| I have a dreadful fascination for James, a husky, depressed nineteen year old with skin the color of tobacco.
James has a fixation for his dead father, who taught him to shoot heroin when he was twelve and whom he watched die from an overdose three years later. He shoots dope just like Dad did, and he’s proud of being able to handle a higher dose.
James refers to his addiction as “my wife” and to me as the only friend he’s ever had. A month after I met him, I decided he needed a methadone program to save his life. After a major hassle getting him I.D., I took him to a for-profit clinic in Midtown. I sat in the clinic reading, while James doubled over in spasms of withdrawal until they gave him a little paper cup of purple liquid to drink. The plan, after that, was that he would pick up his clothes and move in with me. But the methadone made James even higher than the dope did, and he fell asleep somewhere in a park for a day and a half.
My father was dying of heart failure in upstate New York, so I left town without finding out exactly where James had nodded out. The death of my father shortly after and the sleep of James are permanently superimposed in my mind.
As we talked his mouth became sullen in the bar’s shadowy mirror. His scowls leapt at me in white-toothed flashes from the mirror’s muddy water. His butch clarinet of a voice honked rude answers to my prying questions. Because James didn’t like the schoolmarmish tone of my voice, when I tried to touch him, his meaty forearm convulsed. It jerked back to strike me but caught itself just in time.
He hoisted my suitcase, and we walked down the block to a hotel frequented by hookers and drag queens. I studied his arm’s recent puncture mark with its ragged collar of purple. James said he’d stayed at the hotel last night on the basis of a deposit and could only redeem his clothes or watch or wallet by paying the balance.
So he went upstairs, and I forked out the sixty-four dollars. Then he came down holding a few worthless clothes, followed by a slim young gay guy in new clothes and blond hair cut in a longish style that looked provincial. This made it clear that I hadn’t paid just for James but for his friend as well, who kept the room for another night.
I told James he might as well spend the night at the hotel. When he eagerly agreed, I said I hoped that “you two faggots” would sleep well in each other’s arms. His blunt hands clenched into fists and began swinging. They made wet smacking sounds against my cheek and temple and screeched across my teeth like fingernails across a blackboard. The blond shrieked, “No, James!” as I stumbled toward the exit stairs. But James followed and swung one more time, making me tumble down all six steps.
I picked myself up and he pursued me into the street, after which the blond came running and managed to drag him back inside.
My lip was only slightly cut, but my calf suddenly inflated, sections turning a hideous purple. I began a fast hop toward the corner, fearful he would reappear. Then he came toward me holding my suitcase, one arm spread in a gesture of supplication. His coat was shedding stuffing in the places where I had wrenched it. His pale face was furrowed and suctioned by sobs.
The blond was trying to tug him away from me by the hem of his coat, but James put down the suitcase and wept into his hands. Neon from the lingerie sexshop infused the drop of blood on his knuckle with extra color. This made him look like a statue of a religious prophet transfigured by an awful revelation. Drag queens on their way to a club picked daintily around him. The blond decided to settle for the free room and went back inside.
We fell into a cab. My calf throbbed but my mind didn’t dwell on the beating I’d provoked. Anyone who knows street people knows never to challenge their image. People from James’s world own nothing but the strength or appeal of their bodies, which must always be represented as decent and of value to society.
What shrieked in my thoughts was the realization that James hadn’t bothered to ask how my father was. So I told him he had died. James exploded into girlish tears again, burying his wet face in my armpit. His bruised hands clutched my sleeve, staining it with blood. As his temple pressed against my neck, I felt his pulse racing, and his body oozed sweat. We headed for East 113th Street, where he could put a stop to his withdrawal.
The cab driver refused to wait. Cursing, I climbed out and sat on my suitcase, perched against a store window. My ankle had inflated so much that the pressure of my pant leg smarted. I rolled it up and removed the shoe and sock. Junkies passed by with only a sideways glance at the chubby white guy with the dark bladder for a calf. There I sat, propped on an Eddie Bauer suitcase in the middle of an East Harlem copping block.
At my apartment, James cooked up the dope. I lay on the bed with my leg raised, balancing a load of ice cubes in a twisted towel. Though the pain began to freeze away, the leg had become macabre. Concussed blood had swelled into so dense a pool that the skin seemed thin and ready to burst.
James grazed the leg with a kiss. The spike was still hanging from his arm by a pinch of skin. When his nervous system catapulted into the rush, he pulled out the spike and spilled out of his clothes, then onto the bed. I rolled on top of him, and he began to devour my face with his wet, cushiony lips. His mouth gaped open, and our tongues began to wrestle. I let my bad leg hang over the edge of the bed for fear of placing pressure on it.
©2003 Bruce Benderson and Nerve.com
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Bruce Benderson is the author of two books of fiction about the street life of old Times Square as well as the book-length essay Toward the New Degeneracy (Edgewise) and a monograph entitled James Bidgood (Taschen) on the creator of the film Pink Narcissus. His novels, essays and journalism are widely published here and in France. He’s currently finishing a long erotic memoir about an experience in Romania, a project that began with an assignment from nerve.com.|