Faking Hope

Faking Hope

by Pete

In Norma’s basement apartment, he felt as if in a
submarine— exposed pipes ran the length
of the ceiling, sunlight leaked down as if through
murky waters. The living room window faced a
a brick wall. Juan sat in an armchair that tilted
under him. A scarred coffee table squeezed
itself between the armchair and the sofa bed;
pale circles intertwined on its surface.

Norma came from the kitchenette with the coffee.
She sat on the sofa and placed the cups on the
table. Juan saw dry coffee stains on the side of
his cup. She had the eyes of someone who had
not seen beauty, love, nor kindness for a
long while.

You told me it was urgent, he said.

Last night I didn’t sleep at all. I kept thinking.
Well… why take just two pills. Why not the
whole bottle? She looked at him with an
indifferent stare, as if not interested in a reply.

Juan sipped the instant coffee she made with
hot water from the tap. Was last night the first
time you had those thoughts?

No, but last night they really scared me. As if…
I was serious. Before I knew I was just fooling.

How do you feel now?

Scared. She pulled a bottle out of her bathrobe’s
pocket. Take the damn thing upstairs. Just leave
me two sleeping pills for tonight.

Juan looked at the blue veins which crawled under
the skin of her pale thin arm. He took the bottle
and moved next to her. He put his arm around
her shoulders. It felt like hugging a wooden doll.

Is there anything else?

Like what?

A gun, knife, a rope?

Nope. Dark circles highlighted the faded blue of
her eyes. She moved away.

Listen, sadness isn’t forever, but death is. I know
that a sleepless night seems endless if one is
depressed, but nothing lasts.

I know, Juan. It doesn’t help. Last night I only
wanted sleep without dreams. Death didn’t
seem that bad.

Well, if you can’t shake those thoughts off, call
me. I have to go. Don’t spend the day moping.
Go to work. If you earn some money you could
see a doctor. When he closed the door she was
staring at the brick wall. The legs of an old
woman shuffled by the window.

Norma and Juan had met three weeks ago on a
frigid night. She sat on the front stairs in a snow-
caked coat. A northeast wind slammed snow
flakes against her body.

Hi. Are you waiting for a cab?

No

Do you live here?

Yeah. Do you?

Yes. I moved in yesterday. I could let you in if
you lost your key.

I have my keys.

Well, I’d keep you company but I hate freezing
to death. Are you sure you don’t want to come
in?

She followed him inside. I live in the basement,
she said.

I live on the second floor. Juan Lomita.

Norma. Would you like to come in for a cup?

Juan thought she was pretty, but somewhat
wilted. It was hard to tell if she was still in her
twenties.

Sure!

They descended the short stairs. Inside the
apartment all the lights were on.

Juan took off his jacket and sat in the sofa.
She sat next to him, still wearing her snow
encrusted coat.

I’m afraid to stay here by myself at night.

Why?

Lately I been having bad nightmares. I’m
scared to fall sleep.

Hmm. Do you live alone.

Yeah. My boyfriend moved out last week. He
left me a note. Could you believe that? The note
said he needed a good night sleep. Sure I watched
TV most of the night, but it wasn’t that loud.

Did you mention coffee?

Oh, yeah. I’ll be right back.

Half an hour later Juan said, Well I have to go.
He saw fear in her eyes.

Could you stay?

I have to hit the sack. Work by
seven, bright eye, and all that jazz.

You could sleep here.

Do you have a bedroom?

No, it’s just a studio apartment.

Juan looked into her eyes, and she looked down.

I don’t mind. I like you, she said in a thin voice.

****

This girl is an emotional road kill, thought Juan.
She lay in bed with her eyes closed, unresponsive
as if he was trimming her hair. Later, lying next to
her he felt like a sexual scavenger. Guilt mixed with
annoyance at her indifference. Juan sat and reached
for his clothes and she came to life.

Don’t go, please. She grabbed his arm and pulled
him down. If you leave I’d have to sit outside again.

OK, I’ll stay but let’s go to sleep. Juan turned the
lights off.

Please turn on the light. I’m afraid of the dark.

No, the bathroom light is on. It’s not that dark.
Here hold my hand. Try to breath at the same
rate I do. Even after I fall asleep keep breathing
like me. OK?

I can’t hear you breathing.

Pay attention. Think of nothing but my breathing.
Here place your hand on my chest.

Norma fell asleep before he did. He thought of
going upstairs but stayed until he drifted off to sleep.
Two hours later, she woke up screaming. Juan
jumped up with no clue of what was happening
or where he was. When she went to the bathroom
he hastily dressed and left.

That evening, she knocked at his door. She brought
a container of spaghetti and meatballs. I brought
you dinner.

You didn’t have to buy me dinner.

I didn’t buy this. I work part-time at the corner
restaurant. I get free food.

Juan put the container in the fridge. Norma took
a tour of the one bedroom apartment and then sat
down. You have a nice place, she said.

It’s all right. Look, I have to go somewhere right
now.

Are you coming by later? We could do it again.

We didn’t do it. I did it, last night.

Do you have a girlfriend?

Not at the moment.

I don’t mind helping you out until you find one.
You helped me a lot last night. I slept good.
Could I sleep here tonight?

No. Buy sleeping pills. Come on. I have to go.

When he returned late that evening, she was sitting
outside. He could see her breath leaking out from
the coat’s hood.

Did you buy the pills?

Yeah.

Why aren’t you sleeping then?

I was waiting for you. I bought you some Scotch.
Won’t you come in for a while, and have some?

Pity’s hand closed around his throat. OK. But only
for a short while.

For over three weeks it had been like that. He’d
come home late and find her waiting. They’d go
down to her studio and she’d take her two pills
and lie down. He’d sip Scotch and watch TV until
she drifted to sleep and then he’d leave. At least
she rested for a few hours until the nightmare
came. He thought she was getting better and
now this— she had never mentioned suicide before.

This girl needs hope. I must think of a way to give
to her, without getting more involved, he thought.

That evening when she brought his dinner up, he
asked her to sit down.

Listen, this morning you freaked me out with that
suicide stuff. You have to see a doctor. You need
help.

You’re all the help I need.

No, I’m not. I can’t cure you and those pills won’t
either. You need professional help. You can’t
depend on my help when you’re talking like, out
the window I go.

Juan, I live in a basement. I can’t jump out of my
window.

Don’t try to make it a joke. It’s not funny.
Anyway, you haven’t told me yet what these
nightmares are about.

I don’t like to talk about them.

I think you need to. Maybe they’d be less scary
if you did. Try it. What do you see, monsters?

She reached for her cigarette and inhaled several
times before answering.

I see nothing.

You see nothing? How can nothing
make you scream?

In my dream, I can’t see. I’m blind. I desperately
try to see, but all is black. She took a deep breath.
Then… then…

Then what?

I sense something very ugly, bad, and dangerous
lurking in the darkness. She squashed the butt on
the ashtray until the paper broke and the filling
spilled out. And it’s coming at me, and I can’t move.

Have you ever see it?

She shook her head. I always awake before it gets
me.

Hmm. Juan reached for his drink and took a long sip.
Well I think your subconscious is trying to tell you
something you’re too scare to face.

How can I don’t know something my brain knows?

Well, your brain is not a simple organ like your heart.
Your brain is more like a government with different
agencies and each agency keeps secrets from the
others, and they conspire against each other. You
think you make the decisions, but those agencies
called brain centers decide for you behind your back.

What are you, some undercover shrink?

Nah, I just happened to know a guy that had the
same type of nightmares.

He had the same kind?

Yeah.

I’d like to meet him.

You can’t. He lives in Havana.

Tell me about his nightmares.

This guy, Mario, he was wealthy. He owned a
large car dealership in Havana . He had
everything– money, a beautiful wife, kids, a
large house by the sea, you name it. He was
very religious, even a Knight of Columbus.
He had been to Rome and talked to the Pope,
but he wasn’t happy—

Did he woke up screaming?

Let me finish. When he was in his early forties
he became impotent, but was too proud to see
a doctor. Sex isn’t everything, he told himself
and went on with his life. Then one night, he
had this terrifying nightmare and woke up
screaming just like you—

She grabbed his arm. What did he see?

Nothing. From then on the same nightmare
returned every night. He dreaded going to
sleep. Since he could afford it, he went to the
best psychiatrist in town and after a couple of
years of therapy he could face up to what his
subconscious was trying to tell him. Just like
that his nightmares stopped.

Juan could tell Norma was fascinated.

So what happened? Did he live happily ever after?

Not exactly. What he learned ruined his home life,
his business, and his social status. He liked feet. He
had a foot fetish.

Ha, ha! Are you pulling my leg?

No, it’s a true story. The man was hot for feet and
shoes, the smellier the better. How could he tell
his wife? Darling, stop washing your feet, and I’ll
charge you like a bull.

Norma laughed. Juan had not heard her laugh
before.

Be serious. What happened to him?

He left home. He rented a small apartment
in a poor neighborhood around the docks
and began shining shoes for a living.

But he was rich, why work shining shoes?

Feet and shoes were his passion. One night
he brought a beggar girl home. It was the
greatest sex he ever had. He asked her to
move in with him and for a couple of days he
was in Heaven. But heavens don’t last. She
took a shower. Lucky for him, there were
plenty of unwashed women in his new
neighborhood. He became the happiest
bootblack in all Havana. An eerie calm
descended on him. Happiness radiated from
him and people sensed it. It was impossible to
remain sad in his presence.

Norma took the glass of Scotch from his hand
and drank a long sip. Do you think I am a
lesbian?

I have no idea. All I’m saying is your
subconscious is sending a message that your
conscious mind doesn’t want to know. It’s
probably not as bad as what you’re going
through now. Open up the dream envelope
and see what it holds inside.

She kissed him. She had never kissed him
before.

We’ll see what happens, she said.

That night she wasn’t sitting outside and Juan went
up to his apartment. Next morning he flew to Miami
to celebrate Christmas with his parents. A week
later, he knocked at her door. The building manager
opened the door broom in hand. The apartment
was empty. Juan looked at the manager as if he had
seen a martian. What happened to Norma?

She moved out?

Where?

She said she was going to Cuba.

Juan leaned against the door jam.

Oh, God! I shouldn’t have made up that story. He
never heard from her again.

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