Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Binoculars

It was sometimes unclear if it was worth it. I peered through the binoculars, trying not to wobble them too much. When I did, they'd suddenly frame some strange and nameless space, a random sector in the field of shadows. Sometimes the view would eclipse entirely, that black circle with the slightly luminescent edge. I finally got a good bead on the screen when Jennifer tugged my arm.

"It's my turn," she said.

I handed over the binoculars. My eyes needed a rest anyway.

"What's on next?"


"Oooh! I love Seinfeld!" she said.

I got up off the couch and walked toward the other end of our railroad flat, where the fucked up RCA TV sat blaring on the torn foam cushion of a kitchen chair. I found it on the street a while back, took it up and plugged it in. We couldn't wait to know what could be wrong. Sure enough the volume knob was broken, stuck on ten. But we were too mad and lazy not to watch it.

I was about halfway down when I thought I perceived Jennifer addressing me. I turned around and there she was, mouth in motion, binoculars in one hand, waving with the other. In the din I imagined her complaining that I blocked her line of sight. I sidled to the wall theatrically, like a housebreaker in movies, or an escapee. I glanced over my shoulder to verify this satisfied her.

"Come back!" she yelled. "Come back!"

I walked back and sat back down and put my ear up to her mouth.

"Can you make me some toast?" she asked.

"Some English toasting bread toast?" I said. English toasting bread was the only type of bread we ever bought. And bread was the only food we ever bought. And sometimes strawberry jam.

"Yes. With jam if we have some."

I walked back toward the kitchen and the television's ceaseless, angry din. I put the toasting bread into the toaster and went to take a piss. When I emerged I saw down to the two glass eyes in darkness, gleaming slightly from the distant screen. The broken-ass TV was so loud I thought it might explode. I scraped the bottom of the jam jar and got just enough to cover one slice. I took the plate back out the kitchen, through the den and through the study, to the bedroom. Jennifer sat cross-legged on the bed, binoculars to her eyes.

"I dunno if it's worth it anymore," I told her as I handed her the plate of toast.

"Thank you, honey. Worth what anymore?"

"This. With the TV and the binoculars."

She took a bite of toast and thought for a moment.

"What are we supposed to do?"

"I don't know."

"Let's do the rest of our junk," she said.

"OK. After dinner," I said.

We finished our toast and I tapped the rest of the open bag out on the jewel case. Then I opened up our last bag and emptied that one, too. Kramer made a grand, swooping entrance. I cut the heroin into two little lines with my license and handed it to Jennifer to snort through a cut-off straw. She did hers and handed it back to me and I did mine. We pinched our noses to trap the flakes against our membranes, directing them to eager capillaries. We wiped up all the residue with the tips of our fingers and licked them, and we each tore open one of the little glassine bags and tongued the inside, making sure to get the creases, to savor each and every tiny bitter speck.

I began to relax fast. Was it the drug's effect or the anticipation of the drug's effect, and if it was the anticipation, was the anticipation better than the thing itself, in this as in so many other things?

"Do me a favor," I said.


"Every time I walk in the door, laugh uproariously and applaud."

"I'll do anything for you."

"I'm going to vomit."

I made the long walk toward the light and sound again.

I took a knee by the toilet, here we go again. A pleasant, cooling sweat formed on my brow. My mouth, my face, my arms aglow with pleasure. I was pretty sure I must be in the very arms of God. Suddenly, the chyme flowed up and out my mouth, not erupting so much as emerging. I directed it into the bowl: good, loving, beautiful vomit. Such sweet nausea. Such a soft, cool hand on my back.

I brushed my teeth.

When I got back to the end of the apartment, Jennifer was high enough to talk about kicking again.

"I'm pretty sure I want to kick tomorrow, Jim," she said.

"I do too, baby."

"You promise? Let's promise."

"I promise."

"I promise, too."

She got up.

"Wow, it feels good to stand up."

"Feels good to sit down, too," I said.

She laughed and climbed onto my lap, her knees wobbling precariously on top of my thighs. We clasped our hands together and she tried to balance. Soon enough, she fell.

We sat awhile in the dark. I had a half dream we were on a train. I knew where we were going but I didn't know. I knew it would be beautiful, that we'd have jobs we loved and we'd have friends; we'd have a big back porch that faced the woods and river. But I didn't know where it was.

When I came to I realized Jennifer had been speaking.

"Sorry, what?"

"I said what did you mean before, it's not worth it?"

"I guess I mean the TV. And the binoculars. Don't you think?"

"I think."

"I've got an idea, check it out. I could tear the speaker out from the fucking thing."

"And watch silent TV?" she asked, intrigued.

"And watch silent TV. Or -"


"Or. I could put the fucking TV back on the sidewalk."

She let some facts and figures play in her head.

"Put the TV on the sidewalk," she said after some time.


In the morning I did what I said I'd do, feeling a strange sort of sadness but proceeding all the same. When I got back upstairs Jennifer was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a piece of plain English toasting bread toast.

"You know what I was thinking?" she said.


"Now that we don't need the binoculars, we can pawn them and buy some dope."

"You're right. That's great. That's a great, great idea," I said.

"It's just that, I know I'm not ready to kick. I know that in myself. I'll know when I'm ready, and I'm not ready."

"You sure?" I asked.

"Jesus, I don't know," she said.

"Because I agree," I said.

"Let's make this the last dope we buy," she said, suddenly brightening.

"That's a very good idea, baby. The last dope we buy."

I went back to the bedroom and got the binoculars. I brought them back and wrapped the leather strap around the middle section and set them on the kitchen table. Gingerly. Guiltily. I went to pour some coffee. When I turned around again, Jennifer had the binoculars and was looking through them out the window.

"Do you see anything out there?" I asked.

"Hmm... not much," she said, scanning slowly from left to right. What I saw was a gray and blighted burrough, roofs and windows, cars and trucks below.

"Wow!" she said suddenly.


"Now I see something!" she said.