A SCANNER DARKLY -- CHAPTER 9
She blinked, red-eyed. "Dripping little things. Moving along about a foot above the ground."
"Above, no, on the ground."
"Drippy. Behind furniture."
"Little spring flowers, then," he said.
"Yes," she said. "1 can dig it -- little spring flowers, with yellow in them. That first come up."
"Before," he said. "Before anyone."
"Yes." She nodded, eyes shut, off in her trip. "Before anyone stomps them, and they're -- gone."
"You know me," he said. "You can read me."
She lay back, setting down the hash pipe. It had gone out. "No more," she said, and her smile slowly dwindled away.
"What's wrong?" he said.
"Nothing." She shook her head and that was all.
"Can I put my arms around you?" he said. "I want to hold you. Okay? Hug you, like. Okay?"
Her dark, enlarged, unfocused weary eyes opened. "No," she said. "No, you're too ugly."
"What?" he said.
"No!" she said, sharply now. "I snort a lot of coke; I have to be super careful because I snort a lot of coke."
"Ugly!" he echoed, furious at her. "Fuck you, Donna."
"Just leave my body alone," she said, staring at him.
"Sure," he said. "Sure." He got to his feet and backed away. "You better believe it." He felt like going out to his car, getting his pistol from the glove compartment, and shooting her face off, bursting her skull and eyes to bits. And then that passed, that hash hate and fury. "Fuck it," he said dismally.
"I don't like people to grope my body," Donna said. "I have to watch out for that because I do so much coke. Someday I have it planned I'm going over the Canadian border with four pounds of coke in it, in my snatch. I'll say I'm a Catholic and a virgin. Where are you going?" Alarm had her now; she half rose.
"I'm taking off," he said.
"Your car is at your place. I drove you." The girl struggled up, tousled and confused and half asleep, wandered toward the closet to get her leather jacket. "I'll drive you back. But you can see why I have to protect my snatch. Four pounds of coke is worth --"
"No fucking way," he said. "You're too stoned to drive ten feet, and you never fucking let anybody else drive that little roller skate of yours."
Facing him, she yelled wildly, "That's because nobody else can fucking drive my car! Nobody else ever gets it right, no man especially! Driving or anything else! You had your hands down into my --"
And then he was somewhere outside in the darkness, roaming, without his coat, in a strange part of town. Nobody with him. Fucking alone, he thought, and then he heard Donna hurrying along after him, trying to catch up with him, panting for breath, because she did so much pot and hash these days that her lungs were half silted up with resins. He halted, stood without turning, waiting, feeling really down.
Approaching him, Donna slowed, panted, "I am dreadfully sorry I've hurt your feelings. By what I said. I was out of it."
"Yeah," he said. "Too ugly!"
"Sometimes when I've worked all day and I'm super super tired, the first hit I take just spaces me. You wanna come back? Or what? You wanta go to the drive-in? What about the Southern Comfort? I can't buy it ... they won't sell it to me," she said, and paused. "I'm underage, right?"
"Okay," he said. Together they walked back.
"That sure is good hash, isn't it?" Donna said.
Bob Arctor said, "It's black sticky hash, which means it's saturated with opium alkaloids. What you're smoking is opium, not hash -- do you know that? That's why it costs so much -- do you know that?" He heard his voice rise; he stopped walking. "You aren't doing hash, sweetie. You're doing opium, and that means a lifetime habit at a cost of ... what's hash selling for now a pound? And you'll be smoking and nodding off and nodding off and not being able to get your car in gear and rear-ending trucks and needing it every day before you go to work --"
"I need to now," Donna said. "Take a hit before I go to work. And at noon and as soon as I get home. That's why I deal, to buy my hash. Hash is mellow. Hash is where it's at."
"Opium," he repeated. "What's hash sell for now?"
"About ten thousand dollars a pound," Donna said. "The good kind."
"Christ! As much as smack."
"I would never use a needle. I never have and I never will. You last about six months when you start shooting, whatever you shoot. Even tap water. You get a habit --"
"You have a habit."
Donna said, "We all do. You take Substance D. So what? What's the difference now? I'm happy; aren't you happy? I get to come home and smoke high-grade hash every night ... it's my trip. Don't try to change me. Don't ever try to change me. Me or my morals. I am what I am. And I get off on hash. It's my life."
"You ever seen pictures of an old opium smoker? Like in China in the old days? Or a hash smoker in India now, what they look like later on in life?"
Donna said, "I don't expect to live long. So what? I don't want to be around long. Do you? Why? What's in this world? And have you ever seen -- Shit, what about Jerry Rabin; look at someone too far into Substance D. What's there really in this world, Bob? It's a stopping place to the next where they punish us here because we were born evil --"
"You are a Catholic."
"We're being punished here, so if we can get off on a trip now and then, fuck it, do it. The other day I almost cashed in driving my MG to work. I had the eight-track stereo on and I was smoking my hash pipe and I didn't see this old dude in an 'eighty-four Ford Imperator --"
"You are dumb," he said. "Super dumb."
"I am, you know, going to die early. Anyhow. Whatever I do. Probably on the freeway. I got hardly any brakes on my MG, you realize that? And I've picked up four speeding tickets this year already. Now I got to go to traffic school. It's a bummer. For six whole months."
"So someday," he said, "I will all of a sudden never lay eyes on you again. Right? Never again."
"Because of traffic school? No, after the six months --"
"In the marble orchard," he explained. "Wiped out before you're allowed under California law, fucking goddamn California law, to purchase a can of beer or a bottle of booze."
"Yeah!" Donna exclaimed, alerted. "The Southern Comfort! Right on! Are we going to do a fifth of Southern Comfort and take in the Ape flicks? Are we? There's still like eight left, including the one --"
"Listen to me," Bob Arctor said, taking hold of her by the shoulder; she instinctively pulled away.
"No," she said.
He said, "You know what they ought to let you do one time? Maybe just one time? Let you go in legally, just once, and buy a can of beer."
"Why?" she said wonderingly.
"A present to you because you are good," he said.
"They served me once!" Donna exclaimed in delight. "At a bar! The cocktail waitress -- I was dressed up and like with some people -- asked me what I wanted and I said, 'I'll have a vodka collins,' and she served me. It was at the La Paz, too, which is a really neat place. Wow, can you believe it? I memorized that, the vodka collins, from an ad. So if I ever got asked at a bar, like that, I'd sound cool. Right?" She suddenly put her arm through his, and hugged him as they walked, something she almost never did. "It was the most all-time super trip of my life."
"Then I guess," he said, "you have your present. Your one present."
"I can dig it," Donna said. "I can dig it! Of course they told me later -- these people I was with -- I should have ordered a Mexican drink like a tequila sunrise, because, see, it's a Mexican kind of bar, there with the La Paz Restaurant. Next time I'll know that; I've got that taped in my memory banks, if I go there again. You know what I'm going to do someday, Bob? I'm going to move north to Oregon and live in the snow. I'm going to shovel snow off the front walk every morning. And have a little house and garden with vegetables."
He said, "You have to save up for that. Save all your money. It costs."
Glancing at him, suddenly shy, Donna said, "He'll get me that. What's-his-name."
"You know." Her voice was soft, sharing her secret. Imparting to him because he, Bob Arctor, was her friend and she could trust him. "Mister Right. I know what he'll be like -- he'll drive an Aston-Martin and he'll take me north in it. And that's where the little old-fashioned house will be in the snow, north from here." After a pause she said, "Snow is supposed to be nice, isn't it?"
He said, "Don't you know?"
"I never have been in the snow except once in San Berdoo up in those mountains and then it was half sleet and muddy and I fucking fell. I don't mean snow like that; I mean real snow."
Bob Arctor, his heart heavy in a certain way, said, "You feel positive about all this? It'll really happen?"
"It'll happen!" She nodded. "It's in the cards for me."
They walked on then, in silence. Back to her place, to get her Ma. Donna, wrapped up in her own dreams and plans; and he -- he recalled Barris and he recalled Luckman and Hank and the safe apartment, and he recalled Fred.
"Hey, man," he said, "can I go with you to Oregon? When you do take off finally?"
She smiled at him, gently and with acute tenderness, with the answer no.
And he understood, from knowing her, that she meant it. And it would not change. He shivered.
"Are you cold?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said. "Very cold."
"I got that good MG heater in my car," she said, "for when we're at the drive-in ... you'll warm up there." She took his hand, squeezed it, held it, and then, all at once, she let it drop.
But the actual touch of her lingered, inside his heart. That remained. In all the years of his life ahead, the long years without her, with never seeing her or hearing from her or knowing anything about her, if she was alive or happy or dead or what, that touch stayed locked within him, sealed in himself, and never went away. That one touch of her hand.
He brought a cute little needle-freak named Connie home with him that night, to ball her in exchange for him giving her a bag of ten mex hits.
Skinny and lank-haired, the girl sat on the edge of his bed, combing her odd hair; this was the first time she had ever come along with him -- he had met her at a head party -- and he knew very little about her, although he'd carried her phone number for weeks. Being a needle-freak, she was naturally frigid, but this wasn't a downer; it made her indifferent to sex in terms of her own enjoyment, but on the other hand, she didn't mind what sort of sex it was.
This was obvious just watching her. Connie sat half-dressed, her shoes off, a bobby pin in her mouth, gazing off listlessly, evidently doing a private trip in her head. Her face, elongated and bony, had a strength to it; probably, he decided, because the bones, especially the jaw lines, were pronounced. On her right cheek was a zit. Undoubtedly she neither cared about nor noticed that, either; like sex, zits meant little to her.
Maybe she couldn't tell the difference. Maybe, to her, a longtime needle-freak, sex and zits had similar or even identical qualities. What a thought, he thought, this glimpse into a hype's head for a moment.
"Do you have a toothbrush I can use?" Connie said; she had begun to nod a little, and to mumble, as hypes tended to do this time of night. "Aw screw it -- teeth are teeth. I'll brush them ..." Her voice had sunk so low he couldn't hear her, although he knew from the movement of her lips that she was droning on.
"Do you know where the bathroom is?" he asked her.
"In this house."
Rousing herself, she resumed reflexively combing. "Who are those guys out there this late? Rolling joints and rattling on and on? They live here with you, I guess. Sure they do. Guys like that must."
"Two of them do," Arctor said.
Her dead-codfish eyes turned to fix their gaze on him. "You're queer?" Connie asked.
"I try not to be. That's why you're here tonight."
"Are you putting up a pretty good battle against it?"
"You better believe it."
Connie nodded. "Yes, I suppose I'm about to find out. If you're a latent gay you probably want me to take the initiative. Lie down and I'll do you. Want me to undress you? Okay, you just lie there and I'll do it all." She reached for his zipper.
Later, in the semidarkness he drowsed, from -- so to speak -- his own fix. Connie snored on beside him, lying on her back with her arms at her sides outside the covers. He could see her dimly. They sleep like Count Dracula, he thought, junkies do. Staring straight up until all of a sudden they sit up, like a machine cranked from position A to position B. "It-must-be-day," the junkie says, or anyhow the tape in his head says. Plays him his instructions, the mind of a junkie being like the music you hear on a clock radio ... it sometimes sounds pretty, but it is only there to make you do something. The music from the clock radio is to wake you up; the music from the junkie is to get you to become a means for him to obtain more junk, in whatever way you can serve. He, a machine, will turn you into his machine.
Every junkie, he thought, is a recording.
Again he dozed, meditating about these bad things. And eventually the junkie, if it's a chick, has nothing to sell but her body. Like Connie, he thought; Connie right here.
Opening his eyes, he turned toward the girl beside him and saw Donna Hawthorne.
Instantly he sat up. Donna! he thought. He could make out her face clearly. No doubt. Christ! he thought, and reached for the bedside light. His fingers touched it; the lamp tumbled and fell. The girl, however, slept on. He still stared at her, and then by degrees he saw Connie again, hatchet- faced, bleak-jawed, sunken, the gaunt face of the out-of-it junkie, Connie and not Donna; one girl, not the other.
He lay back and, miserable, slept somewhat again, wondering what it meant and so forth and on and on, into darkness.
"I don't care if he stunk," the girl beside him muttered later on, dreamily, in her sleep. "I still loved him."
He wondered who she meant. A boy friend? Her father? A tomcat? A childhood precious stuffed toy? Maybe all of them, he thought. But the words were "I loved," not "I still love." Evidently he, whatever or whoever he had been, was gone now. Maybe, Arctor reflected, they (whoever they were) had made her throw him out, because he stank so bad. Probably so. He wondered how old she had been then, the remembering worn-out junkie girl who dozed beside him.