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Living in Philadelphia, a young woman tries to outrun her regrets and the reoccurring approach of dawn with nothing but controlled substances, unfulfilling sex and sarcasm to sustain her anti-quest. Unable to find solace in her best friend Jason, her partner in crime Kat or her pot smoking mother she embarks on a relentless pursuit of distraction which leads her to New York and back, through night clubs, dive bars and dingy apartments until she finds herself hurtling towards a ...
Living in Philadelphia, a young woman tries to outrun her regrets and the reoccurring approach of dawn with nothing but controlled substances, unfulfilling sex and sarcasm to sustain her anti-quest. Unable to find solace in her best friend Jason, her partner in crime Kat or her pot smoking mother she embarks on a relentless pursuit of distraction which leads her to New York and back, through night clubs, dive bars and dingy apartments until she finds herself hurtling towards a point where there is no up, only down.
Then she notices a man on a train reading a book she loves, and convinced he is her only chance at salvation, sets out on mission to find out who he is. Infatuation becomes obsession and as her grip on reality shakes loose, she sinks to previously unfathomable lows before learning that redemption is never so close as when you hit the bottom.
With dark humor and a biting tone, this compelling story moves along like a train careening down the track, leaving the reader pulling for its perfectly flawed heroine to the very last page.
“WHAT’S WITH THE SCAR?”
He had stumbled toward me from across the party, sloshing cheap, watery beer over the rim of his red plastic cup. I watched it disappear into the ugly carpet.
Now he’s standing too close to me, breathing too heavily, and I think about all the undergrads who have puked, pissed, shat, fucked, and spat on that carpet over the years. I drop my cigarette onto it and grind the butt in with the heel of my sneaker.
He presses his giant ham of an index .nger into the circular scar on my left upper arm. I want to punch him in the face. When is it OK to touch a complete stranger? CPR, Heimlich maneuver? A life- or-death situation, maybe, and even then I’d be uncomfortable.
I put my hoodie on.
“I was born in Vietnam. It’s an inoculation scar.” This is bullshit. Actually, it’s from when I let some guy I met in a bar burn me with his cigarette just to prove that I could take it.
I can be a real fucking idiot sometimes.
“But you’re white.”
“No shit, asshole.” I take a busted pack of Marlboros out of my back pocket and light one.
“Hey, fuck you, bitch.” He stumbles back across the room.
I don’t know why I come to these things. House parties attract the world’s most boring people. Which most de.nitely makes me boring. I take a .ask out of my hoodie pocket and take a swig. It’s not as hard- core as I want it to look because it’s whiskey and Coke, but I refuse to be seen with one of those plastic keg cups.
I end up sitting on the back steps leading to the square of cement that somehow manages to pass for a backyard in this godforsaken end of this godforsaken city, rolling a joint. A few randoms stand around smoking cigarettes. A tall guy in baggy corduroys makes his way over to me as I spark up.
“Can I sit down?”
I slide across the step.
“Is that a J?”
“Can I get a hit?”
Does he know how hard it is to get green in this city right now? I paid good money for this shit.
He takes a long, no, a fucking luxurious drag on my joint and hands it back. He straightens up, struggling to hold the smoke in his lungs. I take a few light pu.s and exhale through my nose. Finally he exhales as well.
“Thanks, I needed that. This party is lame.”
“Where’d you get that anyway? That’s good shit.”
“My mom.” This is true.
“Ha right. Hey”—he leans in close and hurls his Coors Light breath at me—“you wanna line?”
A herd of ugly drunk people desperate for a piss shout and bang on the bathroom door. From the sound of it someone’s either retching or fucking in there, so I grab him by the sleeve and lead him up to the attic bedroom, which has a latch on it. I don’t really know the people who live here, but I’ve been over a few times with Kat, and once I bought mushrooms from the guy who lives in this room.
I tripped balls that night.
I latch the door and we sit on the bed. The room is cramped with a low, slanted ceiling. He .nds an All-man Brothers CD case and cuts up two fat lines with his Delaware County Community College ID before holding the case out to me and handing me a rolled-up . ve- dollar bill.
I blow through what I think is the bigger of the two lines. It’s like breathing sand, and it sears down the back of my throat, taking globs of snot with it. I lick the tip of my .nger and run it across the CD case. I rub my .nger along my gums and they start to go numb almost immediately. I can never remember if that means it’s good quality or bad.
Right now I don’t care.
I hand him the case back without o.ering to hold it for him. He balances it precariously on his knee so he can close one nostril and stick the .ver up the other. I will the plastic case to slip. To tip slightly and dump his blow all over this crusty, unmade bed. I can picture him snu.ing in the sweaty, stained sheets. Desperate to ingest every last amphetamine particle and anything that happens to come with it. I lean back against the pillows and shut my eyes.
It smells like balls in this room. Every guy’s room I’ve ever been in smells like this.
I hear Backyard Boy blow through his line without incident and put the CD down. The bed shifts and creaks as he moves to lie next to me. I can feel myself coming up. My heart starts beating faster, and my face . ushes. He puts his hand on my stomach, under my shirt, and lets it sit there. My stomach tenses.
More anonymous touching.
I don’t like it, but I don’t move yet. I’m trying to enjoy my come-up. He moves closer to me, and I can feel his thick breath on my ear as he pants and drools like a damned Saint Bernard. He starts slowly rubbing my stomach, and I can feel his dry lips against my neck. He’s kissing behind my ear and his hand moves up. Under my bra he’s cupping my left tit. Just cupping it, like now that he’s got there he doesn’t know what to do next. I haven’t opened my eyes yet, or moved. As I feel him touching me, each one of my internal organs tightens anxiously as if they may individually throw up at any moment. I imagine my torso .lling with organ puke.
He’s ruining my high.
I have to get out.
I grab his wrist and remove him from my tit.
“Back o., asshole.” I throw my legs over the side of the bed and .x my shirt before standing up.
“What the hell’s the matter?”
“I don’t fuck cokeheads.” I light a cigarette and walk out.
“Hey, fuck you, bitch!”
As I jog down the stairs I wonder who else I can piss o. to night. Maybe score the “Hey, fuck you, bitch!” hat trick. Pathetically, I’m afraid he’ll come running down after me in the midst of some coke rage, drag me back upstairs by my hair, and rape me in that cramped, testicle- scented bedroom. My stomach heaves, and I taste acid on the back of my tongue. I swig out of my .ask. Almost empty.
Time to go.
Out on the street I manage to regain some of my high. It’s September but it’s still warm, and I leave my hoodie unzipped. I check my watch: 3:30 a.m. Maybe I’ll get a train to New York and see Jason. I’m pretty sure they run this late. I .nd my phone and call him.
“Well, hello lady,” Jay answers.
“Yo Jay, what’s up?”
“Nothing, just heading to the Phoenix for last call. What’re you doing?”
“Nothing. I was at a house party, but it sucked so I bailed. Some guy gave me a fat line though, and now I’m all jacked up with nowhere to go.”
“Come up. I have to work this weekend, but we can de.nitely hang out.”
Shit. Work. I forgot all about that.
“Fuck, I’m meant to be at the café tomorrow at, like, nine.”
The thought of forcing myself to smile through a six-hour shift without throwing scalding co. ee on some helmet-haired real- estate bitch seems downright impossible.
“Yeah. Sounds good. I’ll be at your apartment in, like, three hours.”
I decide to walk to the train station since I’m already in West Philly. About two blocks in, the fear hits me. I’m in West Philly at almost 4 a.m. on a Friday night. The chances of me getting raped, mugged, and murdered are, like, one in one.
No, fuck that. I hands down refuse to be afraid. Besides, I have no cash on me for a cab.
Chestnut Street’s practically deserted save for a few taxis, their yellow paint looking . u-sick under green tra.c lights. I pass a pile of newspapers, rising and falling almost imperceptibly with the labored sleep breaths of someone underneath. I kick an empty Burger King cup ahead of me and jog to catch up with it. I consider kicking it again but just stamp on it instead, relishing the crunch of plastic-coated cardboard.
As I cross Th irty-ninth Street, I see two young black men walking toward me. My heart starts racing, and I can feel the anxious little knots starting. That’s it. Th is is it. I’m fucked. As they get closer I contemplate crossing the street but am so afraid of them at this point that the idea of doing something so stereotypically o. ensive seems like a death wish. We are at opposite ends of the same block, and I can hear my blood thundering in my ears. As I approach them, they are talking in low voices, but they go silent when they see me.
“Yo, shorty.” The taller of the two smiles at me and sucks his teeth. I smile back but don’t make eye contact. “Where you going?” He .icks his head at me as I walk past him. Slick, bald head. Wide, sly smile. He’s gorgeous.
Why don’t I ever date black men? I don’t even ever fuck them. Most likely I’m racist. We all are.
“Home.” I can feel his eyes burning into me as I pass him.
“Can I come?” he asks my back.
“Nah, sorry.” I throw back over my shoulder.
“Aw, too bad, girl.”
I look back as they turn to walk away, and blush.
The expansive, domed ceiling of Thirtieth Street Station spreads above me. A few people list about on the long wooden benches set one in front of the other. I’ve never noticed how similar to a church it is. And how in a train station, just like in a church, there’s no di. erence between a passenger and a bum at this time of night.
I stare at the big schedule board as it spins and clacks updates at me and will my brain to pro cess stimuli. It is now 3:47 and the next train to Trenton is departing at
3:49. I dig blindly in my bag for my wallet and buy a ticket from the credit card machine along with one from Trenton to New York. I run to Platform 13 West, take the steps down two at a time, and slide onto the train seconds before the doors shut. The car is almost empty so I stretch out on a three-seater. My head is swimming. Picking up a discarded Philadelphia Weekly, I try to read but can’t focus.
I certainly can’t sleep.
I entertain myself by picking .lth from under my nails with a safety pin. How do my .ngernails get so dirty? I’m not a mechanic for Christ’s sake.
No one has come around to collect tickets by the time we pull into Trenton station an hour and a half later.
Standing on the platform waiting for the NJ Transit train to New York, I wonder if people can tell I’m on coke. Shit, I don’t even like coke. It just makes me nervous. More nervous. I try to avoid sni. ng or touching my nose at all, but that just makes me want to do it more.
Whatever. I’m not even on coke. What’s one line?
There’s hardly anyone on the platform. I light a cigarette, and an old lady sitting on a bench in the middle of the platform peers over her thick plastic frames at me.
“You can’t smoke that down here.” She gestures toward a plastic No Smoking sign that someone has cleverly drawn a cock on in permanent marker. There are a few sparse hairs on the balls and some crude droplets spurting from the tip.
I nod at her and walk toward the other end of the platform, taking my cigarette with me. Fuck that, Wrinkles, there’s no one down here. Besides, underground is the same as outside. And what the fuck are you doing waiting for a train at four in the morning?
At the other end of the platform a young guy leans against a pillar. Probably a student. He has iPod headphones in his ears and taps his foot lightly. I can’t help but wonder what he’s listening to. He’s not unattractive, but by no means hot.
He looks a little like Daniel. Same thick blond hair and sandy . ve o’clock shadow. My stomach lurches at a .ash of memory. The last time we talked.
He hadn’t spoken to me in months and then I got a phone call. Out of the blue. “Have dinner with me.” I owed him that much. We went to Rembrandt’s, got drunk, laughed like we used to. We ended up at his apartment, got stoned, talked like we used to. He kissed my arm. I stopped him. His eyes swelled with drunken, angry tears. “I can’t do this. I can’t be friends with you.
Excerpted from The First Law of Motion by K. R. Moorhead.
Copyright © 2009 by K. R. Moorhead.
Published in November 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction
is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or
medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Posted November 15, 2009
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