The Needle

I stand at the window and watch him leave. I cannot help it, it seems: my eyes are drawn inexorably to that sturdy, tweed-clad figure with its slight limp. And as always the fact of him leaving, the sound and feel of the hall door shutting, takes something out of me.

He believes I do not care.

Ha! Do not care!

He thought me cold at the reception, cold when I faced his new wife Mary, and smiled, and said all the right things, all the things one says to a newly-married couple. He thought me cold before the wedding, as I watched him fuss with his tie and walk about, nervously, patting his pockets to make certain he had not forgotten the ring.

He thought me jealous.

I was! I was. Sickeningly, furiously jealous. How dare this woman take my Watson away from me, how dare she take my only friend, there are millions of gullible men in London, why my Watson?

Ah, but he is no longer mine. I must remember that. Heaven knows it strikes me every single disparate moment, in the lift of his voice, the brightness of his eyes, the glint of the wedding ring on his hand, the faint whiff of feminine perfume, some floral scent that he loves and that twists me inside, in places I did not know I had.

And it is always now Go away, Holmes, I am a married man now, I have responsibilities. Wedlock has made him cautious, solid, respectable. He cannot risk his life in order to apprehend a criminal. He can no longer stand at my back.

He can no longer stand at my side. He no longer has time for me: it is all his practice and his wife. And his club, oh yes, the club with the respectable staid “normal” men, the men who do not need him. The men who can offer him some semblance of friendship, instead of ignoring him and snubbing him.

Why do I do these things? I do not know.

My childhood—

I must not think of it. No one knows save Mycroft, and even he does not realize the full extent of the damage. Frozen into inhibitions, terrified into silence, the cursed gag tied round my mouth by my parents. My father, lashing out; my mother, holding in. Bruises and blows which I can still recall, can still place a finger on. Here is where he broke my collarbone. He said he did not mean it. That time he did not laugh when I cried out.

Weeks alone in that bare room with nothing but a violin for company. Meals brought in on a tray. Is this the way the British raise their children, by putting them in solitary confinement? Is this the proper and approved way? Children are little animals, they said. They must be neither seen or heard; they might embarrass the guests.

Damn them for what they did to me.

And still the rage burns at my temples. I must not speak, I must not show emotion; I will be mocked. What was it she always said? “Emotions are a weakness to be exploited by the clever.” Ah, yes, Mother: and you always followed your own advice, did you not!

And then, and then Watson calls me a cold calculating machine without a heart. I could laugh, except that I do not really know how.

—And then, most galling, is the pity I see in his wife’s eyes. Ah, Mary, a wise innocent with blue eyes.

Does she know? About—

I do not believe so. How could she?

But she knows something, of that I am sure: and she pities me for it. I wonder what Watson has told her. About the nightmares, perhaps: surely about the cocaine.

He publishes accounts of my ‘addiction’ in magazines!

Ah, Watson, Watson. You have no conception.

It is here now—the needle. It shines in the sun as I turn it over and over in my fingers. Ah, you are brave, Watson; but not brave enough, I think, to come between a dangerous man and his drugs. For I am dangerous, have no doubt. People who have nothing usually are.

Ah, so pretty a toy. Look how the sunlight lights like a burst on the tip; look how the liquid within wavers brilliantly. I have an artist’s eye, that I know. And I like the way my crisp white cuff looks against my skin, up over the crook of my elbow. And I like the purple bruising upon the whiteness of my flesh, and I like the pricks like small dark stabs, and I like the tenseness of the tendons of my wrist as I make a fist, and most particularly I like the crooked blueness of the veins as they bulge, and—

Ah! Ah, God help me—

—And I like the way the red blood drips, one small smooth run of it, like a raindrop or a tear, down my arm after I pull the needle out.

And I like this gorgeous rushing feeling in my brain, beating back the blackness. It is like flying; it is like Heaven; it is a fine substitute for another’s companionship. It speeds the blood throughout my body, it throbs within my brain.

Ah, I am laughing. Or giggling. Does it matter? A sound of morbid mirth, that is all. I lean my head against the coldness of the window-pane; it feels good against my heated, flushed face.

I wonder what he will do when he reaches his little cottage. Greet his wife, enthusiastically no doubt. Kiss her and—

Ah, ah God, this jealousy is consuming me from the inside out. I am nailed to it like Christ upon the cross and like Christ I cannot escape. Were a legion of angels to come I still should not escape, because deep down I do not want to. If I cannot have him I can have my want of him. I want, I want: I am always wanting. I have been weighed on the balances, and found wanting…


My mouth is dry. My eyes hurt. This sunlight burns into me with my drug-widened eyes. I shall draw the curtains. There, that is better. The cocaine is taking every nerve and fiber of my body and tweaking it exquisitely: refashioning it in its own image. A most potent chemical.

Why can it not reach my heart?

I can feel it pumping now, pumping unnaturally fast; I could feel it pumping earlier when I was shaving. After I finally convinced myself to rise, in the hopes that today would be the release from the black fit that binds me.

Not so.

Shaving with the big cut-throat which was one of the few things my father gave to me and not to Mycroft (was that a statement upon his part?), and watching the blueness of stubble on my jaw give way to a neatly-shaven chin. As the blade slid down my throat I felt a sudden unreasonable terror come upon me, and my hand shook and I cut myself. Just a small nick: the Fates favored me. Had I jumped I could have cut my own throat. I have seen some horrible things.

Indeed, a strange cold fear runs always through my veins, along with the cocaine. Fear of what, I do not know: fear of abandonment, perhaps. I shall not suffer myself to be abandoned, no matter who marries whom. I shall not become irrelevant, as I was until the age of twenty: a mere pawn in the game which was a struggle for power in that bleak house in the wilds of Cornwall.

Did he tell that wife of his about my nightmares? “Yes, dear, you must not mind Mr. Holmes; he is a queer card.”

He is mad, whisper all the voices I refuse to acknowledge. You are mad. Madness runs in your family. Look, after all, where your mother ended her life!

Look indeed! A fine scarlet thread of madness binds me, binds me to Watson though he does not know it. An obsession, an idée fixe: something that takes my heart and wrings it dry in cold cruel hands.

A brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as I am preeminent in intelligence. That is what Watson says of me. And indeed, I am not a man known for his sympathy. But I do have feelings, though I fain would deny it. Feelings for only one human being upon this, God’s green earth. One man.

His name is Watson. And he is the one who has abandoned me.




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