I didn’t want to be with Vick. But it was only temporary and it's not like I had a choice, what with the “below living wage” from the cafe. Mom was gone now, so it would have been Vick or some other guy. The old apartment was being fumigated, so I just left all my stuff there. It had always been an iffy place because of the bugs, but bed bugs don’t kill you, and neither do cockroaches. Other things might kill you, but not those things.
I still had my coat and bought some new underwear from Giant Tiger. Vick’s mom said I could stay, as long as “I knew this wasn’t a free ride or anything.” That’s how I got a mother-in-law who lived in the front of the house, and how I found myself frying things on the stove top like I was a short-order cook. I had only just met Vick, and it didn’t take long for the whole mother-in-law and son thing to get old. I was stuck pretending I was so damn thankful, because I had no-where else to go.
I thought I only had a week, maybe a month at most to put up with them. But now, because I’d lost my money, I was years away from not having to fuck when told, or scrape broken eggs off their chipped, Teflon pan. And why was it my job to answer the door? Letting in all those ugly, cooked people. Drug-poor and broken and without a lick of hope but for what Vick would hand them in small bags.
When I thought about my money, my stomach hurt. It had been from Grandma’s estate, the amount paid off on her mortgage. It was that lawyer’s fault. The lawyer had listened to Dad about me being too young and he was the only other person with access to the bank account. It had to be Dad who stole my money. He probably took it to pay off a debt. Dad wasn’t a drunk or a druggie, but he was a frivolous type.
The teller at the bank wore a posh suit, and she looked at me, her eyes full of a pretty sort of pity. I must have been a sight for her to see, with dark bags under my eyes and a homemade hair cut. I had to used a rubber kitchen elastic because my hair was too short to hold back properly. The elastic pulled out hairs, but it gripped tighter, held harder. The teller had to say it to me again, clear and even: “The money was withdrawn last week, the day after it was transferred from the estate account. There has been no more activity on the account since then.”
I stepped outside and threw up on on their grey, concrete steps. There was greed and then there was greed. Grandma had always been nice to me, and I had been touched by her intention to leave me that money. I’d never liked her all that much, but I respected her. She’d always told me to stop eating whatever I was eating so that I wouldn't lose my figure, and it was decent advice.
“You gotta get away from these people, your mom, your dad. This part of town is full of their types.”
With the money gone, my get away plan was ruined. I woke up on that mattress on the floor, beside the spiny beast that was Vick, not able to get up. I had a weight pressing on my sternum. A fist of anger and disappointment. I have never expected anyone to give me a break, but that didn’t stop me from wanting one. I worked hard at the cafe, refilling coffees and bringing people their orders and ketchup. But it would never be enough. I wanted to go to school, to be a nurse or something like that, where if you kept your mouth shut, you’d get paid and good. They said at the employment office that maybe in a year or two I’d be moved up from part-time to full-time, and in a few more years I’d have enough to save up for school. That is, if I kept myself in the clear.
Because of Vick’s business, there was always money lying around the house, tucked away in drawers or behind bottles in the medicine cabinet, sometimes for a few hours or just overnight. Stored until it was passed on to the next person. Vick told me he trusted me. But that morning, there was $3,000 in one hundred dollar bills in the cabinet above the toilet. Karma-wise, I knew it wasn’t meant to be replacement for the $5,000 my Dad stole. I also knew that the money didn’t belong to Vick. He likely had dibs on a percentage of it and would be in trouble if I took it, but it was almost enough money to get my plan back and start new like Grandma had intended. I slipped the envelope into the back waist of my jeans and flushed the toilet to hide the creak of the cabinet closing. I bent over and tied up my laces by the door so I didn’t see Vick in the hall. I flinched when he grabbed the envelope out of my pants. I’d never really seen him mad before, at least not at me. He looked at me with his eyes drug-red rimmed.
“Who do you think you are? I let you sleep in my fucking bed. You think you should steal from me?”
He shoved me hard, and I lost my balance. On the ground, he kicked me in the face a few times, and I almost didn’t feel the pain. Instead, I thought about Grandma because she’d never been the type of woman a guy would shove around. Each time I tried to get up, he hoofed me back down again. If this happens to you, you’ll worry about the blood in your eyes and the bones in your fingers, and all the things everyone else wrecks of yours or takes from you. Until you learn how to take, too.
When he stepped on my neck, I was praying that it wasn’t a serious injury. I couldn’t move, and Vick was pacing around the room, yelling at his mom who was talking loudly, trying to decide what to do with me. That was when I remembered Grandma saying that the world was a hard place. I wouldn’t make it unless I was the type to get lucky. I guess I was a different type.
Written by: Elisha Stam
Photograph by: Hannah Chertock