Tony O’Neill author of Down and Out on Murder Mile, forthcoming from Harper Perennial in Fall 2008, sent me an e-mail with the following subject heading, “i wrote a story because i was bored and now i am sending it to you.” And that’s all you need to know.
“The Seventh OD”
Hazel had been beautiful once, but that had been a long time ago. Now her beauty only existed in hazy snapshots that filled her mother’s photo albums, and occasionally in dreams that would leave feeling sick and breathless when the dawn came. She was watching TV with Mike, her boyfriend, an LA musician who didn’t play music anymore and a coke dealer they had picked up in the Frolic Room called Smooth. The apartment was shabby and small: an open kitchen which was no more than a strip of linoleum next to a hot plate and overfilled garbage can, and a bathroom situated so that everyone in the main room had to listen to the strains and splashes of every bowel movement that went on in there.
Hazel said, “I want to watch my stories” and turned on the TV. “Intervention” was on A&E, a show in which unwitting addicts agreed to be filmed by a documentary crew only to be surprised by an intervention at the end of the show. They watched as a sobbing speed freak relented, and agreed to be shipped off to a detox facility in Florida.
“Shit, they got meth in Florida,” Mike laughed, “Good meth, and better weather than in fucking Michigan. I’d take that ticket too.”
Smooth was a good twenty years older than either Mike or Hazel. The constant presence of the television irritated him, as he swirled the cocaine in a bottle cap, and started to suck the solution through a cigarette filer and into a syringe. Tufts of grey hair peeked out from under the brim of his hat. His face was furrowed in concentration, a cigarette tucked behind his ear.
Eager to change the subject, Smooth nodded over to the guitar stacked away in the corner and said “So you play, Mike?”
“Oh yeah. I play. I had a band but, you know, uh problems with some of the other guys and… well, it wasn’t working out. I’m writing songs right now. Gonna get something else together. D’you play?”
Smooth grinned, “Shit, I used to play bass for Sly, back in the day. Crazy times. What kinda stuff you play? Rock and roll, huh?”
Mike smiled, “Yeah.”
The credits started rolling. Hazel flicked off the TV and said, “Mike’s group were real good. They would have been big, if they hadn’t split up. Too many volatile personalities, right baby?”
They started to prepare their own shots as Smooth slid the needle into his arm. When he was done, he licked the blood from the puncture wound and said “do you mind?” walking over to the guitar. Mike grunted his consent, needle between his teeth, tying off with his belt. As they fixed, Smooth played some clumsy blues chords on the de-tuned acoustic, and muttered to himself about being out of practice. His fingers felt fat and slow, and the cocaine was making his hands shake. The moment he started playing, the coke took his focus elsewhere and he wanted to walk around the apartment, he wanted to talk, he wanted to go stand on his head in the corner. He noticed a picture of a child in a cheap frame, sitting on top of the mute television. He walked over and leaned closer. The child was blonde, with dark eyes. She was laughing at the camera, maybe 3 years old.
Smooth said, “Who’s the cutie?”
Hazel had finished up. She slid the needle out and said, “Thats Devon. My daughter.”
“She with your mom?”
“Uh-huh. The courts took her away after I got arrested the last time.”
“Shit, I hear you girl. I got two of my own, all grown up now.”
“Do you see them?”
Smooth shook his head, his face impassive. “Their mother turned those kids against me a long time ago. Last I heard my son was going to college but that must have been, shit, that must have been 5 years ago so I guess he done graduated already.”
The coke took Hazel. She found herself talking about her mother and about Devon. About the last time she had visited them. How Devon had ran to her screaming “mommy! mommy!” and she had held on to her for dear life. How her mother had stood over them both the whole time, with that dour, disapproving look on her face. About the argument that had erupted between them, the screaming the plate throwing. Devon curled up under the kitchen table, struggling for breath in between her terrified howls and sobs, and the blow – delivered by Hazel across her mothers smug, righteous face – which severed their relationship forever.
The words tumbled from her mouth in a coke numbed babble, and when she was done Hazel stretched back and lit a cigarette. There was silence in the room for a moment, before the talk started up again. It was Mike who broke the silence by saying, “This is good shit, man. I’m glad we bumped into you tonight.”
“Shit, I’m shocked I never seen you guys before. Y’all are friends of Sheena, right?”
“Right. Friends of friends, kinda.”
“Shit, small world.”
They carried on shooting the coke with the grim determination that shooting coke entails. Soon they were beyond words, their jaws locked tight, their hearts pounding in their chests, just the grim compulsion to finish now, to feed all of the drugs in the apartment into their arms. Mike locked himself in the bathroom, and took a sputtering coke shit, splashing cold water in his face and staring at his reflection in the mirror. His asshole felt raw and tender. His eyes seemed to vibrate in their sockets, and his vision was blurring in and out. Already he could feel it starting, the gnawing pit of self loathing that tried to swallow him from the inside out. He knew that from this point on, the night would be about trying to keep it at bay long enough to allow the valium to kick in. Otherwise he would be tempted to use a knife on himself again. His arms were a patchwork of self abuse: needle marks, calcified veins, razor slashes and bloodletting. How long, he wondered, before he just did it and put himself out of his misery?
“MIKE! YO MIKE COME OUT HERE!”
Mike sighed, turned away from himself again. He opened the door. Smooth was crouching over Hazel. Hazel was convulsing on the floor again. She was twitching and shaking, and grabbing at her crotch with twisted, bunched up hands.
“I didn’t do nuthing man, I just looked over ‘cos she was gurgling an shit an making all of this crazy noise and BAM she just falls off the chair and starts shakin’ on the floor. Is she fuckin epileptic or some shit?”
“Fuck me,” Mike said, grabbing the phone, “She’s fuckin ODing again. Its the coke. This is like the 7th fucking time this has happened. Lemmie call the ambulance”
Smooth stood up, as if to stop Mike from making the call. “You crazy?”
“It’s cool, man. Her old man is a big shot over at Cedar Sinai. She’s got her insurance through him. It’s cool, I told you this has happened before.”
“But the COPS man!”
“The cops can’t do shit. You wanna wait here until we get back? They might show up here, but just don’t answer the door.”
“Sure man. Shit.” he looked at Hazel, on the floor, vibrating and saying “ug-ug-ug-ug” and he said, “Thats some freaky looking shit, man.”
“Scared the shit out of me the first time. Yes, hello? Yes I need an ambulance Uh-huh. My girlfriend is having a seizure. Uh-huh. yeah, the address…”
They tidied away the drugs, and ignored the looks that the ambulance guys shot them when Mike let them in a few moments later. By the time they showed up, the seizure had mostly subsided, and Hazel was on her side in the recovery position. They checked her vitals, and Mike told them what her name was.
“Hazel! Hazel! Can you hear me Hazel?”
Her eyes remained dull and unfocussed. There was a lot of commotion as they put her on the gurney and started to wheel her out of the apartment. They left Smooth there, and Mike went out holding Hazels’ small, cold hand as they wheeled her into the back of the ambulance.
Mike sat up front with the driver, as they sped through the pre dawn streets, on their way to the emergency room. The driver was asking a lot of questions about what drugs Hazel had been using. Mike said “I think she has been doing coke,” but refused to say any more than that. They rode the rest of the way in silence, as the siren wailed and Hazel started to regain consciousness in the back.
In the sodium glow of the emergency room, Mike paced and waited for word. The waiting room had a smattering of desperate people lounging around, nursing wounds or waiting for news about their friends or loved ones. They looked tired, beaten down by circumstance. Still jumpy from the cocaine, Mike walked outside and stood smoking a cigarette in the warm 4am murk. The cops showed after an hour, and asked the same questions they always asked. They wanted ID but Mike had none. They stalked into the doctors room, and questioned Hazel. They seemed harassed and disinterested, and left without too much fuss. At 6 o’clock Mike was allowed to come to Hazel’s bed, which was separated from the other beds by a shield of flimsy plastic curtains. In the next bed a man was calling for his mother, and from somewhere else a woman’s sobs echoed off the uncaring institutional walls. Hazel was sitting up in bed. She looked up at Mike with sorrowful eyes and said “Can we get the fuck out of here now?”
They called a cab and rode in silence back to the apartment. The sun was casting all kinds of odd light against the smog which hung over the city. The smog looked beautiful, Mike thought, like something you might see hanging in an art gallery. Hazel said, “I think I’m hungry. Is there any food at home?”
“I think we have hot dogs.”
“Will you make me a hot dog?”
She looked a little sadder than usual this morning. She stared out of the window, and Mike watched the light bouncing from the angles of her face. Mike said, “What’s up?”
“I’m just tired. I dunno, I just think… what’s the point, you know? I mean, what’s the point? Look at that bitch on Intervention last night. I didn’t see her ODing, being rushed to the ER. She didn’t even shoot up. Why was she on TV? I feel like, why am I putting my body through all of this when there’s nobody to see it happen?”
Mike was silent for a while.
“I mean, shit, my mom ,I know that she hates me, but couldn’t she have at least thought of calling that show? One fucking phone call? I cant call myself. I’m not meant to know. I’d play along! I’d act surprised when they did the intervention. I’d pretend that they were just doing some film about the day in the life of a coke head. I feel like Im being wasted! All of this STUFF is happening and there NOBODY SEEING IT.”
“But, Im seeing it babe…”
“I don’t mean you! I mean PEOPLE. People on the other side, you know?” she tapped the glass for emphasis, “People on the other side of the screen. People at home.”
Hazel stared out of the window, sadly.
“I just feel like i could be someone, and instead of being someone I’m just squandering it all. What is the point of going through all of this, of feeling this, of putting my body through all of this if there’s nobody watching me? If there’s nobody looking at me, nobody making me real?”
“But you are real. We are real people, Hazel.”
“No! No we’re not. If nobody SEE’S it, how can it be REAL?”
They pulled up at the apartment. Mike paid the driver and slid the key into the lock. They stepped in, and the first thing they noticed was that Smooth was gone. A lot of things were gone. The place seemed both more chaotic, and emptier than they remembered it. “Oh shit!” Mike spat.
They looked around the apartment in silence. The drugs were gone. Mike’s guitar was gone. The kitchen drawers hung open, emptied of their meagre collection of silverware. In the bedroom Mike looked at Hazel’s underwear drawer, hanging open laviciously, emptied of most of her panties.
“Thats motherfucking bastard robbed us. I’m gonna kick his fucking ass when I catch up with him.”
“He left the TV,” Hazel said, turning it on and sinking to her knees in front of it, “At least he left the TV.”
Mike stalked around the apartment, kicking things, and cursing to himself. Hazel was calm again, watching the television with a curious, blank expression, the cathode light making her pallor seem less pronounced.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
Mike walked over to the fridge. he wrenched it open and stared into it. The fridge was empty. Smooth had emptied the fridge. All that was inside now was a tub of sour cream and a stick of butter.
“He stole the fucking hot dogs,” Mike said, matter of fact.
Hazel didn’t hear him. She was watching her stories.