e’re riding together in a cab, drunk on the wine juice boxes squeezed clean of the eight-dollar mauve she kept all night in her leather purse, straps dirtied with the grunge and grime of East Village pub-crawled floors. Now we’re here — back in Brooklyn — rainy Friday night streets, old cold sleeping avenues numbered with no real name, reaching out ridged like ink-stained icicles to Magdala’s where she walks home after weekday subway rides through crowds of shivery Caribbean Filipinos Italians Indians or Chinese or whoever and whatever other incomers, wrapped wet in the Canadian down breeze that comes this time of year, bitter enough to make your bones shatter to sand (and you think they might) — a salty Siberian sand as hot white as Saharan radiate — and it makes your blood run thick like frost-sagged silt as mud would through the gutters of these ancient Breuckelen side street sewers down blocks where mist hangs fat with all the infinitely directionless walks of life: This is where she lives.
I can see the Verrazano lights peeking up over the sleepy rubber rooftop plateau, the shadow of Staten Island rising from the black bay where a few nights earlier I had watched harbor trawlers graze from her bedroom window when I couldn’t sleep in her bed — itself crooked on the olden one-time tenement wood floor, warped — my feet treading invisible fungus on the curvy yellow planks — like some evil Bacon painting — and I could not move.
Magdala is almost asleep now, finally — waterlogged and beautiful in the backseat against me and my arm in her own little section, almost, riding the breaker another blackout home to bed where her pills wear themselves out through holes in the espresso base-tanned skin she has — burnt enough to make your eyes yellow — and I hold her quietly as I can, trying hard not to ingest the flavor of the smog and Gowanus street spray spreading in the air all around us.
The morning before I, in a languid vegetable sleep, had lain with Magdala’s pale frame for hours dehydrated and coughing, smacking my tongue behind fang-flavored teeth, slapping the roof of my cottonmouth and sipping tepid tap from a red solo. I woke up with a vision of a creature in her apartment — hairy arms and legs — with its hands wrapped around my head, squeezing, strangely making me feel good but scared by the weirdness of it and I then looked at Magdala’s clenched cheeks clamping her square Greek teeth together — this Athenian girl with the sparkly glint of Aphrodite in her eyelids when she yawns or cups her lips and makes sour, sorrowful sighs like she did in bed this morning, knowing where but not how she was awake — the way Zeus would at the sight of Mount Olympus Bagel Shop at the intersection of 30th Avenue and 34th in Long Island City, New York.
I watched dizzy little spaghetti-shaped ripples leave impressions on her cheeks in morning light and running down her throat to the collarbone as she raised her head, blinking with long-gooed eyelashes, sockets smeared mascara in voodoo doll streaks, and nothing but this sad city expression, a half-loving half-spiteful blend of lamination awakened.
“I feel like I’m getting an ammonia,” she says to me when a pothole bump shakes her eyes open and I look over and see her and she blinks because I’m watching her wild-haired in a greasy mess of my own — like every other thing living or dead on this paved City of Rock, crowded and concussive from sirens and tires welded into a never-ending traffic-jammed snake.
Magdala sits up in her buckled seatbelt, tying bleached braids in her wet split-ends and she uses these crustaceous fingers of hers slowly — I want to say angelically, but can’t — and when we land at her stoop and I put her purse on her lap and make her hold it and once opened I tell her to pay the kind driver and tip him too and she does this quietly and without any words. And the driver receives it with a hungry migrant fist then throws his gear and goes, steering off through nighttime murkiness of this Old Dutch gloom that seems to swallow up everything as if all were only a pint — from a black bottle of lager.
We’re climbing up Magdala stairs when she tells me, hanging on a railing, that her room is a mess because her roommates have been drunk and sick since the week before and she thinks she’s sick too because her appetite for things has been missing for the longest time. This makes me feel confused because we had only just woken-up there together some hours ago but she can’t seem to recall this when I tell her so in the kitchen, watching her crush something across a trash magazine on a table in the clammy yellow litter-stinking light. She dips her head downward into fragile hands and arms, holding them around her skull like some platinum blonde vampiress, and I watch her, feeling her bony calico kitten twisting between my ankles, mewing melodic melancholy and I feel crushed too. Magdala gets-up glitter-eyed looking right at me, expecting me to speak or move or bring her some anticipated source of thrill so I try some silly dance move that makes her go, “Hmmm,” the way you would in a snowstorm, shivering as a child — and her eyebrows rise like stringy twin Maybelline-sketched hills as if warning me of all things she expects from me now and onward — that beautiful broken women like her push men like me to the end of things and this will begin here and now because she has just thought as much and decided so, and she somehow knows I want her to, and I guess I do, remembering years ago in Indiana when a French exchange girl from Toulouse moved into my poor carpeted studio, simultaneously introducing me to David Bowie and the Loratab leftover from her birthday present boob job.
I look at Magdala in a worried way thinking for a minute the same horrible things will happen — tornados, floods, hiding in shadowy stairwells, lost with strangers on Ecstasy — and I somehow feel it will be no different, but right now I can’t help but not care and I find in the freezer a bottle of nocturnal clarity hidden there earlier and I uncap and slug and burn a little which I know will keep me from picturing the way things were for me.
In the dark, the miserable early hour drizzle drips like a hospice IV and I hear voices in the street moving slowly and echoing off the brick through the neighborhood from pizza stands still open and full of gelled air and cheese and pepperonis and garlic ball twist from rusty bada-bing ovens — It’s a Guido Brooklyn delicacy.
I hand Magdala five dollars as an after-thought on our taxi fare and say, “Voila” when I do this. She takes without any expression on her face before walking into the bathroom and shutting the door, making me wonder if she thinks I’m too cheap to survive in a world like this — but I stop when I hear her coughs and chokes then the water running and the toilet flushing, so I know she’s getting sick — Again, I think — which makes me also think things are okay but in a sad way. I walk into the bedroom and undress then lay down on the sticky sick sheets and watch the weak streetlight float in through the blinds which almost looks like candlelight and I can feel the blue shimmer of the dim drywall hover around me, six-stories high inside some disintegrating railroad loft not knowing what to do.
She comes in with the kitten in her arms and clearing her throat then knocks into the box fan sitting on the floor, pushing her hair from her face as she drops the animal. Her eyes look like dripping faucets and when I see them against her pale skin the sight of it makes me roll over onto my face and smell the sheets — I find myself wondering what other boys have flopped here and how many or how recently — and the cotton fuses to my face once I lift my head when I feel Magdala’s weight on the sprung springs beside me. I turn quickly and touch her and feel her spine and ribs through her anemic skin like some ripped around envelope lost in the mail. With the rain still falling outdoors on the roof and cement, I allow her fizzled scent inside me, tasting her damp raw chicken flavor — the aroma trying to free itself and find a way home. She curls like some frazzled pink snail that can’t sit still so I lay my hand on her thigh and leave it there, counting my breaths and hers and lose count and let my eyes roam…. The bedroom is littered completely — ransacked, I’d even say — with flung braziers, jeans and socks which Magdala’s kitten now pecks in the dark — with a particular interest in the elastic on some sky blue panty strewn amongst the bits of paper and rug in the corner behind what looks like a pizza box. I see the animal purr as it stretches, rolling over tangled in all this moth-mauled fabric — and I wish I was it as I watch. Under the covers Magdala lies goose-pimpled, murmuring dreams through her nose and wrapped in a t-shirt with the decaled, “Legalize Gay” – which I wonder about – and I feel her shake subconsciously at the sound of the rain and it makes me sad as the time Andrew drove his father’s Ford off the highway on that wet night in Knoxville and I think to myself, What am I hiding from?
Adam Moorad’s writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3 A.M., Elimae, PANK, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot. He lives in Brooklyn and works in publishing. Visit him at adamadamadamadamadam.