Late that fall, a young woman was killed on her bicycle outside Lola’s apartment while riding in the rain. Lola was buying coffee across the street when it happened, saw the grimy dump truck and heard the screaming. And that night in the hallway, her neighbors surrounding her, she confessed what she had seen. The truck driver kneeling beside the woman’s twitching body, the warped bicycle, the blood on her raincoat.
Her neighbors were silent when she finished. Music blasted loud and trance like from above, a smell of cat litter in the hall. The woman was just like any of them, full of want and ambition, before that truck came and ground her bones into gravel. They all stared at one another a long time, then quietly went back to their apartments and shut their doors, as if the dead woman was an omen of all the threats of the city pressing in on them.
That night, Lola and her roommate Dawn sat with their backs pressed against the apartment walls, drinking whisky. They’d been neighbors for months but had never really talked. They drank and began to confess their deepest secrets, the men who had touched them, the men who had beaten them. Their names were ancient words of a lost language, names that had festered inside them and fucked them up.
Lola drank until the apartment felt like it was filled with seawater. She walked to the bathroom and knelt in front of the toilet. She saw her pale reflection in the water, the dark stains in the part of the bowl that never got cleaned, their unspoken excretions clinging to it. A stream of words began to burst in her throat: Unfurling. Laved. Wimple. Sluice. They were being drawn from her like yarn, tickling her stomach and throat as she wretched.
She stumbled into her bedroom and collapsed, looking at the tree outside the window under the streetlight, yellow and spotted, and realized that she hadn’t even noticed the changing of seasons before her eyes snapped shut, her head spinning, the room, the building, the city with the bay booming against the Battery and the whistling and snoring of a million people like a great pipe organ being played by some drunken God.
Lola began to dream. Of the truck driver climbing clumsily from his cab to help the dying woman, his hands pressed to his dirty face as he knelt beside her in the street. Pleading to the screaming women that stood on the curb for help, the ones who had seen the woman alive and vital moments before, the rain now falling in her open eyes. But in the dream it was now herself that he was leaning over, his hot belly pressed against her twitching legs. And then as if a curtain closed, her eyes opened. A utility truck was honking outside in the street, loud and indolent. There must be something good here, she thought, as she rose and looked down at it, there must be something worthwhile.
A light was still burning in the den. She went for a drink of water, rubbing the image of the truck driver from her mind. The grey hair curling in the nooks of his ears, the sag of his loose belly on her legs. He was still out there, but that woman was not. Lola would go to work, pressed against leering men in the subway and come home and walk across that blood stain on the street.
Dawn was asleep on the floor beside the lamp, a blanket wrapped loosely around her. Lola slumped beside the couch and watched her breathing. The slow, deep rise of her shoulders. Lola didn’t dare turn out the light as she cupped her body into Dawn’s, pressed her nose into her hair and breathed. Because something bad always happened when she turned out the light. The soft glow of the filament as it slowly died, the image of the bulb imprinted in the dark, then fading. Her hand being withdrawn in the dark. And how for a moment it seems like the hand was not her own, but the hand of a stranger, reaching out to grab hold of her.