the night before

It was getting dark by the time Delilah pulled to the curb out front of Bill’s apartment. A shoddy ground floor on a side street tenement that had seen better days.

As ever his door was wide open. Leaking an apron of light onto the uneven pavement. On either side of the door a square window, both broken and barred and dark. Between door and window on the right a folding chair and a coffee tin ashtray. The wall a muddy sea of layers of paint doing little to hide the blurred trace of past taggings.

Delilah closed her eyes in visible relief. She had arrived. A long tense day was behind her.

She drew a sharp breath and shook her arms. Turned on the interior light. Looked at herself in the rearview. Pulled straggled hair from forehead, rolled lips together, nodded.

On the passenger seat her purse, a bag of groceries, and bottle of cheap whisky. She bagged the bottle. Sashed her purse. Turned out the light.

Darkness carried her to the door.

Bill was in the back corner of the room, hunched over his desk, fastidiously scribbling away. He wore a night blue bathrobe and a grey knit skullcap, loose above big ears with foam earplugs in them.

Delilah didn’t announce her arrival. Instead she put the bag of groceries on the bed and stood there in the doorway. Looking at the oddity of the space. Like she wanted to etch it into her memory. How the bed, right at her feet, took up the majority of the room and was neatly made. To her right his prized wall of books. Hundreds upon hundreds. Shelf after shelf. An organized chaos. From floor to ceiling. The dodgy narrows between books and bed. Bill at his desk. A lonely figure scratching the remnants of his sanity onto unlined pieces of loose paper, piles of which threatened to overwhelm his corner sanctuary. Straight ahead the cluttered hallway to the hallway of a kitchen. The recliner on the other side of the bed. Within arm’s reach of small bedside table holding a pullchain lamp and dozens of empty bottles. And finally the wall to her left. Papered in a mesmerizing pattern of vaguely diamond-shaped velvety flourishes.

She might’ve stayed lost in those velvet diamonds had Bill not rustled from his scribbling. He used the desk now to help him to his feet.

Once standing, he patted at the pockets of his robe. His small hands feverishly darting and noticeably quivering. Until they suddenly stopped. He shifted his stooped stance. His head slowly came around. Then stopped. His hands flustered among the papers on his desk. Came up with a pair of glasses he put on with both hands. Finally he removed his earplugs and turned to face her.

Ah. My dulcet delight. Too rare a treat. Too rare.

Delilah smiled.

He was not a pleasant man to look at—short and pudgy, soft, grizzled, ungainly. Beneath his robe a stained undershirt and oversized sweatpants.

I trust you didn’t come to quiet the urges.

No. Those are well past. Well and truly. Thanks to you.

He smiled and looked down thoughtfully. Then over to the bag of groceries.

What you got there?

Fixins for dinner. And—

She pulled the bottle of whisky from the bag.

I do indeed like your visits.

Bill pocketed his glasses and shuffled outside for smoke.

Delilah made them dinner. They ate in the kitchen, standing. There was little conversation, though she did mention that she didn’t want to be leaving without seeing him.

Beyond that there was nothing to say. They had a tacit understanding that she would spend the night. He would wait until she was asleep before opening his bottle. She would wake early, alone in the big bed. The door would be closed. Light would be coming from the kitchen. Bill would be passed out on his recliner, wrapped in a thin blanket, clutching what was left of the whisky. Her clothes would be folded at the foot of the bed. On her clothes would be an envelop. She would think twice about taking it.

But this time she wouldn’t need his money. The long part of yesterday had taken care of that.

So it was that at first light Delilah started out for Bridge Farm. Tomorrow had come. Clean and fresh.

 

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