Biscuit is smoking a cigarette, her chipped nails shaking with her hand and she smells like someone who’s lost hope. I don’t know when this is, my memory has broken into fragments, disorganized sections, with no semblance of time or emotion. I only know this isn’t now, but it must be after, since she’s smoking her cigarette because the world is ending.
“Arsen,” she says, the word dripping with disgust and envy. Her eyes give me a look that matches. There’s a pit in my stomach, an emptiness that could be filled if she only looked at me like she used to, but this is a different Biscuit, maybe not the lost, gone, dead Biscuit she is now, but she’s on her way. I look at her which is as much as I can do, closer to gone than sober, but on what? Her eyes move away and she looks at her feet with something I don’t recognize and this is how the story will go, pieces out of order and missing, a puzzle that might prove unsatisfying if you’re looking for the wrong thing. She smiles and it’s awful and off but also is the last smile I’ll ever see from her. “Do you think you could hook me up with something? Anything?” I want to say no, but maybe I just think that because I wish I did. I nod, which feels like the hardest thing to do in the world but why? She mutters thanks and then asks me about something Michael must have told her. This pushes me to gone and I can’t move. I just run away from her in my mind as her voice grows distant, repeating my name, until her words “fucking junkie” are just a whisper.
Michael is at my door and this is I guess after the world started ending but before we took it seriously and it looks like he’s been crying and it makes me uncomfortable. “Can we talk?” he asks. Biscuit is in the living room watching some trashy reality show and painting her nails. David is preaching his gospel that some hear. I follow him to the porch and he lights a joint. “My therapist just killed himself.”
I can tell he’s looking for a reaction but I honestly don’t care. “Look, I don’t mean to sound like an asshole. But… since when are we friends?”
Michael pauses, his brown eyes narrowing as he starts to tear up. He offers me a hit but I decline, wanting to go back to my beer and internet porn. “We went to elementary school together,” he finally says. “We sat next to each other in Chemistry class. You took my sister’s virginity. I’ve been selling you pot on and off since you were 15.”
I don’t respond. Michael looks at me with this desperation I can’t place. He begins to root through his pockets. He pulls out a small bag filled with a smaller amount of white powder. “Do you like MDMA?” he asks, his voice higher than usual.
“Is it pure? I heard they‘ve been cutting it with Serenity.”
“Purest you can find.”
“How much do you want?”
“Take it. It’s yours. That’s about half a gram. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s all I have on me.”
“What do you want?”
“Just pretend like you give a fuck for half an hour and don’t tell anyone what I’m about to say.”
“Honestly, I don‘t know when I knew.”
My client’s smile is bright and warm but you can tell by her eyes that she’s dead. “It seems like I just woke up different. All these things I said I’d never do, I started doing.” She’s pretty as a survival mechanism, as if looking ten years younger will help her on an approaching judgment day. I pretend to write down everything she says in my notebook but really I‘m drawing a dead bird and it reminds me of someone.
“Like what?” I ask, my body on autopilot while my mind wanders off. We’re in The Dark Backward, the last bar on earth, and it’s day so it’s empty except a purple haired barkeep lost in the poison her mind has become.
“I set my neighbor‘s house on fire. They never kept up their lawn.” Her response pulls me out.
“Did you feel anything?”
“No.” Outside it snows, each flake melting as it hits the ground. Inside a song plays and it might be Michael‘s and he sings falling down ain‘t that bad, learning to drown ain‘t that sad. I don‘t remember what I‘m on, but as I think it wears off, the bird flies off my page and into the song. She‘s tearing at a napkin and won‘t look at me, afraid of a judgmental look I won‘t give. Her manicured nails chip and this pulls her out of a trance. She turns to me with a loaded smile. “I caught my son on Serenity. His eyes were violet and he was on the floor listening to David Wells, repeating everything he heard.”
“What did he say when you saw him?”
“He told me I was his favorite person who didn’t exist. Then that I’d be absolved of all my sins because there was no one left to count them.”
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (The Worst Will Be Over Soon).” It’s Michael sitting across from me, a different client. Even with his grown up tattoos on his arms, scars from impulse decisions he made back when it mattered, even with his five o‘clock shadow, he still looks like he‘s in high school. His hands grip tensely at a piece of paper. The song has changed to the smooth monotone of David Wells, the background music of my life.
“Did you bring a donation?” I ask. He doesn’t look at me while he nods. “New song?”
“I have to dress like a monster. Not a scary one, one of those fluffy friendly ones with like three fucking eyes. I have to strum a ukulele while I tell a bunch of bushy eared kids that the world is ending and everything will be okay despite it. This is such fucking bullshit. It used to be hey kids, brush your teeth, eat your veggies, do your homework. Now it’s all, school does matter even if your teachers don’t show up, don‘t go outside in the yellow rain, Mommy and Daddy aren’t drinking because of you.”
“Kids still go to school?”
“You’d be surprised how many people are in denial. All the scientific proof in the world, but better not be late to work. Allot extra time in case of a storm. Routine helps keep people sane.” Michael leans in. “I heard they want me to sing about David fucking Wells. Something like don’t listen to the bad man on the radio. I need a hit.”
I look back at the barkeep, muttering along to David’s song. A barcode is printed on her shoulder and she might be pretty if she wasn’t brainwashed. Michael is cutting eight lines of something and offers me four. “Why don’t you quit?” I ask between snorts.
“My sister fed her six year old drain-o yesterday,” he wipes his nose and looks at me, eyes narrowing and gauging a reaction. “Did you ever meet him?”
“Once, maybe,” I need the topic to change. I do my last line instead.
“He was a really good kid.” He finishes his last line and pours out more powder form the bag. His eyes are watering and I know the reason but maybe not the right one. “When I came by to babysit him, his body was on the floor and Maggie was watching TV. She told me Hawaii’s sunk and asked for Serenity.”
I’m silent. Michael cuts another line. “I don’t know. I feel like it’s something. It keeps me from drinking too much or trying Serenity. I haven’t died yet. I just don’t want to sing this song.” He wipes his eyes, then does the line. “I don’t want to take away hope from the last few that have it.”
“I went to the hospital today.” Biscuit is sitting next to me and I’m driving. I don’t remember how I got here and I can’t stop smiling. This catches me off guard and is maybe the last thing she says to me that isn‘t about drugs. “I don’t have to pay you for this, do I?” There’s an edge I can’t place in her voice, this permanent edge she has while talking to me that hasn’t always been there, and I shake my head.
“I just wanted to see if they still try to save people. The ER waiting room is full and there’s blood everywhere. There’s only one nurse and one doctor and they’re seeing people one at a time. There’s this guy. A Barcode, purple hair, tattoo, empty look. I think he’s on Serenity. At first, you know, I was wondering why he was there. He’s just shaking, rocking back and forth, spitting out David‘s poison. Then I see his arm. It looks like he gnawed part of it to the bone. When he starts crying, it’s blood coming out of his eyes. Arsen, I was there for six hours. The nurse never even looked at him.”
“He was a Barcode.” I change the radio station as David’s voice cuts in.
“He’s still a person. I hate David’s bullshit as much as anyone but that’s not fair. He was no older than 16...”
“And he’s gonna die anyway.” I look over and she’s crying. I want to grab her hand but I know that’s just the drugs. She falls quiet and I know we’re back to not talking. She isn’t pretty when she cries, but no one is. I notice she’s gained weight and I wonder if she’s one of those people that doesn’t matter then I realize none of us do. I keep smiling and she keeps crying and I taste blood from biting my cheek but I don’t mind. The car shakes at the ground shakes, threatening to open up and take me to hell and Biscuit to purgatory.