He jittered into the coffee house, bleary-eyed and strung out from a long weekend. Now in its fourth day, it seemed both longer and shorter at the same time. He had finally delivered the last charity blanket to the homeless, completing his community outreach commitment. His tired and unshowered body screamed for rest, but his mind raced in a chemical frenzy.
Coffee patrons stared at his gothic figure. A black greatcoat flapped against his boney frame and resembled the movement of a raven’s wings.
Soon, a double espresso macchiato steamed in front of him.
“That’ll be four dollars and fifty cents.”
Lost in the spirals of vapor rising before his eyes, he did not hear the barista.
“Four fifty, please.”
Her second request jolted him from his stupor. He paid the girl, and tossed the change into a tip jar before heading toward a secluded and darkened corner to nurse both the coffee and his bad mood.
He contemplated life while hiding behind the Sunday paper. The five-star edition was a massive tome, every page filled with proof positive of mankind’s malevolence. Headlines swam in and out of focus. His bloodshot eyes made it impossible to read the small print, but it didn’t matter. He knew the details without reading them — death, destruction, deceit, and betrayal: the four horsemen of the modern day apocalypse.
For years, the stories had remained the same with only the names changing from week to week. This week a Smith, next week a Brown and the following week, a Martinez. White man, black man, Hispanic man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Despite his good works, he knew he fought a losing battle.
He ran a trembling hand through his thinning hair. At thirty-four and in the prime of his life, he looked fifty-four and felt eighty. He accepted it as only fair. After all, he cheated life, living it at triple speed, cramming three days or more into every twenty-four hour period.
What’s that old DuPont slogan? Oh yeah, “Better living through chemicals,” that’s it.
For some time now, he had thought of it as his motto, possibly even a mission statement. Artificial stimulants allowed him to stay ahead of the game, yet caffeine was not his ruin. His vices were considerably more lethal than the coffee house currency that flowed through his veins. He preferred poor man’s coke. Unfortunately, once a person started using meth, he always postponed stopping. Despite the Drano and floor stripper eating away at the lining of his nose and veins, the rush was too sweet and the coming down too rough to ever truly let it go.
He had tried to quit several times, but never quite made it, his desire to be everything to everyone always stronger than his desire to be clean. Many mornings, he awakened in a pool of vomit tinged with blood, but still, he didn’t stop.
What had started as an experiment in chemical curiosity had turned into a lifestyle. Now, he couldn’t keep up without it. Incapable of deciding who deserved his time and attention, he never said no. Instead, he gave his all to everyone, leaving nothing for himself. In addition to his appointed responsibilities, he contended with the homeless, addicts, runaways and crack whores. People relied on him. So many, that the list seemed endless.
Draining his coffee cup, he headed to the restroom. Once inside, he checked the stalls for occupants before bolting the door, thereby ensuring a few moments of privacy. From his wallet, he pulled a small capsule and emptied it, spilling yellowish clumps onto a dingy Formica countertop. In the beginning, he had been more particular, but these days he could snort a line right off the rim of a public toilet if necessary.
Using his driver’s license as a pestle, he ground the clumps into a fine powder before forming two lines, one for each nostril. The pitted edge of the plastic ID confirmed the corrosive effects of his habit, and he could only imagine what his internal organs looked like. He shuddered involuntarily at the mental picture that flashed through his mind. Shaking his head, he dislodged the image, sending it to the place where he kept all his unwanted thoughts.
Quickly, before anyone could interrupt, he snorted the lines. His nose burned immediately, and he splashed water over his skin to soothe the tingling sensation that swept across his face. He braced himself for the vile flavor of the inevitable drip, his back teeth aching in anticipation of the chemical assault.
Within seconds, energy recharged his system. He dried his face with an only slightly used portion of the linen roller towel, adjusted his shirt and straightened his collar before striding back into the coffee house. His eyes flashed with purpose, his step, confident. Once again, he was a man with a mission.
He smiled at the counter girl, “Thanks, Angie. My macchiato tasted fabulous as usual. Thanks to you, I’m a new man and ready to go.”
Angie smiled back, her metal braces flashing in the track lighting, “Thanks, Father. See you at Mass.”
“Now,” he said, gleefully rubbing his hands together, “let’s go save some souls.”
Tammy Setzer Denton caught the writing bug at age twelve when her scathing letter to the editor was published in TV Guide. With that, the die was cast. In addition to TV Guide, she’s been published in Fugue, a literary Journal, contributed to Six Word Memoirs of Love & Heartbreak, and wrote as an Opinion Shapers columnist for the St. Charles Suburban Journals. She is currently a free lance writer working on her second novel, Spared Parts. An excerpt of her first novel, Man of the House, is available on her website, www.TammySetzerDenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @TamSetDen.