A Beautiful Death
“Is it going to hurt?”
The girl ignores the words, sizing up his veins.
“Why don’t you bang it?”
She pauses, whispers: “You know why.”
She settles on the right arm. A word streams through her mind: Perfect. She belts him, his anticipation a moist shiver against her latex fingertips.
“But what about—”
A ribbon of blood.
Quickly now. Quickly now.
The boy gasps. His eyes flutter. His question suffocates on lips fading blue.
She answers anyway, a savageness in her voice. “’Cause I gotta’ stay awake, boy.”
She holds him gently for a moment, then drops him to the couch. She’s nauseated, shaking. She turns away, but his face echoes in her thoughts: a beautiful boy, a beautiful life. She snorts a tiny line off a filthy ceramic plate on a filthy glass table, unconsumed pills vibrating lightly across the plate as their pulverized brethren inject themselves into mucosal membranes. A deep, soul-wrenching sigh drips out of her throat.
Ok, let’s go.
She begins with electronics. He has several TVs, three gaming systems, a MacBook.
Her backseat full, tiny traces of the boy’s blood still drying on her gloves, she returns to the apartment to check his breathing.
Slow, but there.
The Oxy crystallizes deep in her skull, thoughts sharpening, focusing:
The closet next.
A shoebox stuffed with brick weed, childish words scrawled across the lid: “Tylers STASH hand offff!!!”
A tiny strongbox, locked.
The boy’s pocket produces a key. The box produces cash.
Bobby would be disgusted with me.
One last sniff off the plate before she dumps the remaining pills in her purse.
A glance at the kid.
His face is peaceful, the pale blue of a ten-milligram Valium. All the pressure of college smoothed away by opiate bliss, lungs relieved of their eternal labor. He is nothing now, a tiny body deflated on the couch, a mannequin in a glass display case, thin, thin, thin, a webbing of blue veins against a patchwork of muscles and trust.
Weak. He’s always been so weak.
She dials 911 on his phone, dots of blood framing the numbers.
“1403 Apple Lane. OxyContin overdose.” She runs.
Powder-blue gloves fly out her window.
Then the shaking starts.
Silent tears shed shame. She passes one of the thousand churches in the grotesque Midwest city, cicadas screaming lazily in the heat. The marquee doles out admonishment for all passersby:
“For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
She glares upward. She prays: Screw you, God.
“Hello!” The woman is a beam of plastic shining down on the girl.
“Come on back!”
The girl follows the woman. They enter an office.
They always have an office. They always think they’re so.
The woman sits behind a desk, but her smile has slipped away. Visibly, she remembers her smile, retrieves it from her purse, places it lovingly on her face.
“Please, have a seat.”
The girl sits, a constriction growing in her throat, a cancer, a need.
The girl speaks:
“Let’s get this over with.”
The woman’s smile freezes.
“Yes. No need for this to be … unpleasant.”
The girl almost laughs. Restrains herself. Laughs anyway. Once. The tears are close. Insanity closer. The laugh defeats them both.
When the woman speaks, her teeth dazzle. “Sooo, we’ve had—behavioral—reports. Ummm-ahhhh-hmmm.” The woman’s hands work, twist, contort.
Jesus, she’s never done this before, has she?
“But!” The woman’s confidence seems to return. “That’s not the main reason we’re here, is it?”
They always smile.
Like a dog.
“Your grades have not met the requirements of your academic probation.” A shuffle of papers. “And, as this is your second probation –”
“Look, are you kicking me out, or what?” Lightning twitches through the girl’s legs, her arms, her bones. She feels it spark across her synapses. The sweats are coming powerful, and in a few hours, muscle weakness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.
A line before bed, a full night’s sleep, and then straight here.
The woman’s plastic smile widens, punctured by sweat. “You seem nervous-s-s.” The final S hisses, slithers off her tongue.
What the hell, lady? “Of course I’m nervous. You’re about to kick me out of goddamn college.”
The woman’s smile shatters. She glances impulsively at a small cross nailed to the wall, back to the girl. “There’s no need to cuss. Yes, you’re right—you’ve been … removed … from the university.” She pauses, sighs, empty of false empathy. “Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait two full semesters to return.”
But the girl has left, a rancid sweat stain the only proof she was ever there. The woman sighs again.
Makes a note.
Sends an email.
Collapses a future.
The girl oozes down a sidewalk towards the university parking lot, dark constructs in her mind raging against the noonday sun. She crafts lies now, carefully, subtly. They mesh with the constructs, merge into truths, meld with her past, internalize.
The tears flow freely.
The need overwhelms.
A call must be made.
But first, the lies.
I haven’t been kicked out. It’s my last semester. Just finishing up my classes, Mom.
She mutters, a mantra, “Just one more semester, Mom. Just one more semester, Mom. I just need a little taste, Mom.”
The dealer’s face is granite.
“Are they at least brand name?” A glare. “Come on, Jim.” Her fingers trace collapsed veins on his fleshless hand. “You know I can’t afford—”
“You better afford it.” Snatches away hand. His face ice, obsidian. “I’m sicka’ your shit, and no more trades. I’m not gettin’ busted for an old MacBook. You pay, like everyone else.”
She digs deep.
Finds an approximation of an emotion.
His face is iron, steel.
“You used to do fifteen, Jim, you used to—”
She chokes on the words. His rage cracks. Shards of titanium.
“Ok, ok, ok, thirty-thirty-thirty, please, Jim, please, I’ll buy twenty of ’em, just, please-Please-PLEASE Jim, JIM, I can’t get sick, Jim, I can’t, I can’t get sick, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”
“Fine!” A bark, a roar, “Fine, Jesus.” He counts.
Her desperation turns to butterflies of anticipation, like the moment before the boy picks you up for prom.
Before he sees your makeup.
Before he judges you.
I was high at my prom.
He mutters: “He’d kill me, you know.”
The butterflies burst into flames. The words flow around her mind, through her soul, and when they pass, they leave behind nothing.
An emptiness where something once was.
An emptiness where something can no longer be.
He softens. He chuckles. He remembers. “He always said—”
A glance, shared. A memory, suppressed. A knife, twisted. Her facial muscles slack, her eyes matte.
He nods, understanding seeping through cracks. “Sorry, I … sorry. Have an extra, on the house.”
Desperate need returns life. Her hands sweat as they gather pills. She pushes a damp stack of cash his way. She would never ask, but she has to check. Her withered fingers shudder across tiny outlines, tracing minuscule letters on the surface of the pills:
She takes the first deep breath she’s had in hours.
Brand name. Thank you, God!
A knot releases.
An incantation begins in her head.
Hurry, hurry, hurry!
’Bout to be sick!
Hurry, hurry, hurry!
’Bout to be sick!
“Can I get high here?”
“Sure, sure, sure.”
The pills plink on the glass table. One. Two. Three. Four.
“Wait … damn. You’re doin’ four now?”
“Right. Do what you gotta’ do.”
Don’t watch, Bobby.
A sniff, and oblivion.
The girl stares into the fabric of the couch. The pattern holds another, deeper pattern, if only she could discover it. The woman in the chair across from her continues to stare.
The woman bends, breaks.
“This will be pretty boring if you never speak, you know?”
The girl ignores the words. Her attention has moved to her cuticles.
Pick. Pick. Pick.
The skin comes off in flakes, littering fabric worn flat by decades of uncomfortable conversations.
“You’re not required to come here anymore, though your insurance – your parents’ insurance – will cover at least a dozen additional sessions.”
The girl’s hands flicker to her hair, fidgeting, adjusting, pulling. A tiny rope of strands makes its way to her mouth. Neither speak.
Too quiet, too quiet, too quiet.
The woman shuffles papers, writes a note, two, three. She sighs, then looks at the girl. The girl does not look back.
“Do you want to talk about –”
The girl freezes, a pale film enveloping her emotions.
“That’s okay, that’s okay. We don’t have to talk about … that.”
They are mirrors of each other. Opposite hands reach for opposite strands. Opposite calves cross opposite halves.
Their thoughts sputter.
“Do you want to talk about the drugs?”
The girl smiles, grinds her teeth.
Grit on metal on rock on need.
“I couldn’t come here without getting high. I …”
The woman lifts an eyebrow, clenches her pen, her jaw.
“I … I can’t really do much without pills, ya know?”
The woman has not moved. Warily, delicately, the woman speaks.
“Do you think,” carefully, carefully, “they’re a problem?”
The girl sniffs, hard. Bitter particles explode in the back of her throat. Her body shivers.
“No. They’re not a problem. They’re the opposite of a problem.”
Thinking hard now.
“They make everything okay. Well, not okay. Nothing is okay. They make everything …”
She trails off.
A silence is conceived, grows, lives, dies.
The woman is a rock, a stone, eyes downcast.
“They make everything … blank. Empty. They let me … forget? No. I can never forget. They let me …” The girl sighs. Her soul crushes her lungs. “They let me not be ME.”
The woman nods, a thousand notes pouring from her pen.
“And I don’t want to be me.”
The woman opens her mouth, but she is too late.
The girl has left.
The woman shakes her head. Mutters.
“She’s not ready.”
“She’ll be back.”
A tone resounds through the barren apartment, a phone chirping for attention. The girl ignores it before the compulsion grabs, shakes, breaks.
It’ll be different this time.
No, it won’t.
A filthy mattress draws the eye from the emptiness, an apartment desperate for a tenant, not a ghost. The girl perches on shredded sheets, host to a menagerie of dried body fluids. Grease and cigarette burns cover the thing, perhaps her only true possession.
Her digital leash calls to her again. Her hand snakes into a purse, retrieves. The girl’s digits dance, muscle memory guiding fingertips across a filthy touchscreen, contracting an invisible sheen of MRSA.
A gift for the future.
The phone lights up. A blue icon with a pale F explodes across the screen, reflects against twin pinpoints nested in irises of gray.
She enters an email, never checked.
A password, never forgotten.
And in her vision, a number in red.
A waterfall of messages. They spill across the screen.
“Hey you got n e –”
“How much 4 –”
“I just need –”
“Hey its dereckk can i get –”
“Eyy i cant get ahold of –”
“Do you know where I can find–”
“Hey you ;-)”
“Hey r u still –”
“Hey I met u at that party???”
“U think u cld hook me up –”
She pauses. Taps. Reads.
“Hey babe. Look. I know it’s been a while, and I’m sorry I disappeared like that.”
Bastard … he always thought you were an idiot.
“I couldn’t do it anymore. I really didn’t know how into drugs you were, I guess. I didn’t think they’d grab me like that. We were both just so SICK, but I’m so PROUD of you for getting clean! I just was thinking –”
She stops reading. Moisture dots the screen.
Disgusting. I’m so damn weak sometimes.
A swipe. A deletion.
The feed feeds her emptiness, endless posts flowing across tempered glass.
Nonsense to swipe the pain away.
“OMG i cant beLIVE we r havin another bby!!!!!!!”
And you can’t even send me a text? I hope you get fat.
“Oboma AKA OSAMA is a crook!!?! Your stupid if u think—”
Swipe. Swipe. Swipe.
God I hate people. Why the hell did I get on here?
She scrolls once, twice, thrice. A post catches her eye:
“Tyler, I cant belive we lost u so soon. My little angle, u wer my wrld, my–”
She reads closer, her throat a collapsing star.
“My son left us only a few days ago bcause of that DEMON they call OXYCOTTON!!!!! IF UR KIDS R ON IT GET THEM 2 REHAB NOW!!!!! I WOULD DO ANYTHING 2 GO BACK AND TAKE TYLER 2 REHAB I DIDNT EVEN KNOW HE WUZ ON DRUGS!!!!!! HE WUZ INJECTING THEM –"
No, no, no, no, no.
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!
The girl screams.
The phone flies.
The screen cracks.
Her fingers freeze.
An image rises in her mind – a boy on a couch, emaciated, lips a brilliant blue.
She gasps, but breath does not come.
She reaches for her secret, a tiny box of escape, hidden just beneath the decaying mattress.
And then, the vision bursts – an iron curtain crashes down between her and the pain, protecting her, saving her.
I’m sorry Tyler, I’m sorry.
Blackness takes her. The pain dances away, smiling, laughing, whispering, beckoning.
It knows the truth.
She’ll be back.
Sitting quietly in the pew next to her mother, the girl waits for the service to start. She sniffs, Oxy grains etching calm into the back of her throat, microscopic lacerations of future cancer.
“A cold, dear?”
Her mother’s voice seeps with superiority, the gloating of the damned.
“The pastor’s about to speak, Mom.”
God, what’s her problem?
The girl’s mother presses: “Strange time of year for a cold, dear.”
The girl glares.
Revenge precipitates in the girl’s mind.
“Your nose is running, mother,” the girl whispers. “It’s blue.”
A smile almost cracks through the Oxy as her mother twitches, furiously dabbing her nose with a tissue. The girl’s father joins them in the pew, smiling obliviously. Her mother’s tissue comes away colorless. Rage flows off the bloated woman in waves.
Then, the pastor speaks, and they pretend to listen, pretend to care.
“We are – all of us – sinners.”
Nods. An amen. Her mother glares. Her father’s head bobs, a serene, stupid smile on his face. The girl ignores her parents, picking at her cuticle so she doesn’t pick her face. The pastor prattles on, a madness beginning to infect his words:
“But did He not also die for our sins? Have not some of us died-ah? While still in sin-ah?”
Her mother begins to cry. Her father comforts, a blankness rushing across his face. The amens gather momentum, a collective yearning for penitence burning through the congregation. The pastor is a conjuror at the precipice of a spiraling abyss, whipping the winds of shame in ever-tighter circles.
“But, even though we sin-ah, we should not give up on ourselves-ah!”
Her father nods, faith and regret warring. He whispers a mantra. “It was God’s Will. It was God’s Will. It was God’s Will.”
Her mother’s tears flow over God’s Will, dissolving, erasing.
Only pain remains.
The Oxy peaks. The girl floats above her body, detached.
An emotion knocks politely on the drug. The girl considers it, lets it in. She observes as her own finger pokes her mother.
“What?” Her mother’s words are needles. Quiet, angry, bitter.
The girl’s hand slips into her mother’s. A tiny tablet changes ownership, then tumbles from her mother’s Botox-smoothed palm to her collagen-infused lips. A peace offering, ingested without thought.
The girl whispers to her mother:
“It helps me forget … him.”
Her father looks, but does not see. Hears, but does not listen. Knows, but does not acknowledge.
Understands the need.
Despises the method.
Her mother whispers back. “What is it?”
“The same one I gave you last time.”
Her mother’s tears begin to clear, the body drying in visceral anticipation. A smile slinks across the woman’s mask of a face.
She hugs the girl close, crushing them both in the small space of the pew.
“I love you, honey.”
“We should not give up on ourselves-ah, for did not God say, ‘I know the plans I have for you-ah! Plans-ah, to PROSPER-AH!’”
Her father leans forward, mesmerized. He’ll soon be on his feet, his spirit flailing through his hands, his sad, sick, spiritual madness covering a sadder, sicker, spiritual wound.
The girl can’t take any more.
The Oxy says she doesn’t have to.
“I’ll be right back.”
Her mother floats in a dream.
They are both free from the pain.
The girl leaves this place of God, full for others, empty for her. She enters a car covered in rust and duct tape. She cries quietly as she drives, crushing pills on a CD case, blowing lines between turns through the brown and grey streets of the cold city.
A cooling blankness settles over her, a soft snow, quieting and enveloping. A buffer of nothingness against the dark.
But it does not last.
An image of a young man in camouflage rises through the black, bursts into her consciousness, scattering the snow.
He screams in her head.
She screams in the emptiness.
Crystals crawl up her nose, through her bloodstream, and into her brainstem.
And the man sinks.
The girl enters the auditorium to a sea of stares. The professor stops speaking, watches her cross the room, hands on his hips.
“Good of you to join us this month, uh …” The professor’s quip dies in his throat as he stumbles over a name long forgotten.
She sits in a row of empty desks at the back of the academic cavern, aviators protecting pinpoint pupils from the glare of ancient fluorescence.
The professor’s teeth clack:
His hand shakes.
He returns to his scholarly duties.
The girl opens her bag, reaches for her book, and grasps only crumpled notes.
Oh yeah … got eighty bucks for it.
“Hey.” A boy scuttles over the seats, spider-like, thin limbs still unaccustomed to a body skeletonized by dope sickness.
Dereck. Another weak boy. All the way from high school.
He’s changed since then.
So much has changed since then …
He blathers: “Um. H-hey. Uh.”
Forgot my name?
She ignores him, savoring his discomfort.
“Uh, h-hey! I like y-your a-v-v-viators.”
She leans close.
Whispers: “Did you need something, Dereck?”
He nods, hands flexing, twitching. Miniscule white crystals hover at the edge of her nose. He licks his lips, dead eyes drilling into her nostril, searching for more. Her hand is a milk snake, slithering into his lap –he fills it with cash. It swallows the money, and eight tiny blue pills appear.
An explanation: “Those are Roxies. Instant release.” She watches his eyes die a little more. “They’re gonna’ hit you faster than name brand, so if you bang ’em –”
“I’m n-not stupid. I kn-know my t-t-tolerance.”
She lifts a single, deteriorated eyebrow.
He crumbles. “I’m s-sorry. I –”
She places her hand on his shoulder. His flinch causes the chair on which he perches to creak, drawing eyes in the crowded auditorium.
She does not care about the eyes.
A terror burns in the boy.
She speaks: “It’s okay. Shh, it’s okay. You can make it up to me. Just chop ’em up here and give me a taste.”
His neck cracks with the speed of his nod. “H-h-how m-much?”
She considers. “Half.”
Surprise oozes from his pores. “That’s … s-shit. That’s n-n-not t-too much?”
The professor lectures.
He sniffs less.
She savors the moment, gasps slightly, her lungs freezing.
He scuttles away, his stench lingering.
She begins to nod.
Her pain shudders.
The moment passes.
A lifetime passes.
She jerks awake.
The professor stands above her, the wrinkles of his face pointing down. The room is empty.
The professor’s voice is contempt made flesh: “I recognize you now. What are you doing here?”
Huh? “What do you mean? I’m in your cla –”
“No, no you’re not. You’ve been removed from the university. I’ve received several emails about –”
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” A burst, Oxy-induced anger coming strong.
This annoying, stupid bastard! My grades are fine! “They’re fine!”
“What? Look, you need to leave, you can’t be on camp –”
“You can leave, or I can call campus police. It’s your choice. You’re not in this class anymore.”
Several students bob at the door, discarded bottles at sea.
Their phones record.
The split in the girl’s mind widens, the lies solidifying to iron, to truth.
She stands, gathers her belongings, leaves.
“Don’t come to class next week!”
Whispers and titters fill her ears as she exits. The girl’s eyes are mortars. They sweep the huddled pile of fools. None can meet her gaze. They fragment, flowing back into the sea. She exits. The afternoon sun sears her skull. Her phone blazes with sound.
“Hey. Yeah, mom. Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Look, it’s all bullshit. Yeah. They’re lying to you, mom. No, I just left class! Yeah, exactly. I don’t know; that woman is an idiot. Of course I still need rent money! I make seven dollars –”
The girl fades from view.
The sun sets.
And nothing changes.
“I saaaaaaid, hey!”
The girl is nodding out at the grill, ever so slightly, the tiny bobs of her head and the flutters of her eyelids little waves of tranquility in an ocean of chaos. The tips of her hair are singed. Wisps of smoke twist towards the oven hood, smelling of hair and grease, filth and shame.
Her coworker is lard and laziness and hunger. When he speaks, an emptiness oozes from his guts.
“Hey!” She bursts awake, pupils cinders deep in angry sockets. “The boss called your name over the intercom, like, three times, man.” Twitching, scratching, aching, yearning. “Say, before you go up there, you got any … you know.”
She slaps the spatula into his hand, ignoring his greed, his need, to feed, to feed.
She jogs to the front.
I can’t lose another job. I need the money – I need the money – I need the money.
Two cops in human clothing stand, waiting, a man and a woman.
Her manager, a vat of oil wrapped in a person, waits with them.
The douche smiles.
When he speaks.
“These officers would like to speak with you.” Gloating.
They glare at his idiocy. They correct him: “Detectives.”
He shrivels, eyes darting.
Lies tumble through her skull.
“Come outside, ma’am.”
The snake stays, but she follows.
The Lord of Pizza and Nothing uncoils as she passes, gives her a gift, a whisper.
His dripping lips sputter.
The detectives pause. She races behind them. Their clothes are stained with sweat, the Midwest sun trying desperately to burn them all Burn them all. Burn Them All. BURN THEM ALL. “BUR – uh … what do you want?”
“Ma’am, I’m Detective Chavez – this is my partner, Detective Williams.”
The girl tenses. Her eyes begin to wobble slightly.
“Look, you’re not in trouble.” He glances at his partner, then to the ground, the girl’s face, the ground.
He mutters to the pavement.
“We’re doing things differently, now, I guess …” Stumbling, words tumbling, bumbling.
Williams fingers her hair, speaks.
“Ma’am, we’re not here to arrest you. We’re concerned for your safety. A boy was found dead, maybe a week ago.” Shit shit shit SHIT! “We know you were in contact with him, that you may have been doing drugs with him.” They know they know THEY KNOW! “Did you hear about what happened to Tyler?” Don’t say his name please please don’t say his NAME. “He died of an overdose. OxyContin. We found some text messages in his phone.” Oh God, God, GOD, save me. “We caught his dealer. And the guys who robbed him.” What? What-what-what? But it was me. I thought it was me. I thought …“They took everything, even his socks. Ma’am, ma’am, are you okay?” The girl is breathing heavily now, panic overwhelming the Oxy’s dampening effect on her lungs.
Chavez speaks: “Look lady –” I’m only nineteen Jesus how old how old how OLD was HE. “– we came to see if you need help. That kid was on some powerful drugs. We want them off the streets. We know you were getting high with Tyler—” Stop stop stop STOP! “Stop saying his name!”
She is screaming now, flailing, hands crushing ears into skull.
Tears flowing sickly.
Her breaths come in tattered waves. Her body is not her own.
The detectives look at each other as the girl fractures. Williams speaks:
“Did you know … uh … did you know your friend had—geez …”
A radio on Chavez’s belt screeches. He runs for the car. The girl sits down slowly, convulsively, gravity crushing her shoulders, legs limp.
Chavez yells. Robbery in progress. Williams hesitates, steps forward. “Ma’am, here’s my card. When you’re ready to get help, call me, okay?”
The girl does not move. The girl cannot move. Chavez is screaming.
“Shit …” Williams lays the card down next to the broken girl, turns to the car, leaves.
The girl is a red giant collapsing under its own gravity. Her manager watches from the window, laughing, oil leaping from his face, spattering the glass.
One thought streams continuously through the girl’s mind:
I need more. I need more. I need more. I need more. I NEED MORE.