Cocaine #1 / by Alex Williamson

I wrote of silences, of nights, I scribbled the indescribable. I tied down the vertigo.

Arthur Rimbaud


The first time he tried cocaine was at a friend's barbecue. It was the summer of 2004.

A warm, sunny Saturday in July. Twenty or so friends gathered in a garden of a house on a estate in an upwardly-mobile south Cheshire commuter town. They had been drinking since the early afternoon: the blokes standing supping bottles of beer in the garden, the girls huddled behind glasses of wine of the sofa. Always the same-sex segregation.

Before the food was even on the grill, one of their number started passing his stash of coke among his male friends. The men were the sole participants, sneaking up to the bathroom in twos and threes, under the noses of their girlfriends. Clandestine, conspiratorial. They came back down with moist nostrils and jutting jaws, talking in tongues. Much of the food went uneaten, left to the looming wasps.

Up to that point he had resisted the lure of cocaine. He knew how that first taste ended: addiction, psychosis or death. He had seen plenty of nights where others used it. A few cheeky lines before pub and club. He watched them snuffling up white powder off chopping boards and kitchen counters, saw them preen and gurn and check their reflections in the mirror and wanted none of it.  

When people offered it to him at the time he demurred. He was more interested in smoking weed. Coke was the preserve of the uncreative mind, he thought. It made you uptight, shifty. Too narcissistic. Too aggressive. Back then, he liked to go for a lengthy shit in nightclub toilets to upset the coke-heads. He was less-than-sympathetic to their urgency.

That particular afternoon the mood had taken him to try some. He couldn't explain why, but as one by one his friends returned from the bathroom, sniffing and jabbering, he became acutely aware of missing out on something. Something that was happening within his group of friends. Some loosening of his own principles, some experience that may never come again. He thought of the symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud's le dérèglement de tous les sens. Seeking the essence of reality in the disordering of sensation. Or perhaps it was just the beer.

Invited upstairs by two friends, he accepted. They sequestered themselves in the small bathroom. One took a small bag of coke from his pocket and tipped a carefully measured heap onto a shelf. The powder was an off-white colour, lumpy and grainy in texture. It reminded him a little of cream of tartare, and smelt faintly of horseradish.

His friend chopped up the small pile with a credit card, working the powder into three lines. He took a rolled bank note from his wallet and deftly hoovered one up. Exhaling with a sigh, he passed the bank note to his other friend, who followed suit, taking a couple of attempts before handing the rolled note to him like a miniature baton.

As he lowered his head to the shelf, note at his nose like a paper proboscis, he hesitated for a moment, uncertain if this was something that he absolutely wanted to do. Behind him he could hear his friends sniffing alternately. They were very close in the small space of the bathroom. He could feel the warmth of their bodies, their breath on his back. 

Closing his eyes, he moved the note over his line of cocaine and sniffed. Half of the coke fell out, and he hoovered up the scattered crumbs. Then he wet his finger and dabbed up the residue, smearing it against his gums.

A tingling sensation inhabited his right nostril, and as he angled his head back he could feel some chemical substance sliding down the back of his throat. His teeth began to go numb, then his lips, then his tongue, until his face felt partially anaesthetised.

He made to speak, but there was now a delay between his wanting to speak and his mouth carrying out the brain's instruction. The words caught in his constricting throat.

My lips have gone numb, he said to his friends, finally. Mine too, said the other. It's fucking good coke, said the third, tucking his wallet back in his pocket.

They left the bathroom and went back downstairs. As the cocaine entered his bloodstream, he felt his perception begin to telescope. The warm summer light had taken on a hyperreal quality. He had a sensation of floating inside his body, as if he was levitating inside the bathroom and down the stairs, his tread liquid-light and stone-heavy.

They passed through the living room and into the kitchen, to retrieve a beer from the fridge, which tasted different somehow, more synthetic, more organic. As he raised the bottle to his lips he noticed a slight tremor in his arm. His heart was beating so hard that it shook his whole body. 

He had wanted to know what it felt like. He hadn't prepared himself for the sensation visited upon him by cocaine. And now he wanted more. 

He approached his friend and asked him another line. Why not, his friend said. As they passed through the lounge again, one of the women called out from the sofa, Why is everyone going to the bathroom in twos and threes? 

They offered no response, simply hurried up the stairs, and when they got to the bathroom they locked the door. This time his friend seemed to take an inordinately long time to prepare the gear. He begin to panic, expecting a knock on the door at any moment. His chest was vibrating under the heavy beat of his heart

When his friend had finished they quickly snorted the fluffy trails of coke. The second line tasted different to the first, its impact dulled, negligible. He found himself wanting another almost immediately.

When they returned downstairs the women had already departed for the pub. This was an encouraging development. It meant they could now indulge without the attendant discomfort of being watched, judged. They stayed for a few more beers, a few more lines. Eventually a plan was formulated to leave the house. BY the time they left the sun was fading. 

As they walked out of the house and into the housing estate, he realised had forgotten how to walk normally. He could only move languidly, like Mr Soft from the 1980s Trebor Mints advert. He remembered the lyrics with a chuckle and smile. Mr Soft, / How come the world in which you're living is so strange? / Mr Soft, / How come everything around you is so soft and rearranged? He thought about the softness of this new experience, how it was like being wrapped in a big white eiderdown.

He remembered how the band Oasis had referred to the advert in their single 'Shakermaker'. I've been driving in my car with my friend Mr Soft. Liam Gallagher affected a simian gait which rivalled Mr Soft's in its absurdity. As he loped through the estate, he realised that, being a callow youth back in 1995, he'd failed to recognise how copious amounts of cocaine  coloured the lyrics and music of those first two Oasis albums. It couldn't have been any less subtle had they titled the albums Cocaine #1 and Cocaine #2.

I'm feeling Supersonic / Give me gin and tonic. I can't tell you the way I feel / Cause the way I feel is oh so new to me. All your dreams are made / When you're chained to the mirror and the razor blade. Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannonball.

They felt their way into the pub. Someone ordered a round of beers. They sat round a table, sniffing and twitching, drinking their pints. Making endless trips to the toilets. Sweaty and horny, restless.

Speech was beyond him now, so he sat back and listened to the others attest to how fucked they were. He and another friend were wearing sunglasses inside without any trace of irony. Toniiiiiiiight / I'm a rock n' roll star. Behind his sunglasses he could see, but his dilated pupils could not be seen. He needed to take the edge off things. 

One of the girls came in suddenly and asked if they were going to come and meet them. Everyone at the table fell silent. He liked the girl, but by now he was incapable of responding. While he prevaricated, the barbecue host his house took his key out of his pocket, placed it on the table and said, 'Here's my house key. Let yourself in, take your clothes off and I'll be there when I've finished my beer', he watched her storm from the table.

His friends laughed. They ordered another round. And another. Last orders was called. It felt like they'd only been in the pub for five minutes. They bumbled out and stood on the pavement, deciding what to do next. His feet were rooted to the ground. They joined the lengthy queue for the local nightclub. He considered getting a cab home.

Once inside he could barely sit still, found himself pacing around the fringes of the dance floor, lurking and skulking, looking for women. By now the coke appeared to have run out, or at least he wasn't being invited to share anymore. His mind returned to the moment in the pub, what he should have said or done. Interjected or gone after her. Made something of the night. 

By the end of the evening he was sat on a sofa, surrounded by strangers, his money spent, his voice gone, watching a friend dancing with a girl he didn't know, mesmerised by their gyrations. Then the lights came on, and he realised everyone he knew had already gone home.