The smell of paint is thick and sweet.
He knows that they can smell it outside the bathroom door, through the layers of chipped paint, shredded trees and metal clasps. They know what he’s doing in here. He makes a conscious effort to not think about them anymore, quells some vague emotion that he has trouble identifying but that he suspects is probably guilt.
The smell is one that he has come to find intoxicating. His nostrils widen, brown pits where only this smell can live, nothing else. Not the smell of the sweat on his pillow nor his mother’s cheap flowery shampoo, nor the mold stretching its fingers out under the carpet, peeking through the crack in the wallpaper like a furry, reclusive animal.
He has set himself carefully into the empty bath tub. He thinks about all the people that have been in this bath tub. All the pubes stuck in the corners of the pipes below him. He is light brown against the white acrylic. The faucet acts like a little mirror and he cannot bring himself to look into it.
He palms the canister of spray paint, just the right size, the right circumference, as though it were designed to fit there. It occurs to him that it probably was designed that way by somebody, some person he will never meet in an office building.
The aerosol is loud. Spray and suck, spray and suck. Both nostrils. Though he sucks hard, he feels the excess drip from his nose. A heavy droplet runs over the valleys and grooves of his lips and his chin and lands between his legs. It leaves a little bright blue dot on the bottom of the tub, the kind of blue that isn’t seen anywhere in nature; a child’s cereal blue, a cotton candy blue. He reaches down with a finger and streaks it across the porcelain, leaving a line of paint just a few inches long.
He swallows, feels as if he’s choking as the liquid chemical makes its way down his throat. A buzzing noise emits from somewhere. Something touches the tip of his brain, hot. He feels pretty good, though he is quickly losing track of how anything feels.
He stares at the blue streak for a while, watches it blur and transform into a gradual array of shapes.
He is tired, dizzy, nauseous, shaking. The shaking is normal, but he is not sure when he started doing it. The can of spray paint is beside his leg, and he is not sure when he set it down. He is not sure how long he has been in the tub at all.
Something drowns the light from the bathroom ceiling, and he looks up. It is his mother’s hotel maid apron, her caramel calves hoisting up the bunches of muscles on her legs, her rolls of fat, her breasts, her face standing over him.
“I have to pee,” she tells him, but she makes no move to go to the toilet in the corner.
“Yeah,” he says.
“So get out.” Her voice rises in pitch, harsh and angry. The creases at the corners of her eyes bunch.
He wipes his nose on the back of his arm. The hair there wicks up the flakes of drying paint from his face. He crawls from the tub, hoists one leg over and falls the rest of the way to the floor. There is no rug, just more slippery vinyl. He sits on the floor in front of the tub for a moment beside his mother’s scuffed tennis shoes, Nikes, before continuing into the hallway on his hands and knees. She slams the door behind him, and it rattles in its frame beside his ear.
Dinner is good on the hotel room bed. Irene gives him a wet rag from careful, lithe fingers. It is warm over the grooves on his face. She talks to him in her quiet way, knees drawn together under her skirt.
“You know what I sometimes think about what I eat oranges?” she says.
She tosses the peels into the trash and then takes up one of the little slices between her nails. Her skin is brown like his, and her nails are rough with jagged edges that sometimes bleed from the bleach at her job. Like his mother’s.
There is a thin, clear skin over the slice of orange she is holding, a membrane, and she carefully picks at it. It comes off as easily as though it is tissue paper. When she peels that away, at the center of the orange, at its essence, there are hundreds of little juice filled pockets.
She holds it up for him to see, the thin, teardrop shaped pods.
“I think about how this orange used to be alive, you know? Like growing and shit. And then somebody plucked it and it died. Like if somebody plucked our head, we would die. And I think... you know, that it's kind of like I’m eating muscle, the muscle of the orange.”
She holds it closer to him, to see.
“Don’t it look like muscle to you?”
“Little bit,” he admits.
She sticks a few of the stringy pieces in her mouth and smiles.
He eats something and he can’t remember what seconds after it's choked down. After he eats, he comes down from his high and goes to sleep.
Sitting in the back of someone else’s car. Cigarette holes, brown and rough little canyons in the grey ocean of fabric. Looking at them because it is less awkward than looking at her.
He’s worn the same jeans three days in a row because getting dressed is tiring.
They drive him places he isn’t sure he wants to go. Stores with swinging pendulums, little gem rings. Opaque aubergine crystal necklaces. The store smells sweet and heady, like drugs, and the carpet under his feet is dirty green. They laugh and talk too loud and he stumbles behind them, a little drunk, having a ghost of a good time.
He can’t remember her name, but she has bruises on her calves. He wants to fuck her and he wants to let her know that without saying it. He finds that tiring too.
She is brown like him, but talks good, like a white girl in that neighborhood with lamp posts on every corner, with sidewalk that doesn’t crumble around the edges. She would call herself Latina, but he wouldn’t. She has straight, smooth brown hair and smiles a lot. He thinks about stealing a ring for her, but cannot decide which color she’d like.
She drives them around all night, taking sharp turns and blasting radio stations with bad music on them. He watches her lips close around the end of a cigarette. He doesn’t love her, but he is in love with the idea of her. He doesn’t want her in his life, but he wants visitation rights into hers. At the end of the day, she won’t fit into the little hotel room with his mother and sister but he can pretend to fit into hers.
He will get high again tonight, he decides.