Rebecca Greenlee is one of the few people that loves hardened snow that’s been trampled on in -20°. Naturally cold air smells really good to her. She is going to be a book detective when she grows up. And sometimes, she writes poems about ducks.
Last Night I Slept In
Last night I slept in my brother’s room, and the only way to keep the door shut is by latching it. His roommates come back at 3am wasted as hell with some friends. The storm window in the living room rhythmically slams, and soon I don’t know what time it is, but someone is knocking on my door and I think it is my brother waking me up at 6:30 to go catch the train. I unlatch the door and a sloppy fellow wanders in, blindly. I knew he was drunk, probably blacked out. He and I examine each other for a short eternity – him standing at the foot of my bed, feet positioned like a soldier in his green sweater and blue button up shirt, and me sitting up in my black leggings and brown hoodie, half protected by a cumulus of down comforter. We blink at each other, our mouths agape. I hastily break the silence – “Can I help you?” He doesn’t respond. “What do you need? Why are you in here?” He starts walking around the room, taking more steps in. I get a little frightened. He takes his hazy gaze off of me and looks in my brother’s closet, apparently hoping to curl up in there. “I must be in the wrong room,” he says, as easily and coolly as if he had dialed a wrong number. “I am in the wrong room,” and he does not slink, walk, or move out of the room. He fades casually away, stutter-stepping out and I relatch the door – shaking with fright at the possibility of more spectral visitors. I sleep for twenty minutes after that.
Today, soberly regarding the nameless, hungover man, I feel so matter-of-fact. His invasion hours ago did not hang in the air to create awkwardness, but to interrupt some bad dream – some precursor to this morning’s trials. Looking at each other today, shyly – no chance of recognition from last night. Silence, strange conversation among the five other people in the room. There are twenty-eight beer bottles and one can in this room – twenty-seven bottles are empty. The shouts and howls from the late night vigil which the five kept reverberate in my head. I want a cigarette. I watch the interplay among the five, I watch him text message someone, furiously. I am not solitary. I feel like a working part for a time, joking about faggots, grades, the University. The snow collides with glass and we all lean in to tell, lean out to laugh. Hugh Heffener’s generous donations to the University will never be accepted, Playboy library, new mascot. Creative Writing classes. He rejoins our world, we indirectly speak. I feel collective, together. This morning’s paranoia washed away by his stupid frothy q-tip hair, his start when I took my scarf from beneath his reclined, sleeping head. I have been stuck with examining the others and the devotion which they can prove. She sits on his lap, one talks of how he makes the other find his glasses in the mornings. Here I am, voyeur to love, desirous. Wanting to hold and to charm. I am a working part.
The six have gone to lunch now – eating greasy burgers, sipping on diet cokes to soothe their exhausted, poisoned bellies. They continue artificial conversation about sunglasses, sweet kicks, pop culture.
My brother and I remain, reading, writing, taking Creole Zydeco bluegrass into our minds. It is four inches of snow out there, jacket-coveting winds, and miles of dark oily slush lie, waiting for taxi provocation enough to leap onto pedestrians. I sit, wonder at the moisture beads created by lacey candle wax. The storm window behind me slams, self-shuttering, as it has done all night, all day. The singular contrast of this new adoration of city: Urban strangulation, destruction by nature. The wind will tear off as it feels, will peel roofing like a banana, and I will bitch about it. But that damn window will keep slamming, even extending past the two points of our self-knowledge.
He returns, and sits opposite me. I remove my reading glasses and he observes my motion carefully, spiritually. And so I twirl my glasses, gnaw on them – they have become my accomplice, my prop. We hang onto images; I see his hands, tight between his thighs, cold. My mind elaborates. <I took the sleeping bag you were underneath earlier. I didn’t do it because you were underneath it, I did it because shewas underneath the one nearest me when you left. I deserve warmth too.> <Of course. But now I am cold.>
He does not move toward me to bury me in warmth, I am not the right person for that. I have fits and am easily affected. My hair is as short as his – my eyes too fierce, too eager to prove. I am too hungry for warmth, too deserted, starved, too craving to deserve bestowal of such gratuities
The winter blowing afternoon sedates my tendencies. I marvel at the notion of traversing the city to purchase whiskey, cigarettes. My mind gravitates towards the disconnect felt earlier.
This morning I lay in sweat, then tears. I knew, before my sacred three hours of sleep, that she did not want me there. That I was once more relegated to the dark, ardent misery – and yet how fanatically did I cling! I resolve to either go to her or buy cigarettes tomorrow. I know that they are conspiring against me, that their holiday pleasure comes from dangling this notion of normalcy before me, then ripping it away as fervently as it was given. My mother stopped loving me at 6:30 am, my stepfather in cold, calm violence reprimanded me with his deep German voice at 6:45am, my brother hugged and cooed at me at 7am, at 8am I was disheveled in down cumulus, aslumber. By 10pm, they loved me once more.
I traipse out into the cold, on a mission to obtain flu medicine and whiskey. Down the street taxis fly and pedestrians slide on the icy sidewalks. I manage to waddle into the convenience store without a hitch, glide up and down the two rows of dry goods, searching for liquids to lubricate the tension at my brother’s apartment. It is the 23rd of December, shamefully close to Christmas, and I am purchasing a pint of Jameson and a bottle of NyQuil – what kind of pain can be healed through these mediums? Strange bloodties, stressful forgettings, and unrequited necessity; these are the things cured by such Quixotic medicines.
The disgust starts to overtake me; I am staggering and hideously chanting old music to myself. Not one person I will see will care much for it. No maladjusted criminal bends to pick up a penny, no whimpering demonstration of dialectical thinking cools the innocence spread by their tongues. No, I am dark and individual. I am the broken piece, I am not collective. I am the slamming window.
I begin to march, the brown paper bag clutched in my gloved hand. I am struck with sudden pleasure at the prints my boots are leaving – what sturdy evidence that I have lived! Climbing the stairs to warmth, I gasp. I have no need for cigarettes. As I return to the chilly warmth, slide under my sleeping bag, I deliver the liquid agents to their appropriate spots. Jameson to my esophagus, NyQuil to my brother’s. I return to my drunken thoughts – a roommate returns from work as I throw back my second swallow. Burning, cooling, sourdough and childhood.
The roommate opens his eyes, large and rotund in pocked, greyhound sleek face. Wider and wider as his hands fly, carefully directed, to loosen his necktie. He smiles, rockstep paces, and weaves a story. At 5am, as he prepared for work (real, adult, non-dude work), he walked into the bathroom. What he found: A young man in a blue collared shirt and green sweater, head-rolling, passed out on a folding chair, next to a toilet full of his own excrement. The young man reportedly wandered the hall after being awoken, prowling from room to room with dinosaur instinct. A new man from the two-hour previous version smiling beguilingly (to my mind), screaming FUCK YOU STU now moved into my brother’s room.
Disappearance. After a toilet of shit that could not be flushed, he disappeared into some unknown galaxy for eons, centuries, maybe mere seconds. His time spent surveying my self on my brother’s bed, rapturous with sweaty dreamscapes, all of these things were nothing. Blacked out, blocked out, dark and away encapsulated in some small packet of memory. Perhaps years from now he’ll hit his head and wonder who that girl is that he remembers suddenly – her frizzy, boycut hair, over-genuine intentions, her smile at his befuddled self. Perhaps he’ll get a craving for a greasy burger and not understand why he wants bleu cheese to be involved. And I will not be there to tell him that it is because I weigh so heavily on his experience – something he does not know.
Rebecca told me the story of how she started writing this story and I immediately knew I wanted it. I’ve read other pieces she’s written and I can say that she has a voice and a consistency about her writing that takes a long time and a lot of practice to find and to keep a hold of. I certainly hope this isn’t her last submission, both for my sake and for yours, audience.