by Annie

He sleeps in ice and dreams of muted colors.

He walks around the blocks during the short days and looks for kind brown eyes in every stranger who passes him by. They glance at him briefly, caught by his stare, until they look away, duck their heads down into the warmth of their coats. Hurry onwards with their errands, something about his unblinking gaze disturbing them.

He leans against a corner and ignores a trickle of water from a dripping icicle sliding down the back of his neck. He nods to people he knows, has brief bursts of conversation always accompanied with the exchange of crumpled cash for a tiny plastic vial.

He has forgotten how to have a conversation with any other kind of person. He doesn't remember the last time he talked with someone just to talk. It's always whisper, look around, one hand held out, give what's owed, take what's needed. At least he never needs to look them in the eyes. He knows their eyes are not the right color.

He huddles against a dumpster to block the worst of the wind and hopes for the rush to slide through him. It never does anymore. He takes it because he can't stop taking it and he's too tired to do anything else. He's always tired. Always numb. He licks a finger and presses it against the dumpster, slowly peels it away. He doesn't wince when several layers of skin come off, leaving a slight stinging sensation behind. He looks at his reddened finger. Licks it again. Presses.


He gives blowjobs in the alley behind the bar for cash. Mostly middle-aged men, going to fat and losing their hair, smelling like cheap aftershave and cheaper beer. Dirty slush seeps through his thin jeans as he kneels in front of them, their hands almost unbearably hot against his face as they thrust their cocks down his throat. He swallows as they come. They drop bills in the snow beside him as they come.

Many of them want to fuck him. He always tells them no.

Some of them listen.

He roots through the garbage and digs out a partially eaten half of what looks like a turkey sandwich. He picks off the cheese, which has molded even in the cold, scrapes off any lingering mayonnaise or mustard against the wall, and slowly chews. Swallows. He prefers the taste of days-old bread and turkey to the taste of fresh come in his mouth.

He rolls his neck, the gunshot loud cracks no longer making him flinch, and considers where to crash for the night. He's got nowhere to go. He's burned all of his bridges long ago. No one will let him in. He doesn't mind. He doesn't feel the cold anymore, except when he wakes up from his dreams.

When he dreams, he is warm and safe. When he dreams, there are soft cotton sheets and gentle laughter and the melody of something melancholy yet soothing in the background. When he dreams, he dreams in shades of beige and cream and splashes of green.

When he wakes, he is cold.

He crouches behind an abandoned car and pulls his flimsy coat around him. The wind ruffles his hair and sends chilled fingers into every separation in his clothing. The sky is gunmetal grey with the promise of new snow, all the passersby have blue or green or grey eyes but never brown, and as he brushes a hand over his face, he can't feel his skin.

He waits for winter to end.


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