GHOSTS

image copyright: Victor Fedotov

Ione, Declan’s roommate, stood in the doorway dressed in a ratty canary yellow tee shirt and plain panties which Enora thought she must have been wearing all day. She was lithe but her eyes were wide and bloodshot, and her long chestnut hair was matted back, evidence that she had just risen from bed.

“Sorry to disturb you so late. Is he in?” Enora said politely. She couldn’t help feeling pangs of nerves just beneath her skin. In her heart, she knew she’d come to his apartment to do the right thing.

Still doesn’t make it feel any better, though.

She had left the club late in the evening after balancing the books. Silas left hours before her to a meeting. They both agreed the Yakuza would be the best place to start shoring up an alliance. He did not like the terms she came up with, but she convinced him a percentage loss was better than losing everything in the inevitable violence. At least with her way, they might stand a chance against it. There was no running from what loomed ahead.

Not now.

Ione stared at her blankly for a moment before she responded, “Yeah, but I think he’s sleeping. Or spaced, maybe.” A coughing fit startled the thin girl and she turned away from the door, motioning Enora to enter. Ione hunched over the squat, disheveled couch and clutched her chest until the cough subsided.

Enora closed the door and switched on the lock. Their modest flat was in dreadful disarray: clothes were scattered all along the floor and furniture, so knotted and piled it was uncertain if any of it was clean or dirty. Tablets and rollscreens were piled up on the coffee table along with spent Lume inhalers and little empty turquoise vials of Zip. An ashtray in the middle of the table had a loose pyramid of butts in it. The smell of stale smoke and the vinegar-like taste of fumes hung thickly in the air. Enora wasn’t sure who was more responsible for the horrid state of things around her — Declan or Ione — because Declan was seldom home. The fact that he was actually sleeping here was a first, in her mind.

This is why he recoiled at the idea of coming here. They live like desperate animals.

Ione’s coughing finally ceased and she breathed in deeply, regaining her composure. She slid herself onto the couch and fumbled around on the coffee table underneath the mess until she produced a cigarette. Hugging her knees to her chest, she lit it and took a short drag. Enora met eyes with her and a silence crept up between them. Ione was the first to break it.

“His room’s on the left,” she said, ashing her cigarette. She cut her eyes at Enora, then looked back to the ashtray.

“Thank you,” Enora responded, trying to remain polite, despite the girl’s irritation.

She walked down the thin, barren hallway and lightly knocked on the first door to the left. She called after Declan and then listened quietly.

Nothing.

“Declan? Are you awake?” she asked again, softly but with a more forceful knock. Again, he didn’t answer. She knocked and waited again.

Nothing.

“You can just go in, you know?” Ione said tersely from behind her.

Enora nearly jumped, startled that she hadn’t heard her creep up behind her.

“Thanks,” she replied curtly, almost gritting her teeth at the waif as she traipsed past her, smoke trails in her wake. Ione shut her door with a mocking wave.

Enora turned the doorknob slowly and slipped herself inside Declan’s dimly lit room, trying to be as quiet as she could.

A blue glow from light on his nightstand cast a dim haze just around his disheveled bed. Declan lay sprawled out on his stomach, dressed only in his underpants. His thin, wiry-haired legs were tangled together and half-tangled in his sheets. His head was nearly hanging over the edge. He looked uncharacteristically peaceful, a way that she seldom saw him. She sat herself down slowly at the foot of his bed and laid her hand on his ankle. Stroking it gently at first, she lightly dug her nails into his skin when he did not stir.

Still nothing.

Beginning to worry, Enora laid the back of her hand at his mouth and nose and sighed in relief as she felt his bare breath on her skin.

He’s just sleeping, but he’s on something.

Anger welled up in her. He had been the one to invite her over. He’d been the one so abjectly worried over her. She felt stupid for indulging him now, even if she had done so with the intention of finally setting things right. Her fists knotted tightly and she almost felt like hitting him.

Not that he would feel anything.

Enora looked around the darkened room until she saw an old tablet sitting on his desk, off to itself beside piles of hardware and busted rollscreens. Taking it her hands, she thumbed it on and luckily it had no lock. She pulled up the note program and began to write:

Declan,

I hate that I must write this rather than say it to you, but I don’t have the strength for this carrying on in the dark anymore. I cared about you, about whatever this was between us, and more foolishly, I really thought you cared too. I can see now that I was gravely mistaken. You’re not just absent. You’re indifferent to me, to my needs. And I can’t even put into words how much that hurts to think about, let alone to have experienced — to feel right now, right here next to you as you sleep.

When we first met, that night at the bar, you were a lightning bolt in the middle of a crisp blue day, boisterous and immediate, yet charming and fascinating. I was transfixed. I thought I stole off with you that night because you made my heart beat faster and your eyes looked into my soul, but I can see the truth now. That you took away the loneliness that plagued me then. You replaced the emptiness with your laughter and your smiles and your kisses. When we were together, you made everything else disappear — all of my worries, all of my mistakes, even all of the guilt I should I have felt for what we were doing. For what I knew better than to be doing.

She hesitated for a moment, her hands now trembling from the impromptu confessional. She laid the tablet on her lap and reached for his face, gently gliding the back of her nails on his stubbled jaw. Enora said his name softly then held his chin in her hand, waiting for him to stir, desperate for him to wake up. Her heart started to pound and she couldn’t fight the anger back any longer.

Lashing up at him sending the tablet and her purse clattering to the floor. She pounded the bed repeatedly before smacking Declan’s sleeping body in the chest once with her open palm.

“Wake up, you sodding bastard! Wake up!” she shouted.

At that, Ione burst into the room and threw on the light. Enora squinted at the sudden brightness and whipped around and tried focus on the frail girl, still in her underwear.

“What the hell’s going on in here?” Ione growled, looking as though she’d just been roused from bed herself.

“He…he’s out. He won’t wake up,” Enora stammered out.

Ione strode across the room to his nightstand and rifled through the vials and burst inhaler bulbs on it. She sighed and sat down next to Enora, a few spent devices in her open hands. She stared down at them forlornly.

“He gets like this…when he’s upset,” the thin girl said weakly.

Enora sniffled softly, trying to bottle down her anger and involuntary tears.

“I know. I’ve…he’s gotten lost, with me before,” Enora said, almost whispering.

Declan’s chest heaved and relaxed, but he remained still and quiet behind them.

Ione placed the used inhalers and vials back on the nightstand and laid her hands on Enora’s shoulders. Enora tensed at this, but tried not to show it.

After a moment of solemn quiet, Ione spoke up.

“Maybe you should get out of here. Talk to him in the morning?”

Enora shook her head, but conceded.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. This was foolish. I shouldn’t have come here.”

Ione took her hand and as Enora leaned down to retrieve her purse. They both rose from the bed and left his room. Ione switched off the light and pulled the door shut behind them.

“I’ll tell him you came by when he wakes up,” Ione said, genuinely compassionate. Enora felt a tiny smile tug at the corners of her mouth.

Stopping at the apartment door, Enora turned back to her.

“Don’t trouble yourself with it. I’ll sort this out. I’m sorry to have bothered you,” Enora apologized, laying her hand at her heart.

“I’m sorry for how he — ” Ione started.

“Stop,” Enora cut her off. After a breath, she said, “You don’t need to apologize for what he won’t remember.”

Enora opened the door and hurried off into the night. She couldn’t look into that poor girl’s eyes anymore. Those pitiful, sleep-starved eyes which looked at her as if they were saying, “You poor girl.”