He was different once he claimed her affection. She fell from the pedestal and broke into pieces. He cut his hands on the shards. He was surprised women bleed.
Alice tries to mingle when she arrives at the party. But uncertainties weigh on her. She loves Gabe. She left Gabe. She makes an excuse to her friends and slips outside. There is a table and chairs on the deck. Alice takes another sip of her beer and opens to a fresh page of her notebook.
If someone offered you smack right now, you would have done what he had, but with the awareness of an adult, and while he always assumed you were “essentially a good girl” there is a darkness in you that might even surpass the darkness in him.
Smile and keep smiling. Inside you register emotion in kaleidoscopic detail. But once you cross the line—you did not land on your feet, you did a face plant—it is much easier to give in and give up than to get past this.
You must lose yourself in others because you are already aware that you do not exist. Eleanor brushes up against you. Disappear into the crowd, two women, with singular life stories, lost in a sea of people who are simultaneously together and alone. For a while, you can project yourself outwards, and escape.
I am the girl to avoid, Alice thinks, as Greg approaches. Greg is the friend of a friend. He has the elastic gaze of a true New Yorker. His bulk obscures the rest of the room as he muscles closer.
“What are you doing all on your own?”
Her notebook hops across the table when she shrugs. “I don’t play well with others.”
Greg stands out from the mosaic of people over his shoulder. But Alice notices when a man with bald head like a peeled potato edges closer. Greg turns to the man. “Tony. Get us two more beers.”
“I already have a beer.”
“Have another one.”
“Okay. But I could go for something more exciting than beer.”
Greg passes her what looks like a cigarette. Alice reaches for her lighter and the cigarette droops to the floor.
“What are you doing? Don’t waste it you dope. There’s coke in there.”
“There is?! I’ve never done coke in a cigarette before!”
“I can tell you’re very excited about doing coke. Your cheeks keep curving upwards in this big smile.”
Tony reappears with the beers. For a moment Alice can feel the weight of a beer in each hand.
“I have more coke at home if you want to come to my place.” Greg leans closer to shelter Alice from view.
“Can we do more here?”
“I might be able to get you some. Let’s do some shots first.”
Alice glances down at the pink cylinder in her purse. She slips her bag over her shoulder. Inside Greg pours them both two shots of Patron at the kitchen table. They clink glasses and she tosses hers back in quick succession.
“You look like such a nice girl. But you’re hard as nails, aren’t you?”
“I’m a bad person,” Alice says agreeably.
Her head pounds. She looks away for a moment. They are in a bathroom. Greg tips a line of white powder across his pinky and tells her to snort. Suddenly her mood is brighter. Wonder and contentment hit her in waves.
“This is great!!!”
Greg leans forward as if to kiss her. Alice steps back and traces the shape of his eyebrow just to tease him.
She walks away.
Love is an open wound that will not stop bleeding. It darkens corners, and street signs, and when the man smiles at her, she knows she should walk away, which is why she walks closer. He has beady eyes, with too much hardness in them, but she feels strangely confident now, because it is only when you expect better from people that they can hurt you.
Alice grasps hands with the man. When she pulls away there is a small packet in her closed fist. Alice slips inside the closest shop and opens the door to the bathroom. She inhales deeply. Thought and emotion meld, with an overarching clarity. There is nothing more peaceful.
An evening comes when Alice passes Gabe on the street again. He likes seeing her red-eyed, downcast, and alone. Her drinks her tears for nourishment. They give body to his soul.
Alice is in the company of another man, a handsome stranger. He can see the light in the other man’s eyes when he kisses her. Although her expression is sad, a dull electricity shines in her baby blues, as if transmitting the message that it is time to move on.
In upstate New York Gabe sat in her bedroom. His heart was creaking open. A flower—pedals crumpled—crushed in his large hands.
Alice opens the door to her apartment when she returns home from the party and turns on the light. The is a liter of Bacardi and a half empty coke zero on the kitchen table. She tucks her keys in her pocket as she locks the door, pulls out a chair, and sits.
Her skin is beginning to itch. Not the deep, writhing itch of poison ivy, but as if someone is tickling her. Her head is whirlwind of pixilated throbbing. She can feel a light sweat, like a sheen of poison rising from her skin. Alice retrieves the cloth sunglass case nestled beneath her left breast. Inside is a purple pill case. When she turns it over several pieces of cut up, day-glow colored straws fall into her open hand. Alice unwraps a fresh square of paper and forms a line.
From inside the bedroom she hears a sound. The headboard denting the wall as someone stands abruptly. There are footsteps. Alice freezes. The pink cylinder in her purse might protect her from an intruder but not one with a gun. Alice grabs the pepper spray and stands, simultaneously unlocking the door behind her.
Her bedroom door opens. “Alice. My Alice.” He is drunk and probably high.
“You need to leave.”
“You left me.”
“I didn’t leave you. I gave you a choice.” Her right hand shakes but she focuses on the feel of plastic under her fingertips.
Gabe takes several heaving steps towards her. He moves as if to hug her, pulling her in against the warmth of his body. For a moment she can almost believe he is the source of comfort and protection she imagined him to be. She pushes against his chest. His hands wrap around her throat. She is seeing stars.
• • •