You turn away.
You take the bright vial and tap yourself a shaky line upon the round and flawless mirror. You take the playing card you always carry – the Jack of Hearts – and neaten the line. Is this an anal streak? God knows. But you neaten the line again, watching it and your eyes in the mirror.
There’s a straw, too; or, rather, there’s a glass tube that your girlfriend copped from the cosmetics laboratory where she spends her days with scents and hues and cages of rabbits. You put one end of the tube into one nostril, the other end to the start of your great white line.
Conduit. Interface. Duct.
Your nose trembles in the mirror.
This is what God gives the angels when they’ve been good.
You turn away from her.
She tells you that she’s leaving.
She says she’s sick of all your shit.
She wants a future, she says. Do you have a future? No, you do not.
She tells you this. She says: You’re just living your life backwards.
You don’t understand her, don’t know what she means. You’d tell her this, but it would only make things worse. Sometimes you seem to make things worse no matter what you do. You wish you could go back and start over, rework your relationship, your childhood, your entire fucking life. But by now there’s been a precedent set, an established pattern that manifests your destiny. Maybe you can break the program, though. Maybe after one more noseful.
“Hey,” she says.
You look at her. She looks at you.
She tells you again that she’s leaving.
The carpet cringes between you.
The carpet. Cringes.
You turn away from her for a moment.
The last time she left, you went up to three packs a day, trying to make your lungs match the pain in your heart. You hadn’t tried coke yet, it was back when mere nicotine could mortar the cracks in your sanity. There was no more mutual space, no shared apartment: That scene had faded on a closet full of empty hangers.
You lived in your dying Datsun outside the restaurant, not enough money for new digs, took speed to get through your prep-cook days after nights on automotive vinyl left you hungry for sleep. Visions visited you, instructed your eyes in the intimately arcane. You dreamed of her when you were awake, ate bits of meat as if they were pieces of her absent body, felt as if your insides had been excavated with some gargantuan tomato shark. During this foul time the phrase “gobbets of flesh” would often rise unbidden to your mind.
A week later, you called her.
A month later, she called you back.
Gobbets of flesh.
You turn away from her for a moment. You pick up the needled syringe and jab it into the thick meat of your thigh.
When you’re high the mirror is your worst enemy, a face like yours with everything sick made larger than life. Blackheads, pustules, pores that gape like the mouths of lampreys, your nose twice its normal size and red and crying a river of nasal piss to the delta of your upper lip. Your eyes look back at you from the other side of the glass, wreaking judgment.
There is so much porcelain in every bathroom, so many polished incarnations of the bone below the flesh. It’s an American Standard.
Water is dripping from the faucet again and it will not stop.
You turn away from her for a moment. You pick up the needled syringe and jab it into the thick meat of your thigh. You depress the plunger and watch the milky fluid disappear beneath your skin.
“Hey,” she says.
You drop the empty syringe. It falls to the toilet’s cracked lid.
“What the hell are you doing?” she says.
You see yourself turn to look at her in the mirror, and in the mirror you see her turn to look at you.
The syringe falls from the lid of the toilet. It falls to the floor.
Wait a minute, you tell yourself: She’s the one who’s diabetic.
How had you forgotten?