He's perched, cross-legged on the torn, black, cheapest Ikea sofa, furling foil around a chewed pencil stub. He's sworn never to go back. Promised. Promised himself. The misses. His kids. Two kids, a girl and a boy, who lay now, sleeping, in the room above. He promised. As he rips an oblong of foil the size of monopoly money, hears creaking above. Stops. Silence. It's seven minutes past one. He's careful to fold a long line the length of the foil, turns up each end and pours on powder the colour of gypsum. Just one. Just tonight, then he'll stop. It's day two since he broke seven years clean. Just the one. But he only used half a bag yesterday. He'd felt the need to save some. Just a bit. And he's proud of himself for not injecting it. Each click of the lighter, though, each crackle of the foil, each hiss of air sucked through the tube is a sound closer to being discovered. Each careless outtake of smoky breath, a smell closer to divorce. He must be crazy. Still the next day, he dials that same number.
He's living close to the edge of discovery, the denim pencil case he's put his paraphenalia in on top of the shared wardrobe in his marital bedroom. Just foil (used and new), cling film-wrapped bags (three for twenty five just like the old days: some things never change) and an electric lighter. He's not stopped wanting since that first toot: it's the smoking that's making him want it all the time, that's what it is: he never wanted it so often before. Not when he was injecting. And he's looking for an opportunity to slip out. Plenty of milk in the fridge. The gas and electric meters topped up. Enough toilet paper to last a bloody month. He opens the cardboard box of Tetley and rips the plastic foil wrappers. Tips the teabags into the bin and shoves them under vegetable peelings and cigarette ends. Ties it up and opens the back door. Out it goes, into the wheelie bin. His adrenaline is working now, hands sweating as he holds his palm out to see if it's shaking. Calm, calm. He goes upstairs into the bedroom and reaches for his denim pouch, which he shoves deep into his jacket pocket. He's already put his old favourite spoon in there before throwing out the teabags. Sticks his head round the living room door, where she sits in front of Ice Age 4, one child snuggled up on either side of her.
“I'm just going down the local shop to get some teabags. You need anything while I'm out?”
She shakes her head.
“Thanks love. See you in a bit.”
And he's out the door, straight into the car.
The chemist on Wicker is open as expected and he uses the left hand door with the yellow and green exchange sign. He shows his battered old keyfob he's had stashed for years and he's handed a brown paper bag. It's too big, he thinks, wondering how he'll stash all this. Back in the car he drives around the corner to a safe spot, rips all the packets open, shoving ten now-unsterile needles into his denim stash along with ten little yellow packets of citric. Brown paper bag with its black needle bin goes straight into the black, cast-iron effect dustbin. He was going to wait until she was asleep. No, he'll wait. But he's looking around, checking there's no one looking and he's ripping a piece of filter from his unlit cigarette, opening the bag he was saving for later and scooping four heaped spoons from his tiny handmade foil scoop into his spoon. He's filling a syringe with water from the little brown pill bottle he remembered to bring, just in case. Though he swore he wouldn't inject. It'll just be this once. Or maybe once a week. Even once a month. The mixture spits onto his hand as it boils to yellow-brown. It's nothing, this. Just a little bit. Not even half a bag. And seven years has given his veins a chance to emerge, if some are missing, so be it, but that place in the crook of his knee, he's been checking it all week and it's going to be an easy hit this time. And the blood squirts up first try, and he pushes down like he's never stopped at all.
It hits fast; his body flushes hot, feels it flow up his leg: up, up to his brain, that taste in the back of his throat like coming home and he knows he'll never stop at one.
And the feeling's all but a memory. Wishing he'd put more in the spoon. The only giveaway his pinned eyes and forgotten teabags.
“Make us a brew then, love”
Going back through the bin (why did he open the packet, stupid twat) just putting the bins out (again) and he wonders how long before she notices his crime against her sane reasonableness.
It's not true what they told him at the meetings. Hours each day wasted, reading repetitive messages from frayed and delaminated colour coded cards. Not true at all. We used to live and we lived to use. Untrue. Not back to where he started. Not back to begging for spare change or lifting testers from Boots counter. Not cashing kites down the cheque exchange. Not on a teenth a day and double. It's not true what they told him. Not back to square one. Unless you count that first square of foil. Five scoops from the homemade measure, tapping the powder with a bitten thumbnail into the old spoon. Just one more for luck and it cooks up a treat. The crimson plume sending his dick rock hard as he pushes home.
It's the little things that give him away. One by one. She knows the signs. A forgotten, used filter when she's hoovering. Storming in, empty-handed from the local shop, two small, sad, tearful faces full of broken promises of sweeties and sherbet dip: a declined receipt and a useless debit card thrown in his face. A cup of boiled, cooling water beside the ripped, black sofa. A trail of black soot on the lino where he dropped his spoon. It's always the small things. And the shouting starts. The slammed doors at night; the rev of the engine as tryes screech away, his children's cries fading to silence as he pushes the plunger home.