Warm and Fuzzy

By Joseph Lyons

    Kenny walked. He was always walking these days. There was almost never a respite from the damned movement. The streets were cold; winter had set in over the past few weeks. Its harsh bite was a reminder of years past, when Kenny first lost his home. That first December night was hell: the convulsive shakes and shivers, the slow passage of time, and the uncomfortable realization that he would die cold. The second night had been just as bad. Every night since had been just as bad. The mornings were worse though. He had to walk to stay warm. He would have to stop eventually though, and when he did, the shivering would return. The constant fear of something that he could not stop –  the progression of time – haunted his days. That fear was what made the days worse than the nights. At least at night he was too preoccupied freezing to death the be able to think.

The hard chattering of his teeth the was the only sound, besides the cars that would race by that would throw up slush and mud on the sidewalks. Kenny had learned quickly to sleep in the alleys. Still, those too had dangers. Drunk teenagers would torment anything or anyone they came across. He had to beg for his one threadbare blanket more times than his memory could recall. 

Kenny walked into one such alley. The snowfall had been steady all day, and this crack between buildings was already becoming a snowdrift. It was situated between a tobacco store and a closed down theater. It wasn’t a big alley, only ten feet wide, and the ground was hard-packed dirt opposed to most of the other alleys’ cobblestone. The buildings were probably supposed to meet, but last-minute plans when they were built half a century ago must have led to the wasted space. It was also the closest thing Kenny had to a home. 

Kenny looked up at the sun; he had traded in his watch for cash a year ago, it was midafternoon by the location of the sun. Snowflakes fell quickly, sped up by an invisible hand that would whip them back and forth.  Ugh. He still had so much walking left to do. Still today had one upside. His friend Ray was back in town. Ray always took good care of Kenny. He was his only friend since Kenny’s wife passed, since he lost his home. Those were painful memories. He had tried a lot of things to cover them up. To an extent they had worked, he could no longer recall what his house had looked like, or how long he had been married. But the pain never left. He could still remember the pain. He could still feel the pain. Kenny looked up again, still goddamned midafternoon. Sometimes when he got caught up thinking about his past, hours would fly by without notice. That was always good. He wasn’t sure why; before, he had always wanted more time. Now, he just wanted less.

“Hey Kenny.” Ray stood at the end of the alley at the back of the tobacco store. He was smoking something. “Come over here I got some stuff for you.” He smiled warmly. Kenny waved and began walking toward Ray. Kenny had first met him a few months after his wife had died from cancer. The chemo had nearly driven Kenny to bankruptcy. Sarah had tried to call it quits on the radiation multiple times; she would say she didn’t want to leave him with nothing when she passed. She had always made more money than Kenny but he insisted they fight with everything they had. And when that didn’t work, he begged her. He could remember one time in the hospital he had been on his knees beside her bed, gripping her hand tightly. In the end Sarah’s prediction came true. Kenny was left holding a cold hand begging her to keep fighting.

“Hey Ray, I got money today. Traded in my, uh, I got money today.” Ray smiled. The smoke drifting from him smelled sickly sweet.

“Good, how much?” The smirk was still there. Whenever Kenny saw him, Ray always seemed like he was smiling at a joke he had just heard

“Forty dollars.” Ray’s smile faded. He quickly glanced down both sides of the alley then back at Kenny.

    “That’s not enough man, we’ve talked about this. Don’t schedule a meet if you are short-changed. If you need, I know a guy who sells some stuff that’s a lot cheaper.”

    “No, I uh I can’t do that stuff. It makes me feel everything.” Kenny tried to smile, but the worry doomed the attempt to failure. “I just need a bit, Ray. Just something to get through the night. You know I always pay; you know I’m reliable. I can make it up.”

    Ray shook his head. “That’s not good business. You know I can’t make a living like that.”

    “At least you have a living I gotta get lucky to get this much.” Kenny’s voice began to rise as the panic began to set in. If he couldn’t get the Fentanyl, he would have to face the full brunt of the cold tonight. He’d already gone two days without the relief of the euphoria the drug provided.

    “Calm down, Ken, I always take care of you, don’t worry.” Ray said, then smiled again as he discarded his joint. “But I need you to help me first.”

    “I don’t have any more money.”

    “I know, I know. We’re past money. But I could use your help moving some of my product.” Kenny shook his head no. This was a familiar conversation. Kenny would use the drugs to avoid those horribly cold nights, but he knew his wife would hate him if he tried to profit off his personal damnation.  Ray’s smile faded again. He had expected Kenny to say yes, this time. “Alright you don’t have to peddle the stuff. But I can’t give you the expensive drugs for nothing.” Ray sniffed. “Damn it’ll be cold tonight, tell you what, I’ll give you some new stuff my supplier just started to crank out. They are still trying to get the ratios right so consider it a free sample.” Ray pulled out a small plastic bag from his coat pocket. “It’s synthetic, it’s supposed to pack a wallop.”

    “And it’ll take the edge off?” Kenny asked.

    “It’ll make you forget you were bleeding.” Ray smiled.

    “Alright, I need something for tonight. I can’t take another night of shaking.” Kenny reached out his hand.

    “My pleasure.” Ray tossed the bag into the alley, then turned and began to walk away. “I’ll expect money next time, or you’re cut off,” Ray said over his shoulder. Kenny’s head dropped. He hated when he upset Ray. 

“Thanks,” Kenny said just above a whisper, then he turned and started to look for the bag. He found it near one wall. It only had two pills inside, one yellow and one red. They were probably the same thing. He opened the bag and took out the yellow pill. He looked at it for a moment. Was this his life? An eternal attempt to forget what he had lost? He tried to swallow the drug. His mouth was gummy, and his saliva was thick. Kenny gagged trying to swallow. He gagged again and again before he retched the pill back into the snow. Damn. Kenny slumped into the alley wall. He hadn’t had a drink in two days. His normal public fountain was down for repairs. He needed water though. Kenny reached his hand into the snow bank and grabbed a handful. He then put the snow in his mouth. Pain shot up into his forehead. Once it would have been a sign he was eating his favorite ice cream too fast. But now it heralded the return to a world of quiet things. To a world where he didn’t need to walk, or shiver. He could be in peace.

    Kenny sat there for a moment, letting the snow melt in his mouth. He needed the water to swallow. His hand was burning. It was strange that cold things could burn you worse than  hot. But maybe Kenny had simply forgotten what warm things felt like. The snow melted. His mouth hungrily sapped the fresh water, absorbing as much as it could. There wasn’t much, but it would serve Kenny’s purposes. He opened the bag again; he wasn’t going to try and find the pill he coughed up. He took out the red pill and swallowed it. It went down easily. Now he just had to wait.

The drug kicked in a lot sooner than the others he had tried. The chill that was always present in the ends of his hands and feet subsided as a heat bled over him. So that was what it felt like. Warmth.

“Hello friend.” Kenny smiled as he laid back into the snow. Another night, hopefully the last. He woke up the next day shaking harder than ever before. “Damn.” He had survived again.