- Laila Marouane Olivier
It’s Wednesday and it’s 3:54 AM and I’m lying on my stomach on the fire escape of Damon’s West Village apartment. My head almost but doesn’t fit between the black metal bars and it’s dark so I’m struggling to make out what exactly lies below, all those stories down, but I presume it’s a row of cars because when I arrived earlier that evening, I noticed there were a lot of cars, more cars than one normally sees parked in front of a New York City apartment. I wish I could see the cars because I have this vivid image in my mind of this photo of a girl lying on the hood of a car after jumping off a building, and for some reason, I have this name in my mind that I suppose belongs to her, Eve, but it might be Evelyn, but I can’t remember, probably because I’m cross-faded and have been cross-faded since Tuesday morning.
I try, again, futilely, to wedge my head between the bars, hoping that the bone of my skull will be stronger than the black metal of the bars and bend them the way I’d imagine that sort of black metal to bend but it doesn’t work and now my head is hurting even more than it already was, but then the name comes back to me, Evelyn McHale, and she was a bookkeeper who jumped off the Empire State Building and then this photography student—probably an NYU student, I think, because I don’t like NYU students—took a photo of her dead body and I hear the door slide open and I shimmy back from the edge and turn around to see Damon standing in the doorway. Even though it’s dark and I can barely make out his features, I know he looks like shit because when does Damon not look like shit?
He tells me that Daniel—who’s Daniel?—told him I was out here and that I looked like I was about to commit suicide and so Damon asks me if I’m going to commit suicide. I tell him no, I’m not, but I have actually been thinking about suicide generally, conceptually, and he says, “Ah, me too.”
He sits beside me on the fire escape and I lean my head on his shoulder and he chuckles.
Damon’s always laughing. It’s his default state.
“I need a bump,” I say, because that’s my default phrase, and he pulls two baggies out of his pocket as well as the Black American Express card his dad gave him and an old rolled-up British banknote, the paper kind from before they made them all plastic.
“Why do you still have British money?” I ask him and he tells me that he thinks the coke hits better when you snort it through British money as opposed to American. I say that it’s best when snorted off bare skin because your skin is natural and he tells me very authoritatively that yes, that’s true, because of the dichotomy between the natural-ness of skin and the synthetic-ness of coke.
“You look like you’re having a fit,” he says, as he cuts a few lines on this piece of styrofoam that was lying on the fire escape behind me. By ‘fit’ he means seizure and so I look down at my hands and realize that I’m shaking like a bitch, that my hands and my arms and even my legs are twitching so rapidly it looks like my body is suffering an earthquake.
He hands me the rolled-up British banknote and mutters something about ladies first and so I snort two lines and then I pass the rolled-up British banknote to him and he snorts the other two lines. When he lifts his head up from the styrofoam, I spot a line of blood trickling down from his nose that’s mixing with white powder residue on his upper lip and so I wipe it away with the tip of my middle finger and touch red to my tongue.
“Metallic,” I remark as if I expected blood to taste like anything else.
The blood continues to flow and so he takes his own index finger and takes a bit and touches it to his tongue, except he’s a lot more aggressive with the tasting than I was, and nods in agreement. Blood tastes metallic.
I wait, for a moment, for the coke to hit me but it doesn’t and I wonder if I’ve developed a tolerance or if his stuff just wasn’t very strong so I ask Damon if he has any ket.
“Lucas probably does but Lucas is mad at me,” he says, shaking his head so vigorously that tufts of hair fall into his eyes and so I brush the hair away with my hand.
I ask why Lucas is mad at him.
“I shagged his fiancée,” he says, laughing, but I can see something else in his eyes, some sort of regret but I still mirror his laughter, albeit less enthusiastically than him, and the laughing makes me feel nauseated so I tell Damon that I need to puke.
“Don’t,” he says and I make a face.
He kisses me and his mouth tastes horrible, like brown liquor and stale cigarettes, and so this only makes me want to puke more and I do, only a tiny bit, and then the bile of watery vomit is sloshing around in our mouth and on our tongue and though I know that this is disgusting, I kind of like how this has spiced up what is otherwise a very boring act, kissing.
Damon runs his hand through my hair, or tries to, because it gets caught in the tangles that once curled and so he tries to pull his hand out but my tendrils have trapped him and he’s still kissing me while I feel him reach the other arm around to try to free himself from my hair and eventually succeeds and now I’m the one laughing, into his mouth.
He pulls back and looks me in the eyes and says I love you so seriously that I almost believe him, but Damon only ever tells me he loves me when he’s high and so I laugh and kiss him again. The taste of bile in our mouth has faded now and everything’s normal and boring again.
I look up into the sky and it’s navy blue except for the lights that reflect on grey-ish blue clouds because you can’t see the stars in New York City, or in any big city because of the light pollution. I turn around and look through the black metal bars, but straight ahead instead of down, and I see a light in the apartments across the street flicker on and off very quickly, very suspiciously, and I turn around to ask Damon if he saw the same thing but get distracted by how pretty the white lines he’s cutting look glistening in the dispersed light.
They look so pretty that I almost regret that I’ll have to ruin them, but then my body takes over and I do one of them and now everything is ruined. But then I do feel regretful so I grab the baggie and tap some onto the styrofoam and start arranging them into a smiley face with two eyes and a mouth. The line at the bottom that’s supposed to be kind of like a sideways parenthesis looks more like a line, though, and so I take the British banknote from Damon and lean over and snort up the mouth of the smiley face and then the eyes.
When I look up, I see that Damon is asleep, his head back against the door and his shoulders slumped inwards and he looks peaceful despite the blood that continues running out of his nose, so I put the baggies of coke in my pocket as well as the American Express Card his dad gave him and the British banknote, and leave back into the party.
People’s faces are all blending together, which isn’t unusual even when I’m sober because everyone I know all look the same, all emaciated and vaguely pretty, and I hear a couple “Hi”s as I make my way through the crowd.
I still need to puke and so I make my way toward the bathroom. Even though I know my way around the apartment very well, I still get lost, ending up in the wrong hallway even though there’s only one hallway, and stumbling into a bedroom because the light shining through the partially ajar door looks quite heavenly.
I shield my eyes from the blinding bright yellow of the room as they adjust and so I hear the moaning before I see its sources. Once my eyes calm down and the brightness has dulled, I make out three or maybe four figures tangled up having sex on the bed and I wonder why there aren’t any bedsheets before I remember that I took them to the sofa earlier because I was feeling cold. I’m not cold anymore.
The people on the bed don’t seem to notice me and carry on their grunting and groaning and so I stay there for a minute, watching, trying to figure out how many people there are tangled in the pile but the world is spinning, or shaking, kind of, so it’s hard to make out, but I do count at least seven legs so I know there are at least four people, unless someone has an extra leg, and so I turn around and leave. As I walk, I wonder why people have sex in such large groups and then I wonder why people have sex at all, but then I hear a voice call my name as I shut the door behind me and see James walking towards me. He’s very drunk, more drunk than me, and I can smell the beer before I even see the huge wet pale-yellow patch on his white shirt.
“Did you spill beer on yourself?” I ask him and he looks confused by my question.
“No, Lucas pissed on me,” he says with a straight face so I can’t tell if he’s being facetious or not, but I think he is. “Anyway,” he says, running a hand through his hair, his eyes darting around the hallway anywhere but towards me. “Have you seen Damon?”
I have to think about it for a second because though I know exactly where Damon is, I need to weigh the pros and cons of telling James that. I can’t come up with any points for either side, though, and end up just standing there, staring at James’ face, and blinking slower and slower as exhaustion sets in.
James says my name again and I blink three times quickly in a row and say, “Do you have any ket?” James looks at me funny but tells me to go ask Lucas and so I walk back into the main room to look for Lucas. I can’t remember what Lucas looks like but I know he’s Italian so I presume that he looks Italian so I start asking people if they know anyone who looks Italian.
“What?” Makayla says.
“Italinx,” Petra corrects me.
“There’s no food here,” Caleb scoffs.
I find the bedsheets I’d taken earlier, and they’re covered in beer and balled up between potted plants filled with puke in the corner of the room, but I lie down in them anyway and stare up at the ceiling. I realize the ceiling’s not a popcorn ceiling, which I always thought it was, but that it’s actually just covered in millions of tiny spiders laying millions of tiny eggs.
I’m sweating a lot under the red light bulbs that sometimes flash and flicker into blue and I can feel beads of perspiration flowing down from the crevices of my flesh onto the white sheets. Heat.
"Viendras-tu te promener avec moi?” I hear Agnes say. Will you come on a walk with me?
Agnes is mildly emetophobic so I tell her I need to puke, hoping it will make her leave me alone. She comes to stand over me and her face is large, her eyes bug-like and wide, and I laugh.
“Please,” she tries in English and I continue laughing.
Before she can ask again I hear yelling and sit up straight and see that Petra has broken a glass over Mark’s head and that he’s bleeding, but the blood looks black because the lightbulbs overhead are set to red. Mark and Petra have been fucking on and off for months and Mark slept with Makayla, so I presume Petra found out. Makayla stares at Petra in awe and vague fear as Carla and someone I don’t know and Richie laugh at Mark. I look over at Agnes who’s looking at me, appalled at the smile on my face that I didn’t realize was there. I lie back down on the bedsheets.
The music gets louder again and I can’t tell if someone turned the volume back up or if it’s just the director behind the scenes signalling to the audience that the action is over and the ambiance has resumed and then I feel the puke coming again, inevitably this time, and I lean over into the potted plant that’s already filled with vomit and heave all over it, my yellow-tinged puke mixing with the red-tinged puke that was already there. Agnes walks away in disgust. She hates these parties.
I return to my position lying back on the bedsheets until I hear more yelling and the name “Cocoapuff” which is what I named Damon’s pet snake. I sit up again and ask Carla, who’s finished laughing at Mark, what’s going on.
“I think that Damon’s, like, snake got out,” she tells me and I remark that she actually looks quite worried so I tell her that Cocoapuff’s a California Kingsnake.
“I.e.,” I say, then pause to laugh to myself at the fact that I just said ‘i.e.’ out loud. “Id est, it’s not venomous.”
She breathes a sigh of relief and I take the opportunity to ask her if she’s seen anyone who looks Italian. She asks why and I tell her I need some ket. She looks judgmental at this, which I find ironic because it’s a well-known fact that Carla does heroin with Richie, Damon’s dealer, on a regular basis, and tells me that no, she hasn’t seen anyone who looks Italian.
I get up to continue my search, making my way through the masses of people whose enjoyment of the party only seems to be heightened by the looming threat of a snake on the loose, and I bump into Agnes and she stumbles backwards a bit, stepping on a few people’s toes and I hear someone yell “Watch it!” and she tells me that I smell like piss and that I shouldn't have lain down on the bedsheets that Lucas pissed on. I wrap her in a hug, just because, and she screeches and recoils and I laugh.
“T’es une toxicomane,” she says under her breath—You’re an addict—before asking if I’ve seen Damon. I tell her no. “I want to lose my virginity to him tonight,” she says breathily, nervous.
Agnes and Damon are technically dating because they’re both blond and pretty and aristocratic and Agnes is naive and thinks that what they have is real.
“You’re a virgin?” I ask her and she makes a face that indicates that I should already know this. “Another night,” I say with a sympathetic shrug and push past her but she grabs my shoulder and spins me around and says, “You need to slow down, you’re very pale and you have blood on your lips,” in French and I just laugh.
Agnes leaves and I realize that I’m standing in the hallway again now, between two doors again, the crossroads in the yellow hallway, and I struggle to remember which door leads me to the foursome bedroom and which leads me to the bathroom. I also wonder if I’m asleep because when I look down at my feet, I can’t see them and it looks like I’m floating about two inches above the hardwood.
I hear Richie, Damon’s dealer that does heroin with Carla, say my name then he comes and stands in front of me and puts one hand on my shoulder like we’re friends, which we aren’t, and asks if I know where Damon is.
“No,” I say and begin to shake my head but stop because it’s only made the room spin around more and I need to puke again. I take a deep breath and ask him, “Why?”
“He owes me something,” Richie says, and I realize that I already knew this.
“No, he doesn’t,” I say and both Richie and I are perplexed by this statement. I shrug his hand off my shoulder and finally realize that it was his hand on my shoulder that was pushing me down and weighing me down and stifling my thoughts, so now I know that the door on the right is the bathroom and so I push past him and into the bathroom and breathe a deep sigh of relief.
I close the door and pull out all of the materials I took from Damon and cut myself some more lines on the ledge of the sink. I snort them and sink down to the floor and lean against the exposed piping on the walls and stare at the ceiling. It’s a popcorn ceiling in here which makes me happy, and I begin counting the small white coloured dots as I think about Evelyn McHale. She was barefoot in the photo, I think, and I wonder why one would take off their shoes before committing suicide. Maybe she’d known people would take photos.
The coke isn’t hitting right and I feel sleepy more than anything and sink further down. My skull hits the ceramic floor of the bathroom with a clunk and now my head is actively hurting. I would have felt the pain properly had I had the energy, but I don’t. I don’t even have enough energy to keep my eyes open and so I let them flutter shut and I sink into the navy blue oblivion of sleep.
I dream that I’m the photography student from NYU and that Damon is Evelyn McHale and Damon or Evelyn’s body is lying on the crushed hood of the car in front of me. Traffic is rushing by and bystanders are congregating around the car and sirens are growing louder and louder and I look through my camera and realize that Damon or Evelyn McHale isn't dead. Damon’s or Evelyn’s chest continues to rise and fall, despite the mangled limbs and the blood that pools in the dents of the car’s metal. The bystanders are coming closer and the sirens are getting louder and so I pick up a pillow and lean over the hood of the car and put the pillow over Damon or Evelyn’s face and press down as hard as I can. Damon or Evelyn’s limbs twitch and twitch until they stop twitching and Damon or Evelyn is dead.
I put the pillow down on the concrete beside me and look through the camera lens again but before I can take the photo, I realize that Damon’s wearing shoes and I hear a knock at the door and I don’t move because I physically can’t but there’s no more music playing and all I can hear is quiet talking and this makes my heart rate speed up. More knocking at the door and wood pushes against the crown of my head.
“Who is it?” I try to say but it comes out a jumbled croak.
My eyes are still closed and I feel a pair of arms lift me up and then my arm is being slung around someone’s shoulder and then I’m sitting on a couch, my head slumped onto the armrest and my eyes are still closed. Though I can’t quite make out what the words mean, I hear Agnes’ voice repeating Damon's name and her voice is cracking and then I hear James’ voice and it’s flat and he says he’d been looking for him but nobody knew where he was and then I hear Agnes sob all the way from deep down in her stomach and I get the feeling that her tears aren’t real, that she’s putting on a show, so I finally open my eyes a crack and see three navy-blue-clad cops standing in the room in front of Agnes and James and Mark and Makayla and Eugene and Carla and Lucas and I see that everyone else is gone and that Agnes is crying and there are more cops out on the fire escape pulling Damon’s body through the door and putting him on a stretcher. No one knew where he was.
“Who supplied the cocaine?” one of the cops says and James asks why it matters. The cop explains that it’s possible it was laced with fentanyl and says that if we tell him who supplied it, we could prevent anyone else from dying tonight. James looks perplexed by this as if wondering why he should care whether anyone else dies tonight.
My ears are ringing and my head is hurting more than earlier, but it’s from the inside now, a dull, throbbing, debilitating pain, and I get up and try to tune out Agnes’ sobbing because crying repulses me and I hear a cop ask me to stay for a bit because they need to ask me some questions and then I hear myself say that I can come down to the station tomorrow if they need to talk to me another time but please leave me alone I need some sleep.
When I get to the door I see Cocoapuff and he’s in the corner beneath my hanging coat and he looks peaceful so I leave him alone and don’t grab my coat and walk out the door and don’t close it behind me.
Toronto’s subways don’t run from 2 to 6 AM but New York’s never stop running, and I’m grateful for that because I see on the station clock that it’s 5:27 AM when I get on the train.
The car’s nearly empty but there’s a man sitting on the rightmost seat of a group of three that face the window. I go and I sit two seats down from him in the three, leaving one seat between us. He looks at me, looks me up and down, and then looks me in the eyes and he’s probably confused why I sat next to him when there are plenty of other seats to sit in, so I look away, out the window, and the view is navy blue and the train starts to move.
I sit there for a long time, for four or five stops, my ears still ringing and my head still hurting, before the smell of piss wafts its way up my nostrils. It’s acidic and putrid and the familiar sort of comforting. At first, I think it’s me that smells, from lying on the bedsheets that Lucas may or may not have pissed on, but then I look down at my shoes and my feet, which exist now, and see pale yellow pooling all around the floor beneath them, the liquid vibrating lightly with the jerks and shakes of the train. I glance at the man beside me. He’s standing up and his light blue jeans are wet around the crotch and have almost turned green. I look up at his face, look him in the eyes, and he looks sheepish, apologetic, but he’s smiling, which comforts me, and so I smile back.
Laila Marouane Olivier is a Moroccan-Canadian student-waitress born and raised in suburban Toronto. She is currently studying linguistics at NYU.