It was a little past one, middle of the night, the time Dawn liked best.
Daytime, in her experience, had too much. Was too much. Too bright. Too noisy. Too filled with people, and those people too filled with emotions. Furious screaming and laying on car horns and middle finger salutes. Or worse, laughter. Big, egregious laughter that rolled down the street and up the bricks to her windows. Nothing was that funny. Any time she had expressed these opinions her sister would just insist she could solve all her problems by moving out of the city. Dawn didn’t want to move out of the city. She’d lived in her third-floor walkup for nearly thirty years. She planned to die there.
It was a two-bedroom apartment with plenty of closet space. Back when she had first rented the place, when she was young and overflowing with possibilities, she’d split it with her friend Molly. As possibilities dwindled, roommates boomed. She honestly couldn’t remember all the names and faces anymore. Just as well. None of them had kept in touch. Once her life had been down to a single possibility she’d been able to afford rent on her own and turned the second room into her workspace. Eventually she had bought the building. No one knew that, not even her sister. She’d made up some rental company and hired a couple of guys to run the place. The last thing Dawn wanted was all of her neighbors coming to her with all their stupid problems.
It was an old building, too hot in the summer and drafty in the winter, but she liked it just fine. Hers was the corner apartment, and from where she sat at her kitchen table she could look out the window down at the intersection. Busy during the day, now the red and green lights traded places for no one. They were on a timer, changing every forty-five seconds no matter who was there or if anyone was there. It was all the company she needed.
This was her nightly routine. Once work had stopped for the day, ten o’clock and not a second later, she’d make some dinner. Usually spaghetti and meatballs but the occasional fish to make her doctor happy. Once she’d eaten that she’d make a big pot of coffee. Then she’d sit at the kitchen table, blinds open to watch the night, and read whatever book she’d gotten from the library. Usually romances, and not the good ones. She liked the trashy ones. Dawn would read and refill her coffee until the big pot was empty. The window next to her she’d crack open about five inches, no matter what time of year, and on the sill she would keep her cigarettes perched in the lumpy ashtray her nephew had made her. It was ugly and practically non-functional but the price had been right.
Ugh, her nephew. And her other nephew. And her two nieces. Her sister and brother-in-law living out their All-American dream. Big house in the suburbs, big lawn for her brother-in-law to mow with the new ride-on mower he’d get himself every year. Annual trips to Florida and sometimes Mexico – the ‘safe parts’ of Mexico, whatever on earth that meant. The kids were spoiled. The family was spoiled. Their house had been built for them only fifteen years ago and already there were problems. Termites. Rot. That time two winters ago the pipes had frozen and burst. Every time her sister had a new baby the calls to move out to the suburbs, closer to them, had started again. Like Dawn couldn’t see right through her. Well, Cindy, Dawn hated kids, too, but she was smart enough not to have any.
Despite herself, she had to admit she liked her oldest nephew, Jay. Not the one who had made the lumpy ashtray. That had been Grayden, and Grayden was a little shit. Jay was turning out pretty cool though. He was a freshman at the college on the other side of the city, and he’d started coming over for dinner on Sunday nights. College kids didn’t care about eating at ten at night. Sometimes he’d bring his books and study at the other side of the table, sharing her coffee and cigarettes and walking back to his dorm at two in the morning. Obviously, neither of them mentioned any of this to his mother.
Dawn liked Jay because Jay never seemed to question all the whys of Dawn like the others did. No wondering why she didn’t move out of the city. No chiding her for all her ‘negative opinions.’ No opinions on the way she dressed, her lack of makeup, her short hair. Jay seemed to like Dawn just like Dawn was, and she honestly wondered how he’d created such a cool outlook on life living with her high-strung sister and neglectful brother-in-law. Miracles did exist.
Dawn flipped the page of her book and realized she hadn’t absorbed anything on the previous page, so lost in her own thoughts. As she flipped the page back she glanced out the window, toward the empty intersection. There was a half second where she reached for her cigarette. Then she did a double take, this time really looking out the window.
Two people were crossing the intersection. One was leaning heavily on the other, so much so that the line they walked was not straight. But their weaving was taking them toward the front door of her building. Could be drunk. Could be wandering back from the club. Could be lots of things. Except she recognized one of them, the one putting most of his weight on the other. And not because he lived here.
With a sigh she put down her book and pushed herself to standing. She timed her steps as she crossed her apartment to her doorway, and just as she imagined them reaching the door downstairs she pressed the button to buzz them in. Dawn waited at the door, occasionally wishing she had brought her cigarette over. When she heard the shuffling footsteps outside the door she didn’t bother waiting for them to knock.
“Reginald,” she said.
The young man grinned at her, revealing blood stained teeth. He was holding some kind of rag over his abdomen. Whatever color that rag had been once, it was now and forever red.
“It’s past hours, Reginald.”
“I’m in a little bit of a crisis here, Dawnie. I was hoping for some after-hours care.”
Dawn stared at him, unmoved. The woman he was leaning against looked back and forth between them but said nothing. Apparently Reginald had warned her this might happen.
“I’ve got the money. Please, Dawnie. Hospitals are a no-go.”
With an eye roll and a sigh, Dawn opened her door wide and ushered them in. Her book would have to wait.
“Call me Dawnie one more time and I’ll let you die on the table.”