Me and Swimby Author / Carla Eatherington
This story was first published in The Twelve Days: A Central College Anthology Buy here
Reader note: The acronym SWIM is often used in drug forums and stands for Someone Who Isn’t Me.
A soft thud on the doormat is all that marks its arrival, along with the Christmas card I’d been told to expect from my grandmother. I cast my gaze lazily from my armchair towards the official-looking letter by the front door, staring at it for long moments like I’m trying to get a psychic feel about what will happen when I open it. At this point it’s like Schrödinger’s cat, both alive and dead at the same time, it’s only when I read the letter that I’ll know for sure which one it is. Eventually curiosity propels me out of my chair to see whether I’ve got another dead cat to add to my quite substantial dead cat collection.
Tearing open the white envelope, I yank the sheet of paper out and scan down it. “Congratulations Leighton. We are pleased to offer you the position of: Temporary customer advisor. Please report to reception at 8:30am on Monday the 15th of December.” Well I’ll be damned if I haven’t just gone and got myself a live cat, I mean a job.
My hopes of getting the job hadn’t been high, especially this close to Christmas, but the weight it lifts from my shoulders is massive; in fact I’m surprised that I managed to get out of my chair at all. Now when I go to the family Christmas reunion next month and my uncle asks, “So what are you doing with your life?” I’ll be able to tell him that I’m working. To attend the reunion last Christmas I needed a day pass out of rehab, and all I could say was that I’d lost my girlfriend, my house, my job and only narrowly evaded prison. Of course my close family rallied round to support me, which really made me wanna get high. But despite all of this, I’ve toed the narrow path almost without deviation.
I can’t say that working in a call centre is a dream come true, but it will give me the fresh start that I so desperately need. Since coming out of rehab I’ve made a concerted effort to distance myself from my old life, severing the artery that supplied my habit. But this has also resulted in a large void that used to be filled with friends, which I hope work can go some way to filling. And even if it doesn’t, it will still give me something to fill the hours between waking up and going to sleep. I crave sleep, almost as much as I do a hit, because when I’m asleep I dream. Some nights I have dream about heroin’s tender embrace, and awake with my pyjama sleeve wrapped tightly around my arm like a tourniquet. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s a completely idealised portrayal. Heroin is beautiful, but she’s also a jealous mistress who’ll strip your life down until there’s only her left in it, and she might even take that.
I sink back down into the chair and pick up the pay as you go mobile phone that my mother bought me when I got out of rehab, to tell her the good news. I’m a normal person again, back in the middle of the bell-curve where all average people should be. This time I’m going to make all the smart choices. This time I won’t let my family down.
Last night Swim celebrated, hard. It started with a couple of cans of super-strength larger which turned into a drink addled, drug fuelled crawl around town. Swim finally found what he was looking for from a prostitute standing on a corner in the red light district. Swim gave her one of the five pound notes that his grandmother sent him for Christmas, and when she returned with a wrap of what looked light Demerara sugar, he gave her another one. Inside the Christmas card, Swim’s grandmother had said, “Spend it on something you enjoy”, and that’s exactly what he’d done. His grandmother had more money than sense anyway, and sometimes Swim thought about evening up that equation for her.
Back in Swim’s miserable first floor flat, devoid of any Christmas decorations, he sank down into the armchair once again and turned on the TV. In the VCR player was a well-worn porn tape which skipped in places where the ribbon had worn. Swim should have thrown the whole lot out and bought a DVD player, but he couldn’t part with it because the woman in the video was the closest that he’d come to being in a relationship since The Bitch left. Swim reached into his pocket and pulled out the small wrap. Unfolding the foil, he folded a crease down the middle and made a tube out of the extra foil. He flicked a lighter until it leapt into life and held the heat under the foil, inhaling the white smoke.
The familiar hum was almost instant as it rushed through his body. It felt like meeting an old friend again. She’d been a gentle lover for the first couple of months, but she became possessive and wouldn’t let him go. Then once you know that you can’t get away, she’s at liberty to really start putting you through hell. But tonight she was tender, and our reconciliation euphoric.