so i heard you guys like fiction

okay, i am not dead yet. soon i'll be writing either an article for h+, if i'm lucky, or a post here, if i'm not, about the ethics, legality and processes of self-surgery. in the meantime here's a piece of fiction called "tea". i wrote it a while back, but maybe some of y'all would like it.

Lepht Anonym

Cherry stares at his earlier text-file notes through a haze of purloined codeine, the pills themselves long gone and the holder of the rest of the stash out of reach for good. "How the fuck you s'posed to grind stuff without a mortar'n'pestle?" he asks the half-deduced recipe, regretting again that he threw the pestle at a yowling cat outside his kitchen window three weeks ago and gave the mortar to the thing that lives upstairs the month before, when said bizarre neighbour inexplicably appeared at seventeen minutes past four outside his bedroom, requesting in his well-spoken way that Cherry lend him a non-metallic bowl.

He's way too nice for his own good sometimes. He's gotta stop being so nice.

Google reveals nothing, except sites where you can buy brand-new shiny mortars and pestles, none of which Cherry can afford. Hell, he can't afford to reconnect his own broadband line; he's stuck hijacking half the pathetic bandwidth of downstairs' ancient WEP setup, much to his annoyance and the bewildered chagrin of the lower floor. He's gonna be so screwed when they finally figure out what's going on. Cherry sighs, and goes back to the kitchen cupboards; retrieving the best alternative to the mortar and pestle a life in the City's patchwork slums can come up with (the mixing-bowl and shot glass) he empties a bag full of khaki dust that he's been trying to grind up with a rolling pin out over the bowl, and sets to mashing it against the pale china with the side of the glass, muscles complaining as the pliant fragments refuse to comply with his efforts.

"Hello?" he calls as he hears the door creak, expecting some drinking buddy, maybe Tommie with sake, and recoils. "Gah, fuck!"

His upstairs neighbour has drifted quietly into the kitchen, proffering a handful of thick stoneware fragments that once were Cherry's ex-wife's Italian mortar. "I'm afraid I broke your bowl," he apologises in his half-whispered, drug-addled monotone, and deposits them reverently on the introductory electronics textbook that sits open on the counter. "It was less... sturdy than I assumed it to be. Sorry." He sinks, cross-legged, to the grimy tiles and stares up at Cherry with hollow, dulled green eyes, snuffling the dust in the air and adding, "If you're trying to make a Papaverum somniferum infusion, by the way, you're doing it badly. You can't grind it like that, for a start."

Cherry glares at the interloper, annoyed but not surprised after so many years of living here. The block is essentially communal and such intrusions are common, if not this late. "Who are you again?"

"They call me the Saint."

"And Saint, what the fuck are you doing sitting on my kitchen floor?"

"I'm instructing you on how to better brew morphine tea... assuming that's what you're trying to do," Saint's eyes focus upwards on the cupboard door behind Cherry's head, "and not making oregano pasta sauce or some such idiocy. In addition," and he leans forward on his elbows with a slightly unstable air, gaze scanning over the detritus that clusters on every surface in here, "I'm refraining from asking you impolite questions about where you got the somniferum straw, or what's causing you enough pain to risk synthesising Class A drugs when you've left your front door open."

"You're some kind of crazy. I knew it." Cherry narrows his eyes and mentally prepares for another nonsensical fight with another of the block's cadre of meth-addled nutjobs. "Always with the crazies in my block. Go on home, Saint."

"Quite," nods the Saint in agreement with the insult, ignoring the order to leave. "The mental health profession do disagree on exactly what's wrong with me, though. When they can be bothered to see someone with as much negative finance as myself," he smiles, parenthetically. "And they ignore that anything's wrong at all when it comes to getting their fix." His half-focused eyes travel distractedly to the empty bookshelf, the dangling unfixed locks on the window, the dirt-soaked mat in front of the sink, and his expression takes on a tinge of mirth.

He doesn't leave. Cherry goes back to brutalising the poppy straw, and eventually the bedraggled little figure rises and wanders away.

When he wakes up with his cheek smushed against the keys of his laptop and a strange, not unpleasant scent invading his nostrils, the room looks... cleaner. It is cleaner. Beyond the cleared, wiped surface of the table, he can see his recipe books and reference texts have all been put neatly back on their shelf, ordered by subject. Did he do that? The one spare blanket he owns is now covering the ripped back padding of his sofa, joined by four puffy, comfortable-looking cushions from fuck knows where, all lit by a thin shaft of orange streetlight from the open window. The sink is devoid of dirty dishes, freshly bleached. It must be nearly dawn, he realises, because a soft drift of birdsong is infiltrating the room on the night air. More of the little chirping voices join in every few minutes.

"Unh, shut 'em up..." Cherry peels his face off the keyboard. The floor has been swept, the work surfaces wiped. His ashtray has been emptied. There's a fresh bag in the bin, and a fragrant pot of chai tea billowing steam into the air beside him, and a battered candle in an old jam jar burning on the counter. Cherry feels like a slumhead Sara Crewe.

"What the fuck?" he mumbles. "Tommie? Did you lot clean up in here? Where's this stuff come from?" Did he already take that crap he was trying to make and it just broke his brain? What's the point of a painkiller if it's gonna do that? He coulda just Rohypnol'd himself
"I had some things spare... An apology, since I broke your bowl." Cherry's shoulders jump at the deadpan voice from behind him, where the Saint, barefoot on the dirtless floor in his ancient fatigues, with the sleeves of his once-white jersey rolled up to the elbows, is stirring something in one of Cherry's dented aluminium cooking pots. Oh fuck, he thinks, this guy's some sort of stalker. Now he's going to think you owe him, and he's gonna take your liver as payment or something. Why don't you ever lock your fucking front door, you fool.

"Is... that why you're called the Saint? Doing this kinda thing?" ventures Cherry, unsure if he's about to be stabbed with his own wooden spoon or served cream of chicken soup. He means it as a distraction, a ruse while he looks around for his knife, but the Saint's easy posture and the air of relaxed, naive friendliness that surrounds him are disarming. "'Cause... thanks."

"Yeah, it's that," says his new chef, "and it's also because I'm the source of most of the narcotics around this district. If you're addicted to morphine, anyone who delivers it is a saint to you," he points out with a twinge of regret, and swirls the contents of the saucepan about. "But it started off when I used to bring people food." He looks up, remembering something. "Sorry about invading your kitchen like this, by the way... but you were really going to mess this batch up, and it's very good straw, very well-prepared. A shame to waste it." He scrapes around the inner edges of the pot with the spoon, tapping the handle on the side to flick the scrapings back into the boiling liquid. "Nowadays, I'm something resembling a dealer, but once I was just a young man trying to do his peeps some good. I'd give this another four or five minutes if I were you."

Cherry nods placatingly, still not really awake enough to follow anything the Saint, with his barely-audible voice like an Eton schoolboy permanently hooked to an opium pipe, can say. He's heard enough words like peeps and bring people food and source of narcotics to figure out that the Saint, rather than turning out to be a psychopathic killer, is more likely to be pathologically charitable, and definitely not on the opposite side of the law to Cherry and company. "Mhm. What exactly are you cooking? Did your oven break or something, cause you could've just asked -"

"I'm steeping your poppy straw, like I said. Wasn't that what you wanted?" The Saint turns to face him, and the hollows beneath his eyes are arresting despite his smile. He's one of the palest people Cherry's ever seen, with Caucasian skin that's bleached out like an albino's, the little holes in the backs of his hands and those bruised pits looking even worse against the pallor. "I'll dry it back out if you weren't going to use it yet."

"No, no, I was trying." Cherry holds his hands up like a hostage. "Listen, I don't really need any more help, but thanks for cleaning up. I'll bring you a few beers when I'm done tonight. Thanks," and he stands up, expecting the Saint to amble out with his odd junkie grace.

Instead, his new friend points to the pot and beams widely, a genuinely warm grin that looks misplaced between the gaunt cheekbones and the blemished skin, lighting up his eyes so they almost look normal. "Do you actually know what to do with this now that I've cooked it?" he asks, almost playfully. (Can crackheads be playful? wonders Cherry.)

"Well, I've read the wiki."

"I wrote most of that, but I left a few things out. The users have probably filled in the gaps by now." The Saint holds out the spoon in a conciliatory gesture. "If you can do it, I won't intrude any further."

Cherry wrinkles his lower lip. "Fine, you do it."

"I can stay?" Another alien smile.

"Yeah - wait, you can chill here while you cook, you can hang here, but you can't live here." Cherry is struck by a wave of irrational suspicion. "I'm not trading drugs for living space, this is my house, damn it."

"I have a home," the Saint says carelessly, looking at Cherry over his shoulder. "I live on the floor above you, have done for years."

He knew that. Damn, he's out of it. He's obviously been under for a while. The Saint picks up the pan with no regard for the heat it must be radiating, carrying it over to a cup on the work surface on Cherry's left, on whose rim an unfamiliar object - a tiny fine sieve with two scratched wooden handles - is perched.

"I shan't keep the recipe a secret from you," he reassures Cherry in his conspiratorial whisper. "I'm not Betty Crocker... First of all, you don't really need to be grinding it, especially not with straw like this - it's already been ground fine enough that you can just throw it into a few centimetres of water. Let it steep at about sixty degrees for a couple hours, and always add a few shakes of lemon juice, don't forget, because the pH needs to be low..." He looks at his host to see if Cherry is following, oblivious to the fact that although his eyes are open, the veteran is essentially still asleep. "A lower pH makes for a better morphine yield. Anyway, my tea strainer is yours to borrow anytime you need it," and he pours the sludge from the pan, now turned a greyish mud-brown, into the little mesh strainer, compressing it down with a teaspoon. It takes him a while to push all the fluid out of the wire basket, and the resulting cup of brown liquid looks anything but appealing. Its thick organic scent, tart like dung and not entirely distasteful, hangs around the Saint like a cloak as he brings it over. "Here you are."

"You sure this stuff is even gonna work?" mutters Cherry as the Saint places the teacup, carefully like some underworld maitre-d', in front of the still-steaming teapot. Its own gases rise and mingle with the pot's cloud. "I didn't pay very much for it."

"Of course. Papaverum somniferum," shrugs the Saint, as if that even approximates an explanation. Cherry looks at him vacantly. "The root of all opium," he clarifies. "It made the Victorian opium dens what they were and it got the Persians high enough for surgery; it makes the heroin people get from me, and those rubbishy codeine pills that you buy at the chemist's, and the morphine they pump into people in the State hospitals instead of antibiotics. East is east," he smiles. "It's all Greek to me."

Cherry chews at the inside of his lip warily, heaves his head off the table again, stares into the brown stuff. He sniffs it and recoils as a stronger wave of the tangy smell hits his nasal membranes - exactly how much lemon juice has gone into this shit? - and then, with the same instant resolve that made him take this apartment years ago and join the Army a decade before that, he lobs it down his throat.

"Jesus!" He coughs and spits a fragment of stalk away, fishing another out from under his tongue. "God, that is fucking disgusting. Augh."

The Saint puts the half-full, mostly solidified bag of sugar back where he found it, in the back of the cupboard that houses microwave chips, Yum Pax toaster pastries, extra-caffeinated instant espresso and cornflakes, items which compose the majority of Cherry's diet. "You can sweeten it before you... never mind."

"Fuck it. Whoo," Cherry shakes his head as the tea slides into his stomach. "Strong stuff."

"I told you it was a good batch. Thankyou for letting me help."

Cherry raises an eyebrow, but ignores his doubt that anyone would possibly thank people for letting them help with chores. "Sure. Any time." At least he doesn't have to do it.

"Really?" The Saint looks hopeful, and Cherry wonders how many people invite this wasted little dealer into their houses without wanting drugs. What do saints do in their spare time?

"Yeah, come for a beer whenever you want. You saved my ass," he gestures to his creaking back, and to the invisible damage inside his chest from the gas they don't tell recruits about. "Y'welcome here anytime, Saint."

A slow, lopsided smile creeps over the drug synther's face. "Honestly?"


"Then what do I call you, amico mio?"

"Lieutenant-Corporal Martin B. Chandrasekhar, son... but most people stick with just Cherry." He grins back. "Can't be arsed with that regiment shit any more, if I'm honest." The opiate tea is starting to kick in, and his slurring becomes progressively more apparent as he speaks. He drags himself out of the chair and around the table, slumping onto the sofa with relish.

"No ranks amongst scum," observes the Saint as he moves. "We're all just sitting down for a cup of tea."

"Cup of tea," agrees Cherry as his eyes start to close. He's asleep before he can say it again.


thus ends another round of public humiliation. whoop.



Unqualified to speak said...

She good. (",
You've got some nice turns of phrase. And the ambling nature of it is good, particularly for the only-mostly-functioning protagonist.

Michael Bishop said...

Show us video of your hands to prove that they work the way you say.

Unqualified to speak said...

Almost certainly not Lepht, Michael, but here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QTuKhMBxWU

Lepht said...

Michael - you wouldn't see the sensory function of the implants on video, but there's plenty of videos out there showing the magnetic side-effects of them. if you insist, i'll make a video of my own implants, but they're no different to anyone else's neodymium ones (i didn't invent them). still, skepticism is good, although as i said, the effects of Nd-60 in the fingertips are well established.

Unqualified - thanks.


Ian said...

This one seems to be of Lepht, but it only shows him implanting the node (and showing off when he picks up the magnet with his magnetic fingers).


Lepht said...

that is indeed my anaemic ass. i'm surprised the video still exists; Rosario is my violent ex-partner, who i'da thought would have deleted the video by now. anyone know how to download them so i can host it myself?


Ian said...

if you mean the youtube videos, my recommendation is to download a nice little gizmo called realplayer (http://www.real.com/realplayer). it's free, and once you have this software, you just hover your mouse over the video and a button pops up that says "Download this video," which, obviously, downloads the video. the realplayer website says it is only for windows, but i am using linux and it works just fine.

alternatively, youtube lets you download any video they have, but you have to pay 99 cents (about 0.74 Euros) to do so.

hope that helps,


Lepht said...

eeew, realplayer! i almost got some of that on me.

that said, i may be reduced to it sooner or later.


Virus With Shoes said...

I liked this one. The Saint is an interesting mix of calm and creepy.

Lepht said...

thanks, Virus. i never quite know what i meant that character to be - menacing, curious, just off his goddamn face all the time - but he seems to be one of my more popular creations.


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[pls no ask about the vodka. debate is always welcome. remember, Tramadol fucks you up]