I awake in a chair, a plush recliner it feels like. My feet are up and there’s a blanket on me. I feel its knitted texture while opening my eyes. The light is blinding, the pain excruciating, shooting daggers into my brain. I blink rapidly and try to raise an arm to block the light but discover both are restrained.
Slowly, painfully, I’m able to open my eyes in slits just wide enough to see, I’m able to adjust to the pain enough to see. I can make out only that same slim candle in the opposite corner illuminating the room.
“That’s right,” I hear a young female voice from across the room, it’s Erica.
“Open them slowly, you’ll get used to it. Let me undo your sleeves.”
I try to speak but my mouth feels strange, like my tongue is too small and fat and my teeth are too big.
“No Popi, don’t try to speak, you’re not ready for that yet.” Another female voice, much older than the first, it must be Grandma.
Erica lowers the recliner so that I’m sitting in an upright position, my legs feel numb. She pulls the blanket down from my chest and I see that I’m wearing wrist restraints; the large leather cuffs attached to the plush chair with clip connectors like the type used on the covers of courier bags.
“These are for your own safety.” I know she’s saying this quietly but it sounds like it’s bouncing around in my skull. Again that piercing pain only this time the ice-pick is being jabbed into my ear. I wince my eyes shut and twist my head.
She must have noticed that the sound bothered me.
“I’m sorry Papa but you’ll get used to that too.”
‘Did she call me Papa?’ I can’t speak but I turn my head and squint at her face, it isn’t as I remember, not nearly as beguiling, ‘why did I follow her here?’ I think.
“Drink this, it will help you speak.” Grandma again, she holding an ornate china coffee cup up to me lips. It smells like sewage.
I grimace and turn my head, raising my left arm to cover my nose I unexpectedly smack myself in the face.
I immediately thought of a game we played as kids. We’d stand in a doorway with our arms at our sides. Someone would count to a hundred while the person in the door pushed against the doorframe with the back of their hands while holding their elbows locked. After the count you’d step out of the door and relax you arms. They would rise as if being pulled up by an unseen force, as if they were weightless.
That’s how my arms felt, as if they were weightless.
Erica gently pulled my arm down, “You’ll learn to control that too, there is a lot you’ll get used to.”
The old woman raised the cup again and said, “Take a sip, once you taste it, that will be all that you crave.” I hadn’t noticed before but she spoke with a thick Spanish accent. It wasn’t just an accent, she wasn’t speaking in English but I understand her. I failed every foreign language course I ever took, ‘how is this possible?’
I’m so parched, my mouth with the tiny tongue and huge teeth felt dry, so much so that it felt gritty. And my stomach felt nonexistent I was so hungry. Forcing myself to taste the foul drink, I was surprised to find that when it hit my tongue it was wonderful; an amalgamation of everything good that ever past over my lips. It tasted like lobster and truffles and young pussy. I wanted, no craved it immediately.
It made that strange empty feeling in my abdomen go away. It did not however, alter the oddly full feeling I had in my chest.
My lungs are as if I had taken several deep breaths before diving into a pool, but not exhaling between gulps. I had felt this sensation once before, back in college. Gus and I tried freebasing cocaine; this was the predecessor of crack. Inhaling the cooking fumes numbs your lungs as you suck them in, it feels as if you could inhale forever and never fully become filled. I felt that now even though I was breathing normally. It isn’t a bad feeling, just unnatural. Not surprising given what I was going through.
Carefully, I raised my hands to the cup and took it from Grandma. I finished the cup, letting the final thick drops of liquid drip onto my tongue. It felt strangely tight, I couldn’t extend it past my teeth but I don’t care about that now, I want more to drink.
I open my eyes a little more and hold the cup out to her.
“More.” I’m able to croak out a single word now; the dense liquid has eased the tightness in my throat and loosened my tongue.
“Good,” she replies, “you are recovering quickly Popi. We had to make a quick decision when you killed Julio.”
“Popi?… What?” Only able to stammer out a word at a time, I try to stand as I speak.
More restraints held me into the chair, a seat belt lay across my lap. Grabbing at it and finding the release, unbuckle it and shoot straight up, almost tripping forward because of the ankle bracelets holding my feet onto the chair.
“Papa wait, you’re not ready” I heard Erica say from my right.
“Stop. Saying.” My voice still only able to produce one syllable at a time. Although my mouth was still feeling strange mishap en and dry, the problem now seemed to be my breath. Even though it felt as though I had unlimited air pressure in my chest, I could only manage enough of a blow to get one short word out at a time.
“Not… You… Father..”
Erica placed her hands on my shoulders and was easily able to push me back in to the chair. As she reattached the seatbelt she said, “Please sit, your muscles aren’t used to the weight change yet. Let Abuela get more coffee for you. It helps keep us balanced.”
As I sat back down into the chair which felt as if, I know this sounds cliché’, but it was like sitting on a cloud. I could feel my ass hitting the cushion but I didn’t seem to sink in at all, I seem to be floating a fraction of an inch above the surface.
Grandma returned with another cup. I reach for it without even hesitation; my body craved it so badly I didn’t even have to think about it. I clutch the delicate cup in my hands and raise it to my lips fully expecting to be reviled again by the smell but instead I find myself inhaling the aroma from the surface of the pitch black liquid. The stench I had experienced the first time was replaced with a fragrance so wonderful that it remarkably prevented me from chugging the contents in one gulp.
The heavenly aroma rising out of the cup transported me back to places I had loved from my youth. Places that most people probably wouldn’t associate with remarkable smells but they held important places in my mind.
I thought of the dirt track we rode as teenagers, the smell of two stroke gasoline engines always makes me smile.
The mixture of perfume and shampoo that I smelled when giving my first hickie to Lois Clarke on a dare sophomore year on an overnight school trip to our nation’s capital. And later that evening the sweet odor of sweat and moisture between her thighs when we both lost our virginity.
The smell of freshly cut pine when I was building a birdhouse with my father on a camping trip with the Cub scouts. That was the fateful weekend he died when a tree feel on our tent when an unexpected thunderstorm hit our camp during the night. Building that birdhouse was my final happy memory of him, I cherished it always.
I didn’t understand how or why but I knew I would need Grandma’s ‘coffee’ to live the rest of my life. The feeling reminded me of those college nights experimenting with smoking coke; I knew how junkies felt and why seemingly normal people could get hooked. I always thought they were weak, I was able to resist the temptation to smoke it again when I reached that point just before return was impossible, why couldn’t they? Now I knew why addicts can’t stop, I need this to live. There’s no point in going on without it.
After draining two more cups of the dark nectar, I fall asleep.