This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
"Mami, can you come here please? Tie this. I can't."
This is the second time you've heard the question. You take off your sunglasses and look. The looking is new. You could write pages on the art of not looking, on extreme measures -- inspecting sidewalk flaws, counting and shaping clouds -- for privacy.
You crawl over the front midsection and through the middle of the van to crouch, facing the woman in the backseat. Grasp the two ends of the black plastic bag, wrap them once around her arm, then again, as tight as you can, around her upper forearm. The bag stretches thinner. You hope you don't tear it.
She tells you to tie it tighter. You can hardly see the bag-turned-wire.
"Talk to me. Tell me anything. Distract me."
She asks for stories, stories so that she can forget how close she is to a fix.
You tell her about a mountain vacation you took once, in a tiny cabin in the snow, about feeling lost in the white. You tell her about your hometown and why you moved. About the green trees of the North. You spend many minutes telling her all the calm things you know. You face forwards, your voice soft, your eyes cast away, beyond the windshield.
She whimpers, frustrated, paranoid. Who's approaching the car? Why are they in a hurry? Why won't they go away? Why are they moving like that?
You're too far outside the Bronx. On the other side of the window tint, in another place, families window shop.
"Please help me. I'm seeing double. I can't." Tears.
You turn to face her with her wet face and her loud noises and the needle sticking out of her arm. A father carrying a cooler, shepherding small kids, loops behind the car. You wonder what they can see, if anything, beyond their beach supplies. You remember that it's a summer Saturday afternoon.
You're squatting in the aisle of the minivan, balancing on the balls of your feet.
"Is there blood in the needle, all the way at the top?"
You tell her that there's blood, but it's not all the way at the top.
She begins shaking. The needle waves, an inflexible appendage.
"I can't find it. I can't see. You have to do it for me. Michael or Pepsi always does it. I don't know what to do. I'm freaking out."
Words blurred, panic. Necessary sickness, dry, nothing to throw up. Too far from the Bronx.
She becomes smaller, scenery, to the corner of the seat, her arm sticking out, babbling. Phrases merge with nonsense. Wetter face.
She takes the needle out, wipes it clean in her mouth and hands it to you.
The needle is half full of a blood/heroin mix, the swirl of white-clear meeting red done. You hold it like a cigarette, the only way you can imagine.
Her arm has marks, its midsection bloated from the plastic bag's pressure.
"Keep telling me stories. Happy ones."
You talk about the boulders up North, how the fog collects in the mountains, how you've seen waterfalls.
You press the needle into skin, watch as the point disappears into the dark line you hope is a good vein.
You ease up the needle's stopper and blood follows.
You say the leaves on the trees in the North fall, that some trees drop tiny perfect pine cones.
You push in.