content warning: abusive relationships
When the tiny rays of light were desperately grasping at the sky, when almost all the lights in the city beyond had turned black—that was when he came alive. His wine-stained teeth, the colour of dried blood caked into the crevices, would start to quiver as finally his lips moved at a rapid pace. At last, I would think. At last he is here. Here was the version of the man I liked and knew: interesting, articulate, prone to philosophical rants about metaphysics. He shone so much brighter than the version of himself with clean teeth—the version that only appeared when the sun was up, when the sky was too blue and bright—timid, uncertain, unwilling to express much more than the occasional nod by way of emotion.
I don’t know what drew me to him. Maybe it was because he was smart in ways that I wasn’t, and a few years older, and so completely unlike anyone I had ever met. I might never have met him if we hadn’t lived in the same building. He was funny: witty funny, laugh-out-loud-and-snort-with-laughter funny, but only in private when his teeth were stained from wine as we watched the sunrise from his window on the 20th floor. Sometimes when we were with his friends he was funny, but that was after three pitchers of beer, when the bar floors were sticky. As everyone else’s words began to slur and grow fuzzy, his would grow sharp.
In the daylight, we didn’t talk. He avoided me. He didn’t know how to talk to me without a glass in his hand. I don’t know what the view looked like from the 20th floor under blue skies. He would message me after his first glass in the evening, still not quite the version of himself that he would become a bottle later, but loosened up enough to ask for my presence. I probably should have known then that the bottle wouldn’t just make him funnier and louder and more confident.
I probably should have foreseen that after the first bottle, his hand would start reaching for the stapler, or the lamp, or the phone—knuckles white, hand shaking—as his wine-emboldened voice told me to get out or else. I don’t remember fighting. I just remember feeling utterly bewildered as we went from one moment chatting calmly and looking at the view of the sunrise to another where I was running out the door, wondering if the stapler might make contact with my head once my back was turned.
I’m glad I didn’t stay. We never really talked about why. Sometimes, after it was all over, I found myself back on the 20th floor. I would stand in the doorway with a million unasked questions—but then I would turn around and take the elevator back down to my apartment on the 5th floor. His door remained un–knocked upon and my questions all unanswered. Then I stopped going to the 20th floor entirely.
After I moved out of the building, I would look up to the 20th floor every time I walked past. I would think about how happy I was that I never found out what the view looked like from that window over the city when the sky was blue. A few years later, they built a new, taller building right in front of his window, so I suppose that view is gone. No one else will ever see the way the lights twinkled just so when the sun was coming up, glinting on his teeth stained the colour of dried blood.
these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the art of Marcin Wolski
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