Smoke furled out of Mary's nostrils in scrambled spirals as she sat on the fire escape of her hole-in-the-wall apartment. Nineteen was hitting her hard; she still felt like such a child. Naive, like the day she walked into that prison of a school, yet knowledgeable of things she had no business with. She still thinks of Paulie. Waking up in the night from dreams of Paulie being carried away by raptors, only to break free and suddenly have wings of her own. Mary always expects Paulie to come back, but she never does. She keeps flying right along side the ones who stole her away. I will make thee a willow cabin at your gate. And call upon my soul within the house. I rush you to the secret house.

Mary sat there, her skin prickling in the cold, and angrily threw the butt of her cigarette to the ground, seven stories below, into a rat infested, filthy ally. Her photograph-worthy view from the window was the incredible brick wall of the neighboring building and power lines. Unbeatable. Turning away from the wall, Mary looked hopefully into her home--maybe it had transformed while she smoked? The habit made her feel prettier, but had no magical qualities on her home. The floor was still scattered with sheets of paper that bore scratches of charcoal, but no real life, combined with her tiny clothes and dozens of glass bottles, all with varying amounts of booze left in them. Her kitchen was bare, holding a few packs of nickel pasta and a bottle of water, the flickering fluorescent light adding a threatening lack of continuity to her home. Her whole life seemed fragmented. She couldn't even remain addicted to anything long enough to develop a crutch; she was always left without anything to lean on but her own two feet. There was still a stash of coke in the back of the picture frame she used to have on her bedside table. Hiding cocaine behind a photograph of her mother always resulted in a bittersweet moment--like she was getting back at her mother for abandoning her. But sober, the idea haunted her. Mary hid the frame between her mattress and box spring so that she wouldn't have to think about it when she didn't have to, but this seemed to be the kind of night when she did have to.

After she graduated, Mary didn't know what to do with herself. She never spoke to Victoria any longer--Victoria didn't appear to need anyone as she forced herself to be unaffected by Paulie's death. Mary couldn't find it within herself to forgive her for this. Now and then, the idea crossed her mind that perhaps she had been influenced by Paulie and could love a girl, too. She realized that in a way, she was. She had fallen in love with Paulie--just not in the same way that Paulie loved Victoria. Mary had just fallen in love with the story. Paulie was one of those creatures who consumed people with one swallow and never let go. Mary didn't love Paulie, though. She was just in love with her. The quick and violent end only intensified the passion.

Her year out of school had been unproductive, yet promiscuous. She brought men to her apartment often, hoping that if she wrapped her skinny legs around the right one, he would fill the gap left inside her soul. They never did. So instead, she prayed that one of them would knock sense into her and she would figure out where the hell her senses had gone. Maybe one of them could hurt her enough that she'd remember how to feel. Instead, they just made the wound deeper and left her sore and lonely. She would wrap her arms around her knees and cry mascara tears onto her bare skin and wait for Paulie to show up. Maybe just once, Mary could be the one who got to escape.

But Paulie never came. The men never called. The wound never healed. The only thing that always did exactly what it was supposed to was the cocaine.