Over a carton of chocolate milk, I sat drawing Veronica, the cashier with her dead end affair with an anesthesiologist who used his status at the hospital to use her for sex, when Yelena stepped into the hospital cafeteria. She shone so radiantly that I pushed the large sheet of paper aside for a fresh sheet and began to draw Yelena immediately.
She only ordered a coffee but left a large tip, which made Veronica register a look of surprise. Even though, at home, Yelena took her coffee with sugar and cream, she sat at a table up against a wall and drank it black. She had begun to feel the disappointment of being charitable to Nicole and not feeding off Blake as it was meant to be, and was therefore in no mood to make any extra effort to lighten or sweeten her coffee.
We were the only two sitting in the cafeteria because Veronica stood at her cash register and Howard, the janitor, mopped the floor. If I knew a way to show you how to see through my scribbles, I would show you, just so you could see how perfect Yelena looked that night, sitting in that visually boring white-walled cafeteria with its fluorescent lights and teal table tops.
Beautiful girls used to make me feel bad about my weirdly bony body, my too big nose, my thinned out hair, and glasses that always rested crookedly on my face. But one day a blessing came that lifted all those insecurities off of me—I overheard my doctors talking about how little time I had left. Technically, I guess I had been dying for years, but after I heard I was dying soon enough to make a guess in months, I stopped caring about my appearance and never wore anything but pajamas and my fluffy pig slippers. But with Yelena’s sheer beauty sitting across from me, those feelings returned and I was reminded to be embarrassed of how I looked—slobbish and sickly.
It didn’t take long for Yelena to notice she was being watched. Nor did it take her long to notice that she was being sketched. She stared back at me. Like I said, I already felt embarrassed of the way I looked in comparison to her, but to make things worse, I had black wax all over my fingers from the crayons I sketch with. She made me uncomfortable, so I had to say something.
“You don’t care if I draw you, do you?”
“Only a little.” Those were the first words Yelena ever said to me. I kept drawing, not taking my eyes off of her.
“You’re pretty,” I said, hoping it would make her mind me drawing her less.
“Thanks,” was all she offered in response.
“You don’t have to sit still. It won’t ruin the drawing or nothing.” I thought she was becoming impatient so I began drawing faster.
“May I see?” she asked.
I turned her scribble away from me and held it up for her to see. Her reaction wasn’t how most people react. Most people usually squint and stare at my scribbles and wonder if I’m underdeveloped for my age. But Yelena didn’t react like that at all.
“Abstract,” she said.
“Yeah, ‘cept it’s not done yet.”
I turned the paper back to me and looked at her portrait so far.
“Is your name Elena?” I asked.
Yelena paused, a little surprised, but then she said, “It would be if I dropped my Y.”
I looked at her scribble again. “Yelena. Yeah. You’re right.”
“How did you know my name?” she asked me.
“But I didn’t. I said it wrong.”
“You were so close.”
“You kinda just look like a Yelena to me.”
That answer didn’t satisfy her. She knew I was full of shit in some way, but she didn’t pursue it immediately.
I liked her already, so I wanted to show off. “Solodnikova. Did I pronounce it right?”
“How did you know that? We haven’t met. I would know.”
“You can guess my name if you want.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to guess. Now tell me how you knew my name.”
“You prolly shoulda guessed Orly. Then you coulda been right. Orly Bialek. Now you know my names too.”
“Let me see your drawing again.”
I turned the drawing again and showed her. She couldn’t see herself in it, which made me smile because it felt like I had superpowers over someone who looked perfect and who wasn’t used to being impressed by anyone.
She looked up at the clock on the wall behind me.
“It’s past three a.m. You must be a night owl, Orly.”
“There’s less nurses upstairs when it’s night, so it’s easier to sneak out. I sleep when it’s visiting hours. Nobody visits anyway.”
“Your family doesn’t come to see you?”
“Pfffffttt. I haven’t had one of those in like three years. And they were just fosters. Fosters don’t like you that much when you get too old.”
“You’re not old.”
“Believe me, that’s not old.”
“Well, like when you’re sick on top of being old, it makes it hard for social workers to put you anywhere better than a group home.”
“Where are your birth parents?”
“I got taken away from them when I was six. They never got me back.”
I shrugged. “I don’t care anymore.”
“Are you very ill?”
“I have leukemia. Do you know what that is?”
“Cancer of the blood. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get too personal.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “I’m used to being sick by now. It’s called acute lymphoblastic leukemia if you wanna know everything. I like being able to say that word—lymphoblastic. It makes me feel smart.”
“I’m sure you’re a very smart girl.”
“Thanks for saying that.”
“It’s treatable, isn’t it? Your acute lymphoblastic leukemia?”
“Yeah. They make you do lots of chemo which sucks but at least I’ll be better soon.” That was the first lie I told Yelena.
Yelena didn’t say anything.
“You see that guy?” I asked, and motioned to Howard who was still mopping the floor, slowly, probably just so he could stare at Yelena longer.
Yelena didn’t turn to look, but she said, “Yes. What about him?”
I whispered, “He jacks off to his daughters.”
It was bad timing. Yelena was just taking a sip of her coffee and almost choked.
“What?” she asked.
“He’s never touched them or anything like that. He just thinks about them and plays with his ding dong. But that’s still super gross, don’t you think?”
“Did he tell you that?”
“No. I’ve just drawn him before.” I looked through the sheets of sketch paper scattered on my table until I found his scribble and showed it to Yelena.
“His name is Howard, but when he’s pretending to get with his daughters he calls himself…”
And that’s when I freaked out. I caught a glimpse of the bottom left corner of Yelena’s scribble and quickly began to gather up my black crayons and papers. I had never drawn someone like her who sat so close to me.
“He calls himself what?” Yelena asked.
“Nothing. I have to go,” I said. And I got up and ran out of the cafeteria. I could feel Veronica and Howard staring as I fled. I learned later that they looked to Yelena once I was gone for an explanation, but she didn’t give them one.
Call it fate, call it accidental, or call it my subconscious acting out, but I left the drawing of Yelena behind on the cafeteria table. Yelena hadn’t yet finished her coffee, but she stood up, grabbed the scribble and came after me.
I kept pressing the up button for the elevator. The door finally opened and I jumped in and pressed number four just as Yelena caught up to me.
“Wait. Orly, you forgot your…”
I freaked out. “Please don’t kill me!” I screamed at her.
Yelena stopped and stood stock-still. She didn’t know what to say. But she knew she was found out. She knew I knew what she was. The elevator doors closed and I thought I was safe for a moment, until I realized she would see what floor the elevator stopped on. I pressed more buttons, but I had already passed the third floor, so my first stop would still be the fourth floor. I wasn’t sure if I should get off when the elevator doors opened, but I did and ran and hid in my room, hearing one of the nurses yell at me to get back in bed.
Yelena watched the numbers on the digital display above the elevator doors ascend. She saw that the first stop was the fourth floor, my floor, and then watched as it stopped on the fifth floor, seventh floor, eighth floor, and ninth floor, before descending to the third floor. She waited until it reached the first floor again, and when it did the doors opened to an empty elevator car. Yelena didn’t step inside. She didn’t come after me. Instead, she looked at her diamond-encrusted watch and saw sunrise was approaching. She left the hospital, taking with her the scribble that she knew, but couldn’t see, was her.
Yelena sped home faster than she technically needed to, but she was always cautious about the sunlight. She arrived well in time—it was still dark out and the birds who sung their night songs had still not yielded to the chirpers who announced the morning.
Yelena entered her house still holding the scribble and went straight to her bedroom. She glanced at the spot on the hardwood floor where she had killed and fed off of Andre. The floor was spotless, without any evidence of the murder. As throughout the rest of the house, excessively thick black coverings had already been lowered over her bedroom windows a half hour earlier as they were on a timer to fall, but never timed to rise. That Yelena would have to do manually, by pressing a sequence of buttons known only to her, on a remote control that commanded the window coverings for the entire house, and that she kept beside her bed on a nightstand.
She undressed, slipped into a black silk robe, and stood studying the scribble. She looked at herself in the mirror holding the scribble up beside her face. Nothing. Not nothing because she couldn’t see herself in the mirror. She could. That, like crosses, I learned was a myth. But even still, she saw no trace of herself in her scribble. Yelena could not see herself the way I saw her, and she certainly couldn’t see the way in which I saw through her. She placed the scribble on her bed, which had been made. She would not be sleeping there tonight. She was too weary.
She picked up her cell phone and used the touchscreen to press the name at the top of her favorites and was answered with loud music and the chatter of a lively and drunk crowd through the other end of the connection. Hisato, her best friend, was having another one of his after parties. Hisato was thin, not short, but not tall either. He had black Japanese hair cut stylishly and he dressed fashionably. He was an ideal metrosexual. Unlike Yelena, Hisato had a loud voice and liked to use it.
“Vatican Holiday Inn,” Hisato answered into the phone.
“Bitch, when are you coming over?”
“It’s almost sunrise.”
“Sure, spoil my party. Missed you at the club tonight. They said you already left. What’s up with that?”
“I met someone.”
“Did you fuck him yet?”
“No. He was an asshole.”
“And your beloved Andre? Did he suddenly become polyamorously liberal?”
“He left me.”
There was a pause before Hisato spoke again.
“Good girl,” he said.
“Hisato, get off the phone! I wanna fuck you!” a female voice screeched in the background. Hisato ignored her.
“How are you handling it?” he asked Yelena.
“I said, get over here and finger me, now!” the guest squealed, but again he ignored her.
“You still there?”
“Go back to your party. I was just calling to see if you’d call to wake me.”
“Of course, sweets. I’m pretty coked up. I’ll be up for days. What time do you want me to wake you up?”
“Today is Friday.”
“Bitch, don’t you dare sleep the whole week away. Now’s when you should come out and play since you’re all Energizer Bunny.”
“Good night,” was all Yelena said. She heard her best friend blow her a kiss before she hung up.
Yelena went straight for her walk-in closet. Inside, she parted a row of black dresses and pushed on the wall behind it. The wall opened smoothly and silently, revealing a narrow secret passage, in which she stepped inside, turned and slid the dresses back in place and shut the secret door behind them. The walls of the passage were made of dark stone and quickly descended via a tall spiral staircase into a larger chamber below. There were no lights in this room, making navigation difficult, except for those immortally dead like Yelena who didn’t need light for darkness to be illuminated.
The contracting company that built this passageway and the chamber that existed below the foundation of the house thought it an unusual request, but not unheard of with other wealthy clientele purchasing custom homes. Yelena once told me that the richer you are the more eccentric you’re allowed to be.
In the center of the room were two coffins, one longer than the other. That had been Marcel’s. His coffin was the only thing she still possessed that had belonged to him. Barefoot on the cold stone floor, she went straight to her coffin, raised the lid, laid herself down within it, and pulled the lid shut over her. Yelena’s added weight was enough to depress a sensor below her coffin, activating a hidden audio system that softly played the recorded sounds of the Malibu ocean shore. The sound technician Yelena had hired to make the recording at dawn assumed he was producing a relaxation track, but what it really did for Yelena was compel her to cry herself to sleep.