When you first came calling for me, you knocked softly on the front door and if it sounded at all, it was a mere whisper that may have been heard on the ground floor but would never have echoed through the hallways and reached up to my apartment.
The doorbells could never be relied upon, so I guess that gentle ‘tap, tapping’ was an indication of your initial ambivalence, as though even then you wondered about the wisdom of being with me.
After a while you knocked loud and grew bolder, and banged on that door until a shudder went all through the house, and everyone knew you had come a calling.
Boy I liked that. I used to swagger down the stairs; careful to see who else had come out onto the landing to watch me leave with you, and maybe smile, maybe just stand there, arms folded in the half dark of the hallway, staring at our backs as we left.
I wanted them to want to be us so very badly.
One time, as I reached the bottom of the stairway I heard a whispered warning from the shadows.
"Take care, girl."
She was an old woman, with wisps of white hair that made an unruly frame around her head, like an oddly shaped halo. She wore glasses with frames too large for her tiny face, and thick lenses that distorted her eyes, making them huge. They were 'swimmy' like old people get, though they were still a bright, cornflower blue.
She stood there a moment, said nothing more, blinked a few times as we faced each other, and then turned back into her apartment, shutting the door hard behind her.
Would I have stopped and listened? Sure I would! Even then, in my fire years, I was polite and cheerful in my nature, though truth be told, I had no concern for danger, or a life of misery, or anything untoward. So I listened, then dismissed her warning, and went about my business, thinking her typical of the old, the out of touch, unable even to recall the carefree days of their youth.
Secretly I wondered as to her sanity; as to whether she had begun the kind of tragic decline that would, in time, leave her unable to remember her own name. I pondered her strange appearance in the hallway, thinking that perhaps it was an early indication of things to come.
So, I left with you that day, and again and then again on subsequent days, hanging on your arm and onto every clever, funny word that tripped off your tongue.
Later I would close the door softly as I left your apartment, after that salty tongue had snaked its way around my mouth and down the length of my body. I would shudder remembering how it had slowly made its way to the place from where all of my existence sprang, from where the heat of me lay simmering.
That tongue had licked and flicked at my reddening, swelling heat, until I had boiled over, spilling like the sticky juice of a sweet, late summer plum.
Leaving you sprawled in the creased sheets, snoring lightly, I would smile at our secrets, and carry them carefully, all the way home to my own bed which waited empty, it’s sheets cool.
I rarely saw the old woman after that day. Perhaps from time to time I would catch a glimpse of her, entering her apartment or leaving by the front hallway, but she never spoke to me again or came to her door when I banged down the stairs in reply to your knock.
I had no time for her anyway, for I could give little thought to those who were not like me, with my urgent need to live, to exist only in the moment, to ride and then ride again on the high rollers.
The summer wore on, and a sudden blistering heat made the hallways smell bad. It was as though the years of boiling and stewing, roasting and frying, on all the stoves in those tiny apartments had created one god almighty smell that sweated through the walls and hung stinking in the air, leaving a stain on the shabby, peeling paper.
Nobody left their apartments much then; to go about their daily business or visit friends for mid day lunches or meet for cocktails before a theatre show, or a late supper. They lay helpless on their beds in dark shuttered rooms, waiting it out, waiting for the big warm drops of rain to fall and cool the sticky air.
Others, too impatient, left the city and headed for the coast with its sea breezes and big hotel rooms with double doors that opened onto balconies overlooking the ocean.
As time went by you called less and less often, and eventually I too lay on sweat creased sheets, tossing and turning, the fire in my belly unstoked, and a terrible dread in my heart.
When after two weeks, you did not call at all, I began not to eat, but to drink instead. Endless glass, after endless glass, of clear cold water, no ice, whilst I listened to the hum of the refrigerator and watched the flies dance a listless, doomed tango around the broken ceiling fan.
The old woman’s words ran over and over in my head.
'Take care, girl.'
Each time I closed my eyes I saw her own once again. They were still cornflower blue, but this time I recognised the grief that lay deep within them, and realised that her words that day had been a warning to the girl she had once been, even though it had come too late for both of us.
Finally, my eyes were open and I understood.
Some weeks after that I packed up my things and left the faded, forlorn apartment building. I made my way to a small town nearby to stay with a friend, for company and to recover my senses, before I headed for the wider roads of the West Coast.
I did not return to the city.