Across the street from the bar was the Tower Apartment building where I lived. The block was a dead-end behind the parking lot of a small shopping complex. The divider was a strip of grass and a wall of medium size evergreens. In the opposite direction, there was nothing but dirt lots on either side of a street stretching and narrowing off in the distance to nowhere. The isolation made the bar and the Tower appear to be the last signs of civilization at the end of the world. At the far end of the shopping complex’s parking lot was a strip club, at night prostitutes stood in front. Among them was Magdelene. Paying her for sex was the closest thing I ever had to a romantic relationship. Being that I was lonely, she helped ease it. Since I didn’t want to be alone that night I went and sought her out.
The Tower’s exterior was 13 stories of small windows, gray stone, and dull. Other than the plexis-glas entrance, on the dead end side of the building, there were no other doors to enter or exit. The lobby was a large square room with gray walls, a white tile floor and a high ceiling with a dimly lit florescence light stretching its length. Empty, except for the doorman, who sat on an old bar stool along the back wall where the staircase entrance and the two elevators were.
The doorman was old and hunched with a hard dark face. He always wore an orange prison jumpsuit and matching bellhop hat over thin gray hair. The black straps of the hat were tight on his face as they met; Velcro together, beneath his chin. He was the only person I had ever met or seen in the building. The day I came into the Tower looking for a place to live, I asked him could I speak to a landlord or someone about renting an apartment there.
‘300 dollars a month.’ He had responded.
‘Okay.’ I said. ‘When can I move in?’
‘Your apartment is on the 13th floor, the 7th door the right hand side of the elevators.’
Every month since, I had paid the doorman. No matter what time of day it was, he was always there sitting on his stool. I had once asked him ‘ Why don’t you ever go home?’
‘This is how I choose to do my time.’ was his response.
When Magdelene and I entered the elevator, the doorman nodded and said ‘Goodnight.’ As soon as the elevator doors shut and I pushed the button for the 13th floor it opened and, as usual, left the impression that it had never moved. The hallway was narrow and long; wrapping around into a square. The walls were covered in black and white flowered wallpaper. The numberless doors were a pale brown. A thin dingy beige carpet covered the floor. Similar to the hallway and the rest of the building, my apartment possessed the finite calm and melancholy of a funeral parlor. The walls were an off white with worn wood baseboards. The carpet; the same color as the hallways. Opposite the door where the apartment’s 2 windows; bare with a picturesque view of isolation. Below the windows was a dresser. Along with books and a small radio, bottles of my medicine occupied the dresser’s top. My bed, a twin size, ran along the wall on the left, a door less closet beside it. The television sat on 2 milk crates beside of the bed, a video game consol, on top of television; the lone joystick, on the floor before it. In the center of the apartment sat a metal folding chair and a small square table. Books and loose papers were scattered on top. In the far right hand corner was the refrigerator and stove. Above the stove were 2 worn wooden cabinets. A sink and countertop ran along the right wall. Beside the counter was the bathroom door. 200 or so books were scattered throughout the apartment in stacks.
Magdelene had once told me that a guy she knew named john had told her that the Tower was once a major hotel in the city, then it was acknowledged as ac city landmark, and as time past it was forgotten. She thought the building was abandon before she met me. ‘A perfect place for a loner.’ She had once said.
I was a loner only because I had grown use to being alone, pushing my rock off in the distance, and I hated it. At night, the solitude of the Tower would echo my loneliness off of its quiet walls. I would turn the radio’s volume to its maximum. The only CD I owned was my mother’s demo. Her pain filled voice would add to my loneliness but the power of her words would scare me to sleep, as I lay balled up beneath the sheets.
Magdelene was my only sedative. Her caramel face was young, narrow, and deadpan with thick lips and almond shaped eyes; that never said anything. Her jet-black hair was cut into a bob. She was thin, very thin, and not sickly but genetically. She always had a handful of gumdrops, casually tossing them into her mouth. It was something about her that I liked. Liked a lot. But I couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe it was because she was an available and willing person. But wasn’t every prostitute willing for the right price. But she was different.
While getting dress, she said ‘Every time I come over here it seems like there’s always more books.’
I was sitting at the top of the bed, in my boxers, smoking a cigarette ‘I like to read.’
‘A lot, I see.’
I nodded exhaling, blowing a thin dancing gray into the air. I watched as it rose and dissolved. I wondered if that’s what happens to souls.
‘Do you know what time it is?’
‘Are you in a rush?’
‘No.’ she shook her head. ‘Not really.’ She sat on the bed, beside me, and then bended forward to tie her sneakers. When she finished, she lit a cigarette. ‘I like to read too.’ She exhaled slowly. ‘But I don’t think I have ever owned a book.’ She shrugged. ‘Well, except for the Bible. You ever read it?’
‘Some of it.’ I said. ‘When I was in prison, when I was in the hole.’ She stared at me with her pretty deadpan. ‘I had to read it naked. That was the only way that I could understand it.’
‘Have you read a lot all your life?’
‘You could say that. When I was young my mother would give me books to read while I waited in our car, while she performed.’
I nodded. ‘She was a singer.’
‘Really?’ She returned the book back to the stack.
‘She did a lot of back up singing. But she wrote a lot of her own songs. She even made a demo.’
‘Really?’ She tossed a few gumdrops in her mouth.
I never liked talking about my mother because it brought up memories that wasn’t properly suppressed, so I returned to our original conversation with, ‘You could say that I’ve read a lot my whole life, but in prison I read the most. Especially when I was in the hole.’
Didn’t you tell me you wanted to be a writer.’
‘Yeah.’ I said. ‘That was my plans when I came home.’
‘What did you write, Urban Fiction?’
I shook my head. ‘I wanted to write more literary books.’
‘Yeah, like Ulysses or Anna Karenina.’
‘Who? What?’ she laughed with girlish glee and bouncing shoulders. ‘I’ve never heard of them. What do they write?’
I smiled. They’re titles of books.’ I turned the television on. ‘They’re around here somewhere.’ I flipped through the channels, and then turned it off. ‘What do you like to read?’
‘Mostly Urban fiction, or any black author, but I do like James Patterson and Stephen King.’
‘Ever read a book by Richard Wright?’
‘No.’ she smiled. ‘But I’m pretty sure you have one or two of his books around here somewhere.’
I nodded smiling.
‘How many of these books you actually read?’
I shrugged. ‘A lot.’
‘I haven’t read much lately. But I want to.’
‘Be may guess.’ I nodded to the stack of books beside her.’
‘Why do you like to read? I haven’t met anyone in a long time that read so much.’
‘Life is better in fiction, even the tragedies have purpose.’
‘Can I read some of what you wrote?’ She asked, looking over to the table.
‘I don’t care.’ I said. ‘But I don’t like my stories that much.’
‘Because they either say nothing or too much.’ I said. ‘I’m done with writing anyway.’
I shrugged, beginning a brief silence.
‘I think I should go.’ She said, but didn’t move.
‘Stay.’ I said, slowly. ‘Look.’ I retrieved a 50-dollar bill from the sneaker box beneath the bed, and handed it to her. Just stay the night. We don’t have to do anything. We could just. . .’ I sighed. Surrendering to my loneliness made me nervous. I smiled.
Magdelene smiled back at me and said ‘I’ll stay.’ before placing the 50-dollar bill onto the dresser.
We smoked some weed and watched a movie; neither of us talked much, before lying in bed. We cuddled. The warmth of her body relaxed me. I thought about the absurdity of spooning with a prostitute, quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t absurd at all. I was alone and needed someone.
‘Hold me tighter.’ whispered Magdelene in the dark.