This story is by Parker G and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m not one of them. I’m not. They’re all in denial but at least I know who I am. My name is Bill Anderson, and I’m a heroin addict.
“Hi Bill,” the circle chimes in unison.
The church we use for our meetings is stale; it smells like old wood. The pews are empty, in fact the whole place is empty except for the six of us circled up and good ol’ Jesus Christ looking down from his comfy crucifix at the front. Every time I make eye contact with Him I can feel His disappointment, His holy condescension. But I pity Him; poor bastard doesn’t even know what it feels like to be high.
“Six months ago,” Jimmy says, who’s sitting next to me, “is the last time I shot up,” and he has this real serious nod to his head like he’s trying to sell us something.
“Six months?” I think that deserves a round of applause,” says Michael, the support group supervisor. We all comply with an obligatory clap that fades away into silence. Most the group’s staring at the ground.
“What’s with the long sleeves, Jimmy?” I say.
“I said, what’s with the long sleeves? Awfully hot out, in fact I don’t think I saw a single person in all of Bloomington today walkin’ around with sleeves down to their wrists.”
What exactly you trying to say, Bill?”
“Nothing,” I tell him. “Only if you’re six months clean, then let’s see you roll up your sleeves.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to be doing anything of the sort, you scumbag.”
I’m not letting up. “Come on Jimmy, roll em up! Let’s see that sucker, you got a nick name for him? You know what I like to call my favorite vein? Barney. His name’s Barney. Wanna know why?” I say, as I start undoing the bandage holding dirty gauze to my elbow. “His name’s Barney, on account of how purple and fucked up he is. Get it? Ain’t that clever?”
Jimmy’s out of his chair and in my face before I can finish my last words. He’s three inches taller than me but skinnier than a slim jim so i knock him back real quick, but Michael’s between us in no time shouting, “Bill! No one has to show anyone nothin, alright? That ain’t part of the deal here. We’re dismissed for the evening, I’ll see you all next week. Bill, I need to have a word with you.”
Michael and I stay back while the rest of the group folds up their aluminum chairs and stacks them along the wall as they leave. Just me, Michael, and Jesus H. Christ with the front row seat.
“Bill what the Hell was that?”
“What was what?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. I can’t have you acting that way here. This is a safe space for people, we’re here to support each other. I’ve known you for too long to tell you to hit the road but seriously, Bill, this behavior’s unacceptable.”
“Oh please, what good are we doin’ for a doofus like Jimmy who comes in here every week and pretends to be fine and dandy, like some fucking girl scout who’s just passed her drug test with flying colors? It’s bullshit. How do you think that makes us feel? The rest of us?”
“We give everyone here the benefit of the doubt, that’s the rules. “It ain’t no harm done to you. What’s it gonna change, even if he were, you know, lying?”
I tell Michael this place can burn to the ground and I’ll dance on the ashes because I hate liars. And I gesture up to Jesus while I say it and remind him that he hates liars too.
“Alright Bill, that’s great. Real great. If you have something on your mind you need to talk about, just reach out. Okay? Please. I know its been rough since your wife’s passing and we haven’t talked about it in quite a while. Is that what’s troubling you?”
This guy Michael has some fucking nerve. “Can I go now? The liquor store on Catern street has a help wanted sign on the front door and I have a feeling it ain’t gonna be up for much longer.”
I drive home and on my way back I pass by the liquor store on Catern street. I think about walking in and applying but I keep driving.
I open the screen door to my place and make my way into the white tile kitchen that’s dark because the light doesn’t turn on since the power’s out. Only it doesn’t bother me too much because the power’s gone out before and I’ve made do without it for almost two months at one time. The real trouble is when the gas goes out and the stove won’t work and then I can’t eat.
I go sit down in the chair in the room connected to the kitchen, the only actual room in the place, and read my book by candle. It’s times like these when I want my power back and I think about the help wanted sign at the liquor but I can’t get up, I can’t.
It’s only 8pm and I usually don’t fall asleep ’til 2 and I can’t watch the television so I think about going for a walk, but then I remember I have enough left in my stash for another hit so I think that I’d rather do that instead. I sit up in my chair and look over at my cracked sunglasses, on the table beside me, and they make me think of Mary and the glasses she wore that framed her face so poorly like a crooked picture upon the wall. A crooked woman inside and out, no more crooked than when I found her, in the second year of our marriage, shooting up in the shed out back with the junkie from down the road. Ennis, his name was, the junkie from down the road that I never trusted too much but Mary used to say to me “He’s a good man, that Ennis. Back in the day he was a Hoosier, would you believe that? Wouldn’t assume it lookin’ at him now but hell, treats me well ‘nuf, you could learn a thing or two bout chivalry from him.” He’d come from up the road, knocking, saying he only needed a little bit to get through the rest of the weekend but’d pay me back. Sometimes he did. Sometimes he didn’t. I couldn’t blame them for getting the fix in the back shed of course, but last I checked it don’t require you taking your clothes off to do so.
I put the cracked sunglasses on my face and walk over to my battery-powered radio and turn it on. I make my way into the bathroom and set my candle on the counter and get on my hands and knees as I reach behind the toilet for my travel-bag that holds my stash. I’m back on my feet and it’s real dark but the sunglasses help to keep from making eye contact with myself in the mirror. I hear David Bowie’s voice coming from the living room and he’s asking me if there’s life on Mars and I tell him that “Yes, there most certainly is,” and I unzip my bag and pull out my spoon and my needle and my tourniquet and my heroin and now I am ready to blast off. Five minutes later and now Lou Reed is telling me to take a walk on the wild side and I’m gladly obliging. My eyes roll back and Mary is with me now and we’re walking to the bus stop together and we’re about to take a trip, a trip to Mars where we’ll live our lives with no neighbors and no needles and much less gravity.
The light’s coming through the window shades and the rooster next door is telling me to get my shit together. I get up from the floor and make my way to the stove in the kitchen and turn the dial.
Click click click click click.
I turn the dial back. I stare at the white tile wall for a moment and then turn the dial again.
Click click click click click.
I pick up the phone and dial the Catern Drugstore. As I’m making my way to the bathroom I hear the clerk saying ‘how may I help you?” and I let the question ring stale as I stare at myself in the mirror.
“I’d like to schedule an interview.”