By Garth Miró
My coke dealer refuses to sell me heroin (dealers seem to think there’s some moral line in the sand, that if they cross they’ll vaporize), and Dilaudid might as well be plutonium the way doctors clam up when you fake sciatica these days, so sometimes, I am forced to resort to drinking buckets of what they, the desperate, call “poppy seed tea.” This diabolical mixture consists of about a pound and a half of unwashed poppy seeds, which can be purchased at any Middle Eastern grocery store, five cups of warm water, and three good squirts of lemon juice from one of those the little plastic lemon things. That’s it.
I make mine in an emptied milk jug that I shake for five or ten minutes before straining the murky brown liquid through an old T-shirt. Think mop water. Or aspirin juice with a finishing note of dust. I drink this. I wait to see if it’s strong enough, or too strong, and correct the ratio. Usually then I drink a hell-of-a-lot more until I’m sufficiently high. It comes on slow like Codiene, but in the end I’ll get those good throbs of amber gel. People die because it’s impossible to know what dosage you’re actually drinking, but that’s rare. It’s cheap, and minus the arduous preparation, a pretty good substitute if you’re in a pinch. That would be, if it weren’t for the constipation. The unholy, science fiction type constipation that forces anyone unlucky enough to experience it to make all sorts of unwinnable deals with God. I can’t prove it, but as a junkie fatalist, I believe this path has always been my only one. It’s been two days since I’ve drank the tea and I’m really fuckin’ here now.
“That will be $20.53,” the beautiful, young cashier says. I look directly into her big lake-green eyes because cowering when you’re buying enemas and Dulcolax only hurts you more in the long run. I don’t want to forget this embarrassment. It’s good to permanently sear into my brain all the horror that comes with my little hobby when, inevitably, I am weighing the pros and cons, after deciding to do it one last time, for sure this time, again.
Outside in the parking lot, some kids are trying to look tough and old and not pulling off either. They’re kicking a can around waiting for somebody to come along. “Hey, man! Man! Can we ask you something?” one of them asks when he sees me. He’s got a big head and on it he’s wearing blue hat with the slogan Straight A’s: All About Ass.
“No,” I say clutching my bag of shame.
“Aw, c’mon.” He steps in front of me, blocking my way. His hands go up like he’s calming a spooked Clydesdale. “Quickly. You’re like, the only person we’ve seen come out today. Please? We just need beer.”
Another one is blocking me now. One of Big Head’s friends chimes in and says, “We have all the money.” With each word his Adam’s apple jumps like a small creature trying to burst through his throat.
“Quickly,” I say.
“Yea, we said quickly,” Big Head says.
“But I get three cans,” I renegotiate. “That’s my service fee.”
“Fine,” Big Head says handing me a wad of ones and fives, sending me back inside the cool fluorescent bug zapper.
When I come back out with the beer I look up and see the sun hanging low and red. The kids are gone. Fine with me. The problem now is—I want to say I can’t believe it, but as a fatalist I have to accept all things hurling in my direction—I see my ex-girlfriend pulling into the lot. Right next to my Taurus.
I duck down behind a lifted Jeep. Have I been spotted? I think to myself. As she always used to, she takes forever getting out of her car. I start to sweat. I have one option here as grown man hiding beside a muddy tire under the angry red sun. I turn and take staccato steps, hunching over my bag and the beers like a leprechaun protecting gold. For the third time today, I am forced back inside CVS.
I decide it’s easiest to hide in the candy isle. Being a health freak, my ex will likely steer clear of such pornographic territory. I’ll be safe browsing a while. I get there and scan boxes of green gelatinous smiley faces, bars of milk chocolate pumped full of everything—nuts, caramel, toothpaste?—imaginable, cardboard tubes of neon pixie dust, and plastic bags with hard candies wrapped up in more plastic as if the packaging cabal isn’t even trying to hide their scam anymore.
After thirty minutes or so, I figure it’s safe. I pick up a movie theater box of Snow Caps and head to the register.
“$2.57,” the beautiful cashier says not seeming to notice I’m back again, for a third time.
“I, uh, just forgot to get these before,” I confess feeling awkward she might be purposely ignoring this strangeness for my own sake, worried this here porcelain man might crack with the slightest disapproving glance. “I’m not a freak or anything.”
Her face is vacant. “Huh?” She hands me my candy and receipt. Am I that forgettable?
I point my thumb over my shoulder to the past. “I bought a bunch of stuff just earlier? When I was in here.”
Her face seems puzzled, so I, constipated, underage-supplying, girlfriend-ducking, porcelain man just drop it, pay, and walk back outside.
A breath of pure relief leaves me when I find my ex-girlfriend’s car is gone. I get in my silver fish-like Taurus and start to leave the parking lot. But wait. What is this? Two cops come screaming in from nowhere and block the only exit with their cruisers.
I roll up to them. A big fucker gets out of his car and waves me closer. When I get there, he rests one arm against my roof, sort of hangs there studying the inside of my car which points to only one sort of miserable lifestyle. I hear my shocks tremble under his weight and I can feel him looking and I shrink a bit
Hocking up a loogie, he swallows it before addressing me. “Sorry, but we have to block this road here. Can’t have anybody on Anderson Avenue for a little while—no one’s going in or out.”
I try to look as concerned as possible, while also not revealing the easily identifiable terror on my face that says: holy shit my shit is killing me. “Is something happening?” I ask.
No further explanation will be given to a civilian. Instead, he directs me to return my car to the lot and “just wait for now.” I do as he says. I’m parked and CVS looms above, again.
Leaning forward, I crane my neck and look out my front window. The the sun seems to not have moved an inch. It hangs there angry-red like a diode fixed on an enormous pale circuit board. A bit of fear rumbles in my intestines. For some reason, I can’t seem to get out of here. To distract myself from the possibility I might have entered into a very unique hell, I decide to go back into the store. This time, I take off my blue button up shirt and walk in just wearing my white undershirt. A lousy disguise, but it’s something.
I go straight to the greeting card aisle. A garish wall of hard yellow and blue and red slowly descends into tranquilizing pastels. From divorce to graduation, cards have gotten strange. They’re almost speaking to me. No, that’s crazy, I tell myself. I pick up one with a Toucan smoking a cigar. You haven’t aged a second, it says on the front in big bubble letters. I pick up another. Forever young. Another. I love you so much and you’re not going anywhere. Together forever. Never leave. Forever. Enough cards for one day.
Now staring at a product called “hair milk”, my heartbeat is in my ears. I got shit in the ears. It’s all I can hear and it sounds like Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again played through a wet trash bag. I don’t know how long a person can go without relief, but I feel like I’m at the limit. I imagine taking a shower curtain off the shelf and making a private little triage unit. A pod where I can take my time and try that one thing I heard called “digital removal.” No, that’s crazy too. I just have to get out of here. Maybe the cops are gone.
I keep peeking my head out the automatic door. To my despair, the cops seem to be taking their time. What scares me even more though—now that I’ve likely been here for three good hours—is that the sun is still not dropping. Not even an inch. A great, never-resting eye is watching me like it’s been pumped full of amphetamine.
Once the cops finally leave, I make a break for it, but then, a water main bursts. Then a fire truck comes to help a man who has a heart attack. Then a bum is peeing in the space between my car and the next. Then a shoplifter and an Elvis impersonator and so many other obstacles that I can’t even remember them all now.
I have been in this CVS and the surrounding parking lot for many years. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to leave.
Copyright 2020 Miró