by J.D. Mraz
Stale cigarette smoke and black coffee perfume hung in the air as she glanced with low eyelids to the gathered rejects. They were, the lot of them, a shambling mass of the new Americana. Trailer parks, fast food boxes and sugared water packets all wrapped together in flesh and blood. Each a product of the promise that everyone was just a millionaire in waiting, that happiness was just another bend in the road. Only eventually they figured out the lie and fell victim to the vile sweets of life. She didn’t regret it, not in the least. But then again it wasn’t her choice to come.
Her eyes finally fell, and rested momentarily on Mr. Burke. He was a fat bald man who had worn the same white t-shirt for the past three meetings (weeks) and sweat visibly when anyone asked about it. She thought about prying, just to see him squirm, but could tell by the particular glaze of his eyes he had more than likely pawned his clothes for glass. She shook her head subtly when he nervously scanned her gaze, hopefully he didn’t know she knew.
To his right sat Mr. Matthews, all skin and bones. Currently, in the latest display of drug induced insanity, he was swatting at a bundle of invisible mosquitos. On numerous occasions he blamed his lapse in reality with the war in Vietnam, in which he didn’t actually participate. Google’s a hell of a fact-checker. She guessed it was more along the lines of the pounds of bad pot he smoked and acid he dropped when he played opener for the Rolling Stones in ‘72.
After him, nearly sitting on each other, were the Alabaster twins, Margret and Meryl. They never said anything, at least nothing besides yes, no, and a couple uncomfortable confessions of adolescent rape by a drunken farmer; the cause of their scars and pain pill addiction. They wore the same 1950’s pocketed dresses their mother, probably, made them as girls. It was a wonder they were even allowed, or could manage, to leave the house without supervision.
Beside them, directly opposite her, was Andrew Milton, the most average looking black man anyone had ever conjured. He was the only one among them who gave out his first name willingly. He suffered from the vilest of drugs, the legal ones you find in bottles in almost every gas station. He sucked on oval spearmints constantly with shaking fingers to keep himself occupied between stories of soup pantries and puppy shelters.
Then there was her, Sarah Spears, Ms. Foxx to the rest of them. She refused to give any ground on the matter of her real identity, no matter how bogus her name obviously was. The only thing they needed to know is that she had been addicted to blow since her sister’s lesbian lover—Marcy or Darcy—offered it to her at thirteen to keep her quiet. She had been on the horse ever since. Often enough she thought about the blow, such as when Mr. Burke cried or Milton said some boring shit about his job at Costco.
There had been ten chairs set out, but only seven filled. The one in the middle reserved for Juno. Maybe two of the others won’t come, she thought. But for some reason she couldn’t picture their faces, or picture anyone ever being there at all. Maybe it was just Juno’s wishful thinking that more addicts would want to talk about their problems. That the court wouldn’t send them at all and they would just waltz in and start yapping. That seemed more than likely and the thought left just as fast as it had come. Coke had a way of giving you scatter brain.
She groaned softly under her breath as she rose with the rest of them. Doctor Juno, in all his bland Midwestern upper middle class glory, made them—as always—recite the ‘Addicts Seeking Betterment’ creed. As he sat down he noticed that his stomach budged from over his pants. Then again he had been growing lately in general. He said himself that he was going to need a ‘sweet tooth’s anonymous meeting’ if he couldn’t control himself. She vaguely recalled the empty seats once more but found they were now folded and against the wall. Strange, she thought, as she waited for her turn to speak. Maybe she would ask about it.
“Mr. Burke.” He began with soft tenderness, his pale hands methodically fixing his tie. “I understand that temptation can be a bitter mistress, but we talked about this.”
Mr. Burke, the weak bastard he was, began to sob uncontrollably. “I couldn’t help it. My fuckin’ wife, in bed with my best bud, Earl, and his cousin, Skeet. How the fuck you deal with shit like that man?” He began shaking while his pudgy hands bundled into tight white knuckled fists.
Doctor Juno nodded understandingly, “’S alright, calm down. Just see me afterwards and I’ll discuss what I want you to do next.”
She thought for a moment that she’d heard him say something similar last week, but couldn’t recall to whom. Sugar, Sugar, of all songs, suddenly started playing in her head.
The doctor turned to Mr. Matthews now who almost immediately stopped swatting as he met the doctors gaze with his skinny sunken eyes.
“How’s the Malaria ridden pests Matthews?” Juno said seriously.
“What? Oh…What? Oh…Well…They leave me alone at night now, s-so that’s something. I can’t remember the last time I s-s-slept without all that buzz-buzz-buzz-buzzing.”
“That’s good to hear, real good to hear.”
“Yeah I b-been doing what you s-said and–“
“We can discuss that later.” The doctor cut him off immediately with an odd parenting look of ‘not now, honey’ crossing his face and cast a quick, sidelong glance at Sarah.
She was only half paying attention when he did it but felt a cold rush from her chest rise to her shoulders and suddenly felt the urge to walk. If only she could. The Alabaster sisters said nothing, not unusual, and Milton spoke in length about his current girlfriend and the dog they planned to get from his side job. Much to false enthusiasm from the rest of the group.
When it had finally come to Sarah’s turn the doctor simply said. “Well unfortunately, Ms. Foxx, we don’t have any more time this week, we can start with you next week. If you make it. Mr. Burke, if you would follow me please?”
The group filed out quickly and Sarah stared with a face both disgusted and confused. ‘Don’t have any more time?’ What the fuck was that shit? They had all the time in the world before, why was it different now? And what did he mean ‘If you make it.’? It wasn’t like it was an option. Fuck him, she thought, fucking judging bastard.
She headed to the bathroom and hit a bump before heading outside, making sure to dab the water out from her eye drops. Couldn’t have anyone know she was still on the horse. Besides, coke got out of your system in a few days. No drug tester would catch her, probably. Even if they did, who gave a shit? Maybe she could get a better doctor.
She climbed the basement steps, and cast a quick glance at the faded sign of yesteryear. ‘Barlow’s Dental and Barber.’ She scoffed and remarked to herself that these meetings were more painful than a root canal and maybe she wouldn’t come next week. Just to spite that fuck. As she made her way down the sidewalk towards the light she suddenly heard a voice, soft and peaceful like the dripping of summer rain off a tin roof.
“Sarah…” it said and trailed off like a car down a dirt road.
She looked around, there were dozens of people. Any one of those could have been a Sarah, not like it wasn’t a popular name and she definitely wasn’t a popular girl. She shrugged it off and went to turn towards the cross walk when she heard it again.
This time when she turned her eyes fell on a man in a faded yellow suit, wearing an equally faded yellow trilby hat. Her eyes immediately drew to his black gloved hands. Though he was reaching down and throwing seeds to the birds from the park bench on which he sat it seemed to her that he just barely twitched a ‘come here’ curve with his free hand. She stared for a moment longer before he lifted his head and smiled at her. The smile of a person who doesn’t expect some weird drug addict to be staring at them and politely wishes they would go away. Or at least that was how she took it. But as she went to turn again the voice was stronger and came from within her own head.
“I see you… Come here Sarah…”
The man was still looking at her when she turned back and immediately she noticed, even from across the street, that one of his eyes was white as soap stone. Maybe he was a war veteran who forgot to flip his glass eye upright, she thought. He had the look of an elderly Marlon Brando and his hair was slicked back and black, dyed, with subtle wisps of grey underneath his hat. This time, she noted, he was indeed motioning with his hand between his legs—his strange black gloved hands—for her to come to him. But what was worse was that her legs were moving and she was halfway across the street before she had mentally agreed to the idea.
She had heard about people being able to project their voice before, and if nothing else this man could easily be a street performer. A fond memory blossomed in her mind of her childhood in the Chicago streets, watching a group of drummers beat on paint buckets and tin cans like regular snares and bass. As the memory faded and her eyes withdrew the crust of time she found herself sitting next to him and felt the hair of her nape prick up when he smiled with almost too perfect white teeth.
“Hello, my dear.” Were the first words he said, though they more floated out of his gorgeous lips than anything else.
It took everything in her not to stare at him, he was old yes, but he was beautiful. A strange elderly beauty you usually found in a dead woman at the viewing before the funeral. With a soft, shy voice she had not known from herself since childhood, she said, “I liked your trick.”
“Ah, so you did hear me calling.” His smile grew. “Good, I was worried you would ignore me like the others.”
“Sure.” He chuckled. “Some of you come of course, but unfortunately I don’t always hit my mark.”
“I wasn’t sure it was anyone at firs,”she said with a slight tone of embarrassment. Why though, she couldn’t be sure. “It’s a popular name.” Then a thought. “How did you know my name?”
“Ah, well, that is a fun story, but I would rather not bore you with the details.” For some reason this answer seemed fine and she listened on as he said, “After all, wouldn’t you rather I show you something else? I assume you’re tired of hearing about people’s lives enough for one day?”
That was true enough, she thought, and replied, “Sure, what else you got Mr…”
“…Clock.” He grinned. “Mr. Alabaster Edgar Clock, the fourth if you have a care for full titles and such. I have something I think you’ll love. You have a sweet tooth, yes?”
“Not really,” she replied coldly, immediately almost ashamed of the rudeness she was usually so fond of. The only thing about herself she really liked.
“Oh, nonsense I can see the white sugar on the edge of your nostrils now.”
Her eyes lowered to the sleepy wince of half consciousness and rage and she quickly recoiled from him. Covering her nose with her arm and leering, she barked, “What the fuck’s your deal?”
“Oh, sugar,” he said with an unpleasant chuckle that made her skin crawl. The way he said it made her think his handsomeness oddly unnatural, but only for the moment before he said, “You like the sweets! I can see it clear as this bright mid-morning sky. Don’t shy from it. I too have been on that pony once or twice although those days seem far behind me now. I can help you!”
“You, you have?” She stammered. “You can?”
“Oh yes, and trust me I can tell by that loveliness in your eyes that it isn’t what you want but the sweets have got you. Am I wrong?” He wasn’t and she said it without words. “Well I know just what we can do about that.”
He reached inside his coat for a moment, near his breast, into an inner pocket and removed a golden watch that hung from a chain of silver. An odd combination but the way the metals blended made her feel oddly satisfied.
“I have had this watch for, oh… Many, many years.” He rubbed the carved scene of a faded man in a suit that adorned the hatch as he said it.
“It’s beautiful,” she remarked, reaching out almost unknowingly towards it.
“Don’t touch,” he said softly, like a grandparent showing an antique vase. “See with your eyes.”
He flipped open the hatch and to her surprise the face of the watch had the spitting image of a peppermint you’d find in grandma’s candy jar. The hands were as such, one silver, one gold, with the second counter shaped like a shepard’s peppermint stick.
She stared into it, for how long she couldn’t be sure, but felt as if time around her had stopped. The face of the watch spun. Slowly at first and then all was a blur of red and white. She saw herself there, on a mountain of blow, skipping like a savage; naked and high. Laughing like a child as she made coke men and coke angels. A song began in her head now and she couldn’t help but hum along.
Tick tock, comes the clock, here to help you snort some rock. Skip and play till the end of days, here in the land of powdered rain!
It wasn’t until his hands had closed the lid that she realized she had moved over, almost on top of him. He was exhaling a soft, sweet smelling breath onto her face.
“Kiss me…” The voice in her head said suddenly. “I can make the pain go away… I can make the sweets fall forever…”
“What?” She said aloud, shocked to hear her voice sounded like gravel, as if she had been nursing a case of Strep for a week.
“Hmm?” He hummed. “Did you say something?”
When she shook her head and looked up at him she saw that both his eyes were now white and opened wide. She wanted to scream. But there remained the unshakable urge. She couldn’t stop herself, even if she wanted to, as they pressed their lips together. Finally, something broke, and as she went to move from his uncomfortably dry lips an object emerged from the white eyes, a small red swirl like peppermint, which began to spin slowly. Her head spun with it and she fell over onto the ground, a young couple cursing at her as they tripped onto the cold concrete just beyond.
“Fucking drugged out bitch!” The girl cried with a crude sneer as she found her feet. “The fuck are you doing? Can’t get strung out at home?”
Sarah did not stir and when the man by the girl’s side tried to shake her, she rolled over. Mouth flung open. Her eyes, now pupil-less, stared blankly into the sky. Her face frozen in a soft half open mouthed smile; the edges of her cracked lips powdered with white and her throat a spiral of red and white splotches.
Unseen, Mr. Clock whispered softly into the couple’s ear and they walked off without another word. The man in the faded yellow suit picked up the dead girl and walked down the road, to the alarm of no one, as everyone around had the sudden urge to hum Sugar, Sugar and forget their troubles.
At the next Addicts Seeking Betterment meeting no one saw Ms. Foxx or Mr. Burke. With their reported graduations four newcomers had replaced them, two of which apologizing immediately for not arriving on-schedule last week.
As they went around the room a young girl, no older than Sarah said, “I’ve been an addict since I was fifteen, my mother’s boyfriend used to feed me cocaine if I let him touch me.”
The stout doctor feigned an understanding node and replied with a reassuring hand to her exposed thigh, “We will take good care of you, my dear.”
Jacob Donald ‘J.D.’ Mraz
Jacob Donald’J.D.’ Mraz of Fox Lake, IL is a member of the US Air Force, married and a father of two. He enjoys reading, writing and listening to ‘Let it Go’ on loop for hours on end. He looks to writers such as Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Earnest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, John Collier & Anton Chekhov as influences of his work. He has 4 published short stories and a self-published fantasy novel titled, ‘The Hero’s Path’ to his credit.