I scan the room while she scans me with her leg muscles tense, ready to bolt for the fire escape. She’s got one arm reaching toward a chipped kitchen knife on the chair nearby. Hopefully I won’t give her a reason.
There’s a guy passed out on the remains of a couch in the corner. He’s feeling no pain and might have even worked a steady job some time in the distant past. I wonder if she’s ever told herself she loves him. He snorts and whines in his sleep, scratching at blotchy skin.
The scattered pile of money on the coffee table gives off a bad vibe. Some hapless clerk in a convenience store got shot for that money, or maybe a little old lady in an alley got smacked with a wrench a little too hard so somebody could grab her purse. Or a junkie injected drugs cut with a little too much rat poison. Or all of the above.
“Your mom wanted to know where you were,” I explain. She relaxes a little when I mention her mom, so I try a little more of that. “She’s worried about you. She thought maybe I could talk you into going home.” I smile just a little. “I bet I can’t.”
She sneers. “You’re right. I’m never going back.”
Never is a long time, I think. “This glamorous life everything you dreamed of? I can see why you couldn’t give it up.” I watch a rat dart across the floor from one pile of garbage to another.
“You can judge me all you want, but you don’t know anything about what I’m going through.” Sure. You love it here.
Then she makes up her mind about the situation, turns half away from me, and starts stuffing clothes into a backpack. “You running again then?”
“If you found me, someone else can. I need to keep moving. That’s what I do now. You wouldn’t understand.” Maybe not. Running was never really my thing.
I decide to try one more trick, and take a couple of steps forward, snagging a quarter off the coffee table. She whirls and stiffens, reaching toward the knife again.
“You tryn’ to steal my money or what?” she asks, stretching out her free hand.
“You know somebody died for this, right?” I try, holding the quarter up in our mutual line of sight.
Her hand stays steady. “Whatever. It’s mine now and that shit’s not my problem.” Shocking.
Holding her gaze, I rub George’s head with my thumb, then flip it and rub the architecture on the tails side. Somebody got killed for the bills, too, but I just fix the quarter. I’ve always found coins are easier to work with.
“Knock yourself out,” I say as I flip it back at her. She catches it out of the air and glares for a second before stuffing it into her pocket.
She turns and resumes rummaging in her rat nest. I lean back against the doorframe with my arms crossed and shape words with my lips without speaking, trying to hold not so much an image as an emotional state in my mind – betrayal, desperation, pain, regret. It takes her a minute to notice the warm dampness spreading down her leg.
“What the fuck?” she cries when she notices, grasping and slapping at her pocket. She slides a hand in and pulls it back out sticky with blood. Her eyes widen and she begins to hyperventilate, which makes accusing me difficult.
“I told you it was blood money. I thought you didn’t care?” I fake a smile before I turn and walk away, a little too fast. She screams a bit and then I hear her crash into something. Melodramatic.
By the time she gets her pants off the blood’s going to be gone, but I think I made an impression. It might change her path. Probably not.
I’m a real hero.