Since I’ve run out of fun stories from my own life, I’ve decided to start writing fiction again. Oh, well. Here is a story I’ve been messing with the past couple of days. Like everything I make, this is to be considered a work in progress. When the New Yorker editors call, just give them my Skype username and I’ll tell them which bank account to send the jewels and accolades to. Expect some more fiction pieces in the next few days.
The taxi driver is yelling at me. He’s pissed because I don’t have the fifteen dollars to pay him for our ride. A girl named Amanda is slumped in the seat next to me, her legs poking out from her skirt and sticking to the leather. When she rustles lightly, her skin crackles peppery. All three of us reek of cigarettes. The dimness feels heavy, broken only by the overhead light and unreliable patches of streetlight that accidentally snake their way into the car.
Amanda puts her purse in my lap, says, “See if there’s any money in there. I don’t think so, but look.” I’m not sure if she’s opening her mouth or moving her lips while she speaks. The words are crowded and sloppy, malformed. But I understand, and start rifling through her shit. Nothing.
The driver motions to the bank across the street. I feel like he’s about to call me an asshole or a schmuck or something. He’d be right, so I oblige his directions and head to the bank. The emptiness of the roads and the nascent sunlight of Sunday morning make me feel like a vampire who’s running out of time. It’s after six a.m., and we’ve been out for the past nine hours. The slow breaths I take make me feel like I’m melting. Or maybe evaporating. I almost trip trying to hurry a little.
The bank’s closed, so I return empty-handed to the car. I should just untuck my pockets from my fucking pants and fully play the part of the penniless jerk vagabond. The driver shakes his head, but has another bright idea: the convenience store over there should have an ATM. Amanda’s still half-awake in the cab, the collateral.
The edges of the sky are pink.
I blink a lot when I enter the store, the lights too unreal and nervous for me. Instead of saying hello to the clerk, I just cough into my chest and nod my head. There’s a refrigerator next to the ATM, and as I make my transaction, one hand rests against its glass door and leaves fingerprints that look like drops of fog sleeping on top of a lake of ice.
I buy a package of fucked-up-looking rainbow-colored condoms and the clerk grins at me, which is totally unprofessional and makes me feel weird. There’s still some vodka aching in the back of my throat. I think of tundras.
My phone buzzes in my pocket while I’m opening the door to step outside. It’s Karen.
She texts, “I got the picture. Thanks. It was pretty.”
Earlier in the day, I’d texted her a photo of a pair of roses I’d seen. They were part of a small garden that bordered the roof of a bar I was drinking at. A clothesline on a neighboring roof with freshly hung laundry lay in the background of the photo. I sent her the picture and the words reddest roses. I wanted her to love them.
I respond, “Are you already awake? It’s so early.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna go run in a bit. Had a boring night last night.”
I think of her body moving, maybe a little sweaty.
But I’m back at the car, finally giving the guy his money while Amanda holds my arm and rubs circles into my elbow, her head on my shoulder, most of her weight falling against me all wobbly.
The driver is actually pretty nice now that he’s getting what’s due to him and tells me to have a good one. I can’t tell if he winks at me and motions to Amanda, or if it’s just my imagination, but I feel uneasy again and put him in the same class as that dude in the convenience store.
The short walk from the car to the apartment building is unstructured and full of swoops. I look at Amanda. The sun is really starting to shine. The light sparkles in the tiny cracks in her lips, the shallow crevices where the lipgloss I didn’t smear off with drunk kisses as we left the club an hour ago still remains. Broken bottles are cracking underneath us, and I’m scared for our feet for a moment, but then not.
“My apartment’s gonna be a mess,” I say. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Happens to the best of us.”
I let her use my toothbrush when we get inside. I’ll probably think that’s awkward when I recall it tomorrow.
There’s a half-full wine glass sitting on my desk, a little too close to the edge. It’s so red it almost looks black in the dark. At least the place smells like clean laundry.
She takes my glasses off and puts them on herself when we start fucking. I don’t know why. She looks cute though. As we’re fucking, I think about the names of different baseball pitchers and all the varieties of coffee I can come up with. She alternates between purring in my ear and screaming loud enough so I know the dude next door can hear clearly.
I come on her stomach and she giggles. She wipes it off with my shirt, and I start to freak out.
“What the fuck?”
“That’s fucking gross.”
“You aren’t gonna do laundry ever?”
“I am, but, still. Like, I have paper towels.”
“I think you’ll survive.”
She’s obviously right, but I’m still kind of disgusted. She kisses me, our lips chalky and shriveled. She puts my arm around her, and I can feel her falling asleep. I wonder if she is too tired to wash off in the shower or if she just doesn’t care at this point.
My palms sweat. I feel the rest of me is on the verge of starting in, too. The bed is small and June is too hot for this closeness. I should turn on the fan across the room, but I’m lazy. Instead I just pull the sheet off of us and put my arm back across her chest. Her nipples are still hard. I forget her name for a second, then remember it. Amanda.
Karen. I think of calling her because I know I won’t be able to sleep. The room is spinning and my breathing is too close to hiccups. I’m tired of being drunk.
Amanda barely moves when I get out of bed. Her body stays in the same position as when I was there, like there’s a ghost version of me filling the space against her. A sigh or coo or something really tiny and soft exhales from her dry mouth and begins floating.
The opening (and then closing) door is noiseless.
The window in the apartment’s hallway shows traffic picking up. It’s far off and blurry. The cars are smudged diamonds, rolling and winking. The sun’s as up as it’s going to get, and it makes me feel nauseous to realize what time it is and just how far along most normal people are into this day. I’m a concussed astronaut, slouched against the wall, fighting anti-gravity and trying not to echo.
When Karen answers, I cough because my throat’s so dry. I should’ve brought water out with me.
She says, “What?” and I laugh.
“Hey,” I say. “Just a bad case of tuberculosis.”
“I guess it was gonna get you sooner or later.”
“Yeah. Happens to the best of us.”
I’m so quiet. My neighbor’s air-conditioning jumps into gear. I swear I hear a drip coffeemaker begin wheezing. Someone talks about making pancakes. The outside light is scratching the corners of my eyes. I wish there were plants lining the hallway.
“How was the run?”
“Good. Just a couple miles. Easy Sunday. Have you not slept yet?”
“How drunk are you still?”
“Or is that very?”
“Take your pick.”
I’m about to let out a breath, but I stop, so I feel like I’m drowning. I picture myself underwater. And Karen’s up above me on a lifeboat, laughing as she gets ready to jump in after me.
I say, “What do you think about me? Like, when you think about me, how do you think? What do you think? Do you think about me?”
I’m puffed up and cloudy and the steam coming out of me is so sincere.
She probably holds the phone away for a second, then says, “Which one of those do you want me to answer?”
“Take your pick.”
“I think about you sometimes.”
And here I am, dumb smile crooked and gasping. I want to taste the perfume behind Karen’s ears. Maybe there isn’t any, and I’d taste only skin.
I say, “Do you want to have pancakes later today after I wake up?”
“Like, we’ll make some pancakes over here. Then we can go to a park. We’ll have a pancake picnic.”
“Okay. It’s supposed to be a nice day today.”