I remember it all.
Dan sat on the train, up the back of the carriage, on the left. It was mostly empty. Late night Tuesday wasn’t a busy time in the city, and those going home weren’t as drunk or high as the Saturday crowd. No obnoxious laughter. No loud conversations about Cindy, or Stella, or Max and all the stupid shit he got into. Silence, broken every now and then by the scratch of brakes on the aging rail.
His mind wandered, and before he knew it, he was at his station. The walk home wasn’t too harsh, even in the cool winter air. He breezed past the cars as they started and stopped and started again, making little headway against even the slowest pedestrians.
Through the front door, down the hallway and left through the second door – this was his bedroom. Rows of fold out doors hid wardrobes along the far wall, cut in the middle by the entrance to an ensuite bathroom. The bathroom was small, and it didn’t have one of those pull-away mirrors for storage. That’s why the pills sat on the bench, label facing outward, obvious to anybody who cared enough to look. It was probably meaningful, then, that nobody had found them in the month they’d been there.
There were five left, which would definitely do the week. It would do even the worst of weeks, come to think of it. Probably a fortnight at this rate; where things sat at the moment. Powerful little bastards, they were. Dan guessed that five could kill a man, if that’s what you were going for. Sometimes he’d come to trust in it. Five bucks a pill was steep but payable. Financial straits were okay, with a part time job at a small local cinema and the steady flow of on-demand cash he could weasel from the parents. It wasn’t admirable, and Dan wasn’t proud of it, but it was a perk of comfy upper-middle class existence.
A lot of it was about readiness, and so he showered and brushed his teeth, finishing up with a trip to the toilet. Finally, head under faucet, he knocked back two pills. He wiped water from his mouth with the arm of his jumper – he had thirty minutes. He decided to spend it browsing Facebook, considering Uni notes and writing wishful to-do lists. It took longer than expected, social media once again getting the best of his time. The time spent writing the list was eerily indicative of how soon he’d get around to completing it.
Every blink ran a risk – when his eyes reopened, how much time would have slipped away? A conscious effort to fiercely stare was futile when two pills down. Even so, the allure of a comfortable bed was too much. Dan sagged back into the mattress, willpower fading. His eyes roamed the roof as he finally unwound, absent-mindedly resting his eyes for the briefest moment…
“Oh shit man, oh shit. Oh shit.”
Dan looked over – Vince sat on a slightly broken black milk crate. He rocked from side to side like a man afraid, or a man possessed. Harrison was there, on a concrete ledge. Next to him sat Liz, and across from her sat Marcus.
The irrepressible smell of piss plagued them, surrounding everything, swallowing the situation whole. It looked like a delivery area, where trucks would reverse and deliver food as the sun rose. It was – Dan knew it was. He’d been here before. This was the Markets in the city. This was an alleyway just down the road from a nightclub. That tiny bottle in Harrison’s hand – that was leather cleaner.
All heads turned to Vince. His eyes were closed, creasing at the edges from the force he was putting into it. He looked a kind of pained, but nobody moved to do anything. This was established practice by this point.
Finally, Harrison piped up. “You okay, man?”
A pause. His eyes remained firmly shut as he stammered out a response: “uh, yeah, I’m fine.”
“How much shit are you on?”
Vince’s eyes freed themselves and he looked around the docking bay, fascinated. “Oh, I’m fucked.”
A wave of light flooded his mind as he opened his eyes again. The room was as he left it, and it was still dark outside. A clock in the corner beamed red numbers: 11:28. Hazarding a guess, that put him under for five minutes. Dan’s bearings were only just returning when he felt a second wave coming on – it’d hardly been thirty minutes, and yet he was already falling fast. His sight blurred at the edges like a cheap photograph. The corners of the room disappeared as his vision waned, focusing sharply on the light on the centre of the ceiling. Even that dimmed as he slipped further and further, fading away entirely. Tired, alone and without restraint, Dan blinked, losing himself in the darkness that hid behind his eyelids.
She tossed him a quizzical look. “I know you’re here. We’re both here…?”
He smiled, chuckling a bit. “Sorry, my mind’s somewhere else.”
She took it at face value and they walked on, comfortably silent. Fog played on the surface of the Yarra as they strolled alongside, occasionally climbing up the wall and spreading across the asphalt path, where insistent legs cut a path through it. Nicole kicked about, watching the light drift through the mist as she forced it about with her flying legs. Dan smiled as he looked on.
She turned back and smiled at him – “don’t pretend you’re above this. Nobody’s above this.” She paused for a moment, her eyes deep in his. “Are you going to join, or not?”
He shrugged, weakly floundering a foot about.
“What, there are standards now for kicking air?” He kicked again, this time with vigour. Fog twisted and turned around the swirling air. He watched it as it rose and fell.
“Pretty cool, right?” It was.
“Yeah. Pretty cool.”
Nicole’s face read unconvinced. She ambled back to Dan and placed her arm around him, squeezing as hard as she could, which wasn’t very.
“Hey, I was meaning to ask – have you been—“
He hadn't seen this room in a long time. It was a shitty hovel of a place, and Dan knew he could have done without revisiting it so vividly. The impeccable detail of the subconscious usually made recollection more beautiful, but it made this memory nigh unbearable.
Thoughts of toasters and butter knives came flowing back, all the more unpleasant and grotesque in the dreamlike state. At the time, he remembered the thoughts as inviting and alluring, but now it seemed that time had passed. Some things never change, though. Maybe it’s the nature of dreams to be a better reflection of what we know.
Paint peeled where walls met, wear and tear getting the best of the skirting boards that lined the carpet. Years and years of students had left their marks on the place – some engraved their names on the windowsill, whilst others went the ‘sketch of a penis in indelible ink’ route. Up to this point, Dan hadn’t left any reminder of his stay.
He climbed onto his bed, knife in hand, and started to carve, determined this time to finish. He ran back and forth, making a solid impression, but it never quite got there. He gave up on the whole thing and walked the hall to the bathroom, careful to check that everybody was asleep before he left his room.
“Have you been feeling any better?”
“Oh, yeah.” A curt nod was meant to sell it as truth.
“It seems like you’re going down a bad path again, that’s all.”
The city was far behind them now, its light no longer illuminating the path. Lamps shone down every fifty meters or so, offering small, fleeting islands of light in the blackness.
“I am, I think. Things are getting worse again.”
Nicole grabbed his arm as she spoke. “Thinking of seeing someone?”
“Thinking of it,” he said. “Thinking about a lot of things, though. It’s almost endless.”
“Want to talk about it? I’m always here if you want to talk, but you must know that by now… right?”
“I know.” Horns screamed along Punt Road, faintly intruding on the flow of the river. The pair stepped out of the light and back into the night.
“I just don’t really know where I’d start.”
At some point in the deep sleep the power had switched off, and so when Dan rolled over to check the time, it blinked 0:25 over and over. It was still dark, so it couldn’t have been too long. Still, he’d been under for over thirty minutes, which was a little while. He used what little time he had to get comfortable – he undressed himself down to underwear and crept under the covers, already feeling intense lethargy wash over him.
His tired eyes closed,
and opened again.
Bass roared through the floorboards, creeping up his legs and flailing through his arms. He felt it on the faceless people that brushed past him on all sides, moving to the bar, or to friends, or to the stash they stored under a chair on the other side of the club. Uni students and street entrepreneurs alike were corralled in the basement, the only moments of recognition coinciding with a powerful strobe that beamed from behind the DJs.
Equal parts hedonism and humanism, the young crowd tore on and on as Dan slipped in and out of his memory. Dancing eyes closed, he moved on and on until the music faded and he found himself nowhere at all.
Light in abundance. It streamed through the window and lit the ugly green seats. They were disgusting, furry little things – a horrendous waste of taxpayer money, one might think. Then again, they can’t have been too expensive, and that probably made them cost-effective.
A small blue light lit at the end of the tram. A sudden screeching halt threw a few unaware passengers off their balance, causing apologies and embarrassed laughs all around. Dan watched from his seat as people boarded and alighted – he had a long way yet to go. Turning his head, his eyes met the sun and he blinked—
His body throbbed in time with the music, again in the club. Opening his eyes, he couldn’t tell if it was the same night or a different time altogether. Two people - perhaps friends, perhaps a couple – groped at each other in the middle of the pit. Dan watched them with some kind of fascination as they went at each other, passionate and uninhibited.
He watched and he watched and—
“Hey man, do you think you can get me any Vicodin?”
He handed over a small plastic bag. It wasn’t the see through type, but he could feel the cylindrical container within. It quickly went to the bottom of his backpack, somewhere he could forget about it. Forgetting about it was key to avoiding panic. All this time and he still felt anxious about carrying drugs even the smallest distances. Home wasn’t too far, and he’d never been stopped by the police, but the feeling persisted. It wasn’t entirely illogical – his guy’s guy had been done carrying a load of E in Brunswick not long ago, and the last he heard he was in dire straits. It’s all in the game, but as he had to keep reminding himself, it was a game he didn’t even play.
The trip home was a calm memory. The summer sun beamed down without being too aggressive. The trams arrived at just the right times, meaning he didn't do much waiting. Just a lot of sitting on those disgusting green, furry seats.
This was a new level. This was somewhere he hadn’t been before. In fact, he wondered as to whether it was anywhere at all – he was there, but nothing else was. Lacking anything physical, he thought just to prove that he was.
Dan didn’t want to be trapped in his own mind. It was one of his least favourite places, and as much as he willed himself out of it, he couldn’t escape. It was like moving in with a friend – everybody says it’s a bad idea because you’ll find your friend is an annoying jerk who doesn’t clean the dishes. Instead of moving in with a friend, Dan had the unenviable burden of living with himself. Every waking hour was spent in his own company, and even when he was alone, he lingered. Being alone with him was usually worse anyhow – he’d think mean, cruel things; doubt even the surest cornerstones of his life; cast dispersions on even the best of his friends.
Sometimes he’d violently act against himself in fits of equal parts rage and hopelessness, trying to fix a problem with the crudest of solutions.
It was too dark. Is this a memory? It could be. Was it a dream? It was possible. A realm beyond recognition. The feelings were familiar, but Dan knew his feelings well.
He tried to speak, but there was nothing to speak with. Maybe it was for the better.
The stairs up from the club were too narrow for two-way movement, but they tried all the same. Everybody hugged the wall, tilting themselves sideways to let the other side pass. Cool air crept in as a draught, beckoning Dan ever closer as he shuffled upward…
Eyes slowly opened. That was it. That was the big one. Sun streamed through inefficient blinds. It would have woken him, was his sleep a normal nap. The alarm clock blinked: 6:09. Worn out, slightly drugged and completely disoriented, Dan climbed from his bed and headed towards the the pantry.