Two lines in this story show violence.
Another Saturday morning in the pigeonhole--the space not much bigger than a walk-in closet. One tall narrow window, a steep ladder-type stairway where a bedroom should be, a white walled main room with space for sitting, a TV, a small table. The apartment faced the back alley where dumpsters overflowed and if the wind changed, the rotting smell eased through her walls. At twenty-four Laticia knew she ought to have a better place, but signing a twelve-month lease would keep her bound to the promise she made herself.
Last summer, August tenth, now eight months ago, after spending the night outside, after she’d run barefoot from Billy’s place, her backpack on her shoulder, the sidewalk scraping her tender soles, she turned off Broadway and stopped to cool her pained feet on the spongy grass. Her pain and grief folded her in half, her wet hair hung in her face as she cried out loud. A police cruiser rolled to the stop sign a block away. She considered flagging it down, but she hid behind a tree instead. Determined to save herself, she slept next to The Shak’n Stir’s back door, her head covered by one arm. The next morning, she walked to the Henrietta’s for a pair of second hand sandals-not bad looking considering the three dollar price tag. Someone had ditched a city bike on the street corner and she grabbed it feeling lucky; she pedaled the neighborhood until the building with black lettered sign: UNIT AVAILABLE. MOVE IN READY!
Laticia drank coffee while her fingers hugged the sparkly popsocket she’d bought the day before. The phone lit up, 9:35, Saturday April 10. The phone screen photo of her with Billy back when her hair was short and she wore heavy make-up had been replaced by the generic blue screen. Sunlight blinded the phone and as she turned away to the shadow, the falling apart futon where she’d slept scraped her bare thigh leaving a splinter big as a toothpick. Laticia whispered, oh fuckinay. She pulled it out, flung it at the artificial plant and turned back to the phone, her stubby thumb flicking up and up. On TikTok were posts of women with puffed up lips, the before and afters of flat bottom girls turned into cartoonish bubble butts. Up went the thumb, up, up, up.
Billy was her opposite, always telling stories, making crazy faces behind people and imitating someone on a busy sidewalk. One time he bought a half dozen huge cookies at the Human Bean coffee shop, the soft buttery kind that smelled of cinnamon, chocolate, or peanut butter and on their stroll home, handed them out to the vagrants in the city park. His thing was classic rock. To the music, he'd take her hand, twirl her and kiss her, singing. He knew all the words--so many songs, Paint It Black, Hello, and Losing My Religion.
The Star gossip mag lay next to her on the futon with the homemade bookmark poking out. She’d kept a note from Billy, even put the date on it- July 6th- and had it laminated as if she knew it would someday be a memento. He’d left it in her underwear drawer where he knew she’d find it in the morning. It had been a few months into their life together when they had the first real fight. As if someone stole her man and replaced him with a look-alike stranger. He called her clingy, needy, annoying. She'd felt confused, hurt and went to bed in tears. The note was a drawing of two stick figures, one kneeling in front of the other, in the background a tree and bird on a branch with music notes. It was the bunny that killed her—it sat next to the tree with tiny ears and whiskers, two front legs that looked more like boobs. On the back he’d written, Sorry. She forgave him.
She considered walking to the library later where she’d wait in line at the coffee counter, then sit with a book and pretend to read. It had become a favorite pastime, people watching. You could tell which ones lived alone by their flat expressions. Faces like hers that spent too much time looking.
It had been eight months since her flight from Billy. Long enough to forget some of why she left. Wasn’t it her fault too? He said he didn’t want to tell her every door he opened and which bus he took where. Yes, she had trust issues. Was that up to him to fix?
Why didn’t she give him more space? After the first month or two at the pigeonhole, when she’d found her breath and learned to sleep through the night, (miserable on the falling-apart futon), loneliness laid down next to her in the quiet. She’d learned to keep her music on at night. If the phone died, she startled awake.
Her thumb, in an endless rhythm, swipe, swipe. Her life had turned into an empty TikTok video. She turned the TV to public broadcasting, one of the few stations she that didn’t cost anything. The annual membership drive was in progress. Adults sat side-by-side, each facing a phone, waiting. Waiting and sitting, while the phones stayed silent.
Her thumb swiped, she watched the screen. She threw the phone down and leaned toward the one cup coffee maker, fixed a mug full and sat back. Laticia gasped, rubbed her eyes feeling as if she’d wakened from an eight-month coma. On the TV screen, on the top tier with his name card stuck in a groove of the table, William Huertfle. Laticia bounced a single step to the screen. His hair was lighter, a little longer, and he had a scruffy beard. He wore the shirt she’d given him for Christmas, a Jos A Bank, crisp shadow line blue. And those dark rimmed glasses—good choice Billy. Sitting still with hands folded on the table, a slight smile on his lips. She looked away, then back again. He looked like the guy she met three years ago. They hadn’t spoken since that night and for those many months Laticia had resolved to move on. Their paths hadn’t crossed even though she lived within a mile of him. Her last words to him, shouted in anger, she screamed, “I hate what you’ve become. I hate you. I don’t ever want to see your face again, you hear me? Never!” She slammed the door behind her, just as an empty bottle crashed against the it.
The camera followed the host, a middle-aged woman with a screechy voice and a laugh that was too loud for public TV. She pranced thru the room with her microphone, stopping in front of unsuspecting volunteers.
“What brings you out today?” then “How do you like talking with our wonderful contributors?” and “What would you do if you answered the phone and a generous benefactor pledged one million dollars?” She made her way to Billy.
Leticia turned up the volume.
“Well William, so glad you came out to help us with our phone lines. We’d love it if we had a big donation right now to manage the programming. To grow our reach to the audience with all sorts of topics. I hate to put you on the spot here, but can I ask what topic you’d want to see if we had the means?”
Billy nodded a little. “I think I’d watch a program on uh, you know, like how to get someone to, uh, to forgive you.”
The lady tilted the mike to herself and said, “I agree with you there William. We all need a bit more forgiveness in our lives. Sounds like there might be a story behind this. Care to share?” She said, buying time while a single phone rang.
He looked over his shoulder like a boy wondering if anyone was listening. “Nah, it’s just something that came to mind that’s all.”
“Thank you for that suggestion. Now good luck with that phone line.” And she listed the number on the screen for the hundredth time.
Never, no matter what he said or did, she’d never to go back to him.
Laticia tapped the off button on the remote and got in the shower. If she hurried, she could be down to the studio in under an hour. She’d sneak up to the broadcast area and wait for him. She had to get there before he left. But when she combed out her long hair, the roaring blow dryer reminded her. Billy swinging that same hairdryer by the cord and the pain when it smacked her in the back of the head.