by Samuel R. Buckley
Nick’s fists thump the counter: come on.
His teeth crush his lips: come on.
His eyes move from the lurid displays set about the windows and shelves to the forbidden library beyond the counter to the flickering LED displays of the tills: oh God, come on.
An intolerable restlessness rises up him like flames up a heretic, and a cold sweaty horror swirls across the floor, forces its way up his nose, crushes his sinuses, screams in the tiny space behind his eardrums: oh Jesus Christ please come on.
The pain starts to smoulder and glow. Under his skinit creeps, making itself known at last in his hysterical whispering: oh come on please. In the white light beyond the pharmacists, a thousand potions and powders sit.
Then at last at last his greedy hand closes over the packet. Oh God thank you. He knows that the lips are waiting, lips that never spurn the kiss, lips that suck and slurp and eat him up and tell him it isn’t over till it’s over, whatever it is – lips that bring a warmth, bring a kind of lessening; lips that want him and only him, and will not share him with anyone or anything.
The pills’ first kiss pitches him into an abyss of divine pleasure, flailing after some imagined grail.
But there is something else. Something he wasn’t prepared for.
Nick’s mother and grandmother are fussing over him.
‘Nick will marry Heather, won’t you Nick…Nicky?’
Nick shakes his head at them.
‘No! What do you mean no? You lurrrrve Heather.’
He shakes his head again.
‘It’s okay, Nicky,’ his mum says. ‘You can tell us…granny won’t say anything…aw, he’s still shaking his head look…Aw, bless… He lurrrves Heather! He lurrrves her!’
‘Oh now Celia,’ his gran says, ‘give the lad a break will you?’
‘Nicky Nicky Noo’s in lurrrrve.’
They go quiet, his mum and his gran, as Heather bounds in.
‘Nicky,’ Heather says, ‘you’re Shrek. That means you have to save the princess.’
His mum giggles and his gran shushes her.
‘Higher,’ Heather says, ‘higher, Nicky higher you wuss.’
She rises on the swing and it sings out an unoiled shriek, rises, falls, rises. The wind whistles through the trees and the traffic rumbles and above it all Heather’s cry is clear: ‘higher, higher, come on…!’
The earth oozes dampness, a deep soil-smell; Heather has wrecked her cardigan and muddied her tights and he has gotten his joggers all wet and muddy, and they are in for it from both their mums. Neither care.
‘What do you mean, you don’t carry it?’
His fingers tap at the dashboard, bass-heavy music drowning their voices. Outside, blue lights pulse and recede.
‘Mate, listen: I can get you stuff, real good stuff, but it’ll take time. My mate…’
‘I don’t want weed, Dev. I just want a pick-me-up. The stuff I’m talking about, it works for everything. You should look into it yourself to be honest…everyone should…’
‘M? Are you serious, mate? Jesus no. But if you want it that badly why don’t you just ring and say your back’s playing up again?’
‘They’ll just know.’
‘Know what, Nick? Look, calm down mate. You’re sweating everywhere.’
‘It’s hot. It’s June.’
They drive around, not going anywhere. The blinking movement of the hatchings is hypnotic, soporific – he wonders if he might fly into a trance, his tiredness as good as any narcotic, and just float away – float on the lips, the softly touching lips, the lips dancing upon his expectant mouth, upon his insides, spreading a fathomless warmth, lips smacking rhythmically upon his skin.
Dev pulls the car over, waits. The silent blue strobes of a cop car pass by and recede into the blackness.
Dev sighs: ‘Nick, mate, come to think of it I probably can get you some. Just to tide you over. It’s nasty stuff but it’ll keep you going, ok? Just because it’s you and you’re my mate. I know a guy who carries it sometimes. Works at the pharmacy.’
He shakes his head and puts the car back into gear.
‘I shouldn’t,’ he says. ‘I shouldn’t, Nick.’
Nick takes the nineteenth and twentieth pills of the day some of the last left in the pack; Dev shakes his head.
‘This is bad, mate,’ Dev says. ‘You need help.’
Then the lips kiss, the world starts to fuzz, and a coat of gold curls its way around him.
‘It’s good,’ Nick says.
‘You mate are actually crazy,’ someone says to Nick.
‘Listen to him Hazza. Nick tell him what you told me. Hazza we got somma Dev’s stuff and he’s cooked.’
Hazza gazes, nodding with approval.
‘Haha, Jamie mate, I swear it looks like you’ve rubbed soap in his eyes, he’s that baked.’
‘He is trippin, man.’
Hazza puts on a voice before requesting the smouldering stub: ‘Nicholas I am shocked and appalled at you sir, and you, James, corrupting him like this. Spoiling the innocents.’
Jamie just says: ‘He is teh-rippin, mate.’
Hazza: ‘A man in the public service. Tut-tut…’ and he shakes his head, laughs and draws deeply.
‘Teh- rippin he is Hazza mate. Didn’t I tell you Nick, much better than popping pills isn’t it lad? Nick. Nick matey. Nick.’
‘He is far from here Jimmy old boy. I think we’ve killed the poor lad…’
As, in the blueness of the pre-dawn, the milkfloat comes whining up the suburban roads, they sit and smoke and devise plans for the running of the world come Monday morning.
He starts the day with the last two doses on his prescription. As he heads to work the pills dissolve and bliss fills him; there is no reversal, no true reversal; there is pattern and patterns need neither reverse nor alter at all…he is crystallised, suspended; even as he minces through the boiling streets, head filled with the smells of meats hanging under the awnings of artisan butchers’ stalls, of dubious cheeses, the rank salt of drying fish, clogged drains, bodies, stale booze.
But again, something unexpected—someone unexpected—strolls into his buzz.
Here, in The Spinney, the houses obscured by trees, there is no time to Heather and he, only a gentle changing of the light’s quality; when they sit upon a high bough, moss-covered and muddied, the passage of the seconds is marked only by birdsong and breath. Here, in the trees, here, upon the rolling hills that the suburbs gently eat, here, he is free: there is no time, only pattern.
‘Dare you to jump,’ she says.
‘Poof, are you actually scared of that drop?’
Her eyes, hazel and sun-crossed, fix him like they always do.
She’s right – why is he scared? He drinks a pint of milk a day, after all, for his bones and teeth…and it isn’t a long way down.
‘You’re scared,’ she says. ‘I can always tell when you are. Like when you wussed out of that rollercoaster at Alton Towers.’
Alright. He always eats greens, vitamin pills, and icky tonic his mum says is good for him.
So he jumps. Heather yells, and the true triumph in that wind-rushing moment is not the audacity of the leap but that Heather actually sounds a bit alarmed.
After landing and rolling, he plays a trick. He lies face down in the mud, pretending that the fall has seriously injured him. A mean thing to do, he know, but it gets Heather back for teasing him. Heather scrabbles over to him, yelling his name, along with numerous oaths. He makes sure that he stays perfectly still, even as she shakes him; she speaks the name of God, turns him over, and he laughs in her face.
‘Oh bloody hell Nick you bastard. That was well scary.’
‘You really scared me.’
This is the first and worst time he is ever punched—by a very angry Heather, in the nose, age twelve. Years later, he will still, when he wants to, push his nose so that it locks in a funny position. He will call it his Heather Nose.
Nick gives Heather a Pepsi later that day, after stuffing two tissues up his nostrils to stop his nose bleeding. The Pepsi secures peace between them, or at least a ceasefire. They high-tail it to one of the fields adjoining the spinney and lie there watching the day slide toward an ending. Heather cracks the can open and drinks. The light of the day fades, and the heat. She moves closer, so that her arm rests against his side.
Oh Heather. Why am I thinking about you now of all times?
A bottle of purple methadone solution is delivered to Nick’s house by a grinning Dev just before seven: the best fix they can get him.
‘Twenty quid, Dev? Are you kidding me?’
‘No I am not, and that’s mate’s rates. In fairness, most users are a lot more desperate than you.’
‘This stuff is dangerous, boss. Go easy.’
The door closes, leaving fading footsteps and silence. He holds, in the grubby, scratched bottle with a yellowed label, two hundred virtually unadulterated millilitres of liquid strong enough to stun an elephant, or at least an elephant of a man. It’d kill a mouse of a man.
What about just a man?
Plain bottle. Child-proof cap. Was this really the best they could do? At least it’ll last, he supposes, which is the point. And once it kicks in he won’t care what it is.
VI. Neither childhood nor adulthood
Nick is sick in an alleyway. Heather laughs nearby, leaning against a dumpster, before slowing, paling, and vomiting herself; she does not hold his thick mane of hair back, nor does he hold hers, elegant and nuanced of shade and full though it has become; he chooses, nobly as he can, instead to laugh back.
But then something strange happens. One lock of hair has slid into her mouth and he plucks it away, against her protestations, wiping her lips with a shred of Kleenex, and she does the same for him. Then they kiss. The incident is never spoken of again.
Afterwards, shrugging it off, she leads him through the night, teaching him things about clubs, taking him into loud, smoky rooms; blokes buy her drinks; they dance; she tells him off for things, nags, laughs, sings, grows angry, then sad, then happy again, then admonishes, then gushes secrets. They wander home, tired, hungry, grumpy; they eat kebabs. They hug before parting ways with more than a few backward looks. Then for both it is a short walk down ever-familiar streets to ever-familiar familial seats, semi-detached and safe, each to sleep and wake alone.
They are to go to university in a matter of days, her to Caius (—a woman at Caius, his dad exclaims), he to a modern, cutting edge place with a reputation so dire he blushes to speak its name, as does his father, grimacing in silent reproof.
On the way to work he begins to feel very ill.
He’s had too much. Simple as that. Methadone is meant to be a very strong one. A sip’s meant to be enough for three days: not ten gulps for the morning commute.
Oh, he’s messed this up badly.
Actually, he is starting to feel relief. The streets start to tilt. He thinks: this is rather lovely.
But then Heather’s glance flashes from every passer-by, and he hears her voice, and wants to talk back, and he thinks: Nick you fool. You’re going to die.
His options: hospital; activated charcoal; questions; counselling; naloxone.
He can fix it. He books a taxi to A&E, explains the situation. The taxi’ll be five minutes. How long until this dose really starts to affect him, before it puts him under? Will there be time?
He uses a payphone, one of the last in town, his mobile having died. He has change left over after calling the taxi and he knows the number of an honoured faculty-member at Caius off by heart.
‘Professor Heather Arder speaking. I don’t know how you got through but I’m on office hours so this had better be an academic query. Who is this?’
‘Heather,’ he says.
‘Professor Arder, please. Can I help you?’
‘Heather it’s me. It’s Nick.’
About the Author:
Samuel R. Buckley is a writer based in London. He has been publishing stories since 2012, appearing in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Yellow Mama Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Brilliant Flash Fiction and the Scarlet Leaf Review, among others.