Lazarus Party

They’d died three times in the last six months.  Billy brought them back.

Tonight’s score was hard won, evidenced by the blood stain on the lapel of Trina’s jean jacket. 

“You were supposed to scare him!” she’d cried, Billy dragging her and the contents of the John’s wallet out of the alley.

“Not everyone gets to come back,” he’d replied, not looking over his shoulder towards the expanding pool of blood beneath the man in pleated blue jeans and a tan windbreaker.

Slim had stayed in the car, a boxy ‘84 Toyota with peeling blue paint.  When he saw Billy hauling a sobbing Tina behind him, he fired the ignition and reached behind to unlock the door.

Billy shoved Tina in first, then slid in beside her and rifled through the wallet. 

“Close to a hundred.  Lazarus party tonight!”

They’d all met at the shooting gallery six months ago, back when Slim was sober enough for a straight job fixing cars and Tina was with him instead of Billy.  Slim and Tina were from Sacramento, but couldn’t remember why they’d left.  Now, they were too poor and strung out to go back.  Billy was from Tennessee.  He’d come to the Bay to work the docks in Oakland.  He didn’t get on with the Union, but managed nonetheless.

After a mechanic found Slim asleep in the bathroom for the third time, their heroin money disappeared, and Tina gravitated towards big Billy.  Billy taught them all how to die, and return.

“Who’s Lazarus?” Tina asked the first time.  She’d asked a lot of questions after Billy told them he’d traded their heroin money for something else.  Why couldn’t he be satisfied with heroin?

“Man who died,” replied Billy, “and came back.  In the bible.”

Fentanyl was for broken femurs and childbirth, and hit a hundred times harder than heroin.  Before Billy, they’d avoided it.  He’d shown them how to smoke it, and how to use the magic of the Narcan inhaler when it hit too hard.  It ended the high, but it brought you back.

Now they had a routine.  They sat in a circle inside the SRO, and Billy tore up squares of tinfoil.  He lined up the Narcan inhalers to the side.  Slim picked one up.

“These things expire?” he asked, holding it up to the desk lamp on the floor.

Billy shrugged, and tapped out a couple grains onto a square of aluminum.  It didn’t take much.  He handed it to Slim.

“You first.”

Billy held the blue flame under the aluminum, and Slim inhaled, immediately falling back against the stained grey carpet.  After five minutes without movement, Tina grabbed one of the inhalers.  Billy slapped her hand.

“Not yet.”

Three more minutes staring at Slim’s unmoving chest, then Billy nodded to Tina, who tore open the package and sprayed the fine mist into Slim’s nose.  Was it casting death out, or pushing life in?

For a moment, nothing.  Then the muscles in Slim’s neck tensed.  He lifted his head, groggy.

“Nice to see you,” said Billy.  “Not everyone gets to come back.”  Tina reached out for the lighter, but Billy turned his back to her and lit his own.  “Don’t end it too soon,” he said.

Twice the size of Slim, Billy inhaled deeply, smiled, then collapsed to the floor.  Tina and Slim stared down at him, waiting.  He didn’t move. 

Slim began to unwrap the second Narcan inhaler, but Tina put her hand on his wrist.  She reached over and picked up the John’s wallet, which had fallen out of Billy’s leather jacket.  A Sears photo of a couple kids with slicked-back blonde hair and white shirts smiled inside a plastic holder.  She opened the billfold, revealing a thick wad of cash.

“Looks more like 600,” she said. 

Slim whistled.  “That’s enough for weeks.”

“Enough to go back to Sac,” Tina whispered, choking back tears.

Billy’s breathing shallowed, and his cheeks turned grey.  Tina looked at Slim, and they both looked at the money.  A silent calculation.

Tina packed up the roll of aluminum, then the wallet and Billy’s lighter. “Not everyone gets to come back,” she said, turning off the lamp on the floor.