The Scent of Death


September 2, 2009 by The Citron Review

by Patrick O’Neil


I’m in a dark, trash-filled alley between tall brick buildings. Two men stand in shadows. I can’t see their faces. I hand one of them money and he gives me a balloon of dope. I look up, there’s a light coming from an open window. I hear music, someone is crying. I’m happy I’m going to get high. I’m in a room stuck facedown between the bed and the wall. I hear someone coming. I want to yell, but I can’t. I’m having trouble breathing. I try to move. Behind me a door creaks open. I can’t turn around. I know they’re standing there. I scream…

Gasping for air I sit up in bed and check to see if I still have the dope in my hand. The room is quiet, the lights are off, the TV is on with the sound turned down. With an annoyed look on her face, Jenny pulls her arm off me and rolls over, never fully waking up. The cat, curled in a ball, looks up and yawns. Then closes its eyes.

I light a cigarette, run my hand across my chin and lay back against the pillow. I’m covered in sweat, the sheets are soaked. I stare at the ceiling. The light from the TV bathes the room in a bluish glow. It’s three in the morning, I’m exhausted, and all I want to do is go back to sleep.

Crushing out the cigarette, I look at Jenny. Her shoulder rises as she breathes. I reach over and touch her. The warmth of her body somehow calming. In the metal box by the side of the bed is a small piece of dope we’ve saved for our morning wake-up shots. I break off half into a spoon, cook the dope, then draw it into a syringe.

Grabbing a belt I wrap it around my arm. Pressing the rig into my flesh I pull the plunger back.

A thin red trickle enters the syringe’s barrel and I quickly push the plunger down, then drop the rig and wait. Nothing – the amount of dope being so small I can’t feel it.

Fuckin useless.

Frustrated, I stumble to the bathroom to take a piss. The medicine cabinet is slightly ajar, my face reflected in its mirror. I stare at myself unable to comprehend who it is I am looking at. I’m unrecognizable. As if it’s me looking out from a different face. Yet there’s a dullness to the eyes. A dullness I’ve seen before.

“Can you identify the deceased?” asked the cop. Even in the morgue I could smell his bad breath as he hovered beside me.

“Yeah, that’s him,” I said looking at the partially covered body.

“Him as in?” asked the other cop who every time he looked in my direction his expression said he wanted to kick the living shit out of me.

“That’s Chris,” I said. Although the only thing that really looked like Chris were the tattoos. With sixty fatal stab wounds, a caved in skull, broken bloodied fingers, and two dull dead eyes staring up from the gleaming stainless steel table – it was hard to actually say that was my best friend lying there dead in the morgue.

Turning on the faucet I run water over my arm and splash my face. On the floor is a towel. I pick it up and dry myself, the smell of stale sweat lingering. I don’t want to go back to bed. I can’t take another night of lying there, staring at the ceiling, listening to Jenny breathe.

Threading my way through the living room, I sit down on one of the chairs and stare at the scuffed wood floor. The cat walks out of the bedroom and rubs against my leg. I pet its head and it looks up. Its tongue appears to be sticking out of its mouth like it’s stuck.

“What’s with the tongue?” I ask.

Blinking big yellow cat eyes, it sucks its tongue back into its head and walks toward the kitchen. Cold, I grab my overcoat off the floor and wrap it around me. My eyelids are heavy and I lean my head back into dark memories.

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I can hear the wind blowing through the trees in the backyard. Footsteps, a dog barking, someone yells and then it’s gone.

“Baby. You okay?” asks Jenny. She’s standing next to me wearing a t-shirt. I can feel her skinny body lean against me as she puts her hand on my shoulder. “What are you doing out here?”

“Can’t sleep babe.”

“It’s cold. Come back to bed,” she says and walks towards the bedroom.

“In a minute.”

The cat runs out of the kitchen licking its lips. Pauses. Looks at me. Then runs after Jenny. The sound from the TV becomes louder and drowns out the wind. I hear the strike of a lighter. Imagine Jenny, cigarette in hand, sitting at the end of the bed playing with her hair, the light from the television reflecting on her face.


What the fuck am I gonna do? Can’t keep doin robberies. Can’t keep shootin dope. Goddamn methadone clinic wanted as much money as it takes to get well. What’s the fuckin difference? One drug for another, and I still gotta come up with cash in the end.


A woman’s face. Her eyes looking up at me as I point the gun at her head. She mouths “No” and there’s anger in her eyes. I feel sick. I think about the dope I just did and want more. But this time I want to feel it. I want to feel it like I haven’t felt it in a long long time.

“What time is it?”

“Its four o’clock babe. Come to bed.”

“I need a smoke Jenny.”

“Well fuckin come get one. I ain’t your servant.”

“I think I’m losing my mind.”

“Babe. Shut the fuck up and come to bed.”


Keep hearin that wind blow and I don’t think I can even get up out of this chair. I need a cigarette though.

“Hey O. G. got any pills?”

“Got some Dolaphine.”

“What you want for em?”

“Two each.”

“Give me ten,” I say and hand him a twenty. As I look into his bloodshot yellow eyes I know he’s trying to beat me, but I put my hand out anyway. Nine fat aspirin looking pills fall into my hand and I stand there holding them with my palm out. “Hey old man. I don’t know what this is, but they sure as hell ain’t no Dolaphine.”

“Thas Dolaphine.”

“Man, this ain’t even codeine. Give me my mutha-fuckin money back.”

Suddenly the old man turns, I feel something pull at my jacket, and I step back spilling the pills onto the sidewalk. Looking down there’s a slice across the front of my leather jacket, the torn lining sticking out through the hole. The old man stands a few feet away, a small knife in his hand.

“You gonna stab me over twenty dollars?”

“I’ll stab you over five,” says the old man. He’s twitching and looking crazy, like he really might be insane.

“Old man, you outta your fuckin mind,” I say and step towards him. A girl with a baby in her arms whose been standing behind the old man yells there’s gonna be a fight. Two youngsters come running over and ask if he’s okay, give me the evil eye and start crowding in. I look across the street. There’s more people coming towards us. I turn around and walk away.

“Yeah motherfucker,” says the old man.

The cat jumps into my lap and I flinch. My bare feet on the hardwood floor are freezing cold, and when I push the cat off and try to stand I can’t feel them.

“Where the cigarettes babe?”

“Here,” says Jenny. She’s wrapped in a quilt watching TV. The blue glow has got her skin looking like she’s dead. Although these days it wouldn’t take much to make either of us look deceased.

“You remember that old man tried stab me?” I ask.

“That old man in the Tenderloin?”

“Yeah, I just thought about him.”

“Why you think bout that?”

“Don’t know.”

Looking down at the bed I can see the impression my body has crushed into the mattress. Two years of lying there nodding away. Cigarette burns dot the blankets. A couple of used rigs stick out from under the bed frame. A full ashtray, an empty Coke can, yesterday’s newspaper, and a book I never read.


I’m gonna die in this fuckin bed.

“You hear the wind?” I ask.

“What the hell are you talking bout?” says Jenny as she runs her fingers through the cat’s fur.

The bed is still damp, the scent of my sweat is everywhere. I take a drag on the cigarette, the smoke tasteless as it fills my lungs.


Wish this fuckin night would end.


Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books) and the forthcoming Anarchy At The Circle K. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Juxtapoz,, The Fix, The Nervous Breakdown, and Razorcake. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles, and is the co-coordinator for the Why There Are Words, Los Angeles reading series. For more information, please visit:


5 thoughts on “The Scent of Death

  1. anna-lisa says:

    patrick, you are a talented realistic writer. creative, quick, sharp. k.o. wants to know how you remember so much of our past lives when few others of us living can remember our names?! keep it up. the publishers will come a’knockin on yer door.

  2. Patti says:

    My life story.You write so that the reader falls into the story, So excellent. I want mpre. You go Patrick. You rock my . Keep up the great work. Love Patti

  3. shome says:

    “You gonna stab over twenty dollars?”

    “I’ll stab you over five,” says the old man.

    Another great piece, Patrick–awesome. Still waiting for the story about the helicopter.

  4. Patti says:

    So true..keep on writting and telling the TAil of a subculture in a Patti

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