Eight years. Eight years since the last time I had Watched her from across that lane, the formative place of my twenties. It was hard to say how I felt; nothing was ever simple with her, in the end. I remember sitting on my old green chair, worn from years of use and watching her through my livingroom window. She was rolling a joint, or a cigarette, or something; all I could see was the paper between her fingers after she’d finished and, a flash of orange, she began to smoke.
I met her in person for the first time at Safeway, down Oak st. in the Marpole neighborhood. It was October, a cold October, a little before dinner. I had a package of chicken breasts hidden in my shirt (who pays full price for chicken?) and a basket full of things I only half knew how to cook. A potato. Croutons. A packet of taco seasoning. She came around the corner with her buggy, our eyes locked onto one another and we both immediately recognized where we’d seen the other. Me, watching her smoke and read, watch tv, bounce a kid, hers probably, in front of the window. Her, watching me smoke, sit on the computer until I passed out, probably catching me masturbating a few times. I was almost certain: I didn’t own curtains, lived like an open book.
I was on fire.
“Oh, I was wondering what you looked like from the waist down,” she said. “Nice, you have legs. Pants, too. Doing pretty well for yourself.”
“Oh these? Nah, I’m leasing them. Do I really look like I can afford to own pants?”
She laughed. I liked her laugh.
“Ok, pants. What’s your name?”
I told her.
“Oh yeah? Kind of boring, innit?” She leaned on her cart. “People call me Molly. Guess why?”
“If I had to guess? Leather jacket, black clothes, green and black hair, boots and silver nails… Molly Millions.”
“Hah! No fuckin’ clue who that is. You wanna come over and smoke a joint?”
I felt the chicken stuffed in my shirt start to leak. “Yes I do.”
When I looked at my apartment from her window, I tried to imagine what I looked like sitting at my computer, listening to Debussy’s Arabesque #1. Stealing movies and tv shows. Watching porn lit by the monitor glow with all the lights off. Hanging christmas lights for the parties I never had. Sleeping.
Her apartment was nice, in a cheap, Marpole sort of way. Ikea, milk crates, christmas lights and a few lamps. Toys in a basket beside the futon. “yours,” I asked.
“yeah, but I let my little girl play with ‘em sometimes. She’s with her dad right now,” said Molly without looking away from what she was rolling. “You wanna hit this?”
I was stoned when I met her boyfriend. I heard him before I saw him, “I’ll kill that faggot!” Shouting from the hallway. Molly went out, told me to stay quiet. I could hear her but not the words, just the low murmur of her cadence, slowed, and invisible. I wasn’t scared until I heard a slap and the door was kicked in.
He was bald, looked younger than me. White, wide, angry. He moved like an animal with his head low, casting around and looking for something. Me, I knew. I was the faggot he wanted to kill.
A word of advice: if you think someone wants to kill you, stand up first. Don’t die on your ass.
“What the fuck you think you’re doing here, huh? You wanna fuck my girl, huh? Fuck her in my apartment, faggot?” He clenched his teeth when he hissed that at me. I felt slow when he grabbed my shirt and hauled me up, inches from his disgusting mouth.
“Christ, Lucas, where’s Mel?” Molly was standing in the doorway with her hand on her face. He spun his head around without letting go.
“I called the cops.” I said it without thinking.
I didn’t. I mean, I did, later, but I was lying through my teeth. I didn’t even have my phone out. He locked his eyes back on mine. “I don’t know, man, I don’t know what you think but I’m not. I’m just here to smoke a joint and I called the cops.”
He tightened his fist. I could feel him shaking, because I was shaking.
“Where’s Mel?!” Molly moved right up behind him. He didn’t move until, slowly, he let go.
“You’re fucked, buddy. I’ll find you. Don’t say a word, Mol. One more fuckin’ word and I swear I’ll end you.”
He walked backwards, his eyes locked on me. I felt nailed to the floor. Still shaking, like his hand was still right there, holding me in place. I didn’t even realize he’d left until Molly was shaking me. If she was saying something, I couldn’t make it out until she walked me to the door. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok… please, please don’t get the police involved. Please, jesus, please.”
“Yeah, ok, yeah… I’ll see you, Molly.”
I went home and called the police.
There was a red dot dancing across my desk, roughly the size of a quarter and bright. It was late; a long day with overtime staring at numbers for so long they stopped being anything but shapes on paper. Finances. Internship at an accounting firm that paid the bills.
It had been a few weeks since that night. The police came to the neighborhood and I gave a vague statement about someone in the neighborhood who made some threats, but didn’t name any names, give any addresses. They hung around for a while, lights flashing. I didn’t sleep well that night, and bought some blinds the next day. The blinds, of course, being the locus of my confusion about the glowing dot playing over my desk.
I checked the angle; just right to see clearly into her apartment. The glow flashed off and on a few times then vanished. Her lights were off. I closed my blinds entirely and put on a playlist, starting with Hall and Oates and working backwards towards the renaissance. Loud enough to mute the traffic, not so loud to get evicted.
There came a tapping. Light, then loud, then along with the beat. I peeked out, and there she was. Black and neon, staring at me and smoking a cigarette. She wasn’t quite smiling.
“Hey Pants, let me in! I wanna give you something!”
I shouldn’t have let her in. I shouldn’t have leaned towards the window and peeked through the slit like a nosy neighbor, narrow-eyed and full of exaggeration. I shouldn’t have laughed when she did. She nailed me.
“Ok,” I said, “one sec.”
I keep a mirror on the back of my door. I was still in my work clothes; business casual whites and blacks. I ran my hands through my hair and noticed the red was starting to grow out. My roots were showing. A minute later she was inside, sitting on my couch and pulling out another cigarette like she lived there.
“Ok so here’s the thing. I feel like shit about… you know, my ex being a psycho. I saw the cops but no one came knocking, so I figured I’d give you something! You know, a thank-you or whatever for being chill about it.” She lit her smoke and handed it to me. “Smoke that.”
I told her I didn’t smoke. She looked at me cockeyed, and I started smoking.
It was 2am. I was laying on the floor, half-naked and focusing intently on the ceiling while Molly rested on my chest. She didn’t make much noise while she ran her hands over my face, tracing out the shape of my lips in slow patterns.
“What do you want from this,” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. And I didn’t. I found out she laced that cigarette with something after I’d finished it, and she smoked one herself. We didn’t talk much, she kept asking me about what the music was. Jazz. Blues. Swing. Chamber music. I didn’t know what was happening when it hit me, but she leaned forward and kissed me when it did. I went up like fireworks, her hands were fire to my fuse.
She pressed herself against me and pulled me to my feet. I felt heavy, heavy and calm. She began swaying slowly, and I felt like I was falling backwards, falling upwards. I was an idea. A thought.
“Okay,” she said, “I want this dance.”
It was 3am when I woke up for the first time in my life, dancing to Mozart’s Piano Sonata no. 9.
She stole my monitor in the morning. I was hungover and couldn’t manage humanity so most of Saturday was a write-off. She left a note where I’d normally sit and stare which, hey, I thought it was a nice gesture apart from the theft. Here’s my number. Come and stare at something over here!
I opened my blinds and there she was, smoking out of her window without a care. Didn’t even look my way.
Of course I called her.
Of course she didn’t pick up.
This was how we started.
Four months went by in a blur. My internship ended, turned into a job, Some weeks I’d see Molly, some weeks she’d be missing. I rarely asked her where she went, back then, and she wouldn’t tell me. I didn’t care much. I had money, she had time. Sometimes, those overlapped. There was a moment, right in the middle, when I thought things had changed.
We were at her Exes house.
We were on a bus to his place.
“Pants,” she said. Molly slid her hand into mine, a small baggy with the nights courage.
“Mol.” I swallowed the contents. If you asked me now what it was, I couldn’t tell you. One was translucent blue.
I’m lying. I’m sorry. It was Ketamine, MDMA, and LSD. I still can’t get away from one of those. I wish I didn’t know them as intimately as I knew her.
I don’t remember if she took anything. We’d done it before, so many times over those months, I never even looked at her to see if she was chasing the same high I was.
There is no way I’d take a bag of unidentified pills and swallow them now. But, when you’re young and chasing those moments when you get beyond the world, you do stupid things.
This was our challenge to one another. Jousting intentions without much more than names I never really believed were real. Our eyes meet, our lances drawn and we charge to see who’ll back down first.
Molly never turned away. Not once in her life.
“Ok, what should I know before we get there?” I felt warm and soft.
“Nothing, it’s cool. It isn’t like the last time, you know? ‘Sides, you’ll be so high you won’t care. I sure fuckin’ don’t!” She started laughing hysterically and kicking her legs. Her skirt rode up, she didn’t notice.
The last time. There wasn’t a last time. Not with me. I didn’t say anything. Sometimes she got confused when she was high.
“Ok, but what’s the deal? Why now, Mol? Why him?”
“Just a thing to do. Friday fun, or something. Don’t worry!”
She didn’t tell me then, but I figured out the why soon enough.
“Whatever. What am I taking tonight?” I was starting to feel stretched out, like being pulled through a tunnel.
“Do you think I’d ruin the surprise?” Her smile felt flat and distant.
You have to realize something. I didn’t mean it. How it went.
I don’t know if I loved her. At the time, I thought I felt something, and maybe it was like love, but different. Hotter. Foreign. I’ve met people since her that never set me on fire the same way, but I said I loved them, and maybe I did. But passion, addiction, that need? I haven’t felt that since. If you understand one thing, you have understand that she did something to me I’ve never felt before, and never will again. Maybe it was love, and everything else is just an echo, a cover of a song by a second-rate band. Maybe it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter now, not anymore.
I’m not proud, but I’m not saying I did anything wrong. I did my best.
This is how it changed.
I had no idea where we were. I felt thin and electric. I was the future. I was the haze of an afternoon cloud stretched over the horizon. There were trees that night, and they breathed along with me. The sun was low. It felt like Bach on my skin.
I was a child, back then. Hopeless. Addicted to the newness of her life, the exotic taste of her skin at night. I thought there was an exit for her, somewhere. I was opportunity, I thought. Really, I was just opportune. I could have been anyone, as long as I looked at her the way I did. On that rotting lot outside Aldergrove I was set into a motion I couldn’t stop.
After that first night we spent on my livingroom floor, tangled and naked, I didn’t see her for a while. A few weeks, maybe. I went to work, came home, sat at my desk and tried not to notice how little I saw happening in her apartment. It was Friday, overcast, and I was listening to Chopin’s Etude in C Minor while my soup cooked itself. I noticed her first.
She got out of someone’s car, something cheap, and looked around. She didn’t look towards her apartment at all. She sat outside in the alley, fished around for her phone and made a few calls. She looked devastated. My phone rang. This was the push.
“Hey, how’s tricks? You busy?”
“Who is this,” I said.
“Haaaaaa. Hey, are you busy tonight? I’m feeling like a spot of fun coming on!”
“I dunno, it’s already pretty late.” I opened my blinds a little so she could see me. Her hair was a mess. Her roots were showing.
“Oh you’re home! Great, check this out!” She lifted her shirt and flashed me. I could see a blotch of angry, fresh ink on her chest. “If you let me come in, I’ll give you a hands-on tour.”
I let her in. She kissed me like I imagined kisses felt like when they meant something.
“Pants, I missed you so fucking much! It’s been nothing but shit for a week.” She pushed me into my hallway and kissed me again. She smelled like she’d been drinking, tasted like gin.
Her bag looked stuffed full and made a dull thump when she dropped it. “Want some dinner Mol?”
“Starving! What’ll it cost me?”
“Two things,” I said. “First, your ink. There’s a story there. Second, tell me where you’ve been for a month.”
“Look, Lucas took my little girl. Told the social worker some bullshit about me. He fuckin’ left some shit at my place that made me look bad and when she came by she told me I wasn’t fit and took her. Just fuckin’ took her right there.”
I waited for a second, but she didn’t look like she was upset, only angry. “And?”
“…and,” she said, “I had to cope, so I went out and got a tattoo. Saw some friends, got a good deal on it. I just had- I needed to get my head right before I tried for custody again.”
“Are you gonna get her back?”
“I’m a great mother! Everyone knows it.”
I never, ever saw her the way I did when she was in the alley, ever again. Not a tear, not a frown, nothing. It was the only crack that ever formed and she filled it in immediately with her hands on my chest, her tongue in my mouth, and a small blue solution that never made her dreams come true, just made her dream.
Lucas lived in a piece of shit rancher that looked absolutely beautiful at that one moment. It stretched and breathed along with the trees and I wanted to hug it, cry, and tell it I loved it. I knew I should be terrified of literally everything happening right now, but I couldn’t access it. It was a distant storm and I was wearing a raincoat over my rational mind.
“How you feeling over there?”
Molly was halfway to the house already. Where was I?
I took a single long step and landed next to her. “I don’t think I should be outside right now, Mol. I feel fucked. What if he’s home?”
“Yeah? That’s good Pants. It’s real pretty out, right? Just stay with me. I worked this all out, it’s ok. You just have to sit here with me and be handsome.” She took my hand and pulled me through the swamp towards the house. She knocked thunder.
Someone answered, but I didn’t know him. Bald and thin, younger than me. He eyeballed me from above and I stared right back at him.
“The fuck, Molly? You bring an audience?” His voice was deeper than I was expecting.
“Vee, it’s cool. He’s my little canary right now. He’ll be ok in the livingroom.”
She took me by my hand. I couldn’t put it together. I kept going up in thick, heavy waves. Each contraction felt like the universe trying to squeeze me into oblivion, tight and warm, until I thought I was going to burst, then relaxing and a wave of colour, shape, and sound. She pushed me on the couch and kissed me. The guy sat down beside her on the other side, his legs wide. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear.
“Oh my god, no fucking way. Just, ugh-!” He kissed her neck. I watched his hand slide up her thigh and I still couldn’t think straight. I knew, somewhere, what was happening, but it just didn’t reach me.
“Just wait, for fucks sake, Vee!”
“Yo, you wanna see little Lucy, you’re gonna do it on my schedule. Now it’s either here and now, or back there. But I’m not fucking waiting, and Lucas sure as fuck isn’t gonna take his time.”
Molly leaned over to me and kissed me again. It was the last time she kissed me.
“Ok, I’m gonna go for a second. Just wait here, ok? I won’t be long. Don’t move.”
“Hey Mol, what are we doing here again?” I kept coming to, and slipping away.
“Ok, puppy. Just stay here. Don’t move, ok? I”m gonna go see my little girl.”
She laughed. Her eyes were narrow, so completely normal. “Mol are you high right now?”
“No, baby. I’m fine. Just relax here, ok? I’m gonna be high in a second. I just need to go see my little girl first.”
I really don’t know how long I sat there, but I did get up. I walked around the room and really appreciated how ratty everything was. The posters of naked women selling beer on the walls. The glass table and the neon lights. The hardwood floors were pitted and stained. I never took my shoes off, but neither did anyone else. It was filled with shit. Everything was moving away and coming towards me, but I didn’t feel real. Present. I was my own shadow gliding over the evening.
I heard her.
I wandered down the hall. She was moaning, or grunting. I could barely make out the words.
“Ugh, just.. Ugh! One second Vee, baby.”
The last door was open a bit. I peeked in. She was topless, kneeling in front of him and bobbing her head. I watched through the cracked door for a few minutes. I stared, and couldn’t rationalize what I was seeing. Somewhere inside I knew I was miserable, but it still felt like the world was some sick, wonderful kaleidoscope. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. Her makeup was running and she was enjoying herself as much as she ever did with me.
I saw the crib in the corner, her daughter half asleep and watching. I felt sick. I wanted to sing. I crept away and found the back door somehow. The kitchen smelled like a bar and the lights kept moving across the wall but never moved back.
The car was too nice for this place but I saw Lucas get out. Her ex, Lucas. He looked angry now, as angry as the last time. I moved away from the window and felt an emotion like fear. It felt like how an ocean sounds, the waves crashing in the distance. I thought I was in Aldergrove, not by the ocean. He slammed his door.
“Victor, you motherfucker! Where are you?!”
I moved away from the kitchen, the back door, the window out. Stumbled backwards, towards the livingroom. I passed Victor who looked at me like I was an alien.
“The fuck you didn’t say anything?!” Victor was mad. “Go into the back room you fuckin’ junkie and don’t say anything!” He pushed me towards the room he was just in while he did up his pants. I stumbled back.
Molly had her shirt back on, but she was barely there. Lucy was awake and fussing but not getting any attention. I watched her slowly roll over. The room smelled sour and had a haze in it.
“Lucas just got here, Mol,” I whispered at her. I felt like I was sharpening, but the fear wasn’t settling in yet.
“No, he’s not coming home for… a few hours or something.”
“No, he’s home now. Victor just went out to see him.”
I heard Lucas shouting. “You fuckin’ idiot! She’s not supposed to be here! I told her to clean the fuck up!” It was quiet for a second, then: “And her junkie boyfriend!?” I felt the house shudder with the force of the front door being thrown open.
I finally felt panic.
The room was a mess. Small, with a crib and a double bed in it. Cheap furniture and toys everywhere, a mess, not cleaned. It kept breathing, the toys were staring at me. Molly was languid. A mess. Lucy started crying.
I thought about hiding. I thought about making a leap out the window, or trying to sneak past him somehow. The time it took for me to actually decide to act, he was already there. He swelled with the room. His fists looked like cannonballs.
“Pick that bitch up and go sit in the livingroom,” He said. Veins and tendons strained. I stared at him, uncomprehending.
“Lucas, baby, it’s cool, you know? I just needed to see my little Lucy before-” Lucas cut her off. His fist felt like fire and steel when it hit my face. I crumpled. I don’t know what he said to her. He was shouting. I tasted blood, felt the world move around me. Molly screamed, the kind when you’re mad, not scared.
She should have been scared. I wish she was.
I was dragged into the livingroom easily. He threw me towards the couch, but I never made it.
“Ok, you’re gonna learn a fuckin’ lesson about respect. You think you get to just come to my fuckin’ house with that crazy bitch and see MY daugher? High?! I should fuckin’ kill you like I said I would,” he emphasized with a kick to my stomach.
“Dude, I didn’t know what-” he kicked me again.
“Shut the fuck up.”
Molly kept saying his name, over and over. Lucas, Lucas, Lucas again and again, like would calm him down. She was holding her daughter by the hallway, behind him. I was pressed against the couch on the floor, my nose bleeding a lot now. My ribs felt like fire.
“Go put Lucy in her chair, now!” He yelled at her. Lucy was crying. Molly wasn’t there. He turned, walked to her, and grabbed her face in his meat fist like a doll.
“Put her. In her fucking Chair. Now.”
She did. She looked like she was trying to remember how to cry. She walked back in front of him, like she’d done it a hundred times before.
He slapped her.
I got up. “Stop fucking hitting her, you piece of shit,” I said.
I should have just ran.
He spun around and hit me as hard as he could. I immediately saw stars. Something broke. It was unbelievable pain. Molly screamed.
When I came to, he’d taken me to the kitchen and had my hand on his table. Before I could register, he stabbed me with a pocket knife. I lost the last half of my pinky finger, on my right hand, before I’d even had a chance to say goodbye.
“Now, shut your fuckin’ mouth in my home.” He grabbed me around the neck and started squeezing. I started to panic. Shock. I felt numb, cold, high, scared. I couldn’t hear anything.
I saw a hand come around his face and scratch his eye.
“Leave him alone! He’s just a fucking kid!” Molly was apoplectic, but it was pointless. Lucas shook her off like water, turned, and hit her in the stomach. She sounded like she threw up, and fell. He leaned over, his fists raised.
I gasped, and saw my chance. I grabbed a pan from the counter. Cast iron. I swung it at him, hit him square in the side of the head. He dropped down and made a noise like a growl, and a grunt, and a yell. He turned to look at me and I swung again.
He fell hard. His fingers and arms spasming, clenching and unclenching. His eyes were rolled back. He was gurgling. He looked like a malfunctioning robot made of meat.
I Pulled Molly up, took her back to the livingroom. Her eyes were starting to swell. She took Lucy, I took her, and we took Lucas’ car.
I tried to drive. Had to go slowly. Most of the drugs had started to taper, but not the LSD. I was in another place. I felt like I was broken. Shock kept me moving. I kept seeing her on her knees. Lucy had started to calm down, then fell asleep in her car seat. I didn’t know where I was going.
“What a fucking asshole dealer prick!” Molly had switched back to anger. Like the last few hours didn’t happen. “He thinks he can take my daughter from me and get his shithead friends to watch her? Not a fucking chance! Not when I have you, right?”
I didn’t say anything. I drove towards my apartment. I felt her hand on my thigh.
“No, Mol. Just… don’t.”
“Come on, you saved us! You’re a hero! Heroes deserve a reward,” she gave me her smile. Her flat, distant smile.
I drove home.
When I dropped her off with her daughter, I left the car with her. Went home. Looked at myself in the mirror.
I started to cry.