We never planned to come back to the suburbs, but we took the train out to pick up from Martin’s cousin’s guy Johnny, who let us stay with him until our money was gone, and we couldn’t buy tickets back to the city. We still stop in his place on Elm sometimes, but when he doesn’t have any, we end up in the dorms across town where the kids are fucked. Rich, fucked and real sketchy. They’d narc you out in a minute if something went wrong, but so far nothing has, so tonight we’re real high. The kids are packing bowls and passing, but I’m good. I’m swaying on the inside, like my organs are hanging out on a dock in a lake of blood. Martin’s staring at the wide-screen Apple monitor, and I can tell he’s far away. I touch his hand to say come swimming in my veins, but he’s someplace else.
If this was five years ago, or even three, I’d have called over the guy with the sexiest girlfriend, told him to hold my hands and help me up from the floor. I’d kiss him right there where Martin could see, just to make him give a shit, and when I was ready to go, I’d wink at the sexy bitch to let her know that even though her man pummeled mine, I still won. But here, these girls are flawless. Their heels are high, their perfume smells like money and their sweaters look like October when the leaves are fire and fall like lava. Martin’s not looking up their skirts, because he’s nodded off, sleeping to the stream of this Euro techno hit gone American hipster anthem that’s winding around me, and the chorus goes she’s just some crack head my cousin knows. My lips try to peel back from my face to show the song my teeth, nice and white, but they’re dry and paralyzed and keeping me from throwing up on my legs.
I nudge Martin to tell him let’s go, but he’s gone, his eyes rolled back. I go to the bathroom and puke in the sink because the toilet lid is down, and there’s no time. It’s so hot in the aqua-green sea-foam mermaid bathroom. I take my hoodie off and hang it from a robe hook on the back of the door. I open the vanity cabinet and take inventory: some chamomile lotion, hotel samples of shampoo and conditioner, an empty box of Band Aids, rubbing alcohol, zit cream and three bottles of nail polish. I pocket the hotel samples and wonder where the good stuff is. I close the vanity and see myself in the mirror, as skinny as I wished I was in high school. I turn my back to the glass and look over my shoulder to see my scapula sticking out from my men’s tank top, a broken and pale flesh wing. Martin likes me in his undershirts, even when they’re stained and tattered. I think I look like my Raggedy Ann Doll before I threw her away, her neck torn, cotton stuffing falling out white in a dirty world.
I climb into the tub and press my face against the cool tiles holding on to their moldy grout. I pull the curtain closed. I’m a pearl in this porcelain oyster, closed up tight, beautiful and waiting to be discovered.
When I wake up, some one’s pulling at my shoe, my left ear is on the drain hole and my mouth’s stuffed with the sands of Serengeti. I kick the curtain and say, “Leave me alone.”
“Relax,” she says. “I’m trying to help.”
“I’m fine,” I say, sitting up and twisting on the faucet. The water is freezing and soaks my jeans. I drink from the stream of copper and chlorine flavored relief.
She helps me out of the tub and asks if I’m okay. Her eyes shine like Eucharist candles, her eyelashes the screens of Confession. But I’m not going to tell her.
“The music made me sick,” I say. “Where’s Martin?”
“I don’t know Martin,” she says, her lips sparkling when they move.
“He was here,” I say, putting my hoodie back on and shoving a roll of toilet paper in my pocket. “I’m good,” I say to the girl who wins, and leave the bathroom.
Martin’s not on the living room floor staring at the monitor or in the kitchen doing shots with the frat boys, or anywhere else that I can see, though I don’t check the bedrooms, because he might be in there trying to get up for some half-conscious freshman who pulled her skirt up to show her big girl panties. I hope not, for her sake; who knows what we’ve picked up from the pricks over at Johnny’s or back up in the alleys, and all she’s done is get a bit too drunk. I rest my head against the kitchen door. I’m trying to see through the peep hole out into the hallway, thinking Martin might be out there pissing on welcome mats. Some guy twists the lock open and tells me to get out.
“I’m already going,” I say, and I’m gone, out the door and down the stairs to the parking lot without really knowing it until the rain hits my face.
The parking lot is huge. Four cars follow each other, their headlights dancing off the puddles and curbs, their tires splashing up at my feet, the water seeping through my sneakers. I sit down on the curb, hang my head between my legs and breathe. It’s a long walk back on wet sneakers in an old hoodie. I don’t know if I can remember the way. I’m less likely to get lost if I stick to the main road, but I’m more likely to get picked up. I decide to cut through the farm because it’s faster, and there might be some bashed up squash to bring back. I head for the tree line on the far end of the parking lot, sloshing through puddles to the wailing siren of a car alarm. Something about the sound makes panic pull at my chest, teasing the air from my lungs. A car pulls up behind me. I hug close to the line of bumpers to let it pass, but the car creeps slow, right at my heels. I tuck myself between two bumpers and wait for it to pass, but it stops.
“I’m just fucking with you. Get in,” Martin says through the open window.
“Jesus, where have you been?”
“The North Pole, Baby. It’s Christmastime,” he says, and as I round the front of the car through the rain and light to the passenger side, I remember last year, or maybe the year before, when it was Christmastime, and Martin took me to this high-rise under construction. It was just the frame then, no floors or ceilings, just piping and scaffolding, severe and bruised building bones against the city night. There were lights strung from corner to corner across all levels. We stood in the foundation, looking straight up, imagining there were stars behind the smoky sky, feeling like they could fall through the building levels and come burn up with us. We didn’t need a tree or stockings or a plan as long as we had us, Martin said, while he twirled me around the cement floor, singing Baby it’s cold outside.
“I lifted these keys off the rack and followed the clicker,” he says, fingering the key ring dangling from the ignition. “Fuck those kids,” he says. “This thing was bumping some country crap. You drive around in an Audi crying about your tractor and cheap whiskey, you deserve to have your car stolen.”
“What if we get caught? What if someone follows us?”
“Who’s around to give a shit? The campus cops? They’re probably making rounds, taking weed from little boys and girls. They’re rentals. They got no guns, no way to know about us or the house.”
“What about the lady?”
“Shut up about the lady. Why do you always bring her up?”
“That’s right, sorry. Shit, imagine if we were loaded like these kids with their Audis and Apples?”
“Going on spring break, all drugs and decadence,” I say.
“Why can’t you just use normal words?” he says, and talks about the good life, yearning for warmth, ease and comfort like these things are dreams, but, really, they’re memories because we came from a place like those kids, before we crushed it all up, blew it up our noses until our brains leaked down our throats, and then we cooked it up, to feed our veins like we were living through famine.