I think we are in a rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones
—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
In the master bedroom of Pilot’s father’s house, a small harem of sexy women lounge around, and a middle-aged cholo perches nervously on the edge of the bed. Dennis, Pilot’s father, scoots onto his bed, reclines backwards in his tight shorts, creates a hinge of skinny legs below and massive flesh above, digs at his nuts and grunts into a comfortable position against the pillow like a pompous king. Everyone radiates around a nucleus: a slice of mirror decked out with lines of white-yellow crystal meth.
The gangster on the bed is Diablo; he resembles a surreal Lotería devil, tall and skinny with black eyes, a shaved head and a Vandyke goatee tightly cut in a pointed V. He appears part circus magician and part Santería priest in an outfit of all white clothes. He says he’s pleased to meet Pilot and I. Can we say the same? Of course we do.
We’re introduced to one special concubine, Martha, who sits on the floor. She has a memory-creating face with features combining several ethnicities, and her thick hair has natural streaks of blonde. And then, I can’t help but stare at her loose breasts, fully visible inside her opaque shirt.
Talking a mile a minute, laughing maniacally, bending this way and that, Martha’s a crazy speed addict to the core. She attaches herself to me with the fervor of a long-lost friend and inspects the rings on my fingers, questions their histories, shows me her rings and pulls on a necklace given to her by her beloved brother.
Dennis tells Martha, shut the hell up, and hands Pilot the mirror. Pilot looks at me, I look at him, there’s no verbal exchange. Everyone stares at us, no facial expressions, an uncomfortable telepathic continuity between us all, all signals directed to Pilot. Dennis stares with hard eyes, waiting. Here’s a grown, dying diabetic with a son he rejected years ago—a disenchanted son who’s reached his physical prime, who has the knowledge of experience, and who wants acceptance into a hostile tribe. Pilot hasn’t forgotten any of the fucked up aspects of his family, he clearly remembers why he ran away to live on the streets for years, and he’s dealt with drug dealers and tweakers and the falling and evolving of his mind due to past addictions. Now it’s time to face his blood father. Pilot has told me he’ll never rejuvenate a drug habit, but here, now, with his father and the cold, vacant breed of human beings in this room, there’s a painfully obvious change in Pilot’s will. His eyes have altered in some indescribable aspect, and I’m scared.
Pilot snorts in two lines. He passes the mirror to me. The tension changes direction. It’s like I have a bridle on but everyone else holds the reins, so to think I can control the situation is false, but I can balk, that’s true, because I don’t like crystal meth. In unspoken moments, a pause in time where an instant passes like an hour, I silently debate as I hold the rolled up dollar bill in one hand, the dusty mirror in the other hand. Am I going to be a prude, as everyone telepathizes of me, or am I going to be a good sport?
Let the games begin.
Dennis excuses Diablo with a wink and a hearty handshake. The harem also leaves, except for Martha. Pilot and his dad begin catching up, and Martha and I talk about where our jewelry comes from, and then she, in less than ten minutes, “Whooooaaa, you’re so intense! I haven’t met someone so intense and spiritual as you in a long, long time!” Everything Martha says deserves an exclamation.
I blush and stumble out, “Well, you’re pretty intense too.”
Then she tells me she’s a prophet. Now, she doesn’t say this casually, but with full and total conviction, grabbing my hands, supplicating herself before me, almost timorous, full of awe, batting her eyelashes, laughing and crying joyfully. Dennis and Pilot ignore her. She fervently whispers to me, “I’m the great Christian prophet who’ll one day change the world.”
She laughs and dramatically flicks her hair back like an actress, unfurls her arm like a flag towards the mirror, licks her lips, smiles at me, and turns to Dennis. “Dennis, oh Dennis! Where is the pipe? Where is the pipe?” Martha doesn’t act with condescension towards Dennis—she speaks dramatically yet she’s subservient. She sits on the floor; he lies on the bed.
Dennis lunges his paw around on the bed cover like a confused, blind bear. “Check the living room, Martha.” We watch Martha get up and march out of the room, throwing an imaginary baton into the air as she walks. We can hear her putter around in the living room, and then she returns, triumphantly holding a glass pipe above her head. She sits on the bed this time, to get speed from Dennis and to show us her arts.
Dennis looks at Pilot and I. “You guys want some?”
“I don’t…think so,” I say. The speed’s really strong, I already feel buzzed and awake.
Pilot cries out, “Can we smoke speed? Shit, I haven’t done that in a long time. Thanks, Dad.”
Thanks Dad? Thanks Dad, thanks Dad. You piece of shit Dad.
We stay up the whole night and smoke speed from a glass crackpipe. There’s a defined art form to smoking speed, a very mystical and intense art form. There’s got to be the right amount of crystal in the bulb of the long, narrow pipe, and a flame held under, not too high, not too low, always turning, turning, turning the pipe, rubbing it on your lips sexually. Rock the pipe like a baby cradle, Martha says ironically, because an aura of death is the only entity created here. Don’t burn it, don’t burn it, they warn me, as I’m the least experienced. It’s done correctly if the chamber fills with a thick white smoke, then it’s sucked in, the smoke perpetually billowing from the smoldering crystals, on and on, pulling the smoke in with one’s lungs, a taste of metal and chemicals polluting the air and clinging to one’s lips. If it’s done wrong, the chamber darkens and the white liquidized crystal scabs into a black crust on the base of the bowl.
Here, watch me, Martha instructs. She takes the pipe and sprinkles speed in it, lights the mini-torch, focuses seductively on the pipe as she turns it, rocks it gently, and then when the pipe fills with smoke, she draws in slowly to savor each particle. She refuses to pass the pipe until she further demonstrates her skills. Dragon lady, dragon lady. Dribbling smoke out of her mouth in wisps and streams like an upside-down Fu Manchu mustache, she transforms into a fierce dragon lady. She sucks the smoke back into her maw before it disintegrates, plays with it, teases it, then snorts it violently out her nostrils.
My throat is sick with the taste of chemicals, but I don’t stop. It seems it’s only been a couple hours of conversation and whatnot when I notice the pink light of dawn at the windows. Someone suggests we go for a swim in the backyard. I don’t know what I’m doing, I should go to sleep, but the thought of the water draws me to my feet.
Jessica Erican Hahn has an MFA in creative writing from SFSU (2012), and a dozen recent publications in small literary journals, such as Prick of the Spindle, Ontologica, Wordrunner, Prime Number, and more.