The Ruins of Pahokee

Suddenly the dreams come.  For a second there is the face of Ar Lain Ta laughing and then I am back in Pahokee, Fla., with my wife.  She stares at me with her giant eyes, the corners of her full lips are turned down, she is dark with the bite of the tropical sun as she leans against the pickup truck.  She wears a light coloured summer dress dappled with flowers, one strap falling off her shoulder with a shadow top of a small breast just beginning to show. Body covered with sweat, dress turning to liquid, so hot she could drip it right off.

I have a plastic bag full of pieces of cut up salt pork in one hand, a spool of strong string in the other.  Jeanie has placed a bundle of sticks on the hood of the pickup and she drains the last of her beer. We are ready to drive the dirt roads that travel along the edges of the canals and set the traps to catch turtles.  

I miss the feel of my wedding ring.  There is a splash of lightness around Jeanie’s finger where her ring once was.  

There is no heroin to be found in this area.  Before we moved here we had never smoked crack but, when the soul is fractured by pain and the balm of the opiates is nowhere to be found, fast nightmares take the place of slow dreams.

Two nights ago the rains smashed down and I was out with the two wedding rings looking for a rock to sharpen the edge that Jeanie and I had already cut ourselves on.  There are almost no white people in blacktown in Pahokee. Sections of that town are filled with shattered buildings and people weave in and about the maze of them as they race to each new arrival to see if they can get a chip off the old rock or even a fresh ash.

Crack cocaine is fury unresolved, each hit owning you more than the last.  Finally you are the pipe, the ashes in the pipe, cracked lips sucking the life out of your life.  Would you trade your wedding rings for the next hit?  Yes, yes, you would do that and drink dog’s urine and say that it was good if someone held out a pipe full of rock to you while you were in cocaine frenzy.

That night I duck down in the truck as the police rove the blacktown block.  I know that my white face is like a red flag waving to a bull. Suddenly I see a man that I have bought the rock from before emerge from the tattered building on the corner.  I look around frantically. No police in sight. Leap from the truck, the rain soaks me to the skin, I run to the man, hold out the two rings, beg for merciless bliss.

“Let me see them,” he says.

Not thinking, I drop one of them into his hand.  Just like that, his hand closes faster than a mussel springing shut because of danger and he is gone, weaving into a doorway and vanishing like a wisp of smoke above a pipe into the maze of broken down buildings.  I curse the storm, I curse the night, I curse myself for needing something so much that my mind has turned to stripped shit within my head. I know that to chase him is futile.

There is a voice behind me.  I spin. He is small, one gold tooth glittering from his smile.  He stands under the shelter of the broken doorway, a small vial in his hand.

“Is this what you want?” he asks.

I hand him the ring as he hands me the vial.  He examines it for an eternity. Five seconds later he disappears into the night and I make a run for the truck, shielding the precious prize from the rain.  My paranoid hypersense picks up the sound of an engine and I know it is the police. I throw myself into the mud by a parked car and wriggle underneath it. My rock and my redeemer is clutched tightly in my hand, I am trying to guard it from all the elements as I lay in the mud.  The judas car cruises slowly by, spotlight flashing methodically about and I cringe into the muck, shivering with fear and cold, wet and dirty, inside and out.

The black and white disappears from sight and I roll out from underneath the parked car, tearing my jacket on a piece of rusted metal hanging from its underside.  Into the truck, fumbling with the keys. It coughs once, starts, and then I race out of town, up five miles of country road. There are eyes watching me from the trees, I know there are eyes watching.

I pull into the sprawling trailer park that Jeanie and I call home.  She is watching for something from the windows. She sees me and opens the door.

“Did you get it?”

I pull the vial out and she rushes to get the pipe.  Frantic. She is ready to smoke and I am still soaked but care nothing for anything else.  Neither of us can take our eyes off the rock. In the pipe. Match lit, sucking and it melts a little but it will not burn.

I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe it. Both wedding rings gone and all we have left to show for it is a rock of soap.

I begin to cry.  Everything saleable has been stripped from the trailer.  Our wedding rings were the last to go.

“We have to sell this trailer and move back north to a place where we can find heroin,” I tell Jeanie.  “This crack cocaine is going to kill us.”

Jeanie nods her head as the tears spill down her cheeks.  We huddle together on the mattress, both of us crying, until we fall asleep.  We sleep for thirty hours.

When we wake up I go over to the office of the trailer park and they offer to buy the trailer back for much less than we paid for it.  Out of desperation I agree. It will take a week for the deal to clear. Our checks are due on the same day they will pay us. Out of money, out of food, we decide to trap turtles one more time.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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