The only way to get to Oma’s is to head west for two hours on the number 51 bus. Unless that is, you have a car. But junkies don’t own cars.
Rose descended into a street of broken lamps and boarded windows. A sheet of rain whipped against her face. She shrunk inside her red hoodie and stomped along the cracked footpath. This is the last time, I swear it. It was always the last time: last week was the last time, and the week before; but when the trust money came through each month, it drained her memory of promises like a borax flush, and somehow, ‘last’ always became ‘next’.
At the dumpster, a cat darted through her legs. “Fuck off,” she spat, angrier at herself than at the cat. The cat hissed and darted into the night. I shouldn’t have come so late. This backstreet, this tunnel of litter and weed and graffitied concrete always unsettled her. It seethed with the aches of the desperate: hammering, wailing, and the constant skating of footsteps behind every door and wall.
Without lifting her head, Rose took a left at the burnt trolley and quickened her pace. The gate was ahead, beyond which it was just a short walk through Old Man Daley’s yard. Maybe the old bitch will let me crash on the couch. She slammed forwards, but the gate refused to yield. She pushed again and a chain rattled. Rose scratched at her arms. As she turned to walk back up the alley, she heard a cough. A shadow shifted.
“Where are you off to so late, red?” the man growled. It was dark, but Rose could see his pale beard and long, wet hair. Steam smouldered from his jacket.
“What’s it to you?” she said, still scratching.
“Wanted to score, that’s all. If you were going to Oma’s…”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Sure. You’ll best take the park road. Ol’ Man Daley got sick of you junkies scratching up his yard.”
Rose legs were shaking; it was the other shake… the real one. She hesitated, but when the man’s shoe squelched in the mud, she launched herself forwards and was away. As she sprinted to the corner, a laugh rumbled up the alley; it might have been the growling of a dog.
Out of breath and covered in mud, Rose climbed the steps to Oma’s porch and let herself in. The living room smelled of stale tobacco. A ceramic fountain gurgled on the coffee table and there were newspapers stacked to the ceiling in every corner.
“Oma? It’s Rose.”
“Just a minute,” a voice grunted from behind a closed door.
Rose collapsed on the couch and smiled. She was half-way there: pretty soon she’d be floating; the walls would melt, and she’d be dreaming to the sounds of the bubbling fountain and Oma’s hoarse stories about her jailbird offspring. “Hey Oma!” she shouted.
When she heard the cough, her body snapped straight. “Oma?” There was a cry, followed by a thud. Glass shattered. Rose jumped up and tore open the bedroom door. Inside, she saw Oma, bent on the carpet, her trembling hands groping at fifty-dollar notes. Her sallow cheeks were painted with blood. Standing over her, holding a stained knife, was the man—the dog—his beard still wet, eyes aflame.
“That was a quick jog, red,” he said, waving the blade in the air like a sparkler. “Oma here was just showing me her stash.”
“Go… to hell,” the old woman croaked.
“What about you, red?” The dog advanced and Rose nearly tripped backwards. “I wonder what you’ve got in your pockets,” the dog said and laughed. The laugh broke off suddenly and the dog’s beard dropped to his chest. Rose felt a hand on her shoulder, then saw the liquorice barrel of a shotgun level beside her.
“I warned you to stay away,” old man Daley said, “but some dogs just never learn.”