“This isn't stealing, it's borrowing and never giving back. No one will know and besides, I'm desperate.” I think inside my brain that navigates me back to the alley. The stars shine bright tonight; maybe tomorrow will be a better day.
I slunk under the moonless sky, thankful for the charcoal cloud that brought a more complete blackness. This was not a night to be seen, not at all. Along the road a lamppost flickered eerily on the pavement and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It's orange glow only made it worse as it reminded me of the same eyes of a wolf I had spotted earlier this evening. The heavy rains have carved a miniature canyon in the path. The swamp of grey water held my reflection and the truth; the truth of my scant flesh was only thus told in the way my cheek bones stood up from my weathered skin.
I turn left and abruptly seat myself on the damaged cardboard, some would say, a bed to me. I peer below at the ripe apple in my hand: should I save it for the morning? I’ll starve in the morning, not now. If I could have opened my mouth any wider I would have eaten the apple in one bite. As it was I took off a quarter of it in one massive chomp of my gnashes. Then I crunched it up with my mouth opening every time I chewed, treating the brick walls to a view of the partially masticated fruit. Then I gulped it down and without pausing to breathe I took another swinging bite at the apple.
I put my laptop back on my desk before clambering into bed. I lay there, snuggled up in my sheets waiting for myself to slowly fall asleep. I worked out that I'd now been awake for about 21 hours and that I'd probably only get 4 or 5 hours sleep before I had to do it all over again. Sorry, sorry. This is the wrong information. I carelessly throw what’s left of the apple on the other side of my ‘house’. I lie back on the damp cardboard and lay in the thawing cold. I don’t wait for the drug of sleep and close my eyes. Except, I don’t close my eyes, what’s the point when the darkness behind your eyelids look the same as the inside. The drug of sleep works for only two hours until the screeching of rich girls my age partying fill the alleyway and the barks of swearing swarm through the thick, musty air.
When my thoughts became nonsense, and all the more interesting for it, I knew I was falling asleep. Now all I had to do was let go.
I wake up faster than a cat in ice-water, every sense urging me to claw my way to standing. Drowsiness get's folks dead, fast. Only the paranoid survive. Back to my job. I trudge along the pavement and brace myself.
I rest my hand on the rough paintwork that coats the door and push. Rough wooden splinters cut into my palm; shards of black paint crumble to the floor. The hinges squeal as though they are a warning, but their plea is silenced by a wall of noise. Laughter overpowers the jukebox. Conversations swirl in a dirty cloud of smoke, the stagnant stench of cigarettes hides within the collaboration of mephitic odours. A sharp smell of drink wafts towards me, like black plumes bellowing from the windows of a burning house. There’s even a hint of sick tainting the fragrance of the room.
“Hey Melissa.” Jen waves me over to her.
“Hi Jen. Any chance of a makeover? Clothes?” I ask, Jen is the best manager of this pub.
I love talking to Jen, she's more like me than anyone I know, but still she thinks inside similar walls to everyone else. I want at least one other person to jump right out of the idea "box" that is our "faux-culture" and imagine it totally different. I can't run my brain in nihilistic thought patterns, I need freedom to move in any direction in search of real solutions. In the eons of history a couple of hundred years of society is a blip, nothing more, and we don't have much culture left anymore anyway. We have the same powerful brains as the ancient Greeks but we let them rot with junk.
“Sure.” She replies.
We make our way to the dressing room and Jen takes out her makeup bag and the spare set of clothes.
“Still slept rough?” She asks.
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I reply as I slip on the jeans.
“No it’s not. I told you to stay with me.” She replies.
“I told you I’m fine.” I sigh.
“If you say so.” She huffs and looks over at me. “I won’t be here for long but Edward will be here with you. Sorry.”
“Edward. You know what Edward does to me.” I whine.
“I know, I’m sorry. But tell me if he touches you or insults you.” She says.
“Yeah tell her.” A voice says.
My worst nightmare. First reaction, I jump behind Jen and cower away. The adrenaline floods my system like it's on an intravenous drip - right into my blood at full pelt. I think my heart will explode and my eyes are wide, letting in every ounce of the fading light. My body wants to either run fast for the hills or work to find weaponry, but instead I stay right where I am.
“Hi Edward.” I blurt out.
“Hey babe! You dressed yourself up for me today. And may I say you look se…” Edward says.
“I’m not your babe.” I interrupt.
“Leave her alone Edward. Might I say we’re both managers, in the same position.” Jen says.
“Fine I will. See you later Melissa.” Edward winks and spins on his heels.
“Don’t mind him, okay. Head down on work, yes. Bye.” She says and hugs me goodbye.
I watch Jen walk away, my only hope seeping away. One giant breath and I’m out taking orders. A hand slides on my back and I turn to see Edward grinning at me.
“Get off me.” I whisper. “I’m serving drinks.”
“Serve me while you’re at it.” He snickers and I nudge him back.
When I first came, Edward had the swagger of someone I didn’t even want to lock eyes with, let alone cross. His arms were more ink than skin and his blonde hair so closely cropped that from a distance I had mistaken him for being bald. Still the same person as before unfortunately.
“Hiyah. What can I get you?” I ask as I smile at the man.
He was draped in police uniform, he wore a friendly, kind face and seemed like any gals dream man.
“Could I just have sparkling water?” He asks.
He kept his eyes on mine and didn’t skive lower like the other men.
“Sure.” I reply. “It’s at the back, so bear with me.”
“No, no. Take your time.” He smiles.
I walk over to the drinks room round the back. “Sparkling water.” I whisper to myself. “There you are.”
I lean over to pour it in, “Sweet cheeks, you’re pouring the drink in wrong.” A voice whispers in my ear.
Startled, I spin around and fall into Edwards arms.
“Edward can you let go of me?” I question.
“Nope.” He says. “I’ve been waiting two weeks for this.”
Cackling, his hands rub against eachother. His coarse whisky tongue licked at my skin, stubby fingers curled in my hair. Every time I closed my eyes he bashed my head backward onto the concrete demanding I open them. I didn't want to, I closed them over and over, anything rather than watch his face lit up with with power and lust. He became angry, his force less controlled, until finally blood ran from the back of my head onto the stone ground and my head lolled like a doll. Edward was finished anyway. He snorted and whispered close to my ear, "Tell anyone and I will personally kill you. Even before killing you, I will tell people of how you steal in shops. Don’t tell." and left without a backward glance.
The tears burst forth like water from a dam, spilling down my face. I feel the muscles of my chin tremble like a small child and I look toward the door; as if the light would soothe me. Scuffling of footsteps appear behind me, “Edward, leave me. You’ve done it now.” I plead.
“Who did this to you?” A voice calls out. I turn towards the door and see the same police man at the door. He had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks. I guess he must get used to that, the sudden pause in a person's natural expression when they looked his way followed by overcompensating with a nonchalant gaze and a weak smile. Of course the blush that accompanied it was a dead give-away.
The lines on his face made him look even more concerned.
“I-I just slipped.” I make up. The constant reminder of Edwards words rotate around my brain.
“Okay.” He suspiciously says and doesn’t press any further. “Is there a bath anywhere so that you can bathe off the blood on the back of your head.
“Yeah. You can go back to the bar, y’know.” I say.
“I’m fine.” He replies calmly as if trying to make me spit out the truth.
“Okay.” I say as he follows me. We make our way to the bathroom where he stands outside.
I strip down and step slowly into the shower, I lean against the cool frame as my weak legs threaten to buckle.
Toes flinching as they touched the chilled ceramic floor. My mind was in shreds; I would never get that episode out of my mind. I turned the dial, old and metallic, releasing thousands of lukewarm drops, darkening my hair and trickled down my back. My eyes fell closed over and over, each time showing me the images like photographs. I open my eyes and stare at the chilli powdered water leak out. I felt sorry for the gutter.
I pry open the door and the same policeman stands still; as if guarding me. Walking out, he turns to speak, “where do you live?”
“I can’t tell you.” I reply.
“I’m a policeman, you can trust me.” He says as his eyebrows arch.
“I can show you.” I offer as he nods.
We walk past Edward, his grin shows no regret and intends a part two will come for him.
I trudged along the pavement at a sedate pace, my mind focused on the gentle footsteps that seemed to echo throughout the desolate street. What should I do? I can’t show him my cardboard home. I immediately stop at a random doorstep. “This is my home.”
“Okay.” He says then looks at me with a skeptical face. “Open the door then.”
I wait for a few seconds then say, “Can you go away? Leave me.”
“Okay. Fine. Here, take my jacket. It’ll keep you warm.” He says and walks away. “Need help, ask for Liam, me!”
I wait until he’s gone and wrap it’s warm embrace around me. Cuddling into its contents, I walk home and lay on my thin mattress. I shut my eyes and the presence of someone’s shadow over my eyes. One, two three. Him. The police man; Liam.
“You should have told me the truth.” He tutors as I sit up and hug my knees.
“Thank you for earlier.” I reply.
“Just a good friend. A good friend.” He sighs and pulls me close for an embrace.