The key scratched ineffectively against the lock, as her shaking hand refused her commands. She finally used her other hand to steady it and fit the key into the lock. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder and as she did, she turned the key the wrong way. She had to twist it back the other way, all the time breathing heavily. She felt something cold against the bare skin of her shoulder. She jumped around and braced her back against the door. All she saw was the sagging stairwell, its wall paper perhaps even more faded than within the room. She wished the invisible hands would leave her alone. She slowly turned back to the door and let out a relieved sigh as it clicked open. She closed it behind her with a bang, right on the fingers of the invisible hands. She watched the fingers squirm with a grim smile as she slid the bolt cruelly.
A metallic beep turned her attention to her phone. “How much?” the message read.
She gradually loosened her grip and let the phone and the message fall with a clatter. She kicked it into the corner with the toe of her shiny silver heels, a little dulled in places. She took off the heels and pulled out a hoodie from the closet. She put it on and lay down, pulling the blanket over her. She still shivered, even though the other tenants had all opened their windows that evening for some relief from the humidity. As she lay, she felt a hand on her thigh, the finger nails digging in, then another twisting her ankle. Another hand pulled her hair and two roughly groped her breasts. More and more they came, all different sizes, all wanting and claiming. The phone in the corner continued to buzz persistently. Finally, the Other One came. She knew his hands distinctly from all the rest. They started at her feet, feeling their way up until they grabbed her throat and squeezed until she desperately put her hands up to fend them off. The phone left off beeping and began ringing loudly. Answer the phone! If she could answer the phone, she could make it! It would help her! She tore free from the hands, “Hello?!”
“Why didn’t you answer me?!” his voice pierced the tiny apartment with expletives.
“I was just about to, Babe. I just…”
“Well! How much?!”
“$600,” she shouted back as quickly as she could.
“For two nights on the weekend?! Are you staying out all night?” Without waiting to hear her response, he railed on, “You haven’t been doing your part. We’ll never make it at this rate. I’ve got debts to pay and we are barely making enough to cover the lousy apartments we do have. Do you think we’ll be able to move in together any time soon?”
“I’m sorry, Babe. Maybe if you come over, we can talk about it. We haven’t just talked in a while and…”
“I’ll come over later to get the money. I can’t stay long though. I’ve got a possibility of another job. I’ve got to look into it. Don’t leave your room until I get there.”
The call ended abruptly and she sat back down on the bed. If he came, he would count the money, look at her hard, and then maybe make her perform. It was hardly ever fun anymore. It was only business, testing the merchandise for errors. She thought of the little white house. It seemed further away now than it had when he first said the word “married”. It was cast in a scarlet tint and had buried itself behind a thick hedge so that you could barely see it from the road. But it was still there. It would not fall.
She looked at the time. Her shift would start in a few hours. If she didn’t come in this time, she would lose her position. She could leave the money on the table and he could let himself in with his key. But if she left before he came over… she shuddered. She balled up her hands in the pocket of the hoodie and curled up on the bed again. Her fingers played with a bit of paper inside the pocket, eventually pulling it out quizzically. It was a phone number. She had not looked at it in months, but she immediately remembered the moment she had hastily torn it from the advertisement stapled to a bulletin board. Maybe… No. Not yet. It would be okay. She’d make a lot this week and then he’d be happy. He was just stressed. It wouldn’t be long at all before they were out of this money trouble and then they could get married. She fell into an uneasy sleep.
Photo is my own.