Another unedited segment of the novel in progress.
August 12th, 1982
Chrystal leans on the wall out front of the dry cleaner. Her shoulder blades touch the brick wall, as well as the sole of her left foot, left knee bent. Her right foot is straight, and baring most of her body weight. She bops her head, as though she is listening to music, and purses her lips forward occasionally, while she sucks on her teeth.
Although overcast, she wears her sunglasses. A breeze cuts through her thin shirt, and she pulls the labels jacket closer together. The zipper has broken, so she wraps her right arm around her stomach, keeping the jacket closed, her fingers curled around a few rolled up bills. Her left arm dangles from the shoulder, the index finger finding and picking at a hangnail she feels on her thumb. Pulling her sunglasses from her face, she puts them on top of her head while she looks from left to right, scanning the passing pedestrians for familiarity.
The owner of the dry cleaner can see Chrystal though the front window. If he can see her, that means the customers can see her too. She’s not trespassing, but surely that could be considered loitering. Moving from behind the desk, he goes to the door, the bells making noise. He takes one step forward, his right foot on the sidewalk, his left foot still in the cocoon of his business and hitches a breath in, opens his mouth and intends to tell her to move on.
Sensing movement, Chrystal turns her head towards the owner. Nothing is said. Chrystal gives her head a slight shake, never losing eye contact with the owner, and curls the left side of her lip up, jutting her chin forward. Closing his mouth, the owner retreats and watches the door until it jangles closed.
Although still before noon, a steady stream of people pass in both directions in front of her.
But no one looks at Chrystal for long. As they approach, they look her up and down quickly, see her stained shirt, the over worn sneakers and quickly look away, worried that addiction might infect their lives via mere proximity. They see the scabs on her arms, the hollows of her cheeks and wonder why. Chrystal knows what the judgements are, and the unease she causes people. She looks down at her thumb and sees that she has picked the skin around the hangnail raw. A bead of blood has come to the surface. She touches it with the tip of her index finger and it bursts like a balloon, the blood following the path along her cuticles and pooling on the opposite side. She turns her hand, fingers curled, palm up, and looks at her fingers. Soot from last night was still under her nails. Wiping her thumb on her jeans she shifts her eyes to focus to her right foot. Lifting her toes inside her shoe, she can see where the sole has come loose from the canvas top just under the ball of her foot. She rolls the bills in her hand. There’s that discount shoe store a few blocks down
“Hey! I haven’t seen you in a long time.” A man approached her right.
She froze for just a moment. Squeezing the money tighter, she hits play on her twitches. Her head bops a bit faster. “Yeah, it’s been awhile,” Chrystal takes a deep breath before she has lifted her head to face the man the voice came from.
He smiles as she lifts her head, but his eyes stare at her lips, as he licks his own. His gaze moves up her face hesitantly and reaches her eyes. She squints at him and pulls her sunglasses back down in front of her eyes.
“Oh, don’t do that. I like your eyes. Where have you been? I haven’t seen you around?”
“Oh, you know, just busy, Jesus. Just really busy.” Chrystal purses her lips forward, her head still bobbing.
“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not the guy on the cross. I’m like the guy with the thunderbolts. It’s said like ‘Hey Zeus!’ Jesus bends his knees slightly and shakes two thumbs up towards Chrystal, laughing at his own joke.
“Oh, right. Sorry, I keep forgetting. It’s just when you hear it said one way your whole life-”
“Oh, no, sweetheart, it’s ok. It happens all the time.” Jesus puts his hand on Chrystal’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze. She stops bopping her head instantly, and she looks towards her feet again. He slides his hand from her shoulder down her arm, his fingers easily able to go all around her bicep. “You must be a bit chilled out here in that thin jacket. It’s not summer anymore, you know. Why don’t you come back to my place with me and you can get warmed up.”
“Oh, I’m okay.” Chrystal doesn’t look back up.
“When was the last time you ate? Come, and I’ll get you some food.”
“I really do have to get going home.”
“Yeah, sure.” Jesus releases Chrystals arm with a slight push, that forces her shoulder up towards her ear. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls his hand back out and extends it towards Chrystal as though seeking a handshake. Chrystal pushes her right hand towards him, opens her hand, thumb holding the bills against her palm, as the man slides his hand across her palm, making the exchange.
“See ya around,” Jesus says, shoving his hand, and the money, into his pants pocket, as he walks past her.
Chrystal repeats his actions and shoves her right hand into her jeans pocket, with the paper Jesus has passed to her. Looking in the direction he walked to, she waits a moment before pushing herself off of the wall with her left foot and turning down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.
Her forefinger and thumb rub the paper in her pocket. Eager to inspect it, she looks over her shoulder to see if she is being followed. Two blocks further from the exchange, Chrystal ducks into a short alleyway between buildings. Staying close to the wall, her back towards the sidewalk, she walks far enough into the alleyway that shadows fall around her. Chrystal pulls the folded paper from her pocket and holds it close to her face for a quick inspection. It’s a receipt from the gas station down the street. Some of the logo is missing, where Chrystal rubbed it in her pocket. Inside the paper, is more brown paper folded over the desired contents. She holds the baggy closer to her eyes, her brows furrow in, she shoves the paper back into her pocket and hurries home to make a full inspection of her deal without the chance of being watched.
Chrystal starts to feel pains of hunger, both in her stomachs and her veins. Climbing the stairs to her apartment door, her legs feel like lead. Each foot a dead weight at the end of her limbs. Her shoe scrapped the rise of each step, before slapping down on the run of each stair. Reaching the top, she turns to the first door on her right, her hands shake, making unlocking her apartment door frustrating.
Leaning on the door for support, the key finds its way home. She nearly falls into the apartment when she turned the doorknob.
“Hey,” Chrystal says, closing the door behind her. She fishes the paper out of her pocket and leaning over the single kitchen chair just inside the doorway, she pulls the off the receipt from the brown paper and unfolds it. Inside is a brown clumpy powder. “I grabbed some. Its inside paper, so he must have had to wash it and dry it out.” Chrystal yells out. Setting the paper and its contents on the chair, she places her left hand on the chair, leaning closer, she runs her finger over the power and lumps, inspecting it closer. “Babe?” she asks, when she hasn’t heard any response to her arrival. Standing up straight and looking to her left down the hallway to the bedroom, she hears nothing. Behind her, is the doorway to the living, and turning around completely, she stands in the entryway taking in the scene before her.
Both twins were on the floor. Faith lay on her side, diaper and pants missing. She lay at an angle where Chrystal could not see her face from where she stood. A dart stain could be seen on the carpet where she had peed. Charity sat beside her sister, fully clothed, her legs folded towards her chest. Her left hand rested on Faith’s side. Both girls were still and silent.
“What are you guys doing?” Chrystal asked. Taking a step further into the room, she looks left. The TV is on, but the volume is turned down. News is showing. Zeke, Chrystal’s boyfriend, is passed out on the couch. Both arms above his head on the couch cushion. His left leg stretched and dangling over the arm of the couch, the right spilled off the couch and onto the floor.
“Char? What’s Faith doing?” Chrystal takes another step towards the twins, and Charity looks up at her mom. She doesn’t say anything, just stares. Crouching down, Chrystal puts her hand hand on Faith’s side, besides Charity’s hand, and can feel Faith breathing. “Is Faith sleeping?” Chrystal asks. Charity keeps her silence.
Standing up again, Chrystal walks towards the couch.
“Zeke,” Chrystal says. She looks down into his face. His head is laying on its side, and his lips are slightly parted, revealing the hole where his eyetooth once was. When he doesn’t rouse, Chrystal nudges him with her foot. “Zeke!” she says sharply.
Only Zeke’s head moves, and he raises it to survey who had called him. When his eyes focus, and he sees Chrystal in front of him, he lowers his head back down to the couch.
“You’re home. Did you get any on your way?” Zeke says as his eyes shut again.
“What’s wrong with Faith? What happened?” Chrystal asks.
Zeke lifts his head again, and looks in the direction of Faith laying on the floor. “She’s fine. She’s being a baby.” Zeke begins to sit up, and as he does, he notices that the button and zipper to his jeans are undone. He quickly does them up, looking sideways at Chrystal as he does so. ‘Girls must have done that when I was sleeping.” he mumbles, chin close to his chest.
“She’s two,” Chrystal says.
Zeke sits up all the way. “Hey, Faith. What’s your problem. What are you doing over there?” he yells over to Faith.
Chrystal steps back from the couch. “Where’s Char?”
“They were just playing, Chrystal. Nothing happened.”
“No…” Chrystal starts and walks towards the spot that Charity just sat. “She was just here. She was sitting with Faith.” Chrystal crouches down beside Faith and puts her hands on the floor while she lowers herself to her knees.
“Faith? Are you sick?” Chrystal asked. Faith lay still still, with her back to Chrystal. “Mommy is home from work.” Chrystal puts her hand on Faith’s side and rolls the child over. Faith’s eyes are open, and they focused on Chrystal’s face.
Zeke stands up from the couch. “They’re just playing, Chrystal.” He says as he stretches his arms over his head and yawns theatrically. He walks heavy footed behind where Chrystal sits and moves past her to the bathroom down the hallway.
Chrystal puts her hand on Faith’s forehead for a moment and then on her own, comparing the two temperatures. “There’s no fever, sweetie. Why are you laying on the floor.” Faith looks at her mother’s face. Chrystal watches Faith’s eyes as they move from her eyes to to her mouth to nose to hair. “Are you going to talk to me?”
Small foot steps come closer to Chrystal and Faith. They stop when they reach Chrystal. “Medicine for Fates. She hurt.” Charity says.
Chrystal turns to look at her other daughter. Charity is pale, and her mouth hangs open. She closes her mouth, but the jaw drops again, like it is unhinged. Drool hangs in a drop from her chin. In her hands she holds the brown paper Chrystal had picked up on her way home.
“Oh my god. Did you take this, Char? Zeke, go to the apartment next door and call an ambulance.” Chrystal yells. She takes her hands off of Faith and reaches out to catch Charity, catching her just as she passes out. “Did you take this, baby? Oh, no, why did you do that?” Chrystal yells in Charity’s face. She holds Charity across her lap, and rolls her to her side when Charity begins to gag. She vomits on the floor beside her sister.
“What the fuck are you yelling about?” Zeke says, walking towards the scene.
“Just go! Call an ambulance!”
“She just puked, Chrystal. What are freaking out for?”
“No! Just fucking- Somethings’s wrong! Just go call an ambulance!”
Zeke steps backwards out of the room.
Chrystal hears the door open to the hallway outside of the apartment and shut behind him.
She hears the fridge click and hum.
She hears Charity breathing heavy.
She hears the heavy door at the bottom of the stairs open, a brief moment of street noise and then hears it slam shut.
She does not hear knocking on the neighbor’s door.
Charity shivers in Chrystal’s lap. Hoisting her up so her head right arms draped over her shoulder, Chrystal attempts to stand but loses her balance as she leans forward, before she can stand upright. Charity slides off of her shoulder and out of her grip, and lands on top of Faith. Using her hand to push off the floor, Chrystal stands up, and crouches down to pick up Charity once again. Faith starts to cry as the weight of her sister is lifted from her. Using a bent knee, and one arm, Chrystal holds up Charity, while trying to coax Faith into a standing position.
“Come on, baby. We have to go and get help.”
Hanging on to Chrystal’s hand with both of her own hands, Faith allows for Chrystal to drag her onto her feet, but refuses to let go once upright.
The threesome make small heavy steps towards the door. Chrystal rips her hand out of Faith’s grip in order to turn the doorknob to exit the apartment, and who then insists on holding it again with both hands once the door is open.
Without a hand to knock with, Chrystal kicks the neighbors door with the side of her foot.
“What the fuck!” can be heard from the other side of the door. “Who the fuck is banging on my door?” The deadbolt is retracted, and the door open. Brenda, the neighbor stands in her doorway in a housecoat and slippers, one hand on the door frame, the other still on the door, ready to slam it closed at any moment. “Oh, no, Chrystal. Don’t be kicking in my door with those kids in tow and expect me to take care of them at a drop of a hat.” Brenda steps back to close the door.
“Zeke. He called an ambulance?” Chrystal asks. Her voice is shrill and wavers.
“How the fuck should I know?” Brenda glares at Chrystal through the space between the door and the frame, her eyes narrowed under a lowered brow. Brenda pauses and reviews the three in front of her. Her lips, which were raised as high as they could go, while the corners were turned down, relax. “Where’s the girl’s bottoms?” Brenda says, quieter. Faith, at the sound of the question and still holding Chrystal’s hand, takes a step back behind Chrystal, forcing Chrystal to lean to the side awkwardly. Chrystal tries to redistribute the weight of Charity on her shoulder, but the dead weight doesn’t budge. Vomit is drips from Charity’s mouth, down Chrystal’s arm, and landing in lumpy drops on the floor. “What did he do?”
“Please, Brenda. She needs an ambulance.” Chrystal begs. She stares into the space to the left of Brenda’s face.
Brenda nods her head and steps back into her apartment and disappears from view, leaving the door open.
Chrystal lets out a sob, taking in a deep breath, her chest heaving. It shakes her and Charity. “Brenda, please.”
Brenda reappears with a thin wool blanket. Shutting the door behind her, Brenda holds the blanket it out in front of her with both hands. She crouches slightly and she scoops Faith up in her arms, covering her lower half with the blanket. “Ambulance doesn’t come to this area too quick. I’ll drive you there.” She hustles her way further down the hallway to the stairwell leading to the resident parking area. Chrystal follows.