Andrew woke up with a nudge on his arm. His first instinct was to touch his wallet. Gone, like always. He gritted his teeth and rubbed his eyes. “Andrew?” A woman asked.
“What the fuck do you want?” He muttered, still half asleep. He opened his eyes. The woman came into focus. Age weighed on her face. Black bags stained the skin under her eyes. Her face glowed with sweat. A large belly extended in front of her. Yet he still recognized her in a heartbeat.
“Marion.” He guessed.
“You do remember me.” She looked down.
“You look… different. Pregnant.” He ran his fingers through his hair, “Who’s the father?”
She placed her hand on her belly, “Dead.”
“Oh,” he muttered, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I never liked him very much.” She assured, “But, he paid the bills.”
He raised an eyebrow, “You didn’t kill him, did you?”
She laughed, “No, but I would have liked to.”
“You’re not…” He thought for a second. The woman next to him was a stranger. He didn’t expect Marion to ever be so calm. “You’re not how I remember you.”
“Things changed.” She nodded, “People changed. I’m glad I changed. But you, you’re exactly how I remember you, and where I picture you’d end up.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged, “To be fair, I didn’t think any of us was going to make it out of that situation triumphant. I thought by this point, I’d be sleeping on the streets too.”
He jolted back, “I have a home but thanks for that thought.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She blushed, “I just thought… well, I guess I thought wrong.”
“’Sorry?’” He repeated, “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you use that word.
“I told you, people change.” She pulled on her dress and looked back at Andrew, “Would you happen to need a roommate?”
He laughed, “Now that’s the ‘Marion’ I remember. Looks like your manipulation just took another form.”
“Oh, God, no.” She gasped, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just… After my husband died, it’s been hard getting a job and harder still paying the apartment. It’s pretty small but I can’t afford it anymore and I need a safe place for Susan to grow up in.”
“Who’s Susan?” Marion touched her belly again and he understood. “I live in a tenement. Four square feet that I can call mine and not much more. She wouldn’t be happy there.”
“Are you happy there?” She asked. Andrew stayed silent. “Why are you sleeping on the streets?”
He shook his head, “I’ve been having a dream. A nightmare of sorts.” He stopped himself. He didn’t know if Marion cared at all what was happening in his life or if she just wanted someone to help her out. She never did help him out. Why would she change?
Marion touched his leg and nodded. He looked her in the eyes, those same brown eyes he had stared at for so many years, but something was different. They seemed to carry compassion. “I’m back in the enclave and I’m by that golden gate with the paint that was always peeling off. Except, in my dream, it’s brand new and it shines. I touch it and it burns. It starts burning my skin off and I can’t let go of it and for some reason, I don’t want to. It turns black and flames grow from it and they start burning me up slowly.
“But I only have that dream when I’m in the tenement. Never outside.”
She smiled, “Do you want my opinion?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to trust her, but he nodded anyway. “You’re still trapped in there. You’ve never lived comfortably, you’re always thinking of making it to the next day. But what about in a year? In ten?”
“I won’t be alive by then.” He smiled.
“You could.” She stated, “You’re stuck in the same mindset you’ve always been in. Since I met you.”
He looked at her, “And what gives you the basis to say that? You were just as stuck as I was. No, you were worse.” He lifted his sleeve. Three black scars ran along his arm, “You did this to me to try to scare me. You burned down houses. You stole and you murdered.”
“That’s not true!” She yelled. Her hands shivered as she caught her breath.
“That’s the girl I remember.” He stood up and touched his hat, “Goodbye.” He began to walk away.
“Wait!” She called, “Please. I need you.” He looked back for a second. The girl who was so feared, so powerful, was begging for him.
“Convince me.” He stated.
She ran her fingers through her dress as she tried to organize her thoughts. “I never killed anyone. Not on purpose. You know what my mentality was? Why I was stuck in my own little loop? All I wanted was to get out of there. I didn’t care who I had to hurt or how I had to do it. I wanted a house and a husband and a family.
“After that fire I set, when that family died, I realized that hurting people was just burying me deeper into the ground. For a man, there’s only one way out and it’s through hard work and a lot of luck. For a woman, there’s another way out. Getting married to a wealthy man. So that’s what I did and that is what changed me.
“He made me submissive. He made me say ‘yes’ to everything he said. Cooking, cleaning, sex, I said ‘yes’ because I was so afraid that if I said ‘no’ he’d leave me and I’d fall right back into the hole I worked hard to get out of. Perhaps he wouldn’t have left me, but I didn’t want to test it. He was probably a good man but I only ever saw him as a master and I think he only saw me as a servant.
“But when I got pregnant, everything changed. I don’t care if I fall into the same patterns again. I don’t care what happens to me. All I want is for this little girl to get the chances I never had. I finally have something to live for.”
He listened in silence as he looked down, “So that’s why you’re like this now.”
She nodded, “I have a job as a waitress but it’s not enough to pay the bills.” She looked up, “Move in with me.”
“It will do you good to try a different lifestyle. It could help you sleep at night again.” She argued.
“You’re serious?” He said, “No.”
“Please.” She begged, “Just try it one night. Just for tonight. I promise it’ll do you good.”
He thought about it for a moment. He thought it would be nice to sleep in a place where he wouldn’t be crammed all night. “Alright.” He replied, “Just for tonight.” Marion smiled. She grabbed his hand and led him through the broken down streets, into the light of new ones.