By Philip D. Brown © 2008
They had left my brother slumped in his chair and the rest of him on the wall. Two of them drove to town and turned themselves in though neither of them had tripped the trigger. The one who had called me. It had been an accident. He didn't ask for it but I gave him my forgiveness.
I wasn't there. I didn't have to witness it but I had done enough drugs so I could imagine it perfectly. The perfect moment of explosion when the top of his head tore away and the rest of the fools sat there stunned, stupid and silent. I picked up the friend who killed my brother and we drove out of town.
By the time the sun came up we had reached Moline. We abandoned the car in an alley and started to walk and when we got tired we sat down and held out our thumbs. A rusted out Toyota stopped and we climbed in. It carried us across the river that ran beneath us and we passed through Davenport and moved into the quiet Iowa farmland.
The people who picked us up were people like us. That is what they thought. I could tell. They thought certain things tied us together but they couldn't see the thoughts we carried in our heads. They didn't know about my brother. They never saw the syringe.
The one who drove the Toyota listened to country radio and shared his dope. I sat in the front which put me in the middle as I passed the pipe to my left and then behind me and again to my left. Until it was gone. When he pulled into a rest area and decided to sleep on a table I drove his car away. As I pulled out I changed the station on his radio. The friend who killed my brother climbed over the seat and offered me a cigarette.
We had never talked much and that didn't change. I didn't ask him what it felt like watching a head explode while you were tripping. If the trigger felt warm or cold. We left the Toyota in Des Moines. We were making good time. The dope we had smoked wasn't very strong.
A professor who drove a Honda picked us up and brought us into Ames in a rainstorm that made it difficult to see. He dropped us at a hostel where we signed papers which stated we weren't in possession of drugs or wanted by the law. They didn't ask for I.D. and I signed my brother's name.
That night he brought out the syringe and I brought out the Seconal. After we melted it down he did us both because he did it better and we slept through to morning.
In the morning they fed us cereal that ground against our teeth like bits of sand and after a cup of coffee we left. But not before we thanked them and they wished us well. The rain had stopped and we didn't wait long before a farmer with a ponytail let us ride with him south to the interstate where we sat for two hours until a van hesitated and then pulled over.
The brother drove and the sister talked. They were on vacation and happy to give us a ride but only to Council Bluffs where they had planned to stop for the day. They didn't say why and it wasn't in my power to imagine. The sister made us tuna fish sandwiches which I ate but didn't enjoy. I ate because I was hungry and while I ate I thought of my parents who I had not seen in three years and I wondered what my mother would wear to the funeral. If I had seen the dress. It occurred to me that the wake would have to be closed-casket.
We had put enough distance between us and my brother and we were thirsty so we found a bar and had a drink. It was the middle of the afternoon and the bar was dark and cool. The beer cost fifty cents a glass. The whiskey a dollar. It was a cheap place to take the edge off the day though I wasn't feeling any particular edge.
Baseball was on the television and the bartender talked about it like it mattered to him. It had once to me when I had played with my brother and this friend before things changed and we took a liking to different things. But I could speak the language and its currency bought us a drink.
When we left the bar the sun was going down and I could feel the alcohol but not enough for it to matter. We walked a couple of miles until we reached the highway where we sat and watched the sun fall farther into the west.
The kid who picked us up wasn't going far but thirty miles is thirty miles so we couldn't complain. Where he left us wasn't hopeful but there was an overpass and we climbed up the concrete and laid down to wait for morning.
We had eaten some peanuts in the bar but that and the tuna didn't add up to much and hunger kept me awake. Something else would have helped but we were out of drugs though we still had the syringe. We would be able to deliver them when we found them and I felt confident we would.
The traffic was sparse enough so that when it came it came as a surprise. My friend had fallen asleep and I listened to his dreams and the rumble of cars and trucks as they passed a few feet above us. I couldn't know his dreams but as I fell asleep I was grateful they weren't mine.
A rancher who drove a pickup with two gas tanks carried us across Nebraska and we only stopped once and that was for food. We had money but he bought us lunch because he said we reminded him of his son who was in jail in North Platte. It was the son he was going to see and why we had gotten the ride.
The son was in for drugs and the father said he suspected we had used them. He wanted to know the attraction. I told him they made the day pass in a more acceptable manner and kept us separate from things we didn't want a part of. He said that was a sad way to live but that he had seen enough so as not to pass judgement.
He left us on what passed for Main Street and we wished him luck with his son and his travels. He seemed like a good man and I understood his trouble.
We walked to a park where we bought drugs from people who gather in places like that and recognize their kind when they see them. The drugs were heroin and cocaine which are a good combination but we planned to do them separately so they would last a little longer though it was never long enough.
There was no reason to wait so we moved off to where we could be private and ran some of the cocaine because it's better to start high and then move low. The cocaine was stronger than we had hoped from that small of a town. When we left I was grinding my teeth so it may have been cut with some speed.
It took us another day and three more rides to reach Denver and then another to Boulder. We had some near accidents between Sterling and Denver with an Army kid who picked us up and couldn't get enough dope into his lungs until finally he reached his limit and couldn't help but fall asleep. My friend who sat in the back kept an eye on the driver's head and when it started to drop he gave it a whack and that brought him around. The driver didn't seem to mind this and neither did we since he shared his dope and it was strong and that was what mattered.
We met some people in Boulder and we decided to stay. The people we met called themselves The Family which is an odd thing to call yourself when it looks like that is what you are trying to escape. Our first night there we followed them to a party at a house near the university where five dollars entitled you to all the beer you could drink but I don't think they had imagined people with such a thirst. I drank my share and so did my friend but the ones who called themselves The Family were another matter all together.
I watched them and this is what I saw. They drank until they could drink no more and then went outside and forced themselves to throw it all up and then went back to drink some more and then they did it again. It seemed they intended to get their money's worth and had developed a system and it looked like it worked.
After the party they drove us up in the mountains where it was cold and windy especially for us who were without sleeping bags or even a change of clothes. They quickly passed out and we built a fire which helped with the cold but not as much as the heroin we fixed and then ran. Nodding out I stared at the sky where the stars seemed too close and looked like pins anxious to prick.
In the morning I smelled like smoke and felt deeply cold. It made me even colder to watch one of them strip down and jump into a stream which couldn't have been far from ice. We decided then that these were interesting people but we would part our ways.
In town we loitered on streets near the university because that is where things seemed to happen. We met a girl and her two friends who were driving around looking for places to crash. The girl was from Boston and so were her friends. She was there to attend school and her friends had helped her with the drive and the move west. There was a problem involving time and schedules and she had three days before she could move into her room. The guys she was with didn't seem to mind and were looking to have a good time. I wasn't sure about them but I liked her accent and the way it made her sound tougher than she looked. I understood that living is mostly acting and how we all get stuck in our parts.
We spotted an empty house and were driving around waiting for it to be late enough to be safe. It was a panel truck and she was driving and when we brought out the heroin they paid attention. He fixed me first and then himself and they watched us and I didn't mind. I could see that her friends had made a decision and that she thought it a bad one but I was seeing and not feeling so it didn't matter to me.
The girl's friends were determined and once things start they seem to play out. We ignored their innocent questions and did one and then the other and they both got sick as we knew they would. We had to help them into the house and after we made sure they were breathing we laid them down so they could sleep it off. They had a story they could tell when they got back home and that is all most people need or want.
My friend fell asleep but the girl didn't and though it was dark I could see her watching me. She didn't look capable of sleep or even rest so I told her that I could help. She told me that needles were out of the question because they were an invasion she wasn't willing to accept.
I showed her another way and she snorted two lines because I said it was all right and that once wouldn't make her an addict. She curled up against a wall and I listened to her dream and her dreams were loud and violent. I didn't sleep at all and before any of them woke I left.
I continued west alone because that is the direction I had been heading. I don't know how many rides it took because I had stopped counting as numbers just add up and in the end add up to nothing. The rides brought me to San Francisco where it was colder than anywhere I had been except for the mountains.
The last ride left me on Market in the middle of a parade which seemed more like a party though not very orderly. I asked and a man told me it was the 4th of July which is Independence Day and that is what they were celebrating. The day surprised me as I had not kept track but I remembered the year and knew it marked two hundred.
I left the parade and walked on and when it grew dark I was on the wharf. I had stopped to buy a pint and in a public rest room I did the last of the heroin. I no longer had the syringe so when I did it I snorted it off the back of my hand as I had shown the girl from Boston. When I thought of her I hoped that she got her room and that her dreams had let her be.
I must have fallen asleep and when I did I didn't dream though I thought I was when I heard the strange sounds. They were words spoken in Japanese. A mother talking to her baby who in this case was a boy. She was holding a small flag and pointing to the sky where the fireworks' burning trails lit up the bay. She noticed me watching her and nodded her head as if I were part of it too. I didn't understand her words but I remembered the emotion and that was a start. I heard the boom and looked up at the sky and watched the rockets burn down toward the water.
Philip D. Brown's short stories have been published in literary mags. One of which won a Pen Syndicated Fiction Award. He lives in Chicago where he plays poker and continues to look for the angle out.