I’m not dead enough when my ex-girlfriend breaks into my apartment. Dead asleep, I mean, though not for want of trying. The only reason I hear the door give is because it’s finally quiet: the screaming from the asshole up in 402 had stopped yesterday, and I’m almost sure it’s my fault that the screams were replaced with sirens this morning. I self-medicated that thought with the last of the booze above the fridge, ignored the landlord screaming about rent somewhere in all that. But Kelly breaking the door in with her shoulder wakes me from my tangle of filthy sheets and clothing in the middle of the floor.
I figured someone would come eventually once bills stopped being paid and I didn’t show up for work. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that it took almost a week, trying to put it all together in my head when she stares down at me as if she’s never seen me before, with something that is at least one part pity to two parts shock. Throw in disgust and horror and you have the cocktail of my life for the last few days.
I don’t want to kill her, but I’m not sure I can stop myself.
“Lucas?” she says, sounding as if she wasn’t certain.
I wanted to say: it’s only been a week. Or ask: am I that far gone? but all that comes out is: “Go away, Kells.”
Everyone else calls her Kelly. That pulls her into the room. It’s a cheap bachelor deal: room for a double bed, couch, tv on a dresser, bathroom and the microwave stand it advertised as a ‘kitchen’ taking up a whole wall. It wasn’t pretty when I moved in, but right now it’s all discarded garbage, ruined clothing and a weeks worth of BO making some death metal music jam of smells.
Kelly doesn’t even try for her retail-mask of a smile, just crouches down without coming closer like I’m some homeless man in a back alley she’s half-scared of catching rabies from. “Lucas.” She pauses, then: “Eric called me when you missed the match at his place last night. You don’t miss the match for anything.”
Not even your birthday, I almost say, catch myself. Even this far gone I can do that much. It had been our first big fight since we’d moved in together last year, before everything fell apart between us. She’s staring at me, waiting, and I fumble toward words. “I’m fine. Go away.”
“Fine.” She lets out a short bark and stands, gesturing to compass the room sharply with both hands; her voice is calm, her anger in movement like it always is. “Show me how this is fine.”
I look around, half against my will. It’s been almost a week. I haven’t done dishes. Bathed. Laundry. I’ve done nothing but finish the last of the food, drink, and sleep. I’ve been terrified to watch TV, piss-pants scared to go outside. I don’t know why that led to letting the apartment fall apart. I stand on my second try, the bed not wanting to let go of me, move into the bathroom. There is black mold all over the ceiling; I could have sworn it wasn’t there last week.
“I wanted my outside to mirror the inside.” I don’t know if Kelly hears me, or even if I speak out loud. I splash water into my face, run some through my hair, remember working in a McDonalds years back: my hair feels like the grease trap. Has it been just one week? I don’t know. I’m scared to ask. She hasn’t called the police yet, or even Eric. He and I’ve been friends for over ten years and always watched the football matches together – insisting on calling it that and not soccer – and there had been a big match coming up. I’m sure of that, even if I can’t quite recall what.
I turn on the bathtub and dunk my head under ice water until the cold punishes me awake, stagger up, shake it off and go back into the room proper. Kelly is close to the door. She hasn’t bolted but her cell phone is in her right hand like a talisman. I don’t think she trusts me right now. Only fair. I don’t either. There is a buzzing behind my eyes, between them. I shudder from it, take a breath, manage another without coughing.
“You have a cig? I ran out four days ago.” For some reason, this seems important.
“You haven’t been out for cigarettes.” Her words are careful. Measured. “Why?” she says then. To that. To everything.
“I’m scared,” I say, to the everything, and it is terribly easy to say.
“All right. I called a cab; they’ll take us to the hospital, you can be checked out. I have an aunt who snapped once: she collected glass butterflies and one day she just broke them all and my uncle came come to find her eating them. She had a vacation, took a couple of drugs for a few weeks and was fine after that. No one is okay all the time.”
“No shrinks. I’m not –.”
“Lucas. You missed the game,” she says, and the edge under that catches me like a fish, shakes me all over.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
“That’s what hospitals are for. Come on,” she says, and I take one step. Another. The first step is hard, the ones after it easier. I make it to the hallway, follow her down the stairs. I smell ripe, sour and overdone but she doesn’t say a word in protest. Part of me goes: you were never worthy of her, but I shove it aside and follow her out into the dark.
It’s raining a little as we get outside and I let the rain hit me, pretend it can wash away anything that matters. I want to say: “Look, Kells, I’m not crazy,” but I have this suspicion only crazy people say that. The cab is checkered yellow and black and I follow Kelly into it, taking the other back seat. I’m trying not to look at the driver, trying not to see the world outside the windows. I’m a good driver, so I hate bad drivers, and the last – the really last thing I need – is road rage. Because my head is hurting, and it would stop hurting after that, and I can do right now is try not to think about Kelly, tell myself I don’t hate her at all, that I never did, that she was right to leave me.
It’s easier to think that, right now. “I’m not crazy.” This time I know I say it aloud because she turns to me. “It would be easier if I was.”
It sounds silly, like a bad movie line, but she doesn’t laugh. “Eric said he went in to see you at work, about some records you’d put aside for him to buy, and they told him you hadn’t been in all week. They’d left messages. He figured it on the flu, until you never called to cancel out of seeing the match. He had to go into work, catering some party, or he’d have come. He called me instead.”
“Oh.” I don’t know what to say, so I say that. The cab ride is fast, the streets near-empty. It’s late, painfully so, but Kelly doesn’t push me. I’d probably cry at that, if I wasn’t a guy. I just sit, and wait, and she peels off worn bills for the cab driver as I realize I don’t even know where my wallet is at all only to find it my front pocket of my jeans when I always keep it in the back. The hospital is all pale lights, the kind that make everyone into zombies – or the doughy kind, in my case – and the nurse who asks questions doesn’t care and can’t care or she’d break.
The nurse says it will be a few hours, directs me to a cheap plastic seat, the kind even McDonalds no longer uses. I sit. I tell Kelly she should go. It will be a while, she has a shift in the morning – I think? – and she says she does. I try to push without anger, without being me, and she listens, fights back a yawn she doesn't want to give voice to. I pull out what money is left in my wallet, shove it to her for a cab home, insist she go. She leaves when I thank her. I’ve never been good at thanking anyone. I don’t know if that does it. I don’t know if she catches that I don’t want her to be around me, even if not why. I’m trying not to think about how she left. Trying to ignore the feeling behind the eyes, what happens after it gets out of me.
I don’t know what she catches in my voice, in my movements, in me. Maybe she’s just glad for the excuse, since it’s been almost a year. Nine months, about ten days, maybe twelve. I can remember how long it’s been since we broke up, but I can’t recall what day our anniversary was on. It’s almost a relief when the nurse comes and tells me to follow her past a room that smells of dead chemicals.