Poppy Red

By L. Karwatowski

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And I watch as she lets the cold needle bite through a watery translucent skin. Filmy
sweet sugar-spun veins lace oxygen through her wasted female frame in a skittering
false pulse pumping this jovial child alive. In my lap she’s a ruined doll.

Cold damp hands clutch at my arm. Scarlet hair’s spilling against my jacket. Her eyes fall
back just as she does, leaning, leaning, letting the soiled rush seep, cocooning round her a
secondary self. I’ve got her cradled in my arms, cooing softly as she takes those first steps
through dual afterworlds, flowering and burning.

I’m not writing about addiction.

I’m just trying to pour the damp night through a bottle, captured, a petty romantic’s
reverie to send careening down an abyss so deep I might realize regret—but that’s a bluff.
If I were capable of regret I’d be spitting at my own heels already. I’d be burying my bones
under the same words I’d flogged her with after she’d raided my drink funds, her pink
hands clenched to her ears, body tight against the door frame but too afraid to use it.

I’d gotten clean two years prior.

She’s been on it four months heavy.

Hell, can she even remember her own name?

I bite my lip to hide the fat smack of pleasure at her first vomiting, twelve hours on the
nose after that last try. My story’s written between the red lines riding the divine length of her
arm, wrist to elbow, a sweet page of thought. I’d not intended to become the bearer of chaos.
I’m but a romantic, you see, prone to embarrassing crooning over some sappy detail like her

And so,

———-Her hair:

Thinning and falling out, those lovely ruby strands a tight clog for the shower drain.
Threads of it on her coat, stray pulls of hair playing arrow marks to buttoned pockets
containing the paragon of treasure, more precious now to her than I.

Her curling mouth the night she’d said that to me, pupils so shrunken, so faded in
gaunt pits of socket…those eyes were just a ghoul’s soft mourning rain gray. I’d wept.
She watched, motionless, empty.

That evening she’d slipped into bed for a frightening eighteen hours of quiet saintliness
periodically shattered by screams.

Gasping in one of her sporadic cries, she announced she’d
leave me should I play tattletale on our hellish game. Nurses would know what they were
dealing with even before their sanitized stares took in the red poppy laced arms, twin limbs
pocked by heavy abscesses now swelling and milking in our sheets.

She needn’t have worried. I’d not have brought her to hospital had she pleaded for it.
Destruction was all I savored, worshipping her ruin as replacement for my own.

I admit this.

I acknowledge there is no justification for what I’ve done. Yet, my blood offers no droplet
of regret, no pity for her howling in feverish sweats, desperate to be clean of what I’d stolen
her away with. I’m shameless. Hell, I’m vaunting— but I’ll confide some scrap of me still
hopes otherwise.

I’d hoped when Georgie mixed his benzos with as much as he could mainline she’d see
her own death in his.

I don’t know what she saw, but her eyes turned to lead.
The second morning I realized she was after a full quit. Her body rattled with the cold
sweats of a desperate purification. Burnt spoons I’d unearthed were a past era away,
mere days but one hell of a past era to us both.

Snot on her chin as she clasped me, sobbing, hands like twin spiders at my back—a
newborn clutching my chest when I’d left to fetch water. But how she bristled at my
return, bit the hand that reached for her then. How, shrieking, sending a lamp flying
to my face

—I slammed the door, tearing the picture frame off the wall to bar the knob handle, a
temporary lock until my hands could find something steadier, less valuable to use.
She was my valuable and she was not steady. Not using.

I didn’t love her and let that be clear


She’s looking at me. Her eyes are back.

Eyes like blue fine China, eyes I covet still, longing to smother their burn with new finds
from our underground grocery store. I heap the basket so none may see my shame
bottoming thatgarish plastic cage-carrier.

I was too weak. We were all too weak to scream our own names. Instead we lowered our
eyes and hissed out Crystal, Angel, Lucy before the heavy door frame standing like a false
shrine, awaiting our communion.

She’s begging, God, she’s begging.

There’s no overdose unless the heroin dances with a second depressant, a third, as many
other boys as the slut wants.

She’s begging.

I’m wishing she’d let go of what merciless hand holds her to life, needles twining two
ring fingers in marriage to escape, to torment.

One’s mine.

She’s begging.

And she moans, nodding, far away again.

I can’t tell if it’s the good or evil in me that finally relents.

L. Karwatowski

Author’s Note:

“Poppy Red “is a piece featuring a romantic’s perverse delight in the addiction and destruction of another by the grotesque, clawed-hands of heroin. The narrator attempts to vicariously sate both the desire to ruin, to punish himself and the desire to sate his addiction, to have a twisted reward. Driven by self-hate, he is also proud and selfish. He receives nothing and yet fulfills his cruel wants. I could go on but trust your ability to notice it is a piece of duality, closely staring at the subject, yet at once removed, distanced. All strikes very real and yet there’s farce, there’s lie. Emotions are cold , tender, loathing. The most powerful components, characters and drug, are denied true names.

It is not in any way a piece that romanticizes drug addiction, but neither is it an after-school special. A close friend of mine lost his father to heroin. I’d watched his whole life unravel in the most painful of ways. I believe that’s why I’d worked through this particular subject matter.