Before we start you should know that I accept my role in all of this. I get it. It’s no one else’s fault that I died. I made my choices, from the stealing all the way to the end. I did that. And while it would be easy to start this story with my meeting Rori it would also be a bit of a lie. It would be far too easy to say it was all her fault, even though, truth be told much of it was. I’ve learned, post life, that one must take responsibility for ones choices. For instance saying “from the moment I met Rori at 3:00 in the morning inside the Quick Kleen Laundromat I was doomed,” while true, really doesn’t leave room for all the intricacies of a relationship, complexities of life and the overriding factor of personal choice.
A more proper place to start would be with the stealing. Then we’ll get to the Laundromat. There was quite a bit of stealing. You’ll probably want to know what I stole. And you’ll probably want to know why. I don’t know the why. But here’s some of the what:
1. A stack of 45 issues of Tourniquet, the top grossing amputee porn magazine in Canada
2. A plastic orchid in a ceramic pot (I thought it was real.)
3. A 256 page manuscript for a sequel to Goonies based on the premise that Sloth does not get out of the pirate cave in the end and turns into a human/pirate/sea monster hybrid and attacks the descendants of Chunk in something akin to Grendel’s raids on Hrothgar’s hall.
4. 17 buttons from 17 different coats. Usually the one from the bottom but not always.
5. 4 diaries from 4 separate friends, none of which I have read.
6. A complete set of silverware to serve 10 dinner guests including serving spoons and tongs. None of the pieces match or are similar in any way and all were taken from different people.
7. A shower head
8. A small wooden carving of Basho, the haiku master (and I know it’s him because it says so on the bottom)
9. A 12 inch bust of George Washington
10. A 62” plasma screen
It wasn’t something that I could really do anything about. In most instances I didn’t even remember doing it. It was sort of like a drunk’s black out. I was standing there, in my friend’s apartment waiting for him so we could go to the bar or something and then by the time I got home, it was in my pocket or my car or tucked under the crook of my arm without me realizing. But I do treasure those things and I keep them all together, hidden in a storage shed in the basement of my building. Except for the TV. At night when I can’t sleep, I go down there, and spend time with them, as if they need company. I feel a sense of duty about it, having taken those things that belonged to other people and locked them down here. I do that. Anthropomorphize things. Rori mentioned it the first night I met her. Most people only do it with animals, but I do it with inanimate things. So I got down there to keep them company. Or to keep myself company probably.
“It’s not healthy,” Rori said, staring at me over the dryers at the Laudromat on 3rd Avenue, her face cast in the sickly yellow lighting, the black liner under her eyes smudged, her hair, a half grown out blond dye job, tangled curls, a mess. Everything about her was a mess. I probably fell in love with her in that second.
“The way you treat things. You think your socks are lonely. Or unhappy or something.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Don’t lie. That’s unhealthy too. And egotistical.”
That was our first conversation. I mean, Christ, who starts conversations like that? Rori does. I watched her out of the corner of my eye like she was a foreign creature, yanking her wet sopping clothes, into a broken laundry basket. When she leaned over, I ran my eyes down the gentle slope of her back, her ass like a cherry hanging from a stem. She caught me too, spun her head around, her hair catching a bit in her mouth and I looked away. But not fast enough. I’ve never been slick. She sighed and slammed the basket down. That was when I saw the first one but I didn’t even really notice it. It was just this sort of shadow that hung around Rori, as if she had more than one. But it was there, just above and behind her. Distinct from her but also, a part of her. Like I said, I didn’t really notice, not consciously because I was too busy slipping my dirty fucking hand into her basket and pocketing a pair of her wet panties. Scarlet red, lacy, slightly torn at the waistband, thong. Christ, looking back that was the worst and best thing I ever stole. Ever. You would think I would be a little embarrassed about that, maybe leave it out. I mean, Jesus I stole a stranger’s wet panties out of her laundry basket when her back was turned. But you know what is funny about being dead? Shame sort of vanishes. It’s all gets sort of two dimensional. It’s just a question of what I did or didn’t do. Emotions stopped being a factor.
I kept the panties with me. I didn’t put them in the storage. When I got home, I laid them on the white coffee table, though not before cleaning up the wine stains. They were simply gorgeous. I leaned back on the couch and looked at them. Every man, and I mean every man, spends a ridiculous about of time wondering what kind of underwear women wear. At the grocery store, at the office, the pretty ones, the shy nervous ones, even the fat ones, we wonder about their big fat underwear. These days, with women walking around with their thongs poking out, that little whale tale of temptation, it’s all too much sometimes. And now I had her underwear. Rori’s red thongs, lacy, slighty torn at the waistband as if she had them pulled off of her a little too roughly. I started thinking about that perfect cherry ass, hanging off her spine like that. The thoughts just wouldn’t stop. Had I been paying attention I might have seen the shadow, creeping along the wall, almost blueish and misty. A faint thing, something you would think was just a trick of the light until you saw the light change and it didn’t. But I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy getting a hard-on looking at her fucking panties.
About two hours later, I’m dozing on the couch and there is a knock on the front door. I checked through the peephole ‘cause you never fucking know in this city and there she is, same wild hair, same sallow skin, sunken eyes, heavy eyeliner, cigarette dangling from those thick pale lips. I fumbled with the lock like a fucking school boy feeling his first tit.
“Yes…hello.” She just stared at me, took out the cigarette and blew the smoke in one steady stream out the side of her mouth. I saw just a sliver of her tongue tap her tooth and felt the sweat break out on my back.
She removed an errant piece of tobacco from her lip. “Yeah, I think you have something of mine.”
I resisted the urge to look back over at the panties still lying prostrate on my coffee table like evidence of an affair.
She pushed right past me. Not wait, that isn’t even right. She didn’t push. She just stepped forward and I moved. It was that simple. She clomped into my apartment in heavy boots, her jeans, her tight black t-shirt. She stood in front of the coffee table staring down at the panties. I panicked. I’m sure I said something completely fucking stupid because honestly there was no way you could intelligently explain what you were doing with a stranger’s pair of fucking panties lying on your coffee table when said stranger appeared at your fucking door. I didn’t even know her name yet.
“Those are my panties, too,” she said, looking over her shoulder at me. I should have noticed the use of the word too. I should have realized that the thing she came for was not her goddamn underwear, but I’m not that fucking bright. She looked around the room for awhile, those deep sad eyes, as if she was searching for something, before she laid them on me.
“You can keep them,” she said and walked back towards the door.
“Wait,” I said, rather stupidly. At the door she stopped.
“I’ll see you soon,” she said sucking on the cigarette.
“What’s your name?”
“Rori. And you are Frank,” She walked down the dimly lit hall of my building and there were the shadows again. As if there were four of her, the shadows like silhouettes, followed her. Any rational person would have wondered how she knew my name. How she knew where I lived. But I wasn’t rational. I could smell the lingering scent of her, soap and cigarette and then something else, something so fucking feminine it was like it practically had its own light. After that I didn’t care. I only cared about seeing her again.
It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night or some boring shit like that, just one of those empty sort of nights you know, where it feels like the city might have moved on to a new day and left you behind. It was unusually quiet on the street and I had spent the last couple of days in this funk. Guilt I guess, I didn’t know. Something. So I had been downstairs, balling over my dead grandmother, in the basement, polishing the stolen silverware set. God, what a picture huh? A grown man, 35, hair starting to recede up front, slightly paunchy, sitting on the floor of the storage room, crying his eyes out because he can remember exactly what his grandmother’s silverware used to look like. Delicate, sort of thin, like finger bones, small flowers etched around the edges. Stained. Everything my grandmother had was stained, from smoking, from life. You name it. I guess it’s hard to go 78 years keeping everything clean. I can see her, in her little housedress with her little pale legs sticking out and her soft thin hair. Her hands spooning out tomato soup into a bowl for me. The plastic tablecloth over her little round kitchen table. The whole apartment, cluttered, stuffed to the gills and dusty. And this is what I’m thinking about sitting on the floor of the storage room in the basement of my building, crying and polishing my unmatched silverware that I stole from my friends when the cops showed up. I got to tell you, at moments like that, you wonder if you can really get any lower. Turns out, you can.
I think my grandmother might have been a klepto too. My mother said she was but my mother is a fucking drunk so take that for what you will. And I don’t mean she has a few too many at the neighbor’s kid’s graduation party and has to get help walking home. I mean she is at the bar like it’s a full time job, one she can actually hold down.
So, I’m in the storage place crying like a baby over my dead grandmother. Who knows how long the cops were standing there for, probably forever, before my super, that crooked old son of bitch who never fixed the fucking window in my apartment, clears his throat. This dull sounding little “Ahem.” And I look up and see them.
“Are you Mr. Frank Zielinski?” the cop said like we’re at the fucking airport and he’s the driver I’m waiting for.
I wiped the snot off my face and looked up at them. “Yeah.”
“Can you please come with us?”
“What is this about?”
“Please get off the floor Mr. Zielinski and come with us.”
So as you can imagine that little crooked bastard of a super let them into my goddamn apartment while I was downstairs, which honestly, I would have thought was illegal and sitting in the middle of the damn room was the plasma television, which as I’m sure you figured out, was not stolen from friends. I boosted it from the back of a truck. You would think in a big fucking city like this that cops would have way more important crimes to solve. I mean, you see that shit all the time on television with the crime scenes and the hot brunettes in lab coats. Why aren’t they doing that? Instead, they are putting the screws to me over a fucking plasma television.
So I got arrested. Rori bailed me out. This is exactly how the conversation went when I called her with my one fucking phone call.
“Rori, I got arrested.”
“I said I got arrested.”
“Yeah, I heard you.”
“Can you bail me out? I mean I hate to bother you and everything but…” and then I just sort of stopped talking. Rori was dead silent on the other end of the phone. She didn’t make a sound. For a moment I thought she hung up and I was going to have to spend the night in jail. But then I heard the sound of her chewing on her nails, a habit of hers. There was that low sucking noise and the click of teeth coming down on the nail, missing it and hitting each other. That was what I was listening to standing in a fucking police station. I wanted to shrink down and crawl through the holes of the mouthpiece of that phone and go right into her mouth. I never felt so goddamn desperate in my life.
“Rori, please. I don’t have anyone else to call.”
“I know.” And then nothing but the sound of her spitting out the excess nail. I imagined her floor must’ve been covered in the little slivers. I tried to picture Rori standing in her place. I’d never been there. Not for the weeks we had been together. It always happened in my place. I don’t know if I even want to see where Rori lived. She shouldn’t even have a place, have bills, have light switches, all those normal things that normal people have. She should live in outer space or down with the mole people. I can’t picture her writing out a check or doing dishes or mopping the floor. It’s impossible.
“So are you going to?”
“Bail me out.”
“Fine.” And then she hung up. When she showed up with the money it was just this big ball of cash. Rori walked into the police station in ratty jeans and a black t-shirt the clung to her in a way that made me ache. Her hair, all twisted and curled and out of control. From her lips dangled a cigarette which, when informed she couldn’t smoke inside the police station, she stubbed out on the desk calendar of the man in front of her. And he didn’t say a fucking word. Only Rori could get away with that. I know why, now, but then I just thought she was some kind of goddess. She took the wad of cash, all rolled and crumpled, and she dropped it on the counter in front of the cop.
“I’ll pay you back,” I said barely able to keep up with her on the street. “Rori, I promise I’ll pay you back.”
“You will. With interest.”
“Okay, I will. Whatever you want.”
The truth was I would have done anything for Rori. Anything. And she knew it. Every time. I suppose if she were alive at a different time she would have been the cause of the bloodiest wars, some sort of patron saint of heartache but here and now, in this shit time, this end of days, there was nothing. Nothing to make better. Nothing to scare up. Nothing to change. So we just went back to my place and fucked.
That sounds horribly crass doesn’t it? Rori always said I was an asshole and I guess she was right. But she got her shirt off before we’re even up the staircase and the sight of that tattoo, a vine snaking up her spine and spreading across her shoulder blades, made my cock jump to attention. Plus with her, it was like an event. It was a life’s work, an opus. When it was over, you laid there thinking you had really accomplished something. Even if she smoked through the whole damn thing. And she was one loud girl. I mean, christ, this wasn’t your average moaning, it was a deep cry. Cathartic. You felt it in your bones. You felt changed afterwards. Like you were just on the edge of dying. Maybe that should have been a fucking hint.
I asked her where she was from once. She looked at me with those deep mournful eyes, that sallow skin. Finally after forever she said, “Castle Keep.” That was the most I got out of her.
It was around then she just stayed. She was there when I woke up or when I got home. And if she wasn’t there, I sort of panicked until she got back. My desire for her, and I’m not talking about sex here, I mean for her, to physically see her, to smell her, to know she was living right there next to me, breathing at night, became crippling. It was all I cared about. Then I just stopped going to work. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped going downstairs to polish the fucking silverware. I had Rori. I didn’t need anything else.
It was toward the end that I finally asked about the shadows. Maybe I should have asked sooner. Maybe it would have made a difference, saved my life, even. I don’t know. I don’t care now.
“What the fuck is that?” I asked, glancing down my long hallway. Rori sat on the couch smoking and reading the magazine from the New York Times.
“What?” she asked without looking up.
“I swear I saw something.”
“You did,” she said, exhaling. “Everyone sees something at some point.”
“No, like a shadow or a figure.”
“Yes, that is what I said.”
I sat on the couch next to her. I watched her eyes dart over the page, examined the tangle of her hair. The line of her cheekbone, like a cliff’s edge. I realized sharply and distinctly at that moment that I was madly in love with her. I don’t think Rori was even capable of love and that didn’t sway me. I fucking loved her.
“What was that?”
“What?” she asked finally looking up from the magazine.
“I saw it the first day too. They look like people’s shadows, figures.”
“They are,” she said sucking hard on her cigarette.
She just nodded. It was always like that. Every fucking conversation. She just stared at you with that blank “are you stupid?” look and you wanted to die.
“What are they?”
“They are the dead,” she said. Just like that. Matter of fact. The dead, lingering around my hallway. Lingering on the street. Lingering wherever Rori went. “They are with me.”
“Because they don’t know where to go.”
Rori picked up her bag and rummaged through it. She pulled out small prescription bottles and set them on the table. She kept digging. I picked up one of them and the name on it was “John Masini.”
“Who’s John?” I asked not even wanting to know the answer. I wondered when the last time I ate was. It had to be yesterday. Or maybe the day before.
“He’s gone now,” Rori said pulling out a little plastic bag filled with more pills. She reached out and touched my face. “Open.”
Her hand was so cold it made me flinch. She placed the pill on my tongue and I swallowed it. Rori leaned back on the couch, and slid her big toe down my chest to my crotch and I felt my cock jump against her touch. Within a moment I had slipped her shirt over her head and her nipple was in my mouth. When I came she moaned, low and mournful, her tangled hair caught in her throat.
We took more pills. We fucked some more. At one point, I saw a shadow standing right over us, as if it was watching but I didn’t care because I was too far gone. All I wanted was to be inside her, all the time. For the rest of my life.
I lost track of time. It could have been days or hours. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. All I needed was right there, the line of those pills we crushed and sucked and snorted and swallowed and Rori’s skin against mine, cold sweat, the heat of her pussy, the sounds she made, feel of her when she tightened up right before she came. That was all I ever needed. I forgot the life I used to have. This was better. Better than anything.
I think she warned me. I can’t be positive because it is all sort of fuzzy. I threw up and inside I saw it there, like a little aborted fetus, this lob of mucous coated in blood. Like my soul was thrown out of my body.
“You are taking too much Frank,” Rori said from behind me. Then she was next to me. Her dark eyes, darker. “Too much.”
I asked her why she didn’t love me. I told her I would do anything for her.
“Why did you take those people’s things, Frank?”
“Because I couldn’t stop.”
“They didn’t belong to you. The things you took from me didn’t belong to you.”
“You think I wanted to be like that? You think I wanted to steal?” I asked her this because I felt desperate. The notion that she is going to leave me settled like ice in my veins. For a moment my head cleared and I realize that I would do anything to keep her. Anything. I watched the shadows settle on the walls of the bathroom.
“No one likes what they can’t change about themselves. You think I want to be this?” she says, bitingly. I felt sick and desperate. I felt her pulling away. She got up off the bathroom floor and the panic swept in. I coughed two more globs of blood into my hand and smeared it, like a child, onto my pants.
When I stumbled back into the living room she stood near the door, trying to light a cigarette.
“Rori, where are you going? You can’t go. Please don’t go.”
“Stop it, Frank.”
“Rori, I..” but I couldn’t talk. I could see her looking at me, looking through me as if I am already
one of her shadow things. “Don’t go, please, stay here. We have everything we need here.” I grabbed her arm, too hard, I think because she twisted it away from me. I realized I had to get her back on the couch, back near the drugs, back in my arms. My vision narrowed to a pinpoint. I could barely walk to the couch, and fell forward onto it. I righted myself, fearing she had left, but I saw the glow of her cigarette near the door. I heard the click of her teeth on her nails.
I lined up the rows, one after another. I put out enough shit for hours.
“Please,” I said, my voice sounding like it was coming from another creature.
Her face got lit up by the cigarette as she inhaled, watching me. It was dark outside, late. I didn’t know what time it was. Or what day it was anymore. I didn’t know anything but that I must keep Rori here or I’d die.
“I’m not one of the things you stole that you can lock up in your closet, Frank,” she said softly.
“We are all responsible for our choices. You took something from me. You brought me to you.”
At that point I know she was trying to tell me something but I didn’t care. I started sucking down the lines, one after another. I felt my heart thumping in my head and I started to sweat. Badly. Very badly. I told her I loved her, how desperately I loved her. At least I think I said it. I can’t be sure if I said anything out loud. The vomit came fast, hitting the table, ruining some of the drugs, before I got over the arm of the couch. I reached up, wiped my nose and saw all that dark red blood. I think I knew it then. Maybe I did. Maybe there is a part of you that knows when you see blood that black, that thick, blood that is supposed to always be on the inside, coming out, that it was the end.
Rori knew. That is what her kind does. They signal death. They don’t cause it, but they wait for it. Rori looked at me, her finger lifted and pointed and out of her mouth came a moan first, light and melodic and then it changed into a wail, a funeral dirge and then her face contorted into a scream and I couldn’t stop the noise. She transformed, her skin whiter, her hair wilder, everything seemed stretched and she clutched at herself like a possessed thing, her mouth wide, her head thrown back, the horrid noise of her cries. I begged her to stop but I couldn’t talk, could hardly even keep my eyes open. My chest burned like it was on fire. Rori just screamed and screamed and I fell into it, like falling down the rabbit hole.
That’s when I died. Just like that. I was found on the floor, soaked in my own sweat, a dirty wine stained t-shirt clinging to what was left of me. I’m pretty sure I had pissed myelf. Rori was gone by then. That asshole landlord had the door knocked down. I guess the smell had hit the hallway. I don’t remember the actual act of dying. I just remember being with Rori and wanting nothing but to be with Rori. And then I was here. I was one of the shadow people. For a while there was nothing but my empty apartment. I couldn’t leave the place, couldn’t even go downstairs to touch my things, provided I could touch still. I was lost, I remember that. Not because I was dead, like I said my emotions just sort of checked out, but because Rori was gone. Just gone. And I didn’t know what to do without her. I couldn’t get passed the door. It was like a wall. I couldn’t leave. I sat and I waited. I waited for Rori.
And Rori came. I saw her through the window, standing in front of the building on the sidewalk late at night. She was dressed in this white dress that made her even more pale. She pointed at me and waved me forward. Then I could go with her, follow her.
“Frank, it’s over. I am the aos si, the Other People, the Banshee,” is all she said before she lit her cigarette and turned down the street. I felt cold, cut off, but being near Rori felt like life. All I wanted was to feel something like life again. There was no white light, no angels, no devils for that matter either. I was just alone and I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I followed Rori. I became one of her shadow people.
There’s a new guy now. He looks sick already. I think he might have seen me the other day, I saw his eyes linger towards me when he fucked Rori. I’m sure it won’t be long till he’s dead too.