Devika is crying.
Melo holds her as she shudders, snivels and gasps for air. But nothing can remove the pain of drowning. No more opiates in their veins. The real world has been dragged into this room. Reality is a solid, heavy entity after a good dope habit. A massive stone pressing them both into the cold earth. Only the meat fights back, screaming. But the mind is too weary and alone after the god has moved on. And there is little respite. What few hours of sleep Melo finds are plagued by unending nightmares. They both curse and squirm like cavern creatures dragged from the Darkness and exposed to the Light.
"It's ok" sighs Melo gently rubbing the knobs on Dev's spine. "Look I'm sorry I yelled ok? You were right to sell that shit to Kym and-"
"I'm sorry Melo! I want some too!" wails Dev covering her face.
"Honey, it's all good. You were right. It was getting too heavy ok?"
"Ok" she sniffles.
Melo sighs and rolls his shoulders to knead the pain. Oh so weary. He loves his woman. That part is true. She carries his stone when he falls and they both know this. There has never been anger towards Dev. Never. But the world? Fuck the world.
But a little warning would have been nice. When you smoke, snort and bang heroin for eight months and then shoot hospital Dilaudid for five days straight and then....NOTHING as your hysterical girlfriend demands you both kick...Reality is pure, fucking Hell.
Dev curls up in the bed and closes her eyes. He exits the room because his legs scream MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! He thinks of exercising, push ups, sit ups, anything. But just ends up wandering the house sighing. Why did she sell the last fucking bottle?! Pure hospital Dilaudid is rare. So fucking rare! When his restless legs return to the room she's playing that damn Velvet Underground song again. Over and over again. She just leaves it on repeat and it creeps him out. Is Dev the whiplash girl child in the dark? What the hell is the song about anyways? Weird fucking? Slavery?
Though he senses the futility, Melo rubs his face and asks, "What is this song about honey?"
Dev shrugs. "I dunno. The rhythm reminds me of our temple walks late in the summers of Eleusia."
"What? What does that even mean?"
"It means more 7-Up" Dev says narrowing her eyes.
"Another one? You still have half a glass! I'm not opening the freezer again!" gripes Melo standing over the bed with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Dev looks up unamused.
"If I can make you sing karaoke, I can make you do anything. Ice, 7-Up, splash of water. Now please. Ok, bye-bye" says Dev in her usual wind-up doll voice with a hint of venomous impatience.
Melo shakes his head. She always brings up Kym's 21st birthday. Christ, they were all so drunk that night. Somehow the party ended up in a Korean karaoke bar. After Kym and her boyfriend's horrendous duet of 'Cruisin', he found himself belting out 'Islands In the Stream' with Dev. Easily one of the strangest moments of his life.
So weary, sighs Melo for the thousandth time as he grabs Dev's soda glass. Each step reverberates pain and loss. No more Dilaudid. But the eyes that stare back in the dressing mirror are his own for a change. Brown eyes with actual pupils. They look darker than he remembered. The familiar pin point pupil, junkie stare is gone. His eyes are unfamiliar things that watch him. Alien.
"Hello! Mr. Melo?" interrupts Dev quietly. "Did you forget? Get my drink. Go on. Shoo."
Fuck, Dev has always been a miserable kicker. Whatever life did to her comes out when you take away the drugs. Dev is weird. No bones about it. She calls herself a witch. Others call her Priestess. People leave candles, flowers, coins and bottles of booze by their tent in the park. She makes good money doing tarot readings. Even the Financial District suits make their way to tent at midnight to glimpse their moira. Easy cash. Also, more often than not, they will buy coke or weed. But some people like the Guatemalan ladies are free. It makes no sense. But this is Devika we are talking about.
Melo sighs and checks the clock. It is 2:10 pm on the the third day of no bliss. In about four or five hours, his legal wife will come home. He still has to clean the hall bathroom of his breakfast puke. Dev was bathing and locked the door leaving him no choice. The hall bathroom was bleached and spotless. Splashes of partly digested toast, bile and saliva splatter pristine surfaces. He can see his wife wrinkle her nose and look pissy. Oh yes, she will notice. Julie always does.
Now why Julie puts up with him and Dev strung out, shitting, puking and leaving huge messes in her house is one of life's mysteries. But Melo is too dopesick to care. He plods painfully down the hall past a wedding photo of him in a military dress uniform. The bride holding his arm is a beautiful Vietnamese woman resplendent in white. Jules. They are surrounded by people who wish them happiness. The photo is too bizarre to comprehend. Life crawls to a torpid stupor as Melo stumbles forward with his blanket in a fugue. Just a tiny hit would solve this. Just a taster shot. Warm the winter in his bones and melt the crushed ice grinding agony into his muscles.
He opens the freezer. A nearly empty, frost filled cuboid. Some gourmet hippie ice cream, squares of lasagne neatly stacked in Ziploc bags and ice cube trays. This section of the city is damp from fog. The interior is forever glazed with ice. Like shoving his arm through stabbing knives. Death's gaping maw illuminated with a tiny lightbulb. He grabs a handful of ice for Dev's 7-Up. Like touching a corpse, he shudders. Even the soda in the fridge hurts. Shaking uncontrollably, Melo opens it and winces at the POP! Soda spritzes everywhere. For one insane moment he pictures smashing the glass against the wall. Instead he wipes his hand on the blanket and curses this fucking life. Fuck the mundane shit people do, fuck soda, fuck ice and fuck not being HIGH right fucking now.
"Fuck!" he shouts. "Fucking soda hassle bitch motherfucker!"
He leaves the effervescent mess on the counter and brings Dev her soda with ice. In the back of his mind he will clean up later. But then again, he still hasn't brushed his teeth or showered. He pushes open the door and her perfect face looks up. Peace. Thank god Devika holds his hand in this life or he would have put the bullet in his skull long ago. He passes her the soda and mercifully, Dev turns off the music. Melo rests his head on her chest and listens to her heartbeat.
"All that stuff you talk about when looking at leaves and shells and shit" sighs Melo, "all those lives...Do I always end up the same?"
"Every time I dream about love, it always ends the same" Dev says.
"And we're together?"
"Usually I follow you when we meet. Sometimes later. Maybe a month, or years. Sometimes I find a new life. Sometimes I have children. But I always wake up. I find you. Michelangelo, I am always with you. In saecula saeculorum."
"Well then" whispers Melo to her heart, "something actually works."
Dev stares down into his face and smiles. A mischievous look.
"There's a picture of us here. In this house. Wanna see?"
Melo props himself up and looks at her.
"Yeah right. Our mugshots? I guarantee Julie does not have any pictures of us."
"Oh yeah? Get that book" says Dev pointing to a shelf his wife stocks with volumes on architect and travel.
"What? This one?"
"Yup. Turn to page 13."
"Ok" shrugs Melo settling back into Dev's arms.
The book is a travel guide to Italy. When it falls to page 13, Melo looks up at his girlfriend.
"Fuck Dev. That's...that is-"
"That's us Mr. Melo. Us a long time ago."
He reads the book caption: 'Baker and his wife. AD 1.'
"It kinda, sorta looks like a crappy painting of you. Spooky."
"Of us! World without end Mr. Melo. You wanna hear this or what?" demands Dev leaning down until her lips brush against his temple.
"Sure" he sighs, letting it all go. Sometimes believing in anything is so much easier than believing in life.
"You were a veteran of the Emperor's campaigns against the barbarians in the east. But you got hurt and you came back home. Pompeii."
"Pompeii? Like the volcano one?"
"Yeah. But we were in Rome during the eruption. Visiting my dad."
"Fuck. Thank whoever for that" groans Melo as he gets up to open the window.
A vampire slab of cold air creeps in. But now they can smoke without going outside where it is now Fall. The climate controlled room heater rattles to life. He'll deal with his legal wife and the smell later.
"It was me! I did it!" exclaims his insane and perfect girlfriend. "I made you leave. You didn't want to. Always the same Melo!"
"Oh yeah?" smiles Melo lighting a cigarette and passing it to Dev.
"Yeah Mr. Melo" says Dev accepting the smoke.
"Wait. Why am I a baker guy?"
"Oh" says Dev exhaling in the opposite direction of the open window. "Well, my father in Rome wanted to marry me off. I was a pain in the ass. But I loved you! And you knocked me up. So he had to cancel his plans. Luckily you were some sort of war hero but you never told me why which is ok cause I hate that stuff. But when I told my dad about our baby he gave us some money and we opened the bakery. Well, I did. But you helped. You helped a lot!" smiles Dev.
"Shit" chuckles Melo taking the cigarette for a hit. "Preggo? Like a son?"
"Nope. I only have daughters. I hope that's cool" says Dev using her serious, penetrating stare people pay cash for.
"So over and over, I'm the last of my name? Always daughters?"
"Yeah!" smiles Dev.
"Good" sighs Melo leaning his head back on Dev's sturdy shoulder. "Boys are a fucking pain in the ass."
Three proposals. Basically, they are identical on the surface. Fractional variations in cost and timeframes. So the true decision is based at the executive levels. Who are the CEOs and officers?
Hmmm, muses Julie Trang-Pagani taking a sip of white, pineapple juice with a splash of 7-Up on ice. Then a wild, bestial cry from someone she knew a long time ago fills the house with fear and misery. Michelangelo. Her husband. The instinct is still to get up and check. Like when he came home broken from the war. But if she went to the room, she would hear the eerie, child-like voice of his girlfriend soothing him. Calming him. Keeping him alive.
Julie trembles as her husband screams over and over again.
"HOLD YOUR FUCKING POSITION!" he bellows. "GET YOUR ASS DOWN! BERMER! GET SOME FUCKING FIRE ON THAT WINDOW!"
Julie covers her face as unbidden tears fall from the ghosts inside.