With a cacophonous metal RASP, the knobless, yellow hatch swings open. A figure wearing a respirator and bib-overalls (covered in a chaotic mishmash of colors and splats similar to one of Jackson Pollock’s easels) steps out. He bends over and collects a two-foot chunk of busted concrete from off the ground and wedges it between the door and its threshold, propping it open.
This naturally grabs Nora’s attention.
He looks as if he’s mutilated a clown.
The colorful apparition removes his respirator and reveals his visage. His cheeks are gaunt, dark circles under the eyes, skin-speckled like a boxturtle’s carapace. A thirty-eight year old underfed beneficiary of the deceased with Quasimodo undertones.
He could be a model for a NOT-EVEN-ONCE poster for methamphetamines.
The figure procures a pack of Virginia Slims from one of his many denim pockets and smacks the bottom like its done something naughty. A white tube of impending cancer pokes out. He sighs and shoves the fag into the crusted folds of his pursed lips.
“Fuck. Me. Tender.” He mumbles to himself.
Judging from the stubble and rheum in his eyes Nora can see that it’s been a long night for him, as well. She rips out a page from her composition’s spine, folds it six times and pockets the square. Then she hops off the plinth and makes for the bumpkin.
“Hey!” Nora shouts.
Had Quasi not clocked-in at just before 2:00 am he might’ve shouted something terse and obscene and snap into a Dolph Lundgren, karate-stance; but sleep deprivation can change a man. Quasi flinched like a malfunctioning Chuck-E-Cheese animatronic and promptly fell on his ass (as one typically does when a gigantic porcelain-doll materializes out of the nightmare fog to yell at you).
“Um…hi?” He mustered, picking himself up.
Nora, stands at arms-length and ever so slightly puffs out her chest. Up close she can see that his gloved hands are caked with some marigold compound. She can also smell his pungent, antiseptic-musk.
Could be embalming fluid. Could be AXE body spray.
“Can I get me a cig?” Nora asks.
Pause from Quasi’s end.
His eyelids beat indefatigably, trying to sharpen focus. A little light bulb goes off in his bumpkin head. This girl is real. And young. And quizzically alluring. Quasi wants to say something sagacious.
“I’m Frank!” He blurts out.
Without missing a beat Nora raises her hand to the fool.
“Good morning Frank, I’m Anaïs.”
Frank accepts her hand. The two exchange an awkward, ephemeral shake.
“Ok Anaïs, what brings you to this dreary place so early? Services aren’t starting for at least another hour.”
“As a matter of fact, yes. I know I’m early, just trying to kill time. May I have a cigarette, please?”
Frank doesn’t like sharing. A common symptom of OCS (only child syndrome) especially at 6:34 am on a Friday.
“Your parents ever tell you not to talk to strangers?” He grumbles.
“No. They haven't, and I doubt they ever will.” Nora retorts, “I’ve been an orphan since 2 o’clock this morning.”
Frank sucks his teeth, and forks over the pack with a mental eye-roll. One cigarette remains. Nora accepts it with just the faintest tinge of glee glistening in her hazel eyes.