We’ve finished laughing at the room. We’ve examined the funny fake ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that they’ve plastered everywhere. We’ve made jokes about the huge Jacuzzi right next to the window, and we’ve peered out at the array of flashing neon lights, and crowds of people milling aimlessly around taking photographs of each other. It’s not even dark yet, but most of them seem drunk already. I’ve never been anywhere like this before.
It’s hot, so he’s taken off his shirt, and I sit, watching, as he sets up the pipe, puts the rock in the small bowl at the end and holds the butane lighter underneath.
“I just do this to maintain now, not for the buzz.”
Smoke begins to cloud the inside of the glass. After a second or two, he raises the mouthpiece, and I can see the tattoo on his upper arm as it flexes and moves in time with the muscles there. The red Kool-Aid in the larger bowl bubbles as he begins to inhale. I tentatively lift my arm, because I want to reach out and touch his skin, run my fingers over the image. But then I think it might disturb him, so I let my hand fall back to my side.
“Did you try to stop before?” I ask.
”Cold turkey? Didn’t work. I was really ill. This is the way to go - slowly tailing it off.”
He puts the pipe to his mouth again and the bubbling noise restarts.
Last summer. That was the first time. I think he’s probably forgotten, but I haven’t. I remember the first email when he mentioned it - the wonderful new toy he’d found. “When you come over you’ll have to try some – if you’re game,” he’d said. “You’ll love it.” Then he’d disappeared for days and when he’d resurfaced he’d explained how it had all gone a bit wrong, how he’d done too much and it’d made him feel awful. “I’ll be okay from now on though. I’ve learned my lesson. I know my limits ..”
The bubbling noise stops and he looks at me.
“Want to try some? – It’ll wake you up.” He holds out the pipe, “totally up to you..”
I hesitate. I’ve turned it down before, but we’ve run out of heroin now, and I’m so tired – it’s been a long drive from California to Vegas…
“It’s not like the speed we used to do?” He’s already told me this, but I want to hear it again.
“Nothing like – this is much smoother – not so harsh.”
I think for a while, and then I hold out my hand.
He passes me the pipe, but keeps hold of it at the bottom.
“You don’t inhale deeply, like a cigarette, or black, but take as much as you can in one go.”
I wait for the whooshing noise of the butane lighter and then when the smoke fills the glass, I put my lips to the mouthpiece. I’m clumsy at first. I inhale too deeply and it makes me cough. I make a face at the bitter aftertaste. He nods.
“Yeah – that’s why you add the Kool-Aid”
I persevere and eventually I get the hang of it. It’s just as he said it would be. Not harsh, like the sulphate and blues I remember. There’s no rush. I just feel suddenly good.
I get up from the floor where I’ve been sitting, and walk through into the bathroom, over to the counter by the washbasin. I take the eye pencil from the makeup bag and redraw the line underneath my eyes. Then I go back into the room and open my case to find the Moschino skirt. It’s tight, short and just the other side of vulgar, like most Italian fashion, though it’s understated for here. I put on the shoes I can’t really walk in – they have comedy wooden wedges so high that you have to really concentrate not to topple over. I’m ready for anything now.
He’s changed his shirt, and put some shoes on instead of sneakers. He hasn’t shaved for a few days and it almost looks as if he has a beard. It suits him. I look at his face and something flutters inside me, so I lean towards him and he turns and we kiss. I love him for what he is, all of it, and this is where and how I want to be. We pull apart, and he opens the crook of his arm, so I can slide mine through it, then we leave the room to see what Vegas has to offer.