Disclaimer: These characters belong solely to me. Any resemblance to anyone real or fictional is entirely coincidental.
Sex, Drugs, and Violence: Lots of swearing, and my main character is still a drug addict.
Thank you to everyone who’s read and commented on this story thus far especially Nutty and Elsieaustin whose advice and suggestions are invaluable.
Marriage proposals, suggestions for rehab, or phone numbers for a good therapist: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Last Good Day
by Amy Boatman
I started awake when the alarm clock blared loudly in my ear. I hit snooze and then lay still for a moment trying to gain my bearings. My mouth was filled with sandpaper, and my head felt like it would implode at any minute. Suddenly, the nightmare flew back into my consciousness. I remembered waking in terror and then taking two more pills. At least I’d made it back to the bed. My legs ached as if I really had been running against gale force winds, and my feet burned as if all that glass had been real. I saw my father’s face grinning at me, daring me to get away. Oh yeah, this was going to be a glorious day.
I arrived at work fifteen minutes late again, as usual. Jack was pissed off, as usual. The station stunk, as usual. It was the same dance in the same dance hall to the same song. There’s a lot to be said for consistency. I retrieved my dirty shirt even before I went in to greet Rufus. I had to rescue my little treat. Luckily, I found it right where I’d left it. One look at the garment told me it was never going to be white again. I removed my little vial of heaven and tossed it.
“Hey,” I called out. Rufus sat at the desk hunched over the morning paperwork and didn’t bother to look up at me. I shook my head at his question mark posture. “Doesn’t it hurt your back to sit like that?”
“Nah, but thanks for asking,” he answered dryly.
I left him to his paper pushing and went out to check the ambulance. While I worked, my mind wandered off to find Bailey. The little red head had captured my imagination the day before. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I allowed myself a moment to relive the smile she had given me, letting it wrap around me like a cloak. I had felt less wary with her than I did with other people. I couldn’t say I was ever comfortable with anyone. I usually held people at arm’s length, only allowing them to see what I wanted them to see. Tricia had been the last person I had trusted completely. The bitterness and pain that memory brought with it kept others at a distance.
I pulled Bailey’s phone number out of my wallet. Her handwriting, with its loops and swirls, was definitely that of a girl. I always envied pretty handwriting. My tight chicken scratch was barely legible. “Bailey Lancaster. 830-8439.” I debated whether or not to call her now or wait until I knew she was home. My desire to hear her voice, even a recorded version, got the better of me. I retrieved my phone from my pocket and dialed the numbers.
The phone rang four times and then went to voice mail. “You’ve reached Bailey. If you don’t leave me a message, I can’t call you back, and then we’ll both miss out. Life's too short for missed opportunities, so leave me a message." I rolled my eyes and grinned at the cheesy greeting. She was obviously a half full kind of gal.
“Hey, Bailey. It’s Jordan. From yesterday at the hospital? I just thought I’d give you a call, and we could discuss our date tomorrow. Call me back when you get a chance. 639-9065.” I hung up, feeling silly. I hated voice mail. I always imagined someone on the other side listening to my feeble attempt and snickering. Insecure much?
The day began slowly, but it didn’t stay that way. Our first call was a man with chest pain that turned out to be heartburn. Thus our theme was established. We weren’t back in our station until six hours later. The EMS gods gave us an hour for lunch and then we were off again; off to save the seriously ill and the seriously stupid.
“What a fucking day, man.” Rufus was driving us away from the hospital after we deposited our fifth chest pain patient. “Must be something in the air. It hasn’t been this busy in weeks.” It was the fifth time these exact same words had dropped from his mouth.
“Yep.” The last wave of the uppers I had taken had washed out to sea awhile ago, and I felt the crankiness creeping in. It took everything I had not to tell Rufus to shut the hell up with his negative crap. We had to make it back to the station soon, or I was going to lose my shit. We had almost made it before the last call caught us just blocks from the station. I screamed and slammed the clipboard so hard against the dash, it broke in half. Rufus, long since used to my outbursts, just chucked the broken clipboard behind the seat and grabbed another one. It was almost impossible to rattle him. He had one speed and one mood. Really fucking slow and really fucking negative. But, with my penchant for fits of temper and total loss of composure, we were actually a good match.
When we arrived at the station, (“Thank the gods” I exclaimed loudly) I hopped out of the ambulance and made a beeline to my car. Three pink and two white pills later, I could feel the tranquility begin to settle around me. The pills wouldn’t kick in for another fifteen minutes but just knowing they were in my system, swimming along merrily towards my brain, brought me hope. Any minute now, nothing would really matter. The veil would drop, and I would be cocooned in warmth and chemically induced joy.
I walked in the station to find Rufus sitting on the couch with his feet on the coffee table watching one of those obnoxious judge programs. “How come you’re not in there with the guys watching ESPN?”
Our station was set up as two separate living areas in one giant building. Each side had its own living room and bedrooms. The bedrooms were left over from when we had worked twenty four hour shifts. Now that we were down to twelve hour shifts, they had become offices. The only thing we shared with the firefighters was the kitchen. Most days, Rufus would be in the firefighters’ living room watching some sports related program on their big screen TV. That left me alone to watch whatever I wanted on our much smaller TV. Everything the firefighters had was larger than ours. We were the red-headed stepchildren of Emergency Services.
“Just didn’t feel like listening to them today.”
I sat down next to him. “You and Sara got any plans this weekend?” The pills were starting to kick in, and I felt like talking.
“It’s her mother’s birthday so we’re taking the kids to Hutto for the party.” His face didn’t change from its normal frown.
“You don’t look at all thrilled.”
His frown became a grimace. “I can’t stand that old lady. Her constant bitching and negativity just drives me nuts. She just sucks the life right out of the room, ya know.”
I barked a laugh, and he looked at me. I arranged my face into a compassionate mask. “I totally understand.” You’d suck the life right out of me if you could reach me. I couldn’t help but giggle. This time, he ignored me.
We sat in companionable silence for a while, and then my need to move took over. “I’ll be out at the ambulance.” He nodded as I got up and walked out to the bay.
The pills I took only allowed two states: moving or sleeping. If I sat still too long, I was out like a light. If I kept moving, I could clean the whole station in two hours. I was the Flash. I loved the rush of movement, the way I felt like I could do anything. The euphoria had finally set in, and I felt GOOD!
Two hours later, the ambulance was spotless and completely stocked. The station was dusted, swept, and mopped. I had even alphabetized all our spare supplies. Order made me feel calm and in control. A place for everything and everything in its place, my grandmother used to say.
When I finished, I found Rufus sprawled on the couch snoring loudly. His right arm grazed the floor and a line of drool ran across his cheek. As much as I complained about him, I really did like the guy. His wife, Sara, was the sweetest little Southern Belle type. I could see her in a hoop skirt sitting on the front porch of some antebellum mansion sipping mint juleps. She was petite and pretty in that wholesome all-American way. His twins, Adam and Blake, were well behaved and thus they met my definition of good kids. They had their mother’s good looks (thank the gods!) as well as her red hair and freckles. The ten year olds were actually fun to be around; they hadn’t inherited their father’s morose attitude.
Without fail, every year, Sara invited me over for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. The fact that I had no family disturbed her Southern sensibilities. She couldn’t imagine my not wanting to surround myself with people on those auspicious days. I politely turned her down every year, but it never discouraged her from asking. Her understanding, however, did not extend to my birthday. She insisted on bringing a cake to the station every year and leading everyone in singing to me. The first year, I was so embarrassed; I thought I would pass out. But after the fifth time, I came to look forward to it. Although I would never tell her that. If I expressed pleasure in something it invariably went away.
Our relief arrived shortly before seven, and I dashed off as soon as I could. I had a plane to catch, and I was anxious to fly. As I pulled into my garage, my pocket vibrated. I turned off the engine but stayed in the car. “Hello?”
“Jordan? It’s Bailey.”
“Oh hey Bailey. How are you?” I was only barely able to keep the exultant rush of joy from pouring out of my mouth and into the phone.
We exchanged polite pleasantries for a moment and then Bailey asked, “So, I know this great restaurant down on South Lamar. I’d really like to take you there.” Her voice had a slightly husky quality to it, sending little jolts of electricity down my body. It had been a long time since I’d had such a visceral reaction to someone. All my nerve endings seemed to come to attention. They strained to catch even a small molecule of her whenever I heard her voice or saw her face. Or hell, even when I thought of her voice or her face.
“That sounds great. Shall I come get you or do you want to meet there?”
“Well, actually, I’d like to do it up right. How about if I come to your house and pick you up?”
For a moment, I was silenced. My home was the only place I felt truly safe. No one came to my house, not even Rufus. I waited for the feelings of apprehension and fear that inevitably rose to the surface whenever anyone wanted to come over. But, oddly enough, they didn’t come. I was shocked to realize I didn’t mind if she came into my sanctuary. I even welcomed it. Huh, what do ya know?
“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.” I gave her directions to my house, and we said our goodbyes.
I entered through the garage door into a kitchen overwhelmed with dirty dishes and shrouded in an unpleasant, unidentifiable odor. I had a lot of cleaning to do. That would have to wait until mornings, though, because right now I needed to fly. I pulled the syringe I’d gotten from Natalie out of my pocket and headed to the bedroom.
The next morning, I woke from a deep and dreamless sleep. The sun leering in through my bedroom window reminded me why I wanted to move the bed. The natives were restlessly drumming and dancing in my head. My stomach suddenly gave a lurch. I had to leap out of bed and run, but I made it to the toilet. Once my stomach was completely empty and the dry heaves had subsided, I reached into the medicine cabinet for breakfast.
Four hours later, my house was spotless. I’d even vacuumed under the bed. My next task was a trip to the pharmacy. The pharmacist, a grizzled old hippy named Bob, lived just two blocks from my house. Once upon a time, he really had been a pharmacist. When his patrons began complaining to the pharmacy owner that their pain meds didn’t seem to work anymore, the owner discovered that Bob was replacing all the medications with Tylenol and pocketing the real stuff. He was, of course, fired and prosecuted. Four years later, Bob was released from prison. With help from his contacts at the drug companies, he started his own illicit pharmacy. He had an endless supply of prescription narcotics, uppers, downers, whatever his customers wanted. He also had a connection with someone who got him heroin and medical grade cocaine. I’d been a customer of Bob’s for over five years. He was my best friend.
I strolled down the street, walking the short distance to his house. The day was beautiful. Austin in the springtime was heaven. The temperature was perfect. The cold of winter had melted away. The scorching, blistering heat of summer was still a couple of months down the road. As I walked, the sun peeked between the giant oak trees hanging over the road leading me down a dappled path of light and shadow. The slight breeze caressed my arms with a lover’s touch. Children in the distance squealed their delight in being released from school. The Mountain Laurel growing in front of Mr. Baker’s house was blooming. The large purple blossoms seduced the bees with their sweet smell. I breathed in the fragrant air, tasting the nectar held within it.
This part of town, affectionately known by its zip code 78704, had grown up haphazardly over the years. Austin, renowned for being a liberal oasis in a sea of conservatism, had always attracted oddballs who congregated in this one small part of town. Refugees from the 60s, pierced and tattooed rockers, out and proud queers, radical activists of all stripes, struggling musicians and artists, strung out drug addicts, pagans, and nudists all managed to make their way here, knowing they would be accepted.
However, in recent years, a decidedly unsettling trend had begun. Since the denizens of this quirky part of town operated mostly on the fringes of society, money was scarce. As a result, property values were low. Those with means were finding it profitable to buy up old homes in the area and then resell them at much higher prices to those less tolerant of the oddballs. The landscape was in the infant stages of change. A house here, another one there broke the pattern, barely noticeable, but nonetheless inevitable. The trickle of upper middle class would eventually become a flood washing away the undesirables like dirt on the sidewalk.
Bob’s house was an old rock cottage. The front yard was tightly packed dirt sprinkled with old, antique washing machines. He had purposefully dug up all the grass, explaining to the curious that the dirt was easier to maintain. The washing machines were his idea of yard art. There were at least ten of them sagging uselessly under the trees. Their white enamel was chipped and their hand cranked rollers were rusted in place. The ghosts of women long dead hovered near these once state of the art labor saving devices. What items that we just can’t live without now will someday become useless yard art?
On his front porch were no fewer than twenty wind chimes. The varying tones of glass and metal bouncing off each other reverberated around his small porch. With the slight breeze, the sound was pleasing. I had been here when the wind was whipping ferociously, and it was an ear splitting cacophony. Covering his front door was an old dingy army blanket, the olive green long since faded to lime. Spray painted on it in iridescent blue was a giant peace symbol with a marijuana leaf in the middle. This was the only thing Bob maintained on the outside of his house. Every Sunday morning, paint can in hand, Bob could be found worshipping at the altar of peace and pot.
I knocked on the door twice, paused, and then knocked three more times. It was the code he insisted upon. Why he thought any DEA agent would not notice if they sat and watched long enough was a mystery to me. The years of sampling his product had left him paranoid and a little tetched. To quote Hank Hill, “That boy’s not quite right.” I giggled at my own little joke.
Bob poked his head through the heavy blinds. When he saw me, he nodded and disappeared. A few seconds later, three deadbolts were released and the door swung open. The smell of rosemary wafted through the door and wrapped me in its earthy embrace. To say Bob had a few pots of rosemary bushes in his house would be an understatement. He said the fragrance helped him think.
“Well, hey Jordan. How are ya today?” He held the door open for me. Once I was inside, he took a hurried look at the street and quickly shut the door. He replaced all three deadbolts.
“I’m doing great, Bob. Can’t complain. You?”
“I got some new oil paints. Wanna see my latest piece?”
“I’d love to.”
Bob clapped his hands with glee and turned to lead me into his studio. I had already known he’d been painting again because there were red streaks in his scraggly beard. With his long shaggy hair and ZZ Top beard, Bob looked like a stereotypical hermit. He never wore anything but old brown shorts even when it was freezing cold. His chest was concave as if someone had once hit him very hard and the ribs never recovered their shape. His arms and leg were skinny and slightly too long for his body. He reminded me of those freaky creatures from Labyrinth who could take their heads off. I lived in fear that one day he would take his head off and hand it to me. I probably shouldn’t have watched that movie while dropping acid.
The inside of Bob’s house was protected with thick blinds, and it always reminded me of a cave. From the front door, it was a straight shot from the living room, through the dining room, into the kitchen, and then a left turn into his studio. It would have been a large and roomy house if not for the piles of crap in almost every available space. Bob was a notorious pack rat. What he collected, I had no idea. Maybe the better question was: What did he throw away? The path to his studio was lined with drooping and musty cardboard boxes. Underneath the pervasive rosemary smell was a secretive and slightly rotten smell, as if the boxes were putrefying from the inside out. The greasy stains on some of them indicated the creep of decay.
Bob’s studio was no exception to the rest of his cluttered house. The small room was filled with canvases in varying states of completion. His love of bold, bright colors was evident in the splashes of fuchsia, hot pink, magenta, and dark red covering the canvases. The slightly petroleum odor of the paints mingled with the musky smell of Bob infiltrated the room. The rosemary smell stood outside the door feebly beating against the potent concoction.
“What do you think?” He pointed to a canvas containing one handprint of bright red paint floating in a sea of white nothingness. “I call it Cave Dweller.”
I turned my head to the side hoping it would look better from an angle. Nope, didn’t help at all. It reminded me of a refrigerator drawing. “It looks great, Bob. Very...bold. Look, you can see the lines in your palm.” I leaned forward and drew my finger across his life line. He shuddered as if I had touched his hand and not the blood red replica.
“Thank you.” He seemed suddenly uncomfortable and fidgeted with his shorts. “Well, let’s get to why you’re here.”
He abruptly turned and walked through the adjacent bathroom. He opened the door to the other bedroom. This was his store, as he called it. Bob had coated the windows in this room with tinfoil giving it the feeling of eternal darkness. The fluorescent light hummed as he turned it on, illuminating the space in an unnatural white light. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with quilts. He said it kept the outside vibrations from reaching his stock. I hadn’t bothered to ask what vibrations he was speaking of or what harm they might cause. As long as he had what I needed, I honestly didn’t care.
Completely obscuring one wall was a mammoth printer’s cabinet. The antique was made from oak with a beautiful sheen. This piece had been loved by its previous owner. The whole thing was easily seven feet tall and five feet across. The cabinet doors in the upper half opened up to reveal several storage shelves. These were filled with dark orange pill bottles obsessively organized by size. The lower half consisted of a dozen or more drawers that were long and wide but only about two inches deep. When the cabinet was still being used as intended, the printer stored his metal letters and symbols in these drawers. Now each drawer was filled with pills and powders. These were also obsessively organized according to type of substance.
The first drawer held narcotic pain pills: Vicodin, Norco, Oxycontin, Morphine, Percocet, Codeine. The little pills were all lined up like candy just aching to be eaten. The next drawer down held uppers, the next downers, and so forth. The bottom drawer was my favorite. This drawer was slightly taller than the others and the segments inside had lids. This was where he kept the jet fuel. One boxed segment held cocaine, while another held methamphetamine. The one that brightened my day, however, was the heroin. Bob had the best heroin. Most heroin available on the streets was cut with all kinds of garbage. You never really knew if you were going to get good shit or crap. Street junkies scored mostly crap. When a purer batch started making the rounds, we could always tell at work because we suddenly started getting heroin overdoses all over the place. I had taken a risk using Natalie’s stuff but how could I possibly pass up a free flight? I had no idea where Bob got his shit, and I didn’t care. The important thing was that he had it, and I could buy it.
Without even asking what I wanted, Bob began gathering up my order. He had known me long enough to know my requirements. He filled orange pill bottles with narcotics and uppers. I didn’t do downers. I didn’t have any trouble getting down; it was the getting up that caused me problems. He filled two more bottles with heroin, added some fresh needles and put it all in a paper bag. Bob was a one stop shop. He rolled the paper bag up and then placed it inside a plastic grocery bag. He said people looked less suspicious carrying grocery bags. He handed over my goodies, and I gave him a wad of cash. No fuss, no muss, no fear of being shot by some crazed gangbanger. I thanked the gods, as usual, for placing me in Bob’s capable hands.
“You’ll be flying high tonight!” He exclaimed happily. His eyes lit up and his face split into a grin. Although it was hard to tell he was grinning with all that hair on his face. I never had the urge to groom a man, but Bob was my one exception. After all these years, I still had no idea what he looked like under all that fuzz.
“Actually I will, but for another reason entirely. I have a date.” I laughed when his jaw dropped in surprise.
“The Ice Queen herself has a date? She must be something for you to ask her out.” He knew my history with Tricia and how badly that had damaged me. Hell, he let me fly at his house more than once, knowing the effort to make it home was just too much for me while grounded.
“I’ll have you know she asked me,” I quipped with mock outrage. “I am still capable of turning heads, ya know.”
“Yeah I’ve noticed. It’s just good to see you realizing that too. This is the first date I’ve heard of in two years. Ever since…. Well, you know.”
“You just don’t do it for me anymore, Jordan.”
“Ever since Hurricane Tricia? Yeah, it is the first. I guess maybe it’s time. I’ve been on my own for a while now. She’s awfully cute too.” I almost tittered like a schoolgirl but stopped the offending sound before it could pass my lips. Next thing I knew I’d be squealing.
We said our goodbyes as he followed me to the front door. As soon as my butt passed the threshold, he shut the door, and I heard the deadbolts sliding into place. He was once again sealed securely inside his cave.
After returning to my house, I began the process of getting myself ready for my date. I still had three hours, but I would never every minute of them. I realized something was wrong after I stood in my closet for twenty minutes trying to decide which shirt would go with her eyes. What the hell was happening to me? It was just a date, for gods’ sake. I couldn’t identify what I was feeling, which was not unusual. Any feeling other than fear or anger was alien to me; I had no idea what it was. It didn’t really matter, though, since a feeling I did understand was just a pill, snort, or shot away. I dug into the bag Bob had given me and pulled out some peace of mind. I desperately needed to calm down.
By the time I was satisfied with my fashion choices, the bed was covered with clothes. It had been a long time since I’d had to decide what to wear. The biggest decision I made about work attire was which undershirt to put on. Most of my clothing had been too big for me when I’d tried it on. I had lost weight since the last time I purchased anything new. I would rather have stuck a knife in my eye than go shopping. Tricia bought all my clothes and, after she left, I just didn’t care anymore.
I looked myself over in the mirror. Not bad. My hair was draped across my shoulders. It had a natural wave to it and the ends blended into tiny little Shirley Temple curls. The black slacks hung a little too loosely off my hips, but it was nothing a belt wouldn’t fix. The black linen shirt was a little too big for me as well, but its long sleeves hid the newest needle marks on my arm. I generally liked to use veins that were more easily hidden, but I had been lazy the last couple of times. Hell, it had been a long time since anyone had seen me in anything but a uniform shirt. Bob was the only one I saw when I wasn’t at work.
The pills I took when I started dressing had kicked in awhile ago, and I felt fine. The confidence they afforded surrounded me in a shroud of self-assuredness. I was Casanova with tits. I could charm the habit off a nun. Gods, I loved this feeling! This was going to be a great night!
The doorbell rang. I looked at my bedside clock. She was right on time. My gaze slid over my clothing one last time making sure everything was in place before I headed into the living room. This was going to be fun!