Nomi stood a few feet from the curb, watching her breath in the November Seattle rain, waiting for her mother. She hated asking for money. The feeling of dread almost compelled her to flee as she saw the silver Mercedes approaching. If only she didn’t need another fix.
“So, what is it that you need this time, Nom?” Gillian asked as her daughter climbed into the car, slamming the door. “Wait, lemme guess.”
“I just need a little bit of money. I ran out and I can’t -”
“Can’t what? Never mind. I won’t have this conversation again. So pointless. I do have something else to say though.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this.”
Taking a moment and trying to soften her tone, Gillian continued, “I can’t keep supporting you like this. I’ve been talking to people, to your dad -”
“Well, by all means, what did he have to say?”
“It’s not just him, Nom. It’s everyone. I need to cut you off. I’m going to give you some money today, but that’s the last of it. I hope you can use it to get back on your feet and not shoot it up your arm. But, I’m done, Nom. If I continue to enable you, then aren’t I partly to blame?”
“Ooh, enable. Someone’s been to therapy.”
“What do you want from me? I mean, realistically, what do you expect me to do? Just keep giving you money, knowing what you’re doing with it?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t end up a stockbroker like Sam. Or a realtor, or -”
“It isn’t about that. It never was. I just -”
“Oh, for god’s sake, can you spare me the speech and just give me the money?”
Gillian reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope thick with bills. “I’m serious this time, Nom. Until you’re ready to clean up, I’m done with this. I mean it, don’t -”
Nomi grabbed the envelope and jumped from the car as Gillian slowed for a red light.
“Nom!” But she was already gone, disappearing into the slanted rain. “I’m always here for you and I’ll always love you,” she whispered to the indent in the seat as she leaned over to pull the door closed.
Ringing the buzzer on the decrepit stoop, Nomi glanced at the surroundings she so often failed to acknowledge in her quest to relieve the jones. If she didn’t know the neighborhood so well, it would be frightening.
“Hey, it’s Nom. Can I come up?”
“Come back in an hour.”
“Come back in an hour!”
“Well fuck”, she muttered to herself. At least the rain had slowed to a drizzle she thought as she made her way down the street to the local dive bar.
Sliding into a stool, she caught the bartender’s eye. Carefully pulling a twenty from the envelope so that no one could see it, she ordered a beer and looked at her watch. 50 minutes. She wasn’t hurting yet, but she wasn’t sure that she could stave off dope sickness for another hour. Trying not to let her mom’s voice get into her head, she grabbed the Heineken and took a long drag. The skunky flavor burned her nostrils and stung her throat; she felt the cold liquid hit her empty stomach. It was uncomfortable for a moment, but she seemed to like uncomfortable.
Nomi recognized the smell of stale menthols and rancid mop water which had, in all likelihood, barely made a once over the floor earlier that day. She hardly noticed when the stranger in a damp hoodie sidled up to the bar into the stool next to hers. He raised his hand to the bartender and, without a word, a short glass was placed in front of him and filled generously with cheap whiskey.
After drinking in silence for a bit, the stranger side-eyed Nomi and gave her a nod. After a cursory glance, she noticed that he was shaking slightly and looked drawn with his pale, unshaven face and red-rimmed eyes. He emptied his glass and signaled for a refill. The bartender complied.
“You remind me of my sister”, he said without looking at her again. “ ‘Bout the same age.”
“Yeah, okay. So what?”
“Heh. Yeah, just like her.” Surprisingly, his eyes welled, although he managed to withhold tears. Nomi hadn’t expected this emotion and just sat there, stony and silent.
“Just come from identifying her body. Fuckin’ junkie. She never did know when enough was enough. Can’t wait to tell mom.” He sighed and looked her up and down, “I hope you’re smarter than she was. Although judging from that look, you’re headin’ the same damn place.” The stranger finished his drink in one gulp and threw a few crumpled bills on the bar as he stood to leave. He pulled his hood as far over his face as it would go and seemed like he was going to say something else. Instead, he just shrugged and shook his head. And then he walked out of her life as inexplicably as he had walked into it.
For the first time in her life, Nomi felt the true weight of her addiction. The stranger’s face hung in the air, especially that look in his eyes. Is that how her family felt? Was she so busy resenting them for their successes and blaming them for her own failures that she was never really able to get past her bitterness and see the reality? This had never really occurred to her before, at least not to the extent it was at that moment.
Nomi felt somewhat altered as she stepped outside. The rain had stopped and the sun was even trying to make an appearance. She checked her watch and turned to head back to her dealer, but she found herself vacillating and, for the first time in as long as she could remember, wondered if that’s where she really wanted to go.
Reaching an intersection, she hesitated, deciding whether or not to cross. She leaned up against an old brick building, hands in her pockets, and considered her options. She could feel the dawning of withdrawal and questioned whether she could withstand the pain.
Seeing a disheveled young man shuffling past her, Nomi gestured slightly to catch his attention. “Hey man, you got a smoke?”
The kid rolled his eyes slightly, but presented his wrinkled pack of generics, jerking his hand slightly so that one emerged, peeking from the foil. As she pulled her hand from her pocket to reach for it, the envelope her mother had given her fell onto the sidewalk. They both just looked at it for a moment before Nomi bent to retrieve it, downplaying its significance. But the boy was too quick and he stomped his beleaguered converse on top of it.
Nomi stood and moved forward to confront him. Before she even got a word out, the boy glanced quickly around, the cigarette pack disappearing in favor of a switchblade. He pushed into her with his shoulder, sending her backward into the brick. Before she was able to regain her balance, he had already lifted the envelope and was running, his feet quietly beating the pavement.
She started after him, but suddenly felt weakened and grabbed at the stitch in her side. In doing so, she realized that she was bleeding profusely from a stab wound. Feeling like she may vomit, she went to her knees and then lay down and curled into a ball. She was dizzy and wanted to call for help, but couldn’t find her voice. Then she was choking and sputtering, and noticed that she was spraying blood with each
And then, there was her mother. She kept moving closer and reaching for Nomi, but couldn’t quite get close enough to touch her. “Mommy,” Nomi tried to call out. Her mother faded and the world became darker and blurred. She cried in anguish, but not from the pain. It was because her mother would never know how much she loved her; because she would never get a chance to make it up to her; because she would die a worthless junkie.
“I’m so sorry, mommy,” Nomi whispered in her mind, hoping that somehow her mother would sense her dying daughter’s message. And then Nomi
A stranger in a damp hoodie pushed through the crowd and knelt beside her. He held his head in his hands and a tear rolled down his face onto hers. He removed his sweatshirt and he covered her best he could. The sound of sirens dispersed the crowd. The stranger stood and, without glancing back, disappeared with the rest of them.
Allyssa is the winner of the 2017 F2k Short Story Contest