“Ma’am? You can’t sleep here. Ma’am?”
I spring up from the city park bench, gasping like an airless diver breaking to the surface.
“I’m sorry, you can’t sleep here. Do you need me to take you to a shelter?” The middle aged Chicago police man hesitates, clearly noticing my short, dark blue halter dress and black stilettos. His hair is receding, but I can still notice where is side burns used to be. He seems almost too fat for a policeman. You’d think they would give him a bike or something to patrol the park on. At least try and give any thief or purse snatcher a challenge.
I check my watch, 10:30 PM. I was only sleeping for fifteen minutes.
“I’m sorry, Officer, I just dozed off.” I force a grin.
His eyes move to the fresh cut along my cheek, “Are you sure you don’t need a place to sleep? These shelters have really nice cots and…”
“No, I have somewhere to sleep.” I think.
“Let me check that cut out. It doesn’t look good. What happened?”
“I, uh, just fell on a twig earlier today…I’m fine.”
“Well, it’s getting late. A young girl like you should be getting home. You never know who could be prowling around out here.”
I roll my eyes as I rush away to avoid further suspicion. Prowling? The closest thing I see to a prowler is a 90 year old man sitting against a dead tree whispering sweet nothings to himself. Everywhere else are young couples, whispering sweet nothing to each other, or lonely men, dressed in their Friday night finest, attempting to pick up any lonely girl. I begin to walk faster realizing I look like a lonely girl.
The reflection of my dress on a black store window catches my attention. I look horrible, fitting for the occasion really. My dress has light smears of dirt, probably from the bench. The blue polish on my toes is chipped away. The anti-humidity hair spray has failed me so hairs are sticking up every which way. The cut on my face makes me cringe. It looks worse then it feels; light smudges of crimson surround the three inch gash. I glance at my arm I used as a pillow and see the rest of the blood. I lean closer to the mirror and can almost tell it was made by the letter R on his ring, the ring wrapped around his filthy finger. I growl at the reflection, at the thought of him.
“Did you go to Riverdale High School?” Those were my first words to him, Kyle, three months back as I sat waiting for my bus to work. He was class of 2003 and I was 2004. I always thought that nerds were the only ones to waste money on class rings, but Kyle looked like no nerd. He had shaggy brown hair, distinguished cheek bones, and a blue and white plaid shirt. I had never seen a finer example of the human species.
The next night we were out to dinner and he wasn’t wearing his class ring. He told me he only wore it that day for shits and giggles. We laughed about fate and about our lives at the same table for five hours. How his parents are God-freaks and his brother just so happened to be born gay, and about how the most traumatizing thing for me as a teenager was sharing a bathroom with my pig sister. We were forced to leave when they shut off the lights. Then we laughed about that all the way home until he kissed me goodnight. He seemed perfect.
What if the sun would have never hit the ruby R, shinning in my direction?
I lick my fingers and try to rub away the blood on my arm and face. Once I see it’s all gone, I begin to walk again. I wish I hadn’t left my purse in Kyle’s car. No cell phone and no money. But I have no one to call anyways.
About ten months ago my 66 year old father had a major heart attack. I could see it coming. After my mom’s death two years back, he completely forgot about his diet. He was eventually forced to retire from his architect firm. When I agreed with his doctors to send him to a retirement home, he was furious. So even if we were on speaking terms, I still couldn’t stay with him. I don’t think Riverdale Retirement accepts twenty-four year olds.
What if he just ate his Cheerios?
The hot July air forms droplets of sweat on my face. A rancid smell makes me gag and I look around to find the cause. A mammoth, puke green dumpster hides in the alley of Cassie’s Restaurant. My best friend’s name was Cassie. She went to Arizona State and I haven’t heard anything from her since. Exactly like the rest of my friends. They all moved out of state; I got left behind like an old mutt.
I made the decision not to go to college on my seventeenth birthday. I watched my dad struggle to get me a gift, searching for pennies under the couch like a child. My sister went to De Paul, a private, wallet chewing college. She graduated two years ago and I haven’t heard from her except cards on my twenty third and twenty fourth birthdays. I regret not saving up my own money for college but that’s kind of hard considering I worked as a bank teller, and still do.
What if my sister was still around?
I figure since the smell is out here, it must not smell in the café. I have no money, but water is free isn’t it? I sit down on a tall chair at the counter.
“Hello there pretty lady. What can I get you?” The most adorable old man waits with a pad of paper and a #2. He can’t be any taller the 5’5”. His skin is saggy, from his bald head to his double chin. A quarter sized liver spot sits on his shiny scalp, surrounded by dozens of freckles that haven’t just taken over his head, but his whole body.
I can’t help but smile, “Just a water please.”
“Just a water! No, no, no, unacceptable. You are far too skinny and you must try one of our cheeseburgers!”
“I would love to, but I don’t have any money.”
“Hmm, well I’ll see what I can do,” He disappears into the kitchen and comes back only seconds later with a cheeseburger. “You’re in luck! We messed up an order today and made an extra burger. It may be a little cold, dear, but still yummy.”
He places the sandwich in front of me and stared, smiling a huge smile, waiting for me to take a bite. I’m not really hungry but I feel like if I don’t eat the whole thing in one gulp I will break his old little heart.
I sink my teeth in and struggle to swallow the meat. “It’s delicious.” It would be better if my stomach wasn’t in knots.
He smiles with satisfaction. “What’s a young woman like you doing all dressed up, alone in a tiny diner?”
“I’m not sure.” I say after clearing my throat.
“I apologize. I didn’t mean to pry,” He begins to walk back in the kitchen. “But you should be heading home soon, its almost 11 already.”
I moved away from home at the age of twenty to microscopic apartment with a stranger as a roommate. I found it in the newspaper and jumped on the offer, knowing it could be my only chance. Me and Sarah lived together for a few years and the only thing I knew about her was that she was a nympho. I’m not sure if she did it for money, but she always had a lot of cash and a lot of guys coming in and out.
One night she had two men in her room. I appreciated her ability to keep it quiet, but then there was a knock at the door. It was midnight and I wasn’t planning on answering it. But the person wouldn’t leave. I looked through the peep hole and saw a young, shaggy man. I opened the door, leaving the chain lock on. “Sarah, I need you,” he said as he grabbed at me through the crack. I kept telling him that I wasn’t Sarah but he insisted I was. The smell on his breath was unmistakable, straight booze. He pushed against the door so I couldn’t close it. Just as I was about to start screaming for help, the two men and Sarah walked out of the room, hair messy and sweaty. I tell her this guy is freaking out. She opens the door, gesturing for the two guys to follow her. She closes the door behind them, leaving me alone. I hear yelling from the hallway. Sarah then the man, then Sarah, the man, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, a loud slap, and then footsteps fading. Sarah knocks on the door, I open it to find her with a hand print on the side of her face. “Guys these days,” she laughs as she pulls a beer from the fridge.
It wasn’t long after that I knew I couldn’t stay there any more. Then I met Kyle.
What if she didn’t have the sex drive of a man?
The squeaking of a chair pulls me out of my memories. A blonde hair, blue eyed, lonely guy sits next to me. The old man practically runs to take his order. He insists on the cheeseburger; the guy orders a patty melt.
Once the old waiter leaves he smiles and says, “Figured the burger couldn’t have been that great. You’ve barely touched it.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s kind of cold.”
“That’s a pretty nasty cut you have on your face there.”
He reaches his hand out toward my face. I slap it down onto the counter, hitting the edge of my plate. Meat, lettuce, and tomato go crashing to the floor.
“What the hell? It was bleeding, I was going to wipe it away!” He holds the napkin in his hand in front of my face. “I wasn’t going to hurt you.”
“S-sorry.” A tear falls from my left eye as I get up and run out of the restaurant.
On me and Kyle’s third date I told him about my living situation. He said to come live with him. I laughed at the idea, but he was serious. He said it would be strictly as roommates, nothing more. He had an extra room and wouldn’t mind splitting his rent. I told him that I would think about it. The pros list weighed over the cons.
1.He seems genuine
2.I wouldn’t have to breath musky sex air
3.My own bathroom
4.Kyle has a great body
5.He’s a chef
6.He wouldn’t pay his rent with prostitution money
7.Closer to the bus stop
9.Kyle has a great taste in music and movies
10.He makes me laugh
11.He is responsible (rent will get paid)
12.Never having to see Sarah again
2.He’s a boy which means he’s probably dirty
3.I don’t know him very well (Though I didn’t know Sarah well either)
4.Kyle’s mom visits a lot
5.We’d have to stop dating so it doesn’t ruin me living there if things get bad
6.He likes to stay up late
I called him only two nights later with my answer. He helped me move in two weeks after.
What if I just spent one more day on the list?
I put my hand to my face, already feeling the warm crimson. I keep pressure on it, walking to the bus station bench. A bus comes rolling to a stop in front of me. I consider getting on. Going wherever. Maybe it will end up in front of the Riverdale Retirement home. I would walk in and fall to my knees explaining everything to my father. I would start at the end.
I lived with Kyle for a few weeks and things were normal. We were just roommates. Three weeks in he insisted on a fourth date. I tried to explain con number five. I don’t thing he understood, because he just wouldn’t drop it. He Continuously asked to go to a movie, or dinner, a club. My answer was always the same. “Just roommates.” I considered the third time he asked, thought it was kind of cute actually. Then it just got plain annoying.
“Just roommates.” I would say holding in yells.
Then today I came home from work and when I opened the door, there was Kyle, roses in hand and tickets to see Lion King on Broadway. He was smiling a crooked smile and his upper lip was twitching. On his left hand was the R.
“I won’t take no for an answer. I’m even wearing the ring. That’s how we met, remember?” he giggled, I got the shivers.
I put on the dress he had laid out for me in the bedroom and attempted to clean up myself up a little. We made it to the theater too early and ended up sitting in our nose bleed seats, staring up at the ceiling. His arm rose as the lights dimmed, resting it on my shoulder. What were we, watching a two star romance movie? I shoved it off.
“Just roommates.” I whispered.
He didn’t move the entire show. I glanced over at him once and he was staring at the ceiling.
When the show ended, we walked like soldiers to his car. Standing a good foot apart, faces looking straight ahead. Half way home I saw a smile rise from his mouth and only seconds later his hand was on my thigh, quickly moving up. Every time I slapped it away it came creeping back.
“What? Roommates can’t have a little fun?” His laughter filled the car. Sweat began to form down my face. I could feel the cold from his ring on my inner thigh as if it froze me, stuck to let him do whatever he wants. As quickly as that thought went through my head, a rush of adrenalin swept through me. I grabbed his meaty finger and bent it backward. His laughter only grew. His clearly pain-filled hand reached the back of my head, pushing it toward his already unzipped pants. I let my fist drop down on his growing crotch. His laughter finally turned to screams. He threw my head back, stopped the car, and left his raw marking.
What if I didn’t hurt him enough?
I pry my hand from the dried blood on my face. The palm of my hand is shining, not from the blood but from the sweat the sweat that has not yet vanished from the car ride. I close my eyes tight, not wanting to see the blood or the sweat, not wanting to see the bus drive away. Not wanting to stare at the never ending street that has no where to take me. I have to open them eventually.
But what if I didn’t?