My Bloody Valentine screeches on my phone alarm. Before drinking myself to sleep last night, I set it as a joke. I don’t really like them, so I hit the scratchy, dreamy guitars until they stop. I open my eyes to an explosive mess. Clothes and empty food boxes litter my bedroom.
I’ve tried to drown it under all this trash, but my apartment is only a reminder of my ex. A posture-correcting chair she bought me, a small TV on which we binge-watched Entourage in morbid fascination, a picture of her pale face framed by red-orange hair, and the spare key she left when she sauntered out the door Christmas Eve. It all hurts. Today, Valentine’s Day, it hurts worse.
After standing in the shower and brushing my teeth until my toothbrush turns pink, I dress for the cold, grey day. The leaky, metronome of a faucet taps the beat to yet another month of crap. February has never been kind to me. It holds the last of the winter chill and piles of snow blackened by car exhaust and road grime. Its name has Latin roots in a purification ritual and the sweats from fever. I’m not pure nor am I feverish, but this month has me sick wishing for some kind of purge.
I lock my door and tread down the stairs past the second-floor apartment. No furious banging sounds or feminine moans of ‘baby’ and ‘Jeff’. Surprising. For the last two months or so, it’s all I’ve heard from the place. Even though I know it’s something far more adult, I like to imagine a big baby man jumping and being cheered on. The thought lifts me a little, and I smile as I leave.
The biting, Chicago wind and cold punch the smile off my face. I bundle up and plod along to the new coffee shop. Every other place reminds me of her. I grab the free, local paper for its trashy content and easy crossword. For Valentine’s Day, they’ve renamed it The Pink Eye—with or without irony, I’m not sure; nor am I sure which is worse.
I stomp my boots, knocking off the snow, when I enter the KO Koffee. I question that name when I pass the painted little man with coffee bean boxing gloves. I squeak over to order coffee then squeak to an empty table, shimmying off my coat. I open my crappy paper to the puzzle section next to the horoscopes. I find Leo and read it:
LEO (July 22 – August 22): The sun is blah blah blah…A door may have closed in your life. But with one door closing, another will always open, if you just turn the handle. You may find exactly what you’re looking for behind it.
Doors, huh. Whoever wrote that was really dialing it in. As I think about robots replacing writers, someone stomps at the entrance. The sight of her red-orange hair drops my heart to my ass. I hide my face with the paper. Oh, thank Christ, she doesn’t see me as she squeaks to the counter. Giving her order, her voice instills panic in me, a flash of cold sweat. I leave the table and dive into the bathroom.
“Crap, crap, crap! What do I do, what do I do?” I say to my mirrored self. My attempts to keep calm and breathe are in vain. I splash my face with frigid water and wipe it with a scratchy paper towel. Throwing it in the trash, I hatch a plan requiring haste and cool: walk briskly to the table, bundle up quickly, and speedily exit the door ignoring her completely.
I barge open the door, made lighter by my nervous energy, only to feel it stop short and hear a cracking sound. I shudder and jump at the surprise and the crunch.
A woman’s voice yells, and a pale face buried in hands framed by red-orange hair stumbles backwards.
“No, no, no! I’m so sorry, Becca, are you okay?”
Her hands are covered in blood.
“My nose! I’m bleeding! Oh, my god!”
I rush to the scratchy paper towels. I rush back and place a handful to her face.
“Ahooww! That hurts!” she screeches, nabbing the reddened towels from me.
“I’m sorry! Oh, it’s so much blood.”
“Well, what the hell were you doing opening the door that fast!?!”
“I- I- I didn’t. I was just coming out–“
“God! You’re such a piece of shit, Mark!” She stomps to her belongings and fumbles her stuff, trying to pack and dress without bloodying her wardrobe.
“Here. Let me help y-“
“Go to hell!” Her eyes blaze at me, and the reddened wad falls to the ground. She slams her things into her bag and hurries out the door. Everyone in the coffee shop looks at me. I look back, wide eyed. Blood is smudged and smeared on the table and chair.
I quietly leave, people still watching me. As I make my way to my apartment, I notice trickles of blood on the sidewalk. The tiny splashes cut the corner towards my place. The trail leads all the way to my apartment building. “What?” I say to no one.
I open the front door. The splotches continue onto the stairs. My heart flutters. I dream of her in my room, with a spare key she secretly kept, waiting for me to care for her. The first floor is silent, and the red spots continue upwards. My heart is singing a morbid song.
Then I hear her voice above my footfalls. I strain to listen, “I don’t know if it’s broken; it just really hurts.” I’m running up the stairs, no thought given to who she’s speaking to. And…and the blood trails into the second-floor apartment.
“How could you?” I hear myself say. Silence. Then, she says “Okay, I’ll wait for you here.”
After an uncertain amount of time standing there confused, I bang on the door, saying “What?! How long have you been with this guy?! Rebecca, open up!”
“Oh wow, that was fast.” she says her voice thick, like she’s got a cold. “I didn’t expect you to get here so fast.” She opens the door. “Mark?! Did you follow me here?” Cotton balls swell in her nostrils, edges red.
“How could you do this?” I ask her, wanting an answer.
“Hey, babe! You okay? I heard yelling.” Footsteps pound up the stairs.
“Oh, good god!” she says. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just-”
“Did he hit you!?” Jeff asks, his heavy boots stop beside me. He is not a man-baby. He is the size of the door and staring down at me. “Did you hit her, you little piss-ant?!”
“Yeah, I did, on accident. But how—“ His fist connects with my face.
The taste of blood and a headache wake me. I’m still in front of Jeff’s apartment, now silent. I push myself up from the floor. Sharp pain shoots through my jaw when I move it. I hobble up to my apartment and into the bathroom. The faucet is keeping the beat still, and I heave a sigh into the ground. I start the hot water to revive myself. The knob pops loose. The water gushes, unstoppable.
Resigning myself to defeat, I’m turning the knob over and over in my hand, as I weigh my options. Then, it washes over me: maybe the horoscope writer was on to something. I pack what I can in a backpack, set my phone on the dresser to play My Bloody Valentine, step through the infant puddles near the bathroom, and lock the door, keeping my key and the spare close to my warm, dry heart.