I Had An Angel Once

I first saw her near the bus station in Brown Hill when it was bad but not as bad as it is now. I was sitting on the bench coming off a high. She had the cleanest hair I’d seen in weeks. It was sitting beside me, shining. I didn’t think it was real until she spoke and her voice cracked, and she said, “Vin Procter?”

The bus came. People got off. I didn’t get on. Then the bus went and I nodded my head, all the time hearing things like under water, even my own voice: “Vin Procter, that’s right, what’s it to you, you Kenny’s?”

“I’m sorry to meet you in public like this,” she said. Her hands were shaking. “But that’s the way for first times. Later, we’ll see each other everywhere.”

We were alone in Brown Hill. Only the wind blew garbage across the street. The garbage stuck against the curb. Plastic cups and paper fast food containers and other dirty unidentifiables. She reached out a hand and put it softly on mine. It was warm and wet as the insides of my head. “Who are you?”

The words bubbled.

“I’m your addiction,” she said.

I got up before it got dark and she followed me home.

I lived in an abandoned building on Merryweather Street. In the winter I moved elsewhere, but it was late September and not cold yet. Addiction followed me through the front door and closed it. When I opened the fridge, she looked over my shoulder. I wasn’t hungry. I looked around. My furniture was damp, dusty and unappealing. My drug paraphernalia stood on a silver platter on the worn carpet. I curled up on the floor next to it and went to sleep.

The afternoon light burned my pale skin so that I flinched, then pulled opened my lids and I gasped. Little sound came out but my eyes bugged. I ripped the blanket off my body and stared at the woman in the kitchen. My brains were arid now. A train went by somewhere and the paraphernalia shook on the platter. I smelled fried eggs.

“You’re up,” she said without looking at me. “You slept for a long time. I made breakfast but it cooled and I ate it for lunch. I’ll make another egg in a few minutes. Maybe you’d like coffee first?”

I crept toward her.

She continued, “I bought eggs and coffee, and milk. You had milk but it was old. I poured it out. Your toilet doesn’t flush properly.”

The heat radiated from the stovetop. I thought about heating my spoon, but the woman was stressing me. I rubbed my knuckles into my eyes.

“There was money in the tin in the cupboard but I didn’t use it,” she said.

For a second I was searching frantically through the containers under my bed where I kept all my stuff, maybe she’d taken it, thief, then the mellow came with the egg smell again and the woman said, “I didn’t touch anything else.”

She cracked a shell and poured the contents onto the burning butter on the frying pan. The white sizzled and turned hard. She did another, then tossed both shells into the garbage. I had forgotten I had a garbage. I never took it out. The raccoons snuck in and got it sometimes and I hit them with the broom handle but not hard enough. The raccoons scampered out. Sometimes I thought about eating one.

“Who are you?” I asked.

She finally turned to look at me. “I’m your addiction. We met yesterday on the bench in public. I’ll be living with you openly now.”

The eggs finished frying and she slid them onto a plate that she set on the table in the kitchen where a fork was already lying. “Sit.”

I sat and ate quickly with little chewing. After licking the last moisture from my fingers, I asked, “What do you do?”

She laughed and spun her head such that her hair sparkled round her face. It was clean and shiny, I thought. “I take over your life,” she said or smiled. And I smiled too. It had been a long time since I’d had a woman and it was good to have one. I could start a new life now. I was happy. The stress was gone. The shakes were gone. I wished I could shower but the water was turned off and I said, “You can wash the pan and dishes in the yard. There’s a little hole I dug to catch the water. There’s always a puddle in it.”

When she went outside I whistled and sat with my back against the sofa. I picked up the silver platter and put each piece of paraphernalia carefully on the carpet. I wasn’t wearing a belt but pulled a spare from under the sofa. The flint clicked. The flame from the lighter was nice, not like the light from outside, which made my eyes narrow and skin hurt. I pulled my sleeve up to where the inside of my elbow was polka dots and heated the stuff and then pricked myself until the world rolled back into my skull.

The world rolled in dark, with crickets.

Addiction was sitting in a chair reading a book by candlelight. I stared at her until I coughed and she put the book down and said, “That’s the last time.”

I nodded off to sleep.

I woke up with a headache and the shakes. The stress was back bad. Addiction was gone and I rummaged through the tins in the cupboards where I kept my money. But there wasn’t any so I threw the empty tins across the room, then slid onto my heels and bit my fingernails till they bled. I had a woman now, I thought, I had to support her and love her and be the man for her. It was a family. I determined to get a job. I crawled to the sofa and took out my stuff. There was enough left. I’d sell part of it. I didn’t want to be a deadbeat anymore. From now on, I would be responsible. I picked up all the pieces of paraphernalia scattered on the carpet and placed them on the silver platter. Tomorrow—I set the alarm on my watch—I would sell, then we’d have a baby and the crib would go in the other bedroom where the raccoons sometimes slept.

The alarm beeped.

I felt lips against my cheeks. She was back. She smelled good, like not at all. Her face was close to mine but her clothes were different. “I’m going to work today,” I said.

But when I got to my feet my knees seemed to crumble and I dropped to the carpet. I needed my stuff. I started to crawl but a reflection pushed me back. I shied away and saw her put the silver platter at my feet. I loved her more than I’d ever loved her as I put my things in order and heated up the stuff and pricked deep into the polka dot spot, letting my thumb press the receding world into me.

Someone slapped me before the world came back. And then it came back firm like the time Kenny pushed my face into the highway. I checked my nose for blood but there wasn’t any. There was just the woman in front of me. She slapped me again. And again, until I lifted my legs and wrapped my arms around them and the blows hit only the outside of my body. I tried to close my eyes and hum a song but I couldn’t get the feeling back. I was stressing out. I was afraid my mouth was going to foam. Then cold water hit me. It flowed onto my tongue and I knew the taste of my own puddle. “Up,” she said and I obeyed. But when I stood I stood on the needle. My foot hurt and the needle cracked. I cursed. I would have to get a new one from that place.

I threw a coat over my shoulders, put a pack of the stuff under my arm and went out through the front door. She followed me. I meandered until people thickened, which meant I was closer to downtown where the place was. Eventually I got there. The sign said “Cole Recovery Centre”. I went inside and cried until the people gave me a new needle and a card with phone numbers on it. I had to be careful. The stuff was still in me and my eyes wanted to give along with my balance, which meant I almost dropped the stuff onto the floor.

Outside, the breeze was picking up and my nostrils opened to let it in. The woman smiled at me. I smiled back. I wanted to use the new needle but I had a family now. I felt responsible. I knew the best place to sell. I’d been going there for months and had never seen a dealer. It was open territory. I walked in long strides with no shuffling of the feet, hands buried in my coat pockets, knowing the woman would be proud of the money I’d make.

The very young ones I wouldn’t sell to, but the older ones had money and they could steal more. It wasn’t right in the schoolyard either. I wasn’t unprincipled. It was behind, by the chain link fence, where the older ones went to smoke cigarettes. One was there now, in jeans and a baseball cap. I banged on the fence with my fist until the kid saw me and came cautiously nearer.

“You wanna buy some?” I wheezed.

The kid stepped closer. He made sure no one was watching. He had a tough face and an earring and smelled like smoke. I knew the kid wouldn’t ever be anybody.

“What you selling?”

The kid’s voice was strong and he kept his eyebrows slanted inwards like he was angry all the time. They straightened only for a second when he saw the woman when she moved closer to me.

“Stuff,” I said.

I took it out from under my arm and held it against the fence where the kid could see it and smell it and touch it through the chain link.

“How much?” the kid asked.

“However much you got,” I said. “You don’t got enough for the whole.”

The kid’s voice cracked just like the woman’s had done in Brown Hill. He said, “Fifty,” and fished through his pockets to gather up the bills. When he had them, he crunched them into a ball and raised his voice, saying, “Give me the stuff first, then I’ll give you the money.”

But I only laughed and the kid lowered his eyes to the ground.

“Cash first.”

As the kid moved close enough to put the fifty dollar ball through the chain link, the woman leaned in and whispered close to my ear, “Are you sure you want to sell that? Won’t you miss it tonight on the carpet?”

Suddenly the shakes returned and I grabbed the fence and made it rattle. The kid dropped the cash and jumped back. I was abruptly aware that the kid and everyone else but the woman was trying to cheat me out of my stuff. The muscles in my body tightened so bad I couldn’t get my fingers off the fence so I kicked at the fence until the muscles relaxed and I pulled my hand free. Then I laughed again almost like a howl and put the stuff back under my arm. The wind was picking up and it started to drizzle. As me and the woman walked away the kid was on his knees trying to put his hand through the chain link to pick up the money but his wrist was too thick and he couldn’t get it through but pushed so hard the skin on his hand started to raw.

When we got home I sat with my back to the sofa and heated up my spoon. But every time the heat was good the stuff fell off and I got angry. I realized it was the woman knocking the stuff off. “What’s the idea?” I moaned, though she just knocked it off again and told me I wouldn’t have it easy anymore.

In the morning it was the same and in the afternoon the silver platter kept moving and I couldn’t get a solid read on it. By the evening the foam was starting in my mouth, my teeth were itchy and all the woman did was sit in her chair and read her book and wait for me to try to get at my stuff, which I couldn’t do because I couldn’t remember where the silver platter was and the spoon had a big hole drilled in it.

I hated her now like I’d never hated anyone.

“What’s the idea, what are you, get out of my house!” I screamed at her.

“I’m your addiction,” she answered.

I wasn’t an addict, though, that much I knew, so I screamed, “You’re not real,” and asked everyone who was around whether they could see the woman. When no one answered I said, “See, you’re not real,” and went to the kitchen to pick up the frying pan that the woman had fried eggs in and swung it hard at her head until she fell and the sound of the pan against her head was dull and she didn’t move anymore.

I was sweating so I went outside and washed my face in the puddle. When I came back in, I heated my stuff on the red frying pan and pressed the plunger of the new needle into a pulsing vein.

The light that woke me was worse than the light from outside. The stars were out. Someone had taken the belt off my arm and shrunk my house. I was on the sofa. There were men and windows all around. The lights flashed red and white. Someone knocked loud against the glass and I looked and there was a flashlight shining into my face. I closed my eyes and brought my knees high and wrapped my arms around them.

“Junkie,” the flashlight said through the window—

Then shut off.

And in the darkness I knew I had an angel once, and she was no more.