She shouldered the front door closed, locked it, and placed the key in a glass ashtray on the coffee table. Then she pulled the wrap of pills out of the pocket of her jeans. It was early evening. The pangs had not yet started, but they would soon. She dropped the wrap onto the table next to the ashtray, but then went to the kitchenette and got a small plate for it to sit on. She pulled the cord for the blind on the window and cast a wedge of weak orange light across the table. Dust sparkled in the air.
“I’m going to beat you,” she said.
The first hours were easy. Jenny unpacked the groceries and stacked them in the fridge even though the power was off. It would be like camping, going back to nature, this expedition. The purer her body become, the better she would feel. She filled a bath with water from the cold tap because it was so hot outside. She washed her hair and tried shaving her legs, but her skin started pulling, so she stopped.
The first time she had taken blue, it had been a complete surprise to her that she should do so. She wasn’t that sort of person. She was happily married and safely employed. She loved her husband and he loved her, in his way. It had been a staff party, or rather an after party, that took her from the banality of her existence to where she was now.
Gary had always stared at her. She could feel him doing so in the staff room, but ignored his interest because she never really felt she deserved it. She was relatively pretty, relatively successful, relatively clever. But he was younger than her by some ten years and handsome, in a Jewish way: a sloping nose, a mane of curly hair, a boyish smile. Why did he not have a girlfriend his own age?
“It’s not heroine. Not ecstasy either. It’s called blue,” he had said, holding out an open palm. She had studied the small lozenge as if it was a canapé, then thought, do you know? What the heck!
Peter had been away for the week. Their relationship was sturdy, boring, reliable. They made love on Saturday mornings. He cooked pasta. She watched tennis even though she didn’t play.
The rest of that evening with Gary, the little blue pill pulsating inside her, had felt like a magical exploration of life. Time slowed to the point where everything seemed full of awe: the blood squirting through her veins and the different pressures on her eyelashes when she shook her head. She and Gary had danced, but not manically. They had talked, but not to a depth that would betray any confidences.
“It’s not like any other drug,” Gary said. “It doesn’t ruin your health or drain your bank account. It just makes you more you; a you that you want to be.”
Gary had dropped her off at her house when the sun was rising. She expected him to try and kiss her, but he didn’t. Instead, she stood with one hand holding the strap of her bag across her body as he drove away. She had waved, but he did not respond.
If only things had stayed like that. If only things had remained simple.
In the bath, Jenny hooked the plug chain with her big toe and pulled it out. The water drained, leaving her smooth-skinned. She dressed in the casual clothes she had brought. The bed was neatly made up and covered in a bright counterpane. Once, Gary had pulled it off the bed so they could sit together, naked in the wrap of each other’s arms, on the small terrace looking out over the city. That was after the first time they’d fucked. When it got too cold, even with the counterpane around them, they’d gone inside and fucked again.
Where had that desire come from? From the pills, or from inside herself?
Jenny pulled a cardigan out of the case and snaked her hands through the arms. She fastened the bottom two buttons, then went through to the lounge. She thought of making some tea on the stove, but remembered there was no power.
Looking out of the window, the city lights sparkled across the silhouettes of the buildings. Lines of tail lights queued along the avenue towards the bridge. She opened the door to the terrace but the air was now cold, so she shut it again.
If she took a pill, the temperature would not matter. If she took a pill, the magic would return.
On the plate, the twist of pills seemed innocuous. She was repulsed by its impartiality, its innocence.
“Don’t tell me this has nothing to do with you,” she said.
There had come a point when she knew she was hooked. Gary had taken her into the hills surrounding the city and they’d spent four hours naked in a rock pool, laughing and splashing each other. They’d played bo on a folding board made from mango wood, the ‘wide-eye’ logo of blue users knowingly carved into the box. He’d won easily and then they’d fucked on the little beach, heedless of others who might pass by. But it wasn’t just the duration or the quality of the sex. It was the beauty surrounding her when she was with him, the magic that the pills created out of ordinary moments.
Jenny knew she could break the habit. She’d stopped smoking in her twenties, doing exactly this. Her father had sat down with her down in the kitchen, a packet of ten Silk Cut on the table. They’d remained there until the desire for sleep had overcome the hunger for nicotine. And having resisted for an evening, even after a few gins and tonic, one of the greatest times for savouring the suck of smoke in her lungs, she could resist for ever.
So why was blue so different? Why had it nearly cost her marriage, her way of life?
Sure, she and Gary had become lovers. But neither of them made immense designs on the other, at least not at the start. He never asked her to run off with him and she would have had no intention of doing so. But she had grown, very quickly, to love him and told him so. The way she felt when she was with him, when she was wide-eyed, was unparalleled. She had started thinking about it more and more. She went to sleep thinking about it and it came to mind the moment she woke, even in the middle of the night. Making love to Peter filled her with guilt at first, but then she got used to the lies and the comparative inadequacy of his conjugal patterns. When he mounted her, she would pull his body over hers and think of blue, of Gary, and the memories were so intense as to be almost real.
“Fuck me,” she had whispered once in Peter’s ear, and he had immediately turned to look at her. It was language she never used. She chuckled at the memory; his face a picture of complete surprise. But then her smile faded when she thought of Gary raking his nails along her shoulder and grasping a bite of her hair in his clawed fingers. How his balls banged against her when he took her from behind. The shuddering thrusts when he came.
But it was more than sex. It was more than discovering the splendour inside her, seeing it in the mirror for the first time in years. She just loved being with Gary, being wide-eyed, being so wonderfully her.
Jenny leaned forwards and picked up the wrap. Untwisting the top, she shook out the contents onto the plate. Eight of them; a week’s supply.
She’d bought them off Gary when he went away for a month to get some more. But she’d left them inside his flat, the flat where she now sat, and had not been able to get them. He had not, at the time, given her a key.
How she had missed him. How often had she taken a casual glance at her phone to see if he’d messaged her, or texted, or called? Not only at work, but in the evenings, before bed. The two times he had written, she’d smothered a smile and saved the short, business-like notes to be read again later. And then again, at night, while Peter was asleep. The words were like a spell. She savoured their sounds, the different intonations that could be applied. She thought of his springy hair and the olive taste of his skin. She missed his laughter, and the carefree levity he brought so easily to her life.
Frowning, Jenny used one finger to push the little blue pills into rows, and then into a circle, all the lozenges aligned to form a star. If she took one, there would still be a star. She could relish the feeling of being wide–eyed once again, that sensation of being at complete peace in the centre of a storm.
It was when Gary returned that she realised things had to change. Their relationship was unequal. She had become totally hooked on blue and on him. The two had become one in her mind. When he asked her to tell him something, she explained fully. When he wanted her to try something new, she gave herself freely. But the reverse was never the case. He wasn’t using her, but her commitment was far greater. When she picked him up from the ferry terminal and took him back to his flat, she’d asked him how the trip had gone. He flicked the side of her head with his middle finger.
“That’s not important,” he said. “You should concentrate on the now.”
She had taken a pill with him that evening because her yearning for him had been so great. But his refusal to answer her questions left her feeling deflated and joyless. It made their fucking for once unpleasant. She had felt keenly as though it did not matter if it was her or someone else. She was, she realised, merely a pair of eyes to widen, a set of lips to kiss.
Jenny pushed the plate away and sat back. She was angry enough to know she could break the habit if she really tried. She hated Gary at that moment, hated the way he made her feel so much in love with him. And most of all, she hated herself for doing so.
But all it would take was one pill. The pain would vanish and everything would be possible and understandable at the same time. He would be there, connecting to her soul.
Or would he? Four days after he came back, they’d come for him in the lunch break. He’d been lifted into the back of a van, the students watching out of the classroom windows. She’d panicked. She’d vomited, and said she had to go home. The Senior had looked at her with pity, but signed the release.
Poor Peter. What had he done to deserve this? If she was caught too, he could end of being terribly hurt and that was really unfair.
The long-term blue users met outside the tram shed on a patch of grass. They danced together, strummed guitars. They looked normal, and functioned well enough, but they were different. They did not work, or do sport, or help others. They did nothing except wallow in the wonder of their own lives as if nothing else mattered. Not for them the global food shortage, the rise of the right wing, the cholera pandemic.
Gary had not yet become one of them, but he was on the path to do so. A harmless personal choice, one might say, but the college authorities had noticed him giving the pills to students, and that was a breach of their duty in loco parentis.
Jenny noticed her hands shaking when she thought that they might have arrested her too. She’d never given it to others, but her class had asked her once if it was true she was ‘getting wide with Mr Stein’. She had blushed, and coughed slightly, before directing their eyes back to the test.
It was a choice, ultimately. Safety, security, a stable marriage, and a loving husband. Or the madness of the moment; that sheer, inexplicable delight of finding someone who made her feel alive.
But there was also a sense that it didn’t matter whether she did or whether she didn’t. She would see Gary again sometime. They lived and worked in the same area. Their friends were friends. If she got wide-eyed, life would be richer. If she didn’t, others would and life would still go on.
Or was this the drug calling to her? Was her mind playing tricks to justify her actions?
Jenny pulled the plate towards her. The way it scraped over the table destroyed the perfect symmetry of the star shape she had made. One little blue lozenge became more pronounced than the others. She placed a finger on it.
Should she push it in or pull it out? It was all about the moment.
With sincere thanks to Jenny Sanders for her advice.