“Did you get it?” I'd ask “Did you get The Look?”
“Nah, don't think so,” she'd say. “She was normal. Just miserable”
“Hm... Ok. Try the next one. If it's the man with the swept over hair you'll definitely get it from him.”
“Won't you come in with me?” she'd say.
“No, he knows me. He won't give The Look if I'm there. You never get it when they know you. When they know you you get something else, something like the shutters coming down and a pump action shotgun being cocked.... You'll learn about that later. For The Look, that works on an air of complete and utter surprise. You'll have to go in alone for that.”
Anne came out the pharmacy shaking her head in vain. I gave her a curious look. “And you was served by the moron with the pigeon wing of hair?”
She nodded. “He served me like anyone else. I'm starting to wonder if The Look even exists,” she said “or if it's maybe some kind of a problem with me?”
“Oh it exists!” I told her, “but it's a subtle thing, like when US Presidents shapeshift on Youtube – you have to be receptive of it. We'll hit the next one together. You just stand by and watch.”
The next pharmacy was a little affair in a gentrified part of town. It was wedged in nicely between a family owned bakers and an organic greengrocers which sold mostly cherries and pumpkins. I peered in through the pharmacy window, around the cardboard cut-out display of a beaming family all off their heads on garlic pills. Behind the counter was a young pharmacist, natural blond hair, PH neutral skin and a neck which looked like it would smell of peppermint drops. I turned to Anne and nodded. “Perfect,” I said.Then: “How do I look?”
“Great,” said Anne, fixing my shirt collar and stroking my jumper down flat and respectable. She straightened herself, ditched her cigarette, and followed me in, the two of us looking like liberal bank workers or people with money pretending we had none. When the young girl heard us talking in English she glanced up and sang a big friendly “Bonjour!”
“BONJOUR!” we both replied, looking around and pointing like we were in a church or something.
Standing at the counter I looked into the pharmacist's polished enamel teeth, her young elastic lips, and then her clear helpful eyes as she positioned herself in preparation to concentrate on some heavily accented french.
“Erhm, I'd like some 1 mil syringes, please?” I asked, candidly. I watched as her smile disintegrated, furrowed like a brow and struggled to stay curved the right side of Customer Service joy. Her eyes widened as if she was trying to breathe through them.
“Pardon? What???” she asked, having heard perfectly but taken aback.
“Some 1ml syringes,” I repeated “I'd like five Steri-Boxes.”
“Yes, FIVE... I've got loads of drugs!” I quipped, milking it and standing basking in my own idiotic cleverness.
I paid with a note. The pharmacist pushed the boxes of needles my way and dumped the change down in a saucer on the counter so as to avoid the slightest risk of accidentally touching my hand. Then without uttering the customary “Bonne Journée!” she disappeared out back – probably to have a full strip-down disinfectant scrub.
“There, did you see it! Did you see IT!!!” I cried excitedly to Anne, as we left the shop. “Now That was The Look! A good one too. Did you see it?”
Anne looked at me like I was losing my mind. She said she hadn't seen a thing, that the girl had served me as normal, had been indifferent all the while, and then went about her business. “Whaaat???” I asked in disbelief. “She gave me The Look... she gave us both The Look! God, are you seriously saying you didn't see it?.”
Anne shook a no from her head. I put the needles in my bag and thought, “maybe she's right... maybe there is something wrong with her.”
- - -
It took a while, almost a year, but finally Anne did come to recognize and bask in the magical properties of The Look. She saw it just as clearly as I – sometimes even seeing it when I had not – straight-laced pharmacists shocked into a state of confused incompetence, the human animal within them struck dumb, on pause, the mouth slung open and the brain struggling to control the eyes whenever we said the word “syringes”. Not that the word in itself was so shocking, it was more trying to marry the word with the people stood in front of them: me in classic pin-stripe shirt and jumper, and Anne in smart professional town wear, both well groomed and speaking in the Queen's own tongue.
Getting The Look became a game to us, something we'd do to jolly up our day or give it a little taste of adventure. On a whim we'd whip into a chemists and ask for needles, both of us watching eagerly to see whether or not we'd receive The Look. It was something akin to buying a scratch card or chucking a dime in a one-armed bandit, that mystical thing which could dictate if we'd have a lucky day or not:
Get The Look = winning ticket/good day.
Not getting The Look = losing ticket/average to lousy day.
Some weekends we'd even rise early, dress in our best clothes and travel around the city trying to procure The Look. Thinking back now I remember holding hands and running and laughing, and somewhere the sky was blue, life was in the air and we sucked it down without the slightest fuss.
The problem was that whenever we were canvassing The Look it mostly always took place during a very specific period of our lives. It would be that period where we'd be having a prolonged break from heroin, after having paid off our debts, having brought a new wardrobe of clothes, after having caught up with all the latest books, films and music, then suddenly having nothing much to do or buy – money building up in the bank, and at home a stock of clean needles gradually building up in the bedroom. It always started with the needles and then progressively other things would creep in: listening to the Heartbreakers; watching heroin DVDs and punk documentaries; looking at our old junk photos; reminiscing about scoring and the characters we'd met. Some nights we would get teary eyed with happiness and nostalgia, and even the couple of bouts of sickness we had shared together we built up into a tremendous feat, laughing and grimacing at how torturous those days were. That's how it always started. Then the hats and scarves would come out, the loose round tops, exposed necks and love bites, cuts, perfume that smelled of centuries old musk. We'd triple our methadone doses and wander around the city. We'd, sit outside cafés, visit chemists, go home, chuck the needles with the others and spend the evening watching more of the same heroin films. From that point on it was never long before Anne would arrive home one day and I'd say: “I've got a surprise!”
She would know what it would be; any other surprise would have been a huge disappointment.
“Where is it?" she'd ask.
“In the kitchen,” I'd tell.
“Is it any good?” she'd shout through, sitting down at a syringe and spoon laid table.
“Oh, it's not bad,” I'd say, my mind drifting away behind world heavy eyelids.
“Oh yeah, it's good!” she'd say. “Fuck, it's so good.”
Coming out of reverse we'd start in first gear: heroin once or twice a week. By the end of the month we'd be raising an hour earlier each morning so as to get a decent fix before leaving for work. Slowly our stock of needles would whittle away, our cash too, and six months later we'd be scraping around for a quid to buy new works. At that point needles were never bought for fun but out of pure necessity. The Look could go fuck itself – and anyway, it was quite obvious from the burnholes in our clothes and the dried blood in our fingernails just as to what ends we were doing in the chemists.
It would have been around that time when we'd begin to postpone our rent, juggle the electricity and water bills, stall paying just about anything we could, post off hard luck stories telling of deceased relatives and asking for special permission to pay in instalments, sell our DVDs, take loans out from the bank, and invent surprise costs so as we could wheedle money out of Anne's parents. When you're at that stage in the game you visit the ATM machine with a Bible and your fingers crossed, 'insufficient funds' about the best result you're likely to get. And because of all the bad cheques we'd been cashing (saving the real money for smack) it was never too long before our bank cards could no longer take the strain and sought refuge inside the cash machine. As mine had a lower overdraw limit than Anne's it'd always be the first one to go, signalling the moment to begin battening down the hatches and preparing ourselves for the inevitable H bomb which would follow. We'd start regulating our methadone intake, rationing out what we had and swallowing a dose every three days so as when Anne's card would be finally recalled we wouldn't be left completely fucked. For a while we'd struggle on like that: using methadone, but always thinking of heroin and scoring whenever we could.
Then one day I'd say: “I need new shirts... I've no fucking shirts!”
And Anne would say: “I need shoes! I can't go to work in these... the fucking heel's hanging off!”
And I'd say: “The electricity’s gonna get CUT OFF! Maybe we should take care of that first?”
For a month we'd loaf around the apartment depressed and thinking of heroin. We'd score obly very occasionally and not really enjoy it when we did. Then when we were paid we'd find an extra ounce of resolve, knock back a double dose of methadone and instead of going out to score we'd go out shopping. We'd buy shirts, shoes, belts, socks, scarves, skirts, CD's, DVD's, new music, magazines. We'd reload, reculturalize, and rebuild relations with our landlord, our bank manager, the in-laws, and the outlaws. We'd take all the used needles to the exchange dump and leave without taking any freebies. Soon we'd be back in the cafés, back doing weekly shopping, in and out of changing rooms, and arriving home with all manner of gadgets and accessories for the apartment. And then one day, on a whim, walking around in our new clothes with bags from Zara, H&M and Mango, I'd duck into a pharmacy and return smiling.
“Did you get it?” She'd ask. “Did you get The Look?”
And I'd say: “Yeah, I got it! Dressed like this how could I not!”
And she'd say: “It's not fair! I want The Look... I want The Look too.”
And I'd look at her, with eyes when love was new, and I'd say: “Go get it, My Love... Go knock 'em dead!” And she'd know, we'd both know, that this was life and it was about to start again...
My Thoughts & Wishes to All, Shane. X
Dedicated to Anne Spieswinkel