Fri, 31 Jan 2002

Two AM. I’m halfway through Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s okay. The buzzer buzzes.

I resolve to ignore it. It’s probably some drunk buzzing my number by mistake. A few seconds later, it buzzes again.

I go to the intercom. I press the “listen” button. At first, silence. Then, the sound of someone breathing heavily. More buzzing noises. More heavy breathing. Apparently someone is downstairs, indiscriminately buzzing every apartment. I listen for a few more seconds. More heavy breathing.

I figure, okay, maybe someone has locked him or herself out of the building, and needs to get back in. I put on my shoes and go downstairs.

I can see a young woman through the glass door. She is leaning against the door, randomly pushing buttons on the intercom. She isn’t wearing a jacket. She’s wearing a sweater and sweatpants and sneakers. What is it, minus-thirty-two?

I open the door. “Are you alright?” I say.

She kind of staggers away and rolls onto the ground. “You don’t even have to let me in,” she says. “Just call 911.”

“Come in,” I say.

“I’ll just wait out here,” she says. She’s curled up in the foetal position. She reeks of alcohol.

“Come inside,” I say. “It’s warmer inside.” I offer her my hand and she takes it and pulls herself to her feet. She lurches inside and slides down to the floor. “Now, what’s wrong?” I ask.

“Just call 911, call an ambulance.”

She doesn’t look physically hurt, just cold and hysterical and drunk. But I run upstairs and grab my portable and bring it downstairs again, dialling as I go. She’s still curled up on the floor of the lobby, sobbing and moaning. A female operator picks up after three or four rings.

“911 emergency, how can I help you?”

I tell the operator there’s a young woman in the lobby of my apartment who says she needs an ambulance.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong with her?”

“I can’t tell. She seems pretty distressed.”

“Can you tell me her name?”

“No, I don’t know her.”

“Can you tell me how old she is?”

“She looks about…I don’t know…maybe twenty-five?”

“I’m twenty!” says the young woman, between moans.

“Would you like to talk to her?” I ask. I hold the phone out. “Would you like to talk to 911?”

She takes the phone from me. “Hello?…Yes, I need an ambulance…Because I want to kill myself!…No, I don’t have any weapons…Just my fingernails…I don’t want to talk any more.” And she drops the phone on the floor. I scoop it up.

“Hi, it’s me again,” I say.

The operator asks for my address and telephone number, and says she’ll send an ambulance out right away.

“I’m not sure if she needs an ambulance…maybe a police officer?”

The operator says I should try and keep her there, and to be careful, in case the woman is dangerous. “Thanks,” I say, and hang up. I’m sitting on the bottom step. The woman is slumped against the wall.

“You know what,” she says, “Men suck.”

“Yeah, probably,” I say.

“I used to live at 1600 Markham Crescent,” she says, pointing across the parking lot, “But I don’t live there any more.”

“Oh, no?”

“My boyfriend’s such an asshole. He’s so jealous.”

“Yeah?”

“I was gonna kill myself tonight, but you know why I didn’t? Because I didn’t know how.”

“Well, that’s lucky.”

“So I just cut off my hair instead.”

Her shoulder-length blonde hair is patchy and dishevelled, but it doesn’t look like it’s been cut. I nod my head.

“Would you mind if I ask your name?” I say.

“Trina Leveaux,” she says. I instantly forget it.

“Can I ask what happened to your jacket?”

“You know, there’s a reason I’m not wearing a jacket, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you.”

We sit in silence for a few moments. Then she pulls herself to her feet and pushes open the door. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she says. “I’ll just get going.”

“No, don’t go,” I say, grabbing at her shoulder. But she heads out into the cold and limps across the parking lot, rubbing her shoulders and shaking. I start to follow her, then I realise that I haven’t got my keys. If I let the door close, we’ll both be locked out.

She’s halfway to the street. “Why don’t you come back inside where it’s warm,” I yell.

She doesn’t need much convincing. She turns around and limps back to the building. As she reaches the door, she stumbles into me, and I drop the telephone. It hits the ground and the battery cover flies off.

The woman sprawls onto the floor inside, and I pick up the telephone and close the door. She pulls herself into a sitting position. We sit in silence for a few seconds. “I need a hug,” she finally says.

So I get down on my knees and kind of rest my arms on her shoulders. She curls up into my chest. She smells like booze and hairspray.

“He pushed me into the wall,” she says, “And my head really hurts. Okay, that’s enough.” She shrugs my arms off her shoulders. I move away and sit on the bottom step again. “I think my toe is broken, too.”

Without untying it, she pulls off her left sneaker, wincing, and feels her little toe. “Ow,” she says. “I can’t move it.”

“You shouldn’t try to move it,” I say, like I know anything about broken bones. She pulls the shoe on again, still wincing.

“Your little plastic piece is still outside,” she says. She means the battery cover to my telephone. It’s about six feet outside the door.

“I’ll get it later,” I say.

“Can you bring me a glass of water?”

“Uh…why don’t you come up to my apartment and I’ll get you some water?”

“I’d better not,” she says. “I might try and hurt you.”

“Why would you try and hurt me?”

“It’s better if you just bring it down.”

“See,” I say, cautiously, “I’m a little worried if I leave you down here you might try and run off.”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Come on,” I say, offering her my hand again. “Let’s go up to my apartment.”

“But your little plastic piece is still outside.”

“I’ll get it later.”

“You’d better get it now.”

She’s standing up now. I open the door. The battery cover is just out of reach. I’m reluctant to ask her to hold the door for me – what if she decides to pull it shut, and I’m locked out? The ambulance might not get here for who knows how long.

I discover that if I hold the door open with my heel, and stretch out as far as I can, I can reach the battery cover. I pick it up and go back inside. The woman is leaning against the railing of the stairs, paying no attention to me.

“Let’s go up,” I say. “Do you need any help?”

She shakes her head, and starts pulling herself up the stairs by the railing. When we reach the landing, she looks up. “All the way up there?” she asks.

“Afraid so,” I answer.

So we go upstairs to my apartment. “I’m so sorry,” says the woman, “You’ve probably got your girlfriend over, or your boyfriend.”

“No,” I say. “I was just sitting there.”

So we go into my apartment and she seats herself on the little stool by the door. I go into the kitchen. “Would you like cold water or warm water?” I ask.

“A little warm,” she says. So I run some warm water into a glass. When I come back into the hall, I find that she is pulling out clumps of her own hair. She’s got a thick lock wadded up in her hand. I hand her the glass of water and she sips from it.

“You know,” she says, staring at her handful of hair, “I was really very pretty, before I cut off all my hair.”

“It doesn’t look that bad,” I say, which is true.

“My boyfriend is so jealous, he wouldn’t even let me go visit my own grandmother!”

“Did he, uh, hit you?” I say.

“Yeah.” She shows me a little red mark on her hand, like a fingernail scratch. “And he did this.”

“Ouch,” I say.

“I went out drinking tonight. I had thirty dollars. I go out every Wednesday. There’s a pool tournament. It cost twelve dollars to enter. The rest I spent on booze.”

“Uh-huh.”

“My boyfriend is such an asshole,” she says. “But I still like him a lot.”

For something to do, I go into the bathroom and take the garbage can out from under the sink. I hold it out for her. She drops in the clumps of hair. “There you go,” she says. “You can have that to remember me by.”

The buzzer buzzes. It’s the ambulance guys. “We’ll be right down,” I tell them.

I help the woman to her feet again and we go out into the hall. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” she says.

“It’s alright. I was just sitting there watching a movie,” I say.

“What movie?”

“Did you ever see The Thomas Crown Affair?” I ask. I start to add that it’s the original version, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but the ambulance guys meet us at the top of the stairs. Two of them take her gently by the shoulders and lead her down. The other one stays behind to ask me questions.

“What’s her name?” he asks.

“She told me, but I’ve forgotten,” I say.

“How do you know her?”

“She just randomly buzzed my buzzer.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I’m not sure. She’ll probably tell you all about it.”

“Okay. That’s all we need to know.” And the ambulance guy runs downstairs.

“You know how to reach me,” I call after him, as he follows the others out the door and, I don’t know, they all hop into the ambulance, I guess. I linger at the top of the stairs, wondering if I should go down to watch, or wave goodbye, or something. Instead I just go back to my apartment and flop onto the couch.

A few minutes later, a policeman buzzes my apartment. I let him in.

He asks me what the woman’s name is. I tell him I can’t remember. How do I know her? – She just randomly buzzed my buzzer. What’s wrong with her? – I’m not really sure. Then he asks my phone number and how to spell my last name. I offer him a root beer, because it’s all I have, and it seems like I should offer him something. He declines.

He’s a big Indian guy. His radio hums and crackles and speaks in a diversity of voices. Every once in a while, he leans away from me to whisper something into it. He’s scribbling in his notepad. “Nice building, man,” he says, as he scribbles.

“Yeah, it’s alright.”

“How much is rent?”

“Three hundred.”

“That’s pretty good.”

“Yup.”

“So what do you do, man?”

“I’m, uh, unemployed right now, actually.”

“Too bad. What did you do before?”

“Worked in a video store.”

“Uh-huh.” I hear his radio say something about ‘Trina Leveaux’.

“That’s it, that’s what she told me her name was,” I say.

“Uh-huh,” he says, and caps his pen. “Well, I guess I got everything I need from you, man,” he says.

“You know how to reach me, if you need anything else,” I say.

“Seeya, Matt,” he says, as he goes out the door. I realise he’s been calling me Matt all along. It just sounded like “man”.

“My name’s Michael,” I say.

“Oh, yeah?” he says. “I thought it was Matt.”

He goes out. I lock the door behind him. It’s about two-thirty.

 

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