There’s never any warmth in this pathetic jumble of bones and skin.
I shudder inside of the oversized winter jacket my mother sent me, wrapping my hands in my scarf.
“What’dya want?” Violet asks.
I shrug. “Red wine, I guess. Goes pretty well with pasta.”
She nods, tilts her head at the bottles of cheap chili vodka near us, and grabs two. My fingers are so cold it’s hard to wrap them around the necks. I make a mental note to buy another pair of gloves and to not lose them.
We make our way over to the other side of the store, towards the expensive imports with minimalist labels, where Violet can grab the wine. If she’s careful, we’ll be able to get two bottles.
She goes for the most expensive wine in the store—a Rioja with a label proclaiming a price higher than I make in a day at the grocer’s.
I hop from foot to foot, burying my chin further into my scarf as she juggles to not clang the two bottles she’s picking up together.
“You got it?” I ask her, even though I know she does. She nods, tightening her lips.
“We gotta go quick, though,” she says. “They’re heavy.”
I nod. The muscles in her third arm atrophy quickly—even though the rest of her is healthyheartygirl, the arm that craggles from her neck is thin and constantly shaking; sickly looking. The one that snags out of her shoulder blade is even worse. She keeps that one hidden most of the time.
We make our way to the register. The worker is the one we always see on Thursdays—a squirrely boy who has never once commented on the extra bottles we get away with.
I like him. He could be a friend. If things weren’t as they are, at least.
He’s on his phone and doesn’t look up until we set the vodka on the counter. He breathes out through his nose for a while once he sees it’s us. I smile at him, and shiver, stuffing my fingers back into my scarf.
“Hey, Thomas. How are you tonight?”
He doesn’t answer, starting to scan the bottles instead.
“Pretty cold, huh?” Violet kicks my shin and I shut up, watching the last bottle go into the bag.
The kid looks up at my forehead. “Uh,” he says, and flicks his eyes over to the bottles in Violet’s third hand and then back to the register screen. “Uh,” he says again. My smile falters. Violet blinks, then looks out the window.
“Twenty-eight thirty-six,” he mumbles, finally. I bring my smile back, full-force, and hand him a fifty.
His left eye twitches. “This is a fifty,” he says, staring down at the paper. I can feel the skin of my lips pulling at my teeth, sticky with lipstick and dry with the frigid air from the store.
“Oh, sorry,” I say, and gesture towards my eyes. Or, rather, the gaping holes where my eyes would be, had I had any. “It’s difficult to tell them apart.”
He sighs, then grabs the bill with his fingertips. “There’s a sign that says we don’t take anything over a twenty,” he says.
“I’m so sorry,”
“Just this once,” he says, as he’s said every time we’ve been in here and handed him a phony fifty.
My cheeks are hurting. “Thank you so much.”
He hands me my change, and I grab the bag. Violet is already halfway to the door. I’m about to follow when he snags my sleeve and says, “Hey.”
Something close to warmth stirs in me.
I know he knows that I can see. He’s not sure how, but he knows that I can. So I don’t kick myself for glancing down at his fingers, wrapped around the sleeve of my coat, and then looking back and meeting his gaze directly.
He jerks back.
The cold rushes back in. Exhaustion settles over me, suddenly, and I wonder how I am ever able to take a step without sinking to the floor and sleeping for years.
“Um. You guys can’t keep doing this,” he mutters, weakly, looking out at Violet and knocking his knuckles against the counter.
I don’t say anything. When I leave, I make sure the door stays open a little so that the winter winds can rush inside. Violet is down one store, leaning against the brick wall. She straightens up when I reach her.
“You gotta stop talking to him,” Violet says. “Quit humanizing us.”
She’s not wearing a coat and her scarf is knitted loosely. The wind blows around us, swirling in my eye sockets, lifting her hair.
“I don’t want to,” I tell her.
The cold is dragging me down; the snowflakes piling up on my skin a thousand pounds each.
“I know,” she says, softly.
My teeth are chattering. Violet clasps my shoulder and nudges me around, opening my backpack and stuffing the wine inside. She grabs one of the bottles of vodka and unscrews the cap, shoving it at me. I drink just enough to feel some warmth dropping into my stomach and then cap it, stuffing it back into the bag.
We make our way down Murray, ducking between Chanukah setups and Christmas lights. Down under the bridge with the dead pigeon that had been rotting for two months before winter came and froze it. It, too, has no eyes.
Violet pushes past the bus stop, which means another mile out in the wind. It’s so fucking cold I can barely stand it; my hands are blue and my ears ring painfully, my thighs prickling. I pause and huddle against a tree long enough to down some more warmth, and then shove the bag of alcohol at Violet and stuff my hands into my armpits.
We don’t talk as we bow into the wind. I watch the ground, counting my steps, doing my best to visualize the heat in my stomach reaching through my veins to warm the rest of me. It doesn’t work. All it does is make me aware of how weighted my limbs are. How exhausted I am.
Violet is far ahead of me. I struggle to catch up, struggle to stay upright, struggle to imagine the end to this.
We make it to our apartment. Violet waits for me at the bottom of the stairs, letting me go up first.
It’s cold up here, even in the entry. The winter has invaded all the way. I shut and latch our door behind us, and then the faint smell of burning that comes whenever our radiators are on replaces the bloody smell of chill and I can breathe again without it hurting. I lean against the door, allow myself a moment to regain enough strength to walk across the room.
Violet tosses the bags onto the table and makes her way to the bathroom, unwinding her scarf. I keep my coat on and fall into one of the chairs at the table next to the hissing radiator, placing my hands on the metal, relief flooding me, an ease settling into my bones almost instantly. I watch as the blue fades from my fingernails, and then close my eyes, listening to the toilet flush and the shower start up. She’ll be in there a while.
I inch closer to the heater and wait a few more minutes before getting up and making my way towards the bedroom. The neighbors above us are shouting at each other again and the dogs next door are barking.
In the bathroom, Violet starts to sing loudly.
I can crawl into bed and crank the electric blanket up to ten. I can sleep for a little bit. Violet will wake me up once she’s done.
And then I’ll start the pasta. She’ll pour the wine, and we will have a warm Thursday night in, sheltered from the cold, tasting expensive Spanish earth.
#MadelineMcConnell #Prose #20172018