Starting off 2018 with a glimpse back to see how far I’ve come: I present to you a story I wrote five years ago: The Cure, unedited for your amusement
The room was sharp with the smell of disinfectant and vomit. Jimmy vaguely remembered it had once been known as the Something-Something Children’s Hospital before every treatment and cure went over the counter at his local CVS.
Empty crates, once filled with medicine, were piled high. It almost touched the roof. A windowspan across from that pile was its little brother, full of smaller boxes stacked half as high. The light through the window was the only illumination in the room.
Jimmy struck a match and lit his cigarette. The embers on the end glowed faintly as he took a drag. He let it out steadily. He looked down from atop the pile of crates. He felt like a king, and Nicky boy could be his fool.
His eyes flicked to Ben, who paced back and forth from the window to the center of the room.
“Didn’t your mom say you’re not supposed to do that?” Nick asked. He pushed his coke bottle glasses up the brim of his nose. Bad enough he can barely see, Jimmy thought. But in this dark, the poor guy’s gotta be blind as a bat.
Ben straightened his jacket and paced in a rhythm that matched his heartbeat. “Doesn’t matter, Nicky,” Ben said, “If Jimbo wants, he can always get that over the counter shit for his lungs. Cures him right up. Like he never took a drag at all.”
Jimmy had always hated that nickname. Jimbo. That’s the name you give your puppy. “Ben’s right,” Jimmy said, “Think of it as a hobby.”
Nick kicked the crate he sat on with his heel. His legs hung limp over the edge. His gaze fell on the window. “Why do you smoke as a hobby, Jimmy? I mean you told me it tastes like shit.”
“Sure does,” Ben said.
“Sure does,” Jimmy echoed.
“Then why do it?” Nick climbed down his lesser throne, started for the window and reached to open the blinds. He had barely reached out when Ben’s hand clamped down on his wrist. The two locked eyes, Ben giving Nicky boy a wordless warning.
Ben did not immediately let go, even when Nick tried to pull away. “Why not?”
“People might see us in here,” Ben said, “They might think we’re trying to find some spare cures lying around.”
“I thought I saw some leg regrowth thing in the back.” Jimmy thumbed behind his throne. “We could take it. Maybe get us some money on the side—”
Ben turned on Jimmy. His nostrils flared, who had to resist the urge to laugh. Ben looked like a pissed off buffalo. He climbed the crates to be at eye level with Jimmy. “They’d know we took it,” Ben said. His voice came strangled as he fought back the urge to shout. “They’d come for us. Shit’s bad enough with whatever’s going down with that list they’ve got Washington. You want them after us on top of that goddamn list? He snorted. “Besides, people can get that shit over the counter. We wouldn’t make a dime.”
“All right, all right,” Jimmy said. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “I get it, I get it, man. Cool your jets.”
“I ain’t cooling nothin’,” Ben said. He hopped down from the crates with a crash. It echoed through the empty halls. When he stood up, Jimmy noticed the tiles were cracked.
“Y-you never answered my question, Jimmy,” Nicky boy cut in. “Why do you smoke if it tastes like crap?”
“Like shit,” Ben corrected.
“Like shit,” Jimmy repeated. The cigarette hung limp from his mouth. He caught it between two fingers and took a deep drag. He tapped a finger against his cheek and popped out smoke rings one by one. “Tell me that ain’t cool.”
“Well, I—I guess it was cool,” Nick said.
“Damn right it’s cool,” said Jimmy. “Then I pick up a cure on the way home and boom! No trace of it.”
“Doesn’t the smell stick to your clothes?”
“Fuck the smell,” Ben said.
“Fuck the smell,” Jimmy echoed. “It don’t matter what I smell like. Mom already caught me smoking once. She catches the smell, I tell her these clothes were left over from last time. That smell’s hard to get out, ain’t that right, Ben?”
“It’s hard to get out,” Ben said.
“It’s hard to get out,” Jimmy said for the third time.
Nick dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. “Do what you want, Jimmy,” Nick said. “You want to destroy your body, go right ahead.”
“I told you, Nicky boy, I’ll get a cure on the way home. It’s just five bucks right out of my wallet,” he said.
There was a palpable silence that hung in the air for some time. Nick took two fingers and parted the blinds. A sludge of people roamed the streets. There was no pavement. Only a sea of heads struggling to push past everyone else. “They’ve got a cure for everything now, don’t they,” he said, to no one in particular.
“They sure do,” Ben said. He snatched Nick’s hand away from the window and squeezed it hard enough to make him wince.
“I heard the U.N even said they cured war a year or so back.”
“Like I said,” Ben released Nick’s arm and went back to his pacing. “They got a cure for everything. Even war.”
“Even war,” Jimmy said, as if he were raising the words as a toast. To war! May it rest in peace!
“Isn’t that bad?” Nick asked.
Ben looked at him as if he had suggested mass genocide. “What did you say?”
“I mean, we’ve had war for how long? And now it’s just…over? World peace, is that it?”
“We’ll never have world peace,” Jimmy said from atop the pile of crates. “There are just too many people who want violence. Sure, we’ll have no more wars, but peace? Man, fuck that!”
“We ain’t gonna have world peace, Nicky boy,” Ben said. He folded his arms behind his back, “Not ever.”
Nick plucked the blinds open again—and found he was looking down the barrel of a sniper rifle from the window opposite him.
The bullet slammed through his head, which arced backward. Bits of Jimmy-didn’t-know-what spilled onto Something-Something Children’s Hospital’s floor. When he collapsed, his head was sitting in a pool of his own blood.
“Jesus Christ, would you look at that?” Ben said. He threw his hands up in exasperation. “See, man? This is what I was telling you about, Jimbo. It’s that damn list they’ve got in Washington! Anyone can be picked!”
“What are we gonna tell his parents?” Jimmy asked.
“We ain’t telling them shit,” Ben laughed, mirthlessly. “They’ll be dead, too, soon. If they aren’t already.”
Jimmy climbed down from atop the stack of crates and slung his arm around Ben’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. Feds or S.W.A.T or whatever the fuck they have for a cleanup crew nowadays will be here soon.”
“All right, all right,” Jimmy said.
The two exited Something-Something Children’s Hospital. They struggled through the sludge that was a crowd. They pushed and shoved their way past everyone else. Jimmy struggled to gain an inch in the onslaught of people heading every which way. No cars adorned the street—too many people walking nowadays for that. One man bumped into him with enough force to knock him sideways. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, “Jesus Christ, am I right, Ben?”
Jimmy struck a match and lit a new cigarette.
He’d pick up a cure on the way home.