Waiting for the JC bus today, I saw a van of DEA come for the couple who live in the place above Blockbuster.
You can tell DEA by the windbreakers, a lighter blue than the Navy-colored jackets ATF or sheriffs wear. Drug
men usually have suits underneath, natty, dark and groomed up like the Ephraim Zimbalist of old. They are like
that, like FBI. They look like they have just had to leave their desks or a business appointment for the
bothersome, head-achey dirty work of actually having to do something in the field. They look like they only
have enough time to be making the bust they’re dispatched on, just that window, and that everything has to
keep on perfect so they can get back to their still-warm cups of coffee.
One man, the captain, stands toward the rear like the cop up on a berm in a traffic stop. His jacket bulges out
in back with the hard angles of an automatic pistol, one with a heavy magazine if all hell breaks loose. A
couple of sergeants bang on the door. A third sergeant has the warrant in a yellow-tinted plastic envelope the
color of pee. The breeze whips the folder cover into a flutter, that metal racketing sound like the sides of the
metal storage sheds in a strong wind. The man places his hand on it to make it stop. The captain feels around
behind him and touches the bulge, runs his finger along the column of the barrel hidden under the zip sound of
the rayon. Then he adjusts the pistol he has on his belt, which has a badge on the top flap of its holster. They
all wear reflector sunglasses, oversized, like the celebutants on VH1. They have clean, full, ungreased hair,
one of them blond, not the brush cuts you expect from CSI shows.
There are so many like the Blockbuster couple that I have a hard time remembering them now. They are
Romanians, themselves very young, from orphanages in its capital city that were abandoned after the fall of
the country. They grew up in the streets of the city, one street I remember from a documentary called “Little
Money Street”---“Little” as in “No.” Packs of them ran together, running scams where they distracted visitors
with newspapers until one of the smaller ones could come around and lift out a wallet, jerk away a purse.
They were dark-skinned, and the cameramen thought them Black Sea people, people of color. They at first
thought they were gypsies, “Roma,” many of whom lived in Romania anyway. But the darkness was just dirt. It
was the grime of life with your face turned up at the sun all the time, sleepless and never washing, splattered
with the muck of food thrown out the back of ministry kitchens they have stood all morning waiting for.
When they were children, these packs they ran with tore up rags and dipped them in Toluene, a solvent that
got them high with the fumes that mixed the chemical with their own perspiration and saliva. “Toli rags,” they
called them, and you saw on the grainy film groups of kids sharing them, ripping them up and breaking them
down even more, little squares like the wipes that come in tin packets on airplanes. Before the running camera
they stood or walked or crouched, holding the rags over their noses. Some of them had the smaller rags
inhaled over their nose, stuck to it in contests to see who could hold it up the longest. After a few minutes
they would wobble in front of the lens, fall over, fall down in groups.
I am assuming the couple were Toli kids, but it’s a safe assumption. The only other way they would have
gotten a habit would have been as government people’s children, with access to heroin and synthetic opiates
that became one of the means of exchange in the twilit time between the Big Man’s fall and whatever
government they have there now. Maybe they were just that. It made getting out easier. You could get your
visa and drift from club to club through the capitals of Europe until you were out, really out. A true street kid
had to smuggle himself, ride in plane wheel casings or in ship’s containers.
I do know that the man had gotten disabled on a punch press, making Saturday night specials in one of the
little mall factories in Lake Elsinore. His Kaiser doctor got him OxyContin, a limited scrip, only for a short time,
blah-blah, and that was it. They tumbled back into all of it. The streets of Bucharest came back to gobble them
up, to fumble over them with its gums and tongue. They were buying green monsters---20 milligram Oxy
capsules---from kids here in the Valley at $80 a pop. The sellers were using the money to finance their crank
biz, and the buyers, including Mr. And Mrs. Bucharest, started to live for it. It took the place of oxygen and light
and food. It was larger than their life and anything in it. It was larger than love.
They had a three year-old kid, a girl. Sometimes they took her to the park and you could see them twirling her
on one of those spinning platforms that look like a lazy susan. After their habit started they didn’t come out of
the house. They didn’t open windows or go out to the market. The dust built up on their cars and their
antennae fell over, its flat wire gone slack. Birds started to live in crevices above their screen door. The grass
grew and when limbs fell into their yard no one picked them up. Cops would sit in their cars outside. You knew
they were watching them and not Blockbuster. But nothing happened, nothing came of it.
Then the kid died. It ate one of the capsules that had fallen on the carpet. Even with an adult, Oxy can stop
the heart for long, terrible seconds. It has that kind of power. The respiratory system crashes, falls down like
under a blast of wind. The father and mother were trying to revive her when 911 came in and found the three
of them on the carpet of the living room. Right where she had eaten it. The baby had fallen over as soon as
she picked it out of the carpet and swallowed it. The lungs switched off. She was blue before the parents
walked out of the den and found her.
The two sergeants without the warrant talk between themselves and try to decide something. Then one of
them goes back to the van and carries a megaphone, white with red tapering mike, up to the living room
picture window. He stops, looks down, swings the thing between his hands. He looks for a minute like he may
lift it up and break the window with it. He takes it back to the van and when he walks back toward his partner
he has started to snap open his holster.
The bus comes up over our hill and as the men close up around the door they have their guns in their right
hands. The captain leaves the machine pistol alone and has his sidearm up. The warrant is folded in the
newspaper hook under their mailbox, black with a little gold eagle on it, its wings spread, like something you
would see on a badge or on the back of money. The four of them are frozen there, like plaster lawn sculptures,
those little walking families of deer.
When the bus stops, brakes hissing, the horrible white elderly dialysis transport doors opening, I climb up and
walk back my usual four rows. Four corners, four winds. I don’t take my eyes off the men as they start to yell
out their orders. But it is all noise under the bus sounds. I can’t hear anything they are saying.
No one comes to the door. And though she knows better, the bus driver stays stopped, her door open, acting
like she was waiting for somebody else to run up and get in.
After the long minutes, with the men looking like they are about to just kick in and sweep the place, and all of
us are ready to duck, the door pulls back and the shadows of the living room close over the white. At first I can’
t see anything in the doorway. Then the small head starts to materialize behind the screen. It’s not the
mother or father, but somebody else, somebody younger, looking to be a tall twelve-year-old or somebody in
their early teens. Maybe a cousin or neighbor who came to help after the funeral. She or he, I can’t really tell
with the spiked hair, stands talking to them for a minute or two. He steps back from the door as it opens. The
last man in picks up the warrant, still rolled into a tube, and puts it in his back pocket.
As the bus starts rolling I pull out my Blake and see the Gilded One standing in his column of fire, couplets
racing along under him as if they were clouds he was standing on. I remember something. The parents went
on as normally as they could after their daughter died. Neither of them went back to work, but they wouldn’t
have been able to anyway with the way their habits were going. They had been tagged by an undercover
man, maybe caught on a surveillance tape, for something involving the baby’s clothes. It was her pants and
shoes and a snowsuit they were trying to sell, for more pills.
rkvry quarterly winter 2007 fiction
chapter 8 of the devil's water by richard wirick