The only colour in her apartment was the red cushions, scattered like poppy blushes across the white sofa. The walls were not quite white, more of a wheyish shade of grey. She had an aluminium fridge, grey kitchen surfaces with a faint metallic sparkle, a bed frame made of steel. Everything was sharp and clean; all objects reflected a futuristic sheen.
Five years she had lived here. She had moved once she got the promotion to senior partner at the law firm. B… had carved out her pristine habitat from the initial slum of antique junk, scrubbed the dirt from the walls, installed the latest in laundry technology so as to ensure the flawless condition of her garments. Hired the finest interior designers to select her metals, spent hours perfecting the colour scheme. In this world of gleaming mirrors, B… felt pure. She could live this fantastic, unfussy existence. She very rarely cooked or even ate in her apartment; food introduced colour and smell and roughness of texture – all of which were dirty. There was, indeed, only one dirty thing which polluted her apartment.
The estate agent said she’d have to watch that. The ashtray.
It was made of finely cut crystal, and it never occupied the same place consistently. The ashtray was the one thing from the original apartment that B… had kept. She’d found it underneath the Ikea coffee table which the previous owners had left. Of course, B… would have gotten rid of it – along with the grandfather clock and the vintage cutlery – but she had a problem. She smoked a lot of cannabis, and quite frankly needed somewhere to tap the ashes.
That was her connection to the outside world. She would open a window and light a freshly-rolled spliff (not once did she spill tobacco on her carpet) and let the city air mingle with the sweet-smelling smoke. The warm haze would swathe her brain and so she would lie back against her red cushions and close her eyes and think of nothing. It was beautiful, the nothingness of everything; the haze coming over her, warm and red.
It was like the dancing of bees, spreading their wax and making combs of honey. B… could see all those hollows of nectar form in her brain, gooey and sweet, like forgetting. The more stoned she got, the more she would fall through those sticky catacombs.
Recently, she had been smoking a lot more because of her troubles. She had lost her job. She was struggling to sell her apartment. The agent said she was asking too high a price for it, so she lowered her offer; then they said nobody was interested because the lower price cheapened it. She was reminded of the early negotiations she had with her dealer, the one who drifted in and out of prison, but never failed to deliver when she made her fortnightly pilgrimage to his dingy bedsit.
The problem was, she’d recently lost a case. A very important case. It had cost her law firm millions, and now she was close to bankrupt. She liked the law because it was clear cut, appearing to her in clean strings of logic and declarations; but this case had dissolved all that certainty. She found herself swamped in micro-clauses and tangles of dissonant opinions. She would start to binge eat late at night, leaving chocolate wrappers like beached purple fish on the perfect surface of her kitchen.
She smoked more weed, lost more money.
She tried to clean up her life again.
One day, the agent brought round three hopeful tenants. B… met them at the door in a snow-white bathrobe. They appeared to be students, but since students had money too she let them trudge round the rooms, inspecting everything and making jibes to each other.
“Maybe she has OCD,” one of them whispered, thinking B… was out of earshot.
“I think I can smell weed,” another giggled.
After the tour, they signed the lease agreement straightaway and B… closed the door behind them in mild triumph. She took off her white slippers and started to run a bath. She had a good fat blunt waiting for her in the secret ashtray.
She was just taking off her bathrobe when she noticed the mark on the floor of her hallway. It was a dirty scuff mark, vermillion red, from something stuck to someone’s shoe. As if a minuscule creature had been crushed into her carpet. Just like a student to do a thing like that, bringing insects into the house.
The thing was though, B… didn’t seem to care. She shrugged and didn’t even bother trying to clean it. What use was a clean world now? In fact, it was nice to see something tainted. Cathartic, even.
Naked, she sank into her steaming bath. She lit up her spliff and took a long, hot drag from the smouldering embers, letting the smoke spread round the room, the ash curl and flake into the water. It wasn’t long before she was drifting off, the familiar hum and buzz filling her ears again, the terms of contract unravelling before her, melting into the bubbles. She was free.
— Maria Sledmere
(flash fiction february prompts: minimal, sold, daze)