Always and Utter Bullshit

Always and Utter Bullshit

It was barely morning when I walked out of the woods onto the road, but it felt like I’d been walking for-fucking-ever. My legs were tired and I was cold. The sun was somewhere behind the mountains, giving everything that weird in-between feeling, like right before something happens. I didn’t know what was going to happen, probably nothing more than the sun coming up over the mountains, but it felt like something was going to. One thing that was definitely going to happen was Erikson was going to follow me. He was not going to just let me leave. Not that I was all that worried.

When I came out onto the road, I took the bills from my pocket and fanned them out in my hand, the way I’d been doing over and over again since we’d left Massapequa, when he’d handed me the roll to hold, trying to impress me. I couldn’t believe he didn’t realize I still had the money. Seven hundred dollars altogether. Coming out onto the road I realized how stupid it was to carry the money around that way, so I put the roll in this slit in my jacket, a secret compartment. The jacket was leather and not as warm as it should have been, so my hands were pink from the cold.

I looked up and down the road, trying to get a sense for which way to go, though either way was as good as the other. I turned right and went that way. The ice crunched beneath my shoes and I tried not to think about the fact that I’d fucked Erikson the night before, let him fuck me, rather, that—who knows—there was a possibility that he’d impregnated me, which was just what I fucking needed, right. I didn’t care about the sex, I was long past the stage where I thought sex could mean something, and in the long run it still gave me the upper hand, but I should have insisted on a condom, at least.

After driving me up to his cabin, Erikson’d been sick for days and now he wasn’t sick but wasn’t back to who he’d been before, which was someone who liked to be in control. It was hard to remember why I’d agreed to come up here with him. There was the whole illicit nature of the thing that got me going. I knew I shouldn’t have been doing it, so that’s why I did it. I’d met him at a student art exhibit at the college. He’d come up to me and told me he liked my painting, a portrait of a man who’d just been bashed over the head with an ax. I’d looked at a ton of Google images to get the look of the brains just right. It wasn’t easy. Most of my peers thought the painting was crap, nothing but shock value, but there was a deeper quality to it. It was an act of retribution, sure, because the face looked a little like my brother, a little like my father, but it was more than that, too. And, it was good. This older guy in his stupid gray suit, a teacher at the art school I’d never had, recognized that. Erikson. I looked into his eyes. There was something in there, some real deep darkness. I mean, he was obviously coming on to me, doing that whole lecherous middle-aged guy thing, but there was something else at work, too.

When I decided to drop out of Massapequa, it was Erikson I went to tell. He closed his office door and sat me down. “Now why do you want to drop out, again?” he said, and I spilled it: how pointless the whole fucking enterprise was. I told him I’d been shooting up for a few months and was probably addicted, and he nodded and told me he could help. I can help you get clean, he said. I have a place up in the mountains. One weekend is all it would take. I knew he wanted to get me alone so he could fuck me, but the offer was also sincere. He really wanted to get me clean. I wound up bawling and he held me against his chest, and even though I was right there he didn’t try anything. “There, there,” he said. He actually said that. It was weird because we were both there in the moment, these reactions and emotions were real, but we were also acting them.

“Can I take you away for the weekend?” he said. “Let me. Please?”

I nodded. He told me he’d pick me up outside my dorm, and I didn’t believe he would, but there he was in the morning.

I kept touching the roll of bills through my coat. It was like when you have a sliver of skin on the edge of your fingernail and you keep working at it until you peel it off.

The sun crawled over the mountains and it got warmer. I was wondering what would happen if a car didn’t come by and pick me up soon, whether there was a possibility Erikson might catch up to me and what he would do to me if he did. I didn’t think he would hurt me or tie me up or kill me or anything, but he would definitely do something. He would have to. A truck passed, crunching tires over ice starting to slush up, the driver ignoring my outstretched thumb. I tried to look like someone’s daughter. I was no one’s daughter anymore. Sometimes I didn’t even think of myself as a person anymore, because if you think of yourself as a person you have to start acting like one. I didn’t think of myself as a machine or an alien or anything, but I thought of myself as just a mammal, with all the normal mammalian drives, for sustenance and warmth, shit like that. A mammal with mammal eyes that looked at the world trying to figure out what it needed to do to survive.

Finally another pickup appeared. This truck pulled onto the side of the road, its tires compressing the snow, making a sound that made my head ache, and the driver reached over and flung open the door. He was youngish, with a neck beard and dark eyes under a thick brow ridge. “You’ve got a nice face,” I told him when I climbed in.

“Uhn, where you heading?”

“I have no idea.” I could almost hear his thoughts ratcheting around in his dumb he-brain.

“Do you party? You want to get high?”

“Do I?” I smiled at him then turned away. I could see my reflection in the side mirror—it looked like I didn’t have any eyebrows or eyelashes.



No way was I going to tell Heath, the guy in the truck, I had a roll of seven hundred dollars hidden in my jacket. I told him I was broke and had no place to crash and he told me not to worry because he lived in a house with a bunch of “buddies” and nobody cared who crashed there. Maybe I could clean the dishes once in a while. Whatever. He drove me a ways away, close to this town with a state college nearby, not far from a ski lodge, to this big dark wooden house at the bottom of a mountain. Red Solo cups, beer cans, pizza boxes in heaps on the slushy porch. We walked right into a scene like a million other scenes I’d walked in on before, wastoids lounging on couches with a video game on a flatscreen TV and some weird-ass music playing. They were potheads, which was deeply disappointing.

When I stepped into the room they perked up, thinking they were going to get something off me, which was not going to happen, not at all if I could help it and as a last resort if I couldn’t. They were a mix of college guys and a few locals. Heath was one of the locals who also went to the college. He scratched his neck and looked at me and took some bong hits, and I could feel him falling in love with me already, which was fine with me because that would keep the others off me. I had to figure out a way to leverage this. They told me to take off my jacket, get comfortable, but I told them I didn’t want to just yet, that all I wanted was to score some meth. When they realized I wasn’t joking they called someone. The place smelled of pot smoke, spilled beer, old pizza. They were probably looking for a mother. Just what I needed.

It was difficult to hear or concentrate on anything with the music blaring from another room and the sound of a video game like a cataclysm of metal rending, gunshots, and explosions. They’d surrounded themselves with noise to push away their fear of death—or life. I washed my face and thought maybe I wouldn’t actually do the crystal once it showed up, maybe I’d just keep it in reserve, though my body was already priming for it, dilating like an eye, opening like a mouth. It wasn’t like I was addicted to meth—I’d done it a handful of times—but the heroin jones was gone and I was ready for a new high, something else to let myself down inside of. I’d been straight for three days, total, up there in the mountains taking care of Erikson, and seen the world through regular, if withdrawn, eyes, and it was nothing I wanted to do much more of if I could help it. I sat on the toilet. Piss coated the floor, pubes were piled in the corners, smears of toothpaste and dried shaving cream flecked the sink. It was gross, but I didn’t want to leave and go back to Massapequa, which I couldn’t do anyway, or back to my so-called family, which no thanks, and Erikson was out of the question since I had absconded with his seven hundred dollars.

When we’d been driving up from Massapequa he’d thrown the roll in my lap and said, “We’ll have some fun,” kind of ironically but not. He’d told me he wanted to get me clean—playing the caring father—but then he threw money in my lap and I knew the weekend was going to be different from what I’d expected, which was okay with me. As soon as we got to the little cabin in the mountains, though, he fell asleep. In the middle of the night he started puking. I had to help him to the outhouse, where I could hear him having the shits, and I had to start all the fires and cook all the meals, while I was fucking withdrawing, swearing and shaking and all that shit, but pretty mildly since I hadn’t been a junky long. All I wanted to do now was be by myself and get high.

I could hear other people in the house now, whoever was bringing the meth, and I peeled off a couple hundred dollars from the roll, crumpled them in my fist, shoved them in my jeans pocket. I came out and paid for an 8 ball—the dealers were scumbags who differed from the college guys only in the fact that they were older and had given up all hopes of gainful employment—which I smoked in a little pipe Heath gave me. He watched me with big sad eyes, scratching his neck now and then, not asking how I came up with the money when I’d said I was broke.

After ten minutes I was high and taking his keys and going out to his truck and doing donuts in the driveway before racing down to town. He looked scared because he was scared. I didn’t give a shit. In town there were a few people around and I honked the horn which actually no shit played the rebel call or whatever it’s called. I was just flying, feeling good, driving up and down the mountains, tearing shit out of the world. Heath and me were on totally different trips. He was on pot and spaced out while I just wanted to do something even though there was nothing to do up here.

The night before I escaped from the cabin, I drank a lot out of this bottle of old whiskey Erikson had in the cabinet and I slept with him for the first and last time. It was one of those lazy fucks where you pretend nothing is happening. He was still a little sick and I could feel his body heat, and I was drunk, and these things happen. I was jonesing, but not hard. The alcohol helped. My body was hungry for disorientation and it would take what it could get. In the morning I was hungover, but I realized I had to get away from this guy, because he was toxic and weird and now that he’d known physical intimacy it was bound to lead to real problems..

Somehow I ended up spinning Heath’s truck into a snowbank. I remember the moment the tires lost traction, how perfect it felt, exactly everything I had ever wanted in the world because I was no longer there at all. Just spinning.



It’s like diving into a wave pool and not knowing how to swim is what the life of a meth user is like, negotiating all these waves. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down, and you’re riding it and you know your life is completely fucked, but you don’t care. You become this other thing. You throw away whatever you used to be, or it curls up tight and tiny like one of those pill bugs and sinks deep inside you, and all you care about is maintaining this high. Sometimes you feel this weird anger race through you. I must have punched Heath in the face three times, and I was always wrestling him, throwing him down on the floor, which made his buddies laugh, though they didn’t fuck with me because they knew they couldn’t take me. Sometimes the guys looked at me out of the corners of their eyes like they were scared of me, like I was something out of another world they’d never intended to enter. I shaved off the ice with a razor blade and smoked it throughout the day, and when that 8 ball was gone I made Heath invite the guys over again so I could buy another 8 ball. I felt like the money would last forever, which of course it never does, does it? It can’t, because that’s the nature of money. To disappear.

Sometimes Heath would be gone during the day and I’d sit alone in the living room, feeling lucky. I am someone who can spend all her time alone. The best times I had with my last boyfriend were when he’d leave me alone for days and I could shoot up and just veg in front of the TV. I go through intense productive artistic phases when I don’t want to see anyone—that’s when I painted my series of ax-murder portraits. This meth thing was a whole different animal, though, all highs and lows. Sometimes I had to get out, so I walked around the little town, which had this white steeple church and people who actually no-shit chopped their own wood and wore flannel shirts and jeans. It was too much. The college kids all got drunk on weekends like they were following a script. I felt safe here.

The deal with Heath was that he was shy and had completely fallen in love with me. The schmuck. His neck beard didn’t grow any thicker and he never seemed to shave it off. He looked the same all the time. He didn’t have any fashion sense, he wasn’t funny, and he sure as hell wasn’t good looking. He was a million other guys just taking up space. I didn’t really like him, but I didn’t hate him. I was just relieved he was there so the others stayed away from me, which they did, even though sometimes I could sense this vibe coming off them like, let’s slip her something. Or, how long is this chick going to stay here? And I figured when that question came up was when I’d have to start putting out. I hoped putting out to Heath would be enough. They lived this sad little life where they thought they were cool because they were fucked up all the time and they didn’t do any schoolwork.

When I crashed I writhed on the floor of the living room, wishing I was dead, and Heath would put a blanket over me. He was sweet but so fucking dumb. I never heard him say anything that could be considered even relatively intelligent. It was like he didn’t think. I made him take me out every couple days. Sometimes I drove like a crazy person and sometimes he drove, and I would tune the radio to some pop crap and sing loud. I could tell he was trying to figure out how to make his move. I found this ski mask on the floor one day and made him drive me to the local Esso where I pretended to have a gun in my coat and the woman, this old lady with black hair and pockmarks all over her face, handed over 107 dollars, which was disappointing but kept me going. Heath was shitting bricks, but the poor boy had no choice. He’d do whatever I wanted him to. He just about creamed his pants when I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. I had this bottled up feeling and I knew that this thing, living in Heath’s house and getting tweaked, wasn’t going to last much longer. I was bored with it. I had no clue how many days or weeks had passed, but I noticed that winter was either over or just about. After I bought another 8 ball I was out of money and I smoked it and smashed some stuff in the kitchen— plates, mostly. Maybe I’m a little nuts, I don’t know, but it helped. The boys didn’t like it too much, though, and they had a heart to heart with Heath and you know what that means.



Heath drove like a little old lady, hunched behind the wheel, so fucking slow, careful because he was high which was fine, a long, boring ride. He was suddenly on this country music kick so I had to listen to someone singing about beer and trucks and broken hearts. I wanted to scream sometimes, but I was determined to be nice to him, at least for now. All I wanted to do was smoke some meth. Barring that I wanted to rip the skin off my skeleton, strip it all away. I pictured my eyeballs dangling out of my skinless face. This thing of meat. They were bad thoughts, so I watched the woods on either side of the road. I bit at the corner of my thumb, where the little ridge of meat rises up around the thumbnail, and picked at this pimple that had been on my face for weeks. I gouged away. Heath tried to talk once in a while, like “where are we going,” but I didn’t say anything and he couldn’t keep a conversation going on his own. He was dropping out of college, moving away from the only world he’d ever known, for me, which was fucking hilarious.

As we got closer to the city, he hunched even further over the wheel. He was so scared of the city I could hear his heart jackrabbiting in his chest. And then, there we were in the city and he was driving around all panicked saying “where we going, where we going,” while yellow taxis zipped around us, almost clipping our bumper. It was like a circular tank at an aquarium, all these sharks zipping around, all pushing each other on, and if one of them stops the whole thing’s going to go to hell so nobody stops. It was a nice day, the sun shining off the sides of taxis, and I felt high even though I wasn’t which was almost but wasn’t enough to make me feel a little better. “Where the fuck are we going?” Heath almost yelled. I pointed him down streets and we wound up driving past the heart of the city, then further south. If we went far enough we’d get into an entirely different part of the city and then out of the city altogether into ethnic enclaves and shit. Places we didn’t want to go, where we would not be welcome. I didn’t think I knew where we were going but pretty soon we were in a neighborhood of brownstones that was familiar and there it was, like a sign, an omen: an empty parking space. Heath almost hyperventilated trying to parallel park. By the time he shut the engine off his hand was quivering and his breath was coming in grunts and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he started crying. “Where the fuck are we? I’m going back. I’ll drop you off and just go back. I have to go back.” His eyes bugged out of his head. I waited a few minutes for him to calm down, then placed my hand on his denim-jacketed arm and looked deep into his eyes, kind of gathering him to me with whatever internal power I might have.

“Listen,” I said. “You’re not going anywhere. Man up, dude. You’re with me. Everything’s going to be fine.” Which was bullshit. Always and utter bullshit. Nothing was ever fine. But you could find a way to ride it out. I had no idea what I was going to do, and as I walked up to the brownstone I realized I’d never been here alone, but it didn’t matter because the dude didn’t seem surprised when he opened the door. He had silver hair and wore a suit with a sheen, kind of sophisticated. “Oh,” he said. I didn’t know how he could have recognized me because I’d been here only once with an ex-boyfriend when I lived in the city, before Massapequa, and my hair was a different color then. But it was pretty obvious why we were there.

He let us into the apartment, big and open, kind of modern, like he shopped at a high end Ikea. Ikea for rich folks. He was listening to some kind of weird jazz. “Sit down,” the man said, so we did. He was drinking a glass of wine and exuding this whole sense of New York City and danger and sophistication, and I wondered what the hell he was doing alone dressed like that, then figured he was probably going out later because it was still early, for the city. He looked at Heath, then ignored Heath and looked at me. “You’re looking for something,” he said.

“What do you have?”

“What do you want?”

“Heroin?” He smiled one of those smiles, amused and superior. He was the kind of guy who would kill someone violently but quietly. He took out a wooden box from under the couch and took out his works and we cooked up and tied off and shot up right there, the needle sinking into my arm almost sensuously, like a dance, and then I was off. He was a beautiful man, and high his eyes sagged, his lantern jaw unhinging. Heath sat in a corner of the room watching like some horrified golem. I wanted to paint him—his face a series of colors you would never expect his face to be—but wasn’t sure I would ever paint again.


About the Author

Jamey Gallagher lives in Baltimore and teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County. His stories have been published in many journals online and in print, including Punk Noir Magazine, BULL, and Cutbank. His collection, American Animism, will be published in 2025.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska: