Louie was growing opium in his back yard. We all knew it, but no one wanted to get involved. We sat around this silly Goth club drinking Dixie cups of beer. The owner, a fat guy named Milo, sold the Dixies for twenty-five cents a pop, but only on college night Thursdays. That was tonight. We were here every week.
I was desperately trying to attract the barmaid, Nancy, but she barely looked my way. She had a large tattoo of a phoenix covering her entire back. That’s what I was staring at now—her backless shirt sloped to her sacrum, to a tramp stamp of elaborate flames. The phoenix rose from the fires, up her spine, the wings spreading across her shoulder blades, the mouth of the bird poised to swallow the base of her neck. Her tattoo artist must have been her lover, I concluded. Everything about her body was artful.
When she turned I saw the piercing in her nose and her eyebrow and her lip. She smiled at me and said “Poet!” She always called me that, a flirtatious mocking. Her lip ring sparkled in the grin. She had her clit pierced, I just knew it. I wanted to know for sure. I wanted to be inside of this sculpture, I wanted to feel her every inch of perfection–but so far my seductions had met with playful roadblocks. She talked to me all the time, sure, but she saw me as a kid—a twenty-one-year-old grunge kid who thought he was so fucking artsy. I had my new ID and some beer balls. She was right. I was way out of my league.
Still, she was everything I wanted a woman to be. She was boisterous and assertive. She was lean and muscular. She moved with intelligence, intention, and sex. I used to stay late to watch her wrangle out drunks at last call. She would smile at me sitting in the corner—smoking my cigarette, watching her move. Why don’t you find a woman, Poet? She would giggle. Because I want you. She sighed. Her humor was of a truck-driver wit laced with a good vocabulary, and when we talked she leaned over the bar, the glitter paint on her cleavage a constellation, the scent of Egyptian musk making me shake. I wanted her so much, and she knew it.
So when she overheard the talk about Louie—our friend who had a degree in horticulture from the local school, who had cultivated and harvested his opium from a bag of poppy seeds he bought at a bagel supply store, who was ingesting six cups of opium tea a day—Nancy perked up. She motioned me to the end of the bar.
“Say, Poet…how well do you know this guy Louie?” She asked. She leaned in further, her sparkling cleavage stars grew brighter, the essential oiled aroma swirled around my head—an aurora borealis of desire, I later wrote in my purple prose journal. She had always wanted to try opium, but could never find it. She was off tomorrow night. If I could get some, would I want to hang out and try it with her?
Do you imagine I just said no? I called Lou the next day. He was more than happy to oblige. I met him at his house that afternoon.
Now you have to understand, Louie was a good guy; he was just a little lost. He came from an obscenely wealthy family. They had raised him by throwing cash at his every desire. So, as a young adult, he had a little entitlement problem. In his estimation, there should never be a lag between his wanting something and the world immediately giving it to him. This was his logic. And since the world didn’t often agree with him, Louie got high a lot to cope.
His opium plan had paid off well. I’ll go to college to shut the parents up, study horticulture, learn to germinate a poppy seed, and create my own private drug crop. While setting up his cartel, he became obsessed with the literature of the drug world. Naked Lunch was his Bible.
On this afternoon, though, Louie was doing his Hunter S. Thompson. He had seen the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas upwards of twenty-five times. He was dressed exactly like Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. He talked like Johnny Depp talking as Hunter S. Thompson. He moved his body like Johnny Depp moving like Hunter S. Thompson. He looked absolutely nothing like the real Hunter S. Thompson, but he didn’t know that.
When he heard that I was on a mission of lust—those were his words, not mine—he gave me a large zip lock bag of ground opium, for free. I just want to hear the story afterwards, he croaked, smoking his Camels through one of those long slim cigarette holders. The whole scene was ridiculous.
Just boil the O in a big spaghetti pot for fifteen minutes, he instructed. Then pour it over ice, add orange juice, and guzzle it. It tastes terrible at first, he warned, but you get used to it fast. And besides, it’s worth it to see where the buffalos roam. He clenched his teeth on the cigarette holder and affected a wheezing penguin like laughter. Now he was doing Bill Murray as Hunter and throwing in a little Burgess Meredith from the old 60s Batman, for some unknown reason. I got out of there fast.
Nancy’s apartment was dark. The only light coming from a small lamp on the living room floor. A pipe burst in the kitchen and the whole apartment lost power. The only outlet with juice was by the bathroom sink. She had snaked extension chords to the rest of the house from that single point. What a disaster! It was a reasonable explanation.
The kitchen ceiling was piled on the linoleum. There was water damage on the walls. I offered to postpone our trip until things were back to normal. Ah, it’s been like this for months, she snickered, I just haven’t gotten around to calling the super.
She asked if I had the stuff. I held out the bag and she took it. She already knew how to cook it. The boiling water was waiting on the stove. After fifteen minutes she added ice, OJ, and a shot of something—I can’t remember what. We drank it at her dark kitchen table, in silence. She put on a Tom Waits CD—Bone Machine, I think–and we waited.
Two hours later, I was flying. Everything that had ever caused me pain in my life was gone. I don’t mean I was numb. I felt better than I had ever felt in my life—physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically—and I couldn’t remember having felt any other way. I was the universe and the universe was me, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be: on a leaky old water bed with my dream girl, Nancy.
Nancy, on the other hand, was not doing as well. I assume she took something else before the tea. I never did find out. But whatever it was, it wasn’t mixing well. She threw up twice and cried on her bathroom floor. The snaking electrical cords swirled around her perfect legs as she quietly admonished herself. I’m so stupid, she cried. Why does no one love me? She asked me.
I was not the best guide. I talked to her about peace and love and poetry. I told her about how the universe was vibrating in such a way that it was producing us. We were just vibrations in one larger idea of the sky. I was really high. She cried and threw up again. She begged me to stay over, and I was too high to drive, so…
While she slept next to me in the sinking water bed, I stared at the ceiling. I could feel my brain thinking.
I’d like to tell a lie to end the story. I’d like to tell you that she woke me up in the middle of the night, overheating with desire, clawing at my clothes, taking me in her mouth and body; but the truth is, she was like a little girl. Her eyes were swollen from crying, her hair was littered with puke, and she was still so fucking beautiful.
She put on a night shirt and an old pair of sweats. She curled up in a fetal ball and pressed her face to my chest. “Good night, Poet.” She whispered. “You’re a real good guy.” And she fell asleep.
I went home, at dawn, before she woke up.
I only saw Nancy once more after that—a few months later—but we didn’t mention that night. We talked mostly about Tom Waits.
Louie died—overdose: heroin—about five years later.
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