Freedom by Richard Thomas
The razor blade was getting rusty but he didn’t mind. He paused for a moment and looked up at the small apartment and shook his head. What was the point.
The rancid kitchen was dark with gunmetal walls. Sunlight fought the pair of tall blinds to get through, a losing battle these days. The sink was piled high with dirty dishes. Dried-on enchiladas, cereal in bowls and pots with old noodles filled up the metal basins. The trashcan overflowed with empty pizza boxes, Chinese takeout and enough crushed beer cans to fill a homeless man’s shopping cart. A large scarlet blown-glass ashtray shaped liked a daisy on acid perched on the countertop stuffed with cigarette butts. Old cans of cat food lay in the corner in varying stages of fossilization next to a filthy tin of water. A vintage fridge and stove in aqua were witness to the neglect.
The rest of the one bedroom apartment was coated in a film of dust and grime. The shower had enough rings to arouse a geologist. The toilet was a petri dish. In the living room a pile of old magazines were stacked on the hardwood floor. Wired. Playboy. Juxtapoz. Time. A lone Formica table held down the middle of the room, four chairs in cream leather and chrome. An obsolete Apple Macintosh Performa, a pile of melted candles and a whiff of patchouli sat atop it.
French doors with faded drapes in ivory lace led to a simple bedroom. A queen size mattress and boxspring sat with aplomb. A large tv with cigarette burns on the top sat on a thrift store bureau. Grey dust bunnies held congregation in a corner, the humble beginnings of an uprising at hand. A pile of dirty socks and underwear filled another corner, the smell of cat urine faint but distinct.
Robert sat on the edge of his bed. Stubble clung to his face and he wore nothing but faded khaki shorts, frayed at the edges and dotted with drops of blood. At his feet a grey cat circled mewing for attention, rubbing his calves over and over again.
“I don’t care, I don’t care, I just don’t care.”
He pressed the razor blade into his left wrist and pulled it vertically up his arm. A tear ran down his face. He clenched his teeth while his arms trembled. A sigh escaped his lips. He closed his eyes and smiled for a second. A rivulet of crimson trickled down his forearm. He licked his lips and hunched his shoulders. He stared down at the blade contemplating Occam’s Razor and the irony at hand. Flesh cried out for more abuse and he obliged it. A series of short cuts horizontal and not serious crossed his previous attempt. His chest rose and fell. His eyes were foggy and yet intently focused on the microcosm in his skin, every cell now screaming for a respite.
“…said it wasn’t his fault. So I asked how wasn’t it your fault? Your booze, your condom, your apartment. This is WCRP 106.9 Chicago. Real rock radio. A great day to be alive. Back after this.”
“For a hole in your roof or a whole new roof…Fredric roofing…”
Robert slammed his fist onto the snooze button, silencing the clock radio on the nightstand, and sending a spray of blood flying. He placed the razor next to the clock and stared at the lattice work on his wrist.
“Just a little deeper.”
He stood up and walked to the kitchen. His shoulder caught the corner, and he grunted as he entered off-balance. Opening the refrigerator there was nothing but a sad marriage of ketchup, mustard, pickles and beer. Lots of beer. Cases and cases. He grabbed a can of Budweiser, cracked it open and gulped half of it down in an instant. He studied the windows and sneered at the door. Leaning against the countertop he noticed a picture on the refrigerator.
He was six and his brother Bill was three. They stood in front of a huge oak tree that had been felled to build his house. His family’s house. Two acres right behind his grandparent’s two acres. His mother’s mother. They were wearing some horrible combination of plaid pants, Garanimal t-shirts and second-hand sneakers. They had their arms around each other and squinted into the sun, smiles plastered on their faces, the pine scent of mosquito repellent in the air. The tree was nearly as thick as they were tall. The good old days. 1973.
The phone interrupted his reminiscence. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRing. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRing. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRing.
“Hi, this is Robert. Please leave a message at the beep and I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Thanks and have a great day. Peace.”
“Hi Robert, this is Melissa with Artisan. We have an assignment starting tomorrow. It’s mostly production, but some design. They’d prefer somebody with print experience, especially magazine and catalog work, so I thought of you. It’s in the city and pays $28 an hour. Give me a call as soon as you get this. I think you’d be perfect. 312-845-6900. Melissa Dempsey. Artisan. Thanks! Bye.” Click.
“You have 14 messages,” said the monotone. Click.
Robert finished his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Crushing the can he glared at the trashcan.
“Nothing but net,” he said and took a short jump shot towards it. It landed on top of the pile and stuck the landing like an Olympic gymnast. He rubbed first his left bicep then the right and grimaced. He glanced at the countertop and the box of open razor blades. Several were scattered next to it, the rest still inside.
A rustle at the apartment door caught his attention. The metal flap of the mail slot lifted. In flopped the mail as it closed with a clank. Robert sighed and walked to the small pile of distractions. Six pieces: the ComEd gas bill for $48.56; a solicitation from the Salvation Army to renew his membership; a postcard showing the Space Needle at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair; an invitation to see DJ Dominatrix at Club PVC with two complimentary passes; a credit card bill for $124.56. He picked them up and placed them gently in a small wicker basket on a bookshelf by the door. Running his fingers over the books, dust fell while he traced a trail down the spines. Hemingway. Vonnegut. Tolkien. Kesey. Burroughs.
“YOU’VE GOT MAIL,” the computer shouted from behind him. Robert walked over to it and pushed aside a stack of manuscripts in various stages of editing. He double-clicked the mouse and his AOL account opened up. 286 new messages. The latest was from his brother.
Hey bro, where have you been? I’ve left you a couple of messages, but no response. Is this account still working? You never answered my last email either. Hope everything is OK. Fuck Laura, I never liked her anyway. Here’s something funny for you. Call me.
JOKE OF THE DAY: One day Superman was flying along, feeling kind of
horny. He had a busy day ahead of him, but just had to satisfy his urge.
So he decided he would fly over to Wonder Woman’s house to see what
she was doing. As he got closer he used his x-ray vision, and to his surprise,
Wonder Woman was lying on her bed totally nude. Superman thought
“This is great! I’ll just zip right in there, do my business, and before she
knows it, I’ll be gone.” So, Superman blasts in, right on top of Wonder
Woman, does the deed at light speed, and is gone in a flash. Wonder
Woman, not quite knowing what hit her says “WHOA! What was that?”
and the Invisible Man replied. “I don’t know, but my ass sure is sore!”
Robert smiled and headed back to the bedroom. He plopped back down on the bed and picked up the razor. He pressed it against the bulging vein in his forearm and dragged it towards himself, all the way to his elbow. A thin line of blood revealed itself, the flesh parting ever so slightly. The release.
A pounding on the door.
“Sergei, open up. Sergei. Open the fucking door,” a female voice shouted. Robert paused, and stared in that direction. Quiet. Then the pounding continued.
“Sergei I know you’re in there, open up.”
“Go away,” he hissed.
“Please Sergei. It’s Tasha. It’s important.”
“Fuck.” Robert put the blade on the nightstand, got up and shuffled to the noise. He unlocked the deadbolt as blood trickled down his forearm in tiny rivers dripping off his fingertips. He opened the door.
“Do I look like a Sergei?”
A statuesque brunette stared open-mouthed. Her ring laden fist stopped in mid-air. She was clad in a black tube top stretched to its limits, magenta hot pants and knee high leather boots painted on slender legs. A black leather purse hung from her hand.
“Where is Sergei?”
“I don’t know any Sergei.”
“I don’t KNOW any Sergei.”
“And you are not Sergei?”
“For Christ’s sake. Third base.”
“What? I don’t understand. I am Tasha. I only get here last week.”
“From where Tasha?”
“Soviet Republic. I am student.”
“Are you OK? You are bleeding.”
Tasha looked down at the blood dripping off Robert’s fingertips and then back to his face. She paused.
“You have beautiful eyes mister. But you are a mess.”
“I am a mess.”
“Can Tasha help you clean up?”
“Right. I don’t think so.” Robert closed the door on her eager face. But before it could shut, her hand shot out and stopped it with a speed and strength that startled him
“Please. It is OK. It is what I do. I am your new best friend.”
“Seriously. You have no interest in Tasha? You may be on your way to another place, but your eyes have time to drink me in.” One hand on the door and the other on her hip, Tasha smiled, her dark eyes twinkling, her smile a pleasant change.
“Sure. Fuck it. Why not. Come on in. There’s some Stoli in the freezer.”
Tasha walked in smelling of whiskey, cigarettes and musk. She looked around. “Tsk, tsk. You’ve been a bad boy, mister. Let Tasha take care of you. I have three brothers back in Moscow. I know this mess when I see it.”
“Tasha, I’m fine. But if you’re pouring, pour two.”
Tasha sauntered to the kitchen her sculpted ass begging for eyes as it swayed from side to side. It was not denied. The freezer door opened, and the sound of glasses clinking followed. She opened her purse and held it below the counter as she swept the box of razor blades into it. None were missed. She picked up the drinks and headed back into the living room.
“Come, we will sit and talk.”
They eased past the French doors and sat on the edge of the bed. Leaning over she put the shot glasses down and then the bottle, her back to Robert. She opened the drawer and swept the blade into it. A twist of the cap and the shots were poured.
“Come closer Robert. Closer, I won’t bite. Drink with me.”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you it.”
“Oh Robert, in Soviet Union we must think on our foot everyday. Your mail says Robert, that pile on the shelf, the table, the counter. The place just screams Robert. Come sit.”
Sitting on the edge of the mattress next to Tasha his shoulders dropped. She handed him a shot. “Nazdarovya,” she said raising her glass and they downed the vodka. “Stay put.”
Tasha got up and clomped to the kitchen. The sound of running water was followed by tearing paper and she returned. Tasha picked up Robert’s left arm and blotted the wet paper towel up and down it. His face tightened as he sucked in air. And then he relaxed. The blood disappeared leaving thin white lines filled with pink. The silence was deafening as she cleaned his wounds. The towels got darker by the minute. Robert’s eyes closed and tears pushed out from beneath them. Tasha leaned over and kissed his wrist leaving the same crimson in fleshy lips.
“If you want pain, I give you pain. If you want release, I give you release. If you want death, I can’t do that. Enough Robert. Whoever she is, she is not worth this. We have a saying in former Soviet Union. Women are like bus. Another will be along in three hours.” She grinned a sly grin and pulled his head to her ample bosom. Robert went slack, and sighed into her chest. Baby powder and vanilla masked the powerful thumping of her heart. Tasha turned off the lone lamp and the bedroom plunged into darkness.
Down in the alley Bill sat in his green Ford Explorer staring at the dark bedroom window. The city wrapped around him like a soiled blanket. Garbage trucks loaded the waste of another week gone by – milk going sour, dirty diapers fermenting. Car horns blared and middle fingers were raised as smoky exhaust and burnt oil mingled . The bass of hip-hop thumped by on vibrating wings paired with skunky weed and two-bit cigars.
“Best $500 I ever spent.”