My knock is a gentle cadence.
I wait. A few clouds, but the moon is at its fullest, brightest. The air is humid. It feels like rain.
But I don’t mind waiting.
No, I don’t mind waiting at all.
She takes her time. Fumbles with the locks. Cracks the door open.
A fraction of an inch. A fraction of trust.
That’s all I need.
I can work with that.
A smile spreads across my lips as I bid her a “Good Evening.” A plume of cigarette smoke blown in my face is her reply. My smile remains. I cough as she moves to slam the door.
Three words give her pause and grant me entrance.
“Daddy sent me.”
Irina freezes for a moment. Doesn’t invite me in. Just leaves the door open a little wider. Disappears within the confines of her tiny bungalow.
Diana Krall is doing her best Billie Holiday imitation. She beckons me down the hallway to the sitting room singing “good morning” to her “heartache” even though it is well past midnight.
The room itself is sparsely furnished. A white chaise lounge placed precariously close to a roaring fire. An ancient record player spinning Diana’s Greatest Hits is off to itself in a corner. A clear glass coffee table littered with cigarette butts, burnt spoons, and broken needles is placed in front of the chaise. A small pile of rocky brown heroin is proudly on display in the center.
She isn’t a gracious host, my Irina. She’s already sprawled across the lounger. With no place to sit I lean against the fireplace mantle. I am patient. I wait for her to begin.
“Have you ever been in love, Kalinda?” Her words are jumbled together, eyes unfocused. Her breath catches. A tear slides down her cheek. “I mean, truly, madly, deeply in love? That kind of love when the butterflies in your stomach never go away? When colors don’t exist unless you’re in their presence? When you feel empty, incomplete, less than whole unless you’re breathing the same air?”
My silence frustrates her. She runs a shaky hand through the dark mane of her hair. Snatches a broken cigarette off the table. She plays with it. Rolling the white nicotine-filled tube up and down her palm. Fascinated.
She glances up at me suddenly, her bloodshot eyes unfocused, unsure.
I shake my head. Answer honestly. “I don’t think I would ever want to feel anything like that, Irina. To be that dependent upon another person—no. No, Irina. I don’t think I could ever be that—“
“Weak?” She sighs. “My sweet Kalinda. So young and so much to learn.”
“Is love what made you steal from Daddy?”
The room is quiet again. Save for Diana. She’s over heartbreak. Has moved on to Stormy Weather. Irina begins to sing along. She’s always had a beautiful voice.
It takes tears stop her own private concert.
“You don’t have to do this, Kalinda.” Her words are a whisper. So low, I have to strain my ears to make sure I hear her correctly. “I love you just as much as I love your father.”
I ask again, “Is love what made you steal from Daddy?”
No answer. With a sigh, I push away from the mantle. Sit Indian-style on the floor in front of the coffee table. I quickly go to work crushing the heroin into a spoon.
“That sonofabitch must be so proud of what you’ve become,” she snarled. “Daddy’s Little Fixer.”
I continue to ignore her. My hands are busy. I mix the brown rock with a few drops of water. Use my own lighter to melt the dope into liquid form. Add a piece of cotton before I pluck the most usable syringe off the table.
“Kalinda, I love him. And I’m so sorry. I just…I’m sick. I need, um… I need help. Why won’t…why won’t you help me, Kalinda?” Her words are dreamlike. Her eyes are mesmerized by the fix I’m preparing for her. Even though she knows what is coming, she’s still transfixed. “I love…I love him.”
“I know, Irina. I know you do,” I say. “But you know what you love more?” Her eyes never leave the syringe. I fill it slowly. I fill it completely. All the way to the top.
Diana starts singing about someone getting under her skin. Irina licks her lips and flicks at a rubber band wrapped around her wrist. She doubles it up. Tightens it. Pushes it up past her elbow. She doesn’t ask. Just holds out her arm like a kid on Halloween waiting for a trick o’ treat.
Before I slide the needle into her vein, I’m compelled to ask, “Was it worth it?”
She doesn’t answer. Just wiggles her arm impatiently.
It’s a silent command that I don’t ignore.