by Kathy Benjamin
He wasn’t going to go tonight. That was all there was to it really. He knew that and yet upon entering the house he had still refused to let the butler take his hat and gloves. They sat in a small pile next to his chair. His fiancé smiled as the tea was poured and he tried to forget the pounding in his head. He took the cup and saucer that was handed to him and couldn’t help but touch the tip of his finger against the ever warmer porcelain, the slight pain reminded him of his pipe. As her mother opened her mouth to speak he noticed the steam rising off the top of the beverage. He stared, fixated. It drifted lazily upwards, so warm, so seductive. His hand started to shake. He put the cup down on the table and sprung up from his chair.
“I’m so sorry. Really must dash.”
She would never forgive him for that, he knew. She already had her suspicions. But there was nothing to be done. He hurried through the darkening streets, preferring to almost run rather than trying to flag down a hansom cab. He needed to move. He needed to get there. The taste from last night had long ago left his mouth but he swallowed hard, hoping for just a hint of the shocking bitterness. As he reached the familiar alley, he slowed his steps and tried to catch his breath.
Besides the harsh taste, the worst part about his nightly pilgrimage was actually getting into the place. He’d gotten used to the taste eventually and had high hopes that one day the shame he felt when confronted with the guardian of the door would settle into a similar effect, leaving just a bad aftertaste, well worth dealing with to get to the pleasure that lay beyond.
The woman looked up at him, and her eyes crinkled as he sputtered out the few words of Chinese he’d learned from returning sailors, adding more lines, if that was even possible, to her deeply wrinkled face. She smiled and opened the door for him.
He hardly noticed his surroundings as he hurried towards his usual rug. He’d seen all there was to see in this place months ago; the less he concentrated on the depressing décor and the old men in the throes of addiction, the better. He knew he looked just like them really, haggard and obsessed. Franticly he threw himself down on the rug, his pulse racing. It barely registered in his mind when the proprietor came forward, placed a pipe in his open palm and lit a small lamp. His hands stopped trembling as muscle memory took over, packing and lighting the pipe. He inhaled deeply, almost chocking as the rancid taste hit the back of his throat. Exhaling, however, was heaven. As the smoke drifted lazily upwards he smelled the sickly sweet scent, the mere hint of which in a crowd could stop him dead in his tracks any time of day.
It took more than one hit to relax him nowadays, and he knew that, deep down. But the physical pleasure of holding the pipe, of reclining back, of feeling the familiar threadbare rug underneath him gave him a mental satisfaction almost as pleasurable as the opium eventually would. It was force of habit that brought him here, just as much as it was the painful, driving need that now occupied all his waking hours.
He inhaled again, the taste not as shocking this time. By the end of the night he knew he would barely notice it. He felt the ache in his head dull, the tightness in his shoulder blades loosened. There was no pleasure in the world that he wouldn’t give up for the sweet release of opium. The smoke danced slowly around his face and he could swear that it knew the bliss that he felt; that it danced for him. Another patron sat down on the rug beside him and although they were so close their bodies almost touched, he ignored him. There would be time for talking later. For now he made love to his pipe.
Kathy is a freelance writer whose work appears reguarly on Cracked.com, Mentalfloss.com, Pajiba.com, and Idontlikeyouinthatway.com. She wrote Idée Fixe based on her own struggle with addiction, referencing the single-minded fixation and seemingly endless triggers associated with dependence.
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