I didn’t know where I was. It was warm and dark here. Dark dark. Not the kind of darkness that your eyes need some adjusting to before your vision improved just slightly. It was so pitch black that I couldn’t see my own body.
I became very reliant on touch in the few minutes I had been awake.
But how long had I been here? I woke up but didn’t quite know I was conscious because I wasn’t in a bed. Maybe I fell off, I thought. But there was no bed in sight–no pun intended, really. There was nothing in here.
I reached my arm out felt the walls, its paint smooth to the touch. Okay, I’m in a room of some sort. I rested my back against the wall, hoping it would awaken my memory. It was a hopeless effort.
I must be blind, I thought. Except I wasn’t in my room, so the quality of my vision since I awoke was still up in the air.
I got on my feet and gently pressed my fingertips to the wall, allowing it to guide me to the exit–to somewhere. I got about ten steps forward when I was stopped by another wall.
Basically there were four walls, no furniture, and no light. Either I had fallen down a charming and cozy, unfurnished well, was dreaming, or I was dead. At this point it all felt the same.
I had gone out last night. About three nights ago I went to celebrate a friend’s birthday at a bar called Verdugo. Inside there was rap music blaring loudly, which I have no problem with, but this was obnoxiously loud. I’m only thirty-three but I felt very protective of my hearing within ten minutes of standing in the place so I ventured outside and bummed a cigarette from the guy who checks ID’s.
He was quiet and was clutching onto an older model iPhone that was scratchy and worn out. He didn’t want to be there. He probably didn’t want to be bothered either, especially to give one of his cigarettes to a dork who thought the music inside was too loud.
I thanked him and left him alone, smoking a few feet away from him against the brick wall. The inside of the place sucked but the wall was pretty.
A girl walked over to the ID guy and showed him her identification. She didn’t look like the type of girl who should be going into a noisy place like Verdugo. She had short blonde hair that was brushed back so the waves of her hair curled under a little at the bottom and she wore a shoulder-less black dress that pressed against her body with black shoes. She was going to work in the 1950’s when she accidentally got into a time machine instead of a taxi. At least that was the look she was going for.
She noticed I was staring and turned her head only a little so that she could take all of me in. Her lips were a dark, faded red. When she grinned they complimented her white teeth.
“Hard to hear in there,” I said to her and immediately regretted it.
“I think I can handle it,” she said, mostly to the ID guy who hardly gave her any notice as she took her license from him and tucked it back inside her purse. She walked inside.
I stood there for a moment, staring at the empty space that her body occupied only seconds ago. I threw the cigarette down and stomped on it as I made my way back inside.
I knew she was here for the same party when I walked in and saw her socializing within the same circle as my buddy Matt. She wasn’t speaking to him but rather standing behind him holding a drink and immersed in conversation.
IMatt was a ad exec who worked over sixty hours a week. These were all of his work friends and I didn’t know most of them. I listened in on the conversation she was having with another girl who I guess had recently adopted a dog and to her it’s a lot like having a child. I wouldn’t be disrupting anything of importance if I introduced myself.
“Lara,” she said coyly when I asked for her name.
We talked a little that night and exchanged numbers. It was Wednesday and we agreed to meet in a much quieter setting on Friday night.
We went to a spot called The Little Door, which is nice enough that if I never saw Lara again it would leave quite an impression on her but not so expensive that the next place I took her to would be a terrible downgrade.
Lara worked in advertising and was Vice President of the company Matt worked at before he transferred to his new job. They were old work friends and used to make commercials for this all natural body wash together.
“It burned people’s genitals,” she said as she peaked inside the menu.
“Sounds like a selling point,” I held a menu and pretended to glance at it.
“I was given an annual supply,” she closed her menu and placed it gracefully on our table. “I give it to people when I forget to get them a gift.”
“And the people you do remember to get gifts to?”
“I give them much worse,” she smiled.
Lara lived a few blocks away so we walked to The Little Door and back to her apartment. She let me inside.
The apartment was rather homey for a young single person. She had large, comfortable couches with light sheets draped over them–“for security,” was all she murmured about that–and the portraits on the walls looked crafted by children.
“My nieces like to send me their art work,” she held out a glass of water she prepared for me.
“Where are they from?” I accepted the cup and took a sip.
“Chicago,” she said. “But they’re flying in with my sister tomorrow.”
“Which explains the security blankets.”
“You’re a smart man,” she walked over to a record player. “What kind of music do you like? I know blaring rap music is your favorite but it’s late and my neighbors are older.”
I walked over to her, admiring her record collection. I wasn’t a big music person but recognized some of the bigger names, like Miles Davis and John Coltrane although I couldn’t name a single song either of them wrote.
“Whatever you’d like,” I said and let her do the choosing.
She said the name of an artist and picked out a vinyl from a box on the floor. I couldn’t understand what she meant.
We spent a couple of hours on one of her secured couches and talked as her record player sang quietly behind us. We discussed how my mother named me Ryan because an ex-boyfriend of hers once said, “every girl dates a Ryan” and that was her nonsensical way of getting back at him. I also spoke a bit about my work as a social psychology professor at USC and she had numerous questions about the library on campus.
“It’s one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen,” she said as she rested her head on her hand. “I’m sure you must get a lot of work done there.”
“Not really,” I glanced sleepily at my phone and saw that it was almost three am. “I should go,” I started to rise when she grabbed my arm.
“Stay, please. You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I had two drinks four hours ago.”
“Two too many!” she stated like a well known fact and guided me to her bedroom.
She turned on the light and my eyes immediately went to an ottoman next to her bed. Sitting on it were four very realistic looking dolls, all together in a line, calling out to me pleadingly with their dangerous eyes.
“Don’t mind those,” Lara placed her head on my arm. “A client of mine made them. They’re called Boy Toys. She said I could keep them, but I may just give them to Vanessa and Emily.”
“They enjoy murderous toys?”
“Only the finest ones,” Lara said with a toothbrush in her mouth. She tossed one over to me, a brand new toothbrush fresh from the box.
“What’s the selling point here?”
“They’re one of a kind,” Lara said, very contemplative. “Original. Unique. People like to collect dolls with character.”
“They have too much character. Can’t you put them in another room or cover them up with a blanket?”
“All of my spare blankets are on my couches,” Lara held out a bottle of toothpaste and squeezed some onto my toothbrush. “You’re an adult, do you mean to tell me you’re afraid of dolls?”
I looked back at them. One was dressed in a red and black flannel shirt and khaki pants. Its hair was tousled. This doll has obviously snuck out, killed several people, and got its hair done at an upscale barbershop in West Hollywood on the way back.
“I’m not afraid of them,” I finally said. “I just don’t want to sleep near them.”
“If you’re afraid of dolls, don’t look in the closet.”
I started to brush my teeth. The bristles of the toothbrush were nicer than the one I used at home and I considered taking the toothbrush with me. “What do you keep in there, Boy Toy mannequins?”
“Yes, until the closet people come to install my new shelves. Then I’ll have to find a new place to put them.”
So that’s where I was last. At Lara’s apartment. Maybe I wandered into a room in the middle of the night and got lost. I can’t quite remember anything beyond laying in bed, her head on my chest and one of my arms wrapped behind my head.
I had taken off my clothes upon getting into Lara’s bed but I was wearing them all now, shoes included.
Suddenly I heard the soft singing of Miles Davis. Or John Coltrane. I really couldn’t tell. It played lightly from another room like it had been going on for some time and I was only noticing now.
I stood up and went over to the wall where it sounded closest.
“Lara?” I called out.
My throat was dry and my mouth was clammy. I was beginning to sweat more than usual, too. I rubbed the sweat off my forehead with my shirt sleeve. I’ve been here awhile, probably six hours or so.
Lara’s apartment was big but straightforward. A living room when you entered, a connecting dining room to your right and kitchen right behind it. Her bedroom was right across from the front door and her bathroom was inside her room. Maybe there was a closet or two somewhere. She placed my coat on a rack, so she didn’t have a closet exclusively for coats. I reached my arms up to feel for a rack. Nothing.
Lara lived on the second floor so this couldn’t be a basement. An attic is a possibility. I got on my knees to feel for an escape.
There. Cracks on the wood floor. I was in the attic.
I smoothed my hands over the floor some more, feeling for something–there it was! A latch! I pulled the latch up and the floor dropped down quickly and the daylight shushing through the windows of Lara’s apartment blinded me. I nearly fell out and down before I caught myself.
The drop down wouldn’t have been too bad but I couldn’t risk hurting myself. My head was sore from that tiny hot room, really I could have gone back to sleep as if there wasn’t anything highly unusual about getting stuck in the ceiling of a girl’s apartment.
I sat up and let my legs dangle beneath me for a moment before I leaped down. The landing hurt a little, mostly made me more lightheaded.
Now that I could finally see myself I realized why I was so sweaty and lightheaded:
My head was bleeding. A lot.