Trying to sleep was a joke. I was exhausted, but I was still wired and sweating buckets all day as my body tried to flush out all the poison that had accumulated during the night. The last thing I wanted to do was to go to work, but work I did and managed to get through the night without falling into one of the processors. I was still running at top speed when we knocked off at one. Back home I walked from room to room for hours, cleaning up, straightening things that were already straight, stopping now and then to read something but always too impatient to get far.
About five I decided to go out and find something to eat. I ended up at a breakfast and hamburger place, the kind you go to when you feel like letting your stomach know who's boss. Bad choice. That's the kind of place to avoid when you're hyper. Not only is the food an insult to an already abused body, but the people who work the early morning shift are very sensitive to young men who come in at five o'clock, sweating and drumming on the counter with the catsup bottles. The girl who took my order looked like she had come from one of the farming towns to seek her fortune in the Big City. And God help us there are people who think of places like that as Big Time. She was brown haired, bland and a little greasy. She fit in just fine with the atmosphere and the cuisine and she was about as appetizing. (Ease up. What were you expecting?)
I settled on the milk, eggs and grits. She shuffled around silently, zombie like, getting it together. When I was served she moved to the far end of the counter and watched me carefully in case she should be called on later to give a description. I was still pondering the transparent part of my eggs when Wheeler came in. I was surprised at first, then I remembered he lived within a block of the place.
"What's happenin'?" he said quietly, dropping onto the stool next to me.
"New vistas in self abuse," I said, prodding my eggs with the fork.
"Ah. What do you recommend?"
"Just look over our waitress's apron and I'm sure you'll find something that appeals to you. It's all there. And of course you'll want to try the warm milk. I recommend the 1965, a remarkable vintage."
"Good year," he said approvingly. The waitress struggled down the counter to where we sat and looked at Wheeler expectantly. "What's that?" He pointed to a green stain on her apron.
"That's where I blew my nose."
"Oh...well, I 'm a vegetarian. Give me a waffle and milk. Make the milk warm. Blood temperature." He pulled his lips back to give her a good look at his canines. She dragged herself away again.
"Watch it, she might put a stake through your heart," I warned him. "Did I--"
"They don't have steaks, just hamburgers."
"Did I miss anything at the party?"
"After you left?" He took the milk from the waitress and stared at it suspiciously. "You're asking the wrong person. I more or less went into a coma after I shot the reds. I wasn't too aware of what was going on from then until I woke up a little while ago."
"That surprised me. I didn't know you were into needles. And reds."
"I've only shot up a few times," he said through a mouthful of waffle. "As for reds, well, they're nice sometimes."
"I can't see it," I told him. "I can get down without trying. I need something that will keep me awake."
Wheeler was looking at the glass fronted case of petrified pies and tapping his teeth with his fork. "How can I explain it to a speed freak? I guess it's the kind of temprement you have, the kind of life you have." He turned and looked at me. "Sometimes you want to just...slow things down."
"I'l1 take your word for it. But doesn't it bother you, sticking a needle in your arm? Christ, I'm too squeamish -I couldn't do that if I had to."
"I know what you mean," Wheeler said sadly. "You think about that, and you think it will discourage you from shooting. But it doesn't." He pulled out some money and laid it on the counter. "Gotta go, gotta give Davey a bath and make sure he gets something to eat before he goes to daycare. Glenda's concept of breakfast is a cigarette and a Diet Pepsi on the way to work. Hang loose."
When he was gone the place became intolerable. I went out and stood looking at the dawn falling on the rubble strew empty lot across the street from the diner. It belonged. It fit right in with the bad food and the hopeless waitress, with the garbage on the sidewalk and the young man hurrying home to bathe his son and put iodine on his spike marks. It fit with the surreal red sun hanging on the smoky horizon.