Chapter Three (excerpt, Goshen Cove)
Something pushed against Daniel’s shoulder but his eyelids were too heavy to open. The mattress, soft and yielding as a cloud, had swallowed him and he could not feel his arms and legs. They might as well be vapor. He might as well be vapor, formless and immaterial. He tried to speak. I’m here, he said, but wasn’t sure if the words were audible outside his head.
He felt a warm breath against his ear. He knew it was a woman’s; he smelled roses.
A secret, he thought, tell me a secret. He tried to float his hand upward to touch the woman’s face but the effort was too great.
“Hey! Wake up!”
The shrill voice blasted in his ear, a knife to his brain. The enveloping cloud evaporated; his body regained mass and shape and he opened his eyes, panting slightly in confusion. The room was lit only by the flickering glow of a single lamp, but he could see the woman standing over him, her hands on her hips, her lips pursed in annoyance.
“This isn’t a hotel, you know. You can’t stay here all night. You’ve already stayed too long.”
The woman, draped in some kind of shabby dressing gown, looked vaguely familiar, as if he’d met her many years ago and forgotten exactly who she was.
“What?” he said and tried to sit up. He managed to raise himself on his elbows but the room spun and he fell back.
“For God’s sake, get off of my bed and go home. It’s past two.” She grabbed both of his wrists and pulled him forward; he sat upright, swaying, while she held on. She smelled of whiskey, he could tell, not roses. She was not pretty. Whatever had happened in that room that night, he could not remember. He only hoped he hadn’t touched her.
“Give me a minute,” he whispered. She released his arms and he slowly swung his legs over the edge of the bed. They were bare, he noticed, although he still wore his shirt. He sat with his head in his hands, too dizzy to stand. He thought he might be sick.
The woman walked away and came back carrying a small rectangular case covered in red leather. She dropped it in his lap.
“I found this in your coat pocket,” she said. “Maybe there’s something in it that’ll help.” Her tone was matter-of–fact, almost patient. “I know it’s tough waking up from that stuff.” She settled herself with a loud sigh in a chair next to a low dresser, the only furniture in the room besides the bed. She sat back with her arms folded and her head against the wall, watching him with lazy disinterest.
He should have been angry–what right did she have to go through his pockets?—but he could only be grateful. He swallowed against the nausea and opened the case. Two hypodermic syringes, two needles and two glass vials, each resting in its own plush furrow. He looked closely; he wanted the vial with cocaine. Another dose of morphine and he’d never get home.
The secure attachment of needle to syringe, the vial’s careful opening, the precise drawing of liquid into glass barrel–he was proud of himself, how expert he had become these past four months. Nothing spilled, nothing dropped, no accidental stabs. He felt serious and purposeful at his work, like a surgeon. He pinched some flesh on his thigh, halfway between hip and knee.
He liked the pain too, that exquisite moment of entry, the burning in his flesh that followed. He sucked in his breath, squeezed the plunger, slid the needle free. He closed his eyes, waiting.
“I don’t know how you can do that. I could never stick myself.”
She looked so much prettier now, with the light shining on her yellow hair. She leaned forward and the front of her dressing gown fell open. He could see her breasts and a little of her stomach. The sight pleased him, but he had no desire to go to her yet. She was so kind, sitting with him there. Her kindness and beauty made him want to cry. Maybe he loved her.
The woman must have caught his glance; she pulled her dressing gown closed with a self-conscious smirk.
“I like to drink my fun,” she said. “Give me whiskey any day. I don’t mind a bit of laudanum when I can’t sleep, a tonic now and then. But needles!” She shook her head and frowned. “A young man like you.”
The woman disapproved because she didn’t understand. Her judgment didn’t bother him. His mind was clear as winter, his muscles poised and taut, drawn bows ready for release. “Come here, “ he said.
She shook her head again, this time with a snort. “Oh, no! None of that. I’m tired.”
He wished he could remember if he’d touched her that night; he’d like to think about it on the dark road home. He packed his instruments and stood up, once more conscious of his half-clothed state and glad that his shirttails covered enough.
“My trousers,” he said.
“Over there.” She pointed from her chair. “On the floor over there, by the foot of the bed.”
She watched him pick up his clothes and then raised herself heavily. “Don’t mind me if I lie down.” She shuffled to the bed and spread herself across its rumpled sheets. “Come visit me anytime,” she mumbled, half asleep. “You’re a good boy.”
Daniel dressed, put on his hat and coat, left the woman snoring on the bed. He made his way down a low-ceilinged hallway, its odor a noxious stew of dirty linen, spilled beer and shameful acts. From a window behind him, the wan glow of a single moonbeam lit his way.
There was no need to tiptoe; a thin carpet muffled his footsteps and he was sure no one was awake to hear him leave. But when he reached the end of the hall, a low, sustained groan startled him. Suddenly panicked, he careened down a narrow flight of stairs and into the sharp, clear night, leaving the front door open behind him.
Daniel’s fear propelled him forward, but he struggled not to run. The groan wasn’t his, but it might as well have been, its animal message of pleasure or pain—he couldn’t tell which—touching some primitive part of him unconnected to his mind or his heart. And, although they were his own echoing footsteps he heard, Daniel was certain someone had followed him out of the house.