A wee picker-upper

The life of a freelance pharmacist.

              More than anything, Jacob wanted to be a better person. He was, as he’d often claim, an anomaly. “You’ve never met anyone like me before and you never will again.” It was the cocaine that made him fall in love with himself and the acid that provoked the crippling self-hatred. The sociopathic lesbian didn’t help much either.

                Mandy was not uncomely, but there was something in her countenance that reminded one of a defective mechanical bull. She could make $100 disappear with nothing but a rolled-up tenner and a hand mirror. She greeted Jacob by waltzing into his flat and crouching atop the Formica kitchen island, hands raised, hollering hellos with a singsong smile. How’d she get inside?
                “Jakey, I’ve missed you.” 
                “Hey, Ma—“ 
                “Hush, darling, sweetie.” Mandy reached across the island and pinched Jacob’s cheeks, her painted lips puckering to smooch the air between them. “You look positively ravishing.” Her unlaced black pleather boots shed flakes of dirt and gravel across the countertop. She alighted with grace no daintier than a hydraulic shovel. Speaking with a received pronunciation and fake falsetto, she said, “why sir, you look utterly parched. May I fix my Lady, err, my Lord a refreshment? A wee picker-upper?” She pulled a bottle of bourbon from Jacob’s cabinet. The plastic cork made a distinctive pop as it ripped from the bottle. Her voice dropped to normal. “You see, I can be a fuckin’ housewife.” 
                “Hey, Mandy. I don’t remember giving you keys.” 
                “Oh, you know, I got my ways.” Mandy poured the bourbon into a wine glass. “So listen, I was just on the phone with my director in Rome. He loves my script. It’s like, four in the morning there right now, you know, but he was so anxious to tell me he loves me, he had to call me right away.” Clutching the wine glass, Mandy took a swig from the bottle. She paused a moment to stick out her tongue in revulsion. Her oversized septum ring,
black like a Chaplin moustache, wiggled with her wriggle of revulsion. “He’s talking budgets already, you know, and wants so badly to get this thing made.” The smell of old cheese rippled the air. It came from the rings in her nose, lips, and plugs in her ears. “He’s thinking, like, half a million.” A Third Reich Totenkopf was pinned to her lapel and a Navajo Pride buckle was latched to her belt.  
                “Jesus, that’s a lot of cheddar.” Jacob scratched a keloid scar on his neck. He was used to Mandy barging in and encumbering him with tales of foreign dealings, and the tone of his voice reflected as such. He hunched over the dirty countertop, prickling at the smell of noontime bourbon and fussing with a package of organic rolling papers. 
                “Yeah, euros,” Mandy continued, “that’s like, triple in Canadian dollars. Not that I care, of course. I was planning on self-funding the whole thing anyway.” 
                “So, I guess you’re—” 
                “For tax reasons, you understand.”
                “—headed out there soon?”
                Mandy’s pointed-arch eyebrows warped. She fished a pink curly straw from a drawer and slurped at the glass of bourbon. “Nah. Hey listen, you got any donations for me, Jakey? Something for me to sling to the kids down at the club? Work up North is slowed down this month.” Jacob was silent, not looking up from the meticulous job of rolling an herbal cigarette. “So I need you to pick up for me. I can’t do it because I don’t do that stuff no more. I’ve been sober for twelve years.” 
                “I’m broke, Mandy.” Jacob licked the edge of the cigarette and pinched it closed. “I gotta pay rent next week.” Her fist smacked his shoulder in a way meant to be playful but sent Jacob skittering for balance.
               “Get bent, rent.” Her cackle sounded a warning bell in his spine. She plucked the joint from the counter and lit it with a clipper stashed in her pocket. 
                The life of a freelance pharmacist: so many friends yet no one to call. Jacob didn’t want Mandy here, but didn’t want her to leave—he was strange, and she was familiar. They’d met in sunny park. The first time he saw Mandy was spread-eagled on a picnic blanket with a plastic fish mask over her face. She called him over because she liked the way the scars on his body marred his tattoos. He liked the way she wore metal, leather, and lace: like she’d taste of oxidation. She said she was making a movie and fed him cat food from a teacup. A few months later their respective fiancés ran away together, and she still hadn’t made a film. She’d been a constant in his life ever since. “Come on, Jakey, baby. Remember, we talked about this,” she said. “We could be in business together, you and I.” 
                “Can we talk about this later?” He glanced at the clock on the wall though the batteries were long dead. His girlfriend was due to show up soon. 
                “You’ll make a huge return on your investment. I’ll give you a cut from my film, too. You know those Italians, they’ll—” 
                “I don’t like doing business in front of my old lady.” 
                “She’s half your age.”
                “I don’t got nothin’, Mandy.” 
                Her eyes had the sheen of spit on asphalt. She knew he was lying. “Jacob M. Blanc.” That spidery voice spelling his name started a high-tone ringing in his head. Whenever she wanted something he felt nonsensically raw. Though she would never look at him romantically, she made him feel like he was naked, standing in a room and screaming too loudly to be heard. The click of approaching heels and a polite knock at the front door startled them both, but Jacob was the one to break eye contact and shift to answer it. Mandy clutched his arm and thumbed the track marks on the inside of his elbow, much in the way a cat might paw at a favourite toy. So strange, so familiar.
                “C’mon, honey. For me.”