"Perfect Hunger" by Mark Miller

There is no good way to call up my old dealer and ask if he can get me some cocaine because I kind of burned that bridge when I called him a murderer and a Satanist on par with pedophiles and then threatened to tell the cops about him if he ever contacted me again. It’s especially awkward because he is my brother-in-law and I have to spend holidays with him. But receiving an email from old college friends instills in me a Pavlovian desire for the old ways, and I actually dial the number before I realize that I have to hang up. There is nothing suspicious about calling my sister’s house, but the phone might be tapped, and I am pretty rusty on the old code, which was something about clam bakes and new music. Richard keeps a pretty low profile as a database designer, but cops are clever, and it would be bad for mom and dad to find out their son in law was a dealer, but even worse to find out he was dealing to their son.


So thirty minutes later I am driving to their house in a way that suggests I am not trying to drive to their house. Since payphones are like dinosaurs that no longer roam the earth, the only evidence that man once communicated at all is a ragged chunk of plastic strung on a light pole at the edge of my neighborhood. The receiver has been ripped from the cord, and many of the buttons are missing, and all that remains of the sign that surely once read “Payphone” is a skeletal frame of rusted metal. So I drive to a shopping center, park at one end, and try to figure out the best way to contact this lucky prick who works at home and has a tax-free second income while I can’t get a job at a fucking Wendy’s. I go to a street where I know there are two gas stations, a Dunkin Donuts, and a Taco Bell. Surely one of them will be amenable to letting a guy whose car broke down call someone to pick him up and take him the rest of the way to the hospital. The Taco Bell proves to be staffed with exactly the kind of heartless bastards I assumed it would be, so I limp out the door, my terrible cough rattling the windows. It is a horrible malady that affects both lungs and legs.

The first gas station lets me use the phone, and I try to find a way to patch up a strained relationship and score some good shit while making it sound like I need a ride to the hospital. As the phone rings, my mind churns: Hey, Richard, it’s Dave. I am on my way to the hospital with this terrible leg and lung disease that you might have heard about on the news, and I thought it might be good to stop by your place on the way there and listen to some new music or bake some clams or whatever it was we used to say…


But then he answers the phone, and my mind blanks.


“Hello?”


“Hey Richard, it’s Dave.”


Silence.

“Rachel’s brother.”

“Rachel’s not in right now. Can I help you with something?”

The attendant turns his back to me to restock some chewing gum, and I see my opportunity. “I wonder if the clambake is still on for later.”


What?”


“Is there any new music to listen to?”


The attendant has turned from the gum and stares at me with sharp, diamond eyes. He knows I am a dope ninja.

Richard says, “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“I’m at a gas station on Bell.”

“Why don’t you come by.”

He hangs up and I say to the dial tone, “I have this terrible lung and leg disease. Come pick me up and take me to the hospital.