Swan Lake

He found her as he always did, asleep on the toilet seat, her gaunt frame slumping forward, defying gravity — like a licorice ribbon in a child’s hand. The needle dangled from her forearm, as it always did, followed by a thin stream of dried blood. She was naked but for a pair of panties that hung around her ankles, worn white cotton sullied by the cigarette ash that had fallen from her outstretched hand.

He cleaned her up as he always did, gently washing her face, now damp with perspiration, and scrubbing the blood from her scabby arms. He removed her panties and scooped up her tired body. He carried her into the bedroom and placed her on the bed. It was a cold night for Dallas and he covered her with her a patchwork quilt made by her grandmother. It was crafted from a collection of pattern samples for men’s suits. It was her favorite. Half-conscious and still on the nod, she muttered incoherently as she rolled over onto her side and buried her head beneath the quilt. She often hid her face while she slept. It reminded him of how swans sleep, with their bills tucked into a folded wing.

He spent the next hour cleaning. Her daily routine left behind a trail of bloodstains, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and dirty laundry. It was nearly midnight when he finished, so he sat in the kitchen, listening to the rattle of the washing machine as he nursed a beer. He had been lucky enough to find a crumpled pack of Kools in her jeans and was pleased to find that only few were broken. A tattered copy of the “Executioner’s Song” sat on the kitchen table, so he decided to read for a while. Although he had long since memorized its most poignant passages, he frequently reread the book, enjoying the sense of accomplishment he felt each time he completed it. He smoked one cigarette after the other until all but two were gone. He left them for her on the kitchen table.

It was 2 am when he finally got into bed. Laying beside her, he thought of the lakeside cabin they had rented once in upstate New York. The water had been too cold for him but she dove right in. She loved the water the way a child loves the water, swimming for hours until their lips turn blue and their fingertips start to prune. She had always been braver than he was. Sensing him there beside her, she woke momentarily. She offered a sleepy apology as she nuzzled into him, pressing her ass against his crotch as he wrapped his arms around her. He drifted off to sleep, carried by the soft cadence of her breathing and wondering if he would ever have the strength to leave her.

© gibson grand

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