A Gripping, Moving Piece of Short Fiction

The Montgomery Block

 

There is no real way to describe what it is like to be woken up by a blood-sucking bed bug crawling across your skin.  Most of the time at first it just seems like an itchy spot on your leg or arm, something to ignore so you can go back to sleep.  Since I moved into the Montgomery block, I have learned to turn on the light and check the spot.  Bed bugs are these insidious little beetles that live in mattresses, look like little dark appleseeds and love to bite.  When you feel one crawling on you, it is best to find it and brush it off gently then kill it.  That way the blood it just sucked out of you won’t get all over your skin and sheets, but they do leave marks on you regardless.

It’s hard to know which are worse: the bed bugs, the mice or the cockroaches.  They are all dirty little animals that invade my little $250 a month cave to damn near incite me to violence.  Often when I turn the light on to get a bed bug off of me, I will see a few cockroaches scurry away to their hiding places.  I think it is the mice that will eat and burrow tunnels in my bread, taking away all my desire to eat.  Since I moved in here and had to share my space and food with these creatures, I have lost 30 pounds, mostly just from losing my appetite.

When I first heard they were renting places here so cheap, I thought it would be wonderful.  I would have enough disability money to pay the rent and live an almost decent life, but being in a ten by 15-foot apartment full of pests is nothing anywhere near acceptable.  The only good thing is that I now can afford to buy a pass to the swimming pool which is not far.

Sometimes at night I wake up in the middle of a dream, or maybe I should say a nightmare.  More than a few times I have had woken up from bad dreams where I imagined I was living in a place just like this and woke up to see that it was a reality.  Other times I dream about the things I did in my past that I’m not proud of having done.  You see, I have a mental illness that manifested itself while I was still a teenager in school.  When it did, I made a complete ass of myself and even scared a few people.  Memories of getting into fights, getting arrested and brought to the mental hospital, spending two months locked up in that horrible place haunt me.  Maybe that is why I never managed to get my life on track.  I wish I could somehow get a doctor or therapist help me find a way to cope with my memories.  In 15 years since my principal kicked me out of school, the thoughts haven’t gone away.

I was sixteen when the first horrible thing happened to me.  It’s all so clear in my memory.

“Scott, you have a phone call!” My mom said on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday night in late August.

“Who is it?”  I didn’t think anyone would call me.  Even my one best friend had not been around all summer; I had wanted to be able to do things with him, but he had left his parent’s house to live on the streets.

“It’s a girl.”  My mom said.  This had me intrigued.  When I answered, I learned it was a girl from school, and she wanted to meet with me.  She was the next-door neighbor of a guy I used to hang around with, and she was terrifyingly cute.  My brother and one of his best friends had both tried to date her but had backed off for some reason.

“Meet me at Man-Made Lake on Thursday at nine.” She almost seemed to insist, even sounding a bit nervous.  I was nervous too; I hadn’t had a date since breaking things off with Charlotte.  She was at a summer camp last year with me when I was fifteen.  We dated a few times, but my shyness and guilt over pretending to be her friend while I had deep feelings for her made me put a stop to things.

Thursday rolled around, and I went to meet with Candace.  I didn’t know what to expect, but Man-Made Lake was a make out spot.  To my surprise, when I pulled up, she was dressed up in what looked like the clothes of a prostitute.  I almost turned around and drove off; it seemed like something terribly strange was going on.  I got out and made a comment about her clothing, and she said she needed to take me over to a different part of the lake. Stupidly, I complied.

When we got there, she sat me down and kept rubbing my leg and insisting that I tell her I wanted to sleep with her.  Little did I know the ex-friend who had lived beside her and all of their friends were hiding in the bushes around us waiting to humiliate me.  I got out the words, “Okay, I want to sleep with you, but…” and she punched me in the face.  All around me I heard laughter and walked away, feeling more humiliated and unwanted than I had ever in my life.  I didn’t understand how people could be so cruel and hateful; I didn’t even know why they had decided to stop being friends with me.

Back at the Montgomery Block, I decided there was only one thing I could do to clear my head; I needed a swim.  I got my towel, swimsuit, lock, and facilities pass and saddled up.  It was a chilly, crisp morning and I could see the sun coming up just under the horizon, leaving the clear sky a beautiful shade of light blue and the wispy clouds just above a color that was almost heavenly, framed in the perfect image with a sliver of the moon.  It was times like this that I most like to be on my own, most like to be outside and moving.

Going to the pool is the only way that I seem to be able to focus on the present moment.  I change, shower, sit in the hot tub until I begin to sweat profusely, then go to the deep end of the pool and dive into the cold water, shocking myself awake.  Doing that makes me feel so happy to be a living, breathing thing.  Swimming somehow has the magical power to connect me to my physical self and was the best therapy for the thoughts that haunt me.  Then, I often sit in the sauna and sometimes I can get the most interesting conversations going on.  The regulars and I will talk about sports, politics, crazy things out of the news.  The only difference is all of them go on to work all day, and I go back to sit and drink cheap cups of tea and watch what few broadcast stations I can get on my little black and white TV.

When I leave the pool, sometimes it seems people talk about me.  I try to dismiss it as part of my paranoid thinking, part of my poor mental health, but I have to admit that if I had friends and saw someone kind of weird like myself I might comment.

“It’s disgusting how they let anyone in here; they should have better standards in this pool.”  I heard someone say today as I was taking off my long swim trunks I wore in hopes no one would see my bed bug bites.  When I dressed, my clothes must have smelled too, and I could feel the looks and judgments of the people around me.  Somehow I managed to force myself to keep going there.  I tried hard to keep my clothes clean, but I knew some people didn’t want me there.

I left the pool and stepped out into the refreshing morning air.  The sun was now coming up, and I had the whole day ahead of me.  I knew I would probably waste it, but still, it felt good to have had a workout and some social interaction with people.  The pool had become my whole social and physical outlet.  Some people had jobs; I had my morning swim.

It was that morning that it happened.  I don’t know if people really can fall in love just by looking at someone, but when I saw her, something hit me hard.  It was on my floor in the Montgomery block—there were only about ten rooms to a floor, and she was standing with some bags trying to organize her load and get her keys out to open her door.  Her hair was black as a Raven’s, and she had dark brown eyes that seemed to be a wellspring of beauty and loveliness.  Her thin features resembled an ancient Greek statue that was carved to be the very textbook definition of beauty.

“Hey, can I help you at all?” I said to her, displaying more courage than I thought I would ever muster.

“No, I’m okay.” She said, in an almost mouse like manner, retrieving her keys and hurriedly opening her lock and ducking inside.

It was a few days before I saw her again.  Usually, people avoid eye contact in the halls of the Montgomery block, rarely talk, are rarely friendly.  I did talk to one guy sometimes who lived a floor below next to the mailbox, and he knew her name.  Kirstie. What a lovely thing to call a young woman who was so fascinating.  Just thinking of having someone of the opposite sex so close and in the same building made me anticipate the possibility of a relationship.  I asked a few more questions and didn’t get too many answers, but I learned that she was likely single, just moved in, and didn’t mix much with people.  When I saw her, I boldly introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Scott,” I said and extended my hand.  “I live over in number 25.”

“Hi, Scott.”  She said and extended her hand to shake mine, though she spoke quietly.  She seemed to have kind of expressionless face, hiding her emotions behind those lovely eyes.  Her grip was firm, though; I had the idea that she was a strong young woman inside despite her frail appearance.  “Do you like to play chess?”

“Yeah, I play a little.  Would you like me to come by and have a game with you?”  I ventured bravely, trying to hide the fact that my medications made my hands shake.  I was nervous, but I needed to come across to her as a smooth and suave dude.  Little did I know she cared very little about such things.

“Yeah, sure.  Tomorrow’s good for me.  Do you work?”  I never wanted to lie more than at that moment.

“I used to work; I’m on disability right now.”  If that bothered her, she didn’t show it.

“Oh, hey—don’t worry about it.  I get disability too, why else would we live in this place?”  I smiled, and she smiled back.

“I can come over later if you’re up for it.”

“Sure, how about around 3 o’clock.  I could make us some tea.”  I couldn’t believe it was that easy, I said a few more words and then ducked into my place.  The next afternoon, I found my cleanest clothes and brushed my teeth, flossed them, and put on some deodorant and body spray for the first time in weeks.

It seemed to take forever for 3 o’clock to roll around and I was a bit nervous when I went and knocked on her door.  She had a chess board set up and a pot of tea ready right then.  Right away I noticed she had a bunch of cool posters and prints on her wall.  There was a couple of Van Gogh posters and a Da Vinci.  We talked about art for a while; I didn’t know much about the subject, but my mom once had a book on Van Gogh art that I flipped through a few times.  It was interesting to learn about how destitute the man was, how he had only sold one painting in his living years.  I found it easy to confide in her that I secretly wrote poetry, and she seemed so fascinated.  Then, after talking a while we had our game.

I had the sense as we played that she was letting me win, and I decided to let her let me win.  Then, as the game was ending, she took advantage of a small mistake I made and in two moves it was over, Kirstie checkmated me.  I just couldn’t believe that such an amazing person who was so beautiful, friendly, and intelligent could be in my life all of a sudden.  After we had set up the chess board again, I realized why she lived in this awful place.  She turned and leaned down to pick up a small box she kept on the floor and for the first time I saw a flaw in her looks while she turned away from me.  She was desperately skinny, perhaps even anorexic, and when she turned and sat up to the table again, she set down a mirror and started to measure out lines of white powder.  I was stunned.  In the life I had led, I was almost entirely ignorant of such things.  I couldn’t even imagine how she could do something like that, this sexy and intelligent young woman.  She offered me a line, and I got a little scared.  I got up and said I had to check on something and half stumbled out of the room and somehow made it out the door.

I went back to my room and for a long time I cried and prayed.  This poor girl looked so innocent, seemed like such a sweet and beautiful person right down to the soul I could almost see in her eyes.  I didn’t know what I should do.  What if I ended up going out with her or even being good friends with her and got caught up in drugs?  I was sick, I had bipolar disorder and had done some awful things, but I had always held out hope that one-day life would be better, that there was a future waiting for me.  The trouble was, there was no going back at this point.  I think in some strange way I was already in love.

Over the next weeks, I went over to see Kirstie a lot.  I lived to look deep into her eyes while she talked with passion about books and movies and the places her parents had taken her.  I learned after a while that her father was a prominent lawyer and her mother a highly paid civil servant who gave her every opportunity to succeed.  It had looked like she would too, but her parents were her whole world, and they had died in a tragic car accident a few years ago.  She had a severe breakdown and was put under the care of a trustee and spent time in a psychiatric hospital.  She had a lot of friends from her school days, including an ex-boyfriend who gave her deals on drugs.

Time seemed to go so fast for us.  We would talk, play chess, go for walks.  Sometimes we would go for a snack and try to get some decent food in her.  The tragedy was that she had given a special diet and to help fund her drug habits she sold the cans of meal supplements that she was supposed to be drinking that she got from the pharmacy through her disability benefits.  She changed so much about my life.  She didn’t just beat me at chess; she mentored me into being a better player.  She also taught me about books, art, so many things.  Once I convinced her to play chess at the library where the best players in the city went, and she beat so many of the top players no one wanted to play her anymore.  Her mind was so sharp, but as time went on, I could tell her body was failing.

Our time together was meant to be wonderful, but not to last very long.  Maybe we had six months together, perhaps less, I just know I held on to every second we could be together.  It was all meant to end one magical night.  It was late; she knew I liked to get up early and go to the pool, and she came and knocked on my door.  I went and shouted through the door asking who it was, and her soft voice enticed me to open it.  When I did, she was standing looking so incredibly beautiful in a blue negligee that promised a realization of long-sought-after pleasures.  At first, I didn’t understand why she was there. We had never had sex before. I had suspected she had been having sex with her ex who helped her get drugs and so I never tried to make a move on her in that way.  But when I opened the door and saw her standing there, I knew, without any guilt or misunderstanding, what she wanted from me.

“I love you, Scott.” Was all she said.

I took Kirstie by the hand, led her inside my horrible little place, locked the door behind us and slowly undressed her.  It was dark except for some street lights, and when her negligee came off, I could tell that this was a girl who could have been a model, her body was so firm, lovely and curvaceous.  I took off my clothes and despite how changing at the pool made me feel, there was no shame.

“Scott, do you ever think about God and the Bible?” She asked.

“Sometimes.  Why?”  I asked her, not knowing why she would bring such a thing up.

“When I asked my mom, she said that every man and every woman are like Adam and Eve and when they find each other and commit to each other and make love, for the first time in their lives they are whole.”

What followed was the most beautiful night of my life.  She carefully and gently guided me through her favorite positions.  She seemed so focused on creating desire and compassion for me and satisfying my every wish as she did.  After making love many times over and being totally drained of energy and passion, I fell asleep in her loving arms.  When I woke up, she was gone, and I was never to see her again.

 

I found out a few months later what had happened.  Kirstie’s aunt had found her through the help of a private detective and made a huge fuss about how she was living and also seemed to know that she was taking drugs.  It would have been different if she had been treated for her anorexia first, but her aunt insisted that she go to rehab.  She did well, managed to stop using the drugs and seemed to be responding to her treatment, but 20 days into the program she had a heart attack and died. Her body had just not been able to handle the stress of quitting drugs in her diminished state.  For a while, I was full of pain and anger.  I had had this life-changing friendship, this incredible night of lovemaking and it all seemed to be just something that had happened because I was male and by chance lived down the hall from her.  I went back to my lonely life, staying in that tiny place, chasing off bugs and doing what I could to keep down the mice and cockroach populations.  Then I got a letter.

 

 

Dear Mr. Stovell:

 

I have tried to contact you by phone and have been unable to do so.  I am the trustee for the estate of Kirstie Brown.  As you hopefully have been informed, Kirstie has tragically passed away.  She left several letters with me that she intended to write for you.  It was her insistent wish that you be made to understand that Kirstie had a great love for you, and if the course of her life had turned out differently, she would have welcomed the chance to marry you.  She has told me that you were a very kind, intelligent, and caring person and that you meant the world to her.  Please contact me at your earliest convenience, there is also a matter that Kirstie had an inheritance that she was unable to touch due to her health and addictions and the insistence of her surviving family members.  My contact details are below:

 

Jane Mowat

(587)555-2120

#1025 10320 102 Street NW

Edmonton, AB

 

 

Kirstie left me quite a bit of money.  Her parents had been worth a lot, and there had also been a life insurance settlement.  I didn’t want all of it, and I think Kirstie may have agreed.  I took some of the money and bought a condo and paid up my fees for two years.  Just before moving in, I threw out everything I had or gave it to friends in the Montgomery block.  I started life anew in the condo, hoping to spend the rest of my days there in a bug and mouse free environment.  After that, I didn’t see much point in having money.  I kept enough to get me by for about a year, including for myself money to get counseling, and the rest I donated to the psychiatric ward of the University of Alberta Hospital.  I didn’t think to ask for it, but after giving the money, the hospital opened a clinic for treating anorexia and were generous enough to name it after Kirstie.  She lives on in my heart and her love and legacy will last until long after I’m gone.

 

THE END

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