It seemed odd to her that she would know what to do. Her innocent questions, eyes wide open about how things were in the ’hood began deliberately with her students. It was easy to turn the class discussion to drugs.
“Who can remember their civics class, the undermining of the Chinese? Which drugs were used for that?” Eager hands shot up. “Opium.”
“Okay. How does that compare with now? And where?” She fed them and they gave back.
A hand shot up. Traverse Washington, a serious boy whose parents were both teachers responded. “Meth. Here, everywhere, and the color of the people it undermines the most is obvious.” He looked from one classmate to the next, all rightfully smug in their considerable knowledge.
She challenged him, she needed to know. “Okay. Good. But it’s not the same as having the government issuing and delivering the goods to the people the way they did in China.” A whole room of hands was in the air. Discussion inevitably broke out, she heard snatches of what she needed. The name of a bodega near her apartment, most of all, the name of her local pusher, and as it turned out, her local savior.
Armed with this new information, Molly waited till it got dark and then headed to the bodega and roamed the tight dirty little aisles filled with cans of Goya products, mostly beans and refried beans, and she watched.
A young man with a do-rag on his head seemed to be in charge of things. He stood just inside the open door watching people pass by. There were always the little kids – ten and twelve years old – who ran about outside, and always they circled back to LaSheed. She knew he was watching her amble down one aisle after another. She picked up a loaf of bread because he stood nearest to it.
“Hey, mama. I seen you before. What you doin in this part of the ’hood?”
Molly pulled her wallet out, leafing through the twenties to find a five-dollar bill. “Same as you. I live here.”
She handed the five to the grocer who studiously avoided eye contact with anyone standing near LaSheed. She held her wallet open to place the change in its proper place. “What you got?” she whispered close to his ear, as she placed the coins in her jeans.
He breathed close to her neck. “What you want?” He moved slightly away long enough to gauge her, check for the cop look, the undercover, slick chick, too fast to be real chick that would get him time inside again. He was so very smooth at what he did.
“Meth. I want meth.” Her heart was beating extra fast in fear and excitement.
Javier had begun to drink more heavily ever since she dozed out on the Valium and beer, so now they could be out of it at the same time and high the rest of the time and from what she heard, cheaply.
Not one of her students could have believed she was looking to score. But not LaSheed. He got paid to know the target.
* * *
It wasn’t long after Molly’s first hit of crystal meth that Javier left. There was an inevitable sliding down in her relationship to everything surrounding Javier and Molly’s tenuous coupling. Was Stella the lynchpin, no longer there to hold them together? It began that December when it rained the day after Christmas and for fourteen solid days after that. Living on the coast can be magical but there is a reality called fog and cold and damp days near an ocean.
On a Saturday night they began to drink heavily, as they had done on weekends that were now running into weeknights, and days. Molly knew the addiction to meth was deadly; so she used small doses and chipped on days when she was at school so that she could wake up after a boozed-out night. That weekend they switched from beer to tequila, and ran out of drugs and the money to buy more. Javier passed out on the couch, and Molly staggered into the bathroom to wash her face, remembering as she did that she stowed some money in a sock at the bottom of the hamper. She stuffed the money into her jeans and checked on Javier. He lay sprawled out on the couch. She stood right over him; he wasn’t going to wake up.
She slipped out quietly to LaSheed, who on a Saturday night was holding court at the bodega, sipping a coke laced with rum and carefully watching the passing parade of young men and women. The rain stopped, so there was more activity than the last few wet days. Molly knew LaSheed positioned his ten-year-olds out there directing the ‘traffic’ to his door. Molly pushed past some chubby yet nubile fourteen-year-old girls in too-tight jeans that stretched across their ample bottoms, pumping provocatively to the rhythm of LL Cool J, Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre.
LaSheed, as though he was waiting all night, was ready for her.
“How’s the weather?” she asked him as she approached.
“It’s fine, all fine.” LaSheed looked away and around as he spoke to her. “Times need something to make it good. You know what I’m saying?”
She handed off the money to one of the little boys who pocketed it and she left. Halfway down the block another ten-year-old walked by at a fast clip dropping the dope into her open palm. Molly ran it up the sleeve of her heavy sweater and walked slowly back home.
At 12:30 she was back at the apartment, but Javier was no longer asleep. He nodded as she walked by him. “I went out for some beers, we were running low.” She dropped the six pack of Corona onto the coffee table and continued to the bathroom where she immediately cooked her dope, inhaling the fumes like a thirsty dog laps water.
Ten minutes later he kicked the door in. “You spend the damn money on shit? You give me nada.”
Molly weaved, her legs entirely out of her control. She sat down on the toilet seat. “Javier, my compadre. So eloquent this evening. What could you possibly mean?”
“Fuck you, bitch. Where is it?”
“Ah, golden-tongued love of my life. Speak up, say more. You want something?” The slap across her face came with such force that she moved off the toilet to become a crumpled mess of limbs against the bathtub. She thought she heard the window casing rattle.
“Get up, bitch!” He was frothing and the spittle was sprayed on her face.
“It’s gone. I used it all, it’s gone,” she repeated while he shook her, plunging his hands into her pockets, ripping at her bra, her pants, anywhere she might have hidden her stash. “Fuck you, shithead. I don’t have anything. I already told you.” The drug kicked in further as she became angry, braver. She tore at his bare arms, leaving red streaks on his flesh.
Javier was sufficiently sober to shriek with surprise more than pain. It was enough for her to get beyond him and out of the corner. She fled the room and the apartment and into the chest of a cop. The noise must have been too much even for her neighbors. Javier ran after her, and there was a second cop, bigger than the first, who had him in a choke hold, Javier’s arms flailing, trying to reach her, trying for the powder that would make him as powerful and as all- knowing as she now felt.
* * *
Molly woke to find she was encased in a wool blanket smelling of beer and sweat, the blanket that must have been thrown over the shoulders of every victim of a freeway car mishap, attempted rape, and domestic incident.
A policewoman was saying something to her. “Molly? You’re at St. Mary’s. How’s the arm?”
Molly looked dully at her left arm encased in a soft cast and held up in a sling. She was wary of the woman’s badge, and the policewoman must have seen her stiffen. “I want to ask you again whether you want to press charges on Mr. Gutierrez.”
Molly shook her aching head no. “I can’t. He’s her father.” She was barely audible.
The woman was sitting on a chair across a quiet room in the emergency department, not the usual bay with curtains between people so that everyone could hear and smell and see life on any given Saturday night. She got up now and went to Molly’s side, clipboard and pen still ready. “I didn’t quite hear what you said. He’s the father? Of who?”
“Whom. It’s of whom.” She suddenly was more aware and didn’t wait to register the narrowing of eyes and the sting her correction made on the police officer. She was still very much in the control of the drug, and couldn’t do any wrong. She looked at the woman, thick legs and arms, bursting out of her policeman’s pants and shirt, wondering why they don’t upgrade to a larger size after they’ve been on the force long enough to succumb to the bulge from too many donuts, KC and diet coke.
“You married to him?” She checked her papers, and said, “This Javier Gutierrez?”
Molly shook her head no. “He’s my baby’s father.” She hurried on before the woman could ask. “Her name was Stella. She died at three months from SIDS.” Her head began to hurt, the light in the room made her eyes feel as though she was looking directly into the sun. “Can I go home?”
“We have a few things left to do.” The policewoman clicked and retracted the pen’s ballpoint. She left the room and Molly lay back on the gurney. Her shoulder began to ache from where she connected with the bathtub. She very carefully opened and closed her stiff and swollen fingers, setting off a throbbing to the entire arm.
“That’s not too good an idea.” Dr. Suarez entered the room and checked her fingernails, his own fingers light and cool on her throbbing hand.
“What are you looking for?” she asked. “Doesn’t it say I have a broken collar bone?”
He introduced himself. “I’ve been assigned to your case. I’m a therapist. But I did read your chart and yes, it is a broken collarbone. I was just checking to see whether the bandage was too tight.”
“So why look at my fingers?” She tried to pull away from him and winced with pain.
“I’m sure you know I can’t give you anything for the pain. Your blood work revealed some contents not normally found in humans. At least not in such large doses. I should say humans like you, because around here, the drugs are almost a constant. Just be glad we didn’t have to do any surgery. The fracture was un-displaced.” He made a note on her chart and she tried to read what he wrote. “Curious? He handed the chart to her. It’s all about you and legally it belongs to you.”
She grabbed the chart with her good hand and read the meticulous report about the fight that brought her here, testimony from her neighbor Carlos Nunez. She threw the chart on the gurney and sat up. “Addict? What do you know about it?”
“I know that you need some help. I’m not a trauma doc. That was someone else who fixed your arm. I’m a shrink and you have a choice. Therapy and N.A. meetings or they’ll hound you till they catch you buying and using. I’m right here at the hospital and that’s a quick bus ride from your home. I can see you next week.” He looked up at her as he wrote something on a prescription pad. It was the time and date for an appointment that Wednesday. “I’ll see you then. The clerk will get a cab when you’re ready to go home. Javier is temporarily in jail. I understand you don’t wish to press charges.”
“It was an accident.” She wiped the tears from her face and eyes. “It was all a big accident.”
* * *
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