He hears the elevator doors open and close, the click clack of high-heeled footsteps drawing closer, then passing his door on their way to the next apartment. He waits. Jacob had always been good at waiting. He hears the jingling of keys, then footsteps moving back toward his door. His door is unlocked. He had been expecting her. She had always been easy to predict. The front door opens, then clicks softly shut. The carpet muffles her footsteps, but still he hears her draw closer.
“Your door was open.”
“No, it was unlocked.”
“You’re up late.”
“You’re out late.”
He twirls his freshly poured brandy slowly, watching the amber liquid swirl around in his glass. She plops down in her favourite chair, the one right across from him. He takes a sip, not because he wants to, more out of a need to banish the unmistakable scent she brought into his apartment with her. He breathes in deeply, the liquid still pooled in his mouth, allowing it to penetrate his senses before he lets it trickle slowly down his throat.
“Do you have a light?”
He pushes a pack of Camel across the table and leans in to light one for her. He already knows that she will leave with the packet, so he doesn’t bother to take it back. She drags deeply, tufts of white smoke curling from her lips as she expels a soft sigh. She leans back in the comfy-chair; eyes shut to the world as she savours the toasted goodness of the Camel, but the tension in her muscles belie her apparent relaxed state. They sit in silence as she smokes what will be the first of a chain of cigarettes. He relishes the moments when she has her first smoke for the night, they were the rare moments she was still long enough for him to observe her.
He remembers a night many years ago when she had been too drunk to care, the night she had curled up on his sofa and fallen asleep. That night he had lifted her tenderly and carried her to his bed. After wiping her tear-streaked face with a damp cloth and tucking her in, he sat beside the bed watching her sleep. Her lips were slightly parted, her breathing relaxed – he noted that he had never seen her relaxed before that moment, or after – her hair had fallen across her face and he had brushed it away with loving care. He sat there watching over her even after it had begun to feel weird, until he had started to feel the guilt of a perverted voyeur with a freshly awoken conscience. He had often wondered about his inability to look away, for despite feeling like a common sleaze, he sat there watching her until she awoke hours later.
She snubs out her first smoke and takes another from the pack, one he leans over to light as if on cue of some satirically irreverent melodrama written for a cast of two – a cast doomed to play the same parts for the rest of their bizarrely humdrum lives. Her second smoke is his prompt to break the silence that she hates – or maybe even fears. The silence is the reason she is here every night.
“What happened to your face?”
“It doesn’t look like nothing.”
They had just stepped onto a familiar merry-go-round and only one of them will be paying the fare willingly – the other will be taking the ride against her will.
“I said it’s fucking nothing. Let it go, Jake.”
The fresh red bruise under her left eye would undoubtedly darken to a deep purple against her pale skin by morning. She had tried to clean it up, but he notices that her lip is split on the same side of her face as well. Jake always notices, even when she tries to hide from him. She doesn’t try to stop him when he gets up and leaves the room. He comes back into the room bearing the only remedy he has on hand – he concedes that he should be more prepared for situations like these, but being prepared would mean accepting that these things were allowed to happen to her and that he was nothing more than the one who needs to fix her. He sits down on the coffee table and places the bag of frozen peas wrapped in a kitchen towel over the bruise, she averts her eyes as he continues to assess the damage done to her usually flawless visage.
“It really is nothing. It doesn’t even hurt.”
“Shut up and hold still, Kris.”
She does. She shuts her eyes and he knows that it is to hide the pain in her eyes from him – the pain he had already noticed.
“And the fact that it doesn’t hurt is even worse.”
“Because it means that you’re high. Are you fucking high, Kris?”
Sometimes silence speaks louder than words. For someone who hates the silence, she sure as hell knows how to use it wisely.
“Fucking unbelievable. When will this stop?” He pauses to take a deep calming breath; sometimes even breathing is hard when he is around her. He had just inhaled the rancid stench of stale sex that still lingers on her, a scent that infuriates him mostly because it traps him somewhere between disgust and desire - apparently, there is a thin line between the two. “I don’t want to do this anymore, Kris. I can’t do this anymore.” Despite his words, he continues to move the cold compress across her bruised face with tender movements.
“I never asked you to do anything.” Her voice is devoid of emotion, detachment is but one of the few emotions she is capable of wielding – it is her weapon of choice.
“Why do you come here? Why me?” He lifts the pack from her face, the peas are thawing and the cloth had started to drip, running tracks down her cheek. His thumb moves up and across her cheekbone, wiping at the streak as if it were a tear shed – she never cried anymore, at least not for herself. Kristina has such delicate features, reminding him of a porcelain doll he’d once seen in a specialty shop. She was his porcelain doll, he was the collector of specialty items and she was his collection of one. She completes his collection.