There was no sleep again. The neighbors were howling at something on television, and the high, foreign notes of their voices pierced the wall between the apartments and drove him outside. He sat on the brick wall next to the sidewalk. The terrible heat of the day was still with him. Even in these late hours, the pavement seemed to radiate heat. At the end of the street, the night was rolling downhill towards morning. Cars pulled away from the curb, lights went out, the buses stopped coming by. This heat would never end. His apartment was small, peeling paint on the ceiling and rusted screens in the windows. His car was totaled, sitting twisted in a dealer’s junk lot. He would return to work in the morning and discover how things had changed in the months since he’d been gone. The traffic lights far down the block blinked green, yellow, red. His apartment was small and empty and his bed was too large. So heÕd come outside.
He stared at his shadow on the sidewalk for hours, was finally broken out of it by a twitch in his foot. The street was bare, like a freshly-swept floor. He could hear crickets in the bushes around the building. The moon was a blurry, yellow arc near the horizon. No one had come down the street all night. A motorcycle, maybe, buzzing by, running the light at the corner. Maybe. His stomach growled and the edge of the wall creased the backs of his legs. He stood up and shook the needles out. He had one greasy dollar bill in his pocket. The store on the other side of the block would be open.
He walked down the alley behind the apartments. All the windows in the building were dark, save for one on the first floor. There were no crickets in the alleyway. He’d never park his car there again because he’d never have a car again. He would have to walk or ride the bus or train for the rest of his life. His legs would hurt forever.
He glanced over his shoulder at the lit window. A woman knelt on a high bed inside, her arms stretched out to the headboard. She had short, dark hair, cropped close like a boy’s. He turned around and moved closer to the building. His feet scratched gravel against the pavement. The window was open. She was wearing a green tee-shirt, and underwear that was black and pink and orange and blue, garish against her skin. He thought of jungles and bright birds. Her lips moved, speaking through a smile. A hand moved up her leg and slid beneath the tropical underwear. No, he thought. No, no, no. It can’t be. I’m not this lucky.
The window was open but he moved closer anyway. A short brick wall separated the building’s lot from the alley. He stood on it and leaned lightly against a utility pole set in the ground next to it. Beneath her, between her legs, was a body, long and naked and dark brown, head buried deep in a stack of pillows.
Oh you lucky bastard, he thought. You’re smiling under there. A streetlight at the end of the alley threw his shadow against the building. His head skimmed the bottom of the windowsill. Brown fingers pulled the underwear away from her, down her legs. She shifted, lowering her body, her lips always moving, spelling out long, slow words he couldn’t hear but understood, her eyes fixed somewhere down in the pillows, her arms still holding her slightly above.
A gift, he thought. It is always a gift. He remembered being awake other nights until the late hours, the smell of skin, streetlight through the windows. The back seat of his car. He closed his eyes. The pole against his back was studded with hundreds of staples and bent nails, tacks and twists of wire. Advertising ripped away by wind and rain, by the next event. He popped a staple from the wood with his fingernail, opened his eyes.
Between the wall and the window was a long, black truck in its parking space. The roof was polished and reflected the yellow lamplight inside. He looked up. She straightened and touched the bottom of her shirt. A pause, and then she swept the shirt off and dropped it. She stretched her arms high above her head. The other’s dark hands slowly moved up her stomach and chest, then down her sides, fingers spread. She smiled, mouth open wide, rolled her head with her eyes closed, leaned forward again.
He could faintly hear music, rhythmic, chiming. It would come to no good, this sleeplessness. No one ever came back. Inside, the woman raised her hips. He turned away from the window and wrapped his arms around the utility pole, looked back over his shoulder to see her press herself against the other body. The music grew louder and louder. The staples and nails bit his skin.