Franchesca leaned against the brick wall and waited for the numb feeling to take over as she let the tiny bag slip from her fingers, drop slowly to the pavement at her feet, and become just one more of the dozens of “tenderloin butterflies”: baggies torn open by jonesing, shaky hands floating on the wind eventually littering the dark streets of the district she regretfully called home. She felt dizzy; the fever had gotten worse. Tomorrow she would go back to the clinic.
An e was out on the neon sign above so it read “Pe-p Show.” She preferred that — it made her feel a little less dirty. The Lucky Lady Club was one of the oldest in San Francisco and the last of the original coin-operated “theaters.” Lonely men and women or voyeuristic couples looking for a little something extra would return night after night. She tried to convince herself it was just like dancing, which wasn’t so bad. Just dancing while strangers groped her or put their mouths on her. Every day she told herself that this would be the last time. Tomorrow would be different. Then every night with the help of a few pills or a snort of this or a hit of that, in the little room surrounded by one-way glass, she forgot. She forgot pedicures and steak dinners and curling up next to a cat and reading a good book by the fire. She forgot the gym and writing classes and vacations and yoga. She forgot that once she had plans. Big plans. Night after night she forgot about everything. Everything but beautiful Amelia and what it had felt like to love her.
They had been volunteers in the same building. She at Planned Parenthood and Amelia at the needle exchange. They would share cigarettes on the bench in the courtyard when it was still OK to smoke there. When they handed the cigarette back and forth their fingers would touch and Amelia would smile. It was that smile that she fell in love with first and then everything else. When both of her parents had been killed in a car accident, Amelia took her in. Amelia held her when she cried. Amelia was everything. She had never loved anything like she had loved Amelia. They said they were BBF’s, Body Burying Friends, the kind of friend you would do literally anything for. But that was then.
Franchesca hated the club. She hated her life and she hated the drugs. Unlike Amelia she could do without the high. She could kick tomorrow if not for the shitty way the club made her feel and now this damn fever she had been fighting all summer. She had been working part time at the bookstore until Amelia got sick and lost her job. Well, Amelia called it sick, everyone else called it strung out. The club was supposed to be a weekend job just to pay the rent. Just that one time. She had come home crying after the first night. Amelia massaged her and brushed her hair and made love to her all the while promising she’d get clean, just as soon as she felt a little better. That was two years ago.
Franchesca looked at her reflection in the window, the pink neon light bouncing off her face and wondered how it all got so fucked-up.
She had tried to leave, a half-dozen times before, but it was impossible. She had taken the bus out of the city once but got off about an hour away and hitchhiked back, crawling in bed next to Amelia before she’d even noticed she was gone. Another time she made it as far as her cousins sailboat on the other side of the bay. She stayed gone for two days then, but spent the whole time worried about Amelia — so again, she came back. When she turned 25 she would have access to the money in her parents’ estate. That was still 18 months away. She and Amelia had been planning to buy a condo, but now all she wanted to do was leave — alone.
Sometimes days passed without them talking now. Amelia’s parents had offered them a comfortable place to stay and get clean. Amelia refused, that’s when Franchesca ran out of things to say and registered for Journalism school in Jersey.
Her flight left in a week, she reminded herself as she ran her fingers through her long black hair and down over her generous breasts. She could make it that long. She closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the music and dim light trying not to think about the other side of the glass. Her back hurt and she felt sick and tonight, for the first time in a long time, she felt ashamed and embarrassed. She swallowed hard and fought back nausea. The last thing she remembered was feeling hands move over her hips and the room spinning.
Her head was pounding; the bright room smelled like antiseptic and her mouth tasted like metal. She could hear a constant, steady beeping sound and pick out a few words here and there.
Kidney Failure… Infection… Heroin Nephropathy… Three day coma… Transplant… Perfect Match… Donor…
Amelia stroked her head and pushed her hair behind her ear. Her voice sounded clear. Franchesca hadn’t heard it like that for a long time, she almost loved her again. “We’ll really be one now” she whispered. “We will always be together.”
She felt Amelia’s lips on hers, she wanted to say something. She wasn’t sure what. She wanted to tell her she was leaving, but the words wouldn’t come. By the time she could speak Amelia was already gone.
“Here we go sweetheart, let’s go get you a new kidney,” a fat nurse said with a smile.
“Fuck. I can’t leave her now—“ she whispered, before everything went black.
Kimby Maxson is a massage therapist, yoga instructor, author, mother, teacher, and lover of life. She lives in the Eugene, Oregon with her partner, her kid and a cat and spends as much time as possible exploring the great northwest that surrounds her. You can find more of her original work online at elephantjournal.com
Transplant is a 2016 Fiction War Fall Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @raphaelphotoch