“You think living this long, I’d know all there was to know about myself”, I said not expecting an answer.
“What are these?” she asked, fingering the thin white caplets only half-listening.
“Tramadol”, I told her. “Five bucks a pill.”
“They any good?”
I shrugged but she didn’t see it.
“No oxy, no hydro…that’s dry. Maybe some perc’s end of the week.”
“Huh”, she said knocking the pills around with a blood red fingernail that matched her lipstick.
“So whatta you think”, I asked after a moment. “Am I frightening?” She looked up with a crinkle around her green eyes that could have presaged either a smile or a wince. “Do you think I’m frightening? Am I scary?”
She wriggled her ass deeper into the chair and crossed her legs; a bit of stage-business while she fashioned an answer. “You do tend to lean in a bit”, she said finally. “But you always did that.”
“Huh”, was all I could come up with. “But I never saw myself as scary.”
“We’re all used to you, sweetie. You get to be a particular way, we leave you be.”
Fuck, I thought, taking a turn at spinning the pills across the dark Formica tabletop.
“Poor Tommy”, she said reaching across the table and patting my cheek.
“Don’t say that”, I said more sharply than intended. “My mother always says that.”
“How is she?”
“Same. She’ll never die. Too busy killing me.”
“Christ, boyo…” she pulled back a little and reached for her purse. “You wanna get high?”
“Naw. I might get all scary and shit.”
She smiled and took it as a joke, which is probably not how I meant it. “This is bugging you bad, isn’t it? Who said you were scary?”
“I was at a party last weekend up in Mifflin and a girl said…”
She sniffed. “Mifflin? Shit. You have to stop trying to mix with new folks. They don’t know you like we know you. Play in your own sandbox.”
She pulled a crumpled pack of Pall Mall greens out of her purse and squeezed it open to peek. She’d need a new pack soon. “Five bucks a pill seems steep for something I never tried.”
“You should get out more”, I grinned. “Three for you.” She was thinking-counting how many were on the table. I’d go down to two.
“Do you…?”, she asked haltingly, then stopped.
I let the silence ride a little. She was waiting for me. It was my turn to say something. But I wasn’t. I saw how this whole fucker was going to play out. I had the high hand. I didn’t have to do anything to win. All I had to do was sit there and shut up, collect a few bucks and she’d be out of the picture until she was dry again. But I didn’t. Instead I said, “…What?”
“You interested in doing a deal like we used to do?” she asked. “It’s been awhile.” Fuck! It had always been my idea. My suggestion. My task to pull her in. Of course I wanted to, but… “Cause, I’m fine with it, if you are. I’m ready. “
I closed my eyes and leaned back in the creaking chair. For whatever reason, it was Joe Pesci’s voice in my head saying ‘Don’t do it! You better not do it!” When I opened them the first thing I saw was the smattering of faded freckles across the bridge of her nose. And the lines around her eyes were gone, the skin unetched by time. I knew I was seeing memories; not what was in front of me. But I was seeing it that way.
If she only hadn’t smiled just then, I’d a’ been fine. But of course, she did.
“Sure”, I said. “Why not?” Playing it like it had been my plan all along.