Andrew felt the coarse surface of the cheap door as he eased it open enough to enter without touching any more than necessary. The doorway reeked of bile and aborted goodnight kisses. This was a house where parties lived…and died.
Pushing the door closed with the bottom of his shoe, his stomach turned at the shallows of the filthy carpet surrounding him. He plugged his hands safely into his pockets and called out, “Ernie? You here?”
In his later 20s, a shaggy-haired male in jeans and a torn, black hoodie with a swastika came into the doorway from what Andrew guessed was a hallway leading to the bedrooms. He doubted Ernie even knew what a swastika was. Probably from a five-bucks-a-box sale at the junk store, he thought to himself. Ernie’s face had a dull look and Andrew knew in that moment he was high.
“You okay?” he asked the failure wearing the hoodie.
A few moments passed and it answered, “Yeah… guess so,” before turning and disappearing from the doorway once again.
Andrew frowned as he looked around the room. He wanted out – and now. “Hey…Ernie?” he called out loudly.
“Yeah?” came the response from somewhere Andrew didn’t want to go.
“You were going to have that ID for me?” Andrew reminded him and immediately stiffened, realizing he had no idea whether Ernie was alone. He could feel his chest tightening and a general anxiety descending as he realized how the ‘fish out of water’ felt.
He heard no movement but rather sensed that Ernie was about to topple back into stained sheets somewhere. He didn’t want to go exploring, so he tried once more. “Hey…I’ve got the cash…just bring it here… please?” he added the last in a sort of desperate plea.
“Shit!” came the muffled and resigned response. Ernie was suddenly in the doorway again and holding out the three by two inch plastic. “Five hundred,” he muttered and scratched his scalp with his free hand.
Andrew quickly stepped forward and held out five, crisp, one-hundred dollar bills toward Ernie. Ernie dropped the ID as he reached for the money and squinted at it in the sunlight that had found its way through the fiberglass drapes. “Yeah, okay, you’re good to go.” He was gone.
Andrew frowned as he bent and picked up the ID with a tissue he always kept in his pocket. Carefully he used it to wipe the plastic coating, even spitting on it a bit to rinse off whatever he didn’t want to acknowledge. He looked around and decided to drop the tissue where he stood and within seconds was standing in the six inches of snow he’d scuffed through on his way in.
Once in his car, he pulled the pack of alcohol wipes he kept in his console and carefully polished the card and then his hands before tossing it out the window. He tried to keep his eyes on the ruts in the road until he left the neighborhood and merged onto the anonymous expressway. Only then could he breathe deeply. Only then did he acknowledge that just maybe his life wasn’t over after all.