BY: Jose Israel Cordova
He woke up and sat at the edge of the bed, the taste of blood filled his mouth. The bed had no legs or frame. The mattress on the box spring. Box spring on the floor. A greasy paper bag next to the box spring, a couple of days old, held breakfast. “Sick of this garbage.” he said to the bag. He coughed and cleared his throat, then spat on the cold concrete floor. More blood. “Shit.” When the bathroom light came on, he remembered the tube held just enough for one more dab of toothpaste. It was enough to get rid of the grime and taste, but not enough to feel clean. Hell, it had been a while since he felt clean in any way.
The clothes he wore the night before were tangled in the sheets of the bed. He dug them out and put them on. They smelled like cigarettes and a bit of sweat. He felt the pack of smokes still in the front right pocket of his jeans. Lit one and inhaled, slow. His mind cleared for a second, all his muscles relaxed and he sat down. It used to bother him to exhale the smoke through his nose and have the smell stuck in it. Now he did it unconsciously as he exhaled from his mouth. This cigarette burned slow, like it knew it was the last of two in the pack. The rent. His mind rushed back to reality. He reached into his back pocket, and opened his hand. “Six bucks. No change.” The change had been used to buy those wads of grease they sold as burgers. The calendar said two nights left to have the rent in full.
It had been a while since he had a job. Previous jobs consisted of stupid monkey work that paid in the form of a small minimum wage check, body full of aches and a beat up mind. “Soul raping work” he called it. He thought about it as he left the room and hit the streets. “A steady check…” trying to convince his shadow, his brain, his soul. Then he remembered the bosses, co workers, and all the bullshit he had to eat daily. The years he busted his ass, working extra hours, coming in on days off, and the yearly evaluations “You’re one of our best workers, but I’m sorry, there is no more money in the books for a raise. Times are tough, damn recession. We’ll see in a few months…” A few months later they had a new car, while he had to walk since he couldn’t afford a bus pass. It was either that or food. His stomach took a beating too. All he could afford to eat was that cheap shit fast food places sold for a buck, and the occasional taco from those dirty catering trucks. “Fuck that, never again.” His voice resentful as he looked at his calloused hands.
“Give me that one” he told the clerk at the liquor store, as he pointed to the five dollar bottle of booze behind the counter. “Fuck the paper bag, it only gets in the way.” Sure it was cheap and burned like hell going down, but it kept him warm and numbed him just enough to not care about what he had to do. The plastic cap cracked softly when he gave it a deft twist. His nostrils flared when the smell rose and hit him as he took a mouthful. The first one always filled his throat with fire, a slow burn down his esophagus. “It’s just business, it’s just business. It ain’t nothing. It’s not personal. Never is. It’s just business. Just business…” Every time he went out he had to talk himself into it. “It’s either this or back to the streets, back to the shit.”
The bottle went back into its pocket. The hand went towards the small of his back and with a firm grip, withdrew the 9 millimeter. The weight of it in his warm and loose hand changed him each time. Each time his mind took a step back, and let a certain instinct take over. His eyes focused, and heart beat steady. The oil slick and piss stained alleys of the dark welcomed him, called him in. It’s just business.