By J Thomas Meador
The girl who lives across the hall from me is a trust fund baby enrolled at the university. Her name is Lorna and she has her eye on an art degree. A few days ago, her parents caught her smoking pot on her fire escape that faces the street. I stopped washing dishes and listened to the argument through my wall.
“You’re not going to spend my money on drugs,” her father’s voice said.
“You don’t get it!” Lorna screamed back. By the end of the fight, a chunk of her allowance was sliced. Doors slammed. Feet stomped down the gray painted stairs scuffed by decades of use.
So now, instead of smoking on her fire escape, she smokes on mine.
Whenever she knocks it sounds like an emergency. A POP POP POP, not a rap rap rap. Lorna’s knuckles are sharp. Fingers long, untarnished by hard work, yet stained by whatever new art piece she’s working on. Moonlight bathes us on the rusted green fire escape, and her tattoos are a tapestry of flesh and tears. It’s too late for me, for my skin, so I listen to her stories. Her secrets. I let her do it because she’s beautiful. Because she talks to me about things that don’t matter. But, more importantly, because I work so much and live so little.
“Life sucks when you have to keep yourself sewn together,” she says with her eyes closed, because it helps the smoke stay in her lungs.
“You seem okay to me.”
She shrugs, swaying back and forth to the Neil Diamond record playing on a turntable I bought cheap at a re-sell store across from the clinic. “You ever wonder if you’re doing what you’re meant to do?”
She offers the joint, but I decline. Instead, I point through my opened window. “Sure. I’m saving the world.” The medical school diploma hangs on the wall. The bookshelf overflows with journals and anatomy books.
“That’s cool.” She inhales. “You ever want to do the opposite?” The wind picks up. Charges the cherry ember in her fingers. “Ever think about becoming a mad scientist or something?”
“I don’t do science. Just medicine.”
“Frankenstein was a doctor. Look what he did.”
“Yeah,” I say, following the trim of her tanktop to her breasts, hoping she doesn’t notice. “He made a monster.”
Lorna taps the joint with her fingertips, flicking ash from the ember, and shakes her head. “No. The townspeople made it a monster. It was just a creature before that. Thumping around the castle, learning to do shit. A fuckin’ baby, you know? It was the townspeople. They were the monsters. The creature made them panic. People are scared of things they don’t understand. Like this, for example.” She holds out the joint, equidistant between us. “It makes you feel good. Makes you calm down. Makes you think about where you’re going. What you’re doing. Sooner or later the creature’s gonna inherit the castle. Understand?” She takes another toke and I nod, understanding that her eyes look like trees in autumn when she smiles. Then she waves the joint, urging me. She asks, “So? Who’re you gonna be in ten years? How do you want to be remembered?”
I shake my head at the offer, chuckling. “You mean, do I want to be Doctor Love or Doctor Death?”
“Sure,” she says with a wink. “It’s all about what you do with power. That’s how you get remembered.”
“How’re you going to be remembered? Your art?”
She sighs, looking up at the patchwork of stars. “Nobody gives a shit. Art creates itself. Like your patients getting sick. Dying. The artist—the doctor—does his best, right? In the end, either they love you or they hate you.” She closes her eyes and inhales. Her chest puffs. Breasts arch. Collar caves to make tiny milk bowls on her shoulders.
I look back into my apartment. The card table with two folding chairs. The empty bottle of whiskey on my desk. “No one wants their art to fail. You just keep trying.”
“Doesn’t matter to me.” Lorna pinches the joint to her lips again. “I’m gonna stay young and high forever. Never want to wake up one day old and sober. You?”
“I am old,” I remind her, because student loans won’t let let me forget.
“But you ain’t gotta be sober, Doc.” She winks, then gestures for me to lean closer. I hesitate, but do as I’m told. Lorna closes her eyes and breathes a stream of smoke into my mouth. I stare at her lips for moment before closing my own eyes. I breathe in and wonder what failed art will taste like in ten years.