Lancaster

by Carol Deminski
He woke up in Lancaster next to a girl with pink hair. He watched her sleep; she couldn’t have been more than twenty five. He judged by the fact that they were both dressed that nothing had happened.

He stood up and looked around for the bathroom. He made his way through the kitchen, past a sink full of dirty dishes and an old fashioned stove from the 1940’s, and found another door. When he opened it the smell of turpentine hit him.

There were coffee cans with brushes submerged in grey liquid, tubes of oil paint, and bottles of linseed oil which all sat in a claw foot tub. A pink plastic shower curtain with half of its rings missing hung limply alongside.

He unzipped and waited for release. As his stream began there was a knock on the door. Before he could say anything the girl came in and sat down on the edge of the tub.

“What a night. There was no way you were driving home.” She examined her hair in the antique mirror over the sink. She retrieved two black bands from a dish nearby and put stubby pigtails in her hair.

He tried to ignore her.

“Hey, do you want some coffee? I’m dying for some,” she said.

“Okay.” He re-zipped and flushed.

“There’s a place a few doors down; how do you take it?”

“Black, two sugars.”

He watched her from the bathroom mirror as she stepped onto the stair landing and closed the apartment door behind her. He washed his face and rinsed off the soap. He felt the overnight stubble that covered the hollows of his cheeks and wondered if he should leave before she returned.

* * *

She came back looking perkier. “Here you go.”

She sat a brown paper cup with a white plastic lid on the kitchen table.

“So, are you going to sit for me?” she said. She twirled one of her pigtails round and round her finger.

“I was going to head back to Philly.”

She looked hurt. “But you promised me you would last night. Remember?”

“No.”

He imagined how the anger would rise in her; he waited for it.

Instead she laughed. “Well, you shouldn’t have taken two pills. I told you one was enough.”

“I haven’t done that sort of thing in a long time.” He sat down across from her and took the lid off his coffee and took a sip. It was sweet.

“Yeah, you look grey,” she said.

“I'll bet. What time is it?”

“Nearly eleven.”

She walked over to the kitchen cabinet. When she opened it, instead of plates she had sketchbooks, pencils and a camera. She took the camera down and wiped the lens with her t-shirt. She pointed it at him.

The flash went off and a bolt of pain erupted behind his eyes.

“Damn it!” He closed his eyes and held his hand over them.

“Sorry, I just wanted to take your picture, something to remember you by.”

“Yeah, well don’t. My head is splitting. Bright lights don’t help.”

She put the camera on the table and went back to the cabinet. She took out a sketch book and a pencil.

“C’mon, you can lie down. We don’t need to do anything; I just want to draw you.”

She took his hand and he allowed himself to be led back to the bedroom. Her hand was so small in his. She pulled back the covers and he climbed in and put his head on the pillow. She leaned over him and kissed him on the cheek. He closed his eyes.

He thought about Maxie and the nights when she'd stay at his place. He'd tuck her into bed, and she'd say, Daddy, why can't you live with me and mommy anymore?

* * *

When he opened his eyes the sun was setting. He got up and padded into the empty kitchen. He found his boots on one of the chairs and a note under his coffee cup.

‘Thanks for letting me sketch you. Take care, Megan.’

The pages on the table surprised him. The pink haired girl had drawn faces he hardly recognized as his own. In one he was an angelic sleeping child. Another showed him near-death, a skeleton with sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. In the final sketch she created a better vision of his current self with calm radiating from his eyes.

He stood for a few moments and considered his better self staring back at him; he wondered what kind of life he had led and how different it must have been from his own. He wondered if his better self had stayed with Gloria and Maxie, and hadn't become half a drunk like his father. He wanted to believe that this other self was capable of that kind of devotion.

He laced up his boots and put on his leather jacket. The kitchen walls were covered with paintings. The colors on the canvases were vibrant in a way that he was not. He felt clumsy in these small rooms filled with art made by small hands.

He picked up a pen, turned her note over, and wrote, ‘The sketches are great. I want to see you again.’ He jotted a phone number at the bottom. He closed her apartment door behind him and knew that he wouldn't return to Lancaster.
Carol Deminski's stories have appeared in the Aroostook Review, the Jersey Devil Press and First Stop Fiction. She lives in Jersey City, NJ.

© 2011, Carol Deminski