* * *
… great big fucking bump on the back of my head. Bump? Lump?
I was sitting in the… over backwards. Hit my head… on the desk behind me or the floor maybe. I’m basically reconstructing here. Knocked unconscious, obviously. Out cold. A couple ribs bruised and hurt too. Did the fucking guys kick me when I was out? Or just drop me hard on the ground I wake up on. How much later? Not sure. They busted up my phone, left it in pieces on the ground all around me. No idea what time it is. Night, is all I know. Later. I’m not even sure where I am at first. A park or playground. Schoolyard it looks like as I gathered my bearings. Little kids’ slides. Swing set. Jungle gym or some shit.
Probably got a concussion, I think, rubbing the back of my head. No phone to call anybody but who am I going to call anyway? What am I going to say? Explain how I got here, wherever here is. They drained my wallet too, motherfuckers. Common fucking thieves. ID. Health card, drivers license, suspended. Not my transit card, though. Probably didn’t know what it was is probably why they left it. That’s good. Won’t have to walk home. Once I figure out where I am.
Lie back down here for a minute. Gather my strength. No sleep. Could be concussed, man. Don’t fall asleep…
… on the bus I realize they took my keys. Fuck! And they know where I live. Who knows what they’re going to do over there, what they’re going to take. Not that I’ve got much of value. Nothing I can’t do without. There’s a reason I live the way I do. No attachments. They’re probably just going to trash the place is what they’re going to do. Fuck me up with my landlord. Would they do that? Risk that kind of exposure? What kind of exposure? I wonder. How exactly would I explain it to anybody, the cops, my landlord.
You see, officer. There’s this group of—
I’m getting a lot of, I don’t know, unfriendly looks right now. On the bus. All the way home. Whenever I pass somebody on the street. Hostile. Thought this one guy, black guy, was going to start something. What’s that about? How bad did they mess me up? I’m thinking. Do I look like some deranged street person? It doesn’t feel like they did a number on my face except for the back of my head. The lump. It’s big, man. Really big. Probably got a concussion. Those motherfuckers. What did I say exactly? Nobody can take a little criticism? A little constructive pushback?
… stashed a spare key outside the apartment. At least, I think I did. Meant to. Can’t remember if I ever got around to it. I can break in if I absolutely have to. Always leave a window slightly ajar in case I might need a quick getaway.
As I’m struggling to remember where exactly I put the spare key, if I did put one somewhere, my neighbour appears from out of her apartment, heading out to yoga, it looks like, based on the… yoga pants and rolled up mat. Early morning sesh. Crack of dawn. Daylight already. How long was I unconscious? I go to ask… Gabby? Is that her name? Shit. What’s wrong with me? I know her name. We’ve been neighbours for a couple years now. Gabby? Trudy? Come on. I know her name. It’s not like we aren’t friendly. Say ‘hi’. Whatever. Cindy? The concussion maybe.
I start to ask her the time but when she sees me, her jaw drops before she catches herself. Beelines it without saying a word, not a single fucking thing. Just hightails it. Like we’re complete strangers. Like I’m some fucked up methhead, all yellow skin and missing teeth. What the fuck’s with that?! How bad do I look? And thanks for your concern, by the way, Brandi or what the fuck ever. I’m fine, thanks for asking. Probably just a minor concussion. You run off to your yoga retreat or whatever…
I do eventually find the key, put it in the lock and pause.
What if the motherfuckers are inside waiting for me? Come to finish off the job where they can’t be as easily incriminated. Probably a little over the top. Probably. But I step back and look around for something I could use to defend myself. The ashtray. Lightweight. Won’t inflict much damage but the element of surprise.
Just in case.
I unlock the door, swing it open at a distance, prepared to let fly with the ashtray.
Nothing. Nobody inside. At least, not immediately obvious. Reaching in, I flick the light on, still ready to the fling the ashtray if need be. Again. Nothing. Nobody.
Step inside, still cautious. Check behind the door and move further into the room. Waiting for whatever’s going to happen to happen. But nothing. Nobody.
Relaxing a bit, I turn and shut the door. As I go to lock it, I notice a piece of paper on the floor. A note. Checking back over my shoulder again to make sure it’s not some sort of distraction, I flip the paper over.
The letters of the words in the note are beautiful. That’s my first thought. Probably the release of tension in figuring that nobody’s in the apartment waiting to spring out at me. Probably. Not even sure they came inside to drop the note off. Just slipped it under the door.
But seriously. The penmanship. Like, what do they call it, calligraphy, almost. How much time did they spend printing this out, I want to know.
I wander around, checking mostly to see if they did any damage if they came inside. It doesn’t look like it is my first assessment. Nothing obviously stolen either as far as I can tell. Everything in orderly fashion.
But seriously. This note. I can’t get over it. Where do you even learn to do something like this? I want to know. You got to work at this kind of stuff, I imagine. Hours. You go to school to get trained? In like, what was it called again? Some calligraphy course? Maybe Mr. Lucian’s some kind of, if this is his handiwork and I can’t imagine any of the thug boys that bodyguard him do a side gig handcrafting wedding invitations or whatever other reason you might want to learn how to do this. Maybe Mr. Lucian’s a frustrated artist like you know—
I glance into the bathroom, switch on the light and that’s when I see it. Jesus fucking christ!!! I literally jump toward the sink, looking in the mirror. Right between the eyes. A swastika! The motherfuckers penned me with a fucking swastika right between the eyes. That’s why everybody was looking at me! Giving me the stink eye! Amazing nobody, that black guy, didn’t try to kick the shit out of me. Fuck! It’s not coming off either. With a washcloth, trying insanely to wipe it off but it won’t come off. Even with fucking soap! Some sort of indelible ink or something. I pick up the note and look at it. Same fucking ink. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
What am I going to do?! is all I’m thinking. It’s not coming off. Not anytime soon. There’s got to be something, some sort of substance to remove it. Turpentine? The stuff they strip paint of the brushes with. It’s not like a fucking tattoo. It’s not like Charlie fucking Manson!
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
What am I going to do?
Both hands on the sink, leaning in toward the mirror. Forehead rubbed red but the ink… the mark… the… fuck. Still there. Still fucking right there for the world to see. I need bangs. Wear a hat everywhere I go. A hoodie.
This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. Not this. Them maybe. That’s their thing. Not mine. This isn’t… that. I’m not that, OK. This… isn’t what I meant. Never. Not what I meant at all.
I can’t stop staring at it.
What if it never comes off? What then? That’s not possible, right? Eventually… It has to… doesn’t it? Otherwise…
I just keep staring at it. The swastika between my eyes. Like maybe, if all else fails, I can will it off. Make like it was never there. Or just some bad dream. From the concussion, right? Some people see stars. Me? I see…
I close my eyes. Start a slow count to ten…