Part of me didn’t know why I was considering doing this again while another part wondered if I’d feel the same rush of warmth that I remembered feeling three years earlier. I looked down at the needle in my hand, and the vein pulsing on the underside of my elbow... and suddenly I was disgusted with myself. I turned, pushing the plunger down as I watched the heroin flow into the toilet, then threw in what was left. I flushed it, dropped the syringe on the tile floor and then stepped on it with the heel of my boot.
Sweeping up the little pile with the broom, I threw it out, grabbed my keys and went out the door, leaving the brick walls of my flat to fend for themselves. I knew I was pissed off because I couldn’t find the lyrics or the final chords to the song that had been weaving in and out of my head for a month. I was also restless, but worst of all I was uncertain about the whole music thing.
I walked for a while watching the last of the sun’s rays glint off the glass walls of the buildings around me, passed a slew of venders as they put away their wares while new ones came out of the dusky buildings nearby, noticed a few ladies of the night searching for their next ‘John’, and their opposites dressed to kill either on their way home or on their way out. I passed Broadway and then headed south, not paying the least bit of attention to where I was going. When Mickey’s came into view it was like fate had stepped in and said hello.
After two stints under the care of the juvenile justice system for the possession of coke and another year of swiping hubcaps and whatever else the four of us could make a few cents selling, I picked up my guitar again and began to play.
With a fake ID, I’d waltzed in on a Wednesday night intent on getting drunk, and I admit I was pretty plowed by the time the old man who owned the place walked over, sat down, and listened.
Delbert, the name I’d given that same guitar, had become my constant companion. It reminded me of where I wanted to go. At the same time, I was trying like hell to kick a habit that cost me more than I made working part time in a warehouse that distributed break-down furniture to stores that sold it for quadruple the original cost. The shit I was hooked on cost so much that even food and a place to sleep had slipped to the bottom of my survival list.
I stood on the edge of the sidewalk looking through the window at the decor still rooted in the fifties with its red Formica tables and faded fake leather wrap-around seats, understanding how much I owed this place. The pay hadn’t been great but I got fed every night between sets and even slept there most of the time on a cot in the storeroom.
After almost two years Desolation, the name we gave the band, came into being. We started with a little following that grew as the months passed. And somehow, I also managed to stop with the um’s and err’s that seemed to come out instead of words, every time I tried to talk to the chic’s who’d come to listen.
When we started to become recognized regionally, the pay went up along with the venues where we played. Now we were being followed around town, not only by girls looking for a hot night with a wannabe singer or drummer, but also by two producers who seemed to be waiting for something: either a long-lost chord or a few words never dreamed of before.
Suddenly I knew what my problem was. I was afraid to look down the road; afraid of making it and of not making it. I didn’t know what I wanted. All I cared about was finding the right tune and the right words.
I walked in, wondering what had changed, took a seat on a newly re-upholstered bar stool and ordered my normal drink; cheap whiskey neat. Within three minutes Mick saw me and waddled over as he wiped his hands on his apron.
“Ah Shay me boy, you’ve been gone too long... three years is it now since you were my rising star? It’s good to see your Irish eyes again.”
I wanted to hug the old coot, instead I laughed at his half put on brogue. “You know I’m not Irish Mick. I’m Welsh with a touch of French, mixed with God knows what else.”
“Where’ve you been? Are things going well for yea? Ah yes, they are...I saw that little write up in the paper a few weeks ago. Me other son showed me. He’s a fan you know. Yep, you’re a bard through and through. Don’t tell this old fool you ain’t Irish.”
I snickered as I looked at him, shaking my head. “You know as well as I do that Danny and Simms don’t care for my music. They’re country through and through. As a matter of fact, you were so shorthanded the night they went to Trenton to see a whole slew of fiddles playing, I ended up washing dishes until four am.”
“Well, you are me third son after all, and with a name like Shamus who would doubt it. Twas your job and you got paid for it too.”
“Corned beef on rye with extra potato salad if I remember correctly. The same thing I’d had five hours earlier. And as for the name, who knows where my mom pulled it from. Probably some book she’d been reading.”
I stopped and looked at him. He’d aged some and had also gained a little weight. “You know if you hadn’t saved me that night, I’d more than likely be in the gutter now if not worse. I don’t think I ever thanked you and if I did it wasn’t enough.”
Mick punched me lightly in the arm as he brushed at his eyes. “Gotta get back to me kitchen before the old girl blows a gasket. Onions: never could understand why God made such a delicious food only to make tears come every time you cut into one. I’ll tell Sadie you’re here but I doubt she’ll come out. She still hates this place after thirty-five years of cooking. Yet again that might be her problem.”
Mick’s eyes twinkled as he walked away, knowing that I understood the fact that she loved the bar but hated standing over a hot stove, even though she made the best Irish stew I’d ever tasted.
The whiskey felt good going down and the atmosphere was a breath of fresh air, allowing me to forget for a while that my problems weren’t going to solve themselves. The place hadn’t changed much. There were a few new neon signs and another pool table toward the back. The little dimly lit stage was still there but looked deserted. Above it sat a very large flat screen with a soccer game playing without any sound. The old jukebox was there too, but like the stage, it was unplugged and unlit.
I took another sip of whiskey, thinking I’d go back and say hi to Sadie when I saw the door open very slowly from the corner of my eye. A woman with perfectly layered blond hair walked in and I couldn’t for the life of me take my eyes off her. The closer she got the surer I was but just in case I was wrong, I turned and faced the bar back. Three seconds later she took the only vacant seat to my left and I smiled, but only to myself.