The Midwest |


by Jeremy Jasper

The light glistened on the pane of broken glass when I woke up that morning. I hurried out of bed to jerk the blinds closed in hopes they would hold up against the gusting wind. The chill of January air bit at my skin as I looked for something to put on. I stooped down and dug through a pile of dirty clothes for some forgotten pair of underwear. I walked out of the bedroom door and into the living room of our apartment. It wasn’t really our apartment, actually. It was abandoned when we stumbled across it. But it was ours now. We had been out on the streets for two days and the cold November weather was starting to wear us down. I had to find us a place to go; we were tired of living in gas station bathrooms and I was tired of hiding from the cops while we tried to shoot up in alleyways. I carried our infant son, Thomas, in my arms as I climbed up the front steps of the abandoned Harbinger Estate Building almost two months ago. I scouted the building out for a couple days to see if anyone came in or out. It had closed down earlier in the week, but it looked like it should have been closed years ago. The building was in bad shape, even for Detroit. We walked in the front door and looked around. The elevator doors were wide open, but the lift was gone and the shaft went all the way down to the basement. I put Thomas on my shoulder and we began to walk up the stairs in search of a new home. Graffiti covered the walls of the stairwell, spelling out “You’ll never leave Detroit alive” in bright red paint. When we reached the fifth floor I handed Thomas to my girlfriend Amanda and got to work on getting us a place to stay. The fifth floor would be high enough for us. We wouldn’t be bothered by the occasional police officer that might want to check on the building or by the junkies trying to steal what was left of the copper wiring. I emptied Amanda’s purse to look for something I could use to slip the lock. I found an old cooking spoon and jammed the back end into the space between the lock and the door. I worked my magic on the door while Amanda covered Thomas’ mouth to keep him from making any noise. After a few minutes of jiggling I got the door open. I put the spoon back in her purse and slowly cracked the door open. A blast of cold, rancid air hit me in the face. Thomas began to cry immediately and Amanda covered his mouth again to stifle the noise. The place was already occupied; when I stepped inside, a family of rats scattered away from a cat carcass. The windows were cracked and broken, letting the air slip through like a sieve. After a few hours of cleaning, some garbage picked mattresses, and some plastic bags for the windows, we had a home. I found my jeans in the living room and slowly pulled them on. I went back into the bedroom to wake up Amanda; it was time for us to go out and make some money. She lay in the bed naked with dirty old sheets covering her leathery body. Her shoulder stuck out under the sheet and I gently shook her. She was always a heavy sleeper, especially after the long night we had. She opened her eyes and stared blankly at the wall. Her blue eyes had large dark circles around them. Her face wasn’t as attractive as it used to be; the cold Detroit winters had weathered her skin and cracked her lips. I shook her shoulder once more and rubbed my hand down her back and over her bony rib cage. When we met, Amanda’s hair was as black as roofer’s tar and her lips were as red as blood on snow. But after a few years with me, she didn’t look like that anymore. Her hair had streaks of gray in it now, and her lips had become a salmon pink color. She told me she was pregnant on the day I turned twenty. I tried to do what I was supposed to do so I went and found her a ring. I searched the pawn shops all around Detroit and finally found one I could afford. I bought her the ring for fifteen dollars and went back and proposed to her. I knew she wasn’t going to say yes, but I asked her anyway. But she said she didn’t want the ring and we could use some of that money. Then she just turned around and cried. I kept the ring, in case she changed her mind someday. She went into labor in a bathroom stall in George’s Lounge. The bar was closed and I had to jimmy the door open so we could get in there. She couldn’t handle the pain and I had to shoot her up with a small hit of heroin to keep happy. Thomas was born on November 13th around four in the morning. “Get up babe,” I whispered in her ear. “We gotta find some money, I’m dyin’ here. I need somethin’.” Amanda didn’t answer; she just sat up and let the sheets fall off of her body on to the floor. She walked over to Thomas’ makeshift crib, three cardboard boxes taped together. Thomas was still sleeping and she lifted him slowly up to her chest. The baby moved up and down with every breath Amanda took. “Come on hon’, get some clothes on we gotta get out and make some money.” She turned to me and laid Thomas into my arms. “Fine, just give me a minute,” she said. She dressed quickly and we bundled up the baby to get ready to venture out into the cold. The streets of Detroit are not very welcoming to people like us. The few people left with jobs would rather run to the other side of the street than walk past us and the cops spend most of their time looking for ways stick us in a cell. My tattered jeans did little to prevent me from the morning city winds. I knew where we could go to get some money, so I grabbed Amanda’s hand and led her toward the Maxwell alley. Amanda was not a prostitute at all; we just did what needed to be done. She never complained about what we had to do to get our fix or at least she didn’t complain anymore. The first few times we had to put her out on the street to make money were the only times she ever showed any feelings about the situation. We waited in the same spot in the alley and she would turn to me and start crying. “Isn’t there any other way for us to get money, Chris? I don’t think I can do this, what if I get beat up, or get some kind of disease?” I tried to comfort her and tell her that nothing bad was gonna happen but she didn’t believe me. Then after three or four more times she stopped complaining and just did it, I think she just accepted that this is what had to be done if we were gonna be happy. “O.K. give me the baby honey, I’ll be right over here nothing will happen to you,” I tried to reassure her. I knew she was nervous, but she didn’t let me see it anymore. “How much do we need,” she asked. “I mean, how much should I tell them to give me?” “About forty, babe, that should keep us set for the weekend at least.” I bounced Thomas up and down as Amanda nodded her head and turned to walk away. She walked to the corner of the alley and leaned her slender body against a red brick building. I never could figure out what kind of people would need to pay for sex this early in the morning. Maybe they were lonely, or bored, or maybe they just didn’t have time to find a girl at night. When I met Amanda she was getting ready to start college. She was enrolled in a community college just ten minutes from her house. We started dating and I got a job at the GM plant down the block from the college. I worked the ten-hour third shift. When my shift ended I could catch her walking up the street away from the building and I would walk her home. After the plant laid me and three hundred other workers off, I walked her to class and waited in the abandoned west wing for her to get off. Some days we’d slam heroin in the west wing before she went to class and I’d run around on the old textbooks and papers until she got out. Then we’d walk around the empty streets and wait to come down. Within minutes of her standing on the corner a middle aged white man stopped his car and rolled down his window to talk to Amanda. His Buick was in shambles; his passenger side headlight was missing, and a blue smear was scraped across the car’s beige paint. They talked for a few minutes and I tried to listen but couldn’t hear what he was saying. He pushed open the passenger door and Amanda got in. They sat there talking for a few more minutes before he drove off. Me and Thomas waited in the alley for her to return, just like every other time. The alley between Al’s liquor and CJ’s Smokes was a hotspot for prostitution. A few homeless were counting cans at the other end of the alley. A garbage can was burning in the middle of the alley and I carried Thomas over there to warm up. A homeless woman came down the alley and stood next to me and Thomas. She wasn’t very much older than I was. She smelled of garbage and feces. Her arms were bruised and scarred. The crease of her elbow was covered in track marks and her eyes were glazed over. She didn’t have an overcoat on and her winter hat had mud all over it. She said nothing to me; she just smiled and warmed herself in front of the fire. Amanda was back thirty minutes later; the man wouldn’t drop her off back here so she had to walk by herself in the cold. By the time she got back she was shivering and she had wrapped herself in a garbage bag. I grabbed her and tried to warm her up as fast as I could. “Did you get the money,” I asked. She nodded her head and handed me forty dollars. “Great babe, let’s go to Kevin’s and get the shit, then we can grab some food for the boy and head home.” Our dealer Kevin lived three blocks from the alley and we were there in minutes. I pressed the buzzer to his apartment and waited for his answer. “Who’s there,” he asked. “It’s me, Kev, Chris.” The buzzer sounded, and I pulled open the door. Amanda and Thomas waited for me downstairs. Kevin’s apartment was much nicer than the one we lived in; he did pay for his of course. He had an oversized television in the corner of the living room and three couches surrounding it. He was standing in his kitchen cooking scrambled eggs and bacon when we walked in. The smell of the caramelized sugars in the bacon made me hungry for a few seconds, but then it went away and the pain in my stomach came back. “Hey Chris, come on in.” He seemed in a good mood. “What can I get you, the same shit as always I’m guessing?” He jumped backwards and yelled in pain as oil from his pan splattered on his forearm. Kevin’s good mood was gone and he flung the pan across the room, denting the drywall. “Jesus Christ that shit fuckin’ burns.” He started to run his hand under the sink. After a few minutes of swearing he finally settled down, “Ok, how much d’you need this time?” “Just give me some dope and I’ll get outta here,” I replied. He gestured me to follow him and he lead me into the bathroom. He took the lid off of the back of the toilet and plunged his hand into the water. He pulled out a plastic bag full of already packaged balloons. “How much you need,” he asked. I took out the forty dollars and handed it to him. He stuck his hand into the bag and pulled out four black balloons. “Here you go, have fun.” I thanked him and grabbed the dope. I ran down the stairs and grabbed Amanda and Thomas. We left the apartment and went to find some food for Thomas. We passed a fast food restaurant and I went in to scrounge around for something. I reached my hand into one of the garbage cans outside and pulled out an empty food bag. I opened it and grabbed the receipt from the bottom of the bag. I wasn’t hungry for food and I knew Amanda wasn’t either, but I needed something for the boy. I walked in the restaurant and waited by the counter for the worker to call somebody’s number and when she did I flashed my receipt and grabbed the food and bolted out the door. We raced away from the restaurant and back to our apartment. I opened the bag of food and started to feed the baby some French Fries. His little fingers could barely wrap around the fries. Amanda went into the bathroom and came out with a ten foot extension cord, an old plastic cup filled with water, and a lighter. I placed Thomas back in the box and set the bag of food next to him. Amanda was in the bathroom and I could hear her throwing up. Amanda sat down on the bed and began to wrap the cord around her bicep. I took the spoon out of her purse and opened up the first balloon. The brownish white powder overflowed off of the spoon and I licked the tip of my index finger and dabbed at the spilled powder on the ground. I sucked the powder off of my finger and started to heat up the spoon. Amanda poured a few drops of the water into the spoon and I tried as hard as I could to keep my hand from shaking. I lit the lighter and melted the dope. I grabbed a needle off of the floor and sucked up all of the liquid. Amanda bit down hard on the male end of the extension cord and stepped down on the female end as I smacked her arm to get the vein to bulge out. I sunk the needle into her vein and watched the splash of blood rush up the syringe. I pressed the plunger all the way down and saw Amanda eyes begin to roll into the back of her head. She let out an enormous sigh and slowly leaned backwards into the bed. I untied the extension cord from her arm and repeated the process with myself. I injected myself and lay down in the bed and waited for it to take effect. I immediately became calm and I felt as if I was wrapped in an electric blanket. I woke up to Thomas wailing. My arm was turning blue from the extension cord and I untied it. I rolled towards the window and slapped my arm on Amanda’s side of the bed to try and wake her up. “Come on babe, get up, the baby’s crying.” I turned my body to the other side of the bed and looked to where she had fallen asleep. Her side of the bed was cold and empty. I sat up and looked around the room. Thomas was still crying from his box. Amanda was gone. I slowly stood up and watched the bed regain its former shape. I checked the bathroom and saw that the sink was full of water. The water bucket was tipped over on the ground and a little streak of water was running towards the bathtub. I let the water sit there and lifted the door off of the medicine cabinet. I set the door on the toilet and looked for the syringes; they were all gone except for one. I went back into the bedroom and picked up Thomas and the French fries out of his crib. I opened his mouth and put a French fry in, the fry was cold but he sucked on it for awhile. I paced around the room wondering where Amanda could have gone. I walked over to the bed and looked for the rest of the heroin. I set Thomas down on the bed and searched the room. I found one balloon and a lighter on the ground next to her side of the bed. She left me one needle, one hit of heroin, and our son. I put the balloon in my pocket and ripped the sheet off the bed. I wrapped Thomas in it and walked into the bathroom. I grabbed the last syringe and dipped my hand into the sink to get some water for Thomas. Thomas started to cry when I slid the water into his mouth and I set him down on the lid of the toilet. I put my hand under the water again and tried to cup some of it in my palm. I bit open the needle packaging and spit out the wrapper. I bit the cap off and sucked up a little bit of water from my hand into the needle. Thomas started wailing, it got louder and louder. I pulled the drain in the sink and put the cap back on the needle. I put the needle in my pocket and picked up Thomas. He stopped crying. Some water had splashed onto his sheet and his head was wet. We walked out of the bathroom and toward the door. I opened the front door of the apartment and walked out without even closing the door. A spray painted clown stared at me from the wall of the stairwell. We reached the bottom floor and I checked outside to see if anybody would see me leaving and stepped out into the Detroit slums. The sun had gone down and gray smog hovered between the ground and the streetlights. They buzzed and flickered over us as we walked down the street. Thomas had begun crying again and I let him suck on my finger. Lights were flashing on and off deep into alleyways and small cracks between buildings, but the streets of Detroit were empty. I had lost all track of time while we walked. The BP gas station two blocks down was open twenty four hours so me and Thomas headed toward it. On the way to the gas station we walked past a Greek restaurant named Dionysus. I walked in through the back door with Thomas and got one of the cook’s attention. “Excuse me sir, could you happen to spare any food for my son and me?” I turned Thomas towards the cook and made the saddest face I could. “Sure,” he said. “I can get a little something for you guys.” He walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a piece of cake and a fork and handed them to me. “Do you think I could have a spoon instead,” I asked him. He turned around and pulled a spoon out of the drawer and I handed him back the fork. “Thank you very much,” I said and we headed back outside. Snow had begun to fall and Thomas was freezing cold. I put the spoon in my pocket and dipped my finger into the cake and let Thomas eat it off of my finger. I threw the cake in the garbage and walked into the gas station. I asked the manager if I could have the key to the bathroom but he told me I couldn’t have it so I went outside. The bathroom was around the corner of the building and had a deadbolt locking the door in place. I set Thomas down next to the door and slammed into the door with my shoulder. After three tries the door popped open and we went inside. I closed the door behind us and sat down on the toilet. I placed Thomas in the sink and pulled out the syringe and spoon from my right pocket and the balloon and lighter from my left and set them down on the sink. I stood up and took my belt off of my pants. I opened the balloon and poured the heroin onto the spoon, and then I pressed the plunger down a little on the needle and watched a few drops of water come off of the point. I lit the lighter and heated up the dope. I wrapped my arm as tight as I could with my belt and bit down hard with my teeth. I leaned my head back against the bathroom wall and fell asleep for a little while. I awoke and had no idea what I was going to do without Amanda. I don’t know why she left and had no idea how I was going to be able to take care of Thomas. I picked up the syringe, the lighter, and the spoon and looked down at Thomas. He was sleeping in the sink and he looked as peaceful as he had ever been. I opened the door and walked out, I looked back at him once more and turned and closed the door. I walked about a mile away and found a pay phone. I picked up the receiver and dialed the police. “Detroit Police Department,” the dispatcher said. “What can I do for you?” “I found a baby boy in the bathroom of the BP gas station on Cavanaugh and Trumbull,” I told her. “He looks pretty cold; you should get someone over there quick.” Then I hung up the phone. I waited across the street for the police to come and pick him up. When they got there, the door had blown open in the wind and they rushed in and picked him up out of the sink. When they carried him out of the bathroom they wrapped him in a nice warm looking blue blanket and put him in the back seat of the cop car. I watched the police lights flashing all the way down the street until the car and my son disappeared. I walked around the city until the sun came up and I looked for the first pawn shop that was open. I sold the man who worked there Amanda’s ring. He offered me twelve dollars and I took it. I walked the mile and a half to Kevin’s apartment and pressed my finger hard on the buzzer.