by Anthony Olszewski
Upon opening his eyes the faces of his fellow subway passengers were transformed into grotesque dramatic masks that flew at him and, only when a collision seemed inevitable, insanely spun away. For a few seconds he watched the weird kaleidoscope dance of the masks with fascination, but soon closed his eyes to escape it. Closing his eyes was a slow, consciously forced process for the insides of his eyelids were tormented as if by hot, dry sand. This painful sensation brought back the monsoon of his metabolism like a tidal wave smashing a small harbor town.
Every joint ached with a pain akin to a toothache. Sweat, now burning, now freezing, welled up along his palms, forehead and neck. His stomach was racked with pain and nausea. The beating of his heart and the surging of his blood echoed in his head like the faulty plumbing of a flop-house.
To maintain some semblance of control, in order to function in this very undemanding situation, he forced the memory of the time before he was metabolically tethered into mind. That label was applied to him by a prison psychiatrist. He was not exactly sure what it meant but the description reminded him of a model airplane that he had stolen at the age of ten or twelve. The plane actually flew and was kept under control by a length of string. He got the engine started and shortly it was airborne. Something went wrong. Engine still roaring, exhausts spitting flame, it crashed into the mud. As if viewing a photograph, he saw his hand still holding the limp leash that was still connected to the groaning, shattered toy.
Again opening his eyes, he thought he saw a bloodstain on the knee of the leg of his pants. Furiously rubbing at it, he soon realized that it was only a slight rust stain.
Looking down at the floor, a demented Christ stared back at him from the front page of a tabloid. The headline read, “Manson Convicted.” Once he had made the front page of the Daily News. The headline then was “Kid Dillinger Nabbed.” The newspaper quoted the police report as stating that “some of the items confiscated were three full cases of army issue forty-five caliber, semi-automatic pistols, one locked metal box containing forty thousand dollars and several shoe boxes full of jewelry. He lucked out that time. If the police had not stolen the Thompson guns, he would still be in jail. As it was, he had served twelve years of a twenty-year sentence.
The memory of the murder forced itself upon him. The sight was now before his eyes as if he was watching himself from a great height. The hatchet had been stolen from a parked bus. Waiting outside an apartment building, he saw an elderly women open one of the familiar brown envelopes and deposit its green payload into her purse. Following her to the bank, he waited outside. He only meant to scare her, but, with a fever born of desperation, she resisted. With the same fever he sent her corpse flying to the gutter.
Taking her purse, he ran. It was several blocks before he noticed that he was still carrying the blood-stained weapon. After hiding the hatchet under a car, he proceeded to Journal Square.
With a screaming, grinding howl, the subway lurched forward and then halted.
Before making his way to the street, he headed to the men’s rest room. On the door someone had scrawled a message: REPENT NOW. After entering, his nostrils were assaulted by the strange fishy stench of the place. The odor sent him into a convulsion of vomiting. Finished, he spat on the floor.
Removing the small collection of bills, he slowly counted. One hundred sixty-seven. That was enough for two days of space travel or five days of freedom from withdrawal. He decided to compromise with himself. Splurging today, he would then pace himself until he made another score.
The stone portal of the subway, like a gateway to the abyss allowed him to enter the street. He soon found the social club that was his destination, his target.
Eighty dollars was hidden in his underwear. Seven dollars was in his left pants pocket. That was for the use of the room and the hypodermic needle. Eighty dollars was in his right pants pocket. That was for the purchase of narcotics.
Furtively, he stumbled into the club. Behind the counter stood a thin man of medium height and of indeterminate age. From the look of his drawn, white, parchment-like skin, he had never seen sunlight. This was especially noticeable in his face. His lack of color, coupled with the dark interior of the club, revealed his face to be composed of a series of sharp, angular, shadows. The teeth were bared in a mockery of a grin.
“What do you want to do me out of now?”
With some initial difficulty he was able to reply, “Eight Sal. Eight.”
“Where’s the money? If you came here to play some sort of game you’d better take off now. It’s not like it’s your first time here.”
“Yeah, yeah you’re right. It’s just like it was real hard for me to make a score this time.”
“I figured that when you didn’t show yesterday.”
“That’s all. Here. Count it.”
“Don’t worry. I will.”
Having assured himself that eighty dollars had indeed been handed over to him, Sal signaled an OK to one of the members to complete the transaction.
“Are you carrying this or are you gonna do it here.”
“I better stay in the city tonight.”
Pointing to one of the patrons, “Follow him. He’ll take care of you.”
“Thanks Sal. Thanks a lot.”