When he woke up, the first thing his first thought was of the dull pain in his hands. There was a stinging in the fingers that made the rest of him shake. In hindsight, he would realize that the shaking was in his head and the rest of his morning would be spent on the couch, recovering from a night spent with a coffee cup full of vodka.
He was afraid to look at his hands. He couldn’t be sure of it but a hunch told him he had done something terrible. Eyelids fluttered, and he took in the dim light. Sharp inhalations became labored breaths. The room was quiet. Its amazing how quiet the hours of dawn always are. Nobody is crying. Nobody screams above the din. Dogs aren’t barking in confusion. His head was still pounding but it paled in comparison to the nausea that settles in with guilt. He knew how much of the morning would be spent in apology.
Just as he was about to bury his head in his pillow and scream, the phone vibrated. He could count anyone that would ever call him on one hand. At six in the morning, the hand became a fist. He wasn’t the least bit curious. Instead, a tired arm reached for the coffee cup on the nightstand, only to find the last of the booze had been drunk. The coffee cup was always empty. At the end of the stretched hands he noticed the congealed blood. It was black, and the hands were stiff because of it. The phone growled with a delayed vibration that sent it falling off the edge of the nightstand. Voicemail. Obligation.
He sprung out of bed with sunken eyes and bloody hands. Without any consideration, he opened the window, picked up the phone and threw it into the snow. Then, he began by stuffing clothes into a duffel bag.
* * *
I should have packed a tooth brush. At least then, Jim wouldn’t be repulsed by my breath. Jim was nice enough to pick me up from a gas station at eleven in the morning but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have anything better to do than chain smoke and tell me how ornery the black women are that come into the Euro trash clothing store he works at.
I’m freezing but he refuses to turn the heat on in his car. The ice has frozen the windows shut, so we cant even roll them down for a smoke. I stuff my hands into my pockets and stare at the skeletal trees whipping past. Jim tries to make small talk but I cant even force the platitudes. We ride in silence. The trees turn into condominiums, which turn into homes, which turn cars in a parking lot. The car stops and I grab my bag, while throwing my hand up in farewell to a friend who was always there but never able to pull from me a sentiment. Like so many of the relationships in my life, this one was one-ended.
Passing the crows on benches, I bought my ticket from a half-comatose geriatric behind the glass. The station was crowded because nobody wanted to wait in the cold. I opened the door, stepped out onto the platform and lit myself a cigarette.
“I like your shoes.”
The voice came from a middle-aged woman behind me, sitting on a bench. She was dressed in a heavy nylon parka, the kind you wrap an eight year old in. She wasn’t carrying any bags but she had a grocery bag-wrapped box with a thread tied around it dangling from her finger.
“I’d be careful, salt isn’t kind to suede.”
“I know, I should have worn my winter boots.”
Why was this crazy bitch talking to me? I don’t need her fucking advice!
“You have another one of those?” She pointed at my cigarette and without even considering, I reached into my jacket pocket to give her one. Normally, I lie and say I only have one left but there was something strange about the way she asked. She sort of hesitated before asking and again after pointing, as if she wasn’t sure she ever even wanted one. So I’ll give her one and make sure she smokes the whole damn thing. She might have been ridden had and put away wet, but she had a face I couldn’t say no to.
“Oh, thank you so much.”
“Its no problem.”
“Where are you headed to anyway?”
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure...I thought I’d just head into Chicago and walk around for awhile.”
“Ahhh, I’ve been there.”
“You’ve been where? Chicago?”
“No. I’ve caught trains to nowhere too. You’ve got a bandaged hand and a shake to your step. I can smell the booze on you too. I’d recommend the Y, they’ll take you in for cheap. Most suburban kids run without thinking about the comforts of home. It might have been hell, but at least you had hot water at home.”
“Yea well, home isn’t home. Daddy doesn’t like queermos. And I’m not running. I’m just heading to my buddy’s place for the week.”
“Take it from me kid, go home or one day you’ll be giving advice to strangers at a train station.”