Chapter One

A loud cackle downstairs broke the fluidity of Joe's sleep: It was the shrill cry of his pregnant downstairs neighbor, accompanied by the terrible shrieking of stray cats. He toppled the empty bottle of vodka as he jumped from his bed, annoyed and somewhat concerned, his face contrary to what he was feeling - expressionless. He wore his red bathrobe over his bare torso and boxer shorts. He fled from his apartment room barefooted, his mind drifting from his earlier wet dream to the now boring reality. He trudged the cold metallic staircase with a shiver, the negative temperature circulating from his feet to his head in a simultaneous manner.

Knock knock knock.

He's knocking rather timidly for someone who's trying to help.

Knock knock knock.

He felt the need to knock because you can't just break in others' apartments without their permission.

Knock knock knock.

He's a moral man, that's what he is.

The shrieking and the cackling dissipated for a while that gave him an irrational relief. He stood silently, his left ear on the door: listening, anticipating, waiting. Did she die? Maybe she's okay now? Why'd she stop? What a fool he had been. He knocked once again, then tried to turn the knob. The door wouldn't bulge for obvious reasons. He considered calling the landlady, then hesitated. He really isn't one for making rescue operations. He isn't one for silly little missions like this. He turned and turned and turned. Panic is his middle name.

Knock knock knock.

Mustering the minute willpower inside his fragile frame, he forced himself on the door. It bulged loudly, knocking harshly the bronze vase in the corner. He flinched, then entered the dimly lit room. Turning on the light bulb, he stepped on something wet.

The lights flickered on the ceiling and the floor was trickling with something red. His bare feet felt uncomfortable as the warm sticky goo continued tracing around him. Following the trail to its source, he found his neighbor – Nancy, is her name – lying unconsciously on the floor. He jerked from his place and reached for the phone.

Punching the numbers, he rubbed his blood-soaked feet on the carpet. A small mouse-like voice spoke in the telly.

"911, what's your emergency?"

"Errmm, I have an unconscious lady here, she's my neighbour and I think she may have had a miscarriage."

He spoke with a faltering voice as he stated her address and name.

About ten minutes later an ambulance emitted a succession of wails in the airwaves. The renters, after hearing the news, huddled outside Nancy's apartment, curious and gossiping and trying in vain to peer as the group of paramedics performed first aid. She was carried to the van, strapped on a medical stretcher.

Joe tried to stay out of the way as possible, even tried convincing himself that it wasn't his business and he shouldn't mind any further for what's done was done, but he kept thinking about the incident on his bed that night, wide awake and sweating furiously. He couldn't decide whether he was a hero or a villain, if he had come earlier would he have prevented further damage, would he have prevented the bleeding, would he have saved the life of a baby – fetus – he corrected himself. It was merely a fetus, not yet a baby.

The hospital room smelled of medication. He didn't know why or when he decided to visit her. She was awake on her bed, staring at an empty void.

"Hello," Joe called, his voice crackling. He felt his stomach ache, guilt filling inside.

"Yes?" Nancy said, her needled hand on her now flat belly. She tried to sit but he stopped her.

"I'm Joe, your upstairs neighbor." He introduced. He had no idea where this is going, but an unknown impulse kept on urging him.

She nodded with no recognition. An awkward silence passed and he scratched his head before deciding to continue.

"...I heard you scream so I came to check on you. You were unconscious when I saw you, and that was when I called 911."

The ticking of the wallclock occupied the dead, empty silence inside the room. Joe cringed from his position and looked around. He didn't know what to do, whether he should just leave the woman in peace or stick around till she says something.

Saving him from the stress of choosing, Nancy spoke after a fit of mental exercise.

"Thank you, Joe." Her voice was almost in a whisper that made him come closer. "Can you please... call my sister?"

He nodded ingratiatingly.

Anything to help this woman at all.

He fumbled inside his baggy jeans for his cellular phone. Nancy murmured the phone number while his sweaty fingers punch the buttons. It was almost like a movie scene without the background music.

Nancy's sister was fucking hot. She was wearing high heeled shoes and a black mini skirt that could almost project her underwear. Her chest was jiggling as she walked on the marbled floors, her see-through tank top featuring her red babyfeeders. She was a brunette, her long curly hair ending above her tight bottom. In some way she looked like a prostitute. Joe tried to contain himself and his sword as she approached her sister, their looks contrasting – Nancy's blonde hair against her sister's brown one - that made Joe doubt their connection.

"I told you," She nagged, her lips forming a mocking smile. She placed her handbag on the bedside table. "I've already paid your bill."

Nancy grasped her sister's hand, tears forming on her eyes. She wrapped her arms around her tightly no matter how reluctant she was being.

"Oh, I missed you Lace! Stop your job and live with me." She was gasping for breath and a hot trail of tears trickled on her cheeks. Joe felt like he wasn't there, like he was watching a soap opera of long lost sisters finally finding each other and never letting go.

"Then who the hell would feed you?"

"I could get a job now, now that the babe's gone."

"No."

Stunned silence too familiar now. Everyone was staring at each other in unfamiliar ways. Lace broke the tortuous emptiness.

"You're getting discharged at 4pm." Turning towards Joe, she gave him a playful look. "And who are you?"

He felt like his soul was being pierced by her stare – no matter how overly delusional that sounded. "He's the one who helped me," Croaked Nancy. She was now sitting on the bed with her hand still clutching her belly and nobody stopped her from doing so. Lace made an 'Oh' with her mouth and offered her hand to Joe.

Joe was inches away from her, he could smell her perfume. She smelled of daisies. Her hand was surprisingly hard, like she'd been scrubbing or rubbing her hands on a rough surface 24/7. He was sweating and he felt himself holding back. She was a living manifestation of his fantasies lost inside his sodden head after puberty struck him. God, how he yearned to have one sultry night with this woman.

Fastpaced was his life, Joe. Two weeks after the 'incident' – that dreary event in his life where he saw the woman who could trigger his deepest urges; he felt it so far away. Like it was just a dream he had many nights ago. Was it real? He would find himself thinking. Of course, twas! What kind of a dream was that if it was? Of course 'twas real!

He sat on the corner of his bed; he ought to finish his schoolwork due tomorrow. He have been absent for three days, reasons were, of course, the crystal meth, cigs and booze. He didn't like college that much – gifted as he was with the maths – he hated people there. Never bothered talking to anybody except if it is mandatory. He's 19 now, and he felt like his life should end at 30. A rap on the door undertook in three minutes as soon as he started working on his schoolwork. He fumbled inside his room, hiding the bottle of vodkas inside his closet.

"Hey," It was Nancy, fully recovered from her miscarriage and a bright smile projecting on her face.

"Hi." Joe said, astonished. Nancy looked over him to his thrashy dwelling place.

"Do you want to come over for dinner?"

"Me?"

"Yeah."

"Uh, sure."

She led him downstairs, reminding him of his unsightly descent two weeks ago. He found himself smiling. It all seemed really funny and ironic and sad.