flash nonfiction

Street People – Portraits of the Opioid Crisis by Sally Quon

Street People – Portraits of the Opioid Crisis | Sally Quon


Marianna is on the street tonight.  She has a bed, but there are times when her psychosis is too big to be contained within the shelter walls.  For the sake of the others, she is sent out.

The street is not a safe place for any woman, maybe especially for Marianna.  She’s an easy mark and her boyfriend, Silver, likes to beat her.

Marianna carries on a constant conversation with herself.  I try to engage her, but she doesn’t respond until I ask, “Who did this to you, Marianna?”

She looks me in the eye and says with perfect clarity, “I’m no snitch.”

After a moment, her private conversation resumes.

If you were to listen closely to the words Marianna says, you’d be horrified.  That didn’t really happen, did it?

I don’t know.  It doesn’t really matter.

It’s real to her.


Abel leans against the counter in the washroom.  His face is marked by dozens of open sores.  Some say the sores are a result of a compromised immune system, others think it’s poor hygiene, and still others think it’s just the body doing its best to expel whatever toxins it can.

Abel thinks it’s because the other residents pour acid on his face while he’s asleep.  He often slips to the floor and sleeps underneath his bed to keep it from happening.  That’s also the only way to prevent shelter staff from casting spells on him.

But it’s not Abel’s face that is causing him concern today.  He has an open safety pin, and he’s using it to dig around in his forearms.

He’s trying to get the worms out.


She’s not the most beautiful girl in the room, but she’s close.  What Lucy’s got that the others don’t is that spark behind her eyes, a personality that overflows, that won’t be contained.  She’s sweet, she’s funny, and everyone wants to be her friend.  She’s fresh and new.

Lucy can’t even put the needle in.  She gets someone else to inject her – doctoring, they call it.  She’s so afraid that she looks away, and squeals when the plunger goes down.

“I’m trying not to do it anymore,” she whispered to me.

“As long as you can stay away from the needles…” I know that I’m wasting my breath.

“I hate needles.”

“So why do them?”

“These people,” she waves around the injection room, “are the social elite of this place.”

I give her a look.

“The truth is,” she says, “I was hooked before I ever used a needle.  The first time I saw someone do a shot and have an orgasm on the floor.  That’s why I do it.”

Lucy, I want to say, there are better ways to have an orgasm.  Ways that won’t kill you.

But she’s already walking away.


The drugs kick in. The needle drops to the ground.  Shawna’s eyes are half-closed; she stretches, cat-like, and her hands begin to move over her body.  This is the dance of an addict. It’s sensual, a ballet.  Shawna moves slowly, deliberately, naked pleasure on her face.  She is strong, beautiful.  She is a child, half-wild.  Writhing in her chair, she slips to the floor, her body twisting and bending, shuddering with ecstasy.  I am embarrassed to watch – I am a voyeur, unable to look away.  It’s not that I get turned on watching Shawna use, although maybe I do, a little.  I just want to know what it feels like.  I imagine it.  It scares me.  It thrills me. 

About the Author:

Sally Quon is a dirt-road diva and teller of tales, living in the Okanagan. She has been shortlisted for Vallum Magazine’s Chapbook Prize two consecutive years and is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including Chicken Soup for the Soul—the Forgiveness Fix, BIG, Straightening Her Crown, and When Home is Not Safe. Her personal blog, is where she posts her back-country adventures and photos.