William S. Burroughs, "The Junky’s Christmas"
William S. Burroughs, "The Junky’s Christmas"
IT was Christmas Day and Danny the Car Wiper hit the street junksick and broke after seventy-two hours in the precinct jail. It was a clear bright day, but there was warmth in the sun. Danny shivered with an inner cold. He turned up the collar of his worn, greasy black overcoat.
This beat benny wouldn’t pawn for a deuce, he thought. He was in the West Nineties. A long block of brownstone rooming houses. Here and there a holy wreath in a clean black window. Danny’s senses registered everything sharp and clear, with the painful intensity of junk sickness. The light hurt his dilated eyes.
He walked past a car, darting his pale blue eyes sideways in quick appraisal. There was a package on the seat and one of the ventilator windows was unlocked. Danny walked on ten feet. No one in sight. He snapped his fingers and went through a pantomime of remembering something, and wheeled around. No one.
A bad setup, he decided. The street being empty like this, I stand out conspicuous. Gotta make it fast.
He reached for the ventilator window. A door opened behind him. Danny whipped out a rag and began polishing the car windows. He could feel the man standing behind him.
"What’re yuh doin’?"
Danny turned as if surprised. "Just thought your car windows needed polishing, mister."
The man had a frog face and a Deep South accent. He was wearing a camel’s-hair overcoat.
"My caah don’t need polishin’ or nothing stole out of it neither."
Danny slid sideways as the man grabbed for him. "I wasn’t lookin’ to steal nothing, mister. I’m from the South too. Florida—"
"God dammed sneakin’ thief!"
Danny walked away fast and turned a corner. Better get out of the neighborhood. That hick is likely to call the law.
He walked fifteen blocks. Sweat ran down his body. There was an ache in his lungs. His lips drew back off his yellow teeth in a snarl of desperation. I gotta score somehow. If I had some decent clothes…
Danny saw a suitcase standing in a doorway. Good leather. He stopped and pretended to look for a cigarette. Funny, he thought. No one around. Inside maybe, phoning for a cab.
The corner was only a few houses. Danny took a deep breath and picked up the suitcase. Hemade the corner. Another block, another corner. The case was heavy.
I got a score here all night, he thought. Maybe enough for a sixteenth and a room. Danny shivered and twitched, feeling a warm room and heroin emptying into his vein. Let’s have a quick look.
He opened the suitcase. Two long packages in brown wrapping paper. He took one out. It felt like meat. He tore the package open at one end, revealing a woman’s naked foot. The toenails were painted with purple-red polish. He dropped the leg with a sneer of disgust.
"Holy Jesus!" he exclaimed. "The routines people put down these days. Legs! Well I got a case anyway." He dumped the other leg out. No bloodstains. He snapped the case shut and walked away. "Legs!" he muttered.
HE FOUND the Buyer sitting at a table in Jarrow’s Cafeteria.
"Thought you might be taking the day off." Danny said, putting the case down.
The Buyer shook his head sadly. "I got nobody. So what’s Christmas to me?" His eyes traveled over the case, poking, testing, and looking for flaws. "What was in it?"
"What’s the matter? I don’t pay enough?"
"I tell you there wasn’t nothing in it."
"Okay. So somebody travels with an empty suitcase. Okay." He held up three fingers.
"For Christ’s sake, Gimpy, give me a nickel."
"You got somebody else. Why don’t he give you a nickel?"
"It’s like I say, the case was empty."
Gimpy kicked at the case despairingly. "It’s all nicked up and kinda dirty-looking. " He sniffed suspiciously. "How come it stink like that? Mexican leather?"
"So am I in the leather business?"
Gimpy shrugged— "Could be." He pulled out a roll of bills and peeled off three ones, dropping them on the table behind the napkin dispenser. "You want?"
"Okay." Danny picked up the money. "You see George the Greek?" he asked.
"Where you been? He got busted two days ago."
"Oh …That’s bad."
Danny walked out. Now where can I score? he thought. George the Greek had lasted so long, Danny thought of him as permanent. It was good H too, and no short counts.
Danny went up to 103rd and Broadway. Nobody in Jarrow’s. Nobody in the Automat.
"Yeah," he snarled. "All the pushers off on the nod someplace. What they care about anybody else? So long as they get in the vein. What they care about a sick junky?"
He wiped his nose with one finger, looking around furtively.
No use hitting those jigs in Harlem. Like as not get beat for my money or they slip me rat poison. Might find Pantapon Rose at Eighth and 23rd.
There was no one he knew in the 23rd Street Thompson’s. Jesus, he thought. Where is everybody?
He clutched his coat collar together with one hand, looking up and down the street. There’s Joey from Brooklyn. I’d know that hat anywhere.
Joey was walking away, with his back to Danny. He turned around. His face was sunken, skull-like. The gray eyes glittered under a greasy felt hat. Joey was sniffing at regular intervals and his eyes were watering.
No use asking him, Danny thought. They looked at each other with the hatred of disappointment.
"Guess you heard about George the Greek," Danny said.
"Yeah. I heard. You been up to 103rd?"
"Yeah. Just came from there. Nobody around."
"Nobody around anyplace," Joey said. "I can’t even score for goofballs."
"Well, Merry Christmas, Joey. See you."
"Yeah. See you."
DANNY WAS walking fast. He had remembered a croaker on 18th Street. Of course the croaker had told him not to come back. Still, it was worth trying.
A brownstone house with a card in the window: P. H. Zunniga, M.D. Danny rang the bell. He heard slow steps. The door opened, and the doctor looked at Danny with bloodshot brown eyes. He was weaving slightly and supported his plumb body against the doorjamb. His face was smooth, Latin, the little red mouth slack. He said nothing. He just leaned there, looking at Danny.
God dammed alcoholic, Danny thought. He smiled.
"Merry Christmas, Doctor."
The doctor did not reply.
"You remember me, Doctor." Danny tried to edge past the doctor, into the house. "I’m sorry to trouble you on Christmas Day, but I’ve suffered another attack."
"Yes. Facial neuralgia." Danny twisted one side of his face into a horrible grimace. The doctor recoiled slightly, and Danny pushed into the dark hallway.
"Better shut the door or you’ll be catching cold," he said jovially, shoving the door shut.
The doctor looked at him, his eyes focusing visibly. "I can’t give you a prescription," he said.
"But Doctor, this is a legitimate condition. An emergency, you understand."
"No prescription. Impossible. It’s against the law."
"You took an oath, Doctor. I’m in agony." Danny’s voice shot up to a hysterical grating whine.
The doctor winced and passed a hand over his forehead.
"Let me think. I can give you one quarter-grain tablet. That’s all I have in the house."
"But, Doctor—a quarter G …."
The doctor stopped him. "If your conditionis legitimate, you will not need more. If it isn’t, I don’t want anything to do with you. Wait right here."
The doctor weaved down the hall, leaving a wake of alcoholic breath. He came back and dropped a tablet into Danny’s hand. Danny wrapped the tablet in a piece of paper and tucked it away.
"There is no charge." The doctor put his hand on the doorknob. "And now, my dear…"
"But, Doctor—can’t you object the medication?"
"No. You will obtain longer relief in using orally. Please not to return." The doctor opened the door.
Well, this will take the edge off, and I still have money to put down on a room, Danny thought.
He knew a drugstore that sold needles without question. He bought a 26-gauge insulin needle and eyedropper, which he selected carefully, rejecting models with a curved dropper or a thick end. Finally he bought a baby pacifier, to use instead of the bulb. He stopped in the Automat and stole a teaspoon.
Danny put down two dollars on a six-dollar-a-week room in the West Forties, where he knew the landlord. He bolted the door and put his spoon, needle and dropper on a table by the bed. He dropped the tablet in the spoon and covered it with a dropper of water. He held a match under the spoon until the tablet dissolved. He tore a strip of paper, wet it and wrapped it around the end of the dropper, fitting the needle over the wet paper to make an airtight connection. He dropped a piece of lint from his pocket into the spoon and sucked the liquid into the dropper through the needle, holding the needle in the lint to take up the last drop.
Danny’s hands trembled with excitement and his breath was quick. With a shot in front of him, his defenses gave way, and junk sickness flooded his body. His legs began to twitch and ache. A cramp stirred in his stomach. Tears ran down his face from his smarting, burning eyes. He wrapped a handkerchief around his right arm, holding the end in his teeth. He tucked the handkerchief in, and began rubbing his arm to bring out a vein.
Guess I can hit that one, he thought, running one finger along a vein. He picked up the dropper in his left hand.
Danny heard a groan from the next room. He frowned with annoyance. Another groan. He could not help listening. He walked across the room, the dropper in his hand, and inclined his ear to the wall. The groans were coming at regular intervals, a horrible inhuman sound pushed out from the stomach.
Danny listened for a full minute. He returned to the bed and sat down. "Why don’t someone call a doctor?" he thought indignantly. "It’s a bring down." He straightened his arm and poised the needle. He tilted his head, listening again.
Oh, for Christ’s sake! He tore off the handkerchief and placed the dropper in a water glass, which he hid behind the wastebasket. He stepped into the hall and knocked on the door of the next room. There was no answer. The groans continued. Danny tried the door. It was open. The shade was up and the room was full of light. He had expected an old person somehow, but the man on the bed was very young, eighteen or twenty, fully clothed and doubled up, with his hands clasped across his stomach.
"What’s wrong, kid?" Danny asked.
The boy looked at him, his eyes blank with pain. Finally he got one word: "Kidneys."
"Kidney stones?" Danny smiled. "I don’t mean it’s funny, kid. It’s just … I’ve faked it so many times. Never saw the real thing before. I’ll call an ambulance."
The boy bit his lip. "Won’t come. Doctor’s won’t come." The boy hid his face in the pillow.
Danny nodded. "They figure it’s just another junky throwing a wingding for a shot. But your case is legit. Maybe if I went to the hospital and explained things… No, I guess that wouldn’t be so good."
"Don’t live here," the boy said, his voice muffled. "They say I’m not entitled."
"Yeah, I know how they are, the bureaucrat bastards. I had a friend once, died of snakebite right in the waiting room. They wouldn’t even listen when he tried to explain a snake bit him. He never had enough moxie. That was fifteen years ago, down in Jacksonville…"
Danny trailed off. Suddenly he put out his thin, dirty hand and touched the boy’s shoulder.
"I—I’m sorry, kid. You wait. I’ll fix you up."
He went back to his room and got the dropper, and returned to the boy’s room.
"Roll up your sleeve, kid." The boy fumbled his coat sleeve with a weak hand.
"That’s okay. I’ll get it." Danny undid the shirt button at the wrist and pushed the shirt and coat up, baring a thin brown forearm. Danny hesitated, looking at the dropper. Sweat ran down his nose. The boy was looking up at him. Danny shoved the needle in the boy’s forearm and watched the liquid drain into the flesh. He straightened up.
The boy lay down, stretching. "I feel real sleepy. Didn’t sleep all last night." His eyes were closing.
Danny walked across the room and pulled the shade down. He went back to his room and closed the door without locking it. He sat on the bed, looking at the empty dropper. It was getting dark outside. Danny’s body ached for junk, but it was a dull ache now, dull and hopeless. Numbly, he took the needle of the dropper and wrapped it in a piece of paper. Then he wrapped the needle and dropper together. He sat there with the package in his hand. Gotta stash this someplace, he thought.
Suddenly a warm flood pulsed through his veins and broke in his head like a thousand golden speedballs.
For Christ’s sake, Danny thought. I must have scored for the immaculate fix!
The vegetable serenity of junk settled in his tissues. His face went slack and peaceful, and his head fell forward.
Danny the Car Wiper was on the nod.