Gloria

Patti stumbles into the kitchen for another beer. She squeezes past a tall guy nodding out of time to the music shaking the apartment. Patti eases round the table. A couple are fucking on it. They’re fucking each other in the middle of the kitchen amongst pizza boxes and beer bottles. They’re fucking each other and nobody’s taking any notice but her. Patti dodges the girl’s heels as they jerk over the edge of the table. She scraps her back across the fridge door, displacing a Mount Rushmore magnet. It lands on the lino with a click. No one hears. Patti makes it to the sink, which three hours ago was stacked with ice, but that’s now littered with cigarette butts and empty beer bottles. Patti turns away. She pushes past a young woman snorting cocaine off a mirror and babbling to herself.

‘Hey, watch it!’

Patti is already moving round the table, taking care to avoid the woman getting fucked. There are bodies everywhere: draped over sofas, leant against walls, or sprawled on the floor. Patti only recognises a few. The others are just a collection of eyes, and ears, and noses.

Patti steps over the bodies in the living room like she’s wading out to sea. Dylan’s in the corner chatting to a blonde whose eyes are rolling into the back of her head. Patti climbs out of the window and onto the fire escape. As she gets to her feet, a cool breeze hits her face and makes her light-headed. She leans on the railing to steady herself. Patti closes her eyes. A truck reversing, beeping car horns, and wailing sirens crawl up from the city and huddle by her eardrums. Before the sun falls from the sky, it reflects off the store windows on the street, casting orange beams towards the fire escape. The rays flicker across Patti’s eyelids, sending warm cascading sensations through her body. A glass smashes inside the apartment; a cheer erupts. Patti opens her eyes and looks to the street. A flash of red on the corner catches her attention. It is a red dress fluttering in the momentary breeze created by a truck. The red dress is worn by a young woman leaning against a parking meter. She’s standing within a spotlight of sun joking round with a kid. Patti can see the boy laughing but can’t hear him over the traffic. The woman laughs too. She throws her head back. Her long hair fans out behind her. The sun catches it and it shimmers like a halo. She could be in a shampoo commercial. No one else is paying attention to the pair. Pedestrians lumber past without a glance, wiping perspiration from their necks. A truck blocks the pair from view as it waits for the lights to turn green. The truck moves off. The woman in the red dress has been replaced by another wearing a plaid shirt and cut-off jeans. Patti bolts up from the railing. She searches the street but cannot see any trace of red other than a MacDonald’s sign. Patti slumps back down, her gaze returning to the corner. The woman in plaid and the boy are holding hands as they walk along the street. The boy is pretending his free hand is a gun and is firing it at the passing cars. Patti watches them until they and their long shadows slip out of sight. A cloud edges over the sun. The light in the street fades away like it’s on a dimmer. The breeze, which had been pleasant before, is now cold. The hairs on Patti’s arms prick up. She shivers and rubs her hands over her bare arms. Somewhere close by someone is playing a cello. Patti lugs the case along the corridor. Her Converse All Star’s squeaking on the buffed floor as she manoeuvres the cello round the corner. Footfalls reverberate off the locker-clad walls as someone runs up behind her.

‘Out the way retard!’ yells the boy.

The boy pushes Patti aside. She clatters into the lockers then falls to the floor. Her case spins on its axis. Patti watches it fall, unable to stop it. The crash chases the boy along the corridor and mingles with his laughter.

‘Asshole!’

Patti picks herself up, rubbing the elbow that took the fall. She heaves the cello off the floor. Patti lugs the case along the corridor. A light aircraft drowns out the cello. Patti looks up. She wonders if the pilot can see her, and what he thinks of the woman on the fire escape by herself. The dimmer turns and the sun re-emerges.

‘Patti!’ – a voice from inside the apartment yells – ‘Get in here, you’re missing the fun!’

Patti turns to the window, ‘The fun?’

Dylan leans on the windowsill, a cigarette behind one ear, and a pencil behind the other.

‘You know Patti, sometimes you can be a real bitch, but my God it turns me on. I just wanna bend you over this window and fuck you from behind!’

Dylan straddles the window and humps it.

Patti raises her eyebrows, ‘Really?’

‘See when you do that shit it drives me crazy!’ Dylan speeds up.

‘The only person who’s getting fucked round here is you. Oh and that little treasure in the kitchen.’

Dylan stops humping and sits down on the window – ‘Come on, baby. Come back inside’ – He takes Patti’s hand in his.

Patti looks to the street. Lights are flickering on.

‘Don’t you ever get tired, Dylan?’

Dylan’s thumb bobbles across Patti’s knuckles. He shrugs his shoulders, ‘No. Do you?’

The cello wades through the syrupy air then stops. The music from the apartment has stopped too, only Patti didn’t notice it at the time. Patti opens her mouth to speak.

‘Dylan!’ – A man’s voice booms through the apartment – ‘You call this a fucking party? This place is as dead as my old lady!’

Dylan releases Patti’s hand and swivels back inside the apartment, ‘Tony you old bastard!’

Tony sweeps Dylan into a hug.

‘Let’s get this party going’ – Tony kicks the sofa – ‘Come on, get the fuck up!’

The inhabitants of the sofa don’t move. Dylan bashes a few keys on a laptop. Music erupts from the speakers. The sofa empties, as the living room becomes a dance floor. Patti steps into the apartment. She bends down to grab a beer from Tony’s crate. A slender arm also reaches for a bottle. Patti looks up and sees the woman in the red dress.

‘Oh sorry. I didn’t–’ Patti fumbles her words.

‘Don’t worry about it. There’s more in the kitchen when we’re through with these.’

The woman picks up a bottle, pops the cap and hands it to Patti. It’s wet with condensation.

‘Thanks.’

‘No worries. I’m Gloria.’

Gloria extends her tanned arm and hand. Patti hesitates before offering hers.

‘Patti.’

They shake hands, their warm and clammy palms sticking together. Gloria bends down, picks up another bottle from the crate and rolls it across her forehead. She wipes away the transferred condensation from the bottle on her brow with the back of her hand. Patti watches a bead of sweat roll down Gloria’s chest. Gloria watches Patti watching her. Patti notices Gloria’s gaze and averts her eyes. Patti picks at the label on the bottle. Gloria smiles. She pushes the cart along the aisle, struggling to keep it from veering to the left. Gloria can see the man out of the corner of her eye. He keeps ducking behind random objects like a magazine or a cereal box. When he hides behind a leg of lamb, Gloria bursts out laughing. At the end of the ice cream aisle, the man discovers Gloria’s abandoned shopping cart. He looks around. He can’t see her anywhere. His shoulders drop as he heads for the exit. As the man is about to leave the market, he hears a snigger from behind a bunch of flowers. He pushes the flowers aside. Gloria smiles.

‘You have really long fingers.’

Patti looks down at her hands, which are shredding the label on the bottle, ‘I know.’

‘Do you play the piano?’

‘No. People always ask me that though. I tried once.’

‘How did that go?’ Gloria takes a long chug of beer, keeping her eyes on Patti.

‘It was fine until this hand had to do something different to this hand, and then it all just kind of went to shit!’

Gloria laughs; the hairs on Patti’s neck prick up.

‘You’re funny. Are you from here?’

‘I moved here for college.’

‘College. You must be really smart.’

‘Not really.’

‘So are you and the poet–?’ Gloria nods to Dylan who’s dancing with a group of girls.

‘We’re off and on. Right now we’re kind of on. I think.’

‘Sounds serious.’ Gloria laughs.

‘I’m sorry. I’m not very good at parties. I never know what to say.’

‘Tired of the bullshit?’

Patti’s eyes widen, ‘Yes!’

‘I bet it gets very existential up here’ – Gloria nods to the window – ‘Maybe we should get some fresh air.’

‘Sure.’ Gloria blurts out before she can stop herself.

Gloria and Patti climb onto the fire escape. Gloria stands against the railing and looks out at the city. Man made light has replaced the sun. Patti hangs back, studying her from the window. Gloria’s shoulder blades jut out as she takes a long breath, sucking the city inside her.

‘Why would anybody want to live in the countryside? It must be so fucking boring.’

‘It is.’

Gloria turns to Patti.

‘Country girl looking for adventure, huh?’

‘Something like that.’ Patti says with a wry smile.

Gloria holds out her hand. Silently inviting Patti to join her. Without thinking Patti, takes Gloria’s hand and allows herself to be guided to the railing. The air is thick and sticky as the pair survey the illuminated city, their hands still intertwined.

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