A CD player programmed for auto-repeat started its 71st rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" to an almost empty room. Besides a $150 stereo system, the apartment contained a bare mattress (found a few weeks earlier by a dumpster), an ice chest (ice courtesy of the Ramada inn, down the street), and Joey.
Joey sat on the floor, head lolling to the side, a small puddle of saliva slowly drying on the floor beside him. He stared at the puddle; he supposed that the saliva was his, but how could one ever be sure? The tiny bubbles in the spit had remarkable staying power; when he first regained conscienceness, he counted 38 of them. Now, 17 plays of Lucy later, there were still 23. Oops, make that 22. A wisp of red and yellow drifted up from the site of the burst bubble. Joey tried to inhale it as it drifted by, but the wisp ignored him and joined the 24 other wisps that circled the ceiling. Hmm ... how many bubbles had burst before he woke up? 38, 23, 24, 17; his mind tried to figure it, but the numbers kept melting into little bubbling pools of their own. He couldn't get them to stay up straight long enough to carry the one.
As Lucy number 71 closed, so did Joey's eyes.
When Joey's eyes opened again, he couldn't see the saliva any more. He puzzled over this for several minutes before realizing that he couldn't see much of anything. The light was gone.
And something else was missing too... what could it be? The colored wisps were gone from the ceiling, but they always evaporated in a few hours. He could still hear traffic noise outside. He actually smelled something new ... a sweet, warm smell, the same smell he found in the stair-wells of his apartment building. He looked in his lap to see if it was his, but it was too dark. What was missing?
He glanced up at his stereo and noticed that it no longer emitted cool light from it's dials. The digital clock no longer flashed 12:00. The landlord must have discovered Joey's master switch bypass in the basement. Eviction papers were sure to be next. Joey had better think about scratching up enough money to pay a deposit on a new apartment.
Lucy was gone.
Why did everything have to be so hard? Joey didn't ask for much. His needs were few. He had lived his whole life without anybody taking much notice of him. His mother had left him with an aunt when he was three. When Mom didn't come back the next day like she promised, the aunt was a lot more upset than Joey was. A few weeks later he was at another aunt's apartment. Here, at least, there was more to eat (although you had to be quick to catch it). But the apartment was so crowded that Joey couldn't get a moment's peace. Joey needed peace. It was the only way he could find his way home. The constant fighting in the apartment drove Joey to the stair wells. There he could find enough peace to get home for several hours a day.
And Lucy was always there, waiting for him.
Those early years of Joey's were just another form of auto-repeat. New faces, new apartments, sometimes blue uniforms, sometimes white uniforms; none of it really mattered. It was all basically the same, just background noise, something to be endured between his journies home. Between his journies back to Lucy. Life alternated between the meaningless chaos of the in-between time, and being home with Lucy.
But now, Lucy was gone.
One day, when he was about 16, he went home and flung open the door and cried "Lucy, I'm here!" But something was missing. He wasn't greeted by the familiar "I'm in here" issuing faintly from one of the rooms in the big old house. Was Lucy playing a game with him? Hide-and-seek? Joey ran from room to room, shouting "Ah HAH!" each time he flung open a door. But Lucy wasn't there.
Joey was disappointed, but he wasn't to worried. In the chaotic in-between times, people appeared and disappeared like fireflies. They had important things to do. Lucy was probably running some important errand. Delivering a package, or something. She was probably taking an envelope from a tall man on a street corner and slipping it under a certain door of a certain apartment building. Happens all the time.
But Lucy didn't come back.
He never again felt her thick strong arms encircling him, never smelled hot apple pie coming from the kitchen, never again lay on the wide lap that could hold all of him at once as she stroked his hair and hummed an aimless tune.
Years past. The old house started showing its age. The roof leaked, crawly things infested the kitchen the smell of mold permeated everything. Strange people started living there, not people like Lucy, but the same kind of people who surrounded Joey during the in-between times. One day, they wouldn't let him in any more, and he had to sit outside in the cold. These days, he had trouble telling the difference between being home and being in the between times.
Joey stood up in the dark. He walked across the room and picked up his stereo, wrapping is cord around it.
Time to find a new apartment.