The Agony and the Ecstasy

Charlie sat on the beaten old armchair, legs stretched out, feet crossed and his body slumped back into the raggedy cushions. A cigarette stub hung from his thin lips, smoke trailing from the tip and smarting his eye. His untidy flat, with its sparse, worn furnishings, reflected the grim circumstances of his life. Like the dingy room he was sitting in, it was a mess.

He had just been released from jail: a three week sentence for petty theft. On route from the prison to his flat, he stole a bag from a parked car. It contained a lap-top computer which he sold for a fraction of its true worth. The money was just enough to get him what he needed.

Grinding the cigarette butt into an ashtray, he thought about his life. It wasn’t always like this. A year ago everything was going his way. He was happily married and his wife was pregnant. The ultrasound images of the foetus revealed it was a boy. Something inside him change that day. He felt different. The woman he loved more than anything in the world was going to bear his child, their child.  She was a dispenser and worked in a supermarket chemist. Everybody liked her. She had one of those personalities that you couldn’t help warming to. Yes everything was great. The future was bright for the pair of them and everything was going their way. He felt good and so did she. Life couldn’t get better than this.

But life is full of surprises.

His world fell apart when a drunken bum lost control of his vehicle. It mounted the pavement and crushed his wife against a wall, killing her and the unborn baby.

One minute everything is going your way and the next your life is in ruins.

Charlie reached out and picked up an elastic strap, which he wound around his withered arm. Using his teeth and his free hand, he tugged at the ends and tied a crude knot. On the table among a cluster of takeaway cartons and empty beer cans sat his works — a metal box containing a syringe, spoon and some cotton wool. The lid was open. He reached inside, took out the spoon, then he tore off a small piece of the cotton wool. His eyes were red and the flesh around the eyes was sunken and dark. The conjunctiva on his left eye was infected and sore. He rubbed it with the back of his hand.

The television flickered in the corner of the room.

With a dirty fingernail, Charlie picked at the corner of his eye. Wiping his finger on his jeans, he then lit a match and held it over a candle. The wick caught light and burned with a flickering yellow flame. He then opened a wrap on the table. It was filled with brown powder. He tipped it into a spoon, added a little water and held it over the candle flame.

The heroin quickly dissolved, then began to bubble. Scum formed on the surface of the bubbles. Whatever this shit had been cut with it looked foul, he thought. Charlie was more worried about the purity of the dope than the risk to his health. Maybe I should look for another dealer? It was a futile thought. Looking for another dealer was out of the question. He knew the heroin had been over-cut. What could he do? You get what you can, good or bad. And so he put the cotton wool in the spoon to filter out the impurities, pressed the needle into it and pulled the plunger back. The syringe slowly filled.

Charlie had been looking forward to this moment. For a few hours at least the heroin would block out the pain.

With two fingers, he started patting a vein on the inside of his arm. Soon the drug would be coursing through his body, on route to the deprived synapses that were screaming for it.

Finally the vein swelled enough to take the shot. He took the syringe and slid the needle in. A plume of blood mingled with the contents of the syringe. Holding his breath, he pressed the plunger. The liquid slowly disappeared as it siphoned into his blood stream. Tugging at the elastic strap, he let himself fall back into the the armchair. For a while at least he would forget about the mess of his pathetic life.


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