The alleyway seemed endless. It seem nearly an impossibility to reach its end, like it was some road made infinite by the gods as punishment for someone’s insolence, and he was forced to walk it. It was a cold day and so was he, and the rotting brick of the buildings between which the alley was wedged were a familiar sight, broken here, halved here, crumbling from old age here, damaged by the rain here, the colour faded and washed away.
And he walked.
The Man would be waiting at the end of the ally, beside the big metal trash can that no one ever bothered to empty out any more, that festering sink of the filth everyone wanted gone but didn’t deign to remove. It seemed an appropriate place. The Man would be waiting where he’d always waited, there by the trash can. Only this time it wasn’t as easy to walk. Not like the first time. Not like all the times before when he’d walked up to the very end of the alley and met The Man with that eager look on his face, his eyes screaming for more but his words betraying little more than casual interest, so The Man wouldn’t think to raise the price.
And he didn’t.
For the six months The Man knew him, he didn’t raise the price, he lowered it. Perhaps he thought he’d found a reliable customer, one who’d return, one who’d come back for more. If he thought that, he was right. Maybe there’s a flicker in their eyes, the ones who get addicted beyond any possible remission, beyond any possible relief of the habit. Maybe their voices crackle with the urgency of their need, their want, their love and their death. Maybe the itches they scratch show it, the twenty ants their frantic nails can never seem to bite off their bodies declaring their condition: hopelessly involved. He finally found the end of the alley, surprised that his heavy feet took him this far, and for a moment stood glaring at the trash bin. Yes, it was appropriate, it was fitting, he thought to himself. He fell on the floor and waited for The Man to saunter in with his last dose, and while he waited the trash bin wasn’t there anymore.
And she was.
It was the first day they met again, it was warm outside and so was he. It was the sunlight, it was the sunlight. Her hair glinted a golden shine, the sunlight filling it whole and making it clear to his eye that he thought that, if he wanted to, he could count every strand of it and know their exact number. It’s often those small things, those details that repeat because there’s only so many ways you could first meet someone. She had asked for a light, and he had offered her one though he didn’t smoke, but had started carrying a lighter because he enjoyed flipping open and throwing closed the lid. Open, closed, open, closed, he explained to her his obsession and she laughed, a small sweet laugh. She laughed and he did too, and he thought that if she told him that she’d fallen from one of the clouds above her head, he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it. He would believe her. He remarked that she shouldn’t smoke, that it wasn’t good for her, and now he thought it was funny. He looked at himself and it was funny.
The Man’s boots ticked on the floor and the trash can was there again. The Man wasn’t disposed to speak much, but he was efficient, quick, punctual and precise. The Man held out the small bag to him, and he took it with calm hands, and by the look on The Man’s face he was surprised that the grab wasn’t as extreme as ones before it. But that didn’t concern him, and The Man only cared for what concerned him, the rest was nothing. He looked at The Man and reached out a hand to him, in it nestled the note of money he owed him, and, as if for the first time, he truly saw The Man, and saw that he was barely so. He was young, very young, with pale skin and a paler wisp of facial hair that betrayed his age. The Man, saying nothing, left him there by the trash can.
He reached into his pocket for the phone and dialed her number. The bag looked made of the kind of plastic you’d find wrapping sandwiches or inside cardboard boxes of cereal, and he thought that was appropriate too. In it the syringe was already filled, full and still warm from the heating. He had asked The Man to prepare it for him. He pressed the sharp tip against his skin, beneath the green vein, and pushed until the syringe was empty and he felt the fire pushing through him, against the walls of his body, smashing them wherever it could, pushing holes through his fabric that he couldn’t recover from. He wouldn’t survive this one. He knew his limits and he knew how much could handle taking. The syringe had triple that amount, and now it was inside him, fighting him again, and this time he would lose to it. He pressed the phone to his ear and it was beautiful. It was her voice and she called his name, and for the last time he heard how beautiful it sounded, smooth like crisp wind and calling his name. He needed to hear it again. It made it easier. When the phone fell, it clicked against the asphalt and fell into the dump of trash, as he did.
Her voice became panicked.