Joni couldn’t believe Frank put her in this position. She’d stood by him when he lost his job, his place to live, when the drug use changed from recreational to habitual. Now she was heading home on a bus, barefoot, and wrapped in a blanket to hide the fact that she wasn’t wearing pants.
Joni was glad she kept her last hundred dollars in her bra. Frank demanded it to fill his pipe, when she refused he’d attacked her for it. She scurried out of her jeans, Frank clinging to them, rifling her pockets. As he grabbed at her, she lunged from the couch to the door, taking her blanket with her.
Two fifty dollar bills were all she’d had in the world. She felt ridiculous hiding the money in her lingerie, pressed against her breast. It had been the only way to ensure Frank’s drug addled demons didn’t get the better of him, and steal it while she slept.
The two mile walk wore her out enough to accept the necessity of entering the bus station barefoot. She’d held her bladder, waiting to use the tiny toilet aboard the bus. Even after the sidewalk and the bus station, the thought of using a filthy rest room, barefoot and dragging a blanket, was too awful.
Broke as she was, Joni had nowhere else to go. Ray had been an abusive pig most of her life, but she needed to land somewhere. His place still had running water, and she’d even found a bar of soap in the filthy apartment. Some of her mother’s mildewy old things fit her fine; it was better than being half naked. She didn’t entirely trust Ray. As low as she had fallen, Joni figured the dirty basement was as good a place as any to turn things around.
Ray hadn’t always been a shell of a man. He owned the apartment building he lived in. He’d had a family once. An injury had swept it all away. He survived on disability checks. His leg had mostly healed; he walked with a limp, but that wasn’t the disability. His nerves never recovered from long use of morphine.
His wife left him after only a few years of his nervous, drug fueled raving. Joni left when she was old enough. Without his family’s support, his ability to manage the building fell apart. It was a crumbling derelict now, with only his grungy basement apartment still functional.
Getting wasted, watching TV in a dirty basement; It was a repetitive loop, punctuated by three block walks. Even limping, it was an easy trip to the grimy drug store where he cashed his checks and bought his pain killers, beer, cigarettes and when it occurred to him, food.
When Joni arrived, dirty, barefoot, wrapped in a blanket and only half dressed; it was like a breeze had come to blow away the haze that had become Ray’s daily life. Joni cleaned up the place as best she could, throwing out the food wrappers, empty prescription bottles and cigarette butts. She’d let some fresh air and light in the place. Ray’s drug demons regarded her unhealthily, exploitative. He took money for bus fare and left while she slept. He’d punished her enough.
Ray left town the same way that Joni had returned. He’d come out of a fog of long years of abuse and self pity. He owed Joni for shaking him from his dense cloud of intoxication and misery. He’d never been worth a damn as her father. With him gone, his apartment and his disability checks might help her.