We love all the stories in our anthology, Falling From the Sky. We’ve decided to feature stories from it on a semi-regular basis – and currently up is Tony O’Neill’s wonderful little tale of Christmas crack. Be sure to check out the rest of the anthology as well as Tony’s other books – a couple of us here have read (and highly recommend) Digging the Vein.
One little note – this story is here with Tony’s permission. Please link to it here rather than posting it elsewhere. Thanks!
I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas
I was living in a shack in Ghost Town, Venice, CA at the time. How I got there is a long story. I often wondered about it myself. I’d wake from an uneasy sleep and look around the place; the collapsing little fold out bed, the discarded needles, the piles of my papers covering every available surface and I’d think, “What the fuck happened?”
I was living with Susan, poor crazy Susan. She was ten years older than me, clinging to her sanity with slipping fingers. Every day she dosed herself with Xanax, heroin, cocaine, a pile of anti-anxiety tablets, panic-attack tablets, anti-depressants and sucked down a pack of Marlboro lights, but it didn’t help: she just got worse and worse and worse. She was stinking up the place with the stench of the living dead and I started to look upon her with a kind of awful wonderment… usually when people change it is in tiny, unnoticeable steps. It’s after you get some time away from them and then see them again that you realize just how brutally life has treated them. With Susan I felt that kind of shock recognition every morning when I looked at that death mask face as she nervously probed for a vein, a shaking cigarette dangling from her lips. This woman had once been the CFO of a profitable company. Now she was no use to anyone, except the drunken Johns who didn’t care what she looked like, and maybe the worms.
We had gotten married in a moment of drug-fueled madness. An old Dominican lady did the ceremony out of her house in East L.A. She dragged one of her daughters downstairs to act as a witness. After my divorce from Nadine I had a whole host of I.N.S. troubles, and although I missed London, returning there was out of the question. It wasn’t that I wanted to be in Los Angeles anymore—just that my habit was such that I could not travel too far away from my sources of heroin without being completely incapacitated by dope sickness.
The marriage was hastily arranged. Up until that point, Susan was just some crazy girl I was getting high with. She still had a job then, and was lucid enough to ensure that the flow of money and drugs remained uninterrupted. So we decided to get married to keep me in the country. The marriage was as sad a spectacle as one could imagine. We stopped at the needle exchange in East Hollywood first to pick up a box of two hundred insulin needles for the week. Susan was wearing a white dress, and I was in a crumpled red sharkskin suit.
“Wow,” Todd, the dreadlocked ex-junkie who worked there on Tuesdays grimaced, “you two getting married or something?”
“Yup” we replied, dropping off the shopping bag full of used needles and picking up the box of fresh ones. “We’re on our way there now.”
As bizarre as this was it didn’t merit any kind of response. Needle exchanges are like porno bookstores or public bathrooms. Nobody wants to talk or even make eye contact if they can possibly avoid it.
The whole getting married so I could stay in the country business didn’t work out. We were too high, and—as our habits increased and Susan’s ability to hold down a job decreased—too broke to file any of the necessary paperwork. Instead, I ended up married to this crazy junkie for no good reason, and somehow over time I started feeling a terrible sense of responsibility towards her.
The first reason I stayed was pity. She’d had a horrible time of it before I came along. Her grandfather had plied her with booze and raped her when she was a teenager. The way Susan related the story, when she returned home sobbing and hysterical, Mommy didn’t seemed too bothered about the whole thing.
“Well, I did warn you about this” she told her. “You know he’s into that kind of shit. I told you what he did to me when I was your age.”
“What?” Susan sobbed. “Told me WHAT? YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ANYTHING!”
“Oh,” her mother replied with a faraway look in her eyes, “maybe it was your sister I talked to. Anyway… you’ll get over it. I did.”
After that trauma there was a host of others. Rapes. Beatings. It all sounded too outrageous, too Gothic, to be made up. Who makes that kind of shit up? At the time, I was shocked and began to feel very protective towards her. Only later did I realize that, among female junkies, Susan was no exception. All of the females I have come into contact with on the scene had similar stories. Rape. Child abuse. Incest. Female addicts predominantly are a certain type, and that type—unfortunately—is the used and the abused.
Also, my perception of myself started to change. I faced it every morning in the filthy mirror: I was an intravenous heroin user, out of necessity a thief and a scam artist. My looks were shot to hell, my arms were open sores, and my teeth were falling out of my head. I was turning into some horrible mirror image of Susan. I felt as if I had taken so many steps into a maze that I could no longer retrace them and find my way back to the start. I had no option but to keep going and pray that I chanced upon a chink of sunlight. I was lost, lost, lost and could only find sustenance in drugs and our encroaching despair.
It was Christmas Eve. We had twenty dollars left. We had started up on crack early that evening, and now the money was gone, and we were in trouble. Twenty dollars worth of crack is nothing once you’ve taken your first hit. It won’t even sustain you. It will maybe avert the crash for ten minutes. Try and split a twenty dollar rock in two and you may as well light the bill itself and try to get high off the fumes. It was 11 p.m. Susan was on my last fucking nerve, begging and wheedling and pushing me to go out and score more crack.
“I’m not going out there,” I told her. “That’s it. At least we have twenty bucks for tomorrow. The place is crawling with pigs. Everyone is drunk and high and crazy. Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve for chrissakes. All of the dealers are gonna be back home. The only people out there are gonna be scam artists looking to rip off stupid white kids out trying to score.”
She was cleaning out the pipe, trying to find a grain of residue that she had missed on the previous five rounds of cleaning the pipe. The pipe was clean as it could be. It was gleaming. I knew it was futile. She knew it was futile. But she persisted, heating up the stem and, using a piece of wire to drag the Brillo through the glass repeatedly, tried to pick up some melted cocaine.
“Then I’ll go.”
“You’re not going.”
“I’m gonna go. I’m a girl. They’ll cut me a break.”
“They’ll cut your fucking throat after they’re done gang-banging you. Now don’t be so fucking stupid. We’re gonna need smack tomorrow. We ain’t spending our last twenty bucks on a rock. It’s over. Take some pills and go to sleep.”
She continued to clean the pipe, held it up to her lips for a futile attempt at smoking the residue, cursed, got back to work.
“You are a motherfucker,” she told me matter-of-factly.
“And you’re a fucking crack head. You’re out of your fucking mind. Now give it up.”
She carried on scraping the pipe and tried to take another hit. Of course there was nothing. She started to cry, big heaving sobs like hot needles inserted into my nerve endings. Then she picked up one of my books, one of the big ones. Celine maybe, or a dictionary or a medical book. I don’t remember. She held it in both of her hands, gripping it tightly until her knuckles turned white, before she started to smash herself in the face with it, her sobs becoming more and more frenzied and grating. After the fourth or fifth thump I yelled at her to knock it off. I grabbed my keys.
“I’m going, you stupid cunt,” I hissed. “I won’t be long.”
The streets of Ghost Town were alive with junkies, dealers, and all kinds of human flotsam. Most of them were rip-off artists. On more than one occasion I had been sold soap or some other unpleasant tasting shit instead of the crack I wanted. I retraced the steps I had taken earlier, hoping to find the last guy I had bought off of. I turned the corner and tried to locate the kid’s spot. I coughed to draw attention to myself. The bastard popped up, right on cue: “Psst!”
We did the deal and I split back for our place. Sirens provided constant background noise, as well as the throbbing of helicopters circling overhead. It was like living in some grotesque, drugged-out Blade Runner hell. I was thinking this as I stepped off the curb and into the path of a LAPD patrol car, lights blazing, sirens roaring, and speeding towards me.
I had no time to react. I was momentarily bathed in light. My feet left the ground and my whole being shook… I flipped back weightless and graceful, a moment that seemed to stretch to infinity.
I couldn’t even process the information until after I had bounced off the car’s hood and back onto the tarmac with a yell of surprise. I looked up and saw two cops looking down on me, like angels of doom.
“You okay?” one of the cops asked.
“Yeah.” I said, getting to my feet gingerly.
The other cop radioed in to the station as I felt warm blood trickling down my left leg.
“You just stepped out,” the cop nearest me—a virtual man mountain with a buzz-cut—explained. “We couldn’t stop. We were in pursuit. Didn’t you hear the sirens?”
Well, of course I heard the sirens, but I’d heard them so often, all night, that I had begun to block them out like all the other city noise. I was concentrating more on getting me—and the crack—back indoors.
Oh, Jesus. The crack! My stomach began to churn and fear welled up inside of me. I talked fast.
“You know, I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing. Preoccupied. Completely my fault, I’m really sorry.”
“What are you doing out here? This isn’t a good neighborhood.”
“I live right down there. I’m on my way home.”
“Well, we’re gonna radio for an ambulance to have you checked out—”
“No need!” I insisted. “I’m fine. Listen, my wife is at home—she’s gonna freak out if I’m not back in twenty minutes… You know how it is in this neighborhood. I’d rather just go home and forget about it.”
The cops eyed me for a while. It was quite obvious to them that I was half out of my mind on drugs. It was also obvious that I could create a bunch of paperwork for them if I went to the hospital because they hit me while I crossed the road. They didn’t want the paperwork and I didn’t want to have my pockets turned out.
“Well,” said the cop with the buzz-cut, “if you’re sure you’re all right… ”
“Positive,” I beamed. “Never better! Happy Christmas officers!”
“Yeah, you too,” they growled, getting back into their car.
I limped back into the guesthouse. I sat down and rolled up my pant leg, exposing a large ugly gash running up my shin.
“Jesus!” Susan came over to look. “What happened?”
“I got knocked over by a cop car. They let me go. I told you it’s a fucking mess out there tonight. I should have never gone. Fuck!”
I went to the bathroom and peeled off my bloody jeans, tried to wash the dirt out of the wound as best I could. Susan popped her head in the door after a few minutes.
“You could have been busted,” she said, quietly.
“I know. Or killed. Imagine that. Killed on Christmas Eve by a speeding cop car. Jesus!”
Susan smiled a little. “Pretty funny, huh?”
I just glowered at her.
“No.” I told her eventually. “Not really.”
“Did you get the rock?”
I sighed and nodded towards the bloody jeans. She retrieved it and scuttled out of the room.
I got cleaned up and found her playing with the pipe, exhaling white smoke. I limped over. “Where’s mine?” She handed me the pipe. I held the lighter up and took a long drag. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of something.
“Where’s the rest?” I asked her. “You killed this one.”
“Yeah… it was a small rock. That’s it.”
“Well, thanks. That’s fucking great. Thank you so fucking much.”
“Don’t yell at me!” she said, before adding quietly, “It is Christmas, you know.”
I looked at the clock. Ten after midnight. Well, she was right about something. It was Christmas. I looked out the window but could see nothing but vast, endless black. Somewhere out there was the moon and the stars and the Pacific Ocean, but from where I was looking I could have been a thousand feet underground. I could hear her, somewhere behind me, starting to nervously clean out the pipe again. It would be less that an hour before she started up again, maybe two before she started bashing herself in the face with my books and sobbing. But for now, for a moment, there was peace on earth.