A short story/vignette part of a longer thing. Written last year.
Tail end of the 70’s. They’re sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else. A ceiling fan purrs away, wafting smoke from myriad glowing dots of cigarettes to the walls that are stained in yellow grease in their top centimetres. All the parties were coming to an end. It was late Sunday afternoon but felt like morning. They’d only been up long enough to register their heavy heads and light a desperate gasper. A packet of redheads sat on the table around which they were arranged in various degrees of motleyness. John and Rod were wearing the same clothes as the night before; Clancy had woken up and changed immediately, before even lighting a cigarette.
The day outside was getting hot which would mean they would spend it all inside, hiding from their dehydration and comedowns. Roy boiled a kettle and placed it in the middle of them, “Coffee?” he asked. There were murmurs of ambiguous assent from the others. He pulled the coffee and a big tub of sugar out anyway and thumped them down. Everyone made exaggerated gestures at their heads.
“Fuckin mutts. Both of ye.”
They weren’t inclined to disagree.
The night had started 48 hours before at noon on an inconspicuous midday, when they all decided to use the last of the cocaine they had scored from the overturned police cruiser. John was in favour of getting rid of it, as was Clancy, the youngest. The kid barely blinked without putting something in his bloodstream. Only Rod wanted them to exercise prudence. He had sworn off the good times a million, but always capitulated to the scenes of revelry and excitation that other two painted bespoke for him with their hungry words. They were all safe, and all back together, which is all he asked to wash up on the shore after the foam of their self-destructive benders had abated. He habitually checked the corners of the room and the windows as if he expected someone to be standing there watching them, maybe with a secret pocket of cocaine to share.
They called Rod “The lightning Rod”. If you asked him why he’d say because he attracted drama that he never wanted or sought, and which always left him scarred and bereft of valuable time. He could sit in his room and be pulled by unsolicited adventures into the jaws of wide world, but all he actually wanted— calm, leisure, finality—was not on the playbill. The real reason the other guys gave him the name though was that he’d heat up to a life-loving, effervescent pitch after a few innocent bumps of cocaine, only to turn back into a miserable bore when he was coming-down or not on it. The Time magazine some snobby cocaine-curious guest had left on the small coffee table that was never used for stimulants as soft as coffee had an article in it about neurotics that John had read, and now John called Rod a ‘neurotic’ and thought he had him all worked out.
Clancy shrunk lower in his seat like a downtrend on a graph, and wheezed out of an unclean vocal passage. His eyes were rimmed in red like they were gyrating with his nieces cherry hula hoop.
The sat there chain-smoking out of boredom. Someone would go to say something, then would anticipate the gravelly response from his listeners, and instead just take a drag from his cigarette and stay silent.
John always liked to eat when coming down from coke, something the other two could not understand or even really think about—not without their stomachs letting out nauseous protests anyway. He managed to get to his feet and walk to a cupboard that creaked open hollowly. His head filled the darkness and came out with nothing but loose pastilles of gum, which he nonetheless put into his mouth and chewed loudly. Clancy’s chin had fallen onto his chest now and Rod poked him with one finger outstretched delicately.
“Don’t fucking touch me man!” he responded, his eyes shooting open.
“Just checking you’re still with us,” Rod replied. He was tired and regretted being older than Clancy, regretted how he felt like he had a responsibility to keep him safe and send him back to his careless parents in NSW one day, only mildly burnt out—with a few bruises and and a serotonin disorder maybe— but more or less indistinguishable. Rod often lamented these better parts of his personality, cursed them as they pulled him into awkward and painful scenarios time and again— where someone else would have just gone home and wiped their mind clean. Rod wanted to be more selfish, to look out for number one more. He wanted to never do cocaine or any other drug again. He was over dealing with the highs that turned into abysmal depressions before your eyes, the happy-chemicals draining out of your bloodstream in a torrent like you had been punctured. He wanted stability, boredom, the boredom of regular people who are so content and stable they ask for bad things to happen to them to for the sake of feeling alive.
John slopped his gum like the virtuoso annoyance Clancy thought it was. Clancy despised John’s carefree good humour and aplomb in the face of any precipitous come-down or hairy standoff. Sangfroid, John was calling it, since the Time magazine had dropped that word in his vocabulary. Clancy thought all the big words and psychiatric terms in the world couldn’t stave off the feeling after a cocaine binge, worsened too if you’d been drinking because then your body felt dry and sickly. His mouth felt like it had feathers. Furry and stiff. The feeling of a comedown for Clancy was like the emotional turmoil of finding out both your parents had just died while you were out of town and the last words you said to them were angry and dismissive and you got back to to town and they’ve been buried already and everyone is looking at you like you’re responsible then your girlfriend breaks up with you because she can finally see the horrendous arachnid that lives at the core of your soul and you have to wake up early and go to work the next morning and hide every stray tatter of trauma that currently composes you and pretend to be OKAY while the tears prick at the back of your eyes and your medulla sends hot jets of sweat down your back. The only thing that could make a comedown better for Clancy was to smoke marijuana, which they currently were out of and had no money to go get more. He let his head rock back and force gently,
John watched Clancy puddled in his stiff-backed chair start rocking his head gently. John thought this was a comforting regression to the childhood luxury of a mother’s tenderness, when her rocking arms are the world taking its fangs out to plant a soft kiss on your head; a deep psychological expression of the urge for stability and the discharge of pain. John sucked in some dusty air through his nose, feeling the mucous start to adhere again and thinking maybe that familiar burn could have been a few stray grains of coke. He looked at Rod who had his arms crossed and his brows the same and tried to conceive what he was thinking. Probably just saying over and over “Never again, never again, never again” as he did in frequent paroxysms of self-loathing after every bender. Then he’d feel good a day or two later and by the weekend, at the latest, you could easily induce him to run down to the furtive clubhouse of The Satan’s Mithraists, a local biker club and surefire retailer of various recherché chemicals, and come back with his face painted in an ambivalent rictus, already chastising himself for something he hadn’t yet done but odds-on would.
John thought Rod was a neurotic, after reading the article in the Time magazine about Freud and psychoanalysis. Rod wanted to do cocaine, liked the rush and the euphoric confidence and the drip, but then afterwards wished he had just gone to church and went to work like his picture of a normal person, though he deeply hated such programmatic ways of living when they were imminent. John thought Rod had neurotic guilt, maybe from something that happened in his childhood, probably to do with his mother. He had read that neurotics repeat actions and attitudes because they couldn’t deal with the original cause of that behaviour, buried the original event deep in the nighttime of the unconscious so it’s ugly face could never be looked at and fuel nightmares again. John though Rod calling cocaine ‘Mama Coco’ in moments of drug-induced rapture was a freudian slip revealing this.
Rod was younger than John but no one ever remembered this because Rod’s precociously wrinkled face and dourness contrasted with the calm energy that John exuded. John was unflappable in the face of disaster, like it was a concept he wasn’t familiar with; but he would modestly claim this derived from years of losing it and realising it never helped the situation, as it existed in reality, for him to personally fall to pieces. He was fine to do cocaine for several days until they could barely stand up, and definitely couldn’t sit down; and he was fine when Rod or Clancy would run back from the Mithraists with tears in their eyes and no cocaine sticking to little baggies in their pockets. He was calm and resolute when trouble found him, with arms and a tan like Paul Hogan, and even when people called him ‘Stoic John’ and made fun of the fact that he never lost his cool or lashed out, he laughed along with them and took it in his stride. Losing it and lashing out at another was a commonplace amongst crowds who habitually hoovered-up cocaine like it was going out of fashion, which it incidentally wasn’t, but John never lost his temper or took his emotional depletion out on anyone. Clancy resented him for it. Wanted him to wake up and smash things, pick the bong up off the counter and smash it loudly into glass shards, and to point his round nails at him and say “Get the fuck out Clancy, you don’t pay rent and you use too much of the cocaine that we all score together and I’m sick of seeing your nose running and your leg twitching and your fucking face,” but he never did. Clancy resented John for this attack that never came, almost longed for it, for a resolution, like how the discomfort of sitting on the edge of the chair made you want to fall off, surrender to gravity. Clancy was paranoiacally aware that he overindulged in the collective coke. He would sometimes, on the way back from the Mithraists when it was his turn to score, open the little baggy and shove his pinky in there and get the party started without the other guys, and then would show up at the door with his pupils expanding visibly in realtime and flat-out lie to the other guys. They both knew. Rod would get angry and call Clancy “a rude little fuck” but wouldn’t care after he got his beak wet; but John never got angry or betrayed signs of disappointment. He would sit down last of them all and professionally tuck in, throwing the head God had carefully moulded for him back as the cut in the cocaine stung his sinuses.
“Jesus, who made this?” He would joke every time after they opened a virgin baggy, like it was the greatest thing he had ever consumed. But really it was the same old cocaine mixed with the same ingredients by the drudges The Satan’s Misthraists employed. Sure, good, reasonably pure gear that’d leave your teeth feeling like you’d just gone to the dentist, but not as good as they had occasionally got when they traveled the long highways to the city where the real hard shit came into the ports, completely unchanged from the original Latino recipe except that it had several thousand kilometres extra travel on it.
John had spent his university years in the city and that crystalline powder had been his study companion and best mate, instigator of many lasting friendships, and benighted scourge on his wallet. He would walk the city some nights with a roaring in his stomach, with nothing but his ID and a condom in his wallet, and wander around in the subterranean darkness watching junkies an publicans fight in the street, waiting for that person with the racing fingers and glinting eye that’d say they were flush with coke still, hadn’t binged it all away, and he’d steel himself and walk right up to the person and tell them that they were high off his gear, that he was something of a baron and could recognise his product from the way it set the leg to tapdancing, and he’d ask for his cocaine back, and the mark would always equivocate and palter and make excuses why he couldn’t return it but would you like to come round the back of this club and try some with me and my friends to be sure? He’d snort a few lines and pocket the guy’s 10-spot and say, ‘Yep, that’s definitely the family’s vintage, unmistakable’ and he’d excuse himself and go buy breakfast with the money and try to study and the hapless guy would be left standing there feeling like a celebrity and cursing himself for not asking the drug baron for his personal contact. But nowadays he couldn’t care less to brag about the purity of gear or compare his with others’, it becoming unimportant somewhere down the line to compete with anyone else, leaving sore losers in his trail that might come at him, pump him full of holes like that Dingoes lead guitarist at a party. It wasn’t worth dying over. They were all just escaping the boredom or depression of their minds one shortening moment of euphoria at a time. As he moved northward and his white collar began getting bluer he gave up tripping to the city to stockpile the wondrous salmon-tinged coke he was privileged enough to have a connect for, and started buying the cheaper, regular gear from the local bikers. Plus it became too nerve-racking to will the old Holden down the highway over and over again, never certain if it’d make the distance or not, with a fiery hot conflagration burning away under his driver’s seat for any pig to smell. Better let the outlaws do the hard work.
Rod snorted his cocaine hungrily, but with a furtive flick of the eyes in both directions first, like some authority might be suspiciously watching. He never dipped into the bag before anyone else and actually liked to volunteer to pick it up from the bikers. He’d say, “No, I’m not fucking doing any more drugs,” after every sesh and would suggest he go get the coke because obviously he was done with it, finito, not even slightly tempted anymore. He’d leave and articulately talk the Mithraists into stuffing him a swollen gram into a bag, telling them the whole time that he thinks their cocaine, which they called yao, was brilliant but that he’d retired from indulging and this was just for the boys. Then he’d get home and watch the others chop up little angular lines and someone would offer him a tubule of currency and he’d make a show of rejecting it, saying he was over that stuff, but his eyes were pretty much jumping out of his head trying to grab a damn rail before they all disappeared. He’d stand there and watch you do a line or two then his eye-muscle-jiggle would become too much and he’d say, “fuck it, maybe i’ll have just one, I did go through all the trouble of getting it after all.” He’d put down a line and the consternation on his face would increase and peak, then a dumb smile would appear like a bull through a matador’s cape, and he’d go “wooooooo…”
Clancy like to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. He was young and liked experimenting, but the boys wondered whether he could find a way to experiment with chemicals that wasn’t just him throwing anything down his throat like it was an old mechanic’s funnel and seeing what mixed and what didn’t in his stomach. Clancy was fixated on never coming down. He had a perpetual fear of sobriety, its normalcy and everyday-ness. He would be special, he would live a life of imagination and creativity and blessing, always breaking through to new highs, a scientist of bliss, a nobel laureate of drug states. He sat now with his spine bowing, his head falling like an overripe apple on a thin branch onto his chest, white spit flecking his teeth. He would never say much when he was coming down, just complain and complain. Clancy tried to avoid coming down altogether, and had already spent the last reserve of nervous energy he had left looking for a small nug of weed or some errant flakes of coke in a baggy somewhere. Rod worried about someone so young doing such heavy drugs, even though he was doing the same thing at his age, not that many years ago really. John worried about him to. You had to comedown. It was inevitable. You couldn’t chase the sun forever. Eventually you’d run out of steam and fall on the ground as darkness became ascendent and feel your scorched face cracking and hurt. John read Clancy the story of Icarus, but Clancy didn’t get the implication. Clancy thought John was a sanctimonious prick, sometimes. He was a decade older than Clancy, who could care less what John knew or thought he knew from years of supposed recreation. Clancy mostly thought that John was boring, a boring, reliable friend who you could mistreat as badly as you wanted because he’d never abandon you or lash out. Clancy wanted girls and adventure and universal adoration, but his avaricious rashness and bony pinched face often prevented this, so he settled for riding the eclectic fabric of narcotic’s magic carpet. John had given Clancy the advice of never trying any drug for the first time if he were already on another substance, wise words so you would be able to take care of yourself and discover what works and doesn’t work for you personally, and had seen Clancy disregard this advice a thousand times. They’d be in the squalor of someone new friend’s squat or a pub somewhere and someone would offer them something, a drug the guy couldn’t even name or vouch for, and John would send him sailing but not before Clancy took one or two of whatever the guy offered in his un-calloused palm and take it ostentatiously in front of John. He wouldn’t yell at Clancy though; he felt that’s what Clancy wanted. He would just drink his beer and worry, trying to not let on that he cared.
More cocaine was always the escape from cocaine. From the ills wrought by it in its tantrums. When it was playing nice it was the best partner in the world. The rest of the time, yeeeesh. Like any poisonous lover everyone had a different name for it. Clancy sometimes called it ‘speed’, possibly as a joke but more probably because he did speed too and often got so desperate and uncritical as to not be able to distinguish the difference. Rod called it ‘Mama Coco’ when he was zonked and thought no-one would remember, but mostly he called it “that bitch” and frowned at her mention. John tried to call it like it was and not get caught up in any religious delusions about the drug hating or loving them. He put it into his body, he controlled the supply that entered him and he was the only one responsible for his aches and joys. The highs, the lows, the comedowns that come screeching into your psyche like a battalion of greedy mandrills wiht a thousand arms keen to take everything away, it was all wrapped up in the experience of cocaine. John realised this, his veteran’s deviated septum and the years of sordid experimentation had given him wisdom beyond his years. He had cocaine wisdom, from years spent on cocaine time, which is like three years rolled into every one. John took his comedowns with stoic surrender, knowing that to thrash around was to be injured by the bars of his cell, which was inescapable until it was ready to fall down itself. He’d light a cigarette maybe, if he had one, and try not to relive the past hours, he’d just sit there, his mind as open as the sky.
Rod watched him jealously in moments like this, sitting at the opposite side of the table, his knee joggling under the lip of the wood, and shadow, much later than the dusk of five o’clock, darkening his cheeks. His mouth would be set and closed but god, the tongue in his head would be lashing out in a glossolalia of recriminations and insults like the mind of a schizophrenic. He hated himself for doing cocaine again, but hated life when he wasn’t on it, but also thought that if he just had long enough off of it his nerves would repair and he’d be fine, finally, but then he’d think that he’d been doing so well a harmless bump would be a good reward and he’d do that then the cycle would start again. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, a claustrophobic agony that was so much worse because their were threads of euphoria in there, even if they were getting harder to find and pull, harder still knowing that one day there’d be no threads left and he be standing there naked and deprived without a copper in his pocket, licking the bottom of an empty bag like the Christ’s feet.
In a random moment the silent energy in the room would peak and everyone would find they were making eye contact and then Rod would said, “Should I run down and see what the Mithraists are up to? I think I heard some Harley’s pulling up before. Could use a walk to clear me head. Maybe they’ll even give me something to run back for you boys. Fix you right up. Get it on tic, naturally…” and the shit-talking continued and before they knew it they’d be looking at each other’s eyes stretching back out wide and their noses mucous-y, and then they’d see their own grey faces hovering over the mirror cleaning the white powder off it and the rush would jog their hearts back into stride and they’d push aside and laugh at the condemnatory thoughts they had developed for each other, and they’d babble about nothing and try to bum cigarettes until it was time for someone to look like the junky and suggest they chop up a few more lines and go again. It was the tail end of the 70’s, after all, and they were sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else.