It was late. A frigid darkness filled the sky and seeped into all the surrounding embellishments of the city. As the wind blew through the forlorn streets, and as the broken glass below him shimmered in the faint moonlight, Nick realized that he was alone, completely and utterly alone. The glassy, trash littered roads, bathed in the somber radiance of night and, though the sun would be up in a few hours for the time being, it slept in quiet desolation. The sunrise had always captivated Nick, but lately its beauty had started to fade. The warm glow which had once brought hope and renewal had now become part of the same monotonous routine day in and day out. The thought of this endless cycle made Nick cringe; he hated what his life had become. The systematic perpetuation of such painfully mundane functions, the eb and flow of the cruel and absurd events which had come to define the very nature of his existence sickened him. He took one last drag from his cigarette and dropped it from the balcony. He watched it fall and as he looked down upon it he couldn’t help but think of the symbolism that it conveyed. A dying ember in a cold and darkened world, this was surely the fate of all men. Nick went back inside away from the flickering neon lights of the seedy motel across the street from his (seedy) apartment, and closed the door behind him.
Once inside, Nick made his way to the bedroom, opened his nightstand, and grabbed one of the many containers within it. He then removed his blessing, curse and savior from the tiny orange bottle and fixed his eyes on the three green circles resting in the palm of his hand. One by one, he clenched them between his thumb and index finger, then after a few moments of silent reflection, (a doomed prayer for each pill), brought them to his mouth and swallowed. It wasn’t long before a warm, numbing sensation engulfed him. As he began to drift off into nothingness, Nick couldn’t help but wonder why he kept doing this.
He looked in the mirror, stroking his greasy, black hair and 5 o’clock shadow. He didn’t really like what he saw but none of that mattered now…Nothing mattered.
“You’re watching KGIL Channel Five News for the greater Sharronsburg Area.”
News headlines flashed across his television screen; “Three more dead in Pakistan.” “The V.P. of Foster and Reynolds is awaiting arraignment on federal charges. “Forest fires continue to ravage the West Coast“. It was all trivial nonsense. Nick was sedated far beyond the point of caring about the news, or much of anything really. It was nothing new; this had been business as usual for the last few years of his life. He dozed off until 10:32pm, Eastern Standard Time, when a loud noise from across the hall jolted him from his stupor. He walked to the door with great caution and looked through the peephole (you could never be sure who was roaming around at this time of night, in this part of town.) He peered out; standing in front of the room adjacent to his in that damned-dingy hallway, was a young woman about his age (no guarantees of course. Age and by extension, time. Are awful, deceptive things…), with piercing blue eyes and an intense melancholic look on her face. Something about her caught Nick‘s attention, and made him feel peaceful. This frightened him, mostly because inner peace seemed to be something that he was not able to attain without the aid of pharmaceuticals. She picked up the box she had dropped, and walked inside what was presumably her new apartment, room 108 and just like that she was gone.
“What do you think about Nietzsche?” Nick asked Charlie.
“Fredrich Nietzsche, he was a nineteenth century German philosopher. He was a nihilist… well not really. More of an existentialist, but his writing set the stage of nihilism. He was a revolutionary, really opened the doors for Derrida and the like…the post-modernists…”
Nick paused for a moment. He could sense that he was about to go on the nod and had to make a powerful effort to keep from slipping away.
“Where the hell do you come up with all this shit man?”
Nick sipped his drink and smiled.
“He had a pretty interesting theory, “
“Oh yeah, what was that?”
“He called it eternal return. It’s an idea that states that everything is destined to repeat itself. The universe will keep expanding and dying and being reborn.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Well, the downside is that all of the evil and malice in the world will be reborn right along with it…everything repeats. Everything, and anyone unfortunate enough to ever be born, will in turn be entrapped in the cycle of eternal madness that we call life.”
“That’s fucked up,”
“I don’t know. If that’s true then what about everything else in life? It’s not miserable all the time. Life is anything but consistent,”
“Misery will always be a part of life. Suffering is the human condition. Jesus knew it. Buda knew it. Tolstoy knew it.”
“Yeah but so is happiness, you can’t have one without the other,”
“Happiness is fleeting. It’s like a mirage; as soon as you have it…it’s taken away. We can never really win,”
“Nah man you can never really win, you fucking pessimist. You and your Trainspotting shit. Had it. Lost it. Da dada.” Nick and Charlie looked at each other and both busted out laughing.
“Ah, shit man I can always count on you to cheer me up,”
“It’s my job…I’m in the business of making people happy.” Charlie said.
“More or less,”
“Hey man drugs don’t sell themselves”
“Yeah,” Nick paused for a second.
“By the way Charlie here’s the money I owe…”
Nick looked up and Charlie was nowhere to be seen. Without another word he took what was left of his pills and went to sleep.
A few days had passed since Nick’s initial encounter with his new neighbor. He didn‘t know what it was but for some reason, he couldn‘t stop thinking about her. She was also the last person he expected to run into on his lengthy commute to work but as fate (or perhaps something else) would have it, there she was at the same subway that Nick used as a means of transportation to his dead end job.
“Hello,” Nick said as he forced an awkward smile.
She smiled back politely, sweetly even but beyond the camouflaged surface, it was a strained almost tortured smile. She didn’t have to say anything, the look in her eyes was enough let Nick know that she was hiding some kind of secret pain and needed to connect with someone, anyone. It was that longing look in her eyes that made it clear that she wanted to be rescued from whatever hell she was trapped in. and Nick wanted that too. Nick wanted that more than anything in the world. They were two of a kind, kindred spirits locked away in their own bleak worlds. Nick retrieved a cigarette from his coat pocket and promptly lit it up as he waited for his train to come through. He smoked it a little past the halfway point, put it out, and then noticing she had left, let out a sigh and proceeded to board.
Later that night, Nick once again found himself watching the news. He had taken yet another witch’s brew of God knows what and was beginning to feel some adverse effects. The soft glow emitting from his television grew brighter and the lines surrounding the forms within it became blurred. The glass surface began to wriggle and pulsate as if it were breathing. “Alexander J. Hoffman, the senior vice president of Foster and Reynolds is currently being held in the Preston County Correctional Center on a three million dollar bond,” He watched as the newscaster melt away. Nick could feel his already shallow gasps come to a grinding halt as the world around him grew dim and fuzzy
“Maybe…this is how it all ends. I’m going to sit here and die from all these damn pills. I always joked that they‘d be the death of me but, I never really wanted it to end like this,”
With these final words to himself Nick closed his eyes and prepared for the worst.
”And this just in, Nick Palmer a resident of the Sunset Apartment complex on South Thirty- Fourth Street is most likely going to die of a drug overdose tonight. It‘s a real shame isn‘t it Tom?”
“A damn shame Jenna, and now back to sports.”
Several hours later Nick, (who had apparently survived his close call) was roused by another loud noise, this time a scream. Stoned and half asleep he decided that he should see what the source of this anguished racket was (he had hunch that the girl next door might be in some sort of trouble). He lifted himself from the couch and began walking towards her apartment.
He could barely stand. The hallway was spinning, and he wasn’t quite sure if he could restrain his powerful urge to vomit, but the sensation subsided as he pressed onward. He now stood at her front door, which to his surprise was slightly ajar. This struck him as odd. Whoever she was, she didn‘t seem like the type of person who would be careless enough to leave her door open at night, especially in this part of town. She seemed too reserved. To private but Nick reached for the knob anyway.
“Hi, I…I heard you screaming are you okay?”
At first he heard nothing but after a few seconds of listening in, he could detect the faintest murmur. It was a distinct sound that he knew intimately; it was the sound of broken hope; a cacophony of self-loathing.
“Go away!” He heard a voice scream at him. “Just…just get the fuck out of here.”
Nick was torn. She was obviously in dire straits and seemed quite adamant about being left alone. On any other day, Nick Johnson Palmer would have went back to his apartment, popped a couple more pills and called it a night, but this time things were different. Something deep within his soul was screaming at him to take a chance and go in, so even though it was quite uncharacteristic of him, just this once he decided (if people are even capable of doing such things… things like deciding), to take a leap of faith. He opened the door and stood aghast at what he saw.
It was dark. Very dark; the only source of light was the dim glow of a single lamp. Half unpacked boxes were scattered everywhere. Piles of dirty clothes, strewn about like war time casualties covered the floor. She sat in the middle of the room, makeup streaming down her face, the pain within her eyes fully iridescent furiously clenching her knees as she rocked back and forth in sea of damaged goods. She held a box cutter in one hand and cradled her head in the other. Thin rags (and one Grateful Dead bandana), were loosely wrapped around her bleeding arms and as she looked up at him Nick noticed several faded scars on her otherwise supple shoulders and neck.
“What do you want?” she asked in a quiet trembling voice. Nick was at a loss of words; he eventually walked up to her and reached out his hand.
“Look. I don’t know who you are; I honestly don’t even know if you’re real or if I‘m just…just imagining all of this right now but you shouldn’t be here, not like this you need to go to the hospital, or…
“No, I’m not going to the fucking hospital, not again!” she screamed.
“Okay, okay at least come over and get cleaned up. I‘m right across the hall. I just …I just want to help,”
“Where in the hell are any of our other neighbors? Do people actually live in this shit hole building?” Nick thought to himself.
She fell silent and a confused look crept over her face. Eventually she dropped the blade and took Nick’s hand.
“Don’t take me to the hospital, I’m okay now. The bleeding is under control. I was so close this time… but something kept holding me back. I‘m really scared and fucked up right now, but I‘ll be alright… I’ll be alright.”
Nick was terrified yet filled with relief at the same time. He put an arm around her as they walked back to his apartment. Once inside Nick removed the blood stained wraps and examined her arms as best he could. After Nick (who really had no business doing such a thing, but did since going to the hospital was clearly out of the question), tended to her wounds, they sat together on the couch, neither one of them said a word to the other but it wasn’t long before she took his hand again, and gently rested her head on his shoulder. She was the first to break the silence.
Nick if only for a moment, was brought out of his foggy state by her abrupt gesture.
“Nick…Nick Palmer,” Nick, realizing that they were already holding hands, clasped hers tightly and gave it a firm shake. He then released his grip and looked up at the ceiling before turning his head to meet her gaze.
“Have you ever heard of Nietzsche?”
“No I uh, I don’t think so…Is he the guy in 112?”
“No, Nietzsche was…”
“Who asks that? Like, what the hell kind of question is that?” she said laughing confused but laughing.
“Never mind.” Nick said with a chuckle.
“This whole situation is just so… bizarre.”
“Yeah, tell me about it…Hey, would I be able to get a square? “
“How did you know I smoke?”
“I saw you earlier today at the subway remember?”
Nick paused and thought of her odd, tense smile again.
“Oh yeah. Sure,”
“I didn’t know you lived here.”
“Sometimes, I don’t either…”
Nick produced (somehow, unbeknownst to him in his half-dream state. Hands reaching down as the thin air around him materialized into a Pall Mall red… As all the wonders of quantum entanglement danced through his clouded head Nick blinked and once again resisted the nod), a cigarette and offered Amy a lighter.
“Amy, do you believe in fate? “ She shot him a puzzled look and then quietly answered
”No, I‘ve never really given it much thought but to say that everything happens for a reason just doesn‘t seem logical to me. It‘s sooooooo inconsistent with the way things actually happen. I mean, I really don’t see how AIDS and famine and war fit into the grand scheme of things you know? ”
“Yeah, I normally don‘t either, but it just seems like…oh well, it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad that you’re okay now,”
Her lips curled into an almost devious smile.
“What are you high or something?” she asked.
“Very, that makes this whole thing even weirder,” She let out a faint laugh.
Thank you Nick, You’re a good neighbor.”
They sat, locked in a warm embrace until they fell asleep together. Nick woke up the next morning to her absence. He wondered if it had all been a dream, but then discovered a blood tinged Grateful Dead bandana, the same he’d used to wrap her ravaged arms, lying on the floor below his soda. A fine bed of dust separated and soiled cigarette butts coated his dream in their ash.
“I don’t know what the hell is up with her man. I’m a nervous fucking wreck right now.” Nick said.
“I mean she tries to kill herself and then just up and leaves… That can’t be good," Nick said, thinking the worst (her wounds from last night were still fresh… gleaming blood sitting below blackened edges).
“She probably just needs some time to get her head straight.” Charlie responded. “I know I would if I was in her situation.”
“Yeah, I know but I don’t want to wait on her. I just feel like I should talk to her first before anything else happens, before she slips away….I really like her Charlie, and that honestly scares the shit out of me. I’ve never had feelings like this about anyone. I’ve never actually cared about anyone you know? My family, my friends, any pilled out woman that I’ve ever been with. Everything before her has been so meaningless. She’s changed my life and I‘ve only known her a week. It’s just all so…confusing.’’
“Well, I guess that’s a good thing right?”
“I don’t know.”
“Nick, if she makes you feel that way, if she makes you feel anything at all then she’s worth fighting for.”
“I guess so…Hey Charlie,”
“Where do you live?”
Charlie looked at Nick intently but said nothing.
“You know where I live man.”
“Yeah… West Thirtieth right?”
“Sure Nick, whatever you say. I uh…I need to go now.”
”All right man, you coming back later? I might need to get a refill on my meds,” Nick chuckled softly.
“Yeah, I’ll be around.” Charlie flashed a quick smile. “You’re right Nick. You should definitely talk to her first…before anything else happens,” and with that Charlie was gone.
Time seemed to stretch on forever. Nick couldn’t tell hours from days by the time he heard that faint knock on his door.
“Hi…Would you like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot and…it would be nice to talk to someone.”
“I’m glad you came over today.” Amy said to Nick as she poured herself a cup of coffee. “I could really use the company.” Her eyes lit up as she smiled at him.
“I’m glad to be here. How are you holding up?”
“I’m good. Spent today looking for work and going to meetings. I met with my new sponsor…She seems really nice.”
After some hesitation Nick looked her in the eyes and finally decided to ask.
“So, why did you leave the other night?”
“I just wanted to be alone for a while after…that whole ordeal. Everything was happening so fast and I needed some time to wrap my head around it all.”
Nick pulled yet another cigarette from his nearly empty pack; brought it to his mouth with expert precision, lit it, and then took that first deep, savory breath.
“I hope you weren’t too worried.”
Nick laughed (so awkwardly it bordered on being physically painful)
“No, (he said, lying) but I have been meaning to ask you…”
Amy said nothing.
“This is really hard Amy…I guess I’m wondering how we met. I mean I know how we met. I wana know more about why…”
“Why does anyone do anything?”
“It’s not like that… it’s not some weird esoteric thing. It’s not like that…I’m sorry it isn‘t really any of my business but…”
“It‘s okay. I suppose I do owe you a proper introduction.” She said, nearly whispering, breaking the silence with her words and a jarringly loud sip of her coffee. She sat down beside Nick and looked him in the eyes. His, full of pain and wonder and relief. Hers, blue and somehow strong, flickering in the wake of Nietzsche’s damnation nexus...
“I guess it all started when I was a kid. I lived in this really small, rich, close-knit town where everybody knew everybody... Well, everybody and no one. I’m sure you know the type,”
Nick didn’t but decided to smile and nod anyway.
“There was always this pressure to conform, to join the herd.”
She sighed and set her cup down on the table.
“Suffice to say, I had no interest in following the beaten path...My family wasn’t much help either. They were of the materialistic; emotionally closed off variety. You know the typical white collar American Dream bullshit; a big house, a white picket fence, two point three kids and a dog. Everything a person could want right? ”
She paused, glanced out the window for a moment and continued talking.
”As much as I felt closed off by it by that type of thing, life, disease…whatever you wana call it, there were times when it was nice, at least back when I was young and everything was simple but as I got older I became more and more estranged from that…privilege and what not. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and I started to kind of hate it… kind of. I’ll never know what it was, I just didn‘t belong.”
“I know that type. “
Amy looked at Nick and smiled again.
“Anyway, I moved here last year to go to school, and after living in this place for a while I got into a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have. It started out innocently enough and I didn’t think it would spiral out of control the way it did, but it’s just one of those things that sucks you in.”
Nick looked at the faded track marks on her arms. He definitely “knew that type” and at that moment he realized he knew it all too well.
“I was an all-day every day up dope fiend until a few months ago when I finished rehab courtesy of Daddy’s blood money, and ever since then… it’s been hard. Fuck it, it’s been unbearable. My mom sitting there with her country club friends popping Valium and downing wine like water. And she tells me she’s worried about me? And my sister and her jackass fiancé and their perfect wedding and their fucking yippee dog that pisses all over their Oriental rug in the middle of the night, but they never mention that. Every day, she wakes up two hours early to clean it and says absolutely nothing about it...I just wanted out Nick. I just wanted out…” Amy’s voice suddenly fell giving way to tears. Even the strongest eyes break from time to time. Nick clutched her hand.
She (still crying, thinking about the breaking of strong eyes and how that made her human) let him.
“I‘m so sorry,” she said tearfully. “I don’t know what came over me…I didn’t think it would be this hard to talk about.”
Nick (feeling human), looked deep into her eyes and after some thought asked her.
“Amy, do you believe in fate?”
Nick woke up early the next morning .He looked to his left and saw that Amy was still asleep by his side. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and then after gathering up of all of his pills, walked to the bathroom, flushed them down the toilet and didn’t look back. Things were going to be different from now on. Nick grabbed his coat and walked out the door.
“In local news, a man who has now been identified as Nick Johnson Palmer was struck by a drunk driver at seven thirty eight this morning. He died instantly. Police are urging anyone who may know him to come forward as they have not been able to contact any immediate family.”