White sheets, blanket, walls. No pictures, no mirror. An old cupboard, dark wood. Familiar disorientation. He is snoring curled up on his side of the bed, hugging the pillow. The sun is bright behind gray curtains. The air is cold when her naked feet touch the ground. She pauses at his side. Dark curls hang over his forehead, one lock swinging in sync with his breathing.
She reaches behind the curtain, the glass door opens with a creak. Her toes sink into the thin layer of snow outside, the sharp coldness welcome. She blinks against the winter sun, breathes in the icy air that makes the nipples of her breasts peak up, dark against her pale skin. A fat woman wearing a pink bathrobe stares from a balcony across from her and shakes her head, cigarette hanging from her lips. She smiles and nods. The woman removes the butt and mouths words of outrage, the sound not carrying over. She blows the fresh snow from the railing. A small cloud of glittering white dust floats through the air, sinking down past rows and rows of windows and balconies. When she looks up again the woman has left.
His apartment is tiny. A crammed bathroom. A narrow hallway. A table with a single chair in the kitchen. The refrigerator is nearly empty. She drinks what is left of the orange juice. Thousand small needles in her skin. She thinks about getting a shower. But then she squeezes into the yellow dress from last night, stiff with dried sweat, and throws over the white down jacket, lined with fake fur.
His jacket hangs on the only hook next to the door, covering a pair of crutches leaning against the wall. Her fingers run over the cold metal rods, wondering. She checks the pockets of the black leather jacket and indeed: he left his wallet. Silly boy. Half of the crumbled notes vanish in her own pocket. Barely enough for the subway.
The snow on the walkway between the towering apartment blocks is already melting, tiny rivulets of water under her naked soles. The white high-heels swing from her fingertips. Before she turns into the next street she takes a look back at the dirty yellow concrete building, squints against the bright cloudless sky to find the window. It is lost among the other hundred ones.
Brown stained walls. The same haunted eyes in the same hollow faces. The smell. She grips the nail in her pocket, presses the tip against her palm. She knows she should have left it where it belonged, lying on a dusty beam, glittering in the dark.
Two more in front of her. Boots shuffle to the side to let one pass. Then the door opens again. Her turn.
Hands in her pockets. She does not look up until she is seated. The pair of blue eyes widen under dark curls. She stares at them, memories flashing.
“Where is Karl?” She manages to make her hoarse voice sound aggressive.
His pale skin blushes beautifully, he swallows convulsively. He is cute but even in the nurse uniform he looks young. How the fuck did she end up in his apartment that night? Two weeks ago, three? Shit… she squints at his name tag. Noel.
Noel finds his voice at last. “I-I… I-” He bows his head, his lips pressed together.
Oh sweet god, what is this? Is he trying to confess his love for her? This is why she never meets them again. And why she never chooses them so young. They become attached too fast. She wonders what might have happened that night.
The nail’s tip breaks skin, pain searing up her arm. She is screwed if they find out and still, she has to force herself to keep from smiling, closing her eyes for a second. She wills her hand to unclench around the small object, presses her palm against the soft fabric of the inner layer of the pocket. Blood is slowly soaking through, a small warm spot against her thigh.
“Okay, kid, let’s get it over with, won’t we?” Her legs jump up and down, the drum of impatience.
Noel’s eyes fly up, then turn down again. Trembling hands shuffle around with papers on the desk between them. She snatches one from the heap. His first day, probably. Sure it is, she would not have gone with him that night if she had known he worked here. She suppresses a cynical chuckle. Of course this would happen to her, of course.
“That’s the one, sweetheart. You don’t need to read it to me, thank you very much.” Hell, she does not need to read it herself, she knows every single one of the damn black letters printed on it. She fills the blank spaces with her left hand, the right hiding in her pocket. The pain has focused to a glorious throbbing in her palm. She does not want it to stop.
She shoves the sheet across the desk. He fucking takes his time reading.
“N-not your l…left,” he finally says, pointing at the bottom line. Her eyes wander to where his index is sitting, quivering, on her signature.
“What’s the problem with that?”
“You are not l…left-h-handed.” He blushes again, eyes turning down.
What the fuck is wrong with him? She stares at him, like that alone will make him give her what she needs. Her heels are drumming on the floor, double-bass, sweat is running down her back, bile is collecting in her throat. She does not think she can stand it much longer.
He looks for a long time at the red blotch smeared across the second signature. He is required to ask. But he says nothing.
She takes today’s pill as soon as she steps outside of the building. It tastes of copper.
Her grip is firm around cool metal and her toes find space on the smallest ledges. Her fingers know their way in the dark, feel along sharp ridges and smooth planes. She gets lost in the rhythm, blood rushing in her ears, drowning out everything else, everything she cannot stand to hear. Until she has reached the top. The noise of the cars rushing past below her has dimmed to a hum so distant she can hear the scream of the sea gulls above it. For a moment she imagines she is one of them, flying high above the stench, the flashing lights and impertinent honks that are the city.
Every day has been sharp in her memory since she met Noel again. Blue days in a row. Her hands are balled in her pockets, closing around nothing and longing for something more than fingernails buried in flesh. The sweat of those standing in front of her is acid in her nose. It is nearly impossible not to bolt. But she cannot skip, not once.
Noel’s eyes turn away first, his cheeks only slightly pink this time. His hands flutter to the stack of papers, finding the right one at once. She fills it out like always.
“I-I-… I have to take a sa-sa-sa-….” He stops himself, Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows.
She sighs, knowing a little more by now. “Bring it on.”
He struggles briefly putting on the gloves, the latex stubbornly sticking together. She watches his white clad fingers rip open the package, slowly unscrew the lid of the plastic vial and pull out the swab. His hand jerks, but the tiny cotton tip does not touch the plastic. His features light up in a triumphant grin before they fall again when he faces her. His eyes are pleading.
She sighs again and opens her mouth. She wonders why he never addresses it. At least the money, he must have noticed it was missing. He does not look like someone who would not. Noel leans forward over the table and sticks the swab between her bottom cheek and teeth. It trembles slightly as he rolls it around. A pearl of sweat glitters on his forehead.
He retrieves the swab and stores it in the plastic vial, brows knit in concentration. He secures the screwing lid with slow, careful motions. A small sigh escapes his pink lips and he smiles at her.
She shrugs, the taste of dust remaining in her mouth, and glowers at him. “Are we done now?”
Noel nods and slides a plastic bottle over the table. The pills rattle in her pocket on her way out, telling their own story.
The stones are cold and rough under her hands, each little one pricking her skin. A quick look before she climbs over the wall, aiming at a small ledge on the other side, a slight setback where the stone wall meets cement. She turns and slides down with her back against the wall, settling into the small space, a mold in the stone like it was made for her, legs hanging over the edge. Her boots are weighing heavy on her feet, pulling. Following the urge, she leans forward, a fraction, and looks down, the surge in her stomach so powerful it is nearly too much to bear. To her feet the graying nothingness, fading into black with the vanishing sun. She inhales. How long until one hits the ground?
The rush of water carries up to her along the steep cement wall. The wind gushes around her, growing stronger with every minute. In the cloudless sky above her tiny lights start to twinkle weakly, endlessly far away. She rubs her hands over the rough fabric of her jeans, warming them, and leans her head back against the cold stones. Peace.
When she comes back home she is already waiting behind the door, smiling, remembering her.
Noel’s presence a regularity. There is not much talk, most of the time. Sometimes she wonders how much he remembers of that night, if anything at all, because he keeps stubbornly silent about it. Alas, he is not a busy talker anyways. This week his slightly thick voice, as if he always has a cold, reaches her already at the entrance door. Unusual. Her fingers slide against the cracked glass, let the door shut softly. The hallway is nearly empty, the door to his office only half-closed. It is too early for most.
“I-I am s-s-sorry, I c-c-c-can’t do anything for you. This is a policy.”
“Tell me nothing about policy, cripple. I am here to get my fucking dose today and I will get it. I don’t care what you have to say to that.”
Her hands dig in her pockets, searching.
“I h-have to ask you to leave now.”
“Oh, you do? Do you know where I’ll shove-”
Empty fists. “Is there a problem?”
She does not know his name but she remembers having seen him here before. Same height like her but built like a bull. Fleshy neck. No hair. He is leaning over the desk across from Noel, his nose nearly touching the boy’s, one hand grabbing his shoulder. The bull does not even turn. Noel’s eyes flicker towards her, the blue bright with fear.
She waits next to the door. The bull is not going to risk his place in the program. He knows he cannot do anything with a witness present. He huffs into Noel’s face and straightens up, abruptly. “Fuck you.”
As he is about to pass her his shoulder bumps into hers. The pain is dull as she crashes into the wall.
“Cunt,” he hisses into her face, one fist next to her head. She does not blink. His eyes are raisins in an uncooked dough. His fist hits the wall with a loud thud and over his shoulder she sees Noel flinch. “You are going to regret that.”
Flakes of paint are falling from the ceiling when he slams the door shut. She grins as she takes place on the chair, her cheeks aching from the unusual exercise. “Good day?”
Noel rubs his face with shaking hands and exhales. “F-Fuck…”
“They are usually harmless. The lucid ones, that is. I would not want to be here when he comes back in… say a day or two.”
She squirms in the wooden seat and clears her voice. “Can we move on, darling? Hazard of the job. Next time better read the small print.”
He scowls at her and his fingers flex over the papers on the desk. “Hm… Thanks f-for that r-right there...” He flashes a document in front of her eyes. “Yours is c-c-c… clean.”
She claps her hands in mock joy. “Yeeeah! Did I win something?”
He grins tiredly and shakes his head at her mildly as he slides the pill bottle over into her waiting hand. As she stands to get out she spots his crutches on the floor behind the chair he is always sitting in. They seem as permanent as his stutter.
She finds a small, smooth stone, with a white streak across its black surface. She brings it to her and she places it on the window sill. She cooks because she forgot to, while she sits at the window and looks outside.
“K-karl says you are s-s-supposed to... um…”
“I’m supposed to what?” She crosses her legs at the ankles, tips the chair backward. Studies the bowl of sweets on the table. “Did you buy them?”
“Um what? Oh… yes.”
The chuckle is rough in her chest, stones rolling over each other. What does he think this is? An ambulance, with magazines in the waiting room and smiling doctor’s assistants? It is a little bit adorable, though. She digs her hand in, fishes some of the sweets out and dumps them in her lap. Unwraps the colorful plastic wrapping, the material crackling sharply.
He scowls and tries to rescue documents from getting squished under her boots on the table, to no avail. “Um…”
“You did something with your hair.” She squints at him as he settles back and tucks a strand behind his ear.
He blinks, folds his hands on the table, the trembling fingers pressed together. “It’s c-called a hair-cut,” he almost snaps, but looks oddly pleased.
It is good on him, he seems older, still cute though. She pops a sweet in her mouth. “Oh… hmm! You ever tried one of these?”
“No…” Scowls again.
“Take one. Really. They are good.” The small wrapped sweet rolls until it hits his left hand. One finger twitches violently.
“Um… b-back to w-what Karl says. The c-c-c…” He turns his head away as the sound repeats in his throat, his cheeks coloring pink.
“Hm?” She faces him square on, mouth full of sticky sweetness, eyebrows lifted.
He swallows and his hands curl to fists for a second before he splays them flat on the table’s surface. “There is a free space at the… h-hospital. Y-you need to fill out the applic-c-c… fuck!” He presses the heels of his hands against his forehead, exasperated.
She swings her legs from the table, the chair coming back on his four legs with a bang and he jumps, squinting at her. Angry.
“I know,” she says, placing empty wrappers on the documents in front of him in a small heap.
“So… are you g-g-going to? I c-c-can h-help you.”
She is already at the door. “You know that I know how to write, don’t you?”
He nods hesitantly.
“So, what would I need you for?”
Blinding lights and a shout above her head, she slips closer to the edge than ever. The world shifts for a moment, tilts, alluring, frightening, before she finds purchase. Her heart races in her throat and she scuttles back ratlike, her fingernails clawed into the rock, her back pressed against the sharp edges of the wall, bright dots dancing in front of her eyes. What happened?
“Security! Get up here this instant!” A man’s voice, deep, a practiced shouter.
She freezes against the cold stone.
“I have a gun aimed at your head and I won’t ask again.”
She has seen birds soaring down the cement wall, uncaring. But she does not have wings. “Turn the light somewhere else, asshole.” Her voice hoarse from lack of use.
It is dark, but only for a second. The light is back when she has inched into standing and turned, her hands on the edge, the nothingness in her back. A hand closes around her wrist and a rough voice bellows: “Fucking bitch! What were you doing there, eh? Trying to get yourself killed? Jump next time, gives me less work.”
Her knees catch on the sharp small stones in the wall as he roughly pulls her over it, jeans ripping open and pain flaring up. She struggles to her feet, faces him, baring her teeth. “Let go of me,” she spits, all muscles taught.
Metal blinks, a silver badge on his uniform. Indeed security but there is no gun. He holds her away from him like a drowned cat, his huge hand a vice on her slim upper arm, directing the flashlight with the other. She squints to see past the blinding brightness, tiny black eyes glinting, his mustache quivering. Although her eyes water in the light, she catches the hunger in his face.
“Not so fast, little rat.” His voice is suddenly sweet, cooing. She nearly gags hearing it. “Gotta call the police. Report them of birds wanting to fly over the wall.” He grins at her involuntary gasp, revealing a row of yellow teeth. “Or…”
She tries to run but he holds her easily, his fat body vibrating against hers as he laughs.
“Where is Karl?”
His face flickers through the channels of emotion, hurt, disappointment, sadness.
He blinks, his lips part, chokes on two words until he manages to spit the third out. “Sick.” His hands have stopped over the document, gnarled fingers curled halfway towards the paper.
There is a moment of worry, a brief stab of panic and she knows he has seen it in her eyes.
He sinks back against the support of the chair, sighs. “N-not w-w-w-what you are thinking,” he says, his voice low, barely more than a whisper. A bad day. “Flu, m… maybe.”
Maybe. She can see through the lie as clearly as through the bottle of water on his table.
“So… he is going to be okay?”
Blue eyes blink at her. He understands. “Y-yes.” Truth, this time.
There is a dent in the table where before there has been none. Has the bull been here again, lately? Noel looks fine, though. He is doing a not too crappy job, for a beginner. She still wishes Karl were here. He is the only reason she is here and not somewhere else. Or nowhere.
“I-I h-have the f-f-f-forms.” He pushes the papers lying in front of him forward, timidly.
She does not take them.
“Please?” A whisper.
She rolls her eyes at him and snorts. “God, only because you beg so nicely.” She attempts to snatch them from the table but he is faster, fingers gripping the other end with surprising strength.
“You c-c-can f-f-f-fill them out h-here.”
“I’d like to do it at home. With a glass of wine. At the fireplace. Isn’t this how you normally commit yourself?”
He sighs but his fingers open.
“What?” Sharply. Her feet have brought her to the door without her noticing.
“Y-yours.” His eyes dart away as they meet hers.
She takes the pill bottle from his outstretched, quivering hands.
His dick is short and thick. It smells unwashed. His stubby fingers are fisted into her hair as he drives his member into her mouth with little stabs of his hips, the fat of his thigh slapping wetly. Her nose is buried in his wiry pubic hair, she fights for air. He groans through his teeth and his head falls back for a moment when he comes down her throat, but he recovers too fast for her to escape, his grip firm around her wrists. She spits come on the gray linoleum floor of the small cabin, panting, and glowers up at him, his face blurred.
He cups her cheek, the gentle touch like a slap. Her entire body is shaking. “You tell anyone about this and I tell the police about your little adventure out there. Got that?”
She does not answer, her teeth pressed together to keep them from rattling.
His fleshy fingers bury into her chin, fingernails leaving imprints on the skin, keeping her head in place.
“Got that?” His breath is fowl. There is a brown mole on the bridge of his nose. She stares at it.
“Yes,” She hisses. Her legs give out as he lets go of her, her bruised knees hitting the floor. She bites on her lip until she tastes blood and scuttles away from him, coughing, until her back hits a wall. There is an ancient black telephone at the wall across from her and in front of it a small desk with a laptop. One closed door, one window facing the walkway, darkness outside. She turns around and some more spit lands on the floor, but his taste remains. She wraps an arm around her trembling legs, draws her knees up under her chin.
Paper planes vanish into the darkness, gliding, tumbling, small white spots dissolving after only a few seconds, devoured by the black void.
His large hands close the fly of his uniform pants over his now flaccid cock, his stomach spilling over the belt. He walks over to the door, unlocks it, keys rattling. Fresh wind blows over the floor, driving dust into her eyes.
“Get out.” He is there with a few steps, yanking her to her feet.
She can feel the traitor leaving her pocket but she is too slow to react. The small object falls like the stone in her stomach, lands with a sickening clonk and rolls over the floor. They both freeze. Then he grins.
“What do we have here?” He picks up the plastic bottle and triumphantly waves it in front of her face, the pills rattling. “The suicide cat is a drug addict, huh?”
She closes her eyes and swallows. He smells sourly.
“I’ll take this. As… payment for being generous. I should just have called the police on scum like you.”
Panic makes her throat cramp and her eyes fly open. “Please… Please, I need it.” A hoarse whisper.
He laughs, his grip strong around the front of her jacket, his foul breath hitting her face. She fights against nausea rolling over her. “Should have thought about that earlier.”
Her eyes follow the white bottle as it vanishes inside his uniform’s jacket. She claws at his arm, fear pulsing through her, blinding. “Please… I do anything… please, don’t-“
“Fucking leave me alone, piece of shit.” A single shove and she hits the floor for another time of this day, pain ringing in her ears.
“I might change my mind about the police if you don’t leave the premises within ten seconds.”
She stops at the edge of the forest as she limps with burning knees through the darkness and turns to look back. The light in the small cubicle at the side of the street flickers dimly. The black water behind the huge concrete dam glitters in the moonlight. The moon in the sky is nearly full but not quite round yet. As is the mole on the man’s nose.
Noel starts when she bolts through the door, nearly stumbles into his desk. Clammy hands wrap around the wooden edge, keeping her upright. There is a sword stuck in her stomach and someone is turning it slowly.
“Where is Karl?” Scratchy voice, unveiled desperation.
“Um… I d-d-don’t know.” Alarmed, one hand on a stack of paper, the other in his lap.
The wooden chair flies across the room, hits the wall. Splinters rain down on the yellow floor.
Noel seems thunderstruck, shoulders hunched, blue eyes wide. She runs a hand through her sweaty hair. What can she do? Where can she go? Her heart hammers in her chest, a rhythm too fast for her thoughts to follow. Everything is red.
She hears him try to speak as she flees. He does not finish even one of his stammered words before the door falls shut behind her. A few heads raise slowly as she runs down the corridor. Registering, uncaring. Eyes turn as she stumbles along the streets, the cold barely numbing the pain. The asphalt is rough beneath her hands as her stomach tries to empty itself on nothing again.
The pain dims for a second and her head clears a little. There is another way…
The women in the gold rimmed pictures on the red wall watch with a knowing smile as she stumbles towards his office, her steps muffled by the red carpet. Her feet stick to it, she has to fight for every step. Shame boils in her stomach, stronger even than the pain. The small bag in the pocket of her jacket grows heavier with every second.
She is sure they have given him notice of her visit. It had taken all her willpower to keep it together when she had convinced them to let her in.
“What do you want?”
“I need to see Matt.”
Their laughter had cut through her, nearly making her double over again. Her skin had made them shut up.
She claws at the brass handle of the heavy oak door, pushing it open with strength she thought she had lost hours ago. The same low light, plush dark red armchairs, a bunch of fresh red roses in a vase on the dark oaken desk. Matt puts the tips of his fingers together, elbows on the polished surface.
More gray hair.
“Rachel! Didn’t think I would see you again.”
His voice low, deep. The air sweet and heavy with roses. She holds her breath to keep herself from vomiting. She is as far from the desk as possible, the closed door in her back steadying her.
“I need something. Anything.” No time to play a game.
He chuckles. She shivers, wrapping her arms around her torso, keeping herself from breaking apart.
“You know how it works… without money-” He falls silent and grins hungrily as she throws the small bag on his desk. “Huh…”
She wants to smash her fist into his ugly face.
His stubby fingers poke the bag, fiddle with the cord and he takes a look inside. His yellow teeth flash at her. “It’s not enough.”
Her fingernails dig into her thighs. “It’s all I have!” Shame boils under her skin, fiercer than before. She will never forgive herself.
He leans back in his plush chair, the gold ring in the shape of roses around his finger glitters as he throws his hands into the air in mock defeat. “Market’s difficult. Too many raids. Money’s safer with whores nowadays.”
“You got to be kidding…” There is a weight on her chest, making it hard to breathe.
“You know my doors are always open for you. You are older now… some would say too old. But I won’t forget that you have always been-“
She hears the buzzing in the distance and knows she is slipping. “You bastard!”
The white in his eyes grows fearfully as she surges towards him and he nearly topples backwards over his armchair in his haste to get away from her. A loud scream from him and seconds later she finds herself plunged outside, the laughter of the men ringing in her ears and the money dumped in her lap. Her fingers grope for the coins and paper rolls, frantically trying to cram all of it back into the bag. At least she did not betray her. At least she can bring the money back to her. That is the only hope she has as her limbs go weak.
She still remembers the rain drops falling into her eyes.
--> Part II
--> Part II