Jane climbed a flight of grimy steps up to a rickety landing. The cold night air stung the cracks in her lips.
The little apartment building looked like it had started its life as a motel, back when TV was one black and white channel. They hadn’t bothered refurbishing.
She stopped in front of a faded-pink door into a windowless studio.
She knocked and heard muffled cheers leaking through the door that got louder as it swung in.
Phil stood in the doorway, staring over his shoulder at the football game on his TV. “You bring the money?” he said.
Jane smirked as he glanced at her and fear watered his eyes. “No, shit-heel. I bring the death.”
She’d been put on Phil’s scent a half hour-before.
After her boyfriend had dumped her, Jane had turned back to the lover she kept on the side. Then she’d figured out her boyfriend had left a bun in her oven, and she’d had to kick the heroin again.
It turned out kicking it was harder the second time, or maybe just that she didn’t have somebody to cook her poached eggs anymore.
She’d just finished sleeping through an NA meeting. Tammy had woken her up, and they’d gone to Jeanie’s, a cutesy 50s-style diner, conveniently located a block away.
Tammy sat next to her at the chrome counter. The waitress dumped a pair of short-stacks in front of them and refilled their coffees before waddling off to serve inadvisable dreck to somebody else.
“Why you wanna go clean?” Tammy asked as Jane cut into her leathery corn-syruped pancakes.
Tammy looked like Jane felt, lonely, afraid, and, more than either, exhausted. Jane hoped her own feelings didn’t show quite so clearly on her face. Maybe Tammy just felt that much worse.
“I told you about my ex-boyfriend,” Jane said. She hadn’t really shared much, just that he’d treated her really nice until he’d dropped her without explanation.
“You dating somebody new?” Tammy asked, tucking her bleached-straw hair over her ear and leaning in toward her with a sleepover-secrets look on her face.
“No,” Jane said. “My ex got me preggo ‘fore he left.”
“Oh…” Tammy said. “And H is pretty bad for babies.” She said it like being hooked on a cocktail of speed would be any better for a fetus.
“How ’bout you?” Jane asked.
“…No, I’ve never gotten pregnant,” Tammy said. Jane figured that meant she’d never been for long.
“I meant, why you wanna go clean?”
“Oh… it just… got to be too much.”
“You sell your mama’s car for parts or somethin’?”
“Yeah,” Tammy said. She chuckled, but Jane had definitely touched a nerve.
“I was just bullshittin’,” Jane said. “I mean we’ve all done silly shit…. Sorry.”
“No worries. I talked about it at the meeting a couple weeks ago. You were probably asleep.” Tammy giggled. The wrinkles ran from the corners of her eyes like a hundred dry riverbeds.
They’d known each other for a few weeks, but Jane had never really looked at her before. She figured Tammy must have been cute when she was younger. If she could stay away from the cross-tops long enough to put a little weight on, she could probably bag an older used-car salesman.
“…When I stole my mom’s car, that was years ago…. It just got to be too much work.”
“I get that,” Jane said, drowning the last bite of her pancakes in bitter coffee. “And the dealers are a pain.”
“…It was the last time I was buying- My boyfriend gave me a few bucks, and it was enough, so I snuck off the street, and over to Phil’s….”
“Phil near 112th?”
Tammy didn’t answer, and her eyes started to get silvery. “…Phil said it wasn’t enough. I was starting to get really hungry, and I probably looked it, and he said we could work something out. I thought, maybe, for a second, ’cause I was really ill, but then I remembered how he gets when he’s up, and he was really bouncin’. I didn’t leave quick enough.”
“You tellin’ me Phil on 112th raped you?” Jane asked.
“No no,” Tammy said, smiling and shaking her head, but her eyes had sprung leaks. “He was just really rough- But he didn’t hurt me that much… it was just… too much.”
“I hear ya,” Jane said. She pulled out her wallet and dropped two dollars to cover their buck-ninety-eight bill.
“I can pay,” Tammy said, dabbing at her eyes with a napkin.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jane said.
“But… I’m supposed to be your sponsor-”
“You wanna go someplace?”
“I work graveyard, but I’ve got a couple hours- You wanna catch a movie?”
“No,” Jane said.
Tammy followed her out and down a couple blocks to the subway station.
As they sat silently in the humming subway car, Tammy started checking her watch, but once they’d made a transfer and were well on their way to 112th she started to sweat.
“How you feel about vigilantism?” Jane asked as they were climbing the steps out of the station.
“…Phil do something to you too?”
“He sold me some smack cut to shit with flour- Like cut so thin it’d be better for cake-baking, but no, not really.”
They walked a few more blocks listening to the buzz of insects, distant car horns, and the howling of stray dogs.
Jane left Tammy at the curb and walked up the grimy steps to Phil’s decrepit apartment. It took a little over a minute for Jane to finish her work, and then she was back on the curb again.
“…What’d you do?” Tammy asked.
“Here,” Jane said, dropping a gristly piece of meat in Tammy’s hand.
“What’s this?” Tammy asked. Jane could see her knees quivering.
“His ear. I thought about bringin’ you his cock, but then I woulda had to touch it.”
Tammy giggled. “I get that,” she said.