Spring 2010, Volume 8

Fiction by Robert Medina


The woman lived in a vacant office building.  It had been undergoing restoration for new tenants, but construction had ceased unexpectedly and without explanation.  After the building remained dormant for some time, she moved in.

Her hair was the color of ash, long greasy strands coiled atop her head; her skin was mottled and dry.  She knew her garments emitted a ripe aroma.  Although she washed herself almost daily, it was hard to clean her clothes.  The remnants of someone else’s life, she accepted their odor, but she in no way got used to their stench.  She never spoke to anyone from the street, and she did her best to keep to herself at the charities.  She preferred to spend her days alone, away from reminders of what her life had become.

The building was old and grand, and from the work completed, the woman saw it was being returned to the brilliance it once had: opulent and bright plaster moldings, oak doors with beveled glass panels and marble for the floors.  The structure radiated a graceful warmth that was welcoming, an invitation the woman freely accepted.  She made her home in a windowless room deep within a labyrinth of hallways on the ground floor. She was careful of her movements, left no trace of her presence, and was vigilant about avoiding the security guard.  He was the only other person in the building and was easy to evade; after all, his lack of awareness allowed her to move in to begin with.

The woman thought it was a shame the construction had stopped.  Where the renovation was incomplete, or had not been started, the building felt abandoned or humiliated.  Such indignity was something she knew, and this allowed her a sense of camaraderie with the building.  But the woman also recognized that for her, the neglect would last.  She was the one who could breathe, who could see, who could hear, and who could feel, but it was the building that mattered.  She knew it was useless to dream of such appreciation and care.  The woman sensed that somehow the building was aware of this, because one day, as if to reward her for her companionship, to compensate her for the disparity of their fortunes, the building brought him to her.

His visits were sporadic at first, but they soon became daily, and always in the mornings.  He never came inside the building.  He would remain outside, looking up, always talking on his cell phone. He had a pleasant face, was as tall as her high school boyfriend, but with the heaviness men acquire as they age.  She decided he was her age, and that he was unmarried, but she knew not all men wore their wedding rings.  He dressed in dark suits and bright ties, and he never took off his sunglasses.  She observed him from the shadows of the empty ground floor office, making sure the glare from the outside never touched her.  When she realized the windows were reflective, she began to move closer to him as he walked around and talked on his cell. The windows were soundproof, so she never heard what he said.  Room by room, she followed him around the building, watching his movements from safety. 

The man would hold her, nuzzle her face with his nose and say that she smelled of flowers.  She would laugh at something so corny, and he would laugh as well, while assuring her he was sincere. She wasn’t any younger in these dreams, but her hair was voluptuous once again, so black it was blue.  He would strum the shiny, loose curls with his fingers, and she would caress his lips with hers before he would tell her he loved her.

“Damn it!”  The woman said as she woke. It became her greeting for each new day.  Still, she would be beaming, eager for the man’s arrival.  She always made a point of getting a good look at his fingers with thoughts of them fondling her hair.

Her last morning in the building, she was using the one washroom on the ground floor that worked.  She was rinsing her hair in the sink when the security guard opened the door behind her.

“Okay, you!  Let’s go.”  He was a heavy man and much younger than her.  He wasn’t armed, but she knew better than to resist. 

“Can I get my stuff?”

“You’ll find it in the trash,” he said.  He tried to grab her arm.

“Easy, slick,” she said.  “I’m going.”

“Not fast enough,” he said. He waved his hand in front of his nose, repulsed by her smell.

She looked around as she was escorted out.  It was cool inside the building and the light was dim.  The rooms appeared barren and aloof.  Once on the street, she gave the guard the impression that she was moving on.  But when he went back inside the building, she remained.

She sat across the street on the sidewalk, thankful for the first time that passers-by ignored her.  It was bright outside, and much warmer than it was inside the building.  As if by command, he appeared, looking up at the building and talking on the phone.   He stopped at his usual spot, and didn’t move.  Convinced the building was reading her mind, she saw it ease the glare from its mirrored windows as clouds passed above, reducing the reflected light.  The man responded by removing his sunglasses.  She got up and walked toward him. 

She crossed the street, combing her hair with her fingers.  She may have rinsed it that morning, but it still felt slimy.  She glanced at herself in the building’s windows to make sure her locks, mangy as they were, cascaded evenly over her shoulders.  The sepia-toned reflection of the windows gave her a soft glow, as if the building was encouraging her, or prodding her on.  As she got closer to him, she heard him speak for the first time.  His voice was higher than she expected.  His back was to her when she tapped on his shoulder.

He turned towards the woman with an abrupt motion.  He looked at her with a furled brow.  She could hear a faint, tinny voice coming from his cell.  His eyes were like hers, light brown, almost green—bright, but with distance. Close up, he looked a little older than he did from inside the building.  He didn’t stop staring at her, and for a moment she thought of the dream.   She smiled, and clasped her hands over her chest.

Without looking away, he stuck his hand into his trouser pocket, fumbled some, then pulled out a wadded bill.  He offered the cash to her with a wave of his wrist that indicated for her to take it and leave.

She looked at his hand.  The fingers she had imagined stroking her hair held the crumpled note like a piece of trash about to be thrown out.   She took it without touching him.  He put the phone back to his ear, turned, and started to talk again.

“Sorry about that,” he said.  “It was that bum I had thrown out this morning.”  He continued to talk as he walked away from her, rounding a corner of the building without looking back.

She stared at the corner he’d rounded.  Within her, she felt a heaviness, a growing, familiar torment, she felt hard and mean.  She looked down on the wadded cash. She’d been given money to go away before.  She had given herself and all the tender fulfillments her soul could provide to a man she had deeply wanted to marry.  But with a check made to “cash”, he’d dismissed her from his life.  She could still recall the penmanship on the check.  It was in a rushed, harsh scrawl that she felt illustrated, even more than the sum itself, his estimation of her worth.  With that simple scribble on that piece of paper, she had learned she was disposable.

She flattened the bill, and saw it wasn’t a single or a five, but a twenty.  She turned the face of the bill toward a window to show the building the amount.

“Look!” she said. “Twenty dollars.”  The building responded with a gentle reflection of her likeness, the sepia glass smoothing out the coarseness of her features.  The woman lowered her gaze, and stepped towards a crosswalk where a light was blinking red.     


BIO:  A native of Los Angeles, Robert Medina is an enthusiastic participant in the LBCC Creative Writing Program.