147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

 

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

The apartment door slammed shut, but she didn’t hear the deadbolt. He always turned the deadbolt. Even if he was just going for a job or picking up their Thursday night avocados. Or limes. He never, ever remembered to get limes. Something that bugged her to no end in the first months with him, but that she had come to find endearing. “Love?” she called. Their place was not exactly the biggest. Their place. She still stumbled over that one. Their bed, in their place, was at the top of an unforgiving ladder that could only be called “stairs” in the most generous of circumstances. But for two rooms in New York, you made compromises. Some of these included being bounced on your ass when going to the bathroom.
It was quiet. Maybe it wasn’t their door slamming. Probably the Indian couple next door. Those boys could bang some doors. She leaned over the bed, remembering this time that she couldn’t stand fully erect to put on the clean pillowcases, or she would bruise her forehead on the slanted back wall. Then she heard the door close again. Definitely their door. And then their lock clicking. She put down the still-naked pillow and walked downstairs. As she cleared the last two steps, facing towards the wall and clinging onto the railings on both sides for support, she heard the door unlock and swing open.
“Shawn?” she called. But she knew he wasn’t there. No way. She walked toward the door. When she got within two steps, she felt the air exchange inches from her face. She realized she was sweating. Phone. Needed her phone. It wasn’t in her back pocket. Bed. Pillows. Upstairs. She slipped and cracked her shin against one of the steps. Blood dripped on the dark, faded wood. Get upstairs. Get the phone. She finally got to the top. It wasn’t by the pillows or anywhere on the bed. Then she heard it vibrating from downstairs. Back down, slipping on the last step. Finally upright, she ran across the room and grabbed the first and biggest thing she could hold. Smashing her guitar over the head of whoever was opening and closing her door, but she felt better having it in her hand. Where was her phone? She heard it vibrating. Maybe on the counter but the door, she ran to it and grabbed it. She looked up when the door slammed shut again. Full-view, eyes open. She saw the door. It was closed but then it independently swung open, paused as if someone stopped it with their foot and then kicked it shut. Her phone stopped vibrating in her hand. Everything was quiet. Then her phone rang.
It was a song she knew, but couldn’t name in this moment. Old and tinny. Something from a black and white movie with fainting girls and men in fedoras and waistcoats. Then it faded, the notes dimming. They were replaced with the sound of a child, young, when boys and girls have the same voices. The same accent as Shawn.
“Hello. Are you there? Someone? Can any body hear me? I don’t know where I am. I’m…I need my mummy. Is she there? Mummy?”
Carolyn stared at her phone. The screen was black. Nothing. She pressed the power button, the home button, nothing. The phone stayed dead.
“Mummy, I’m so tired. I want to go to sleep in your big bed. Rub my hair so I can go to sleep. Tell the scary goblins not today. Mummy…sleepy…” The child’s voice stopped.
“Carolyn,” she head, and she finally looked up from her phone. It was the same accent, only a grown man’s voice. She jumped and screamed when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
“Love, what are you doing? What’s the trouble?”
She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Someone’s here. In the house.”
“Who’s here? One of your work mates. Is it Dae?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are here. And there’s a little girl on my phone.”
He took the phone from her hand and examined it. He pressed the home button and the screen lit up, apps and wallpaper photo of a rosemary scone she had baked in place as usual.
“There’s no girl on your phone,” Shawn said. “And I don’t think anyone is in the flat.”
Carolyn grabbed the phone from him and put it down on the table. She rubbed her hand on her leg after she dropped it.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll bring you in some tea.”
“Fuck your tea. I’m not staying here,” she said.
“Lynnie…”
“No,” she said. She walked past him to the next room. He heard her scoop her keys ups from the table. Then he heard them drop onto the floor. She swore and picked them up. Pushing past him in the doorway, she walked to the table with her phone. She looked at it, but refused to touch it. She didn’t feel Shawn pulling at her hand as she rushed out the door.

—————————————————————————————
“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw a black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A ghost.
The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.
“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asks. The bartender raises his eyebrow.
“I know,” she says. The bartender shrugs and walks to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she says.”You think’d they’d start keeping it lower.”
“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.
“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”
“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said.
The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. Not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.
“ I saw him in Medea in some shithole theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed her kids.”
Carolyn was quiet. Pam slugged most of her drink. Her lipstick stuck to the rim of the glass. Her nails were painted black. So was her hair.
“Not an actor?” the woman asked.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“Pam,” the woman said. “Nun’s name.”
“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“No,” Pam said. “Are you?”
“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.
“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”
“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”
“I’m not asking,” Pam said.
“Okay,” Carolyn said.
“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “ Phone’s ringing.”
“I forgot my-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing.

147 East 9th – Chapter 2

IMG_3381

Because anxiety is real. And a problem. Not just for the person in whose head this filthy, ugly beast lives. But for the people closest to them.

Because I just came back from visiting my favorite 9th street. A wonderful handful of days. And then anxiety fully and properly killed my vibe. And my confidence. And most of a relationship.

Anxiety got her Sunday night flesh. Got her cowering and insecurity. Got her turning away and shutting down. Got her total belief in lies and “I can’t”.  But that wasn’t enough for that awful wench. Anxiety went and got this morning as well. And that selfish, needy bitch got her tears and her collapse and everything else she wanted to take from me. But tonight, she gets no more.

Tonight is mine. My words, my trying, my taking a breath and putting something out into the world that terrifies me. Anxiety will not take that tonight.

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The computer blinked at her. White background with dark text. Then blue. Then black screen of death. Then white screen of what could not be called afterlife, because there was nothing but white light coming from the screen.
“Fuck me,” she whispered.
“You know, baby. I got you,” came the voice from the other side of the felted cubicle partition. Carolyn wheeled herself back away from her desk. Dae wheeled herself back as well. They touched knees in a passageway behind their desks. A hallway so small, claustrophobic and convoluted that it tapered at the coffee room at the very end. At least that’s what Dae and Carolyn had decided. And then one day a few months ago, they measured it. Full four inches shorter at the far wall.
“What’d you do?” Dae asked. Carolyn shrugged. “Did you lick it? Were you looking at pictures of Gary Oldman and got wound up and loved up on the screen and got sick, white girl germs all over it?”
“White girls don’t lick our computers. At least I don’t think we do. Are we supposed to?”
“Like I know what white girls do,” Dae said.
“Gary Oldman?” Carolyn asked.
“Boy was all kinds of hot in True Romance,” Dae said. “Move your ass and let me see.” Dae stood and kicked her chair back into her station and walked around into Carolyn’s tiny boxed space. A picture of Shawn sat on her desk, next to her computer, where the screen was now flashing between darkness and bright white light. Dae picked it up, still punching out letters on the keyboard with one hand.
“How many beautiful black Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking-push-up doing boys are in this city?”
“Thousand. Probably more,” Carolyn said.
“Don’t care. You got one of them to wake up next to you. Lucky bitch.”
“I usually leave before him. He stays up late.”
“Tragic.”
“Dae. You don’t like boys,” Carolyn said.
“That, my privileged girl, is not the point,” Dae said. She hands Carolyn the picture. “I said move your ass. Damn.” Dae sat in Carolyn’s seat and stared at her spasming computer screen. She pounded the keys with conviction. Then stopped.
“Fuck me,” Dae said.
“See?”
“You have something truly rotten wormed up in this thing,” Dae said.
“I shouldn’t. I haven’t pulled anything of or put anything on.”
“Something got through.”
“Shit. I bet I lost my whole piece,” Carolyn said.
“Your girl will find it. Don’t worry. Go get me a latte. Almond. No. Soy. No. First. Almond milk. I’ll have it figured by the time you get back.”
“Thank you. Again. Like always.”
Carolyn stood at the counter, spilling a second cream into her coffee. Her phone beeped. She splashed cream on her hand as she tried to squash the lid onto her coffee. She sucked off the white drops as she pulled her phone from her pocket. It was a text from Dae.
‘Your shit is fucked, kid. I got pulled in on something else. I’ll get back on it tomorrow.’
She texted back.
‘Fail, lady.’
Dae responded.
‘Might as well head home. You can’t do anything else here today. Take my beautiful coffee and enjoy.’
Carolyn put her phone back in her pocket and using her hip, left carrying both hot, very, very, intensely hot coffees. She walked.
An hour later, she was sitting in Madison Square Park. Her beautiful Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking boy appeared and kissed her cheek. He was carrying a cup of ice and a thermos.
“I knew it wouldn’t be hot anymore, so I brought this to make it sort of drinkable,” he said, handing her the ice. “And I brought this,” he held out the thermos,” If you wanted to try it again with a proper drink.”
“Thank you, love,” she said, taking a drink from the thermos.Her face tightened and her eyes blinked. “ That’s not tea,” she said.
“Course not, lovely girl. It’s almost five on a Friday. It’s a gin and tonic with a copious, just this side of an almost offensive amount of lime,” he said.
“Never will I understand your taste,” she said, handing him back his toxic thermos. “You’re done early.”
“I am. My last appointment cancelled. And, I am free all weekend.” He took a long drink from the thermos, then leaned in and kissed her. It turned into a deep one. One that drew her back on the ground, with him, his weight and his intensity heavy on her chest. She loved that feeling. Not that she couldn’t breathe, she could, but she had to think about it. Had to push her lungs into action, using his chest and stomach as a counterpoint. For as shallow as her breath was, she pushed into his kiss deeper, running her hands into his hair. Feelings the spines and knots of the twists in his hair. She reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Everyone’s watching,” she said.
“I like it, “ he said.
“Let’s go home.”
“Let’s go home, “ he said. He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. He kissed her again when she got there. Her breath caught again.
Twenty minutes later, she pushed him against the wall and closed the door with her heel. Shawn was still holding the thermos of gin. He leaned over to drop it on the table, but not too far that he loosened contact from her mouth. The thermos held on the lip of the table for a second and then toppled to the floor. Neither noticed. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
An hour later, they laid, wrapped, with arms and legs looped around each other. Always the same. Both on their left side, her right leg between his, his right hand loosely holding her left breast. Their home position. His hand trailed from her breast to her stomach, slowly rubbing his palm across her slack flesh.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Mister,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dare,” he said. “But I was thinking of something else.”
“Were you now?”
“I was thinking of us. Having a baby,” he said.
She rolled of of home position to face him. “A baby?”
“Cute little, chubby one. Cinnamon skin. Lots of drool.”
“Do you want a baby?”
“It’s why I brought it up, isn’t it? Do you want a baby?”
She thought. Really stopped and thought. “I do. I never thought about it as an actual, real, maybe-happening thing before.”
“You should,” she said, rubbing his hand across her stomach again, kneading and rubbing her skin. Then, he grabbed her stomach, hard. His fingers curled toward each other, until soft flesh spilled between the angles. The cells flattened and squeezed until top and bottom were approximating. She tried to pull away, but his grip had locked. “Stop. That’s too hard,” she said. He didn’t respond. His grip didn’t lessen.”Seriously, Shawn. Stop.” She flattened her palms against his chest and pressed as hard as she could. Trying to push him away, to push herself away, to make this pain that was bringing tears to her eyes to stop. He said nothing.Then she looked at him.
His body was as rigid and columnar as it had been that day at his apartment. But that had been months ago. Almost a year. Before they knew they were a real thing. Before they moved from two homes into one. Before there were drops of blood dripping to her hip, where his uneven nails had dug into her pelvis. It hadn’t happened since.
She moved both her hands to his wrist, and tried to pry his hand from her body. He was immovable. He voice started making sounds against her will. Her skin had flattened to the width of paper and it felt like only seconds until he completely pierced through, from outside to in and back again. She brought up her knees and wrapped them around his arm. Throwing all her weight forward, she pulled herself up and over and knelt on him. Countering against that pressure, she leaned back as far as she could, yelling as she finally broke free of his grip.
His body laid on the bed, still and stony. She didn’t know she had scuttled away from him, until she felt the closet door bang against her back. What was she supposed to do? She pulled up her shirt and examined her ribs and stomach. There were scratches and streaks of blood. It wasn’t deep. It only felt like she’d been slashed with a chef’s knife. She looked up from her own skin. Shawn was still lying flat on the bed. She stood up, but stayed flush against the closet door. His limbs were motionless but his chest was rising and falling. Craning her neck without breaking the seal against the door, she focused on his neck. There was the smallest hint of an undulating peak and valley just above the crease of his collarbone. His heart was fine. So, she sat down, still firm against the door. And did nothing.
Another hour later, the twitch of her chin against her collarbone woke her. She blinked and then registered the irritant. Not a bug or a stray fiber of clothing. It was his hand against her shoulder. She felt the smooth stroke of his fingers, and the momentary catching of the callous at the base of his middle finger. He was back.
“Are you okay?,” she asked.
“Right as rain,” he said, stroking her hair, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. “Hope it wasn’t too frightful, love.”
She smiled. “Say frightful again,” she said, murmuring it into his chest. He leaned into her neck, his mouth moist and soft against her skin. Goosebumps raised themselves and her shoulders shivered as he ran his finger down her vertebra and whispered.
“Frightful.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I thought maybe those were done,” she said.
“Would be nice,” he said. “I’m famished. You want to get a curry?”
“When have we ever gotten a curry?” she asked.
“Always a first time. Come on. Pants, young lady.” He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. When he kissed her, before he swatted her down the hallway, she saw the bright, red bloodshot tracks in his eyes.

———————————————————————————————————