Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chasing the Dragon

He moulds the foil in the palm of a grimy hand. The lighter flickers blue flame into orange as its radiant breath blackens and burns. The irony that he's charring toxins from the foil before adding his own, doesn't escape him. Content with his handiwork, he wraps another rectangle of foil around his unlit cigarette, forming a neatly constructed cylinder. He crumbles the black tar and places a perfect tube to imperfect lips. Flame licks the foil bowl as tar boils. Releasing the dragon's breath he chases the euphoric smoke with his makeshift straw; sucked up, forced in, ingested, burned. He's reached the point of diminishing return. No euphoria just numb stasis. 

"Jesus Glenn, what's this shit?" Deshane has come to assess his client's eligibility for assisted care. Glenn's crashed and burned in his grubby and badly covered armchair. Around his feet three large woven tartan bags filled with belongings, largely rummaged from op-shop bins or donated by well-meaning philanthropic do-gooders. There are mouse droppings on the floor and the old iron bed is unmade with filthy sheets. Dishes are piled in the sink still coated with the remains of frozen dinners and the air is heavy with cigarette smoke. Curtains drawn. It's dim and dingy. Glenn stirs, his eyes bloodshot and pupils wide.


He straightens up as far as he's capable. His head still lolling sideways as if half severed. Badly cut hair falls across his right eye as he squints at the sunlight streaming through the open door. He hasn't seen sunlight for days.

"You're supposed to be getting ready to move!" 

Deshane's found his client alternative accommodation away from the filth and in a better neighbourhood. Too far to walk to 'drug corner' and waste his welfare funds on Afghan brown. But he knows too well that Glenn will find a way, if not here, somewhere else.  He's now trying to access mental health care for his hopeless charge. Years of heroin abuse combined with deep psychological problems has seen the decline of a once alert and creative man. Still only in his 30's he looks 50. He has moments of clarity and is articulate and creative then sinks into pools of depression or hallucination but more often drug-induced stupor.

"See the lizards on the wall?"

Glenn begins to giggle. He doesn't mind them there when he's stoned. Hates them when he's clean. They get messed up with the voices in his head, all growls and whispers. They hide under his bed waiting for an errant foot to dangle. A nicotine stained finger points to nothing as the addict's eyes widen observing invisible morphing beings escalating from the skirting board. His eyes trace their movement as they scamper across the ceiling.

"They're scared of you Deshane. They're running away.  . . fly . . fly my pretties."

He waves them off with a flourish and sinks back soporific in his chair.

"And the voices are back."

He begins to doze again and the tar-coated foil bowl falls from his grip. 

"You been using today?"

By 'using' Deshane means shooting up. That's usually what knocks him cold. His client has taken to smoking it rather than injecting. since the abscesses between his toes have prevented him from wearing shoes. There's nowhere else he can find a vein these days.

"Er, I dunno. I can't remember. Think I just had a smoke.  Dolly doesn't do anything."

He begins to rouse and a sadness falls like a cowl across lifeless eyes.

"You still taking your Methadone?"

Deshane knows he alternates between regular medication and binges on brown.

"The Dolly's not working man . . it's just not working. Smack doesn't work. Nothing works. I want to die."

He's resisted the program since he was placed on it but there's no high, just a dullness that keeps the voices quiet; the monsters still.  NA doesn't work. Just makes him want to use, listening to all those people and their experiences - what they felt, what they want. He hates the one upmanship between addicts. Who had the better gear, the closest shave. He just wants to be rid of it.  Deshane's seen it all before. This is just a routine trip in an unbroken cycle. A downward spiral through every level of Hell. All he can do is check that his client's OK, that the place is kept clean because 'clean' is something Glenn will never be.

"C'mon man, lets get you into the shower and clean this mess up."

It wasn't always his drug of choice. She was awesome, fun, witty and they had the time of their life in the 90's. Dancing from rave to rave, partying all night, sleeping all day. He had a life then. Began writing a book, even had a job as a librarian. Again he's aware of the irony of an intelligent, well-educated man sinking to the depths by rejecting the girl and embracing the dragon.  

She used to be more intoxicating than any substance. Black fingernails and orange hair, unconventional, uncomplicated. She was his world his epicentre of psychedelic light surrounded by flickering beams and booming base. Trance became life. Hyped and hot. High and heavenly. They saw the light. Such light.  It drew them to the flame. Tantric vibration in a psytrance dimension. Hypnotic arrangement of synthetic rhythms made magical by chemical enhancements.  He took it one step further and it scared her. 

Too late. The claws of the beast took hold. He knows what it's like to look into the eye of the universe and he wants to do it again and again but it eludes him.  She stayed for a while, put up with it, thought it wouldn't last. When she found him overdosed in the bathtub that was enough.   He flew, she fell. He let her go and chased the dragon; she was afraid of reptiles.

The flame beneath the foil licks blue and yellow as the sludge percolates and once again he traces the line of smoke with his home-made straw. This is his life now,chasing never slaying. No longer flying high, he's swimming the channel, barely keeping afloat. He speedballs but there's a drought. His dealer's got nothing but a bad bundle and is tapping the bags. Even the lizards have stopped crawling on his walls. Just the voices in his head and this is all that calms them.  The hit kicks in but it's not a high, simply a doorway to oblivion as he leans back on the cool stone, babbling, salivating; stupid grin on his face. Ignored by passers-by except one who takes his photograph because he belongs in a world so alien to hers.

He remembers the rush but it's long gone. Now it's a need, a poor choice made.  A life wasted, a woman lost. All that remains is a hungry beast continuing to devour and he's done being digested.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Woman or Dragon: The Ride of Your Life"


  1. drugs certainly fit both sides...nice write helen...once it gets its claws into you it is a beast to get out...not my fav write of yours...missing something to make me care...

  2. Oh, this one is disturbing. I think you've captured the gray hopelessness of drug addiction. I thought about Brian's comment that something was missing to make one care, and I'm wondering if that was intentional. This was truly grim.

    (And we won't talk about how you know all those terms...)

  3. Nice. This one rivals Tom's descriptive style. Solid effort, all around.

    Watch the commas.
    Why is "assess" in quotes in paragraph 2?
    Soporific twice? That word sticks out, but that might just be me.

  4. Helen,
    This was real hard to read, easy to understand, and just a jump from reality. -J

  5. p.s. why the photo? To take sit out of the more general victim and into the specific?

  6. You have a couple of punctuation mistakes, like the 'aberrant apostrophe' - they always trip me up and break the spell. ('Hate's the 'one upmanship' between addicts').

    Since I have a bit of a fascination with the psychology of additiction (and mental illness), I rather liked this one, You have some wonderful imagery, and on the whole it's well-written, but it's a little disjointed. Partly that may be on purpose, of course, because Glenn's mind is disjointed, but I got lost.

    Somewhere after he drops his tin foil bowl and Deshane says 'let's get you in the shower', and during our flashback to when he had the girl, he is somehow transported out to the street and is using again. Did I miss something?