I stared down at it through my window. Blurs of red and white sped by, drivers and passengers headed somewhere else. I started to wonder where all of these blobs and faceless humans were going. To sit dejectedly at a filthy club somewhere, wondering where they went wrong? To celebrate whatever miniscule victory recently occurred in their mediocre lives? Wherever they were going, I quickly realized it doesn’t make a difference. No matter where they were headed, they would leave it eventually, whether they adored it or it made them retch.
Pedestrians of all sizes, shapes, and classes glided along the sidewalks: fat businessmen in suits, fit yoga instructors, awkward teenagers who reminded me of a not-so-distant self. Some of them were alone, but most were together, their voices loud and declarative as they communicated in their own, invented languages. I couldn’t decide if they were drunk or just happy.
I’ve heard some say that this is the epitome of beauty: the lights, twinkling like multi-colored stars across the cityscape, the magical taste of the night air, the solidity of the concrete as it presses against the soles of your shoes. They say it emits a feeling like no other; one that flickers in the pit of your stomach, darting back and forth with excitement and anticipation.
I would’ve said that was bullshit.
We’d been there for three months at that point. Three grueling months of sirens keeping me up at night, covering my mouth as I passed reeking manhole covers, and having to say, “No thanks, man,” to a drug dealer every time I passed an alleyway. I wanted nothing more than to be back in suburbia — no matter how much I dissed it while I was there. I took those quaint, quiet nights for granted, not realizing just how relaxing “boring” could be. I even found a way to miss the acrid smell of cut grass and pine trees that set my allergies on fire.
I’m not even sure if it was actually the city that pissed me off. I just really wanted to go home. But I knew that wasn’t a possibility anymore. I was stuck here until I could figure a way out. I could run, but I would have nowhere to go. Besides, I was already running, uprooted from my home and forced to hide out in this shithole of a city. Doesn’t it cancel itself out at some point? Even so, I couldn’t survive on my own. I knew that much. So, there I was. Trapped in my own escape.
As I growled in disgust at the thought, I heard the front door open and close. Everything moaned and creaked in that goddamn apartment.
“Zachary?” Phoebe’s voice rang out.
I sighed. What does she want now? “Yeah?”
“Yeah?” I repeated, giving my voice an agitated lilt.
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered, going out to the main area. I surveyed the open foyer, containing all to be found in the glorious grime that was our apartment. The living room was nothing but a loveseat that had a putrid stink – something like spoiled milk – and looked like it had contracted the chicken pox, dozens of crusty, darkened stains littering its cushions. The dining room was really just an arbitrarily placed dining set that was begging to be put out of its misery, the metal legs of the chairs and table dented and rusting. The kitchen had what looked like the filth of a thousand tenants, its crevices caked with mold and food residue, and was unbelievably cramped onto the left side of the open space. I still question how we ever lived in that hellhole; my mom would have sobbed at the sight of it.
Phoebe was unpacking sorry-looking groceries from plastic bags, her back toward me. I watched her transfer already-wilting lettuce, bulk orange juice, and a package of “family size” chicken tenders with a large “INSTANT REBATE” sticker on it from the bags to the refrigerator. Her chestnut hair, pulled up in a ponytail, was starting to come loose, wisps of it dancing around her head and face like the branches of a willow tree. She wasn’t much older than I was, yet, somehow, she had grown so much more than I had. She was the mature one, the caretaker, the rock. I started noticing lines forming on her forehead about a month after we moved. Worry lines, my mother used to call them. I always thought it was just a euphemism for wrinkling skin, but maybe she was right. Phoebe always did worry about everything, especially me. After moving there, though, I noticed our dynamic falling apart. What were we, anyway? Siblings? Best friends? People mistook us for a couple more often than I would like to admit. Whatever we were, I felt us pulling away from one another. It was my fault, really. I wanted to be left alone, and she refused my wishes. She just wanted me to be cared for.