On any given day I put myself in a position of catastrophic failure. If you spend any time reading my words, you need to be keenly aware of this fact. And if you’ve invested any time in me, I am likely to disappoint. I only ask that you don’t deprive me the beauty of my destruction.
I would also say, don’t be too secure in your own normalcy. What happens to me could easily happen to you. And on this day, I wandered from one particular bad situation into another.
I notice her from a distance, across the street, through the crowd, and past the rush of life, standing solitary at a payphone. Yes, a payphone, one of few that remained. I suppose that was a sign in itself. But there was something more to her. Something I couldn’t shake.
It was her hair, a deliberate shade of red.
Enough so that my eyes follow the curves of her dress impulsively. There is taut fabric gathering among clenched fingers, and a slender, pale thigh.
Just beneath her neck, three buttons lay undone over the slope of her breast, causing no apparent concern. I watch her lips twist under the burden of cumbersome words, pushing anger into the phone. The witness of this leaves me feeling voyeuristic and dirty.
I see her look up in disgust. Then down in shame, her face flickering flush with panic, before emptying paleness onto the concrete. She shifts restlessly. Her feet bare, her body closed.
I move in her direction, and then stop; her eyes pinned to mine like sharpened tacks. There’s a dismissive shrug as she throws her hair into the sunlight, wispy shadows scattering across her face before the payphone slams the receiver. I catch sight of her alabaster skin glistening under the charge of emotion, fresh moisture pushing across the freckles that mark her chest. As I watch with curiosity, her body opens with a simple twist of shoulder and torso in opposition.
In a burst, she closes the distance, leaving space for our words to move slow and intimate.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She hesitates, manipulating the buttons on her dress between the tips of her fingers, before the hint of need escapes. I am willingly pulled deeper into the distraction. And I realize we have no past.
“I need a ride,” the stranger says to which I respond with a quick nod.
Ten minutes pass before another word is spoken. I lean my head against the window and watch the buildings shadow long and ominous under the penetration of headlights. Doubt slowly creeps.
“You have any money?” she inquires.
“A little,” I answer.
Two stops later her motivation leads me to a house just off the main street. It sits odd but ordinary under the withdrawal of light. Together we cross the walk and hurry the stairs. A rusted rail groans but forgives my eager grasp.
Inside mirrors the out.
It was no time before the newly acquired product finds the coffee table, previous contents spilling onto the stained carpet, her oil-stained fingers moving with an efficiency that heightens my sensibilities. Within minutes of my third inhale, all feelings of connection leave my body. I float above the couch, above the house, above everything.
When I finally awake, the sun is pounding on my neck. My arms, outstretched and numb, drape the couch like a bird frozen in flight. My pants tangle my ankles, my cock sideways and limp. When I could, I swallow dry and unforgiving. A bottle of Jim Beam stands sentinel at my feet. The room is empty. The streets hum low, and the shadows retreat under the mounting sun. The darkness is now long absent.
Reality surfaces from the fog, she is gone; along with my wallet, keys, phone and unconsumed hash. It takes 45 minutes to force myself upright; the residual numbness muddling my limbs uncontrollably frantic. I navigate the hallway, stumbling onto the street to stop the first stranger who crosses the decaying sidewalk. The man pauses, peers deep into me with emptiness, and stands mouth half-cocked. A small amount of dried saliva paints the corners of his lips like a pale, dry clown.
When I ask the day, he mutters reluctantly “Tuesday,” drawing out the word as he stumbles, brushing my shoulder with annoyance and pity, his presence leaving a stain on my conscious.
I realize filth has emerged, something previously camouflaged by darkness and anticipation. I have lost time to this place, to this person. I have lost a piece of myself.
When I return to salvage my dignity days later, I find myself rapidly shuffling faces like a deck of cards; each stranger on display in a frantic search for something purposely red.
It was a good hour into the hunt that my body turns cold in contrast to the midday sun.
Motionless, I stand and watch the familiar unfold.
It was her hair he would notice first. Then her tight clothing drawn between clenched fingers exposing a slender, pale thigh.
I watch him; his eyes quickly moving down her dress.
In a blink, they drifted from sight. I sift through the crowd of humanity to the payphone. I lift the receiver. The phone is dead, the cord dangling free in the air.
R.E Hengsterman is a writer and film photographer who deconstructs the human experience through photographic images and words. He currently lives and writes in North Carolina. You can see more of his work at http://www.REHengsterman.com and find him on Twitter at @rehengsterman