Alexander Pate is a lean man, with seemingly fragile bones and a very thin cover of skin atop his muscles and nerve endings, much like a child. His hair is beautiful as gold, mussed up and flying around his head in a passion. Now it is sticking onto my fingers and I can feel the damp sweat that had gathered atop his head. Fingers, lips, teeth, eyes, nose, skin, legs, muscle grinding and mashing together as smoothly and effortlessly as a well-oiled machine.
This is routine, regular, weekly good ol’ bedding – nothing more than that.
Except for the fire burning inside my lungs, up my throat; such throbbing, warm flames force me to bite down hard to keep from screaming.
“Ow!” He pushes back from me, and wipes away the blood that formed upon his upper lip.
I clear my throat, and look away. “Sorry,” I reply. I sit up slowly, without ever laying eyes on his naked body, and crumple the sheets around me to keep from getting cold. I reach over to the dresser, still averting his gaze, and grab a lighter and a lone cigarette that fell from his pack of Pall Mall Lights. I light it up with one hand, and hold a gathering of sheets with my other. I inhale deeply a few times, hoping that the cigarette will take the metallic, rusty taste of his blood off my tongue.
He comes back from the bathroom, and stands by the doorway. “Why’d you do that for?” he asks me, no trace of anger in his voice at all; instead, his tone is soft and gentle, as if he was the adult and I was the child.
Oh, God, how I hate him.
I don’t bother to reply, but I stand up, holding the bed sheets around me strategically, and let my cigarette fall to the ashtray on his dresser. I grab my clothes off the ground, and push past his naked body to get to the bathroom. I slam the door behind me, ignoring his protests, and then I take a deep breathe to clear my head.
The bathroom floor is cold, my bare feet barely heating up the tiles where I stand. The bed sheets fall around me, like feathers from an angel’s wing. I put on my clothes, one by one, shamed and incomplete, even though we had gone as far as we could have. I just didn’t feel anymore. I didn’t feel anything. I am scared shitless.
I slip on my jeans and my sweater, and then I am whole. I am Annabelle. I reach into my pants pocket, and pull out an eyeliner pencil. I try to rim my eyes, but without the ability to see where I lay the pencil tip, my hands shake and I know my eyes look fucked. I do my best. I open the door, dump out the sheets, and walk out of his bedroom, his apartment building, down the street, quick and nimble.
“Annabelle, let’s talk…” is the last thing I hear before slamming his front door in his face.
I’ve always found it strange that Alexander’s bathroom didn’t have a mirror.
They sleep in the same room, the same bed, under the same thin sheets. I can imagine them curling around each other like cold kittens in a cardboard box, all twisted up and pathetic and ugly.
I can’t avoid them forever.
I can’t tiptoe past the room all the time.
I can’t skip any more meals or my grandmother will kill me.
But to see his face, his green eyes staring at me blank and expressionless, even across the long, rectangular dinner table – it seems like the worst thing in the world.
There’s a knock on my door just as I was stumbling into bed.
“Annabelle, it’s one in the morning,” the voice says in an informational tone. I try hard to picture a robot replacing the person behind that voice.
I wrap the blankets around me and try to rest my eyes. I have to leave early tomorrow, as usual, so as to not bump into Emma or Pighead.
“I’m coming in,” the robot states, and the door creaks open. “Where have you been, Annabelle? Why would you stay out so late?”
There’s silence, so much silence, it shrinks the room.
I finally mumble, my voice hidden under the blanket, “Grandma, I’m sleeping.”
I hear scuffling and then silence again as she sits down softly by my side of the bed.
“Annabelle, is something wrong?” There’s a change in her tone, a nuance that no one but I could have detected.
I love my grandmother. She is a rock in the midst of a raging windstorm, calm and quiet and reserved. No, not a rock; a boulder so large it expands to fill the sky and Heavens with her presence.
So I am forced to reply, “No, grandmother, I am perfectly, absolutely fine. Thank you.”
She does not reply, and I wonder if I have upset her.
Suddenly the room shrinks even smaller.
I realize that she has walked away, stood up and left me without a sound, without a “Good night”, without another question to ask me.
“When, Emma, when?” my father says, stressing his point by throwing his hands in the air.
I stand by the staircase and continue to listen in.
“When are you renting out an apartment? You can’t just live here forever, absolutely not!”
I hear soft sobbing as usual, and then an unexpectedly calm voice replies, “Father—Mr. Lester, we’re trying our best, but we don’t have the money right now…”
“When, Richard?” my father’s voice cuts in, sharp as steel, but whiney as ever. “When will you have this money?”
A small pause. Then, “If you’d just lend us a few grand, we’ll be out of this house as fast as you want.”
My father is sputtering and spitting with anger.
But he agrees.
“The loan will have 8% interest per month, Richard. 8%, you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Richard seals the deal loudly.
Some sniffles and then, a voice whimpers, “Yes, Daddy.”
I hurry down the stairs before anyone notices me having stood there for the whole conversation; thank fucking God.