FICTION: House Guest
Lydia woke up to the smell of burnt coffee and greasy hash browns. It had been a long night. Her arm was sore from sleeping on it and her head was spinning. She looked up as a disgruntled McDonald’s employee nudged her with a soggy mop.
This must be what it’s like to be homeless.
She unwrinkled the coat she was using as a pillow and threw it on, pulled the hood over her head, and stumbled out the door (SO YOU DON’T USE “ON” TWICE). It was snowing in New York. The first fresh snowfall all winter, and it was brutally cold. The wind was hissing down Broadway along with the cracked out woman with braids in her hair and pink house slippers on.
Lydia had spent the night locked out of her apartment. It was the day before Thanksgiving, some blasted American holiday that celebrated the raping and pillaging of Indians or some such thing. Most people flew back home or hitched a ride with a friend to a parents’ house on Long Island. Lydia wasn’t feeling so festive.
She stepped into Pica Pica, a Mexican joint a few blocks down from the McDonald’s, nauseous from the fast-food stench and her brutal hangover, but hungry for something fattening to eat. She planted herself at a table with a bean and cheese burrito covered in green hot sauce and started to cry a little.
This must be what it’s like to be alone.
With plastic fork and knife in hand she carved her way through the saddest Pica Pica burrito—mascara and water running down her cheeks. A girl had to eat. Although she usually tried to avoid her reflection, she caught a glimpse of herself in the Tecate mirror across the room. She began to cry harder.
Crying and cutting and eating and chewing and swallowing and sniffling as she sipped coke through a straw, Lydia looked like a [hopeless little nymph.]( She put her head down on the tray, not caring that green tomatillo sauce was staining her sweater, not caring that her hair was now swimming in black bean sludge.
She felt a touch on her shoulder. When she looked up she saw a man with salt and pepper hair and a beard. He had kind blue eyes and crooked teeth that she noticed when he started to talk.
“I will take you in,” he said, “come with me.”
Usually disgusted by older men attempting to take her home, Lydia found herself too weak to fight it. She slipped her hand into his open one and followed where he led. For the first time in a long time, she felt comforted.
This must be what it’s like to be saved.
The man took her to a penthouse overlooking the East River. He gave her a towel and pointed her to the bathroom. She had seen this man before, he wasn’t a complete and total stranger. He frequented a café that Lydia worked at, always politely ordering lattes and sitting quietly in the corner until the shop cleared. He would then bring his glass to the counter and leave a generous tip, smile, and walk out the door.
When he became more regular and kinder with his eyes and tips, Lydia started to draw hearts and stars on his to-go cups and secretly crush him from afar.
Now she sat on this saint’s porcelain toilet staring at a steaming hot shower in an apartment that seemed to overlook the Manhattan skyline from every angle. It was somehow better than she imagined.
She spent nearly an hour in the steam, scalding her sore arms, her broken spirit, her tear-stained cheeks, and bean burrito hair. It was painful, but a good hurt and she worried that once the shower was over, her saving would be too.
After re-dressing in her same tired clothes, Lydia walked into the living room to find that her savior had some problems of his own. An expensive leather belt wrapped tightly around his bicep, his hand fell dead to the side of an expensive leather chair, where he had apparently nodded off. A syringe rested below him on the floor.
She tiptoed around the house, sneaking around his cupboards and closets, gazing into his picture frames and bookshelves, attempting to unravel the life story of Kind Eyes. Although she was disturbed by his obvious addiction, she wasn’t ready to dismiss him completely. He had, after all, taken her in at one of her lowest points. And the evidence of a hardcore junkie was nowhere to be found in the picture she was slowly painting of this older man.
Beautiful black and white photographs lined the walls. The subject of the images was a woman in various scenes, wearing various hairstyles. Images of musicians at pianos or playing guitars, an array of group shots filled with creative types including Kind Eyes. Books by Burroughs, Bukowski, Burgess, overflowed floor to ceiling oak shelves. This man has a life, or he did at some point, he had a family, a career, and yet like Lydia, today he was all alone.
Kind Eyes woke to find Lydia had made herself quite at home. She had changed into a clean pair of socks she found in his dresser, she was spooning peanut butter and jelly out of the jar, while sitting on the kitchen counter surrounded by some of his coffee table sized art books. The television was blasting MTV—some ridiculous scripted reality show. He smiled to himself.
This must be what it’s like to have company.