The old, rickety door creaked open. To my dismay, Boo-Boo ran towards me. Boo-Boo had the teeth of an old Englishman. They were gnarled and broken, and the bottom layer stuck out with a sharpness. I always wondered what would happen if Boo-Boo came for my ankles, but I was fortunate that he was as aloof as his owner.

            The apartment had a peculiar smell. It reeked of a heavily salted, pungent scent, that landed harshly in my nostrils.

            Closing the door behind me, I quietly began to creep towards the kitchen. Vicky was nowhere in sight, so I made a break for it.

            The bathroom was a small, decrepit room directly beside the kitchen. It had chipped ancient blue paint and always stunk of urine. It also always contained a mountain of empty toilet paper rolls beside the toilet, that neither Vicky nor I ever bothered to throw in the trash.

            Once inside, I locked the door. But when I flicked the light switch, a large frown formed on my face. Vicky had informed me the day I moved in that the light switch, “has a mind of its own.” I didn’t particularly understand what she meant at first, but after only a week of living here, I’d finished two showers in complete darkness and found myself one night urinating on the wall – the light had gone out mid-stream.

            Now the light didn’t bother to turn on at all, but I had no intention of trying to fix it. I could see the slightest orange hue dripping in through the small, fogged window – enough to reach the sink. I was planning on heading to bed soon. I brushed my teeth quickly and shifted towards the toilet, when I heard a loud and heavy slamming of the door.

            Vicky had returned. I immediately felt my nerves blossom. I had desperately wanted to go to sleep without having to interact with her, but I was too late.

            I flushed the toilet and began to prepare for how I’d escape our inevitable conversation. But in the almost total darkness I wasn’t keen on staying too long. Once after I’d exited the shower, I felt something crawl onto my foot. It forced me into a distressed dance that ended with me banging my knee against the mold-infested, claw-foot tub and letting out a squeal that echoed off the bathroom tiles and only exacerbated the pain.

            Slowing opening the door, the light of the kitchen overtook my eyes. Vicky had turned on the fluorescent, over-head bulb, which created a blinding glow. I was able to make out her figure but the light had formed black spots in my eyes so I couldn’t see the details of her frame. All I could see was that Vicky was wearing her usual nighttime attire – an unwashed, skimpy pair of children’s pajamas that didn’t fit her peculiarly shaped figure.

            Vicky turned towards me the moment I shut the bathroom door. Her voice held its usual, hoarse tone when she asked, “Do you have a sec’?”

            “Yep…” I replied hesitantly.

I headed towards the small side table we ate on. Vicky had never bothered to purchase a dining-room table. All our meals were taken on this side-table, whose neon-green paint was completely chipped. Beside it, Vicky had two mis-matched chairs – I always sat in the beat-up plastic one. The other was a large lounger that was covered in dog-hair and had become Boo-Boo’s bathroom over the years.

            After taking a seat, my eyes finally began to heal. The blinding spots were fading and I could finally see Vicky clearly. Her back was towards me, but I began to notice something off-putting on her bare legs – a series of red, swollen bumps. They were ripened and bright, and consumed almost every visible inch of flesh on her backside. The bumps didn’t overtake one another. Instead, they created a consistent, evenly distributed layer. Each leg was completely covered and I could no longer see the natural paleness of her leg.

            Vicky turned and her portrait engulfed my periphery. She caught my awe-struck eyes.

            “It’s-Nothing!” Vicky exclaimed. She spoke in an unusually hysteric tone. Vicky looked like she had chickenpox, but if they had swollen and were coated in a thin layer of crust. I held back my tongue and remained silent as I continued my covert examination.

            The percolating silence led Vicky to hastily turn towards the stove, before taking a long, frustrated breath and exhaling, “It’s-NOT-a-Big-Deal!” Vicky then scrambled through the cabinets and took out an old wooden spoon. She began to stir the large, steaming pot.

            “The cure is bone broth. Plain and simple.” Vicky’s confident voice explained. I watched her hands drift towards the cabinet, and I noticed inside were a half-dozen identical cartons of the broth. Vicky pulled another down, ripped open the top and poured the entire thing into her soup. She then gave it a quick stir before taking a seat beside me in Boo-Boo’s chair.

            “Anyway, did I tell you who’s coming over tonight?” Vicky began. Her voice was jubilant and energetic, a stark contrast to my continuous yawns and wavering eyes. I shook my head.

            “He’s not one of my regulars.” I remained uninterested in Vicky’s plans, but I couldn’t turn my eyes away from her. Each time I felt my tired eyes droop to the floor they’d notice another pulsating, oozing bump and return towards her. Vicky added, “He’s a Real Man.”

            Vicky had a simple and effective way of acquiring companionship, although I’d learned it was not a way to locate love. Through the thin wall that separated our room I’d gotten to know many of Vicky’s suitors, and Vicky herself. I’d hear their brief conversations, beginning with Vicky’s off-putting, boisterous laugh and ending with her overly dramatic moans. These were followed by silence, before I would hear the door shut and footsteps head down the stairs.

            I had yet to encounter Vicky in love, but when I asked where she met tonight’s visitor I was stuck by the smile that radiated off her blushed face, which in conjunction with the bumps had turned it completely red.

            “After work I was waiting for the train, and of course, the M never came. Boo-Boo needed a walk, so I was like, ‘Screw it! I’m gonna take a cab’ but then I accidentally rammed into this hunk.” Vicky took a brief pause, as if she was attempting to control herself from jumping out of Boo-Boo’s lounger in excitement.

            “His name’s Jan – He caught me with these… Hands!” Vicky’s voice jumped in excitement. “They were so rough and scratchy, and when I looked up and saw he had a cute little bald spot too, I knew I couldn’t let him go.”

Vicky had become completely giddy. Her voice kept rising in pitch and velocity and I wondered if she’d slow down her speech or allow it to completely overtake her.

“And then he spoke. You wouldn’t believe how thick his accent is. I couldn’t understand a thing, but every word was just so yummy…” Vicky finally took another breath. Before launching back into her retelling in an unusual, poorly-mimicked accent. 

            “‘Where you’ live?’ Turn’s out, we’re neighbors! We hopped into a cab, and he even opened the door for me.” Vicky paused to breathe, but only for a moment. “But when I gave him a little, thank-you-pat, I didn’t expect his arms to be so hairy and greasy.” Vicky’s smile exploded.

            Vicky’s grin became glued onto her face. She was barely able to sit still, but so engulfed she didn’t bother to get up and deal with the overflowing pot on the stove. She held a radiating glow and I could sense even just retelling this story made her heart flutter. But then Vicky caught my eyes.

            I had attempted to keep them on her lips and eyes during her monologue, but I noticed that her excitement had forced one of the bumps on her forehead to begin to leak a small, steady stream of pus. It was a white, lightly foamed substance.

            Vicky placed her hand on her forehead and wiped off the goo. Her smile disappeared and I watched her lift herself up and head back towards the stove.

            “When’s he coming over?” I asked.

            “Jan’s working a late shift. He said midnight. You should’ve heard how happy he was when I invited him over. He even mumbled a few words in Polish, but I didn’t care I couldn’t understand them… He’s such a sweetie.”

            My eyes fell onto the large clock above the stove and I noticed it was already past my bedtime. I let out a yawn. Despite Vicky keeping me up, I was grateful to learn I’d be long asleep by the time Jan arrived – Vicky had a knack for inviting lovers over unannounced, forcing awkward, lumbered introductions each time I went to use the bathroom before bed.

            Pulling out a bowl, I watched Vicky pour a heaping portion of soup. She then slowly headed towards the salt and pepper shakers in the corner of the kitchen – I realized this was my only chance to escape. Once Vicky took a seat I’d be roped into further conversation that I knew I’d regret when I’d arrive to work with dark, swollen bags under my eyes, both of them likely crusted shut.

            I stood, and when Vicky turned back towards the table I left her with a light, good-hearted, “He sounds like the one.”

            Vicky took a sip of her broth. After a moment she said, in an unexpectedly genuine tone, “I have that same funny feeling.” A large smile formed between her swollen cheeks, before she added, “Good-Nighty! Also, I promise I’ll keep it down tonight.” Vicky then blew the steam off her soup and slurped another sip in glee.

            I headed back through the living-room, past the slumbering Boo-Boo and into my room. It was down the hall in our old, rail-road apartment. I locked the large dead-bolt and hit the lights. I pulled the covers over my exhausted frame and prepared to sleep, when I felt a sudden, unexpected joy.

            This was the first time in almost a year of living with Vicky that not only did Vicky say goodnight, but she promised to be quiet. Vicky had often had suitors over till the morning light shined into my window, and many times I’d been forced to stay up with them.

            I began to wonder, if this was who Vicky became on the outskirts of love, who would I awaken to the following morning? I closed my eyes, and allowed Vicky’s smile to pleasantly drift through my thoughts. It was warm and welcomed and I’d completely forgotten about the bumps that overtook her frame. But then it all disappeared in an instant.

            “Boo-Boo! That’s not your Wee-Wee Pad!” Vicky’s hoarse voice reverberated through the thin walls and into my ears. It began to echo throughout my room and even when I placed my pillow over my head, my ears remained alert. There was a brief pause, but it was broken only a moment later.

            “Boo-Boo! How dare you! You know Mommy has a guest coming over!”     

About the Author   

Alex Antiuk is a writer and former vitamin salesman from New York. He was also a winner in author Simon Van Booy’s Short Story Competition in 2018.


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