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by Ada Fetters

My name is Barbara Jean Wyrick. I am an Economics major bound and determined not to go back to the trailer park. My ma paid rent there by selling pills to the kind of people you’d use as a punchline to a ’Merica joke.

My bony face is off-kilter. My hair is cropped close to my head. I’ve got a mouth like a slash and hardly any titties to speak of. I’m in my junior year and, by this point, I can turn my Alabama on and off like a light switch. You’ll never hear me speak, though. You wouldn’t give me no nevermind in meat-space. On Twitter we’d rage at each other, mostly to save face with our own people.

But under the cover of the deep web we’ll share a moment alone, without software.tracker.tool or political friends.

You? Picture this. You’re an upper-middle-class mother of two. You’re the kind of mom with blue highlights in her hair and a tattoo of an isosceles triangle on her inner wrist. You’re the kind of person who declares, “I am not a hipster” with a grin that gives you away. You’ve made sure your seven-year old daughter’s go-to drink is water, and you wear your baby girl in a sling.

Your Internet presence exists in a liberal echo chamber, but you are aware of it. Besides, you live in a conservative school district that provokes ongoing conflict over your daughter’s curriculum.

A year ago, your highlights were bright pink; then a woman hit your car when she glanced down to text her boyfriend.

You were lucky, lucky, lucky. She was only going fast enough to ring your bell and wrench your back. The collision with the guardrail did almost as much damage as she did. You decided to be magnanimous after the concussion wore off and it was clear that her insurance was going to pay up.

A year ago, that pink-haired past-you posted lackadaisical Facebook photos of the rainbow bruises across your back. You turned the photos into a timeline project as the bruises emerged and faded. It was something to smile tolerantly about.

Meantime, your doctor prescribed you Vicodin for the pain. The Vicodin took care of you... maybe a little too well. When the pain in your back subsided, it left an internally glistening visceral WANT that the prescription no longer filled. Throwing a measly ten milligrams of hydrocodone on that WANT was like spitting on a fire, wasn’t it? So you started to burn through your prescription faster than you should.

Now it’s gone. The last bitter white pill swallowed. Now what? You’re at a loss, and you don’t even know where to turn.

Are you going to drive your blue highlights and isosceles triangle down to the city park at two a.m. and hope your pusher arrives before the next cop car cruises by? Will you rehearse your words to a cop and your words to your pusher until the scripts cross each other like figure-eights in your head?

In a bygone era, maybe you would have done just that. Now there’s no need. I can help, honey. The only way you’ll interact with me is via TradeWinds on the deep web. Then email. Then Bitcoin. Then snail-mail.

I sit in my second-hand car in the north-most parking lot of Cosmo Park, running over definitions for Economics 228 and waiting for the man. Well, I’m not waiting for Atar, the man. Atar doesn’t run his own errands. I’m waiting for my connection.

I mostly wait in parking lots. Sometimes it’s the parking lot of the QFC or Walmart. Sometimes it’s The Dancin’ Bare or Leave it to Beavers. In this case, as I said, it’s the north-most lot at Cosmo Park. The east parking lot is close, too close to the playground where teenagers go at night to feel funny and risky and sexy. In the north lot, sodium lights shine on a row of lonely tennis courts with a dark tree-line beyond them.

Headlights flash through the trees. They cruise toward me on one of the pale gravel roads that web Cosmo Park.

The car turns into the parking lot and stops head-in. This is my first clue that something is wrong. My connection, Colt, never parks head-in. Sure enough, the skinny white boy who emerges from the car is a stranger.

I don’t know what happened to the man I knew as Colt. Is he sick? Shot? Incarcerated? Moved up-state? I liked Colt. Still, the less I know the better.

The new guy’s face is fixed in a grin meant to be disarming. It looks manic. His jaw works in the repetitive grind of a tweaker. The guy’s teeth are very uniform, telling me that his parents had money and that he is relatively new to this. His cheeks are hollow but he’s still young. His body is still able to bounce back.

Fear crawls my close-cropped hair as I slink out of my car. I am acutely aware that I’m alone in this parking lot with a tweaker who probably has sixty pounds on me. The distant noise of the highway is the sound of isolation.

White boy yanks the stuff out of his hoodie and shoves it at me. The verdict is in. I don’t like him. I want Colt.

Cellophane shines in the yellow street light. I pick a corner of cellophane with my nails and sniff the heroin. A smell like ketchup hits my nostrils. Gag. The stuff is much sweeter than it should be. Nobody at my level gets pure heroin, but this has been stepped on too hard for my discriminating customers.

“What’s this supposed to be?” I try to hand it back to him. He doesn’t want to take it.

“S’not supposed to be anything,” his smile stretches wider. “Where’s my cash? Listen, girl—” White boy tries to push the stuff on me.

This happens sometimes, when you get a new connection. He cuts the delivery until it’s mostly sugar or God knows what else. Sells the dip-slap mix and keeps the extra to put in his arm or his pocket. That’s assuming no one calls him on it, of course. This kind of hassle is why most buyers in meat-space keep on waiting for their man. If they shop around, they might get the knitted condom who’s standing in front of me.

“Girl, you want to hurry up and give me my money.” His teeth are still showing. He’s a man on a mission, but that mission goes no further than his next high. No real agenda. Not like Atar. Not like me.

My eyes narrow into a squint. My heart is beating so hard I can feel it in my wrists. “Run it down the road or up your arm or back to Atar.” I hold the package out. White boy is powerfully dumb, but it finally dawns on him that the deal isn’t going to happen.

White boy lunges forward, and I don’t wait to see what’s going to happen next. I fling the stuff at his feet, swing my skinny rear into my car, slam the door and hit the gas. His hand smacks the window near my head. He’s yelling something. It all sounds like “Ya-ya-ya” to me. There’s a thunk in the car door, a knee or hand or a missed grab for the handle.

Gravel grinds under the tires as my second-hand car accelerates. This is why I park head-out. This is exactly why. My headlights are off. Once I get past the tree line, he won’t be able to tell where I am. I hope.

I navigate Cosmo’s gravel roads by moonlight, cursing out white boy under my breath. Every few seconds, I glance at my rearview mirror. Sweat prickles my palms, my armpits, the backs of my knees, my hairline. By the time I’ve gone through my repertoire, I’m back on blacktop. Other late-night drivers cruise around me. A posse of frat boys swaggers down the sidewalk to my right.

I pull up to a red light. I am finally calm enough to call Atar, the man up the chain, to inform him that we’ve got a problem. At first Atar swears at me in Pashto but the truth is, he doesn’t want this window-licker making trouble for me and his other reliable sellers. We bicker back and forth for a while. Atar promises a delivery tomorrow night.

What did you think? I was going to turn this into a shootout? Hell. This is what my economics professors call a personnel issue, not a feud. No need to make it what it isn’t.

No knife-wielding tweaker jumps out of the bushes at my apartment building. I am sweaty and wired.

After locking my door I glance from my laptop to my Economics 228 reading for tomorrow — “Water as a Scarce Resource” — and back. I opt for what pays tuition. Unlike my car, my computer is new: translucent white, about the width of my finger when closed. Inside it is a fearsome engine up to the task of editing audio-visual presentations on macro-economics and selling narcotics on the deep web from a cloned IP address.

The screen glows. My email filter picks essential questions out of each message and presents them to me inside of slick, incandescent green bubbles that drift up through a watery black background.

For a moment I stare at the hypnotic green bubbles. I slow them until they’re moving through heavy oil, not water. Then I reach into the depths with my cursor and pop one of them.

Yours, in fact. You know me as one of the myriad vendors on TradeWinds. TradeWinds is a site on the deep web. It is a bazaar of drugs and other services, open for business 24/7. Think of it as the eBay of narcotics.

This is how our lives intersect. While Ma Wyrick paid rent by selling pills to white trash, I pay tuition by selling heroin to people like you.

You heard about me from “a friend.” Nothing like word-of-mouth referrals to grow a business. You downloaded Tor and set up a Bitcoin account. You delayed for a while, putting off the inevitable.

Then you found yourself snapping at the kids. Your familiar clothes itched all over: everything from your canvas sneakers to your silk panties. You wrung your hands and nearly lost your wedding ring down the bathroom sink. The light through your curtains gave you headaches. You couldn’t sit still. Finally, your mind started telling you that your old back pain from the accident flared up. You could hardly lift your baby girl, let alone wear her on your hip.

That was the last straw. No way you’ll miss out on motherhood, you told yourself. You had to do something in order to function.

So you finally headed to TradeWinds on the deep web, where you quickly found my vendor site. I’ve crafted it just as carefully as the owner of an indie coffee place crafts its ambiance. I’ve customized my TradeWinds vendor site to look professional and friendly, with colors and textures mimicking a brick-walled basement bookstore. You’d click away from something that looked like a poster for an acid-rock band. This is too serious for that. I get it.

My niche market wants to feel like teenagers in a playground after dark. You want to feel funny and sexy and a little risky... but not dangerous or illegal. Maybe you’d even vote to legalize narcotics but, until that happens, you don’t want to think about people like Colt and Atar and whatever scary boss-man stands behind Atar.

My customers don’t want to wait for the man. They are used to charming indie retail and expect personal attention. I’m happy to oblige, hon. I’m as indie as it gets.

Within an hour of your query, you get a response. Now, I don’t have a lot of time — Miss Barbara Jean Wyrick, the Economics major, has got that “Water as a Scarce Resource” article to read and analyze — so what you’re going to get is a form letter. You won’t know it is one, because I take a minute to customize the details.

I educate you. While the price of Vicodin — I don’t call it “pills,” not to you — is about the same wherever you go, there is another option. It is more powerful and less expensive than what you’re used to. A better value all around.

My man Atar just better make sure his next pudding-stencil errand-boy delivers my goddamn heroin, but you will remain blissfully unaware of this.

What you get from our email exchange is that your stuff will arrive via post in three to four business days. You appreciate that I offer to throw in a free hit of Vicodin — I refer to it as a “dose” in my email — with your heroin so you can compare.

That is how you, blue-streaked mother of two, purchase heroin from the deep web. It beats breaking your hand on your granite countertop for a Vicodin prescription to fix that WANT.

That is how I, Barbara Jean Wyrick, pay for tuition, room and board. It beats shaking my white-trash titties at Leave it to Beavers.

You and I, we’re rescuing each other from a predatory world. I’m a friendly Internet presence in the deep web. Honestly? I’m tempted, for a moment, to include more than a form letter. I’m tempted to really connect with you, mother from another world. It pricks my conscience. I know the rest of the story. Maybe I don’t know the details, but I know the shape of it the way I know the shape of Colt’s story. I’ve been around this business since I was in diapers, remember.

So instead I send my confirmation form letter to congratulate you on your first purchase. Aren’t you a thrifty shopper!

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Fetters

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