By Matt Kincade
I knocked on the old, warped door. It opened a crack, and James’ face appeared. His eyes were red. He looked pale and gaunt. He eyed me nervously.
He looked around at the street behind me. “Hey man. Haven’t seen you around in a while.”
“Yeah, I’ve just been busy. How’ve you been?”
“Good.” He looked at me for another few seconds, then opened the door and stood aside so I could enter.
The curtains were drawn in the tiny living room. There was a new Pink Floyd poster on the wall. Black Sabbath played on the stereo. Against one wall lay a disassembled drum kit, a guitar in a soft-sided case, and a guitar amp.
Three total strangers sat on the stained, threadbare sectional couch; two men and a girl. They watched me suspiciously while I entered the room. Paranoia hung heavy in the tobacco-stained air.
Soda cans and beer bottles covered the coffee table, except for the space that had been cleared away for a piece of mirror. On the mirror was a pile of white powder, a razor blade, and a section of McDonald’s soda straw. White with the red and yellow stripes.
James sat down. He picked up the razor blade and resumed chopping the white powder, finer and finer. The others sat hunched over, watching him like a lonely man watches a stripper.
I sat down at the end of the couch. Nobody said a word.
Five people in the room, including me. James pushed the coke into five little lines on the mirror. He handed me the straw.
With a shrug I put the straw to my nose, bent down, and inhaled.
The world brightened and snapped into Kodachrome focus. My face went numb. That old, familiar bitterness ran down the back of my throat. Suddenly the shabby room felt like home. I felt like a million bucks. “Shit,” I said.
James smiled for the first time. “Right?”
The strangers relaxed. The ritual was complete, the test passed. They smiled, laughed and leaned back on the couch. One by one they bowed their heads and did a line. James lit a cigarette.
I stayed for fifteen minutes or so, making small talk, catching up on old friends.
Finally, I stood up and said, “Hey man, I gotta go. I just wanted to drop by and say hi.”
“Cool, man.” James pulled out a small bag of white powder. “You want one for the road?”
“Nah, I’m good. Hey, while I’m here, why don’t I grab my guitar and my amp?”
James managed to look a little hurt. “It’s not taking up any space, if you want to come by and jam sometime.”
“Nah, I need it. This guy I work with plays base. He wants to jam.”
James nodded slightly. “Oh. Okay.”
I picked up my Strat in one hand, the guitar amp in the other.
“Let me get the door for you,” said James.
And then I walked out that door.