In the alleyway, into the drink and squatted, I was pissing into the dandelion leaves pushing up between the concrete and the bar. My skirt was pulled up. A woman lit from behind by streetlights teetered from one foot to the other towards the alleyway and stopped a few feet short of me. Her hair was static against the light, her face a blur of reds and deep blues. I squinted up at her and with one eye closed waited for a face to form. I stood up, bent in half to hide myself.
“Give me a lighter,” she said, and stuck her hand out, opening and closing the fingers onto her palm.
When she offered me a flask I swallowed, and my mouth filled with salty spit. I thought of sun-warmed tide pools. I was leaning up against the wall of the bar with one arm and I had the sensation of resting my hand flat against a large animal, feeling its heartbeat and its muscles contract. From the wall I felt a bump stronger than the others and I thought about later tonight, or the morning, when I’d sway heavy footed up the worn wooden stairs of my apartment in the dark and stumble on the last step, put my face to the floor, and hear the downstairs neighbor banging back at me in anger.
The woman was older than I was, hard-looking and pretty, like she fought men. Her face was angry but she laughed loudly and swatted at my shoulder like we were friends.
She said something about my shirt and when I looked down at it my nose was full of Amy’s perfume. This time it was screeching green-bitter, like biting into a hard, unripened fruit. Amy said it smelled differently, depending. My mouth filled with spit again and I had to keep swallowing hard.
The night before, I’d gone through her old things: a book about the French revolution, her dream journal, some dirty clothing left in small piles, half empty hair products. She’d left a worn-down pillow in a striped case and I’d pressed my face into it. I felt sick with it, with my doing that. The woman in the alley asked me where my friends were.
The woman placed her hand on my shoulder again and held it there. She smiled and told me to give her my shirt. Halfway out of the deep, humid dream of the past few hours, I asked her to repeat herself. I pushed myself back from the wall to hear it again.
“Trade shirts with me,” the woman said. Across the parking lot, two men began to argue. Sound was deadened in the air’s thickness.
“Please, please. Give me your shirt.” Her voice was so much like a child’s that it frightened me. When I stepped to leave, she mirrored me and got closer, crossing her arms at the waist and pulling her shirt over her head, catching it on a purple lace bra. She faltered. As she stepped to correct herself, her hip brushed mine and she pulled back modestly. Vomit rose in my throat and I swallowed it back down. She stood there like that, twisting a bit with the shirt blocking her face, and I stood and watched, patient, pale, and sweating.
The woman shook her shirt at me and I turned my back. The concrete was steaming but my skin prickled as if against a wind. I pulled my shirt up and I smelled the perfume again, this time sweet and musky, and I paused with it covering my face. I breathed in the piss scent of the alleyway through the black knit. Then my face emerged from beyond the shirt, and I stood facing the dead end of the alley holding my breasts with one forearm. The woman slipped the shirt from my hand and then slung her own shirt over my shoulder so that it slapped against my collarbone and hung like discarded skin.
The shirt had too much space in the bust and the armholes sagged down low. The damp of the armpits hung against my ribs. The shirt smelled of smoke and something animalic like oily fur, the vulgar smell of a body you don’t know yet. When I left for my apartment, I tried not to let my feet hit against each other as I walked. I was clutching the fabric around my chest. I went in the wrong direction for so long I reached the river. It was black and still and it made dense lapping noises. I scared myself and went back the way I’d come.
At my apartment I stumbled in the dark, halfway up the stairs, and went up the rest on my hands and knees. At the top I lay down on the wood and waited for the angry, urgent knocking from below. When it didn’t come, I listened to water running through pipes, the shifting of the frame and the pops of the window as I fell into a listless, thirsty sleep. The morning’s light hit me from the feet up, my body sweating sticky beer yeast and the buzz in my head like a machine. I woke to the death snap of a hinge against wood, a mouse caught in the trap not far from my head. The shirt smelled familiar, then. I lay there and for a minute I was unable, like I’d been unable before. I threatened myself with violence, urged myself onto all fours and then to stand. I carried the little body out for the birds.