Skip to main content

Winter/Spring 2020

Going Down

Catherine Day

 

Fuck.

Head is killing me.      

Thank the Lord, there’s a pill for that.

I stretch out in the bed and my foot grazes the leg of a warm body beside me. I don’t remember him, which means I don’t remember if we used protection.

Hail Jesus! There’s a pill for that.

My phone rings. My phone doesn’t recognize the number and this makes a cold sweat prickle the surface of my scalp. Makes my heart gallop in my chest like a wild horse. But there’s a pill for that, too.

And the sweetest thing of all is that I have all the pills. All the pills for all the ills. Some of them are FDA approved, some not. Some leftovers from legit prescriptions (some of them mine) but most of them acquired via Dr. Do-A-Lot, my dealer and the only man I’ve ever told ‘I love you’ and meant it. I get up and pad into my bathroom in bare, dirty feet, my toes shredded and scabbed from the killer heels I wore last night. I fill a glass of water from the faucet and open my jewelry box. Each of the thirty individual sections inside the box is brimming over with a different powdery gem after my recent restock. Diamond-shaped, round, oval. Every color of the rainbow. So damn pretty, I can feel my pupils dilating just looking at ‘em.

I carefully select what I need and wash each one down, finishing off with a roofie and then scribble a note for the stranger in my bed and place it in his hand. It reads: ‘Good morning sir. You might have been under the impression that I was cute and smart, and funny last night, but that was an alcohol-induced illusion. I am a monster. Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, wake me. Help yourself to coffee, there are some dry croissants in the cupboard, if you microwave them for a minute they’ll be okay.’ I’m not sure how to sign off so I write ‘thanks’.

Before long I sink into the warm liquid oblivion of Rohypnol-induced sleep. I wake up suddenly, twenty-four hours later to a horrible sound. The sound hacks through my consciousness with the vicious intent of an ax-wielding maniac. My heart nearly gives out and I let out a scream. But it’s just my alarm. I’m tempted to knock it off and go back to sleep but I can’t afford to lose another job. I lie in bed for a long time looking at the ceiling, panting and waiting for my heart-rate to slow down. There’s an assertive knock on the door of my room and my roommate, Laura, doesn’t wait for me to invite her in. She opens it and stands there, fully dressed, hair coiffed, makeup immaculate, holding a mug of coffee in her hand, which I hope is for me, but alas, she sips from it.

“It’s 7am,” she sings.

I hold up my phone and give her a nasty look in response.

“I know.”

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she says. She lifts her arms into the air and stretches upwards with a satisfied sigh. She’s smiling. Smiling. At 7a-fucking-m.

I room with a madwoman.

She walks away. I can’t afford to lose my job and she can’t afford for me to lose my job either. I’m already behind on rent. That passive-aggressive stunt is her way of reminding me that she’s keeping tabs on my efforts to pay her back. I get out of bed and survey the imprint of my makeup on the pillow and my spray-tan on the bed. Like a sinner’s Turin shroud. The guy left his name and number on a Starbucks receipt on the bedside locker.

His name is Mike. Ugh.          

I get dressed slowly, my brain feeling fat and heavy in my skull. I go to the bathroom and I can barely lift my head to face myself. My hair is a ball of auburn curls on my head. There’s mascara all around my eyes from Saturday, and lipstick smeared around my mouth. I look like a murderous clown. Mike must have exactly zero standards to want to hear from me again, and I don’t need trash like that in my life. I ball up the paper with his number on it and dump it.

I get in the shower and spend a long time scrubbing the Mike and tan and cigarettes and alcohol off me. Then I get out and gag and shudder my way through a thorough tooth-brushing. Then I start layering on makeup. It takes a lot to make me look human again. Things start to look up when I manage to squeeze into a shirt dress that was too small a couple of days ago. Sleeping for 24 hours has two known benefits: you lose time and you lose weight. I pop a benzo, throw on my winter coat and grab a coffee on the way to the MARTA. I hang onto the railing, battling homicidal impulses, and wait for my mood to lift.

By the time we approach Midtown the pills are kicking in. and I no longer care about the fact that my nose is wedged into the armpit of a stranger. By the time I get to work, I have my game-face on, and the thought of seeing my colleagues no longer fills me with the desire to take the elevator to the roof and throw myself off. I walk into the lobby, greet the receptionist and make my way to my floor and head straight for the kitchen to make my second coffee of the morning. I open the fridge and balk before marching into the open-plan office, crossing my arms over my chest and shouting: “Candice, what did I tell you about leaving your stool samples in the fridge?”           

There was a rumor that Candice was leaving stool samples in the fridge. It was taken quite seriously by HR and the Health and Safety Officer. Nobody knows what the outcome of the investigation was, but in the way of all good gossip, it’s hanging around… like a bad smell. The origins of the claim are unknown to everyone. Everyone except me. I was tired of her incessant babble about her digestion. Every lunch hour she used to instigate a conversation about the importance of staying regular while I was suffering some form of withdrawals and trying to eat my meatball sub. Vile old bat. I decide this is the moment to put a stop to it by publicly shaming her and breathing new life into that tired old rumor. Candice darts me an angry look over the rim of her glasses. She presses her lips together in a thin white line before bursting out with: “I did no such thing.”

“Well, what’s that brown crap in the fridge then… if it isn’t crap?” I ask, hand on hip.

“It’s mine,” Willow replies in her soft, syrupy voice. She turns slowly in her swivel chair to meet my eyes with a steely gaze. Like some kind of supervillain. Her hair is perfect, and I involuntarily touch my own, which I have just about salvaged with dry shampoo. She sips from her matcha-turmeric-almond milk latte and smiles a saccharine smile. “And it’s food, Amy,” she says with a smirk, “just food.” Someone titters. I gather myself and throw her my best look of disgust.

“Food is not supposed to look like that.” I jab an accusatory finger in her direction.

“It’s quinoa loaf,” she replies. Like that’s supposed to mean something to me. I don’t even know what a quinoa is, but I can’t admit to this in public. I clench my teeth. Willow wins this round. Thank God Josh isn’t here to witness my humiliation.

“Whatever,” I say and march out of the room. I need a cigarette, badly. I make my way downstairs to the smoking area, light up, close my eyes and take a long, satisfying drag. Suddenly Josh is coming towards me. The new IT guy. I quickly stub out my cigarette and discreetly pop a mint.

“Hi there Amy,” he says. His eyes are twinkly, and his teeth are white, and his beard is bushy. And it’s all perfect. But the eyes. I’m a real sucker for twinkly eyes.

“Hi Josh,” I breathe, beaming up at him. Yes, I have to beam up at him because he also happens to be really tall. This man won the genetic lottery after three consecutive genetic lottery rollovers. He is utterly fabulous.

“Are you going up?” he asks with a big smile.

I haven’t completed my nicotine fix, but going up in the elevator with him is an opportunity I can’t pass up. We get in the elevator together and he starts telling me about his weekend. Josh is a good guy, but that isn’t what interests me. To be honest, if he weren’t male and hot as hell I’d probably hate him more than I hate Willow. If he isn’t teaching judo to underprivileged kids who have ambitions in mixed martial arts, he’s preaching the merits of veganism. He’s one of those vegan evangelists. A vegangelist if you will. I nod along, maintain eye-contact and occasionally say ‘mmm’ as though I’m listening intently, but really? I’m fixating on his shoulders…and I’m starting to fantasize about him pushing me into a corner of the elevator. His voice is muffled now, but I can just about make out the words ‘judo,’ ‘chickpeas,’ and ‘craft beer’ from his beautiful mouth.

Unfortunately, we reach our floor.

I go to my desk. He goes to his desk on the other side of the room, facing me. And the week begins.

*           

My working week is basically a variation on every other work week ever. It goes like this:

Monday: Monday. Monday can go fuck itself. I don’t need this negativity in my life. I spend the day seeking various ways to lift my mood: shopping online, checking my social media accounts and secretly watching ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ on my phone. I am also having lascivious thoughts about Josh. I glance at the clock every five minutes.

Tuesday: After the lethargy of Monday, I pop a couple of Adderall to make myself more productive. Resentfully, I do all of the work that has built up over Monday. I do it quickly and badly. In brief moments of downtime, I watch the clock and I watch Josh.

Wednesday: hump day…but not in a good way. This is the second-worst day after Monday. It really drags. To help myself get over it, I smoke twenty cigarettes, eat a shitload of sugar and toot a little coke in the ladies’. I am not positively inclined towards my coworkers and single out a couple of them for special attention. I mock Jerry’s new pretentious mustache and for the hell of it, I force Sacha into an existential crisis. I watch the clock. I watch Josh. I notice him sitting on Willow’s desk and talking about mung beans or something equally riveting. I am tempted to tell him that Willow only became vegan when he joined the office. I saw her devour two burgers in a row at Five Guys after a work night out a couple of weeks ago. She tore into those burgers like a rabid hyena and bared her teeth at me when I asked for a taste. I remember the photo I took of her in her moment of weakness as evidence and smile to myself.

Thursday: the second-best day of the working week. Starting to feel excited for the weekend and for this reason I am positively inclined towards my colleagues. I circle the office a few times chatting to them to pass the time. They are all very busy. I learn that Sacha is planning a trip to India to find herself, and note that Jerry’s mustache has disappeared. I take personal credit for these positive developments in their lives. I think about alcohol. It’s okay to drink on a Thursday. At lunch I ask a few of my colleagues if they want to go for after-work drinks, mainly aiming the question at Josh, but he’s giving a judo class. The rest of them decline. I decide to buy myself a couple of bottles of wine after work. I watch the clock. I watch Josh.

Friday: I’ve undergone my week-long metamorphosis, I emerge from my bed like a pupa from its chrysalis. A fully-fledged butterfly. I virtually skip into work. I’m smiling, I’m cracking jokes, I’m looking good. I am on fire. I’m looking forward to after-work drinks with the new Gay-Best-Friend I made the weekend before. His name is Steve. He’s a bit of a coke-head and he never stops droning on about his dumpster-fire of a life but everyone else I know is either married off, babied off, or just simply not replying to my texts. (Note to self: bring phone to repair shop to have it looked at.) The last hour of the day drags, and as it ticks six, I have my coat on, and I’m leaving. It’s time to party.

*           

Josh gets into the elevator and holds the doors for me, and I run in after him.

“Going down?” 

“What kind of girl do you think I am?” I ask with a suggestive smirk. He doesn’t laugh, and I instantly regret my question, so I attempt to paper over it with some inane, but safe, small-talk. “Any plans for the weekend?”

“I have a tournament tomorrow,” he says, rubbing his hands together and grinning.

“Wow! That’s amazing — good luck!” I say, “what else are you up to?”

“Well, Saturday night, I’m going to a friend’s new bar. He sells locally brewed craft beer. I told you about it the other day."

I vaguely remember him mumbling about beer earlier this week.           

“Oh yea. Where’s the bar? I might drop by?”

“Inman Park, but I’m not sure it’s your scene — craft beers, men with pretentious facial hair, man buns… your worst nightmare.”

“I know I give the impression that I’m Atlanta’s answer to Carrie Bradshaw, but I can slum it with you hipster guys too.” I wink.

Suddenly, there’s a jolt and a horrible metallic grinding noise. The elevator comes to a stop.

“That doesn’t sound right," Josh says. He jabs the elevator buttons, runs a hand through his hair. “What the hell’s going on?” He hits the emergency buzzer. There’s a crackly noise followed by the clear sound of someone chewing food. The chewer waits to swallow before speaking.

“‘Sup?” the elevator voice asks.

“‘Sup? Really? I’m glad that you’re so chill considering I’ve just pressed the emergency buzzer in a piece-of-shit elevator suspended by a few, probably faulty, cables on the 21st floor of a fucking skyscraper — yes; it’s incredibly reassuring to me that you have absolutely zero sense of urgency about the situation,” Josh says, all in one breath. He exhales and inhales wheezily, like he’s about to start hyperventilating.           

There’s silence on the other end. I step close to the intercom thing. “Yea, the elevator just made a really unhealthy sounding noise and it just stopped,” I clarify.

“Sounds like you’re stuck,” the crackly voice says.

Josh rolls his eyes at me. “Damn straight— and when are you going to come and… unstick us?” The pitch of his voice rises again.

“Look man, there’s no need to get antsy. Yeah… I just gotta finish my break… and then I have a couple other callouts. Should be about an hour.”

“An hour? Oh my God,” Josh whines and lowers his head into his hands.

I see an opportunity. My sex in the elevator with Josh fantasy begins to resurface. I top up my lipstick and turn around to see Josh on his phone.

“Yes! I have coverage,” he says, gazing up to the sky gratefully. He starts texting. Almost immediately the phone rings and I hear a woman’s voice. “Yeah, stuck in the elevator,” he says, and then he looks at me. “Yes… I’m in here with Amy.” I hear a long, drawn-out groan on the other end of the line. He hangs up.

“Who was that?” I ask.

His eyes shift away from mine.

“Come on. Tell me. I promise I won’t say a word!”

“It’s Willow. We’re kind of …seeing each other. I was going to go to training, then go over to hers for dinner.”           

For a moment I’m speechless, but I quickly recover.

“Willow? Really? Wow! I would never have put you two together.”

“It’s only been a few dates,” he says as if excusing himself. He smiles and shrugs.

Why’s he playing it down? It’s like he’s almost embarrassed. Why didn’t he tell me before now? Mustn’t be serious. Time to blow the lid off of her ruse. I have less than an hour to get ravished on the floor of the elevator.

“I’m surprised you’d date someone that isn’t vegan, given how passionate you are about cow civil rights and stuff.”

“But she is vegan.”

“Willow’s a bona fide, true blue carnivore.” I laugh. “She started fried-chicken Friday at work for God’s sake!”

His face falls.

“She’s probably trying to impress you, but — I mean, what’s a relationship without trust?”

He looks down at his hands. “I don’t even judge non-vegans, but the lie… the lie cuts me deep.” He thumps his chest with his fist and sighs, his shoulders sagging.

I nod sympathetically and lower my head onto his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You can do better than her.”

He doesn’t ask me to move my head, he doesn’t flinch as I drape my arm about his shoulder, and I take it as a green light. I turn my face, and lean in, pressing my lips against his. He jumps back.

“What the hell, Amy?” He rubs his mouth. “Ever hear of consent?”

“I thought…I thought you might­—"

“I’m devastated over Willow. Damn! What’s wrong with you?”

“I was just trying to comfort you!”

“Bullshit —I saw the way your eyes lit up when you saw your chance to stick the knife into Willow.”

I back away from him. “I just wanted you to know the truth. I’m the only honest person in that fake-ass office.”

“You’re really honest aren’t you, Amy? I mean, to hell with people’s feelings.”

I’m starting to feel anxious and I grope for the box of pills in my bag, my hand scrambles around, but I can’t find it. Must have left the bottle at home. Complacent. Complacent because it’s Friday. I want to get out of here now. I need to get out —      

“Here’s a bit of honesty for you, since you’re so keen on it. I felt sorry for you at first… with all of your obvious… issues, but it took a while for me to realize that you’re just a horrible person. I could never date someone like you. You are the exact opposite of everything I look for in a partner.” He watches me reaching around in my bag, and smirks. “You left the pills on your desk.” He walks over to the doors and pries them open. We’re stopped between two floors. He easily hoists himself up onto the floor above and manages to squeeze himself out. He disappears through the gap and doesn’t turn to offer me a hand.

“Josh? Wait,” I shout. “Can you at least help me?” But there’s no answer. I try to climb out, but I can’t. I’m too short, and I don’t have the upper body strength. I fall flat on my ass. I try again and my arms wobble. I can’t even straighten my elbows. Fuck, I need to go back to the gym. I notice that there’s a camera in the right-hand corner of the elevator, so, as casually as I can, I lower my feet onto the floor of the elevator and resign myself to waiting for the maintenance tech. I don’t want to go viral on the internet with my lack of fitness. The humiliation of this moment is enough to bear.

The cocktail of pills is beginning to wear off. I think about the bar and the alcohol that I’m not drinking, and Steve. My phone has no coverage. So he’s sitting there alone, waiting for me and thinking about what a flaky, inconsiderate bitch I am. I feel bad for him, and I don’t like that. There’s a pill for that. But it’s in an amber-tinted bottle. A bottle on my desk for the whole world to see. I lie down on the floor of the elevator and gaze up at the cold, bald, fluorescent light, and I wait. The maintenance tech buzzes through and tells me he’s going to be delayed by two hours. An emergency somewhere else. I’m left alone with my thoughts. Unfiltered, uncensored, unpleasant. I start feeling shaky and sick.    

And suddenly Josh doesn’t matter anymore. He never did. But his words. They matter. They matter a lot. I turn them around and around in my head as my mind steadily becomes more and more mutinous. It eventually decides that it fully agrees with Josh’s assessment.   You are a horrible person, Amy

I turn and look in the mirrored panels in the elevator. The drugs are like those sweet, gauzy Snapchat filters with the dog ears. But their softening effect is wearing off. I look lost and sad and tired. Older than I am. And I wonder if this is the real me or if I’m just losing my way in the carnival house of mirrors called ‘withdrawals.’ My mind begins to race and snags on a memory. A half a pill taken for some unknown reason, the rest thrown in my bag. There’s a hole in the fabric; an outside chance that half a pill worked its way in there. I turn the bag over, tip its contents onto the ground, shove my fingers in the hole and feel it, a moon-shaped jagged-edged thing. I pull it out, put it in my mouth, swallow it. I close my eyes and hold back tears, while waiting for the tremors to subside, the softening to begin.

Twenty minutes later I hear the maintenance tech outside. A man peers in through the gap between the doors.

“That smart-ass left you, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“What a douchebag.”

“Yeah…a total asshole.”      

His eyes are warm and soft and twinkly. He reaches down to pull me out. I shake my head and beckon him down into the elevator with me. And he smiles.  

I’m probably going to get to do it in an elevator, after all.

 

[Check out Catherine Day's back porch interview]