Three days left until the release date for Permanent Damage. Ten stories. A teaser every day for each story to whet your appetite, give you a hint of the plot and the feel of them.
This time, a man seeks shelter somewhere he should never go back to . . . .
THE OLD APARTMENT
That morning, that cold and rootless morning when I felt like the sky might open up and I wouldn’t be able to hold on to anything and I might just fall right off the face of the world, I decided — a little drunkenly, like I said — that maybe just this once, I could go back home. Stephanie would have left for work already — I could just let myself in, get a few hours sleep in a real bed, use her shower, and leave, and she’d never know. Or if she caught me there, I could apologize, or we’d have a screaming fight and she’d hate me even more or anything or whatever, but I was too damn tired to care.
So I did. I drove back to the old place, and I didn’t even have to think about it, barely needed to keep my eyes open to make all the right turns, drifted to a slow stop in my old parking space. Walked to the door, arms and legs feeling like they were full of cement that was starting to set, and fumbled with the key and let myself inside.
The inside of the place was warm and dark, blinds pulled shut, and I stood just inside the door for a second, eyes shut and swaying slightly, listening for the slightest sound, the smallest reaction, and when I was sure I was alone, I kicked off my shoes and walked down the hall to the bedroom, pulling off my shirt, my belt. Crawled into soft cotton sheets that smelled for all the world, here in the dead of winter, like they had been dried outside in warm sunshine on a clothesline. I was asleep almost before my head touched the pillow, and I slept deep and dreamless.
Jerked awake hours later by the feeling of something landing on the pillow next to my head. Eyes snapped open — cat, a cat had jumped into bed, and my eyes closed again. When did Stephanie get a cat, I wondered? Shook myself awake again when I remembered — Stephanie is allergic to cats.
I sat up, disoriented, and looked around, absently petting the startled cat.
Posters I didn’t recognize for bands I didn’t know. Clothes spilling out of the open drawers of an unfamiliar dresser — Stephanie never left her clothes like that, she always ironed and folded things and they were safely and sanely shut away and these were clothes she’d never wear in bright colors she hated —
I didn’t know where I was. The room was familiar, but nothing in it was. I threw the covers back and swung my legs to the floor. The cat mewled in protest and jumped to the floor, ran off.
I looked at the clock (unfamiliar clock, unfamiliar nightstand) on the nightstand. Nearly four.
I gathered all my stuff in a blind panic, struggled into my shirt, and bolted to the door. Whoever lived here, they might not be here now, but I had no idea when they’d be back, they’d, they’d scream, they’d call the police, they’d lock me up. I might not have much of a life left but I didn’t want it ruined.
I made it back to my car and crawled inside and slammed the door shut, and I never felt safer or more sheltered in it than at that moment. I sat there, still staring at the old apartment building, getting my breath back, trying to will my heart to slow down. It felt like a bird throwing itself against the bars of its cage.
I realized after a moment that I was laughing hysterically.
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