carte blanche is a monthly column by storyteller and artist bahia watson. this is a free space.
i walk to the door and don’t know what i’m doing here. it’s the middle of the night and i’m outside and outside in the middle of the night is never a good place to be even though i like it. a woman gave me a card a few weeks back and she was a stranger so i didn’t trust her but i held onto the card for some reason i can’t remember now. there is a buzzer button and a locked door and i hate making loud noises in the dark. the road is empty, now. a taxi drives by, then it drives by again. probably thinks i’m a hooker. that’s five blocks over i want to tell him but i don’t, i just give him the evil eye instead. this city knows a lot about silence.
the streetlights are making piles of snow glow like lampshades as if the light is coming from centre of the earth and not the electric air above it. it’s usually colder than this. i usually wouldn’t be able to sit here like this, on this curb, in front of a door that might open if i buzzed. usually i’d have to go in just to stay alive, but it’s not that cold out today, as it usually is, so i can take my chances.
my butt is getting numb and soon i’ll be wet and shivering. i turn back and look at the locked door and wonder if anyone is even inside. my apartment is empty too. hopefully. my mother works nights, sleeping beside old people in case they fall off the bed, or whatever she does. i’ve never seen where she works, it’s not that kind of place. it’s someone’s house and that someone is dying and she’s there to watch. she’s not allowed to use the phone or be on her phone or turn on too many lights, that’s what the dying woman’s daughter said to her in a note she left. i guess she’s the one footing the bill. or maybe she’s protecting her inheritance. surprised she hasn’t just killed her by now, for the money. my mother thinks there are cameras. she moves extra carefully, says little, and screams when she gets home.
i used to stay at home and lock the door like she told me but soon outside in the dark was better. it’s not only us in that apartment anymore. other people have keys, they come in and out, taking what they want and leaving. my mother is a jealous woman, i don’t know how to talk to her.
the door behind me is forest green and the paint is peeling. there are two glass windows on the door that have been covered with some kind of foggy stickers so you can’t see anything inside except for a vague presence of light. the door handles are old and gold and there is one concrete step up to the doorway. this is the old part of town. people say it looks like chicago but i’ve never been so i can’t really say. maybe chicago looks tired in some places too. i’ve heard people say it’s like a warzone there. i don’t think there are any big warzones here only lots of small ones. some places look like an after war zone. after everything’s been taken and left crumbling and the people who didn’t run roam around the streets looking for their stuff, never finding anything but each other’s eyes, searching. i mean, i don’t know anything about big wars only small ones.
the taxi comes around the corner again and stops almost in front of me but on the other side of the road. there’s a bit of distance so i give him the finger. he doesn’t move. i stand up, and look at him, exhausted. packed snow falls off my butt and onto the sidewalk. “fuck off!” i yell not too loudly. the rest of the taxi car is empty and he’s looking at me. his hands are moving. he turns on the overhead light so i can see him staring at me, his hands in his crotch, rushing. i stare back at him and his face looks like one of those scary masks, the ancient ones, the ones with the big, gobbly eyes and mouth stretched like it’s trying to eat the whole entire world with its smile. i think i see his hair on fire, i think i see his eyes are red. his face is the ugliest thing i’ve seen in a while and it gives me a rotting feeling in my stomach. i touch my knife in my pocket, the cold metal sticks to my skin and helps me relax as i watch him wrangle the life out of himself. he closes his eyes and his face is a used tissue. i guess he finished. someone’s coming down the street, i can’t see who. the taxi driver licks the air, winks, turns off the light and drives off. i think about how white and mealy his tongue must be and ring the doorbell. the buzz is louder than i expect. the shadow is still coming down the street. i wait three seconds and run. i’ll try again tomorrow night.
i run behind the mall and the university and onto my street. it’s busier here, more action. girls work on this street. i can watch them from my window. cars slow down and they lean in, then the car either drives off, or they get inside. i don’t know where they go from there but they come back to their spots on this street eventually. most of them. most of them don’t dress up. i’ve seen some work in track pants and hoodies. they look like they’re waiting at a bus stop where the bus don’t stop no more. like if the sun suddenly rose, they’d look like they were going to school.
i take my keys out, unlock the door to my building and go inside, locking it behind me. i climb the staircase without touching the railing. one time i slid my hand along it and there was something sticky. i haven’t touched it since. i climb the stairs, one flight and then another. the staircase is echoey and the lights have a loud hum to them. the first thing you can smell in the hallway is the carpet. it’s old with red and brown designs on it. it smells like something that never dried. like old, wet mushrooms you forgot in back of the fridge. the lights hum loudly in the hallway too. i unlock the keeper and open the door to our haunt.
it should be warmer in here but it’s not. that’s one argument we’re tired of having with the landlord. i scan the room, looking for evidence of intrusion. i slowly walk past the sheet covered couch to the bedroom. i left the door opened so i wouldn’t be surprised by anyone in it, anyone pretending to sleep where they don’t live. the bed is empty, so is the bathroom. the sink in the kitchen is empty and the dish rack is full, just how i left it. there’s another bedroom in the apartment but no one goes into it anymore. i usually sleep in the bed or on the couch. actually, i usually sleep in school, when i go. i used to go to the greyhound station and sleep there. i used to pretend i was travelling and i fell asleep waiting for my bus. but they caught on and moved the bus station to the airport. sometimes i go to this 24hour diner and drink coffee in the night. they get mad if you sleep there, but this one waitress lets me catch a few zzzs if no one else notices. i leave her a tip but she always gives it back to me. i think she thinks i’m homeless and she’s not entirely wrong.
my mom is a hoarder and our apartment is crowded with stuff on display still in packages, with the price tags on. she thinks it looks expensive to see all this unused stuff covered in dust but i disagree. i get asthma attacks from it though and i like going to the hospital. the last asthma attack i had, i got to spend three days there, it was amazing. i like nurses. they put that mask thing over my face and all i had to do was breathe and they brought me food and i could sleep as much as i wanted. and i did. i don’t take my inhaler sometimes, and just sit in the emergency, hoping to be checked in. now they give me a quick mask and send me away without a three day vacation and a room to sleep in. i have to find what makes my asthma worse because i’m tired and i can’t sleep at home, my body always stays a little bit awake in case something bad happens.
the sun is up now and i turn on the tv to watch cartoons before my mom gets home. i take cereal from the cupboard and drown the little circles in cold, white milk. i take a small spoon from the drawer and only eat a maximum of two o’s at time. my name is destiny. sounds like detergent from the dollar store, doesn’t it?
This was really good Bahia. Poignant.
I look forward to reading more of your work.
It’s been a while since I’ve read anything that created such an immediate gut response. This is such a vivid creation of atmosphere and narrative voice; the sense of immediacy is transportative. I have most definitely been left wanting more. What a talent.