by Angela Pilson
“How was your first week?”
Cali counted the seventy-sixth ruby square on Dr. Harvey’s shag carpet. For a doctor, he had odd taste. She raised her brows at him, thicker and uneven since they won’t give her tweezers. Her lungs sighed and she cleared her throat. “Go home. Fuck your wife. I’m fine. You can always just sign my release.”
“I’d be lying, California.” He waited for the girl in cropped orange hair and green eyes to admit something, or anything, human.
“Fine, next week same time?” Cali said. “Don’t forget the chardonnay, dear. I love to get all tipsy and relaxed before dinner.” She stood and let the chicken-wire-windowed door slam. The walls were concrete grey and icy as she trailed her fingers along the smooth and pockmarked brick. Her fingers traced the grit between blocks until she reached room 147 where they traced the tiny raised dots beneath the numbers.
She looked inside her room through the wire diamonds on the glass. The bed was more of a cot, stale and lumpy from overweight teens on the verge of suicide and businessmen strung out on cocaine chic models in editorial spreads that waited at the bar for their next free drink and syringe.
Cali flopped onto the mattress, landing her cheek against the drool-stained, standard issue pillow. If her mother could see the state of these sheets, she’d throw them out. Or say she deserved it. She opened the drawer, even though she already knew what was in it. She explored the drawer the first day, hoping a fellow junkie would leave something behind for her. Instead she found a King James Biblte, its cover stained with a meaty odor only stomach acid gives.
The air in the box-like room fell, her skin sweating, cooling. Her spine twitched and she shivered. She closed her eyes, yesterday’s mascara and eyeliner still thick and matted, crunching lashes together. At least it’s not a loony bin. Someone with green hair once told her about one he went to. That Kesey got it right. The name rang a bell but no one answered the call. Only four weeks and six days to go before she’d see Paul and can get a good fix. It’s spring soon and the mushrooms will bloom.
Another chicken-wired door slammed as she followed the hall to the cafeteria. Heads of matted hair attached to white-yellow stained gowns were lined along the way chatting, nodding, yelling, shouting voices thick with cotton, Black Russian Hashish, speedball and other drugs she didn’t know. Her stomach grumbled, but instead of waiting she turned the corner to room 147 and lay down to return to memories.
She thought of the swings in their backyard and the cough coff hack her father made that fall. In six years, the doctors would say it was Agent Orange, lung cancer. Six months, they’d say. It had really only been two.
She thought of Paul and his dense glob of hair, black and greased with gland oils, the rush of pills and color and paints with phthalo blue and crimson globs on the bristles splotched across the canvas. He tilted his head back when she brushed her fingers through his hair, curling and soothing the strands. “Wish you were here, babe. I could use a stiff one. Rehab ain’t pretty. You should see these guys,” she laughed. “I can get ‘em hard, but a nurse comes in before I can do anything else. Fun to fuck with them though. Detox is bullshit. No point in cleaning out the gutters. Fuck, I can’t believe she tossed me in here. Your mom is cool though.” She smiled and drifted underneath the gritty bed sheet, the smell from the Bible barely noticeable.
“No, we can’t give you anything for detox. California, we’ve been over this.” Dr. Harvey pinched his bottle-green frames and set them beside his coffee mug covered in red lettering.
Cali shrugged, trying to find square eighty-two, but losing it among seventy-six and seventy-nine. She pushed against the legs of the chair, spinning from side to side. “Fine. We done today?”
“Don’t you want to talk about your father?”
Cali paused. She scratched at her elbow and stared at the oak linoleum wall behind him. “What do you want to know? The story is in the file.”
He shook his head and leaned forward on the desk. “Some things that need to be said aren’t written in black and white in a file.”
“Nothing here to say. I moved on and here I am,” she swept her arm revealing the office to him.
“Sticking a needle in your arm isn’t moving on.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Well, when do you want to discuss this?”
“When you have a kid. Then we’ll talk about fathers.”
Cali left the doctor’s office and returned to the stale comfort of a used mattress in a room used by crazies that soiled before her. Sterility destroyed the stains and smells of toxic flesh and rotting cells, but it was the knowing, the knowing of another life that came and went in this bed, this room, and looked into this mirror and saw the same thing, a corpse with a million befores molding the reflection.
She couldn’t sleep. She tossed around the sheet trying to mold her body around the lumps. She huffed, lied still, then slid her legs over the edge of the bed and shuffled down to the lounge. Laughter echoed from the T.V. She peeked around the corner. She recognized one of the rehab attendants from check-in. Jack was watching reruns of I Love Lucy and rocking in a blue plastic chair. He tossed his head back, mouth open wide to say “ah” to catch bits of popcorn kernels soaked with butter between his white teeth. Cali grinned and waited a few moments more, hiding behind the doorframe. Jack rocked back with laughter, echoing the T.V. audience. She leapt from behind the corner and leapt onto the couch, “Gotcha!”
Popcorn kernels flew in the air like fireworks as Jack flipped back. The bowl landed with a circling klank-klank-klan-kla-ka next to his head. He shuffled back on his buttery hands and looked up at Cali. She was laughing, hands still spread out in claws.
“What, what—the heller you doing here?” She dropped onto the plaid cushions in hysterics, holding her sides.
He stood, “Well? What are you doing here?” he asked with more urgency.
The question only set off louder hoots with longer strings of sniggers. Baby words came out of her mouth like “ah,” “cahahee,” and “bohohah.” She looked up at him, smiled, tried to say, “Cause I’m crazy.” But the last word didn’t make it out entirely. She erupted into an episode of giggling.
Jack huffed and sighed, the anger gone from his eyes. He picked up the chair and sat back down. “Okay,” he said, “why are you in the lounge?”
Cali crisscrossed her legs and leaned against the armrest. “You know how it is. Too many of the God’s drug and the grey matter takes to hell.”
He frowned. “That ain’t God’s drug. I know his drug and what they give some of you here is like ash.”
Her eyebrows rose. She tucked a mango tango strand behind her ear. “Oh you know do you? What is it then?”
Jack stopped rocking. He studied her, taking in her slight frame, emerald eyes dulled over the past six years, her white skin, and the pink jagged lines spiraling around her arms. He shuffled the chair closer to her and rested his elbows against his knees. He smoothed back his hair and folded his hands. “Okay. So, I used to live here. Like, not visit here every six months for rehab, but really live here. For me, the Outside didn’t exist. I was the Outside ya know? Nothing else ever came up unless it was to get fucked. But once I got in here they wouldn’t let me leave. Even when I was free of the cotton brothers,” he paused, “ya know like heroin, cocaine—“
“Yeah, and morphine I know.”
“Well, I didn’t go anywhere. I was stuck there. Like, that was my home. But, ya know why I’m here now?”
Cali rolled her eyes and shoved back from the armchair. “Let me guess, some cute little attendant captured your eye and you wanted to impress her.”
Jack stared at her harder. “No. I’m here cause I died.”
She didn’t blink. She sat back even farther, resting on her elbows and crossed her ankles. “So what? You died. Lots of people do. Want a cookie for making it back? You have to get it though, I’m fresh out of macadamia.”
He smirked and shook his head, “No, my heart stopped. Even after the other toxins flushed out, the acid came back and took me with it. You know what happened next?”
“No, Captain fucking Obvious, I wasn’t here then. Am I supposed to mind read now? Is that a side effect I didn’t know about?”
“I saw Jesus. He was on the TV when I woke up. I woke up after seven days. There’s a reason.” He whispered, “There was a Bible in the drawer, too.”
Cali stared at him, “So God’s drug is a Jesus on TV? Right. And I’m Mother Mary.”
Jack shook his head. “No! No! You’ve got it all wrong. See? God’s drug is Jesus. You get addicted and then he shows you how to get more of him. He’s the drug and the dealer. Ya see?”
In black and white on the screen Lucy wailed and everyone laughed.
“Let’s talk about your family.”
“Oh. You mean like Ma and Pop and brother Tommy?” She clapped her hands, “Oh and let’s not leave out Spot. He’s close enough to the definition, ain’t he?” She stretched and flopped back into the new peach fuzzy armchair. Feels more homey he said when she asked why peach. Then he should go home.
“Cali. Your mom brought you here—“
“Why? You gonna tell me why my mother threw me in here? Don’t bother. She’s informed me.”
“To deal with your dad. Why are you ignoring what happened? Just because he died doesn’t mean you have to forget he lived.”
Cali tossed herself forward and locked eyes with him. “Fuck you,” she said, straining to keep her voice low. “And fuck your file and fuck your degrees. They don’t tell you what happens to these people. And they sure as fuck don’t tell you what happened to me. I love my Daddy, he just couldn’t live with my mom anymore. We’re done. I’ll see you next week in group.”
She followed the trail of white brick to the bed to dreams to sleep. Away from doctors, Christ, and creeps. She paced in the bathroom, passing the head of orange in the mirror. The roots were longer and just as black reminding her of candy corn. Cali sighed and realized her bladder was expanding and full and throbbing pleading. When had she last pissed? She sat on the cold porcelain and waited. “Paul, that guy was fucking asking for it. If I weren’t afraid of jail…” she smiled. “I miss you. Why? Why why why.”
She waded a ball of toilet paper, wiped, and dropped it in the bowl. “I remember bath time with you. I would swish in bubbles and talk and talk. You always switched from toilet to countertop, sitting, crossing your knees at the ankles, uncrossing them. When I get home we’ll take some nebbies and gobs of candy and sparklers and have bath time like we used to.”
She climbed into the bathtub, delicately placing one toe in after another, pointing her feet. She slid back, the side cold against her shoulder blades. She stared at the faucet, imagining the metal on the inside, rusted. The hole where water gushed out and suddenly there was no air, she couldn’t breathe. Her lungs sucked and her diaphragm pushed but nothing came in. Tears dripped from her face as her shoulders bobbed. She raised her knees holding them close against her chest. Wet spots stained in circles on her pants, growing and expanding with every sigh and something inside her loosened.
Dr. Harvey sat knees crossed at ankles in a big circle of chairs and addicts with encouraging posters on the walls, pictures of healthy people, sick people, and a postcard of Rome tacked to the bulletin board.
“Okay, let’s get started. Does anyone have anything they want to share?” He peeked behind his glasses and sat back, pen poised above clipboard.
“I will,” Penny the Stripper blurted. “Here we are blabbing about our lives and shit, participating like we ‘posed to and Cali ain’t said shit since she bin here.” Penny crossed her skinny orange arms and stared holes into Cali’s skin. Cali stretched her arms back, glanced at the clock and sighed.
“Anyone else share the same feelings?”
A few murmured ayes and yeahs around the circle of depression and drugs. Cali didn’t blink. Instead, she shrugged. “I live off drugs, and if it weren’t illegal no one would give a shit.”
Dr. Harvey turned to her, “Do you really think that’s true?”
“Sure, why not? Everyone else is in here cause their parents care about them or some shit like that or they got caught or their kids cry for them to sober up and they feel bad and they think being in here will help but they’ll go right back to snorting and shooting.” She paused and smiled. “And babies will cry and parents will die.”
“You bitch. You have no fucking idea what our lives are like.” Penny sat up, ready to pounce, or pole dance, breasts heaving.
Cali stared hard at her and then said slowly. “No, you have no fucking idea. You whine and complain about how difficult it’s been since baby daddy left and babies are shitting and puking and you have to shake your pussy in front of horny guys and it’s soooo hard. Stop screwin’ every guy you see with a needle. You deserve whatever disease you got.”
Penny the Stripper’s eyes flashed, and then she laughed. She smiled wide, her eyebrows angled. Cali didn’t like that.
She leaned closer, “Did Daddy ever visit you when you were fucked up on nebbies? How about strawberries? Did he appear and say how proud he was of his little girl?” She lowered his voice, “I talked to your mom when she visited. You were being the same ungrateful cunt you are now sulking in your room. The fucking government paid for your school cause he died and you didn’t even go. You wasted your daddy’s death.”
Cali’s eyes blinked at her, wide and slipping. They slipped behind her face, her sphenoid bone, her throbbing pink brain. She saw divorced men at titty bars staring at tanned skin and soft curves and painted faces. Instead of staying behind her eyes, the men ran after her with slobbering faces and wet lips and meaty hands. And she ran.
She swiveled on hinges out of the room. Her feet felt like they were on fire on the cold sterile floor. Her world was sterile and her world was toxic. Toxic sterile toxicsterile toxisterile round and round the hot floor cooled her heels. Cali sucked in a sob swung open the bathroom door. She fell to the side of the toilet seat and retched out her sausage-linked intestines.
The diseases caked within her lungs, lovingly decorating the veins and pores with black icing that were just as thick as the sticky sweet. They were pneumatically pumped out along with all oxygen. Her stomach cried and outpoured yellow pink tears that were chunked with powdered pills coated with tar. The porcelain bowl guzzled her foodstuff, her heartstuff, her cells and sent it swirling, gurgling down its throat.
Her head was weighed down with solid, stable things. He shoulders shuddered as the muscles buckled around the diaphragm. Her hands rose to her mouth and tried to stop her stomach from emptying her out like a tourist with a fork to a crab shell. Her fingers only plugged her esophagus and forced her lungs to choke and expand. The hot liquid covered her fingers and dripped between her knuckles. Her hand flopped to her side as her back arched, pushed by the pleural membrane for any air.
Her stomach, as quickly as it flopped, flipped the flap and called it quits for the day, the rest of the liquid sliding down to burn along the sides. Bits of processed turkey, corn, and ham pizza were still stuck in between the slits of her teeth and caps of her molars. Her lungs gasped and coughed out the syrupy oxygen, spattering the bits onto the seat and back of the toilet lid. She slid down on her side and curdled. Like milk, she was spilt and wasted, and no one would cry.
Pink and ochre stained the front of her room 147 scrubs and clung to her breasts like ice. Cali shivered as sweat dripped onto her eyelids. They blinked as salt mixed with brine and oil burned her irises. Liquids puddled next to her cheek on the floor, flooding into the creases between tiles. Her heart fluttered with meaty wetness.
Cali’s mind vacated her skull leaving thoughts to be discovered like stains on hotel mattresses. Instead, she moved in with Daddy.
Mommy wasn’t nice to you and you were fighting and then you left don’t you love me I want to stay with you I don’t want to go back she’s mean. But I love you I thought I was your princess I’ll be a good girl I promise I won’t do it anymore, please just, Daddy don’t leave me.
Angela Pilson is a senior at CCU and an English major. Her flash fiction piece has recently been accepted for publication by North American Review. She has been published in Tempo, Archarios, and The Chanticleer.