by Neal Steichen
He sat on the couch with his legs kicked up, his pillow supporting his arm, simply staring at the hole in the wall. The room was much quieter now. The only real sound was the hanging buzz of a fly bouncing against one of the working ceiling lights. The air was occasionally punctuated by the German Shepard in 317.
The hole in the wall was only a bit bigger than his fist. It was a poor choice. The cheap plaster concaved when he punched through. He only felt remnants of pain in his hand—more like random nerve pulses around his knuckles—as they twitched and went limp. The small kit he usually hid under the bed was splayed out. With the belt around his arm loosening, he couldn’t feel much of anything except for a small sense of sympathy for the hole.
She had left a pair of shoes, though. Nothing impressive. Two little brown chunks of false leather and plastic. They were coming apart at the bottom, the stitches unraveling. They were to the left of the hole in the wall, teasing him out of the corner of his eye. They rested against the wall, almost in a little teepee, one pointed up and resting on the other.
He looked away from the hole in the wall and saw a drop of blood on his pillow. There was a thin, watered-down line that traced the bend of his elbow. He went to the sink, gently falling forward rather than walking. He grabbed a dishcloth from the sink and ran it under cold water. His hands lingered, enjoying the sensation and the sound that drowned the out the emptiness. Turning the water mostly off, he walked with heavy feet back to the couch.
He could hear his mother’s voice in his head, telling him to blot and not wipe to get the blood out before it became a stain. He tried, bending awkwardly at the waist, hands like slabs of uncooked steak. He failed and smeared it, gracefully though, as the spot mixed into the fabric to make a brown tinted patch. It felt permanent now. He let the cloth fall out of his hands and onto the floor as he took his position back on the couch.
The German Sheppard barked.
He felt his eyes close. He was not sure if he was blinking or sleeping, but he was roused by a knock at the door. He waited to see if it was his imagination or just mishearing the German Sheppard, but the knock repeated. He rolled off the couch and made it to his feet, shambling towards the door. He left the chain on, but open it a few inches.
It was his landlord. He couldn’t quite see all of her face. It was backlit by 1960s sconces covered in not-always-yellow glass. Her slippered foot tapped on the unfinished hardwood hallway. She said that he was late last month by a few days, which was true, and wanted to remind him that she wouldn’t hesitate to put him out on his ass next week if he forgot again or was short. He wasn’t sure if that was true, but he nodded and mumbled, closing the door when it seemed like she didn’t have anything left to say.
He didn’t mention the hole in the wall. He could fix it himself, maybe. That would cut into his rent money. He didn’t have anything set aside, except some reserved funds for necessities. He could always take some of his stuff to the thrift store or pawnshop, get some cash up front.
He picked up the milk crate that used to act as his bedside table when he had a bed frame. He went around the apartment, picking up whatever he could live without that may fetch a fair price. A radio clock. A large pot. A box of four, new light bulbs he never got around to installing.
He found himself back at the hole in the wall. Looking past the blackness, he could see a rim of cracked yellow paint underneath the eggshell overcoat and on top of the plaster. He looked away, not wanting to get preoccupied with the inside contents of his walls, as grotesque and intriguing as the likely were. Instead, his eyes drifted back down and to the left, onto the broken leather shoes.
They were probably not worth anything. She had them for what seemed like ages. He first saw them when they went to the movies, he legs kicked up on the safety rail in front of them. Whenever she visited, she kicked them off hard, but they always seemed to fall together gracefully. If he looked hard, he could see where the fabric had tightly warped around her feet.
He set the crate down on the floor and fell back onto the couch. He rolled in and out of wakefulness. When his eyes were open, he felt them rotate around the room. The hole in the wall. To the fly in the ceiling lights. To the hole in the wall. To the shoes. To the crate. To the hole in the wall. The German Sheppard barked. To the stained pillow. To the belt and needle. To the shoes. To the hole in his wall.
His hand walked up his arm and to the crook of his elbow, prodding gently.
He needed more money. He needed to fill the hole.
He looked to the window. It was still daylight.
He stood and walked to the door, bending down to pick up the milk crate. He stood up, breathed, and bent down again. He grabbed the brown leather shoes by their hanging heels and dropped them into the crate, and he went down to the street. He regretted grabbing the shoes, but his feet kept falling.
Photo by Ville Miettinen
Neal Steichen is a fiction writer, editor, and teacher living in Chicago. Currently studying as an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago, he finds himself drawn to writing about the darker sides of humanity. Whether it is the hubris of technology or the enticement of the mystical and unknown, Neal seeks to unravel truths about people and their capabilities. You can follow him on Twitter at @neal_steichen.