Preston Allen: The Keys to my Apartment

I open the door to the small apartment on the top floor of the ancient, but affordable apartment building.  It’s not in the worst area of Miami, but it’s not in the best either.  Considering my tight budget, I like to think that my place is a cozy, nicely decorated space. There’s the porcelain vase I fill daily with fresh yellow roses. I love roses in all colors, but yellow is my favorite. To add interest, there are my throw pillows placed about the living room in alternating red, white, and checked patterns.  There are some homey touches, too, with my hand-sewn curtains and self-upholstered couches.  I’m my mama’s girl. Like my mama, I am good with my hands.  But this is not going to be a good night because a light is on, and I never leave the lights on.

At the edge of the carpet near the door, are Tyrone’s shoes, the heavy work boots, too highly polished to really be work boots.  He never gave back his key. I never changed the lock. I had convinced myself that he’s not like that. That he’s many things, but not that. Yet here he is now, up in my place.

Stupid. Stupid. Bounce. Bounce.

I find him in the bedroom sitting on my bed. A basket brown man with wildman naps, a thick neck and lips, and wide-spaced, long-lashed, light brown eyes that never seem to get it. All of my drawers are open, my possessions thrown about. My filing cabinet’s open, too, and the folders dumped out. The room is a mess. Tyrone holds up two photographs to his face. One is of me and Jake in fishing gear showing off the marlin we had caught. In the other, I am kissing Jake on the mouth.

Before I can begin to explain a thing I have no need to explain because, one, Jake was before Tyrone, two, Jake had nothing to do with why me and Tyrone broke up, and three, those photographs are my private property—but before I can explain all this that I have no real obligation to explain, but will as a courtesy to set an ex’s heart and mind at ease, Tyrone has sprung from the bed and boxed me a hard one on the ear.  It sends me sprawling backwards and down. Physically and emotionally.

Tyrone comes and squats his bulk over me, pushing the photographs in my face, demanding, “Who dis?”

I hold back my tears.  My fear of the dark.  “Get out of here.  Gimme back my key.”

“Who dis?”  He pushes the Polaroids against my mouth. I clamp it closed.  He tries to pull it open.  I am resisting him.  He is strong.  He pulls my mouth open with his strong hands, strong fingers and pushes one of the Polaroids inside, hard, scraping up the inside of my gums real good. I’m fighting him, gagging, trying to bite his fingers. Tyrone’s laughing.  He puts the other Polaroid in his breast pocket and gets up from over me, tapping the pocket with the picture in it.  “I’m gonna find him.  Believe dat.”

I spit the photograph out of my mouth and fire: “Get out of my house.  Gimme back my key.”

“Who is he?”

“None of your damned business. Get out of my house!”

The walls are thin. Someone will hear. Someone always hears. I am shouting. He clamps a hand over my mouth and grabs my hair, which he had always loved because it falls to my shoulders easy in white girl waves.

“Don’t be yelling at me.  You forget who I am?”

He drags me up by my hair and walks me backwards with his face pressed against mine.  His face is sweaty. Clammy. He smells bad. Despite his wildman hair (carefully groomed wildman hair), he is really a neat freak and particular about hygiene. He has always been picky about smell. Something must have really set him off to be smelling like this.

“You’re gonna tell me who he is.”

He walks me backwards, to where I remember seeing the scissors. I fight against him, but not enough to make him change his mind or his direction. We are reflected in the full-length closet mirror. The way he is holding me, the way I am clawing him, it looks like some crazy, intense dance.

“You’re gonna tell me his name. You’re gonna tell me where he live at. You’re gonna tell me how good he fuck you.”

He walks me backwards until I can’t walk anymore because I’m pressed against the wall next to the high bureau. I reach without seeing to where the scissors had been.  My fingers curl around them. They are the sturdy kind, good for cutting stubborn burlap to make interesting curtains out of.

“—you’re gonna tell me about his dick, how big it was, how good it was—.”

I plunge the scissors into the flesh of his armpit because I have read that that is a very tender area.  He jumps back howling, clutching at the wound. I lunge at him again and catch him in the thigh.  Bright red spreads over his jeans. It looks like some new crazy sort of style. He staggers backwards. Flops down on the bed. Both hands clamped around the cut leg. Groaning. I retreat to the far wall to watch him bleed.

“You stabbed me,” he says.  “I’m gonna whup yo ass.”

I hold up the scissors in warning.

“Look whachu did my leg.”

“Gimme my key back.”

He’s bleeding all over the bedspread I sewed with my own hands. “Get me something to clean this up.  Ow.  Ow.  Help me clean dis.  Lookit dis mess.”

It is a mess.

“Then you gotta leave.  You gotta leave my house and give my key back.”

In the chaos on the floor, I rescue a beach towel and toss it to him.  I back into the bathroom, keeping an eye on him, and dig through the cabinet until I find the peroxide bottle, which I fling at him. Then I fling the alcohol bottle at him, too. He pulls off his shirt and splashes the alcohol on the sliced flesh under his arm. He looks up, and I am amazed.  There is a grin on his face.  “You gotta help me with dis.”  Wincing.  Grinning.  “Come here.”

“You’re gonna try to grab me.”

“Come here and help me.  I can’t do it by myself.”

“You hit me.”

“You used to love me.”  He’s getting up. Grinning.

“I swear to god, Tyrone, I’ll kill you—!”  I back up to the wall and hold the scissors out in front of me.  “Stay away from me!”

“Okay.  Okay.”  His eyes.  They don’t get it. He has no shirt on his hairless barrel chest.  He has a bloody towel wadded under his arm. His jeans have a scarlet leg. This is love?  Doesn’t he get it?  I go in the living room and open the door and kick his pretty boots out the door. Eventually, he limps out of the bedroom.  I give him a wide berth to pass through the open front door. Gone is the grin. But his eyes. He just doesn’t get it.  He shakes his head sadly as he passes.  Dragging himself through the door. I slam it shut after him.  Turn off the lights.  Sink down to the floor.  Release the tears.  About fifteen minutes later, there is a knock at the door.

“Cindique!”  One voice.

“Cindique!  Cindique!”  Another voice.

The walls are thin. Somebody has heard. Somebody always hears. Somebody always comes. Somebody always comes too late. It is the neighbors. The Puerto Rican lesbian who said she would help with the rent if I let her eat me.  Rose, Rosa, Rosita, Rosie? And her roommate, Nicole, Nikki, Nike, Nikita, who might not be gay because she has never hit on me. Plus, I think she has a baby. Then again, you never know.

“Cindique, you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

Through the door.  “We heard sounds.”

“I’m fine.  He’s gone.”

“We didn’t hear him leave.”

“He left quietly.”

“We could go get the landlord’s key and come in and check, you know?”

“He’s gone, I promise you.”

“You want us call somebody for you?  Your mom?”

“Hell no.”

“Ay pobrecita!  Cindique, we’re here for you.  We don’t see no lights on in there.  Is he holding you hostage?”

“Look down on the ground.  See the blood?  That’s his blood.”

“Oh snap.  Look at the blood,” one says.

“She got his ass good.”

“Oh snap.  Good for you, Cindique.  Good for you.”

“Yeah.  Go home.  I’m fine.”

Gossiping bitches.  Now they have something to gossip about.  She got his ass good. Yeah. And he still has my key. I sit in the dark with my back against the door and the scissors in my hand facing my handiwork. (My curtains look good framing a window full of stars.)  Now I have something else to add to tomorrow’s crowded itinerary, pay my late cable bill, get my oil changed, change the lock on my door, get my phone turned back on.

Cry.

***

Preston L. Allen is a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and a winner of the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his collection of stories CHURCHBOYS AND OTHER SINNERS.  His work has been anthologized in Las Vegas Noir, Miami Noir, Brown Sugar, and numerous literary journals, including the Seattle Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Black Renaissance Noire.  His novels ALL OR NOTHING and JESUS BOY have received rave reviews from the New York Times, O, the Oprah Magazine, Kirkus, Library Journal, Feminist Review, AALBC, and Florida Book Review.

He teaches writing in South Florida.  You can find him on Facebook or on his blog, PrestonLaLLen.blogspot.com

Books by Preston L. Allen:
Jesus Boy
(Akashic 2010)
All or Nothing
(Akashic 2007)
Churchboys and Other Sinners
(Carolina Wren Press 2003)

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