A Necessary Houseguest
The night was peaceful and cold. It was dead center in the middle of winter and it felt like it. It did not snow much in the area where Jolanda Luciano lived, but it was not like she would be able to tell or care with the state that she was currently in.
She came stumbling down the street, brain addled by at least three boilermakers. At least she thought it was three, having lost count at around four. She would've stayed longer but the situation had become less than favorable towards her after the barkeep had threatened to call the police if she did not leave. This was the seventh time this month that she had to drag herself home after a night at the bar. It was starting to become an issue for her with the neighbors. Whether they noticed her walking down the street at night swaying to and fro like a busted metronome or perhaps heard her futile attempts to climb the stairs, almost all of them knew.
One kindly old man that lived one floor under Jolanda, Mr. Abernathy, had been the only one who ever tried to do anything about it. Every morning he saw her with her shades on whether it was cloudy or not, he asked if she was alright. She always thanked him and said that she was fine even if she did have a headache that felt as if it had been given to her by Paul Bunyan's axe. A few times he had even driven her home if he happened to be out at night.
As Jolanda fumbled with her keys, trying in earnest to figure out which door led to her own apartment, she thought about kind old Mr. Abernathy. She had never been very friendly with him in spite of his kindness towards her. She had always been just barely courteous as if he were simply a stranger she would meet only once in an elevator. Perhaps it was the three or seven drinks sloshing around in her head or her own guilt creeping up on her, but she resolved to be as friendly to him as he was to her from now on.
Finally after what felt like hours, she found the door that led to own apartment and the key that unlocked it. It was none too soon as well. Her legs were beginning to decide to stop working under the weight of the liter of alcohol in her brain. She collapsed almost as soon as she entered her home, not able to notice the kindly old man sitting on her couch.
Jolanda awoke to what she guessed was morning to the worst headache that she had had in weeks. She turned over as the light from her blinds streamed straight into her eyes, intensifying the pain. As she turned over, she realized that she had been tucked into her bed. She couldn't be bothered with remembering how she had gotten into her bed at the moment. All of her mental faculties were preoccupied with the cleaver embedded in her skull.
“Here. Drink this.”
She heard the voice and saw a glass of some fizzy liquid being held out in front of her. She took it and drained the glass in one gulp, dimly aware that it must have been some kind of effervescent. She dropped the glass and closed her eyes again.
A few minutes later her eyes flew open. Mr. Abernathy was standing there, a mixture of pity and disdain creasing his already wrinkled face. Jolanda jumped backwards, pressing her body against the wall with her blanket wrapped around her, her headache forgotten. “What the fuck are you doing here!?” she screamed.
He reached down to pick up the glass that she had dropped. “There's no need to cover yourself up,” he said, examining the glass to make sure that it hadn't broken. “You have all of your clothes on.”
She realized this, but for some reason kept the blanket around her. There was something about having an uninvited guest in one's home that made one feel violated all the same. Her shock had begun to turn to anger. “I asked you what the fuck you're doing in my house. Answer me, you goddamn creep!”
“I wanted to speak to you last night,” he explained. “But then you passed out as soon as you got here. So, I took you to bed and stayed to make sure that you didn't vomit all over herself.”
Jolanda cast her mind back and became dimly aware of waking up to puke into the toilet. Someone had been there to hold her hair back. She reddened slightly and lowered the blanket. “Oh...thanks,” she apologized. Then she remembered that he was still here uninvited. “But that still doesn't explain how you got in here.”
Mr. Abernathy held up his own set of keys, lifting up one that was identical to Jolanda's own. “You gave me a spare to your house, remember?” Jolanda did not remember that, but she would not be surprised if she had or that she had forgotten. Her memory had gotten considerably worse since she had developed a drinking problem. He put the keys back into his pocket. “It's a good thing too. You were in the worst state I had ever seen you in last night, and that's impressive.”
Although he had used the word “impressive”, there was no hint of admiration in Mr. Abernathy's voice. Jolanda had not expected there to be any anyway; she was ashamed of herself as well. A deafening silence passed before she decided to break it. “I need to wash up.”
Mr. Abernathy nodded. “You look like shit,” he pointed out without any amusement.
“That's just what a woman likes to hear,” she commented dryly, crawling out of bed.
“I put some clothes out for you in the bathroom,” he said.
Jolanda raised her eyebrows. “You went through my drawers!?”
“Yes,” he said, as if not understanding why she would be upset about this. “I'd rather not have to see you naked when you come out of the bathroom.”
Jolanda was about to say “What's wrong with seeing me naked” but then she realized that would mean convincing an old man that she was sexy and for some reason she did not want to go down that path of conversation. She nodded instead and walked into the bathroom and shut the door, locking it just to be safe.
She looked at herself in the mirror. She did look like shit, she realized. Her long, brown hair was messed and frayed as if she had spent the night waiting for a bolt of lightning to bring her monster to life. There were bags under her scarlet eyes even though she had gotten a good night's rest. Her unusually but naturally red lips were chapped and beginning to split after having been out in the cold with no chapstick all night. Her clothes were soiled with a distinct smell seeing as how she had spent all yesterday in them and had slept in them as well. She needed to do something to change her life. It had gone downhill after the accident last year, but what could she do?
She sighed and removed her clothes. She turned the water on as hot it would go and stepped into the shower. The heat felt incredible to her. It was almost like her problems were being melted away along with the previous day's dirt and grime. If only she could stay underneath the showerhead being pelted with the intensely hot water forever. But that was stupid. Eventually she would have to step out of the shower, put on her clothes and step out into the world to face it once again. That is how it had to be and that is how it was always going to be.
After washing herself clean, she reluctantly turned off the water and stepped out of the shower to dry off. She looked at the clothes that Mr. Abernathy had picked out for her, cringing at the fact that a bra and pair of panties were there as well. He had picked pretty well, not that her wardrobe varied that much. It was a shirt depicting her favorite internet personality's logo, a large white “M” with a pink mustache on top of it. Along with that was a black fleece hoodie with a pair of blue jeans. Her favorite black boots and a pair of socks were there too. Invasions of privacy aside, he had been paying enough attention to her to know exactly how she dressed. She paused, the thought lingering in her head.
Jolanda had always thought of Mr. Abernathy as just a friendly, old man. The kindness that he displayed towards her was just that of a neighbor doing neighborly things. But in the past day he had come into her apartment without asking, watched her sleep all night and rummaged through her drawers for clothes because he knew the kinds of things she wore. She had never considered it before, but could it be that Mr. Abernathy had been stalking her this entire time? Now that the ax had been removed from her skull, it all seemed so obvious. She put on the clothes that been laid out for her and opened the door slowly.
Immediately, the mixed scents of a delicious breakfast swirled all around Jolanda. She could smell pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausages coming from the kitchen. It had been quite a long time since she had had a homecooked meal; she never had the energy or patience for traditional cooking these days. She usually stuck to ramen noodles or microwave dinners. Then she began to wonder where Mr. Abernathy had gotten all of those ingredients. She certainly didn't have all of these things in her own refrigerator.
“I brought some things from home,” Mr. Abernathy suddenly said, as if knowing what she was thinking. “I hope you don't mind.”
Jolanda's eyes widened. How did he know that she had come out of the bathroom? She was still outside of the bathroom door which was not at all visible from the kitchen. She walked up to the kitchen counter where she could get a view of him. His back was turned as he was still frying up bacon. There was no way that he saw or heard her. Wary, she answered, “No...no, I don't mind.”
“It's not a good idea to go out on an empty stomach,” Mr. Abernathy advised. He lifted the bacon strips on the pan onto a plate to rest with the others he had already cooked. “And you emptied the entire contents of yours last night.”
Jolanda felt her stomach. She suddenly became aware of how hungry she was. She looked back at her room. Her phone was in there.
Once again, Mr. Abernathy seemed to know what she was thinking. He wiped off his hands with a cloth and turned around. His face which had been hard all day, softened. He still was not smiling but he looked comforting in a way. “I am not a dangerous person, Jolanda,” he assured her. “I have no intention of doing any harm to you. After all you seem perfectly capable of doing that to yourself.”
Jolanda started, suddenly taken aback by this snide comment. It came so far out of nowhere, she had no response to it. After a few seconds, she found her voice again. “What the hell did you just say to me?” she asked in disbelief.
Mr. Abernathy left the kitchen holding two plates in his hand. One held a stack of three pancakes while the other held two eggs, half of a sausage and several strips of bacon. “Now now,” he said disarmingly. “There's no need to get angry. I am only speaking the truth.”
It's amazing how this did not get Jolanda to calm down. She slapped the plates out of Mr. Abernathy's hand. They flew across the room and shattered against a wall, splattering their contents on it and allowing them to slide to the floor. Her eyes were blazing. “You come into my house without asking, watch me as I sleep and go through my stuff,” she began pointing daggers at him with both her finger and eyes. “And then you have the audacity criticize the way I live my life!?” He held her face inches away from his. “Fuck. You.”
Mr. Abernathy did not seem fazed in the least. He did not even back his face away. “The fact remains, young lady,” he began, placing special emphasis on “young lady”, “you are going down a path of self-destruction. If you keep treating yourself this way, you will not be long for this world.”
Jolanda was fuming now. She was nearly as hot as the stove. If she weren't being blinded by rage at the moment, she would have realized that Mr. Abernathy was voicing the thoughts that she herself had had in the bathroom earlier. However, she could not be bothered with “reason” for right now. “What business do you have telling me how to live my life?” she yelled at him. “It's mine to do with as I want!”
Mr. Abernathy suddenly looked sad. His expression fell and his face looked even more creased with age than it had before. A long silence hung in the air between them. Finally after what felt like hours, he broke it. “I'm...I'm sorry,” he said, struggling to get the words. “I...forgot my place.”
Jolanda was surprised that he had relented so soon. “Well...” she said, trailing off, not ready to offer forgiveness.
“I just thought that...” Mr. Abernathy said, looking down. He paused. “I'd try and help someone for once.”
Jolanda immediately felt guilty, in spite of the fact that Mr. Abernathy had come into her home without asking to start with. “Well...thank you for looking after me,” she thanked. “And for...uhh...” She looked at the pile of what was her breakfast that was now decorating the molding.
Mr. Abernathy smiled slightly. “There's more in the kitchen,” he said. His smiled faded and he sighed. “I suppose I should leave now.” He turned for the door and opened it.
“Goodbye, Mr. Abernathy.” Jolanda waved.
“Call me Michael,” he answered. Jolanda had never known his first name until now. He stopped at the threshold for a while. It looked like he wanted to say something else.
“What's wrong?” Jolanda asked.
A long moment passed. “Jolanda Luciano, please think about what I said. If not for yourself, then for the memory of your son.”
Jolanda's mouth fell open. She had never told anyone here that she had had a son, not even Michael Abernathy. She could not even speak for being so shocked, but Michael continued to talk and prevented her from responding anyway. “Remember what that path of self-destruction did for him. If you do not stop yourself...” He trailed off. He began again with a new train of thought. “When you are ready to speak again, I will be at my home. Have pleasant day, Jolanda.” He closed the door behind him, leaving a very stunned Jolanda standing in her living room looking like a cat that had been caught in the headlights.