I need some god damned ice cream I say to my apartment which is empty of spirit and flesh alike. Alone I sit in the Seat of Narcissism. An armchair strategically placed so I can gaze at myself in a large, round mirror hanging on the wall. Abandoned by dancers in a studio left unlocked, now it keeps me company.
Less trouble than a dog.
Sweat pours off me. My reflection glistens. The only garment I’m able to wear are black polyester gym shorts, army surplus. Anything more is masochistic during a heatwave. In French they say une canicule. Romantic on my lips. The crushed yellow velvet is damp when I stand up.
I’m lightheaded. A few moments ago I came to on the floor in my kitchen. Last thing I remember food was burning down my throat, the heat spreading through my body like slow electricity, and a strong desire to go to sleep. But a voice in my head wouldn’t allow it. Too much to do for a nap.
I must be prepared to leave in the morning.
Lying fetal on the cool tile floor was nice, if not distressing. A piece of the jerk chicken I was chewing when I blacked out still in my mouth. So I picked up right where I left off. Rolling onto my back the pain made me moan. Quick inspection revealed a scrape on my shoulder, bruise purpling my hip, skull throbbing from impact.
First time ever passing out. What was the cause? A few hours ago I broke down in the laundromat when the woman working asked me how’s your princess? in her heavy African accent. She put her arms around me and told me I was a good man as I cried. I hadn’t told anyone I was single.
It’s been so long, I didn’t know how.
Along with my sadness I’m filled with anxiety for tomorrow. Have to be ready. An early bus. A border crossing. A new woman in another city known for never sleeping. Passions running strong. This apartment feels so empty now that my ex took her things. Me and the ghost of a love I thought would last forever.
My laughter echoes.
I slip off my shorts. Take clean underwear from the nearly empty drawer. All my things are packed. It’ll be good to get out of here. Put some distance between me and this apartment, this city. We moved here because I heard it call my name. Maybe it was telling me to run?
I put on a pair of white Levis. Perfect fit. A failure in most aspects of life but I was made to wear clothes. Once my father told me if I ever figured out what our body type was for I should tell him. I doubt he’d like the answer so I keep it to myself.
In the old round mirror that once guided people to grace I watch myself button up a teal shirt my ex bought for me. A colour I’d never pick for myself but I’m told I look good in. It brings out your eyes, women say.
By the door I slide into a pair of black leather Chelsea boots. Last look at myself before I leave. Head-to-toe mirror beside the door taken by moonlight from a house slated for demolition. That was two decades ago. Bringing it home I was in love with life and there were no greys in my hair.
As I lock my door I hear someone else in the corridor. It’s my neighbor Handsome Dan. He comes around the corner shimmering with sweat. Nothing but a tanktop and basketball shorts. Even from a distance I notice his cock swinging through the polyester. I’m put off. Primal male dominance. No matter what I want to think I’m nothing but an ape.
You’re looking good he tells me before flashing his sparkling smile.
I smirk. Unsure if he means what he says or if he’s pulling my leg. I don’t feel good. Sweat-soaked and the fresh memory of waking up on the floor is enough to kill the strongest sense of ego. The clothes I’ve draped myself in are a simple disguise. They hide the thoughts inside.
How long’s it been since I felt a doctor’s proddings?
It’s all I got I tell him as I rattle the handle making sure it’s locked. He nods at me as he asks, is that right? Opening the fire door to the staircase I shrug my shoulders and tell him I don’t have a clue. He laughs. The door swings shut behind me with a thud.
In the dep I stand in front of the freezers. Linger. The air conditioning is turned up high, I can hear it as well as feel the breeze on my face. I take advantage. A small reprieve. I feel the clerk’s eyes as mine scan the flavors. I open the door. Mist creeps out like a horror movie. I allow my hand to rest upon the pint. I haven’t had a bite and it’s already refreshing.
With the door locked behind me I return to gym shorts. Hang my damp jeans to dry for tomorrow. I roll a joint and think of my trip. Getting off the bus amidst the clamor. 42nd street with my arm around her shoulders.
I lean back into the Seat of Narcissism. My reflection in the round mirror shows me smiling, relaxed. Heartbeat normal I flick my lighter. A flame wavers in a breeze I’ve never been able to trace. I inhale. That’s when I hear it. A sound coming from the other side of the wall.
Someone settling in.
I’ve lived here long enough to know what it is without the aid of x-ray vision. Scratching on the plywood floor. The racket of a shabby individual hunkering down. A purse or backpack on the floor in front of them. A small plastic baggie with their drug of choice tucked inside. I sniff the air. Tobacco smoke. I wink at my reflection.
I put my jeans back on but leave the top two buttons undone. Without shoes my bare feet make little sound as I cross the plywood floor. Like Gandhi I practice non-violence. An airhorn my only defense. It feels good in my hand as I step into the hall. Flickering fluorescents light my way.
I pause behind the emergency exit. Heart racing I listen. Soft mumbling on the other side. A can opening. Never know what I’m about to get into. I’ll never forget the snarling Rottweiler. I take a deep breath, hit the bar releasing the lock. I blast the airhorn before the lump on the floor knows what’s going on.
You can’t live here, I say in a voice I use with dogs.
I’m not fucking living here…I live in the fucking building she tells me from her place on the floor. It’s an old story. They always have apartments here. I blast the airhorn like she never spoke. Get the fuck out of here…go shoot up somewhere else…kill yourself where I can’t hear it.
I’m not shootin’ up, she says defensively. A look on her face like I’ve crossed a line. Offended her sensibilities. Before responding I take a good look at her. Sores on her face. Dyed blonde hair gone yellow and greasy. A pair of black tights covered in dust from the floor she sits on. A lump of dried dog shit in the corner.
She shouldn’t be acting so haughty.
Oh, excuse me…go smoke crack somewhere else I say, giving the airhorn another toot, shocking her and reminding me of days on the lake with my father. Nothing but blue as far as the eye could see. It seems like another lifetime standing here in this pissy hall. She lets loose with the insults.
Prick cocksucker fucking faggot piece of shit…what the fuck is your problem. I roll my eyes. Laugh. Blast the airhorn. Tell her she’s lucky. I could come out here being mean…nasty.
This sets her off laughing. I see gnarled teeth. Oh…so this is you being nice she says with enough sass to get me smiling. But my grin is evil when I ask her, have you ever heard of Ted Bundy?
Instant recognition. I know my task. And putting a fear of death in her is the only way. Junkies are inexhaustible when it comes to arguing. The lifestyle breeds a disposition for it, like lawyers. And I don’t have the patience tonight to be kind. All I want is to sit down, smoke up, and eat that pint of ice cream.
So I have to make this quick. No more arguing. It’s bad for my health. My heart kicks against my chest. I have to wonder, is this the right course of action, is this where I saw my life when I was young? Boys follow in their fathers’ footsteps. At my age my old man did nothing but fish and drink beer on his back porch. Feet up no worries.
What a bore.
I’m going to have to be vicious.
Get the fuck up…it’s time to go I tell her while stomping on the floor with my heel. One more blast of the airhorn gets her moving. She crawls to her hands and knees. Dirty pink thong exposed. Have some respect, I tell her as she wobbles to a standing position.
Fuck you…you fucking asshole…suck my dick you piece of shit she says as she picks up her purse and an open can of sweet malt liquor she’d been hiding behind her. She gives me the finger before turning her back on me. Stomping down the stairs she calls me every name she must know. It makes me smile.
I don’t know why.
Have a good night…hope you fall down the stairs I tell her in my sweetest tone, knowing I sound like the man I tell myself I no longer want to be. Her fury ignited she laughs. Oh…that’s real nice…how ‘bout you go fuck yourself she calls while stomping away. I think I’ll have some ice cream, I call back as the door shuts automatically.
As soon as she’s gone I miss her company.
Sitting in the Seat of Narcissism I eat Chocolate Therapy straight from the container. I watch myself in the mirror like a voyeur. I don’t like what I see. Why did I have to be so mean? I could’ve gone out there with love. I might’ve asked her if she needed help.
Because now that the yelling has stopped and she’s gone I see her with different eyes. I see a lost little child no different from me. I’ve run far from where I came, and what I was. What got her here in the halls of this building with nowhere better to go, trying to forget, I don’t know. But I didn’t need to kick.
Life does that already.