This story is from a new voice for us. Samantha (who is not an old run-down rental house) hooked me from the first line. Maybe it’s because I live in Montreal right now and the weather does indeed suck-ass every day. Maybe it was her great prose weaving in Gorgons’ hair, drum-like abs, and trampoline fucking. No matter which was you cut it, this story is killer and we are very glad to see her in our pages.
I don’t need the weather report to know it’s going to be a suck-ass day. The sky is the color of mustard and the trees writhe, their leaves like Gorgons’ hair. Foreboding. But now that the porch chairs and the trash bins and the god-awful trampoline and anything else that might become a projectile in hurricane force winds is secured in the garage, I straighten up and head inside. The darkened life inside.
“The hatches are battened,” I announce.
“It’s not going to be that bad.” My sister Chrissy is smoking a bowl, watching reruns of Steve Wilkos.
“A hurricane’s a hurricane.” I’m not defending myself, just stating facts. “I don’t want to be responsible if the trampoline goes flying through Joe’s window.” Joe is our next door neighbor, another renter on Blossum Street, who smokes cigars and walks around shirtless, exposing his drum-like ‘abs.’ Surly is the word that comes to mind.
“Fuck Joe,” Chrissy responds, “And fuck that trampoline. You shouldn’t be putting it away. It’s not even yours. Billy needs to put it away.”
“Eh.” I shrug, “Billy’s not going to put it away.” Billy. The deadbeat best friend of Chrissy’s deadbeat boyfriend Scott, both of whom also rent with us. I can’t wait for the lease to be up, or for Billy to go to prison where he belongs.
There’s only two bedrooms, so Billy sleeps in the basement, an unfinished, concrete floored affair with bare lighting and too many spiders. He says it doesn’t bother him. I can see why. It suits his personality.
“What a fuck up.” Chrissy pauses to hold the lighter to the bowl. She’s right. Billy is a fuck up. “You know, I’m a disgusting human being, but I don’t make other people clean up my messes.”
Sure you do, I want to say, remembering the greasy detritus left to fester in the George Foreman grill after she’s had a go with it. But I stay quiet. It’s easier to let her rant when she’s smoked up. I sit next to her on the couch and tap at my phone, checking the weather. Hurricane Sylvia’s going to be a bitch, no doubt.
“Billy’s got troubles of his own,” I say, my tone agreeable, letting her vent.
“Exactly. They shouldn’t become our troubles, too.” Chrissy consults the floor darkly, as if peering through the halo of beer cans, anime sketch books, and wooden floorboard straight to the depths of Billy’s Basement itself. “You know, it’s because of him I’ve been keeping my medication in the trunk of my car? And my credit cards. Do you know how inconvenient it is to have to open the trunk every time before you go shopping?”
“Smart, though.” I think. Weather Channel says there’s going to be winds 80 some miles an hour, and 30 inches of rain. There’s no way I’m going to work tomorrow. “Pass, please.” She hands me the bowl. “Where do you keep the key?” I ask.
“Uhh…up my ass,” Chrissy laughs, which just means I’m not telling you. But I get it. It’s not easy living with someone you can’t trust. Billy might overhear. Or else Scott, equally untrustworthy, even to Chrissy.
“Billy told me,” I say, leaning back. This seems prophetic, now that smoke is curling towards my nose. “He told me his goal is to push people away so they wouldn’t care when he’s gone.” We’d been picking out that damned trampoline when he said this –this being before he robbed the pharmacy.
So they won’t care when I’m gone. What do you say to that, honestly? I don’t remember what I said to that.
“He’s sure doing a good job of it,” Chrissy mutters. “You don’t get busted for kiddie porn and expect nothing happens.”
“Nothing happens when you break a restraining order,” I remind her. Which is true. Billy also told me (and Scott confirmed) that a waitress filed the restraining order. This waitress’s boyfriend happened to be a cop. Smooth move, Billy. Smooth move.
“That’s because he OD’d,” Chrissy points out. Which is also true. Billy took ten Xanax, three Vicodin, and two Oxys a week after he was arrested for the whole restraining order mishap. In light of his suicide attempt, he was pleaded down to twelve hours of community service.
I pull at the bowl. All this drama, and the year’s not up. Two more months of this second hand shitty-ness.
“You think he’d try it again?” The word that comes to my head: tendencies. Thunder booms from outside.
“Let him. I’m sick of how it’s always glorified. He uses it as a pity magnet.” Chrissy is jaded. “That’s probably why he did it the first time.”
“There’s something about surviving an attempted suicide that tells you, ‘This life is precious, this life is worth saving.’” I fancy this counts for waxing poetic. Something to tie into a sociology paper, perhaps. “A reaffirmation for living.”
The rain outside begins to roar, as if in commiseration. On the T.V., Wilkos is chewing out some poor excuse for a mother. Time passes. I get up, make a snack of microwaved Hot Pockets, consume it.
Rain continues, not steadily at all, but in waves. The sound is atrocious, like the ocean is angry and rushing at you.
“Shit, is it bad out there,” I comment.
“It’s just weather.”
The lights go out.
“Fuck,” Chrissy mutters, quite predictably at this point. She revs up the lighter. “Fuck.”
I shrug, now an invisible I-told-you-so.
“It’s a hurricane, Chrissy,” I say, somewhat vindicated now. “A hurricane.”
“Where’s your phone?”
I feel my pocket. Feel the couch around me. Nothing. “I must’ve left it in the kitchen, somewhere.”
“There any candles?” My sister’s face is splintered, unsteady in the lighter’s glow. “I know you have em.”
“Those were Jaimie’s bridal shower prizes,” I say. Those perfect, purple candles she’s thinking about are long gone.
To think, there is indeed a larger world, a world of bridal showers and bleached smiles and no beer cans on the floor. And none of Billy’s drama.
“Maybe.” Chrissy flashes the lighter again, to show that she is standing. “Maybe Billy has candles.”
As weird as it will be, asking Billy for candles will be an adventure. A story. Although exchanges with Billy are largely horrible, they are never boring. I hold Chrissy’s elbow, our embodiment of solidarity, and together we navigate the darkened living room.
It seems odd –profane –to giggle, as what sounds like a beer can twips out beneath my toes, but I do. There’s sirens outside, sirens we hadn’t heard over Wilkos’s rant. And the rain.
No microwave light in the kitchen. No light from outside, no moon to shine through the storm clouds. Chrissy clips the refrigerator as she inches past. The door to the basement is just around the bend—not that I can see it, in the dark, but I can picture it perfectly.
Chrissy knocks on Billy’s Basement door. Nothing. Nothing except the sirens and the storm outside.
She nudges me and I know what she wants. She wants me to say something to him, since I’m the nice one.
“Um, Billy?” I start. More nothing.
“Just wanted to see how you’re doing. With the storm.” What else to say? “We need some candles, do you have any?”
“I put away the trampoline.” Maybe a buttering up will do…but no. Not a sound. “You okay?” I try.
Chrissy flicks on the lighter. She looks the same way she does before sneaking into a graveyard at night. Determined. Thrilled. Scared.
Here goes another Billy adventure.
“Billy? Is it okay if we open the door?” I feel around in the dark, find the groove where the door meets the wall. The glossy, glassy handle.
I open the door.
“Watch the stairs,” Chrissy says. My feet slide forward. Find the first step. “Is he even home?” she breathes.
“I don’t know.” Because, really, when was the last time I saw Billy? It was the last time I saw Scott. Last night. They were stoned, playing video games, when I got home. On pills? Where ever there’s Scott, there’s nothing natural, just pills.
The steps in the dark become easier. Quicker. I know we’re close to the end of the stairs, by how our feet sound. Like waves thrown against the concrete walls.
And somewhere outside, there’s the sirens.
Chrissy has the lighter. We see Billy’s hands, eye level, before we see anything else. They’re puffy. All the blood rushed towards the fingertips, gloved within the skin.
His face was worse.
After it’s over –after the lights and the storm and the tears –after the questioning and the funeral–Chrissy and I are smoking a bowl and listening to music. Doing nothing. Except talking.
“What do you think?” I ask, meaning about what Billy did.
“I think he got what he wanted. Now no one will think about what a fuck-up he was,” Chrissy states, “That boy was smart. He’s not a druggie, or a thief, or a criminal now. Now, he’s a victim.”
Considering how everyone cried, I think she might be right.
Samantha Pilecki works as a librarian and has been reading and recommending fiction for years. Her work has appeared in El Portal, A Prick of the Spindle,Typehouse, and other literary magazines. She is the winner of Haunted Waters Press 2017 Short Shorts Flash Fiction Competition and can be found on Twitter @SamanthaPilecki.