Sugar and spice and everything nice
Acid and smack and no way back
-Go Ask Alice
The pavement is dusty and hot, spotted with dirty black gum and the occasional beer bottle cap. July is cruel to Manhattan, dampening the white collared shirts of business men with sweat stains and sending overused air conditioners into disrepair. While the ragged homeless are happy to feel their fingers, New Yorkers cower under the sun faded awnings of restaurants and broken shade of fire escapes.
April, however, strides along purposefully towards Tompkins Square Park, her cheap sandals smacking the sidewalk like a metronome keeping time to her withdrawal. It's been two days, 48 hours without a goddamn hit and she's feeling the burn. Cash is as tight as it's ever been, fuck, and she's craving some magic.
He's idling under a sparsely foliated tree, fondling his ever-present coat with a greasy smirk. The branches cast striped shadows over him, cutting his harsh face up with dark lines. He's The Man. Ever met him? You will, kid, someday. I guarantee it.
He notices her, almost too quickly. Seventeen years in The Life and you learn a few tricks of the trade, like the fact that a diehard smack addict like April Ericsson can't last too long without getting a stab.
"April, sweetheart. I missed you, doll."
Sweat trickles down his brow, past his bloodshot eyes and curving nose.
"Michael." She acknowledges him curtly.
"Nice day, huh? Like ninety friggin' degrees. You're only my second this morning."
"Oh yeah?" She raises an eyebrow, looking up at him through eyeliner and mascara that clumps in the heat.
"Well, I'm not feeling so well, Michael. You know that?
"Know why? You wanna know why?"
April slaps him hard across the face, green painted nails glinting in the sun. He staggers back and then steps forward to face her. She stretches herself up to almost his height.
"Cause I can't get any fucking thing for less than I make in year!"
"April, baby, summer's hard for all of us. You know that, sweetie," he says, tenderly touching her jaw.
She pulls his hand away.
"You're lying, Michael."
"I speak the truth, darling. You know I don't lie to pretty girls," he grins. "Maybe to that 'rockstar' of yours…"
"I know this is just a scam from all of you to drive up prices. You know Jack on West Twelfth? He's getting six per milligram too."
The Man puts a hand forward in protest, exposing dirty, chipped nails.
"Firstly, I don't collaborate with my competitors. Jack and I aren't exactly partners."
April rolls her eyes.
"You know clients always come first with me," he persuades her. "Like you, honey. It's all about the relationship. Give and take. Hell, I make special deals for friends. You know that."
April's calves ache with withdrawal. A headache sets in, aided by the blaring sunshine and overwhelming heat of mid morning. Somewhere in the park a man is listening to reggae on leaky headphones. The tinny noise floats by her ears.
"Michael. I want three milligrams. I have asked before and I shall ask again."
"And I'm telling you, six bucks is a favour. A gift from moi to vous."
"Three. Three or the deal's off." She knew he knew she was lying. The deal wouldn't be off. She couldn't wait one more day.
"Five-fifty, April, love. I can hardly be doing this."
"I'm hungry Michael. You know what I mean. And I can't afford your bullshit."
She glares at him. Her bright lipstick is smudged to comic effect.
"Six-fifty and maybe something fun thrown in?" he offers.
"I don't smoke pot. You know that. It turns your teeth yellow."
He laughs at her harshly. "Baby girl, you're in withdrawal. You can't afford not to."
"Three dollars, Michael. Three. I'm not Leona friggin' Helmsley.
"But you're bitching like you are."
He twirls his coat open teasingly, showing her the rows of pockets for a second. Her eyes fixate on a crumpled plastic baggy.
"Heroin's a pricey habit, my dear. It's your own fault if you haven't got the dough." He smirks crudely. "But I can get you some other stuff, maybe…to dull the pain…"
"I don't want anything else."
"Well than," he drawls lazily, "you'll have to find yourself some awfully powerful Aspirin, my love. 'Cause I don't give away cookies without a glass of milk."
April thinks hard, trying to ignore the cravings that shoot up her spine and tickle her mind. She fingers her forearm absentmindedly.
"Well, Michael," she pronounces softly, "how about one dollar and…maybe something special?" April gently tosses her dyed hair in the hot breeze.
"There's a special relationship between you and your clients, isn't there?"
He nods in agreement. "But this better not get around…I don't do favours for all of my friends."
"Course not. And this is a one time offer anyways. You get that, Michael? One time and then it's hands off. Am I clear?
"Maybe four milligrams, then?"
He studies the ground, observing a dried out leaf and some trash scattered by the bench nearby. A bunch of kids inhaled crack last night from empty Sprite cans, probably.
"Fine. See me at eight. I have a business to run."
I left you a little present by the desk lamp. So sorry I couldn't make it to see you play tonight, but you know how it is with my aunt in the hospital. Anyways, don't wait for me 'cause I'll be late tonight. Enjoy it.
It turns out he lives in some bottom-floor apartment off Avenue A. She's glad it's relatively clean, but it's dark, with the shades pulled down over barred windows. The counters are strangely empty, the cupboards are bare. They have something to drink, her a little more than him. It twangs her throat but makes the apartment, his big hands, her conscious fuzzy with alcohol.
The whole thing takes only two hours- a little longer than April was hoping, but not so awful. She'll forget it as soon as she gets back home, snuggles with Roger and pretends the affair never took place. After all, she takes the Pill. Everything'll be fine with a little heroin to blur the edges.
Roger gazes fondly down at the plastic bag tucked next to his crumpled song lyrics, empty beer bottles and chewed on pens. His heart warms just thinking of her, of it, of the beautiful low soon to come. She's an angel, isn't she?
Hands shaking with excitement, he rushes off to dilute the powder with water and citric acid. The tap dribbles on gently, water hitting the sink bottom with a metallic clink and then bleeding off toward the drain. He pulls a needle out of a drawer, admiring how the dim kitchen light reflects off the glass in tiny beads. Oh, how beautiful things are when you don't even have to pay for them, Roger thinks. It's just some old needle April got from The Man, free of charge.
Two weeks later she's painting her toenails fuchsia when she gets the phone call. Shaken by the sudden noise, April spills a drop of polish onto her worn grey comforter. It soaks into the material, a hot pink blob among pale fuzz and faded crumbs.
She pauses, putting the paintbrush into the bottle. The room grows uncomfortably hot. April can feel her hand sweating on the phone's plastic receiver.
"You aren't supposed to call me. We aren't friends."
He sighs on the line.
"Look, I gotta talk to you."
"I'm going to hang up if you don't leave me alone. I have a a boyfriend Michael." She pushes a strand of dye bottle red hair behind her ear. "Anyways. I hate you."
"I'm not hear to ask you out, sweetheart " he sneers. "I need to speak to you. Preferably in person."
"No way in hell."
"Then I'll tell you now."
"This better be quick, 'cause I don't have time for assholes." April leans against the headboard of her bed, resting her back against the wood.
"April. Bitch. Whatever you want me to call you," he says, "there's a thing going around."
"Oh?" she asks, not completely engaged. "What kind of thing? An 'I'm a sorry loser who sleeps with junkies 'cause I can't get my own fucking girlfriend' kind of thing?"
"Not my problem you're a goddamn tramp whoring for smack," he taunts cruelly.
"FUCK YOU!" she screams into the phone, squinting with tears.
"Whatever," retorts The Man. "You chose to sleep with me, babe. It's your own fault you regret it.
"Anyways, I'm cutting short this phone call 'cause it's not high on my list of things to do. But I just thought you might wanna get tested."
Roger measures a milligram of beautiful, white heroin into a spoon. He shivers slightly with excitement. He adds a drop of citric acid to dilute the powder and clicks on a lighter underneath the spoon, watching the heat melt the three substances together. Roger's body aches with withdrawal, but his mind races with anticipation as sucks the mixture through a cigaretta filtre into a syringe, so any impurities would be removed. He ejects the mixture into his needle, letting the water trickle down the insides of the glass. He marvels at the chemistry.
Setting the needle down, he ties a latex tourniquet around his left arm, watching the muffled blue veins bulge against his pale skin. His forearm is dotted with track marks and scars but he ignores them, finding a clearly visible artery.
"Tested for what?" she snaps, wiping away her bleeding eyeliner. Her bracelets clink together, the metal reflecting light that is smudged by tears,
"AIDS, you slut. AIDS." He hangs up.
Roger lifts the needle, lets the light dance off the metallic point and plunges it into his arm quite suddenly. Pushing down on the plunger, he fades off into heaven.