Matthew Licht


Heroin clears the mind, but clogs the colon.

Laxatives are still legal, but the pharmaceutical industry keeps the good stuff under reserve, for addicts who can pay.

The Beverly Hills drugstore looked like the motherlode. Socialites floated in and out of the place on dream-clouds of lost weight and shrink-wrapped designer clothes.

Please dispense the true cleanser this time, Mister Pharmacist. I’m hurting bad. Honest.

But there was no dignified gent in a starched labcoat behind the prescriptions counter. Instead, a young woman.

“May I help you, sir?”

Her tone suggested she knew what I needed. Her thick glasses were X-ray Spex that saw through junkie-vampire mendacity.

Junkies, like dogs who defecate anywhere, have no dignity. “Laxatives, please, Miss. The extra-strength kind. Make that extra-extra-strength.”

She briefly searched the shelves behind her and drew out a little white cardboard coffin. She tapped the package with a fingertip.

“Federal law requires us to sell protective clothing in conjunction with this product, sir. Do you have a prescription?”

“Look, skip it. Give me a gross of the regular crap. And uh, while you’re at it, do you carry Extra-Small condoms?”

She had Extra-Small condoms. They’re the same as regular ones, just like Extra-Large. She exposed this advertising scam aimed at humiliation freaks and megalomaniacs with the ruler she kept by the register.

“You don’t need prophylactics,” she said. “You’re an addict who has a place to live and a well-paid profession. Let me guess: you like jazz.”

“I like to mind my own business.”

She lowered her chin. “All right, has it been two weeks since your last bowel movement, sir? If so, we can dispense with the prescription, for humanitarian reasons. Long periods without release make a person edgy, and rude.”

She slid the packet across the counter. A medicinal name was spelled out in bold block letters and Braille dots. There were no eye-catching colorful swirls, bikini girls or slogans.

“Shit like a bird!”

“Dump like a truck!”

She rested her elbows on the counter. A button on her labcoat popped. She hunched to smash her breasts together. I was so far gone, I lunged for the caca-tablets.

“Look mister, I want to help you. Even though you can still afford your drugs and don’t have health problems that are exacerbated by opiate misuse, you’re headed for trouble. Even worse than constipation.”

“What could be worse?”

“Legal shit, for starters. It’s a slippery slope, and pills are just more dope. Let nature resume its proper course. Give up heroin to achieve release.”

“Sounds romantic. But I’m in love with heroin. I tried to live without Her. It doesn’t work. I couldn’t work. I’d have been an unemployed wreck, if I kept it up.”

She took back the slim package. “Let me show you something different, sir. See those refrigerator cabinets by the far wall? That’s the security cameras’ blind spot. Meet me there. This isn’t for public entertainment.”

In the drugstore’s cold dark zone, she squatted and pretended to show me where the cream sodas were. There was nothing under her labcoat but skin.

She said she knocked off at 7 p.m.

For the rest of the afternoon, I had something to think about besides how long till the next shot.

Heroin’s a jealous wife. My wrist shook when I checked my watch to see whether there was time to drive home, park, make sure my agent or some studio bigwig hadn’t left phone messages, unpack the works stashed in the First Aid kit in the bathroom, hang my jacket on the hook the decorator installed, roll up my sleeve, tie off with the condom-colored surgical tube, insert the sterilized Ever-Sharp syringe into the ulcer-hole in the crook of my elbow which is why I never roll up my long-sleeve Hawaiian shirts in public, not even on Santa Ana days, and feel what keeps me, thousands like me and millions less fortunate than me hooked full-time. The agony of stool retention dematerialized like peace-pipe smoke from a Ghost Dance ceremony in the desert beyond the Hollywood Hills.

Can’t even puke anymore.

Reverse the ritual, disinfect the wound that never heals, put the drug-toys away, ooze out to the car and drive back to the pharmacy.

Eyelids roll down like flesh-colored window-shades in a depressing motel to soften a pornographic sunset. One of the wonderful things about skag is that it leaves you lucid, fully aware and concentrated on what matters most in a drug-induced life where everything makes sense.

OK, you’re stoned out of your mind.

She was already in the parking lot, in her car, reading a book: a hardback, not some drugstore bestseller. The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, a book I was supposed to have read before I dropped out of college. I skipped through to the chapter that’s supposed to be about coke.

Junk later cleared that peculiar passage’s message.

The zombie approached, rapped on her window. She stuck the novel in the glove compartment, opened up and taught a refresher course in car dates as the drugstore’s parking lot emptied.

 “Let’s move it to my car,” I said, when it was dark. “There’s more room, and tinted windows in back.”

“Women feel more comfortable in their own space, mister. How long has it been since you were with a woman?”

“You saying I’ve lost the touch?”

“Let me show you.”

The demonstration was like being slowly crushed by a python of pussy. “Gonna burn away everything you’ve got,” she whispered. “You won’t want anything but what I give you. Squeeze inside me twice to let me know you understand and agree.”

There was no other way to express thoughts that weren’t even mine.

The bliss that you don’t exist. Then even the bliss disappears and you fade out.

She didn’t tell me where she lived. She made me come back to the drugstore to pick her up after work, and she was always late.

No dope lectures. Instead, the silent treatment, as wet, warm and dark as being born again, only this time it was a conscious crawl down the twelve steps that led from car dates to a night at her place, no matter how far that was from the First Aid kit at home.

Her place was Step Five or Six.

She taught me I hadn’t learned anything from years of drug-assisted service to The Motion Picture Industry.

She lent me her copy of The Magic Mountain when she was done with it. Fifth time around, she said, and the story only gets better.

The guy in the book winds up at a swank TB resort even though he isn’t sick, and falls in love with a woman who’s dying. She shows him her X-ray, and outlines her heart with her finger. Then she points out her shadowy lungs, which are full of some pulpy crud that wants to kill her.

At that point, I hadn’t enjoyed a shot in days. She made me retain body fluids at critical moments, while she gushed from a bottomless reservoir.

The lady in the novel dies real gory.

This literary Liebestod packed visceral whallop. I dropped the book, slammed the bathroom door and sat down without even a sideways glance at the First Aid Kit.

The pile was a magic mountain, and it was real. The creation was a product of love, or at least of going through the physical motions. But the emotion was there. Love flowed through my veins and intestines in the form of light. An astral body that used to be me levitated up, up and away.

Never felt that way about a finished script or the subsequent box office smash, or flop.

An enlightened human being picked her up at the drugstore at sunset. Beams of invisible warm love streamed from my eyes, mouth and ass. She looked into my eyeholes. A junkie no longer, or not that kind of junkie. But I wasn’t free, never was, never wanted to be. She put a hand over my mouth when I started to say I love you.

“You’ve still got a lot to lose,” she said.

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