“Pearl of the Quarter”

Winter is hard on these apartments, cold wind blowing through the flats on the lower levels, through the crevices of the crawlspace, where for some pocket money you garbed up in tyvek and a gas mask- ostensibly to scatter lime and bleach and lay down the sinister slick black plastic vapor barrier, but practically made you into a combination graverobber and midwife.

The crawlspaces- and they were well-named, the majority of them being much like your education, wide but not deep- had become the final resting place for a number of cats, who in turn had given birth to vast litters of fat, hyperactive corpse maggots, and you in turn brought them all into the world in garbage bags and grotesque handfuls. Winter is hard.

Chlorine and death may have rendered the wind an almost medical smell, but it became a human thing once its gusts were filtered through the cheap subflooring, soaked here and there with cats’ piss and precursor amphetamine chemicals, then a barrier of that white paint-on sealant, and then glue and the thin carpet that barely deserved the name. It’s lucky that this unit was uninhabited, but the wind blew through the hollow core door and across the hall, into the apartment where an old Vietnamese couple lived.

They were a pleasant, if indecipherable couple, and their primary interaction with the rest of you was placing and subsequently removing an enormous glass jar of home-pickled lemons on their porch. Of all the odors that a pair of humans might make, theirs was solely one of cuisine- a melange of basil, rice vinegar, and grilled pork.

A shame- in summer this pleasant aroma might have dominated the air all around, making you lust for the little pho hung you visited weekly. But it was winter, and by the time the wind had swirled out and around, it had begun to snow, and was clean and fresh again in the bracing cold, with only homeopathic quantities of the various scents present.

It was very cold, and in your room you have cranked up the joke of a baseboard heater as far as it can go, and it has exceeded expectation, making the room so hot your girlfriend is down to only a thin shirt and her underwear.

You’ve been sparring with her, playfully, for a long time. Too long, perhaps, for foreplay, but this is your first time and you have no idea. The cassette in the stereo has been playing for too long as well- some jazz rock group that were so popular that nobody listened to them anymore. The tape deck could flip sides on its own, and every 20ish minutes would do so with a loud click.

It was just after one of those clicks that she asked the right question and you gave the right answer, and her shirt and bra were off. You had always thought her skin exquisitely pale, especially in comparison to her burgundy hair, but her nipples are so pale, so perfect, you think they might have come from some classical statue. Then they are in your mouth, and you forget everything else, forget that the world ended not even two years ago.

She is riding you on your Mormon thrift store mattress, and have barely begun when there is a pounding on your door. You plead through the door for fifteen more minutes, not sure if that is too short or too long. The interruption is brief, but damning, and after a bit your girlfriend has to leave. You haven’t come, but she seems to have, and her sex is the only thing in the room you can smell apart from the metallic odorlessness of the heater.

She’s gone. You rise from your bed, joints creaking like an old man, and you stroll to the window. One of your books has a passage that perhaps encapsulates what you just experienced- the Simon Necronomicon? Dhalgren? The Way and its Power? When you reach the window you are in for a surprise.

You’d turned the windowsill into a makeshift bookshelf, but with the heater cranked and the cold outside, the glass is positively dripping with condensation. You pull The Mysterious Stranger from the sill, and all the other books come with it. They are soaked in condensation, but pressing up against the frigid lower half of the pane, have frozen solid. Ruined.

That winter was hard.

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