The March of Caiti (Spring 2017)
In the loud night of the bustling city, a stubborn continuous hunger prevailed in her mind along with the drowsiness, and although she could drown in her own air pollution, the grip on the meth pipe was tight. With each intake, her senses slowly faded and reality lost all meaning and appearance. She had slipped into a prepubescent child with its tremendous dependency, but with this escapism came also a seemingly infinite loop of moments. In a second, a car would whiz by as she sat on the cold metal bench, the full moon undisturbed as usual in the night sky, but unbeknownst to anyone, in her perspective the car would crash into her, temporarily giving her body a multitude of sensations as if the collision really happened. Everything in her view from a vehicle to someone jogging seemed to crash into her like her senses were multiplied. And among that, the full moon bled white against the blackness with the constellations becoming raining shards of obsidian; the street lights gave evil stares of vengeance, and the echos of dying relatives infested all sound; the bench was a vile beast with the stomach of a black hole already halfway consuming her tissues through spaghettification. It repeated and repeated. Each moment was different and yet the same. Every time she would come to reality, she would fall backward headfirst into something exotic yet more and more familiar. She craved the thrill.
This seemingly infinite hunger shrouded Caiti from humanity and the harmonious part of time. Thinking complexly became alien if not impossible in this state, her mind falling faster and the drug ever stronger. It gave no life, only wasted it so much that in an alleyway not far, an expelled fetus of hers once laid beside mangled plastic and rotting cardboard, its life taken away before it ever got the chance to open its eyes for the first time. And should it?
At nineteen-years-old, Caiti resided on the bench at the bus stop, easily forgetting any originality of the past. Every moment became similar that her mind could not differentiate them. Instead, it was one long memory of the same smoke, the same bench, and the same pleasure. Eventually, she lost grip on time, both her and it diverging, and the path to freedom seemed undesirable. The path was an ever-steepening staircase where an abyss lurked below consistently seducing her.
But on one unusually cold day in March, a hand tugged on her consciousness, confident her humanity still survived without any proof thereof at the time. A hope appeared to glimmer like candlelight slightly breaking through an enveloping cloak. But with little wax, what could possibly replenish it in the midst of such an energy-intolerant void?
"Caiti?! Is that seriously you?" He cocked his head after seeing his beloved friend not even flinch to his words. It worried him more than her not having the decency to look in his general direction.
He continued forward, pushing through the mob of pedestrians wearing barely visible thick coats. The poor lighting on this part of town aided in simplifying the color of the city-dwellers, making his friend even harder to spot from a distance. It was no secret he hated this part of town for its bleak look could render an outsider stunned. Nonetheless, it was the most populous sector.
He sympathized those restricted to this area for reasons out of their control, and Caiti was no different. He and she began their friendship in this area as immature preteens, providing what little they could in such a hellish environment. Assuming any adults had a job, not one in their neighborhood made above minimum wage. Cracked sidewalks and light grey streets were full of broken glass and cigarette butts. Lawns fortunate enough to have vegetation were overtaken by dandelions and anthills. And especially kids themselves were overtaken by pessimism and desperation-except for a certain few who dared to peer into the unknown. Every time at dusk, he and Caiti would meet at a cul-de-sac next to a rusted chain-link fence and ponder the wonders of the city skyline close by. They wished to touch the air above them the same way those shining fingers of light would seem to scrape it.
They played with their ambition as years went on, and as years went on, reality struck them with formidable obstacles and past dreams became old fantasies. Caught in the cage of prejudice, they struggled together until one day he was freed and allowed to live beyond while Caiti remained subject to the conditions she'd known her entire life but as an adult facing directly into it. And now many years later, the consequences of such revealed itself in ways that gave him almost the greatest of condolences in hindsight.
"Caiti!" he shouted again, her head turning to his direction. He sighed in relief at this small moment of clarity, especially as it was immediately followed by the opposite. He could see in her lovely brown eyes confusion.
He drew closer to his old friend who grew more confused. The closer he got, the more his focus disappeared. A skinny street light hanged above her bench and the shadows of the falling snow from that light ran across her face and made him dizzy-but he made it anyway. He sat on the bench beside her, gazing into her eyes whose color gave his memory a twinge. He did not smile and neither did she.
"Caiti," he repeated this time with no emphasis. He was sure it was her. The scar from her father still made her left eyebrow split into two.
"Here. It's all I have," she replied quietly. She dug her right hand in her bra and brought out a tiny syringe with a transparent brown fluid inside. He was unsure of what he saw was real at first, but when he realized what it was, his lungs nearly collapsed. "Are you okay?" she asked in response to him looking away with his eyes tightly closed. In a split second, he snatched the syringe from her, stood up, and threw it into a drainage hole nearby in the concrete where a tiny splash could be heard immediately afterward. Caiti raced to the drainage hole beside the sidewalk, got on her knees, and looked through the metal gaps for the syringe. By the time she got there, it was not visible in the murky water filled with floating pieces of trash and ice. A plate of metal with apertures was bolted into the concrete above the drainage hole, making the syringe unreachable.
"You son of a bitch! What the fuck?!" she exclaimed. "If you weren't gonna buy it, at least let me keep it for someone who will!"
"Who's your buyer?!" he yelled with his hands together behind his head, his body shaking. Keeping his bearings at this time became a difficult task.
"What...? Are you not him?"
"Who's your buyer?!" Caiti froze while still on her knees and bit her lip. She looked over her shoulder for a couple of seconds before returning to him.
"I can't say. It's umm... it's complicated... Who are you?" He quickly looked at the ground and at the footprints he made in the thin layer of snow. Never a day would he imagine she would ask that exact question. Perhaps being surprised should become an expectation.
"It's Richard... but you used to call me Ricky." She appeared puzzled and pointed at her own chest.
"I did what?" Richard nodded quietly while putting his hands in his pockets. "I don't remember calling anyone named Ricky."
"We couldn't afford phones."
"You and me. We couldn't afford phones. Not then."
"I knew you at some point, didn't I?"
"When is your birthday, Caiti? Your actual birthday?"
"March first, 2000."
"Wrong. You were born on the leap day, but three out of four years we would celebrate on the first."
Caiti looked back at the drainage hole and tried to see her reflection in the water below but the debris in it made it impossible. A fierce gust blew through and she began to shiver immensely. It was at this time that Richard noticed she was wearing inappropriate clothing. Instead of a coat and jeans, she wore purple leggings and what looked to be a wool sweater with its sleeves and bottom half cut off, exposing her bare abdomen to the elements. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her. They then both walked back to the bench and sat down.
"Thank you... Why are you helping me?"
"We were friends once."
"That doesn't mean we're friends now." He gave a little chuckle as Caiti grew nervous.
"Apparently not, but I still care."
"I can tell. How do I know you ain't hear to rape me? You could be prowlin' for a thot for all I know, ready to eat my ass like a cupcake and sell my cervix for a kilo."
"Relax. I am here to help, but not to keep you warm-something else. Miranda was concerned."
"Oh, really? Did my mom also mention she's been dead since last Thanksgiving?"
"Well... she would be concerned... Just look at yourself."
"Oh, fuck off whoever you are. Who are you to judge my life?"
"I know what ya said."
"Well, I miss you, you know, even if you don't remember. And I guess, I am here to get you warm, but not with a jacket, with umm... a fireplace or maybe with lights that actually work."
"You're offerin' me a place to stay?"
"Temporarily. I wasn't planning on it, but it seems you're in a bigger ditch than I originally thought."
"Look, I don't know if we were dating at some point or not-"
"Oh, no, no. We weren't," he interjected. She continued.
"-but let me just say, thank you."
"You're welcome, and be quiet about it."
"Right. Sorry for callin' you a bitch earlier."
"Oh, no biggie. I get that a lot."
"You what? Ha, ha!" Caiti burst into laughter.
"Anyway, when's the soonest you can come over to my apartment?"
"Oh, I never said I was going."
"Yeah, thanks but no thanks."
"But...? But why...?
"It ain't your business. Unlike you, I'm makin' real money and to be frank, I'm really good at it."
"Real money? Caiti, I don't think you know what you've gotten yourself into... or... how much you scared me when you pulled that needle out."
"Is that what this is about? Afraid of needles?" she replied with a hint of annoyance.
"I'm afraid what's in the needle."
"Well, if it makes ya feel any better, I hadn't taken any shots yet."
"You don't have to inform me. You probably wouldn't be on this bench talking to me if you had."
"Would ya mourn if I died?"
"More than that. If people didn't depend on me, I'd join you."
"Sure, you would," she said sarcastically. She brought out a cigarette and began lighting it. While Richard welcomed the warmth, the smell was not as well received. "Want one?"
"Don't bullshit me!" he snapped, grabbing her arms. Both her lighter and the lit cigarette fell and fizzled out when they landed in the snow.
"What do you want from me?!"
"I want you out of this wretched place! I knew you as someone who, at the very least, attempted to reach for new opportunities, to look beyond that rusty fence and astound those pigs in power who do nothing but leave us to rot! But I guess you've played right into their hands. Tell me this Caiti, would you rather spend your life constantly looking behind your back? These people you deal with, whoever they are, they have no regard for your safety. I'm dumbfounded by the fact they haven't shipped you down the road already."
"Yeah, they need me more than you know."
"But what about when they don't need you? How in the world can you trust them? Do you not remember what our parents taught us? Poverty invites crime."
"But... it's too late." Richard gently grabbed her fingers. She refused to look him in the eyes. He then sighed.
"You can't do the right thing too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."
Suddenly, her phone's ringtone played which startled them both. Unsure if she should pick it up at this point, Caiti sat still and stared at Richard to indicate to him that it might be important. He nodded to show that permission was granted and she picked up the phone from her purse in a hurry.
"Yes...? Okay... I uhh... I'll be there. Yes, I have it. I promise. Don't worry." After the call, Richard continued.
"Look... keep your money. Just come with me." There was silence for ten seconds before she began to slowly stand up. Sensing her hesitation, he put his arm on her shoulder as they started walking down the sidewalk, heading towards his apartment. Before they left the vicinity, Caiti gave one last look at the drainage hole.
Caiti followed him, crossing numerous intersections along the way. His residence was near downtown, and to save money from the notoriously insufferable traffic, he did not own a vehicle, however, he remained fit enough to walk to anywhere in this part of the city he needed. Caiti, though, struggled to keep her breathing under control. Eventually, her breathing deteriorated to the point where Richard decided to rent a tandem bike. The night began to slip into the morning and he could hear his old friend snoring, her body leaning onto his back with her hands around his waist. It was an unfamiliar experience. Caiti did not know how to ride a bike, and he sort of felt this want to teach her.
"Stop, I need to be serious," he told himself, trying to clear his mind from these weird new emotions trying to distract him. Something about her head leaning on his back just fascinated him.
"Stop, this isn't that kind of love," he corrected. "What she needs is a real home."
By five o'clock in the morning, they made it to the complex, parts of which were still under construction. Luckily his apartment was on the first floor, so it didn't take long for them to enter the room. As soon as Caiti walked in, she dropped her purse and fell on the mattress that came out of the pullout sofa. She had had to curl her legs in for the bed was short.
"Oh, my lord," said Caiti, feeling relief.
"Yeah, you can sleep there where I sleep. I'll just get a blanket and sleep on the floor."
Although most of the apartment was empty, Richard kept a good deal of food in his pantry. He brought out a large can of soup and put it on the small table beside the pullout sofa.
"That's for me?"
"Aren't you hungry?" He walked to the front door. "Right?" She nodded. "Hey, I'll be back. I need to return the bike before I get a fine. You'll be okay, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. I think I'm just gonna hit the hay."
"Alright. Be right back." The door then closed, followed by footsteps outside.
Trying to get comfortable, Caiti twisted her body on the mattress multiple times. She put the jacket that Richard gave her on her hands to try to thaw them out. When things began to quiet, she could hear the clock ticking nonstop on the wall above the sofa. Beside that was an open calendar hanging by a single tack with X's marking the days that passed. It was then as she looked at it that she realized it was Spring Break. It didn't matter to her life now, but it did during school. But school was such a distant memory now... somehow.
Then, all of a sudden, the calendar started slightly swaying side-to-side. Footsteps on the other side of the wall which was outside the apartment could be heard again.
"Damn, that was fast," she commented.
The door opened slowly at first, but in a flash, it flung open, and someone else, a middle-aged white man with thick black hair, entered that made her heart nearly stop. She knew him and he knew her.
Caiti backed up out of the mattress and into another wall, and the man came over to her with his large hands, grabbed the back of her head, and began slamming her face into the tile floor below. She tried to scream as loud as she could to attract attention but after three minutes, no one came. The complex was still very new and Richard was the first and only residence in this particular building.
"You know, I didn't want to do this," said the man who had her throat in his grasp. She was too weak to give much resistance. It was easier than he had expected, and her consistent gagging made him want to laugh.
"Go to Hell..." she managed to say with his left hand crushing her windpipe. Her nose had bled and spread all over her face. He then felt the need to take off her clothes and tried to rip off her shirt which lead to her begging and sobbing uncontrollably. "Please! Oh, God! Ahh, fucking please! I'll do anything!"
"You thought you could get away!" he shouted. "You thought you could take that fucking shit for yourself, you bitch! You promised me you would be there at that fucking bench with my shit! Then, I gotta call from Tony, sayin' he saw you going downtown on a damn bike tryin' to escape! Where's my shit, bitch?!"
"It's gone!" she replied while her head laid in a pool of blood and tears. He let go of her throat, but he still had her pinned down by sitting on her legs.
"Did you fucking give it to someone? Made your own goddamn money?!"
"No... someone threw it away in the sewer."
"It was... uhhh... it was me."
"Okay... you know what? Give me your phone."
"Give me the fucking phone!"
"It's over there..." She pointed to one of the tables that had her phone on top. The man took it and turned it on.
"What's the password?"
"The password? Are you crazy?"
"Give me the goddamn password! I swear to God. I swear to God, give me the password before I fucking stab you!"
"It's... twelve twelve," she answered. The man proceeded and quickly started to call somebody. It took a minute but he picked up. "Hey, Daren, how's it goin'? Yeah, I know. Ha, ha. So... I have your delivery girl. You promised me the shit! Instead, all I get it is some slut. I don't think I can trust you anymore. In fact, I hear Tyrone's group has some coca for half your prices! Oh, no, bro, the shit I'm talkin' is real but hey, guess your bitch shouldn't have thrown away my shit. Perhaps you two can talk it over." He then threw the phone on the floor, breaking the screen. He looked at Caiti who was breathing really heavily. "I told your boss. He's coming for you. Ha, ha!" After chuckling for a bit, he exited the apartment. She had no idea what to think. She felt so afraid of what her boss would do. They had been on thin ice for a while. She stayed on the floor in an intense traumatic state. She had an uncountable amount of scratches and bruises along with half her clothes ripped off, but nothing would compare to what her boss could do. He wouldn't kill her, but it would be something far worse that she couldn't escape. She didn't know how to ride a bike or drive. If she was on foot, she wouldn't make it out of the city. Daren owned the outskirts.
Her mind buzzed excessively for almost five minutes until she gazed at something in a nearby cupboard that gave an idea, a solution...
Half an hour later, when Richard returned, the sight he saw, he would never forget.
"OH, MY GOD! Caiti!"
Caiti laid there on the tile floor peacefully, but she no consciousness. Not anymore. Beside her body and near her right hand was a power drill that had a red liquid easily dripping off the tip of it. A hole directly in her chest there was. Richard knew it had something to do with the drugs. The was no other logical explanation. The one who he used to sometimes look up to to think of new things and take chances now had her life gone and scattered all over the walls.
Richard wept and wept, sobbing over her frozen face and clenching the bloody pieces of clothing on her. Caiti's march was over.