If you stayed inside the boundaries everything was fine. Manhattan, Kansas was even livable as long as you didn’t look out too far. Better to relax. Horizons will kill you with hope if you’re not careful.
During summer the sky hung flat and low and congealed into a pinkish gray membrane most of the time. That afternoon it was exactly like this and the merciless heat had replaced all air with smell. Only smell to breathe. Puke and piss and old cheap beer near the two short streets of college kid bars, which the four-year locals called “Aggieville.” The dumpsters were alive, cooking, each trying to outdo one another with their little terrariums of rot.
I sat outside. On the curb just down the block from the outlet mall. I was hungover. I never liked shoplifting hungover, but my boredom had reached levels beyond control. Also, I needed money. Such circumstances will drive a man to perform all sorts of insane braveries.
You see, earlier that week I’d caught a massive break: the universe had reared its big fat hateful head to give me a wink. I was shown things could get better, or at least change, when my roommate, Hugh, scored the first decent drugs we’d seen in months. A horizon had bloomed.
Usually we were just glad to have any mote of severely, and honestly disrespectfully, stepped-on cocaine drift in from Kansas City. But on Wednesday, Hugh had come back after the tailgate (he still went to these, crossing his fingers around the co-eds) with honest-to-goodness black tar heroin. The big H! It was not China white, but I was also not Kenneth Copeland. God was not on my side.
We smoked it. Being so deprived and untrained in luxury, we smoked it all, in little more than a single thirty-six-hour day. In our defense, we were poor and achy and used to facing the hellish Midwestern boredom with nothing but rotgut booze, so I don’t think anyone could look down their noses at our enthusiasm.
The facts were just the facts, as they rarely are, and our sticky panacea was now gone. Burnt up in a wisp of vinegary yellow-black.
Again I could feel the bleak ooze behind me, creeping, licking my heels, wanting me back so it could continue fucking me good and proper. I’d been distracted by frivolous bloom. That’s life if you’re not careful. A big throbbing huffing terror of—no! I wasn’t going back. I needed money. We had a connection, finally, and I needed money to taste more of that golden pulp the universe had so cruelly shown me existed. That was why I was here today, hungover.
I would have simply stormed in, insanity blazing to short-circuit any heroes, and grabbed an armful of any old expensive-looking button downs, but today I had an order. Hugh’s dealer was apparently a real shining narcissist and had all sorts of demands. Since we had no money, and there was no way Hugh was capable of a heist (something about his knees, he insisted), the list had been passed down to me. I was to procure a Ralph Lauren sweater in light blue, paisley ties in yellow, purple, and something called “parakeet green,” and one of those faux-hunting jackets city kids wear to go out to bars. Very Protestant. I didn’t know many drug dealers, but certainly I thought it couldn’t be the standard uniform.
I put out my cigarette and headed for the door. The ooze was getting horny and I couldn’t sit and wait any longer.
Inside, sharp florescent lights helped emphasize the dilapidation. I could see everything. I didn’t want to see everything. Discount racks packed full like overcrowded moaning limbos. Zippers with nothing behind them. Seams that had long given up. And it was all backed by the faint whine of early 2000s pop garbage. Consumerism’s stale wave rolled back here, exposing the sludge field of bleached dead coral and crab husks and preshrunk denim.
I glanced around.
The security guard was wandering off somewhere, trying his best to look like he was doing his job. The cashier was obviously stoned, and too nervous about looking like it to notice me. She stared intensely at her register’s keyboard. Everything was looking good. This worried me greatly.
I knew to never trust fate when it tried to lure you with optimism. Optimism had crushed more legs and burned up more theaters and caused more people to go insane than anything in history. I could feel myself shaking with it then, so I headed towards the menswear quickly.
“Can I help you with anything?” A man had appeared. Clearly a new employee because he was still smiling with teeth and everything. Yes, maybe it will be alright, the shimmer in his eyes said. Maybe I can work my way up if I try real hard. Training video propaganda was swirling inside his subnormal head and he was not going away, so I indulged him.
We went all around the store with his suggestions, each more idiotic than the last, and the pile in his arms grew. And when it rose so high that I couldn’t see his face anymore, and he could only follow me by sound, I slunk off and found my items. As a dreg of society, I’d always had a knack for going about unheard. He just kept right on babbling as if I was still there. “Hey are you gonna!” was the last I caught from him as I flew out the doors and into the parking lot, and even then he did not chase me or alert the dopey guard, for maybe, hopefully, this was all some bad dream and I was just going to find my car and my wallet, the one I needed to pay for all this shit.
“Did you get everything?” Hugh said back at our apartment. He held up one of the ties, looking at it like it was some strange animal’s innards. “He’s really bitchy, so if you didn’t get everything exactly like he said, he’s not going to do this. It’s a favor, since we can’t just pay him normal.”
“What a saint,” I said. I went to the refrigerator and got down the jug of wine and poured it up to the brim of my plastic K-State Wildcats cup. The cup was purple and the liquid inside was also purple.
When the doorbell rang later and Hugh jumped like it was the judge come to clip his cock, I knew exactly who it was.
The dealer’s name was Mr. Sunshine—or at least that was what Hugh continued calling him, over and over, saying the name after every sentence like you would when trying to hypnotize a girl on a date. He had a shaved head and a lot of tattoos that seemed to favor one race in particular. He was eager to tell to us his very advanced theories on why the world was going to hell, but I didn’t want him around any longer than necessary, so I focused on watching TV. Very interesting stuff was happening in Qatar, apparently.
“Looks like good shit,” Hugh said after the dealer finally left. I think it was nearing night by then.
He threw the little baggie on the table. It was not black tar this time, but a small dune of grayish dust. Had we been fucked? Or could it be? I inspected it closely. Sure enough, it smelled strongly of vinegar. But that could be faked. China was impossible to get in small towns like this, so I was skeptical.
We both looked at each other and there was a stillness in the air for a moment while we pretended to hold out, acting nonchalant about the whole thing, like we didn’t want to descend upon the baggie like skinny maniac dogs. Thirty seconds later I was cutting up lines on the back of an old Elvis CD case, Hugh behind me supervising, providing all sorts of opinions on why I was doing it totally wrong.
The powder entered my nose and burned and whether or not it is true that such a burn signals good junk, it certainly led me to believe then that whatever this was, it was strong. I waited, the aspirin tang dripping down my throat. I waited. Where was it? Waited more. The golden pulpy haze?
I looked to Hugh. Hugh looked sick. Green.
“I don’t know,” he said, dread rising in his gills.
I did another line. Then another. I couldn’t believe I’d put myself through all that hard stealing only to be given some caustic trick-powder!
And then…rising up like a gooey bubble, amber gel was in me. There was a deep throb like I’d never experienced and suddenly I was in Spain, an orange siesta sun warming my face. I could almost hear guitar music. The world was babylike and perfect and it had always been this way. The throb had come to relieve all maladies linked with being poor, massaging my knees and ass and pride with sympathetic fingers. Spain could be everywhere! The world was not a pit of bile! Probably.
When you feel truly good, the day stretches out like a cat. The night was pushed back. I went outside and walked through campus, pretending I still went to school there.
Not five months ago my professors had all condemned me as a writer. And I might have been shit, fine, but I was still a man and not a bug and that was most important. I still had working blood.
Now what do non-bug, human men do? I thought to myself. I sat on a bench and watched girls walk by in their sundresses. I saw legs. This? Yes, I doubted any of my bug professors ever looked up from their dumb books to appreciate legs. Which were quite…pulpy. Right? Maybe it was the drugs, but the professors seemed to have no passion for the world outside analyzing it as some concept. And then writing about it. On and on. Spurting out their purple aneurisms.
It was good, noble even, to never write a word. So filling up the place like they were, spurting, ffshp, ffshp, ffshp, those fetid pages, all without ever actually eating the world’s pulps? A sin! I condemned them right back.
I decided I would need to leave right away and devote my life to eating pulp. I would need to destroy myself many times in order to find it all (there had to be more types than legs and heroin) and learn how to eat it properly, so it was good that I’d found salves like rich-people drugs early. Certainly destroying oneself was quite painful. I’d need something strong.
The sun finally gave up and started setting. Yellow-y. A beautiful girl smiled and sat down on the bench I was sitting on. Closer than you normally would with a stranger. I felt her heat. The air was able to move now that it wasn’t pinned down by the sun and it came over the geriatric buildings and through the leaves on the lousy trees and brought the scent of manure and sweat and sweeter, slimier things much farther away. The girl got up and I went after.