stars in hyper drive. A long mile stretch down a black vein, glittered with flashing orange lights. Darkness, orange, darkness, orange, it started synchronizing with my heartbeat. If I floored the pedal hard enough, I might've be able to outrun the screaming, outrun bodily functions. The speedometer glass was cracked, but the needle stuck all the way in the red, fluttering between the two final numbers on the dial.
I thought I would be screaming in a moment like this. I thought I would be crying. I think I should've been crying. Thank god for Oxy. My foot hit the floor, and she jerked a bit. Pot holes felt like landmines. With a hand on the wheel, my other hand smoothly, gently, like an infant's sleeping breath, whisked to my seatbelt, and unclicked it.
I dumped the last two pills into my mouth, dry swallowing them, like a kid with a Pez dispenser. I wanted this to be smooth, it wasn't going to be clean, but it could at least be smooth. I then realized it was useless popping those two pills. By the time my stomach digested the thebaine, before my brain could process it, I'd hit the concrete barrier that the turn moves around. I shoulda kept one under my tongue to give to Charon.
And when all's done and splattered, what about Baby Gil? I can burst out of a car window, but I can't burst out of the bottoms. Dying in the cycle still leaves me in it. Would it even silence the baby's screaming? Goddamnit it, what about Gil?
Untouched. The kid was unfuckin' touched by this area. Soft skin. His roots haven't dug into the sidewalk yet, he hasn't sapped from the streets yet. I couldn't break the cycle, I've been chin tilted up, wadin' through it since middle school. Things might be different for him, if someone helps him out. Get out. Break out. Maybe the cycle doesn't break with me. It ain't 'spose to. Baby Gil's gotta shot. A shot I blew. Who's gonna make sure he takes it, does it right this time 'round? Flip for him so he don't have to.
I slammed the breaks, and fishtailed to a stop. My side door kissed the cement barrier with grinds and flutters. Somewhere off the in the distance, a baby call faded, replaced by the hiss and swish of ocean waves, and late night gull cries.