I’m in a phone booth in the lobby of the Radisson Hotel. I’m talking to my younger brother, Enda, in London. I’ve been sitting on this red, velvet seat for ages. Before that, I sat on the sofas around the corner for a while. And before that, I was outside smoking a cigarette. This is because I’ve been waiting for Lorna to pitch up for the last two hours. I can’t remember whether we arranged to meet at seven-thirty or eight-thirty. Either way, Lorna is late.
“You are taking proper care of yourself,” Enda says.
“Yes. I said I was.” I try to hide the irritation I feel. He’s my younger brother and he’s acting like my father – not that either of us have personal experience of how one of those should behave.
“You don’t sound good.” Enda sounds even more concerned now.
“I’m just tired,” I lie. I learnt that trick from Shelley. Anyone says you’re out of sorts, acting unusually, not being yourself, not looking well, anything like that, the answer you give is tiredness. If they press you, you say you think you might be coming down with something. That’s usually in person, face-to-face, that you pull the second one out the bag. This is how to behave when on smack. All the times I tried to get Shelley off it, all the times I saw through what she was saying to me, and now here I am doing exactly what she did and saying exactly what she said. According to Shelley, I was a founding member of the AHF – the Anti-Heroin Front. Me and Tara started it apparently. Now look at me. I’ve been converted to the other side.
Through the glass doors at the entrance, I see Lorna standing outside. “I’ve got to go now,” I say to Enda.
“Call me tomorrow,” he says.
“I’ll call in a few days. Take care. Love you.” I quickly put down the phone and step out of the booth.
“You’re late,” I say to Lorna as I walk out of the hotel and into the night.
“You’ll adjust to me soon.” Lorna kisses me on the lips. She takes my hand and we walk towards her car. It’s not actually Lorna’s car. I learned that the other tonight. The old Dolomite belongs to her ex-boyfriend. It’s a perfectly rusty example of an old banger. It doesn’t go quicker than fifty miles an hour. It’s covered in dents. And there’s a hole slightly bigger than the size of a ten-pence piece in the floor, near the gearstick. The air comes through it, but it also functions as an ashtray, so it has a purpose.
Lorna’s contact in Kings Cross is still dry. From Manly, she drives in the direction of Parramatta. She’s not very talkative tonight. Neither am I. When we arrive on the dealer’s street, I wait in the car. Lorna gets out and knocks on his door. It’s a rough area. It’s dark. I’m nervous waiting here alone. Like last time, I lock my door and lean over to the driver’s side to lock that door too.
The young people walking past on the pavement look like gang members. The boys wear baseball hats. They have matching baseball shirts that are overly large and their shorts, made of a shiny material, are nearly as long as trousers. The girls would blend in well in Essex. They wear skimpy dresses or short skirts and low-cut tops. Their make-up is overdone in that way that makes you wonder whether they might be transsexual.
Thinking of transsexuals, I think of Angel. Perhaps I should have returned to Manhattan and stayed with her. I would have had a better chance of staying off heroin. She wouldn’t have kept me if I was taking it. The problem with that idea is that I was too embarrassed for her to see me looking ill. I wanted to get off the smack first, put on some weight and wait for my skin to clear before I saw her. I wanted to look the same as when I’d last seen her, look the same as how she would remember me. She’s one person that I haven’t yet had to lie to – through my avoidance of her only.
“Spider!” I scream, as we’re driving out of the suburb. “Stop the car! Stop the car!”
Lorna pulls over on a grass verge. I leap out of the Dolomite. I’m jumping up and down on the spot. Spiders make me do that.
“What’s wrong?” Lorna steps out of the car.
“There’s a spider. It’s huge.”
Lorna pokes her head through the open window on the driver’s side. “Where is it?”
“It was on the dashboard – on my side. Tell me when you’ve got it.” I’m still jumping. I’m glad this will be the last spider I see.
With her bare hands, Lorna picks up the hairy, brown spider and throws it on the grass. We get back inside the car and continue the journey in silence.
“You’re quiet,” Lorna says without a glance in my direction. I’ve noticed she rarely looks at me when she’s talking, even when we’re not in the car. She’s one of those people who isn’t good at making, let alone maintaining, eye contact. I put it down to the low- or no-self-esteem I imagine she suffers from.
“I’m just tired,” I say. The standard smackhead response. She knows it herself, I’m sure.
“You would tell me if there was something wrong, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I would,” I reply. But I’m not exactly going to tell her my plan, am I?