Published February 18, 2010

Laurie Stinson walked home in the night and rain without a man beside her. That man was Alex—a brainless chauvinist, but at least a friend. He called when she couldn’t handle anyone—even her brother—always wanting something from her. When she dove into her shell, he wedged his fingers inside and pulled her out. She released effluvia. She tried to suffocate, becoming cantankerous and unreasonable.

At home the machine beeped, the dog whimpered, the fish returned blank stares. The walls were painted an ugly yellow, a canary yellow that made Laurie want to learn how to paint, if she had the time. She pressed the button on the machine and heard a gravely voice:

“Laurie, this is Jimmy, you know we need those pins by Friday. So could you hurry the fuck up?”

“Fuck you,” she said.

She clicked on the TV. Clinton. Monica. She had had enough of that. MTV. Eddie Vedder. Kurt was still dead.

The dog raised its head and started barking.

“What is it boy? Is it danger?” she asked.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in!” she said.

A muffled voice replied: “It’s locked.”

Jesus. She opened the door.

It was Alex. He was soaked, and his eye was black. He was wearing a fedora that made him look like a gangster, and she had an inkling that he had been crying. He stood there, waiting for a motion.

“Don’t come in unless you have it,” she said.

“How can you be so callous? Do you see my eye? Do you know how hard it is to get those guys to press a thousand Jester pins?” he asked.

“It’s NOT a Jester pin.”

“Whatever. Let me in.”

She pulled him by the coat and slammed the door.

“You really fucked up Alex. I don’t know what—”

He embraced her, forcing a kiss.

“Not now. Not in front of her dog,” she said.

“I am a dog,” he said.

“Sure you are. Your eye,” she said.

They went into the kitchen and Alex lit a cigarette. Laurie took an ice pack from the fridge and pressed it to his eye. He sighed. His eye was a blister that crusted over, but never healed. She sat next to him and took a cigarette from his pack.

“And how did it happen?” she said.

He breathed deeply.

“I found five bucks on the sidewalk, and this fat prick told me it was his. I knew it wasn’t. Got his paws on my money, tried to take my wallet. I kicked him in the shin, and he took a swing at me. The second one hit. Big gorilla arms. That fat fuck,” he said.

“You expect me to believe that?” she asked.

“You think I’m lying to you Laurie? Wow,” he said.

She stood up and walked to the sink, running the cigarette under cold water. The ember flashed one last time and went out. She pulled the tobacco, crumbling it between her fingers and tossing it into the garbage. When she finished emptying it, she folded the cigarette over itself, again and again into some weird origami.

“I think you should leave,” she said.

Alex didn’t say a word. He shifted the ice pack to his forehead, then returned it to his eye. Under her kitchen lights, Laurie couldn’t quite make out his expression. He looked out of place. Foreign. He puffed his cigarette, and blew the smoke at Laurie. He finished the glass of water and walked over to her.

“I hope you’re happy being alone. Goodbye.”

Before she could say a word, he had slammed the door. He was gone. She flopped onto the couch and the dog crawled next to her. She turned the TV on, but it was the same old shit.

“I don’t want you to start talking now either,” she said, and the dog looked up. “I like it this way. If you started talking, I wouldn’t like you so much.”

She needed a thousand pins by Friday for the play. James wouldn’t take no for an answer, she gave him her word. She went through the list in her mind. Frank wasn’t an option, he was too unreliable. That meant that Alex…

Walked home alone in the rain, with only light from the moon and a few street lamps. He passed bars, closed shops, and people smoking under awnings. A young woman stopped him and asked for a light. Vaguely familiar. Janine. Someone’s cousin.

“What did you do tonight? With anyone?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

He took a five dollar bill from his wallet and set it on fire, saying:

“All that trouble,” and he went home.