Hard as he tried, he couldn’t stay
clean, like her.
Clean or not, cancer ate her up, inside
watched as bulging pink leggings shrunk to loose pantyhose on skeleton thighs.
“Gotta . . . meeting,” Vee said
to get up.
“You won’t make it,” Billy
Wish you could, he thought.
A.A., N.A., she would hit both. That’s
she was. Years back, she was as bad as Billy. That’s how they’d met, in his
friend Butch’s cellar. The night Butch ODed.
Damn, Billy thought, she’s cute. While
cooked, he checked her out. Long hair, dimpled cheeks. Tiny titties he wouldn’t
mind sucking on. Maybe later, he thought.
After they smoked . . .
But they all smoked too much.
“Shit!” he said, when Butch’s
heart stopped. Vee tried
CPR, but they were too fucked up to save Butch. Hand in hand, they ran upstairs.
Outside, hearts racing, they stopped a few
away. Above, the moon looked like a round coke rock. At least, to Billy.
“Poor Butch.” Vee grabbed Billy’s
sweaty hand. “That
could’ve been . . . us!”
They made out like they were scared to stop.
They’d been together since.
When she got clean, they drifted apart.
While she was out at meetings, Billy puffed
stem, right in the window. When he didn’t have stuff, he was a damp, shivering
So he watched from the window.
Over the Chinese deli, their place was sleazy,
roach-infested. Sometimes the fuckers crawled on the stem while he smoked, and
he flicked them off. Their window faced Broadway. Some assholes ran into the
deli for smokes, or Trojans, leaving their motors running.
That was his chance.
Like lightning, he shot downstairs and into
Took off, faster each time, hooking left toward the Turnpike. Then changed
The chop shop was in Newark. For parts,
Tiny Tim (who
was six feet-six) paid in blow.
Fine with Billy.
Even with Vee not working anymore. Behind
power shut off every other month, Billy still took crack over cash.
Sad, Vee’s Recovery pals must’ve
told her. Just
one drug away . . .
. . . from never being clean. Never, ever.
No food, either. Just three cans of SpaghettiOs
the roachy cabinet. Before the cancer ate up Vee’s guts, the fridge was stocked.
On top of it was every junk cake going: Ding Dongs, Snowballs. And,
occasionally, Vee’s favorite: fresh jelly donuts from the deli downstairs.
“Mmmmm . . .” Vee devoured the
donuts. Face ghost-white
with powdered sugar, jelly oozing like her mouth bled. Since kicking drugs, she
craved sugar bad.
Their Chinese deli, Renko’s Bakery,
every place that
stocked donuts, Vee went, to feed this new addiction.
“Keeps me,” she told Billy,
“from picking up. And
. . .”
“Yeah, I know. From smoking.”
Damn, he was itchy. Soon
as she left, he’d cook the last of Tiny Tim’s stuff.
But that was when she could leave.
He couldn’t remember the last time
she left, even
In huge letters on her charity care report,
was written. Her “free” chemo was cut off, like it was a luxury: a juicy steak
instead of Ramen noodles. Or SpaghettiOs, Billy thought, bitterly. The roaches would
outlive them both.
“S’okay,” Vee said hoarsely.
“Treatments make me
Her cheeks used to be full, dimpled. Her
nose had never healed from her scumbag ex, but her gap-toothed smile was beautiful.
That night Butch Oded, years back, Billy remembered thinking that.
Now she was all big eyes that couldn’t
had torn through brain, throat, lungs, and more. For Billy’s sake, she wore the
wig: feathery blonde waves like a country star from the 70s. Dolly Parton
without the titties.
“Can’t eat,” Vee said.
“I’ll . . . puke.”
Billy shook out painkillers for her. Maybe
many. If so . . . so what?
If he met her eyes, he’d bawl.
How, he wondered, could I live without her?
Even as a junkie. Deep down, his love was
strong, it terrified him. Made no sense. A shit boyfriend, who lived for crack,
but there was nothing he wouldn’t give her, nothing he wouldn’t do, to save
Or, he thought, to prove his love.
Big deal, so he was hooked on crack!
If she could quit, he could, too. At least
The last car he stole, he nearly got caught.
the rear-view mirror was a cop who’d stopped for coffee.
“Maybe you should change jobs,”
Tiny Tim said, later.
Mr. Ng, the deli owner, was acting suspicious.
looking up at the sky, like the car thief might jump from a plane.
Last night, Billy sat up till dawn, still trying not
to cry. Watching
as Vee mumbled in her sleep.
“But Mom,” Vee said, when he got back from
peeing. “Bill is clean
. . . in his heart.”
He sat down, heavily.
Vee’s Mom was long dead. Was she joining her, soon?
“Know what I’m dying for?” she said,
then. Billy looked around,
“A jelly donut!”
Fuck it!, he thought.
More than ever, he had to get high. Right now.
He raced into the kitchen, tore through cabinets, drawers.
Any stuff he’d had was gone by now.
He would take it, from somebody.
In the dish drain was a knife.
Outside, the sky was pale pink. All had been quiet till
now, but the
rumble of a vehicle pulling up was music to his ears.
From the window he saw the driver leave his white truck
Downstairs, Billy jumped into the truck before realizing
the motor was
off. No keys were in the ignition.
Something sweet, he smelled. Behind him were rows of
boxes. Pastries, cookies. Donuts.
A bakery truck.
“I’m dying,” Vee had said, “for
a jelly donut.”
Was she dreaming? Billy thought. Or . . . rallying? Right
dying people suddenly their old selves? Wanting sex? Pizza?
Get out! he told himself. Before he got caught. Without
couldn’t drive off.
This time he was fucked.
Still, he crawled into the back of the truck, grabbing
box of donuts. One of these, he thought, has to be jelly.
“Hey!” the driver yelled from the passenger
“Busted!” Billy said.
He jerked open the back door, fell into the street.
He was killed instantly. The car that struck him was
doing eighty. Ran
red lights till it hit a bus.
Clumps of Billy struck parked cars, even blocks away.
Bits of brain
and entrails mixed with crushed cake, so his blood seemed thick as jelly. Only
the M.E. could tell the difference.
All over town, lights flashed. Cop cars, ambulances.
The ghouls were
everywhere. By rush hour, some had gone back to sleep.
Upstairs somewhere, a girl woke up starving.
“Jelly Boy” originally appeared
in the 2021 Summer/Fall Issue of
The Raw Art Review.