Friday, September 2, 2016

A Drop of Compassion


A bit of flash fiction based on this image from io9.
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Payday comes around again, and once again I'm just a little bit short of the money I need to make rent.
I know, I know. I was supposed to be good this month, but James, my idiot roommate, decided to drink away most of his rent. Now, you can't exactly blame him. We're both three years out from grad school and still neither of us have a job that lets us do anything but feed ourselves ramen and pay the bastards at the banks just enough to keep the wolves away from the door. He cracked this month, so I covered for him. He did the same for me when I cracked two months ago and threw my money down the drain at the casino.
But we have a way to earn a little bit of the cash back. There's this clinic, just around the corner from our rat-hole. They offer some free services, but they make most of their money from Extraction. Heroin's been gone three decades, and still people have track-marks running up and down their arms from where the clinic's needle goes in and takes away the pain. Just a little prick with the needle, and they sift and sort out from your blood the wonderful chemical cocktails that drive you to fuck up.
I started getting extracted six months ago, right after Lucy walked off. Walked in, coughed when they put the stethoscope against my chest, then had my ten minute session with the needle. That was my first experience with "the lows." Right after I walked out, Lucy's departure stopped hurting so much. I got almost $1,000 for all the love I had for that girl and the first good night of sleep I'd had since she left.
Amy's at the desk again when I walk in the clinic doors, and when I caught her eyes I saw the despair in them. "Bob, I thought I said I didn't want to see you or Jimmie here again for another three months." We'd known her back at Uni and she used to hang out with us before her girlfriend, another mutual friend, cut her wrists and left a note saying, "Let's see them get their money out of me now." They got $328.67. "You're coming in too often."
Her compassion did her credit, and I told her so, "You take a trip with the needle, you'll get a couple thousand of compassion easy, Amy." She looked at me hard for a second, but before she could say anything I went on, "I've got to. We need rent money, and James drank up half his rent money at the bar last night. This will be the last one for a while, I just need the $250 for a standard extraction."
"And we're not going to deny Robert his freedom of choice, are we, Amy?" Amy's supervisor, the clinic's owner, had come up behind her while we were talking and set a hand on my friend's shoulder, giving me a wide smile full of teeth. "A standard? Follow me, Mister Gibon." I followed the old woman down the hall of the clinic back to the machine. "You were just in here a few weeks ago. Your last psychical is still in effect, so we can dispense with that bit of business." I nodded, because that was an extra $20 in my pocket if I didn't have to take a deep breath and cough.
The room with the machine was in what used to be the operating theatre of the clinic, back before PP had been run out of business by the Paul administration. It was a gleaming mess of tubes and steel filters attached to a new-looking clinical chair. I settled into the chair, relaxing back into it. I could already feel it, that numbness that the machine gives you, even before I felt the prick of the needle in my arm. After a few minutes in the machine, I heard the doctor's voice, "Robert, I'm not getting enough through the filters on the normal setting."
I turned my head to look at the neat little row of bottles, all my emotions dripping into medical vials beside my head. I could see that she was right. The vials labeled "love" and "hope" were dry, while "joy" was almost as empty. The only vials I had filled even to their first markers had been "peace" and "empathy". I knew she was right, I wasn't even producing enough to earn me $100, much less the money I needed for rent. I started to panic, my voice catching in my throat. Then the trickle into "peace" stopped. I stopped myself long enough to take a deep breath and ask the doctor, "Can't we turn it up? I need the money for rent. Just enough to make rent?"
She nodded in the affirmative and played with something on the controls, then I felt the machine kick into high gear. I think I also felt the doctor slipping more needles into me, but all I could feel was the oncoming lows as all the chemicals were filtered out of my system. I lost myself in that low trip, or maybe I just passed out from the pain.
When I woke up, I was alone in the operating theatre. On the tray beside me was my receipt and a stack of bills. I folded the bills, thinking about why I was here. What right did James have drinking away my rent money? I decided I was going to head home and straighten the fuckstick out.
And on the tray, the receipt: 30ml compassion, $350. 15ml Peace, $100.