The breeze whistled. Whispering at my ears as I stepped out to the frosty evening air it carried sound and scent to fill in the blanks of sight. Far off sirens wailed, grumbling of motor engines revved impatiently in traffic, the murmurs of a thousand separate conversations all jumbled together sounding like a distant hum. The groaning presence of a city full of chaos and life just around the corner, waiting at the end of a quiet street…never sleeping.
Against the winter chill I pulled my coat tighter, bunching fabric at my throat, scarf tucked tight its end billowed out behind me as slowly I stepped, cautious and careful for the ice was thick. Hands stuffed down deep into my pockets, turning coin between fingertips as I counted my paces, one revolution for every step. One hundred forty two times the coin turned, guiding me to turn to my left and continue on, chin lifted, head swaying subtly back and forth as fabric swathed gaze watched the lights play all about me. There was no need of white sticks or guiding arms. I was not going far today. A further forty five steps and my hand extended for familiar railing, turning to climb seven steps and push against frosty glass door, small bell jingling overhead to announce my arrival.
The entrance hall held a unique gathering of scents, a swirling of fresh tobacco smoke tempered with a hint of older, staler air beneath that was laced with traces of various liquors and the unmistakable sour lacing of sweat. As usual the building was considerably warmer than outside.
Moving to where I knew open doorway to stand I waited patiently, listening to the mix of familiar and unknown voices murmuring in conversation a little further down the hall. A few moments later footsteps padded along the carpet runner along with welcome sound of clinking glass inviting me to straighten and turn to greet with small incline of head. Before voice was spoken I knit my brow slightly, this presence was not whom I expected which meant my secondary reason for visiting in person would have to wait for another day.
“Wasn’t sure who’d be collecting this…guess you gave the girl a day off” came a slightly impatient gruff voice. “She’s usually here earlier, still never mind, you’re here now…” and hand was held for the exchange. I felt eyes peering at me even if unseen, sussing out the revealed identity of the perhaps enigmatic blind man. “I was warned you do come collect yourself sometimes.”
I felt my brow relax from its furrow to rise over my blindfold. “Warned?” I repeated slowly with a low chuckle as held out small envelope toward the man. “What an interesting choice of word” I mused, tapping my finger against the offering as invited him to take it. The sound of clinking glass chimed again and I held free hand out to receive, crinkle of paper touching against my palm, weight of bottles held within bag which I took and held down at my side. The envelope was snatched away, sound of flicking notes as currency was counted and confirmed. I felt a smug smile glimmer in the man’s aura as he ignored my comment.
“All’s fine here…will await your next order…usual method and discretion expected”
I gave single affirmative nod of my head and stepped back “Of course” Though it was likely to be Shiloh, occasionally I did make the effort for my own means. With trade made I saw no reason to linger and so turned and retraced my steps to the front door, further jingle of bell fan-fared my departure as I stepped into the cold, lifting chin and trailing hand down frost-clung railing as descended steps back onto the street.
Rather than turn back to my original path I paused to listen for traffic before moving quickly across the street instead, treading familiar steps up a steep ally that climbed its way up a hillside and out to an open patch of grass, the start of an enclosed parkland, one of the few parts of the city not swallowed up by construction and building work. Save for the occasional dog barking and the fading laughter of teenagers passing through in their throng I deemed the area quiet and near empty as I made my way toward the bench that sat below solitary streetlight. Whilst I saw none of its artificial glow I could hear its electricity buzzing intermittently above me as I lowered to sit.
A few hundred feet before me where the grass met the pavement the hillside rolled away, downwards into the distance and with it the snaking lines of terrace townhouses. It offered a break in the skyline for all that passed, leading those that turned that way back down into the heart of the city below. But I stayed where I sat, paper bag settled beside me with a rustle as I drew from within one of three glass bottles, each holding a dark syrupy liquid.
Unscrewing foil cap I brought the bottle close to my chin, inhaling a scent that was sickly sweet and yet with an almost pungent undertone of something spicy, bitter perhaps like the strange aftertaste of crushed cloves. My nose wrinkled but as always I knew sometimes that the best affect held the least appealing taste and so took a tentative sip. I did not hold much optimism this would be any better than previous offerings in similar rustling paper bags though logic told me eventually, through elimination alone, I was deserving of drawing closer to the discovery of something that could ease my pain in way I had only ever known from one source before…one source that did not rely on such drastic measures.
It took a moment for the taste to take hold, at first only a sensation of slightly cooled liquid glugging past lips, moving stickily for its texture. As I tightened the cap back securely, my nose wrinkled as nasal and oral reaction kicked in together, clicking my tongue against roof of my mouth for the initial sweet tang followed swiftly by burning undertone. Nevertheless I swallowed it back with some effort, its heaviness requiring a few bitter tasting gulps of gathered saliva before could finally feel its potency ooze its way down.
My fingertip trailed down from the bottle neck, determining label I would need Shiloh to read aloud to me later. My mind pondered upon the likely ingredients, what medicinal obscurities and illegal substances had been mixed in experimentation this time to try and appease my needs in return for copious amounts of cash. I found, however, that my musing reached dead end rather quickly, the only surety thus far being that something within the concoction acted as a very strong sedative. Within moments my eyelids felt like dead weights and my limbs heavy with burden at any attempt to lift them. Perhaps this had not been such great idea to try before returning home. Or indeed before I was aware of the contents.
As my head hung forward slightly a passing dog walker gave me an odd look but said nothing as moved on with a tut and disapproving head shake. I was oblivious to his judging as felt the world spin slowly upon a somewhat obscure axis, begging for the contented feeling of lying more horizontally. I was a slave to the calling, slipping away whilst marvelled at the sudden numbing behind the eyes, pain switched off like a light switch flicked. The alien sensation of comfort had me groan in bewildered bliss. And thus I gave in to the sudden grasping demand to leave the mortal plane and slip altogether abruptly into a different realm entirely and all at the clearly underestimated power of a narcotic laced beverage. Such might need explaining upon my waking.
© Rachel Ellen, 2012