By Tsveti Nacheva -
Your fickle heart fell out of love.
You’re leaving me. You’re packed.
I have no light to guide you back.
My words fall flat. A broken pact.
That was last fall. Now it is spring.
Your world is pink. Flamingo pink.
While mine is midnight black.
Janelle frowns at the screen.
“Hey Lily, that a poem?”
I stupidly lent her my phone, so she could set the beat. She is the birthday girl; I’m the one with Spotify Premium.
Janelle zooms in at the text, hooking an eyebrow. I should have known better.
“Give it back,” I snap, my emotions getting away from me, flightier than dandelion fluff.
She cuddles my phone as if protecting a puppy.
“Is it about Faye?”
I stick out my palm.
Janelle raises her hand and her voice.
“Everybody! Listen up!”
Our flat is crowded. Strays, friends and the friends of their friends, conspiring to make the night last. Janelle clears her throat and belts out the first line of my poem.
Conversations die down and phone cameras turn up. My words roll out meaningless, like items on a stranger’s shopping list, but Janelle has years of vocal training and a flair for the dramatic. She shimmies through the rest of the verse, unfazed. The Pavlovian burst of applause is for her, not me.
As my roommate bows to the audience, I snatch my phone from her hand.
“Party pooper!” wails someone.
I flip him off and work my elbows through the living room throng. Janelle’s sister tries to chat me up. I flip her off, too. By the door, a couple of girls in matching Saturday night finery mistakenly wish me a happy birthday. I don’t know who they are or who buzzed them in.
On the landing, two kids are making out against the railing. The girl, gristly butt dangling over the stairwell, is swinging back and forth as if riding a trapeze. Her partner is clutching her thighs with white-knuckled concentration. I want to stay and watch them perform, but I mustn’t linger in case Janelle sends out an emissary to broker a truce.
I decide on the roof, regret already padding my shoulders. I handled this badly. Why didn’t I play along, curtsy in jest, offer a toast? Now everyone will remember tonight for my exit.
I resist the urge to text Faye and tell her what happened. I still have her number, of course. On bad nights - and on some better ones, if I have had too much to drink - my finger hovers over her name in my contacts. I imagine what she would say if I called her now; her calming rasp drowning the cortisol buzz in my ears. No point in pressing DIAL though; she would never pick up.
The elevator is out of service again and by the time I make it to the top floor, my lungs are convulsing. I push the heavy metal door open and take a punch of cold to the gut. The flying penis graffiti next to the door glows in my face. Someone keeps fleshing it out whenever the acid rain chews through its wings. Banksy, according to Faye. Vandals, according to the super.
The night’s breath smells of weed and factory refuse. Windows on the wall of high rises around me flicker like dance floor lights. Car horns and sirens set the beat. In my leopard print pumps and skinny halter top, I’m dolled up for the wrong party.
I stumble to the edge, cheap wine still on the back of my tongue. Ours is not one of those fancy rooftops you see in romcoms, blessed with lounge chairs and potted perennials, fairy lights and a communal grill. We don’t even have much of a view, but we’ve got stars and art.
A knee-high concrete trim festoons the roof on all sides. I lay down on the ledge, eyes to the sky. Curled up on my chest, my phone heats up with Janelle’s ‘I’m sorry’s’. Her empty words fill my heart with hot air. I’m floating already, lighter than a paper effigy, but not light enough to drift away.
The staircase door wheezes open and I sit up, confused. Faye? Someone called her. Impossible, of course. She is in Florida.
The guy in the doorway hesitates, surprised to find someone else in his spot. Like me, he counted on being alone.
He has sweatpants on, a torn t-shirt, and no shoes. I’ve seen him before, lugging his bike up the stairs, a brain bucket strapped to his head. I imagine his name is Billy or Cody or something equally Big Sky. He doesn’t belong in the city any more than Faye did.
He comes closer, dragging his bare feet, and sits next to me on the ledge. His toes make fists on the bituminous felt. With our backs to the street, we are two deep divers readying to take the plunge.
“Damn party,” he yawns.
That’s what sent him up here. The noise.
“Call the cops,” I say out of spite for Janelle.
“Nah,” he yawns again, “I don’t mess with karma.”
I imagine karma washing over us like a fat tidal wave, wiping the slate clean.
A jarring heehaw rings out beneath us. I turn and lean over the ledge. There is a clunker idling at the curb, its driver leaning on the horn. I point and my neighbor’s eyes slide to my hands, drip off my fingers, and free-fall to the blacktop six stories below. There are no trees on our street, no awning above the entrance, just an expanse of cracked asphalt, mottled with motor oil and decades of soot.
The circus girl and her beau crawl out of the building and disappear inside the waiting car, taking the party elsewhere. I would have done the same if Faye were still here. I haven’t danced since she left; I haven’t lived.
The man rubs his chin. He’s got clubs and diamonds tattooed across his knuckles. I’ve got Faye’s name inked across my heart.
Billy or Cody turns his attention back to his blackened toes.
“Haven’t seen your girlfriend in a while,” he says, sniffing my perfume.
So he knows who I am. That figures. Sharing a staircase is nothing like traversing the same office floor every day. There are no names and no secrets.
“That’s too bad. Where to?”
A good question. Faye had been raised to believe that suicides go to hell, which to her was her parents’ house in Florida. So that’s where I imagine she’s at. Not in the ground, but in her childhood home, a polyester server’s uniform draped over a chair, daytime TV blaring through the drywall, nicotine-laced curtains tempting the sun.
“Florida,” I say. “It’s hell.”
“Florida, eh?” He bends down and scratches his ankle. “To me hell is rush hour traffic.”
He waits, but I don’t know what to say in response. I can’t tell if he’s being serious, but then I remember what brought him up here.
“Parties?” He scoffs. “No, not even close, but the DMV’s high on my list. And so is junior high. Having to watch what I eat. Job interviews. Disneyland. Spotty reception. A ruptured appendix. Tax season. Getting lost. First dates. Hangovers.”
Behind him, the sky is turning pink. Flamingo pink. Faye’s favorite color.
“What about you?” he asks. “Name your personal hell. Florida can’t be all.”
It isn’t. Hell is being left behind.
Tsveti Nacheva has worn many hats – news anchor, Brussels correspondent, EU official – and all of them fit. Then she discovered that she can make people disappear and hasn’t looked back. Originally from Bulgaria, Tsveti currently wears her European hat in Canada and writes full-time. Her debut mystery Fault Lines will be published later this year by Darkstroke. You can find her on Twitter @guelphed.