Fiction by Marlon Martinez
We spooned together weirdly when we’d wake up in the mornings. Afternoons. Somehow, after the fighting, the accusing, the sticking ourselves with needles beginning to rust, overturning of furniture, the misplacement of beds, after the maid coming to undo what had been done, just to have it happen all over again, we’d find ourselves in each other’s arms, face to face, trying not to breathe through our noses, only kind of remembering what happened, but more concerned as to whether or not we’d slept through the complimentary continental breakfast.
We’d been staying at a motel outside of, Scranton, no wait—Harrisburg? Maybe it was Philly—I’d finally convinced Sky that we should really try to get clean. She agreed but she said we needed to get high one last time or whatever rehab we went to won’t take us for treatment.
She still dazzled me when she spoke. Her long neck, bellowing laugh, her unkempt teeth, and I marveled at the fact that her real name was Sky.
I’d been trying for months, a few years back, way before that motel, to try to get Sky to notice me at these college parties that the frats threw. Most of the girls there were from sister sororities that had preemptive settlements and non-disclosure agreements in their induction ceremony pledges. It was all a very sordid affair, the sibling-like attachment the frats and sororities had. And the rampant sexual assaulting.
It was never clear how I kept getting invited to those parties. It must have been a friend-of-a-friend type circumstance. I would mingle with the empty spaces bodies were no longer in, sipping tepid beer, observing the forgetfulness of the people who brought me, watching all the machinations of everyone around, never truly putting my feet on solid ground. It wasn’t all a waste of time, because one night, Sky walked into a room, and her beauty was so deep, so heavy, that I got caught in her orbit, and became a forever satellite to her celestial body.
She never noticed me, so I thought, and I don’t say that to suggest she had an air of superiority about her. Quite the opposite. Sky talked to anyone about anything. It was me. For Christ’s sake,
I still had Tales of the Pangea: Ascension of the Pharaoh, posters hanging on the walls of my childhood bedroom.
My biggest attempt at saying hello was this awkward exhale I let out at this party, thrown by the Lambda’s, when I had finally mustered the courage to say something to her. I made that same noise once before when I got the wind knocked out of me while playing a game of touch football in middle school. On approach, when I saw her face, I immediately aborted the entire operation. I bolted before she got the chance to ask if I was alright.
No, it wouldn’t be until a few years after that when we met in some motel room, outside of Boston.
She had been doped up, but Sky had the kind of wherewithal with her high that the only tell she
gave away that she was, high, was the belt on her bicep and the syringe she’d be pulling out of her arm. Even then, I still didn’t have the courage to approach her.
Me and Loomis were looking to score some coke or ketamine—no wait, it wasn’t Lester. Me and Loomis hadn’t met yet. To be honest, the precise details don’t really matter. Just that it was the first time we spoke.
I know you,Sky said, loosening her belt, You went to BU, right?
MIT, I replied, shocked that she could actually see me.
Right—right, right, right. Me and Larissa always wondered how you and your friends got invited to the frats.
Had to put my hand on the table, balance myself.
And then we were off.
My awkwardness spoke volumes and that made her laugh.
Fuck, she had a great laugh.
A long neck.
After exchanging numbers, not that I had a phone, and after coming down from the high of being around something so beautiful, I looked back at her as we walked away, which she reciprocated, and for the first time, I understood that perfection was not just a word.
Where was I?
We were outside of Portland,
I’d only been to the West Coast sober.
Fuck, no it was outside of Augusta, somewhere along there.
We’d been scoring from this dude, Deny, Deny Something. His shit was surprisingly good considering the part of town we were staying at. He’d show up to our motel and had all these fancy names and detailed explanations as to how the gear had been cultivated and transported and what the high felt like.
This is China White #7, he said, throwing a kilo, or pound, or whatever measurement, of it on the bed, having tiny dime-bags stashed for smaller purchases, trying to impress, knowing we’d only buy a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what was on the mattress. What we could afford.
He was all about the pageantry,
It’s processed in Cambodia. Reason for the location-slash-name change is because it all ends up in China before shipping. Plus, it’s a brand. People hear ‘China’ and ‘drugs’, their minds automatically think opium dens. #7, it’s not clean. Stepped on by the Triads even before it hits the States. From there, it’s journey east, our east, it might be cut once or twice more. So, if you’re looking for a clean ride, no, #7 ain’t for you. But, if you’re looking for a wild ride—if you’re looking to get your toes curled—my friends, this is your shit.
Sky and I would just sit there, sweating out things that had no natural business being in our bodies, and never really making it past Deny’s third product option. We normally paid cash, but sometimes the bread just wasn’t there, so Sky would do things for us that I’d ask her never to tell me about.
It was okay.
No, really, it was.
She did those things for us.
Sometimes I’d do them in her stead, depending on the dealer.
It was for our relationship.
I loved her, and she loved me, and everything in between, was only for our high.
After we officially met, those years back when we weren’t always strung out, after realizing we were compatible, we became kind of inseparable. We both lived in shit apartments, located in buildings we thought, while growing up, we would never enter, let alone live in. Eventually we decided that a) we never wanted to be apart, and 2) why spend double the amount to live in two different kinds of squalor when we could use that half for drugs?
We had assorted jobs in the beginning. Things that kept roofs, water, and electricity, but we decided very quickly that that sort of life wasn’t for us.
She held out, sleeping with me. It took a few months, actually, maybe it wasn’t a few months—it felt like it though. But it was fine. After shooting-up the first time I couldn’t remember the last time I had an erection.
She assured me that it was not that I don’t like you, she said, or that I’m not into you like that, paused, please don’t be mad, and I told her that mad is the last thing that I could ever be with you.
But when we did, when we’d ceremoniously consummated our bodies to each other, when we’d finally known each other biblically, we came together, laughed together, and made sure that we both felt that we weren’t alone on this earth together.
It was magic.
A few years after I lost her, like six years, after she’d left me at that bus stop, I ran into Sky outside of or in, Patterson.
Loomis had me staying put in front of some pharmacy. Said he would see if he could score and
find a place to crash.
I was into obliging then.
I had a habit, more so the lack of money, of picking up discarded cigarette butts off the floor. I noticed that my fingers had turned the color of #2 pencils. Later, I had mention this to Loomis and his response was that smoking is the healthiest thing about us.
I’d been puffing on a near full stoge that had red lipstick still on the filter when I heard the name of somebody that I used to know. I turned around—
It was her.
She was clean.
Her smile lacked the sweaters of plaque that wrapped around her teeth when she loved me. I had wandered into one of my dreams, one of the better ones, and I looked at Sky as though she was astral, ephemeral, and I felt like a strong wind would disperse her apparition.
Yeah, okay works. Relatively,
I wasn’t sure if I was smiling. I wasn’t sure how to anymore. There was a moment, a reflective pause that neither of us were comfortable with, but we couldn’t do anything about it.
I’m sorry about how I—I owe,
I knew she was thinking it.
I knew it.
No, you don’t—hmm, why, why would you need to be sorry. I understood then. More so now.
This was the most articulate I had been in years.
How could I begrudge her for making the right decision for her life? There was an emotion, a feeling that I had not felt since before—I didn’t t know what to measure it next to.
You look beautiful,
I remembered how much I had loved her,
You got a glow,
How I missed reverse spooning with her every morning. Afternoon.
How much she used to look at me as though I was everything, while simultaneously witnessing me turn into atoms.
It’s sunshine seeing you,
I knew withdrawal pain, I knew it well, but that wasn’t this. It was more of a I wished I had the wherewithal to express to Sky how much I truly loved, still, love her. But all I was able to blurt out was: Well, the good news is you didn’t end up barren.
Her lips thinned out, and I couldn’t see her teeth anymore. It didn’t become a frown, but she recognized how fucked up I was. She looked at the little girl on her side, the one holding her hand. A look that said he won’t hurt you.
The child was no more than five years old. She had this look in her eyes, the little girl, like she knew me, like we had similar tastes in food, music, and movies, like she was into the funk of Cleon Beaumont & the Huey Sisters. That she appreciated the resonance of the velvet voice of Veronica Voight. There were things me and this girl had in common.
She wasn’t scared, never shied away. Kept eye contact with me until the intensity made my shadow scamper. She was ready to protect her mother. Ready to stick me with whatever she could, with whatever was pointy, if I went full junky.
The way she loved her mom,
We were simpatico.
She’s beautiful. She looks like you.
She looks like her father.
He could be,
What’s her name?
—I know that name.
I knew you would.
Sky put her hand on me, wished me a real goodbye.
Told me if I ever got clean, if I wanted, that I should come looking for them.
I was—all the erratic head nodding—I couldn’t see straight, trying not to cry, not that I could afford or had the moisture. I wasn’t sure if the emotion was from the dope or that I still yearned for Sky. I just wanted her gone so I didn’t have to think about the life we should’ve had, how I had wished we had fallen in love sooner.
That I’d seen her at more than just parties.
How it pained me to know that we met under the worst fucking circumstances love, real, practically tangible, love, could find itself in. I wanted so many things not to be the case in that moment.
I finished the cigarette, not the one with the lipstick.
I stood there, with my teeth wearing the sweaters Sky had left behind, chattering, breath pungent, and the sores on my mouth, not from herpes necessarily, but how could I know not having been to the free clinic in months. Years.
I watched Sky walk away, with no light escaping her raven hair, and a please-get-better glance back, as she and Theo vanished into some parked car ways away.
Lester came back just as they were out of sight. He was winded, for some reason. Loomis had scored and was able to find us a motel that had hourly rates. He saw that I was fussed. That something had happened.
Look, he said, I know she was it, that she meant something to you, but you gotta understand that that was then, and now, well, it’s now—-Christ, I can’t believe I just said something like that, Loomis shook his head, semi-cocked it in disbelief, and quietly exhaled through his nose, maybe later you’ll be ready to see her again, I wouldn’t really count on it, but maybe. Till then, let’s get fucked up.
I don’t remember ever telling Loomis about my Sky. A time to mention her never presented itself. But Lester Loomis wasn’t of this world. He was half-in/half-out. Always communicating with the other side, knowing things he had no right knowing, communing with that which had already passed, and often at times forgetting the things that made him human.
So we did.
Got fucked up.
Before that time I ran into her though,
Way way before,
Like right after we first talked to each other at that motel,
I knew Sky was it.
I know people say they’ve never met somebody like the somebody they’re describing, but I tell you with as little hyperbole as I can, I had never met anyone like Sky.
And I barely know how to use that word.
She grew up on the West Coast, Seattle—yeah, yeah it was Seattle.
She was born to liberal parents, Rochelle and Gavin, who checked Caucasian on surveys that asked. Two siblings, who she never talked about, multiple family dogs whose well beings were everything to Sky. She lost her virginity late, sophomore in college, not with me but after I knew she existed. She majored in Journalism, minored in Media Studies. Began dating the son of a hedge fund owner, Something Prescott, or whatever. One night, she told me, this SomethingPrescott, comes into her dorm with a clean syringe and a baggie of Afghan Snow, ready to cook up and slip out.
And that was it. She started using. Remarkably, she managed to graduate with full honors. It made sense. After being accepted to Stanford, Sky was casually like: Nah, and decided that Boston University was more her speed.
UCLA had accepted her into one of their grad school programs, full ride, because of how awing her investigative journalism was while attending BU.
Prescott wasn’t having it. Said he would help her get into The Washington Chronicler, a publication his father owned.
His family had influence.
By the end of the summer that Sky graduated, Prescott fucked off. Left her in Boston. He went to the University of California, Berkeley, for grad school.
Everything in her life was set up to follow a specific trajectory, so when it deviated, she stopped shaving her legs, ceased wearing make-up, and thought that doing an investigative piece, a real deep delve into the subject, on the opioid epidemic that was crippling the greater New England area, was a fantastic idea. By the end of her investigation, she was able to take the Pepsi Challenge with any opioid put in front of her.
I didn’t finish telling you about that motel we were staying at in Pittsburg.
Definitely somewhere in Pennsylvania.
We were still together then. Sky and I. We had decided to get clean, but we needed to shoot up one last time. Deemed it necessary. The high of all highs, then go get help.
We should’ve seen it coming.
The bad gear,
We were coming up on at least eight hours since our last hit. Panic was setting in.
Deny hadn’t followed us, we believed. We certainly weren’t his cash cows, or the cornerstone of his operation, but we ended up with a dealer named Deni, again.
We knew it wasn’t regular Deny because there was no back story to the junk. He wasn’t filled with point-of-origin snippets, no mentions of the Yakuza, or the number of times the product had been stepped on. No, this Deni was not about the sell.
Its white. It cooks. You can shoot it. He told us.
While he didn’t have that trusted drug dealer vibe, we were in a bind. We graciously accepted, and prematurely thanked him.
The motel we were staying at had hourly rates, but the turndown service and staff were to die for. We weren’t really thinking, the detox was in full swing, and we barely had the composure to keep the flame under the spoon.
It was one of those weird nights, actually coming up on morning, where we didn’t need to share a needle because we had found an extra somewhere along the way. We put enough of the dope into the one spoon, we didn’t have any gauze or cotton to help strain the gear, cooked it, double tapped the cane, then stuck it into veins that had not yet collapsed, polluting our bodies willingly, not necessarily wanting to die, but definitely not wanting to be on Earth.
There’s a lot to be said about dying. Its metaphysical properties, its spiritual components, and the all-around fright of the unknown, but there’s something inherent about the act that misses the mark. Yes, there is the whole circle-of-life thing, but no one ever really talks about how funny it is.
We both eject thunderous gases before we completely shit ourselves. Our breath gets rapid, shallow. We get tears in our eyes and a part of it is sadness, part of it is happiness, but really what it is is a purge. Before you die, your body wants all of it out, not all at once, but it’s an everything must go type of sale.
Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. Just that time in fourth grade when you got a boner because you looked down Ms. Denver’s blouse when she picked something up in front of you. How the class laughed and labeled you a pervert, which would stick until the middle of middle school. By then all the boys, in one form or another, got an erection in the middle of the day for something as innocuous as a gentle breeze.
She’s lying next to you, and you recognize the burger she ate hours before. You can hear her wheeze. She begins to gag, and your instinct is to save her, protect her, clear her breathing ways, but you’re incapacitated.
You’re staring at her, you both somehow managed to land on the floor, on your sides, facing each other, the way you’d been waking up next to her every morning.
She’s laying on her side, choking on her vomit, maybe, not that you can figure it out. Her light’s dimming and you’re not sure if you’re dying the same way. Maybe you’re going via cardiac arrest? You don’t know, just that she’s beautiful, and the luck of you ending up with her—but she’s fading.
You still don’t know if you’re leaving too.
It’s hard to tell.
If you are,
At least it’s her you’ll see last.
You hear a tap at the door and a voice ask something you can’t quite make out, and you think to yourself, Fuck, I forgot to put the do-not-disturb sign on the knob.
We must have been quite the sight.
Needles still in our arms,
Belts hanging from the wrong places.
The maid, a tiny Latina woman, whose name I never caught, because I couldn’t remember how to read. She called out HECTOR!
Together, they threw us in the cramped, pristine, bathtub of the motel room. They cleared her pipes, made sure she stopped choking, and rained cold water on us. The women shouted to
Hector at one point, asked him for yellow, mass yellow, to which he promptly came back with plastic buckets of ice that they threw on our flaccid bodies.
More of the cleaning staff joined the rescue effort. They consisted of mostly Hispanic women,
Hector, and a Philippine girl studying to be a nurse.
I could tell, for the most part, that these people were the real salt of the earth, and that they genuinely wanted us to live, but I couldn’t help and wonder if they just didn’t want a blemish on an impeccable cleanliness record?
We woke up on a bench at a bus stop, soaked by sweat and bathwater, cryogenically preserved from the cold, which partially probably helped to save our lives. We felt like shit, and there was this looming guilt. It was—it was unshakable.
She said that she was going to the bodega around the corner,
That she’d be right back.
Bring back some hard candy, I hollered before she disappeared.
I’d nodded off, I don’t know—
I woke later, with lips indigo, eyes wild. I realized how long it was since she hadn’t come back.
That she became not my concern, nor I hers.
How I found out that Sky wasn’t dead was when I ran into her years later. She was a few months shy of six years sober, had a five-year-old daughter with her, didn’t see a ring, and she just seemed so put back together. The ensuing small talk was just that, small. She wished me well, hoped that I got clean. Maybe find her if I did.
And then she left.
Went to someplace I still yet couldn’t.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Marlon Martinez‘ view of the world takes an abstract and unique approach. His writings reflect his curiosity about drugs, sex, death, the forgotten, addiction, recovery, love, and other technologies. He journeys to the bottom of the barrel, often at times looking at the obscure hilarity of the underworld, gets into the parts of ourselves we desperately try to hide, and gives the destitute a platform to tell their stories. Marlon gives hope to characters that find themselves hopeless. Marlon holds an A.A. in Creative Writing, and a B.A. in English studies. He has been published in The Blue Nib Literary Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Spillwords, the anthology, Love Is Love. He was the recipient of the 2017 Silverstein-Peiser Award In Fiction and won the Neil Feldman Award for Fiction in 2017.
Photo: “Postcard: Schell’s Motel, Vernon, BC, c.1960” by blizzy63