The light cotton of the bedsheet, stained with faint remnants of blood and frayed at the edges, rustles with the wind in the open doorway. The woman standing inside is bending over a pot of coffee, a plate of toast, a glass of juice.
Her apartment is simple and bare. A single mattress covered in worn, dingy sheets lies beneath a dirty window across from an ancient wood table and two matching chairs. The kitchen, only two steps away from the mattress, is just as plain: a stovetop oven and miniature refrigerator. In the corner, a bucket, a mop, some sort of all-purpose cleaning spray.
“At least everything’s clean. You gotta keep it clean.”
Through the bedsheet, across the hall, there are bathrooms. They barely keep their cleanliness for the day, despite her efforts.
“You don’t need to be livin’ this life,” she tells the man with her. He is -, his beard unshaved and clothes dirty, though a gleam in his eye suggests he has lived a life of extravagance prior to this time.
He thinks while he watches her move. The curve of her spine suggests scoliosis— or a lifetime of poor posture— and he cannot find the words to express his thoughts as she continues to speak about life on the streets. He isn’t sure of what street he’s on; in fact, the name of the borough escapes him, though he’s sure it’s because he woke up in Brooklyn and fell asleep here. “Queens” is the assumption he makes.
He closes his eyes and the air smells sweetly of summer. A hole worn into his sandals encourages him to walk with bare feet, and as the day passes, they become dirty and sand encrusts his dry throat.
She is with him— not the woman from the apartment, not anyone— and her skin is sun-stained and sizzling with sweat. Her dark hair whips about in the breeze, and on occasion, he catches a strand in his mouth.
“Do you dream?” she asks. Her name is Soledad. He remembers she’s foreign, yet it is the nationality that escapes him.
And as it was, he didn’t. His mind is black as tar in his sleep, but lying on beaches, his thoughts are illuminated and daydreams vivid. Soledad appears to him often, so lifelike that he must open his eyes to be sure it’s simply fantasy.
They walk on together, smelling the salt in the air and the perspiration of children on bicycles. He longs for America, with its fields of green and the buildings which seemed to touch the clouds. Beaches became tiring to the point that he often forgot which ones he had visited in his lifetime, though he could recognize them without difficulty. The women were the change that kept his fire burning.
Soledad has a terrible warmth; he is unused to this tenderness, this love. It makes his head spin. They drink wine together— white, not red— and kick off their sandy shoes to make love on the porch. She travels with him to Marrakech but leaves swiftly for Spain when they begin to fight like lovers.
“You dreamin’?” the woman asks, her fist placed definitively on her hip. Her mouth is clenched and her brows are furrowed.
“No.” He lies only so he won’t have to explain. And he flees, like Soledad, away from the only interaction he’s managed in weeks.
Once outside, he gives his address to the first taxi driver he can find.Brooklyn, please, Brooklyn!
Home, no keys, he kicks the ancient door in. He lies on the couch and closes his eyes, certain that the night before will reveal itself to him, play a dazzling light show behind his eyelids.
He first hears the sizzle of crack-cocaine in a pipe; the sound evokes a warmth deep in his belly, clawing its way through his ribs. He wants it, all of it, to ease the hardened shell somehow growing over his spirit. He draws in, relaxes into the cushions of the backseat of a car.
Muffled voices, no feelings in his fingertips. His vision is black, then painted with visions of things he had lived sometime before. Green grass, a breeze, some salty smell stuck in his nose. He passes out.
His eyes fly open and he figures someone must have dumped him with the lady. A hunger radiates through him; not for food, not for drink, but for drugs.
He is unsure of his addiction, knowing not where it began or how to stop it. Life blurs past.