A hair settled on my tongue; much like trying to pull a tapeworm from an intestinal tract, the strand wouldn’t budge. I even rolled my tongue like I was pronouncing, arrrrriba!, in an animated Spanish yelp. But after a few gobs of spit and the words of Einstein ringing in my ear; “insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” I pinched the strand with my fingers and dropped it onto the ground. However, there was a fever in the air that baked the skin on my phalanges. So with the pinch came drops of perspiration, came the distinctive taste of sodium. I gestured in reaction to the taste by crowding the wrinkles of my face into a mass of pruned imagery. That expression remained on my face as I walked into Angelo’s apartment.
“What’s with you?” Angelo questioned in regards to my expression.
“I had a hair on my tongue,” I commented while scraping my incisors across my tongue, hoping the taste could be raked away.
He grinned. “Funny how the littlest thing can be so damn annoying.”
I shrugged my shoulders in response.
Angelo had been up for three days injecting crystal meth. His apartment was testament to the behaviors and actions such abuse accumulates. A light fog lingered from all the cigarettes he’d smoked. All the blinds were closed, and a towel was rolled up and jammed underneath the door; assuring the only light was that which slipped through the blinds, and a single lamp anchored on a coffee table in his living room. I looked at Angelo and he lit a cigarette; smoke cavorted in a fleck of sunlight, his eyes were deep-set with underlining black rings. He appeared emaciated, hungry for a vantage point beyond that of his self imposed prison. I was alerted to his behavior by his girlfriend, my sister, Becky. She was a hobby addict that adopted a perfunctory approach towards her using. She often went on binges stopping for a few months once things got too heavy. She called me earlier in a panic,
“Rod,” she screamed! “Angelo has freaking lost it; you gotta come here and do something to calm him down, he’s pointing his gun at the walls claiming the shadows are going to nab him, or me!”
While sighing I replied, “okay.” And gathered my wits to do battle.
“The door will be unlocked,” she replied in a final statement.
I approached Angelo with caution, striding my steps as if I was gliding on ice. I brushed ashes off a recliner he had stationed in his living room and took a seat. Angelo was to my left, perched on the edge of his sofa. He had a pistol in his right hand, and with his left he was tapping his index onto his kneecap over, and over, and over, and over; his track marks pulsated with the movement. We continued like this for a few seconds until he broke the silence.
“Did Becky call you?”
Angelo directed his stare towards a blank television screen a few paces in-front of him. His gaunt appearance reflected in the glass, colorless, black & white. I avoided staring at him by looking at my shoes, a fly on the ceiling, some mold growing on a slice of pizza abandoned on his coffee table, basically any object that distracted me from the psychosis zombie I shared the room with.
“Is Becky here?” I asked, elevating the pitch of here into a higher tonal range; hoping the change evoked a feeling of comfort within my words. Like a detective asking a child to describe where a pedophile touched them.
“Yeah, she’s in the bedroom. Crying. Some shit like that.”
“Would it be alright if I went into your room and talked to her?”
Angelo continued his tapping, continued his thousand yard stare at his reflection.
“She’s your sister, do as you please.”
I laughed in a shaky manner, almost like I was hiccupping.
“Sounds good,” I said.
I opened the door to Angelo’s bedroom and found Becky sprawled across the mattress like road-kill. She was startled by my advancement and gasped in reaction.
“Ohhh, thank God it’s you,” she said while clutching her chest.
“Did you see him? Did he threaten you?” She questioned.
I sat on a corner of the bed, Becky moved closer to me. She hugged me tight like a vice, grateful for my presence.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Ohh, Rod, it’s just been terrible,” her breath smelled like she swallowed a rotten fish and washed it down with muffler smoke.
“Did he hit you?” I asked, holding my nose above the fumes wafting from her mouth.
“Ohhh, Rod, no, he thinks he’s protecting me from the Shadow People.”
“Protecting you? Well, are you okay? Have you eaten anything? Have you slept?”
My questions seemed to cripple her mind like an exit wound. She appeared perplexed, almost dysfunctional as she contemplated the answers.
“I want to say yes to all of that, Rod but I am not sure how?”
“What if you just said yes?”
She scratched her head like a chimpanzee.
“Yes. Then. Yes to all of that!”
“Should I call the police on him?”
Still in her clutches, she tightened her grip; through my peripherals I watched her knuckles turn from red to white.
“Ohh, Rod, no. We cannot do that.”
“They’d arrest me too!”
“What do you want to do then? Do you want to leave with me?”
She released her grasp and scooted towards the top of the bed. Her leg hair stubble scratched the sheets as she advanced, mimicking the sound of sandpaper polishing wood.
“Can Angelo come with?”
I displayed the same gesture I used towards my salty fingers, “hell no!” I replied.
“Then I am not coming with,” she said in defiance.
“What do you want from me then?”
“I don’t know…”
She cocked her head like a curious dog, fluttered her eyelids until a film of moisture coated the pupils, and brandished a doe-eyed taunt. The look was nostalgic for me, for it reminded me of the face she’d put on when in trouble with our parents.
“I need him with,” she said. “He calms me down.”
“Really, because it appears the opposite of that to me!”
She crossed her arms and pouted.
“If you came here to judge me then go home.”
I sighed, “if you can convince him to leave the gun here and take a Xanax and chill out, then I am okay with him coming along.”
A smile spread across her face, lifting pockmarks, deep-set as dimples, to her ears.
“Ohh, Rod! You won’t regret this!”
Like a pop song played on every station, I found myself thinking; ‘you’re going to regret this’ in a constant loop, as we progressed from the bedroom to the living room. Angelo was still perched on the couch, but his soft breathing had escalated into a menacing wheeze. Becky sat beside him and began caressing his back in a figure-of-eight pattern. Angelo’s cheeks became flushed, a vein protruded from his forehead like an earthworm emerging from dirt. His shoulders and chest rose like a gorilla intimidated by an intruder. His body trembled for a second then he stood up, held his gun in the firing-ready-position at Becky.
“What are you plotting?” He exclaimed.
Becky’s eyes darted around the room, she started whimpering. I remained still, kept my focus forward on his gun.
“We’re not plotting nothing babe,” she said. “We just think a change of scenery would be nice.”
Angelo’s left eye started twitching, and then he started pacing the length of a jail cell. A common technique he used on the “inside” to distract from the boredom of repetition.
“So you want to take me away, is that it?” He asked while looking at me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I thought maybe we could get a bite to eat? Maybe some tea? Doesn’t that sound nice, tea?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Tea does sound nice and maybe a cinnamon roll too.”
“A cinnamon roll, yes! I am sure we can find one of those.” I looked at Becky; “a cinnamon roll would be delicious,” I said to her.
She rubbed her stomach and hummed; “mmhmm that does sound great!”
Angelo stopped pacing. Calmness overcame the room, even the cigarette smoke seemed to dissipate. Feeling relieved I placed my hands on my thighs and bent over as if I was to vomit, instead of chunks of semi-digested food, a sigh of relief escaped my lungs. As I did that my shadow contorted with my posture and disappeared into the collection of shadows behind me. This disappearance of my shadow triggered an aggressive notion inside Angelo’s head. Again, he raised his weapon without hesitation started firing towards the wall. I bounded onto the floor and spread my body flat. Becky leaped behind the couch for protection. I heard the sound of glass shattering as bullets struck the windows; wood splintered off the walls and fell to the ground, and as if to kill off any trace of identity, Angelo shot the television, disposing of his reflection. After the clip was emptied he continued pulling the trigger, but realizing no bullets were erupting he dropped the pistol. I lifted my head, directed my view from Angelo’s shoes to his crotch. I held this position for a few seconds and then stood, my knees buckled and my body quivered. Becky peeked her head above the back of the couch, her eyes wide, mouth agape.
“Holy shit,” she said. “Why did you do that?”
Angelo appeared confused by his actions; adopting the same stunned expression as the rest of us.
“I couldn’t see Rod anymore. I thought the Shadow People had nabbed him.”
“Right,” she shook her head in frustration. “The Shadow People…”
Within minutes the police arrived. According to the responding officers a dozen or so neighbors complained about hearing gunfire. Rightfully so, if I heard gun shots in my apartment complex I’d be sprinting down the block. Becky was escorted off with Angelo. She had warrants for her arrest. Before each of them was placed in separate cop cars, they kissed goodbye. That’s what happens when a person keeps colorful company. There’s bound to be a blackout when the colors come together, en masse. Becky wrote me a letter from jail. In the letter she claimed her love for Angelo and advised me they’d be together forever. I replied, and in the letter wrote only four words.
Keep the lights on.