The Price of a Drink

Electro house music crackled through the speakers as blue lights sent shadows drifting across nameless faces around me. More than once I thought I recognized someone from home, but I knew that was nearly impossible. I ran away from my abusive dad in the Connecticut suburbs, hours away from this shack of a bar in Brooklyn.

After my fourth week of working long hours in the city, my new friend, or whatever he is, James, and I were dancing and drinking away our fourth weekend in a bar. We left bills unpaid on the kitchen counter in our mouse-infested flat, so we could afford the New York nightlife.

“I need a cigarette,” I said, nodding towards the stairs.

‘What Kaitlyn?” James yelled over the music. He took another sip of his fifteen-dollar drink.

I raised two fingers to my lips and yelled, “smoke!”

James hid our drinks behind a speaker at the DJ booth and guided me with his hand at the small of my back up the stairs. The affection sent warmth through my hips as we ascended onto the cold street. Outside, he took off his vest and wrapped it around my bare shoulders. I wasn’t used to someone being so kind.

“I really like you,” James said.

I blew smoke circles into the Brooklyn air and scooted close to him. I found James on Craigslist. He was looking for a roommate, not a girlfriend. I liked him too, but wasn’t ready to admit it yet.

I flicked the butt of my cigarette and let out one last puff of smoke. “Ready?” I asked. James nodded.

Inside, he retrieved our drinks and we danced our way through the crowd until we found an opening on the dance floor. We synchronized our breaths with the beat, with each other.

After the set change, James downed the last drop of vodka from his cup and asked, “Do you feel okay?”

I nodded. I was safe beneath the disco lights. It was one place that remained constant. The place I could go when things went south at home.

“Something’s not right,” he said. I stopped dancing. James’ eyes were unfocused and his body swayed uncontrollably.

“James?” I asked. “Are you okay?” In the back of my mind, I already knew he wasn’t. Someone had slipped something in his drink and it was likely meant for me.

“I think so,” he yawned. “I need to go to bed.”

I wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and my knees threatened to buckle under his limp body. It didn’t matter. “Let’s get you home,” I said. I could feel his breath slowing against my neck. “Stay with me, James,” I said. I dug my heels in to get him up the stairs. Not one person looked. Maybe too many drunks pass by night after night to notice.

Outside, city lights glimmered beyond Brooklyn, now quiet except the whooshing cars in the distance and the clacking of my heels against the concrete.

“Kaitlyn,” he whispered into my ear, “I think somebody roofied me.”

“Shh. It’s okay, James,” I said. “We’re almost home now.”

When we reached the subway stairs, James collapsed. “James!” I shouted. I knelt beside him and grabbed his collar, shaking him. “Wake up, James!” He didn’t respond. I grabbed my phone from my back pocket and dialed 911. The gravity of not having him seemed too heavy to hold. Would I make it here alone?

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“Oh God. I think this guy…my friend…er boyfriend..was drugged.”

“Okay, Miss. Can you tell me where you are?”

“Umm….Yeah…I’m at the Bedford L train station stairs. Please hurry. He won’t wake up.”

***

Ten minutes later, James was being strapped to a gurney.

“Will he be okay?” I asked the paramedic, who responded by shaking her head uncertainly.

“We won’t know for sure until we run tests at the hospital.”

Please let him be okay. He’s all I have.”

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Sea Glass Mosaic

you.

you are a seaglass mosaic.

don’t be fearful of your imperfections. they are what make you.

i know the resiliency of your skin is being tested. a seemingly never-ending current of depression is sweeping up, splashing the places you’ve reassembled many times.

let the wave reflect your courage rather than shadow your beauty. stand strong. let it wash over you. embrace the tide rather than bracing for it.

your finish will crack. maybe even break. but it’s okay. each crack represents new wisdom and love for life. each break will expose a new facet of your Self.

let sadness rinse away anything unnecessary, leaving only the important pieces.

after the tide, pick up what’s left, rebuild, and glisten in the sun once more.

photo courtesy of Seth Doyle/Stocksnap.io

Something Old

With gentle force, she pulled the tattered sheet off the ornate dresser. A cloud of dust plumed into the air, swirling around the wooden beauty. It was full of curves: soft to look at, but hard to the touch as she traced her fingers across each hand-carved detail.

She imagined her grandmother’s perfumes that once were displayed upon it: potent and flowery. Its finish had been worn from it being opened and closed, battered and bumped, over the years. It was her plan to give it life, once more.

She opened the smooth plastic container of chalk paint, and a new, clean smell filled the space. Gentle brush strokes covered each camber and cranny with paint. Once the paint dried, she used the coarse edge of her sanding block and found her rhythm. Sweat dripped down her forehead and onto her temples as she distressed and sanded each edge to perfection.

Once she was done buffing and shining the sticky wax, she stopped to stand and marvel that something old was new again.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Anderson/Stocksnap.io

Penny for Your Thoughts

A dirty mattress with rusted coils poking through sits propped up like a couch in one corner of the small shack, and a stack of old paperbacks sits in the other. A candle and some matches from a local bar are on top. There is no door, only a blue tarp to block out the wind. And some of the wooden planks of the walls are loose, letting in light between the cracks.

Patty used to squat here, but last week they found her behind Walmart with a needle sticking straight outta her arm. Dead so long she had rigamortis. I’m sorry she’s gone. Patty was a good person with a shit habit. Me too, I guess.

It has been a long road, but now I get methadone at the clinic once a day. I stand in line and get a dose just big enough to keep me from getting sick.

Today I was at my regular spot, asking for change, and each car that drove by just looked right through me. It was like I didn’t exist. I get it, though. We’ve all been approached by someone asking for change. People become numb. I used to be numb, too.

But people out here do exist. We have flesh and blood and souls. Some of us have just run out of luck, and some, like me, have made a couple mistakes along the way.

I sigh and watch a cloud of crystals form in front of my eyes. The chill in my chest is hard to erase in the winter, but I’ll get through.

Other than the mattress and my books, there isn’t room for much else, but at least I’ve got a roof during the colder months this year.

I hear a rustle at my tarp just as the sun begins to dip.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s Jan. Mind if I come in?”

“Not much room, but come in,” I say. “I can share the mattress, but leave your drugs outside.” It doesn’t pay to be stingy on the streets. Or anywhere, I guess.

Jan pulls back the tarp, letting in a breeze that bites. The extra weight on her bones makes it hard for her to breathe, and every time she exhales I get a whiff of cigarette smoke and teeth that need a good brushing.

“I found this book on the street today,” she says, tossing a tattered paperback into my lap. “You read, don’t cha?”

“I do. Thank you, Jan,” I say, carefully moving the candle and matches. I add it to the stack with my others, then light the candle for extra light.

“You’re welcome, dear,” she coughs, and nearly brings up a lung. “Thanks for lettin’ me sit with ya” she says. “Most folks don’t want me ‘round cause ‘a my size and all.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” I say, giving her room on the mattress.

“A kind lady bought me a sandwich today,” she holds up the sub wrapped in white paper with green and yellow letters. “Care to share? For your troubles.”

I feel my stomach grumble painfully in response to the mention of food.

“That would be nice,” I say, taking half her sandwich.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

In the Woods

Your distinguished oak trees shelter me from raging storms, still

the darkness between I fear.

 

Photo courtesy of Artur Rukowski/Unsplash

Bad Apple

Amanda traded her pencil skirts and Manolo Blahniks for jeans and faded leather boots, and her high-paying career as an attorney in New York, for solitude on the farm.

Walking away from her New York life was easier than expected, but then again…

***

She stared at the sun setting behind the rows of apple trees. Most apples were likely to never get harvested. Instead, they would rot and fall to the ground or be ravaged by beetles. She vowed to breathe life back into daddy’s orchard, no matter the cost.

The last happy memory she had of that place was picking apples with him. She longed to hear his voice again, reminding her the proper way to choose fruit for harvesting, to watch him smile as she tried to grab the branches just out of her reach.

But her daddy never was the same after her mama died. It was so sudden. Suicide, they said. After her death, he let everything go, no longer paying the employees, or caring for the trees.

Her fingers touched the chipped paint on the porch railing. A bit of white peeled off and fell to the ground, starkly standing out against the green grass.

The glimmer from her wedding band caught her eye and Amanda hastily pulled it off, ripping the skin on her knuckle. She swallowed the bile rising from her belly, and walked down the splintered stairs, stopping just before the trees. With a look of disgust, she tossed the two-and-a-half carat ring into the hole. It bounced off the gun, making a tink sound.

Using her daddy’s favorite shovel, rusted from years on the field, she filled the hollowed ground with soil. One pile at a time was scooped and dropped until she finished burying her secrets beneath the pale moonlight.

Amanda wiped the sweat from her brow and tossed the shovel aside.

***

…She preferred boots, anyway.

Photo courtesy of Rico Bico/Unsplash

Shayla’s Choice

“I’ll drop you here,” Chris says, parking his blue pick-up next to a meter, three buildings down from the clinic. Downtown has few skyscrapers. Instead, most streets look like this one, with rows of older two-story brick buildings, iron fire escapes hitched sideways against the windows. As a child, Shayla imagined running down them as they lowered to the ground.

“Okay,” she whispers, “but I’m scared.”

He has cheated on her more than once, but she chose to stay. She tries to find something resembling love in his eyes, but he remains focused on the crumbled road. Crews had yet to patch the streets after the harshness of the winter, leaving it broken, like their relationship.

“Go. And call when you’re done,” he says. Shayla brushes a tear from her eye and climbs out of his truck, shutting the door behind her. Chris drives off without a second glance, and the rush of June air his truck leaves behind smells of river water and exhaust fumes. A wave of nausea sweeps over her body.

She grips her stomach and turns in the direction of the old warehouse. A dozen angry protesters separate her from her future. With no one at her side, she swallows hard, never feeling more alone. Her heart begins to palpitate.

“Why didn’t I tell my mom?” Shayla asks herself. She exhales and steadies herself before walking towards the door. Her pale fingers clutch her purse close like a shield against the name calling.

Baby murderer! Killer!

Somehow, she pushes past the protesters, and pulls the door open. Its heaviness reminds her of the consequences she would face for this mistake.

After checking in with reception, a small boxy room with messy stacks of paper piled up in every corner, the clerk points her towards the waiting area. Pine floors stretch the length of the old warehouse, and vintage flower-patterned couches and Venetian rugs placed at odd angles attempt to create definition. She finds a spot on an over-sized beige couch full of soft lines and maroon flowers, and settles deep into its broken cushion. There, she finds a familiar comfort of home.

“Shayla Hutchins?”

Shayla looks up, adjusts her cross-body bag nervously, and smiles at the girl standing in front of her. She glances at the nametag – volunteer. She stands and follows the girl back to a small room with nothing but an exam table and a strange looking machine.

“Change into this. The doctor and I will be back shortly,” the volunteer hands her a hospital gown.

After she closes the door, Shayla changes, and watches the clock.

Knock, knock.

“Come in,” Shayla says, startled.

The doctor and the volunteer file in quietly, and shut the door. The doctor explains the procedure, but Shayla can’t seem to comprehend what she is saying. Everything sounds muffled the way it does after a snowstorm, distant.

“Would you like me to stay and hold your hand?” the volunteer asks. Shayla looks down at her hand, outstretched; her caramel-colored skin looks soft and inviting.

She slowly nods yes, and the volunteer smiles warmly.

“I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”

“Thank you,” Shayla manages to say.

“You’re welcome. And you’re going to be okay,” she says. Her eyes are hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon, bringing warmth to Shayla’s numbness.

The doctor turns on the contraption and a loud hum fills the room. Shayla closes her eyes, grips the volunteer’s hand, and stifles a scream through gritted teeth.

***

The volunteer rubs Shayla’s shoulder like an old friend and ushers her back to the couch.

“Remember, you are worthy of more,” she says, catching Shayla by surprise. Her cheeks flush.

Shayla sits and dials Chris. He answers right after one ring.

“Meet me at The Twisted Hanger,” he tells her.

“Three blocks away?” Shayla hisses.

“I’m grabbing a beer. Meet me out front in ten.”

“You are unbelievable.” Shayla hangs up.

***

No longer afraid of their words, Shayla easily walks past the protesters. What’s done is done. Rays from the June sun warm her shoulders, and the words from the volunteer replay in her head. Worthy of more.

One foot goes in front of the other until she reaches the blue pick-up. But instead of stopping, she keeps walking, fishing around in her bag until her fingers find her phone.

Shayla dials and listens to the rings.

“Hello?”

“Mom? I really need you. Can you come get me?”

 

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io/Ashton Bingham