By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Some days she thought I was chasing hell, tugging it like a diseased stray, tugging it into everything. But it was more like this weight of unresolved things hanging from my neck, making me topple sometimes. But for this day, for these hours — like most of the days and hours with her — that stray was scratching on someone else’s door. I felt no weight at all. Living seemed more like an act of ablution.
We went in through the basement. Water dripped loudly and it was dark. Broken pipes and the bent metal of door frames recurved from shadows into other shadows. On the ground, in the light of our flashlights, we saw the tops of beer cans, used roman candles, barrels and chunks of insulation that I mistook for dead animals. There were circular holes in the floor the size of hubcaps.
It was a large room but portions of it were sectioned off like stables. These were filled with pieces of porcelain and colored glass that sat in piles. I stepped on the piles of glass. It felt like crunching seashells under my feet. V picked a few pieces out, put them in the pocket of her coat.
We went up the curving hall to the second floor, ducked under a collapsed section of roof. We walked around for a while, saw the smoke stacks, the mangled cars, went out to where the fire had burned down part of the building. Trees grew between the freestanding brick walls. There was snow on everything.
When we came out of the basement we heard a horn and a train came down the tracks towards us. We walked along the rails next to it heading in the opposite direction. It was only a few feet between the tracks we were walking on and the train. It had been moving very quickly but started to slow. By the time we were almost back to my car, the train reached a complete stop. I climbed up a short ladder, walked across, and dropped off the other side. V followed and did the same.
Not far from us, right next to the train track, there was a deer’s body. Being that it was winter and cold it was hard to tell how long it had been there. Pieces of its legs had been eaten away by something but not in large portions. Snow had collected and sat on its bloated stomach. Its mouth was open. Its gums were very red and all the teeth were missing. Its tongue was still intact and pointed half frozen like an arrow to the building we had just been in.
I took a picture of it with her Polaroid camera. I bent down and got closer to its head and took a couple more. I stood up and walked over to V and the car. We got in. I put the Polaroids on the dashboard. Their pictures were just starting to appear. I turned the key and rolled the heat dial up. She laughed and showed me the picture she had just taken of me crouching down putting the camera right in the deer’s face. We headed back to her house.
I sat on the bed. She was pretending to be a stripper. We had just sort of slipped into doing this that week; these improvised roll-playing episodes, without plan or proposition. She was wearing a beanie and hoop earrings, a combination I have a weakness for, and she was wearing the sort of underwear I also have a weakness for. I had bought her the underwear the day before. She was almost too good at feigning resigned disinterest. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to win her over, in the end I did. We started kissing, started in. I watched her breasts press against the bed. I told her I loved her.
She got dressed up in an evening gown. It was the one she wore when she went to the casino with her boss. I wore sweatpants. We drove out to the railroad tracks. We were looking for a good spot to shoot off the fireworks. She ripped her dress climbing up a hill. It was getting very close to midnight. We planned to kiss at midnight. I said I knew a good spot to shoot the fireworks off, a cliff by the water not far from there. We started running. Right when we reached the cliff she said it was 12. I kissed her. She used a lot of bottom lip, I liked her bottom lip, it was very thick.
I set up the fireworks and she handed me a lighter. My hands were cold. I untaped the fuses and lit them. They burst overhead and ashes fell down on us like slow rain. She was laughing.
We were by the tower I had climbed one night a few months back to throw a watermelon off. It had exploded when it hit the ground. We ate the burst chunks like animals. It had tasted sweet.
After the fireworks we walked back to the car, then drove to her house again.
I was shirtless in sweatpants and she was dressed like an heiress. We slow-danced to a couple old songs. The floorboards creaked under our feet. Then she changed into another dress and we danced to Madonna and Robyn.
When she fell asleep she snored. I liked it. I liked that it meant she was able to sleep and I liked the sound of it. I lay there a while while she snored. My dog was snoring too. I was getting pushed off the side of the bed but I didn’t mind so much, it happened every time I slept there.