You Can't Stay Here

Miles Doyle

It was colder now on the street. Snow continued to fall. Down the block someone was shoveling, scraping the plastic instrument against the asphalt. Manny stalked back and forth on the sidewalk. His nostrils flared, and his features glowed in an iridescent righteousness. I realized I was sweating.

“How could he do this to me? How could he do that to me with him, that pinche palomo.”

He eyed me with an irritating intensity. I didn’t want to answer him, lest I piss him off. I figured in his current state he could bounce me into one of the trash bins lined up in front of the apartment.

“This ain’t the first time, either,” he said. His voice was angrier now. “That asshole told me they were done. Why would he do this to me? Tell me that.”

The muscles around his jaw tensed and then relaxed.

“If it wasn’t you,” I said, “it’d be someone else.”

The scrapping continued down the street. Across the way I saw through a second-story window a woman cooking, the room behind her warmed by orange light. A quiver of envy knuckled my spine. I shivered and tried to shake the feeling from my limbs.

“Can I ask you a question, Manny?”

He fixed the lapels on his coat and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Five months.”

“Five months, what?”

“We’ve been together for five months. Or were. Whatever.”

I shook my head. “I wanted to know how old you are.”

“I’ll be nineteen next week,” he said. “Happy birthday to me."

Nineteen was impossible to imagine. I spent my twentieth year hauling hazard chemicals out of Albany and making weekend runs to Toronto, my fists choked with amphetamines. That was a long time ago, and picturing it again felt like trying to remember the plot of some old movie I never cared for in the first place.

I looked across the street. The woman in the window was gone. I rubbed my temple and thought about Nancy, all the wrong I’d done to her. I suddenly felt within me a great capacity for love, which undid me. My face slackened, and tears threatened to spill out of my eyes. It was too much, caring for another person. Exhausting. And I knew I would continue to hurt Nancy. I felt queasy with regret.

“You got a place to go?” I asked.

“I got a place. Shit. I ain’t homeless.”

“Will you be all right?”

“I will after I hurt him some more. I’ll catch him someplace else. You watch. I’ll sneak up behind him and—bugarron!—run a razor across his face.”

He started bouncing on the balls of his feet and threw a wild combination at the air.

I said, “there’s nothing for you here.”

Manny stopped. “But I still love him.”

I spit on the concrete, which was wet with snow.

“You’d be better off with the razor,” I said.

And then I watched as he walked to the corner, turned, and took off running.

Nancy was waiting for me upstairs. She was spread out across the bed with her coat on. I treaded toward her, expecting her to welcome me. But when I lay my hand on her arm, she bristled at the touch.

“I heard what you said to him.”

Between the drinks and the cold and knock to the head, I couldn’t remember what I had said. “I don’t know, Nancy. I said a lot of things. I had to get him out of here.”

“I could be anyone too,” she said.

She stood then and yanked off her coat. She moved to the middle of the room. The two yards between us might as well have been two miles. She turned and stretched out her arms as if to pull down the walls around us.

“I used to be pretty, Joe. I really did.”

I readied myself for whatever came next.

“I’m going to visit my sister. Come if you want. Or don’t. I don’t care.”

“Let’s talk about it in the morning. I’m beat.”

“Fine,” she said.

But I knew it wasn’t. We’d sleep without touching, and then wake and pretend we’d take a trip together out west. I knew we were nearing the end, and there was nothing I could do to stop its approach.

“In the morning, Nancy,” I said, but she had already switched off the light.

I walked to the front door. I cinched the latch and put my ear to the door and listened. I could hear, through the metal and honeycomb bits, Bobby a few flights below, tucked into bed with that third man. I could hear, too, Manny kicking around the city, a blade in search of its victim. Farther out, I could hear Karen and sea swells crashing into rocks. The noise built toward a slow dark rumble I could feel all the way in my belly.

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