Reading Time: approximately 4 minutes
"Rerock" originally appeared in Issue 22 of Tahoma Literary Review. This portrait is a moving depiction of a father and son––a slice of life that leads us to imagine the tragic consequences happening all over North America.
His earliest memory was of caramel, not of actual caramel, but of an imagined caramel that materialized out of thin air and hovered above his father’s head. The kitchen of their Lexington Terrace tenth floor apartment smelled like rat shit and water damage. A wood-tip Black and Mild smoldered in a coffee mug. The boy flicked the light switch and watched the roaches scatter, some of them big enough for him to hear the sound of their thorax rubbing against the linoleum countertops.
“This shit is in your blood.” The boy’s father leaned against the stove. He wore a crisp, white v-neck tucked into burgundy, rayon slacks. Water boiled in a large pot behind him.
“You can’t let it bubble too long,” he said, gathering his long, black hair into a ponytail, pulling it back tight and high on his head. “Lettin’ it cook too long, that’s how you fuck it up. If you burn it, you can’t just start over and try again, feel me? If you burn it, it’s all bad. You understand?”
The boy nodded.
His father’s name was Ray and Ray was the unblinking, all-powerful ruler of their small apartment. His word was law. God was made in his image. Ray took a ziplock bag out of his back pocket and put it on the counter next to an orange box of Arm & Hammer. He opened the top cabinet and came back with a Pyrex measuring cup.
“This shit here is from 1997,” he said, holding out the Pyrex. “That’s important. World Kitchen bought Pyrex in 1998, then switched up the formula, making these joints less resistant to temperature changes and more likely to break on you. This one’s from before they switched up the formula”
3-6 Mafia played on the Aiwa stereo. The Roland 808 hi-hats and bass drops droned on at seventy-two beats per minute.
“Pay attention now. Four parts to one part baking soda. Too much cut, that’s another way to burn your shit. We gone start with four grams. So, how much cut we need?”
“One gram,” the boy replied.
“That’s right. Good.”
Ray put a red, solo cup on top of the digital scale and mashed the tare button back to zero. He emptied the ziplock bag into the cup until the LED display read 4.00, then poured the contents of the cup into the Pyrex. He did the same thing with the baking soda, but stopped when the display on the scale hit 1.00. Stray droplets went over the edge of the pot and dripped back onto the flame with a hiss. Ray used a syringe to measure out 50ml of bottled water into the Pyrex. He mixed it all up with a butter knife, whipping it around the bottom of the measuring cup until it turned into paste.
“Water soluble. What that mean?”
“It dissolves in water,” said the boy.
“Right.” Ray put the Pyrex in the pot of boiling water. “Cocaine is a salt. Salts have high solubility but no volatility. You can’t smoke powder cocaine. So if you try to smoke it before you whip it up, it’s just gone get hotter and hotter until you destroy it. You cook that shit up? Well, now you can smoke it. And what that mean?”
“Boy, don’t answer no question with a question in your voice.”
The boy nodded.
“So, yeah, bioavailability. The membranes in your nasal passages got some surface area, sure. Not like the lungs, though. Lungs got between 500 and 700 square feet to work with. That’s bigger than this apartment. More surface area means faster absorption. Faster absorption means you getting higher faster, and way harder. But that also means it wears off faster. So they gotta come back for more, way more often than if they was just snorting regular powder. That’s pure capitalism, boy. Low opportunity cost for the distributor. Market prices based entirely on taking profits. Weakness and inefficiency can’t survive in that kind of environment. The market snuffs ‘em out.”
The cocaine-baking soda-water amalgam gently simmered, tiny white bubbles breaking the surface like foamy ocean surf.
“You only wanna see steam coming off the top,” he said, whipping the butter knife clockwise around the Pyrex. “If it starts to smoke or turn brown, that means you’re burning it. It could also mean your shit is cut with sugar, but you would know that from the caramel smell.”
The song playing in the apartment was “Break Da Law” from the Mystic Stylez album, released in 1995. Juicy J, DJ Paul, Lord Infamous, Koopsta Knicca, Gangsta Boo, Crunchy Black—all the original members, doing what they do best. The boy loved the record, loved the heavy bass and eerie melodies.
“I’m just tryin’ to give you a skill. If something happens to me, you won’t be lost.”
Break the law. Break the law. Break the law.
“Does it really smell like caramel?” asked the boy.
Ray whipped the knife. The morning sun leaked through the mini blinds in the space between the vinyl slats and burned tiger stripes of light across his tattooed forearm.
“Yes,” he laughed. “It sure do.”
Ray took the Pyrex out of the boiling water and turned the burner off. The boy thought of Twix and Snickers and Milky Ways and Milk Duds. Hunger burned blue in his stomach.
“Can we get pizza?”
The water in the Pyrex had evaporated. Ray took a glass of ice water out of the refrigerator and poured it in.
Ray smiled. “We’ll see.”
“And ice cream?”
Ray agitated the water, shaking the pot gently. “Maybe. I said maybe.”
The boy watched his father work. “I like salted caramel. That’s my favorite ice cream.”
“Listen,” said Ray. “This time we spend together is important. One day I'm gone pick you up, put you down and never pick you up again. And then it’ll just be you against the world. And the world is never gone pick you up. It’ll be all on you, baby boy.”
The boy looked at his fingernails and considered this.
Ray used a spoon to hold the hard, white chunks against the side of the Pyrex measuring cup. He tipped it over the sink, careful to only let the water drain out. Somewhere on the Westside of Baltimore a rooster crowed.