The Apartment by John McNeeley

There were five of them in there, not all the time but most of the time. Four of them were stoic but one of them was always coming and going. It was winter outside, always white, with the window iced over so they could only make out blurs of humans rushing to and from and the ominous white glow of city lights against the night. The steam radiators blasted off in sequence, keeping the apartment warm. They all shared a cat named Harper who was curled up on the couch, oblivious to the pills and needles scattered all over the coffee table and floor. Four of the apartment mates were there tonight- one sprawled out on the couch next to the cat, one in a worn out pink chair with the head rest torn up by Harper’s claws and cigarette burns on the arm rests. One was lying on the floor staring at the ceiling and the last one sitting in a rickety wooden chair, bent over a typewriter.

Penny preferred the floor, sitting Indian style. Her honey blonde hair oily from lack of washing. She was never a model but might have been. Penny was a cheerleader and a cliche. In her chest beat the heart of a child, but the rest of her had been at war with something evil that left her defeated and scarred. Penny had blue eyes that rested in hollow sockets, staring into some space and time between her and Jacob.

Jacob sat in the pink chair next to the window, which faintly reflected his spiky red hair and smooth freckled skin. He wiped at the cold glass, trying to will the window to clear so he could gaze out at Lumsya- the city forever in winter and holding the apartment in its cold bosom. Jacob may have been the only one left with the Hope of getting out and seeing the rest of the world. In his mind, the dream was not dead, and one day he would see clearly through the window and squint to view a land of green hillsides and sunshine.

“Penny, you are taking too much” Burns said from his typewriter, “that was meant to last until morning and even shared among us” Burns was the oldest of the five mates. He had been brought back from clinical death three times in two years and everyone called him The Cat because it seemed he had nine lives. Burns, like Penny, had no Hope of or for anything. He was at peace with his routine of pills, needles, and typing away at poems that he would mail out to publishing companies. He never left any contact information, satisfied just knowing his work was out there somewhere, in Lumsya or beyond. Burns was tall and bony with a pock marked face and thinning hair. He was the biggest user, until recently when Penny went into overdrive with her thirst for the Numb.

“You are such a shit!” Joannie scoffed at Burns from the couch, “you wait until we fall asleep and take everyone else’s shit, that’s why you never jones” She itched incessantly at her curly jet black hair, “Penny don’t listen to him, he’s envious of your tolerance baby” Joannie’s eyes were watering, as always. She never cried, yet tears would fill her eyes so that they reflected a fishtank view of whoever was looking into them. Joannie was older than Penny by five years, but younger than Burns. She had a horrible attitude like Burns but refused to abuse the others with it. Joannie was a mother- her child taken by the State long ago due to her condition. She wore a scar on her smile for her son.

William was the fifth one. He was not in the apartment at the time. William said very little and he was always coming and going. Whereas the rest of them would talk about the Past and discuss what was in the News, and even showed a caring for one another, William formed no attachments aside from grabbing Penny by the hand every few nights and disappearing into another room for a spell. Penny would always come out looking nearer to death for the experience. The rest of them knew what was going on but played dumb. They all needed William and would never question or cross him. He was not the way out, but he was certainly the way in. William had the Fix, the Power, and the Wisdom. Burns could have had all that, but again, he lacked Hope and he feared William.

“I wish I could see out this window and know when William was coming. I wish I could see many things” Jacob said to no one in particular. He got up, shook his head and sighed in defeat. He slumped down into the couch and rubbed Harper, who kneeded the couch into even more wear with his uncut claws, purring away.

“I submitted another poem to City Lights out in San Francisco” Burns exclaimed out of nowhere. “It was a very inspired poem about how all I see is white and how NO ONE in this place has ever taken the time to paint these fucking white white walls some other color! I am so sick of looking at these white, white walls and wish one of you would go out and buy some paint of any color at all and I will be happy to help paint them! We have an iced over window, and even if we could see out of it, it seems like Lumsya is in a perpetual winter, so who gives a damn! We could even paint the window. The color of the su-“

And with that Jacob got very uncharacteristically angry “NO! We are NOT going to be painting the window at all BURNS! You can do whatever you like with the walls but the window is NOT to be touched!” Jacob stood straight up and six inches from Burns, staring him down.

“Now, now son! You are going to calm down and back away from me. I won’t touch your precious window of Hope, ok? But know your place Jacob, know your place” Burns lit a cigar and grabbed an elastic and a needle and sat down by his typewriter and gave himself an injection.

“You know you are not supposed to do that yourself, you should have waited for William. He is not going to be happy” Joannie murmured, not really looking at Burns.

“And it’s ok for Penny to take so much without William’s assistance that she’s practically kissing Heaven, correct?” Burns shot back.

“Penny NEEDS to stay in the Numb because she is so fragile that if she goes too long without it she will kill herself and you KNOW that!” Joannie said with her puddly eyes, “Not to mention she has to deal William by herself, and that alone needs the Numb”

Burns did not argue that. No one did. Quietly, Jacob’s heart was breaking. He loved Penny and it killed him to think about how helpless she was when alone with William against her will. He could never look at her when she was looking at him. He took snapshots of her beauty whenever she was looking elsewhere or sleeping, and he would close his eyes and stare at the back of his eyelids which were the canvases that held paintings of Penny forever young, with blue eyes and honey blonde hair.

Jacob liked that he had Hope, but now he was feeling anxiety and pain and that was not good, so he grabbed two of the pale green pills with his sweaty shaky hands and popped them in his mouth, swallowing hard with his spit since there was no running water. He sat back against the couch and rubbed Harper, his other hand lazily landed on the steaming radiator, but he felt no heat, no pain. He felt a calm like never before and suddenly everything came together in his mind. He just needed the timing to be right, along with the courage to do what he needed to do.

The apartment was silent, aside from Burns typing away and the radiators clanking and steaming. Joannie laid on the floor reading with her feet up on Penny’s knees, as Penny slumped in the pink chair now, with her headphones on and her eyes closed, getting lost in a song.

Suddenly an echo of footsteps in the stairwell. William was back. He fumbled his keys at the door, Joannie and Burns stood at attention like excited yet nervous children. William dressed in his beautiful white jacket as always, with his expressionless stare and prominent cheekbones, assessed the apartment mates with a back and forth glare and an up and down nod of his head.

“Everyone doing alright?” William asked, but really didn’t seem to care for answers.

“We need more of the Fix, William” Burns begged, wiping spit from the corners of his lips “I need more than they do, William. They pilfer mine you see”

“Bullshit! You fucking lying pompous ass!” Joannie yelled at Burns in disbelief.

Burns knelt down by the feet of William, rubbing his hands back and forth nervously. William patted him on the head like someone would a friendly dog, and dismissed him. A much deflated Burns returned to his typewriter and started punching very hard blasts of his fingers furiously at the machine’s keys. He never looked up again.

Joannie crawled over and grabbed William’s finely pressed pants, gripping the pleats of each leg hard with her fists. This did not sit well with the manicured William. “Joannie, you are embarrassing yourself as well. Do NOT beg, girl. Come on now, let go or you will be paying for my next dry cleaning. Tell me what it is you want”

“I need the Fix, Billy. I need it pretty fucking bad you know” Joannie sniffed and snorted through nervous laughter.

William looked down at her with a tinge of sympathy, “You want your child back, don’t you dear?” he pouted, “Then you need to take the yellow pills and stop stealing Jacobs blue ones because they are not good for you. The yellow ones will reunite you with your son, and that is what you want, right?”

The levee’s in Joannie’s eyes finally broke and the soul water came streaming down her cheeks, cutting ravines into her thick white makeup, “I want to find my son, I want him back Billy pleeeeze…I will do for you what Penny has been doing and I will do it even better, just please get me back to my son” William grabbed Joannie by her head, caressed it gently, then pushed her aside, hard against the wall. Joannie rolled up in a ball and sobbed into the floor.

William swiveled his head around and locked on Penny. “Penny come on, its time, lets go now” and William opened the door to the Other Room. Looking defeated, Penny pulled her aching bones from the chair, cast her headphones aside and reached up to William’s extended hand. He grabbed it gently, led her in and closed the door. Joannie continued to weep and Burns continued to type hard into his machine. Jacob remained on the couch with Harper. He closed his eyes and pictured him and Penny walking along a beach with the sun shining down. No winter, no white. He was not sure if he was asleep or awake, but he started to dream nonetheless. Moments later, something fractured his moment of paradise.

Penny let out a short quick scream and then nothing. Jacob darted up out of the couch and even Harper leaped up onto the table, scattering the pills and needles with his movement. His tail fur spiked up in fear and his eyes went owl-wide. Jacob was sick of white walls, sick of trying to wipe ice from a widow of winter…sick of Lumsya. He loved Penny and he set into motion with that as his fuel. Kicking the door down to the Other Room he found Penny naked, unconscious on the bed with the Fix in her arm. William was nude from the waist down, awkwardly rearranging her body to his needs with an elastic band between his teeth. His eyes grew wild with rage when he saw Jacob.

“Oh no Jacob you little twit, you know better! You know what I will do to you! I will leave you ALONE here and you know I have the power to make that happen! You won’t have any mates and you will go crazy from the loneliness. I only gave you these friends to give you Hope”

Jacob could not let William get in his mind. That’s what William did to every one of the mates and Jacob was done being a pawn and a zombie.

“That’s not true. I made these friendships on my own terms and I care for these people and they care for me. You do NOT decide my life anymore. Get off her motherfucker!”

William shrugged, dismissed Jacob with a laugh and a wave of the hand and readied to defile Penny. Jacob grabbed the needle from Penny’s arm and plunged it into William’s temple.

William straightened up on the bed, looked at Jacob with complete shock and fell face first to the floor.

“Come on Penny baby, come on please” but she was not answering. Jacob was weak from the pills he’d taken earlier, but used all the strength he had to lift her and carry her out of the room. He passed by Joannie who was still sobbing on the floor and Burns who was still typing madly. He kicked hard at the Door that would lead them out into the winter of Lumsya. A siren rang out into both the apartment and the city streets. Jacob stumbled, exasperated, but never dropped Penny. She was a symbol of Hope just as much as the green fields and the sunshine that he’d imagined for so long. Jacob felt stronger with every stride. He was carrying Penny and running as fast as he could. The white walls and steam radiators were all behind him. Even winter was disappearing as he reached the outskirts of Lumsya.

“Come on Penny, wake up. I love you. I always have”

“You never looked at me, and I was always looking at you” she said.

“Baby, I was always looking at you, just when you weren’t looking at me” Jacob said, “I felt like if our eyes ever met…”

“I always wanted the same thing you wanted- to be more than just ‘mates, to have more than the Fix and the Numb. You wiping that window, dreaming- so sad you were, but you had Hope and I never said it, but you gave me hope that this day would come”, she paused and took a long trembling breath and smiled. There was a clarity in Penny’s eyes that Jacob had never seen. “The Sun and the Warm, it’s so beautiful, just like I imagined. Thank you Jacob, I love you…” Penny’s eyes closed and she grew limp again.

Jacob could see it now. He could see the sun and the green fields, but Penny was floating out of his arms. She was rising into the Beauty even faster than he could run. He smiled through his tears “I will meet you there baby, wait for me”

© 2011 John McNeeley

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