Larry Shuttleworth slid the needle into his arm with practiced ease and pulled back the syringe, watching as crimson-coloured blood entered the plastic chamber, indicating that he was inside the vein. He then pushed the plunger slowly and watched as the heroin disappeared into his body. He extracted the needle and placed it beside the bed, just as the rush hit his brain, shrinking his pupils, turning his eyes myopic and sending him falling backwards onto the covers.
There is nothing quite like heroin a dream he thought to himself. It’s as if your mind just floats away in space, connected to the world by the most delicate thread, distant, objective, and apart. It is a small slice of heaven, which lasts for too little a time, before the hell of insatiable craving arrives, to slap you back down to a harsh and unwelcome reality.
Somewhere in the background, Larry heard the sound of a baby crying, desperately yelling out for its mother to fulfil its needs. It irritated him, that his stone could be disturbed in such a manner. He shouted out for someone to shut the baby up, but was unsure if his words actually left his mouth in more than a whisper. He sat up, feeling annoyed, on the verge of anger. ‘Shut that baby up!’
‘What are you talking about, Larry? There’s no baby around here,’ said Fred, Larry’s partner in crime who had helped him drag the big screen television out of an apartment no more than an hour ago, so they could both go and score, to stop the symptoms of withdrawal that scratched ceaselessly at their brains.
‘I heard a baby crying,’ replied Larry sitting up on the bed. ‘I wasn’t imagining it. It woke me up and dragged me out of my stone.’
‘Yeah, well, I’ve been here the whole time and I’m telling you, there wasn’t a crying baby. The only thing dragging this stone down is you.’
Larry scratched his arms and his face, which told him that the quality of the smack was good. Only good gear made him scratch. He got up off the bed and went to the bathroom, where he washed his face and neck with cool water from the basin. He looked into the mirror and didn’t like what he saw, which was why he generally avoided his reflection where possible.
His face was marked with sores from both his scratching and constant malnutrition. He smiled, looking at his teeth, which had been slowly rotting away for the past few years and would require extraction at some point in the future. He imagined himself to be a living example of the picture of Dorian Grey, his youthful good looks having long ago disappeared, leaving him with the streetwise face he saw looking back at him.
He thought about the first time he had ever used, after the death of his girlfriend, soon after his seventeenth birthday, to cope with the sudden and overwhelming grief. That was fifteen years ago and now only three things mattered: procuring money for drugs, buying drugs and taking drugs, the emotional connection to why he had in the first place, long ago lost in obscurity.
He laughed thinking about how he had started out so well in life, the product of a middle-class, overachieving nuclear family, who had long ago disowned him for his dishonesty and theft from them. There was no going back down the family road; his bridges there, well and truly burnt and now here he was, a walking human train wreck, able to look no further into the future than what he would do to get his next hit. He had made his own choices in life, he accepted the consequences, and he had learned to live with them, helped along by the assistance of regular infusions of intravenous narcotics.
Larry returned to the bedroom and divided the rest of what heroin remained between him and Fred. ‘I better get out of here, your woman is going to be home soon and we both know how she feels about me,’ he said as he shoved the drugs and a couple of clean syringes into the inside breast pocket of his old army surplus jacket. ‘I’ll see you in a couple of days, Fred. Keep a look out for any good earns and we’ll do them when we start to run out of gear.’
‘Yeah, no worries,’ replied Fred. ‘I’ve already got a couple of good ideas.’
Larry left Fred’s flat and walked out into Sydney’s notorious, King’s Cross, glad to be out in the cool night air.
He didn’t particularly like Fred, and he was sure that Fred felt the same about him, but their association was a matter of necessity and survival. The thing about being a junky was that associations were fleeting and usually ended with one or both of the participants in such liaisons, either going to jail or dying from an accidental overdose. The best you could hope for was to live for the moment, anything other than that was in his experience, setting your expectations of life way too high.
He walked through the Cross, passing the usual parade of junkies, hookers and drunks, occasionally nodding his head to acknowledge a dealer, or some other individual with whom he had done time, or knew from one of his many criminal activities, which regularly served to relieve Mr. and Mrs. Honest Citizen of their hard-earned cash and belongings.
He grabbed a hotdog and a coke from a mobile stand and walked into a nearby park, found a quiet spot on deserted bench, where he ate his food and thought about where he might sleep the night. Food was a luxury, which he couldn’t often afford, but with an ample supply of smack in his pocket, which he estimated would last him the next two days, he could afford to splurge a little with the meagre amount of money he possessed.
Having a full stomach was an experience, which was so unfamiliar to him that as soon as he had consumed both hotdogs, he felt the need to lie down and help the food digest. He took off his jacket and rolled it into a ball to use for a pillow and lay down on the bench, expecting to wake up in an hour or so, when he felt less bloated and able to walk.
He had just dozed off, when he heard the incessant crying of the baby again. It sounded even more desperate now, as if neglected, left for a long time without food or care. He sat up and swore, looking around, convinced that the baby was somewhere close, but despite his searching, he could detect no crying infant within close proximity. He tried twice more to sleep, but each time he closed his eyes, the crying began again in earnest, until finally he gave up and stood up off the bench and began walking aimlessly, trying to decide the best place to spend the night.
He wandered through the city, feeling put out and pissed off, and the need for sleep pressing down upon him like a weight upon his shoulders. Several street people called out him as he passed them readying to sleep in the doorways of businesses now closed for the night, but he chose to ignore their greetings. He proceeded on, wanting to find a place without company, where he could be on his own, to use some of his stashed heroin without others begging him for a taste and the inevitable bad feelings it would bring when he told them to go to hell.
Ahead of him, he noticed Central station. He decided to jump a train to Eastwood in the Western suburbs, where he knew the location of a park, which had a public toilet open all night, so that he could gather some water for a hit, lock himself into a cubicle and sleep until the morning came.
As he approached the entrance, with its gothic designs and century-old facade, he imagined it to be the gaping mouth of some giant ghastly beast, readying to swallow him whole. He hesitated for a moment, but quickly dismissed the idea as ridiculous, putting it down to too little sleep over the past few days, as a result of a nearing withdrawal and the sudden influx into his body of a copious amount of heroin.
He entered the station, looked around to make sure there were no staff present and then jumped over the barrier, where he should have entered his ticket and walked over to the escalator, which took him down to the platform on the lower level of the subway from where the train would depart.
Larry found the platform, walked through a crowd of waiting people and found an empty bench. He sat down and closed his eyes, hoping not to hear the incessant wailing of the child.
His eyes closed for only a moment, when the sudden crying of the babe erupted into the air, followed by the horrified scream of a woman that caused him to sit bolt upright, swear loudly with fright and look around for the origin of the sound.
As if happening in slow motion, he saw the baby’s stroller reach the end of the platform and fall down onto the tracks, causing the infant inside to cry at the top of its lungs. He looked over and saw the mother in complete shock, paralysed and screaming for help.
Without thinking, Larry jumped out of his seat and down onto the tracks. He grabbed the child from out of the stroller and threw the little girl up to her mother as the train bore down on him. His last living memory was of seeing the terrified face of the train driver, who knew that the man in front of him had no chance of getting off the tracks before the train hit him at high speed.
Larry’s next awareness occurred four days later, when he found himself standing in a cemetery, dressed in a dark suit and tie. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he didn’t feel either stoned, or hanging out for drugs. He actually felt good, which was a strange feeling in itself and not a sensation to which he was accustomed.
Ahead of him, he saw a large group of people gathered around a gravesite. He walked over and was not completely surprised to find that he was actually attending his own funeral. What did surprise him was that his family and some of his former friends had gathered and were crying over his demise, which was something he would never have expected, in his wildest dreams.
He listened to the preacher, who said that although Larry had done some terrible things throughout his life, those last moments spent saving the life of an innocent child, were a bold and noble enterprise. The preacher added that Larry was now at peace, in a place of love and caring and that he was finally happy.
Larry looked across the grave and saw the young mother, who had been at the station on the night of his departure, holding in her arms the child he had thrown to safety. He walked around the grave and over to the child. He looked at the baby, who looked back at him and smiled. Larry was sure that she could see him, even if nobody else could. He also saw that there was a great destiny in the child’s eyes, as if her life and his death had become somehow, inexplicably interwoven, and would bring immense improvement to the world.
He wondered whether that very moment, those few seconds of intervention had been the reason for his whole, seemingly pointless existence.
Larry saw a movement in his peripheral vision, looked behind him, and watched, as a bright light appeared, which he instinctively knew was a doorway to an alternate plane of being, far away from the world and the life he had lived. The compulsion to go towards it was greater than the pull of any drug habit he had ever known and he had no reason, or even wont to resist its beckoning call.
As he moved towards the light, he started to laugh aloud. It was to his great amusement that of all the selfish, cruel, underhanded, and manipulative things he had ever inflicted on other people throughout his life, in the name of self preservation, it was the one selfless act that he had ever committed, for which he would be remembered and ironically, the thing that got him killed.