The room was sparse, painted a muted maroon. Akira lay on the white and blue striped mattress, a pillow sandwiched between him and the wall. A ratty mustard blanket beneath him littered with empty cigarette packs, a lighter, keys and a white and blue box of Mallinkrodt 200mg Morphine. He smoked. From a warped collection of window panes above his head milky sunlight waded through the haze of swirling grey to match the afternoon outside. His hand moved across the blanket and knocked against the makeshift ashtray, a used teacup, flicking ash into its unwashed depths.
Akira blinked glacially into the half-light, looking across the empty floorboards watching the shift of dust on the twin speakers stacked atop a miscellanea of books. From top to bottom they read:
Dante’s Inferno, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, 虐殺器官 Genocidal Organ by Project Itoh, Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, パプリカ by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a blank notebook, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave and so on.
On closer inspection, one would see his mattress wasn’t a mattress at all, it was three large couch cushions, stained and lined with age. He’d bought them from a garage sale last week, leaving the couch itself behind. Naked and useless. He already had one of those, sitting adjacent to his kitchen down the short hall, soaked in beer. From there came an incessant buzzing from his fridge. Now, that buzzing was drowned out by the strikingly similar growl of Tom Waits twisting Bad As Me through his eardrums. Punctuated by the scream and convulsive tremors of the train tracks from the bridge outside. The sole reason he could afford the apartment without a roommate. Unbeknownst to him, someone was pounding on his front door. This person was becoming annoyed, and the pounding grew. Somewhere a large dog barked.
His dry lips pursed around the paper wrapped filter, his lungs breathing in with a replying sigh as his eyes drooped. Beside him a small alarm clock buzzed, the flashing digits 01:10 AM warped against a bottle of discarded bourbon. Then, his morphine stupor was interrupted. The wall shuddered with his body and his door swung open. Startled, Akira sat up in a puff of dust and smoke, the song changed. His hair fell about him in a raven mess. The first bars of Nous Etions Deux allowed him to hear what the familiar man in the doorway had to say.
Sleepily, he rubbed his eyes in a childlike gesture, ignoring the sting of hair in his eye and crawled off his couch cushions onto the floor. A cigarette burned between his fingers. His bruised knees felt blissful nothing. He pawed the floor, squinting, moving closer to the speakers and reaching for the dial. The schizophrenic surf rock drowned into a low murmur that filtered through the black mesh. The air became empty and charged with anxiety.
“You really haven’t changed,” the man breathed, relief flooding his expression at the sudden silence. As Akira lifted himself up with considerable effort he seemed to become agitated again. The man shifted in place. He averted his eyes from the sight of Akira, smeared with hues of injury, ‘LET LOVE IN’ emblazoned across his chest and patched up jeans clinging to his hips. His toes were poking through his socks. The man was unsure if he should come in.
The comment didn’t bother Akira. Gazing at him absently he saw now that Juda still had the face of a Calvin Klein model, the ones he’d seen glowering from bus stands and billboards. His hair had been lightly dusted with rain from the trip across the road into Akira’s building. Droplets were caught in the soft brown curls that framed his face, currently painted with unease. Even as his vision blurred it was Juda. Uptight and sickeningly attractive Juda. After the merciless wear of time Akira could only pick ‘it’ out in his eyes, the tired way he held himself upright. He was moving from foot to foot, suddenly he grabbed the door handle, backing out.
“I should go.”
Akira frowned, “Don’t,” he croaked then coughed. He cleared his throat of phlegm, chest tight, earnestly gesturing for him to come inside while he walked over discarded clothes to his bed and collapsed ungracefully back onto it. The room was chilled from the draft brought on by the open door. He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. He raised it to his mouth. “Mind closing that?”
Juda apologised and put himself on the other side of the door, shutting it firmly and walking inside. There were no chairs. Akira continued to look at him, eyes still drooping, his skin shone a warm gold in the single source of light. He smiled and began to laugh softly, Juda sat down hesitantly on the corner of his bed.
“God damn it, aren’t you angry? Don’t you hate me?” His words slurred.
Juda’s eyes moved about the room, rested on the empty bottles, travelled to the morphine with concern. No doubt remembering. Self consciously Akira pushed it aside, out of view as his smile faded. Words solidified into rock inside him and he lay still, watching Juda’s profile, who was looking elsewhere when he spoke.
“I’m sorry for…what happened. It was stupid. How are your wounds?”
He still fucking mumbled.
Akira leant forward, holding out his cigarette for him to take. He did.
“Fine, doc.” Akira said, feeling faintly sobered by Juda’s arrival. He hadn’t expected him to come for whatever reason. He couldn’t remember anymore. What he did remember was pulling away from him at the hospital, telling him to visit and leaving.
“Your front door was open,” Juda inhaled, glancing at him momentarily.
“Nothing worth stealing in here, man,” Akira smirked lopsidedly and sat next to his old friend. Setting down the teacup for him to ash in. He realised he felt happy, amongst a cesspit of other things. It was hard to feel frustrated when he was almost comatose. A long silence stretched between them, Akira waiting for him to ask the questions. He was the one who’d vanished.
He found his voice. “So that’s it?”
The cigarette was crushed, Juda rubbed his face, “I don’t know what the fuck to do. I thought I’d never fucking see you again and…”
“And?” Akira coaxed, “You’re not going to ask me why? Where? How?”
Juda looked considerably pained when his hand fell away. He started to nod, but Akira had closed his eyes, swaying unsteadily.
“Oh Christ, oh Jesus Christ. My head’s— I’m going to throw up.”
Akira lurched to his feet and ran out of the room.
He didn’t make it to the toilet and threw up in the sink. Akira’s stomach seemed to shrink inside him, a boil of protesting agony. Numbed, he groaned and clutched at it, turning on the cold water and washing out his mouth. The taps blurred into fractals. His brain did a summersault.
Juda had followed him, from the hall he watched Akira slump against the wall and drag himself along it for a towel. “I’m sober, Akira.”
“Alchl—fridge,” he managed past the fabric. A thin sheen of sweat covered his pallid features, “Help yourself.”
Eventually Juda worked out what he’d meant: there was alcohol in the fridge. He retrieved it and upon his return found Akira laying face down on his bed.
If he was nervous, Akira couldn’t for the life of him fathom why. He was a fucking mess, he could barely see straight until a few moments ago. The morphine cloud had faded somewhat but its dopey haze still clung to his drooping brain, making him sink into the sheets as if rocks had been comfortably piled atop him.
Juda managed sarcasm. “Déjà vu.”
“Fuck you.” Akira said at length. Juda was right. He was exactly the same and he didn’t have the mental capacity to decide whether that was good or bad.
No response. The sound of pouring liquid was shortly followed by one of disgust. “What in the hell is this?”
From his facedown position Akira raised both hands, signifying he had no idea. Probably a foul mixture of leftovers from a night that hadn’t stuck in his mind.
Juda made another sound not dissimilar to gagging and took another sip. Then another. Akira listened intently through the musty darkness of pillows pressed up against his face. Shuffling. Metallic clink. Shedding his damp leather jacket, Juda had sat down beside him. Not so gingerly this time, which was comforting. However much he didn’t want it to be.
The light changed out of the corner of his eye and Akira sensed a hand hovering over him. Time would have slowed had it not already been induced to do so. God. The hand went away again.
Although spoken softly, his tongue moved with the effect of a bullwhip in the silent room.“Drunk already?"
"You’re going to smother yourself,” Juda said without any trace of warmth.
Akira inhaled deeply, calming down. Restraining any further implicit comments. He rolled onto his back and stared openly at Juda in the low lit room. Appreciating how supremely out of place he looked in his stupid navy polo shirt which probably cost more than his rent. It only succeeded in making him look like an asshole. Which he was. Which was why he liked him. But not as much of an asshole as the boy he’d dated in high school. Time was throwing that back in both their faces.
A lazy grin unfolded beneath the sharp sting of his eyes. They always gave away exactly how clever he was despite the shit that poured out of his mouth. “Why would I smother myself when you’re here?"
He could only make out the stream of smoke Juda was smoothly exhaling as he took a long drink from his glass of unlabelled piss. Emptying it and prolonging a reply. His expression remained hidden from view.
"I mean— You have every right to,” he added less jovially. His gut knotted uncomfortably at the prospect of explaining himself instead of, well, flirting. “After I— "
Juda interrupted him. "Shut up.”
The room fell silent. Somehow Juda looked as surprised as Akira felt. Without his previous sternness, Juda continued hurriedly. “We can talk about this another time."
Akira frowned, feeling thrown. An invisible hand let go of his organs. "That…” he lowered his eyes to his toes poking through his socks, “requires seeing me again."
Another pause. Juda decidedly picked up the bottle, gesturing at nothing in particular. "And we’ll talk about it. Sober.”
He drank steadily from its neck without so much as a grimace. The glass left his lips with a soft pop, “Anyway, you’re my patient now.”
“Yeah?” he didn’t quite know why it sounded like a question. “That figures.” Letting his elbows give way, Akira fell onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Letting his guilt amass. He’d just have to forget how much he deserved this. One day he’d know how he looked through other peoples eyes and maybe Juda would forgive him.
Unexpectedly, he laughed, “Was that innuendo?”
Akira couldn’t tell if it had sounded forced.
He sat up quickly. The world spun for a moment, he gradually adjusted and refocused on Juda’s turned head, watching him reveal a quizzical expression. As if questioning his very being there. Akira returned the look with a mean, crooked smirk, “You kissed me."
Juda’s eyes widened satisfyingly. Leaning forward, Akira stopped him from replying with his mouth. Conclusively returning the painfully awkward moment from the hospital with much less restraint. Where Juda had been discrete Akira was only a half-starved dog. In one motion he ran his hand through the back of Juda’s liquid smooth hair, savouring the perfect taste of him beneath the bitter smear of alcohol. He heard Juda inhale sharply through his nose in surprise. Setting the bottle down moments before they fell backwards from Akira’s weight.
To his combined pleasure and relief Juda’s hands were on him, pulling him closer.
Kissing him wasn’t going to be enough. He knew that as much as he loathed himself for thinking it. Unconsciously he watched from somewhere far away; their lips parted and Juda swore in a broken voice that compelled him to drag his teeth down his neck.
His skin was still slightly wet with rain and warmly salty against Akira’s tongue. Both hands in his hair, the kiss quickly became open mouthed and Juda swore again, balling Akira’s curtain of black hair into his fist and prying him firmly off before he could leave a mark.
Their eyes met in a crucifixion of something grossly carnal. Akira forced to hover above him by the agreeably savage grip in his hair. He swallowed hard, almost flinching with instinct and premeditated shame when Juda, without breaking eye contact, dragged the wide pad of his thumb up the length of his throat. Overwhelmed, a subdued groan crawled past his teeth. He pulled forward, indicating his desire.
Juda drew him down, flipping him onto the mattress without letting their bodies break apart and Akira lost focus, in an indefinite state of transcendence. Downers are always good sex. Fingers dug into his throat, he nearly laughed before his air supply was cut off. Tasting Juda on his lips as they opened for oxygen he didn’t want.
Kissing him, Juda buried his face against the crook of his neck. Akira’s legs drew up, toes curled against the floor in tandem with the fingers slowly killing him. Until it seemed to upset Juda too much to hurt him any more and his throat was released to cold air. Gasping, Akira took his face in both hands and reassured him into something much harder to come back from, softly stroking the planes of his cheekbones with his thumbs. Beneath his molten eyes. You really haven’t changed either.
Somewhere a large dog barked. Akira’s eyes opened slowly, his brain still spinning through darkness and mild sedation before he remembered the bare essentials.
Nothing was solved when the high was over, but nothing mattered either.
You sit, tonging the stitches inside your cheek, imagining how they’d look. Half your face is swollen and you taste blood, the more you try to lick it off your lips, the more blood sticks them together. A hand claps down on your shoulder so you glance up, snapped out of the pain. Light obscures your vision, you hold your hand over your face and squint. It’s Reuter, she takes a fistful of your jacket and hauls you to your feet. You stumble into her and off the concrete.
In the dark, outside the bar, you lose your footing through the parking lot. Wordlessly you grip her waist to yours and hope the contact will keep the ball of hot light in your chest from exploding through your ribcage. You twitch and blink. Its drizzling steadily and water makes your lashes stick together, your clothes are uncomfortably damp. Slowly the two of you walk home in the oppressive cold of your uneventful Sunday night.
Light flickers against Reuters eyes, they look dull brown even though you know they’re red. You ask her why that is and she shrugs, pulling your jacket tighter and zipping it up. You feel like a child to be cared for and this comforts you briefly until it just makes you uneasy.
Reuter is sober, she pulls out your phone as you cross the bridge over the highway and scrolls through your messages. The screen flickers and lines with static. She smacks it against her hand and tries again, it works. “Your sister called.”
“What?” you say. Your head reels slightly at the concept of this, too slow to digest it in completion.
The phone is held up to your face and you blink away, the wind howls. You nod and she slips it back into your pocket.
Later, you’ll call back later.
She never calls you. Not after you left.
You consider getting home alone then reject the idea as a gust of rain spatters over the two of you. Reuter watches you shiver, looking vaguely wistful. She feels nothing. Eventually you’re up the steps of your apartment block. Water drips down the plastered walls, inching through the holes in your boots from each step in grimy black puddles.
Despite how small she is, Reuter holds you up confidently. She presses you up against the wall, hands small against your chest and looks for your key, you pull it out for her and watch as she silently opens the door to your apartment. You feel nauseous and the idea of more water against your skin is unpleasant. It has been ever since you started using. Once a day, several times. Measuring out life in eyedroppers of morphine solutions. It wasn’t like anything else, not a means to increase life like weed or alcohol but a constant state of being. Though alcohol did nothing for you now, only leaving you sick and groggy, sitting in your stomach with no kick. You stopped drinking a while ago.
Of course, you never set out to become a junky. Now, currently, you’re knocked out of your mind on benzedrine. Later your soul will be cooked up and injected into space, a boneless nonexistence. Marking cars or rolling drunks for the prospect of getting loaded didn’t pose much of an issue to you. Cops went in and out of your life for as long as you’d known but you cheated now, you had Reuter and her eyes.
She snaps on the light, feeds you to the bottomless couch and locks the door, flinging the key onto the kitchen counter. You lay down and roll over amongst blankets and clothes, she sits on the end and pulls off her coat, searching the pockets for tea, most likely. She glances over at you, pats your leg and mutters about your sister.
Nodding you shift yourself up, leaning against the armrest while your head swims. The pit in your chest burns brighter as you find your phone and a pack. You take a solid five minutes to find a lighter and flick it over your tailor, puffing smoke into your cramped apartment. As the dial tone plays in your ear you give it a one over. Each surface is covered with the usual paraphernalia, the floor is reasonably clean save a few plates, screwed up paper, a broken portable and shirts you damned to the carpet months ago. The phone rings while you shrug off your jacket and let it slide down the back of the lounge. Kida picks up in due course. You exhale through your nose and idly roll the cigarette between your forefinger and thumb. “Hey,” you croak. Unimpressive.
There’s a short but noticeable pause. “Akira, hey.”
Reuter groans hollowly from the end of the lounge, shaking her head. You shoot her a look and attempt to keep the conversation from dying at birth. “What’s up, sis?” You notice theres traffic in the background, she’s outside.
“This is… I need a favour, man.”
“I’m coming round-“
You interject with a strangled sound. “Here?”
“-to see you.”
Reuter has stopped shaking her head and is now only staring. You stare back, feeling utterly disjointed.
“Not a good time? Like, I know, it’s 5 am but you…promised. Are you okay?”
“Oh. Oh, yeah I’m fine. When?”
Reuter has left.
“Now. I’ll be there in a few minutes…” She doesn’t sound extremely concerned for your say in the matter. You recall how typical this is of her, your stuff, your time, you; all of it was hers whenever she pleased. Kida had always been the bossy one. Apparently even after years of disconnection . You remind yourself you have no right to be angry, that you did promise your door was always open. You’d done all the hurting. Mostly you’re surprised she’s talking to you at all. Kida did not take back long, punishing silences easily.
It takes you a while to realise she’s hung up. You must have gone silent. You grimace painfully, the stitches pull further “Shit.”
Nothing about the state you’re in bodes well for the outcome of this meeting.