By Chef TheSpecialBlank
“Holy shit,” Marie says, as she lays the crackpipe on the ground, her face twisting into a giddy smile. She stretches out her long feet, curling her painted toes while she bites her lip. “This is good, but I feel like I smoked a bunch of rotten meat.”
“Why the hell would you touch that?” I scowl. “It’s bad news, man.”
“Would you loosen up?” she says. “Just be chill. It’s only one hit.”
I try to argue some more, but she’s not listening – she’s in her own little world. Her eyeballs roll back into her sockets and she stretches her arm and lays back. She looks beautiful – in the centre of the crumbling abandoned apartment we holed ourselves in – but she’s not herself anymore. Somewhere in there lay the woman that I loved, lost in the debris and the fog of whatever she took to make herself better.
I wake up with her lying next to me. She’s wearing nothing but a singlet and her underwear. Like every other morning, I run my palms across the curves of her body – generous, rolling, like God’s perfect sine wave – and my hands trace her pale back, all the way to her messy hair. I scratch at her scalp. She likes to be woken up like that.
She crinkles her nose and smiles. Opens her blue eyes. “Hey,” she says.
“Hey yourself,” I say. “Want breakfast?”
“Naw man,” she says, shaking her head. “My stomach’s all messy. I gotta bounce quick.” She smiles, and I see the blisters and a small stain at the corner of her teeth. I’m reminded of last night again.
“You’re not gonna score again, are you?” I ask her.
“I just need a bit. Just to take the edge off, you know?” she says.
“Please don’t. Marie, please,” I beg her. “This is how shit starts.”
She buries her head in my chest and holds me so tight it almost hurts. “It’s cool baby,” she says. “I’ve got this under control.”
I already know what happened by the time afternoon rolls in, and she’s still gone. I tried to call her multiple times to no answer. I don’t know what to do at this point: do I call her friends? Do I ask her family? How do you stop someone from destroying themselves? Maybe I was just being paranoid. Too worried. Too coddling. Too smothering. Maybe I should trust her.
But then the phone rings, and it’s her crying voice at the end of the other line. “I feel maggots,” she sobs. “I feel maggots under my skin…”
In the end, I don’t do anything. In the end, she finishes her day by crashing at my place and passing out after a long day out. I slowly see the scars on her lips multiply, the hollow turn bigger under her eyes. Scabs where the scratches on her forearms where her nails dug far too deep.
But those don’t compare to the sight of her personality wasting away. Sometimes, I see traces of how she used to be – but slowly blotted away by pure, unadulterated need. I know how much she needs her fix by the speed of her footsteps, by the movement of her hands as she scurries from one end of the apartment to the next, seemingly aimlessly. Like there was a boredom she discovered that she needed to kill.
One time, I caught her lifting a couple of hundred dollar bills from my wallet. I stared at her, and she froze while holding the notes in her hand. “This is not you,” I whispered.
She bowed her head, and she started crying. “I’m so sorry Karl,” she said. “I just need them to go away…”
“You want what to go away?” I asked.
“The maggots, Karl,” she said. “They’re eating at me…In my head, in my skin…they’re everywhere.”
“You’re full of shit,” I said. “Do you realize what you sound like now? You need help.”
She stared at me. “You wouldn’t understand,” she said. “If you loved me, you’d try to understand.“
She leads me by the hand, takes me under the bridge that connects the CBD and Southbank. By the graffiti-infested walls where the trains zip past. She smiles. “I’m glad you’re doing this,” she says. “I’m glad you’re willing to do the things that I love.”
She sticks the pipe against her full lips, flicks the lighter in her hand. Places the flame under the belly where the scorch marks have stained the glass. Hiss of crystals boiling. She sucks it in, and her eyes bury themselves into her skull and she disappears into her need. She closes her eyes. “Your turn,” she says. “The first time is always the best.”
I clutch the pipe in my hand, and notice my wrists shake. How far am I willing to go? But the question is already answered: as far as I have to, to meet her. I will go down, and I will find her, and I will pull her up. I will bring her back. I miss her.
I press the pipe against my lips, and it’s almost like I can taste hers again. Boil, suck in. People have always told me that crack smells like burning plastic bags, but this is different. She was right the first time. It stank of rancid, rotting meat.
And then it comes – I feel a warm tingle rising from my belly, crawling towards my fingertips and toes. It’s the force of a hundred orgasms. It’s the freedom I’ve never had. It’s a happiness, unlike everything I’ve experienced and it’s dizzying and wonderful and the absolute expression of ecstacy that she’s known for so long and no wonder she wanted me to feel it and it’s all I could take before my eyes roll back and-
-I pass out. For a long time.
When I wake up later, my head is pounding and she is gone.
She does not answer the phone for three whole days.
She has left her stash at home.
I smoked what I could of it.
The police come knocking on the third day. My head hurts, and there is a need for her, and an itch that has wormed it’s way into my arms. It feels like my skin is crawling. I put on a sweater to mask the scratchmarks across my forearms, and then I open the door.
“Is this a good time?” the officer asks me. “We need to talk to you about Marie. Marie Benthin.”
“Is there something wrong?” I ask. “Did something happen? Is she okay?”
The officer shakes his head. “We just need to ask a couple of questions. When was the last time you saw her?”
It takes a while, but the memory snaps back into my head. “Three days,” I say. “I hung out with her three days ago.”
“Are you sure, sir?” the officer asks. “That’s February 13th.”
Questions pop into my head, but I hold them down. I show the cops a couple of selfies we took three days ago. Imported the photos, showed the EXIF data pointing to the dates. The officer nods, then scratches his head. He walks away to make a quick call outside, then comes back inside the apartment. When he comes back, he holds a face that tells me everything I need to know.
“I’m sorry, Karl,” the officer says. “Marie Benthin has been found dead. Her body was found on the Yarra River a day ago-“
“-but decomposition points to her being dead for about a month now-“
“-we would appreciate it if you could make yourself available, should we have any questions. And I’m sure we will.”
It’s when the police leave that my whole body suddenly recoils. There is a crawling that worms itself under my skin, from my forearms to my belly to the tips of my toes. Like something is wriggling inside of me.
I run to the bathroom, and my body spasms in painful, terrible, barking coughs. My lungs feel like they’re yanked out of my chest cavity, as each cough rocks my whole body to the core. My insides forcing themselves out, and there is nothing I could do but close my eyes and weather the pain.
It lasts for a whole hour.
It’s when I open my eyes that the horror comes. The sink bathed in red by the blood that has spluttered out of my mouth. My reflection is a crimson mess with sticky clumps of blood sticking against my lips; I can see my sallow eyes stare at me back. I am disappearing.
It’s when I pick at the bloody mess by the drain that I see it.
From my mouth and spit came a pulsing clump of maggots.