- J. Arthur Scott
- Illustration by
- Melissa Ling
THE LAST WORD: DARCY
J. Arthur Scott’s story of a tense and (slightly) bloody encounter between a man and his friend’s ex-girlfriend forms the latest edition of The Last Word, our ongoing series of original short fiction.
I knocked on Darcy’s door and was about to knock again when I heard footsteps inside her apartment. I was dropping off a backpack of her clothes, a pair of sunglasses, and her spare key on my way to a date that afternoon with someone else. Still, she smiled like I hoped she would when she opened the door.
“Hi, Olson,” she said. She was wearing a sweatshirt with tall neon words across the front that I couldn’t make out. She was exactly Phil’s type—white and brunette with loose curls—but she wore large glasses, which, as far as I could recall, had been new for him. She had more freckles than I remembered, and I wondered whether I had ever seen her without makeup before.
“How’ve you been?” Darcy asked. She stood aside so I could pass into the apartment.
“I’m good.” I set her backpack down on the floor and it toppled over like a turtle on its shell.
“Yeah?” She shut the door and guided me to the kitchen. “And Phil?” She leaned against the refrigerator.
“He’s fine.” I said. “He’s been working a lot.”
Darcy looked at me, and I nearly told her about the new girl. We were both silent. I wanted to say something to break through the small talk, but Darcy offered no sign of encouragement and I lost my ambition.
“Well, thanks for bringing this over,” she said.
“No problem.” I handed her the sunglasses. “These too.” I turned and headed back toward the door, stepping around the backpack in the hallway.
Darcy followed me. “Tell Phil to text if he forgot anything.”
“Actually, don’t,” she said. “Thanks.”
I left Darcy’s building making up an alternative conversation between us shot through with intrigue and spoke it aloud under my breath on the way down the stairs. When I reached the street and pulled out my phone, I had a text message from the girl I was supposed to meet that read: “SOmething came up, so sorry! Resched soon?? ☺.” I shoved the phone back into my pocket without responding and felt Darcy’s spare key against my finger. Looking up at her building, I counted the flights to her floor in my head. Would she think I’d held onto her key on purpose? Had I?
I buzzed Darcy’s unit, and there was a long silence before a pop of static. “Hello?”
“It’s Olson. I forgot to give your key back.”
“Oh.” A pause. “Uh…come on up.”
When I reached her landing, Darcy cracked her door open before I could knock, but only by a few inches.
“Here you go,” I said, pulling out her key. “Sorry about that.”
“Thanks,” Darcy said. She opened the door wider to accept the key and a funk drifted out to me. She saw me notice.
“That was fast,” I said.
She looked down at her feet and broke into a grin, then looked up, squinting in one eye, and said, “You want some?”
“Would that be weird?”
“No, but come in if you’re coming. I don’t like the smell getting out.”
“I think that horse has sailed,” I said as she let me back into the apartment. I couldn’t tell if she got a kick out of that or not.
Darcy closed the door behind me and toed a damp towel into place against the gap above the threshold. “Wait, what?”
“Nothing,” I said. I tried to give her a teasing smile, but she didn’t look up as she passed me, this time into a room down the hall from the kitchen. It was both a living room and a bedroom. A faded, plush recliner sat in the far left corner next to a window. She had a tall dresser and a wardrobe in the opposite corner and had set the backpack against the base of the wardrobe. Nearer to the right, her bed lay beside a long bookshelf that separated it from the rest of the room.
“Great place,” I said. I should have said it the first time.
Darcy gestured to the recliner, and I sat down. She pulled out a spare folding chair from under the bed and set it up facing me. Then she took an ashtray down from the dresser and lifted a half-smoked joint off its lip. She handed it to me and put the ashtray on the windowsill before running her hands over the front and back of her jeans, looking around the room. She walked over to the bookshelf and grabbed a box of matches from a coin tray and held it up as she came back to me.
“Thanks, but really, I don’t need to crash your afternoon.”
“It’s cool,” she said. “I wasn’t being phony.”
I lit a match and held it to the blackened joint until its tip glowed. I took a short hit and then a longer one and started coughing. “You sounded like what’s-his-name just now.” I coughed again. “From the book.”
“Yeah,” she said.
I offered to pass the joint back, but she waved it away and stood up.
“I was doing something when you knocked. Oh, music. I was doing music.” She went to the bookshelf and picked up her phone where it was connected by its headphone jack to a stereo. I set the joint down on the ashtray and patted my chest a couple times.
“Quiet wigs me out,” she said as she played a song and set the phone down. I recognized the song. Phil had been playing it for weeks whenever he cooked.
“Uhuh,” I said. My mouth was drying up. Sour pinched the corners of my cheeks.
Darcy sat down in the folding chair, and I wondered if it was rude to have taken the more comfortable seat. I handed her the joint and looked around the room. She had old Cosmo covers thumbtacked to the walls with glossy clippings of sunglasses collaged over the faces. The only framed art was a black-and-white photograph of a woman hanging above her bed.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the photo.
“She was a photographer too?”
“No, it’s Stieglitz.”
I didn’t know what that meant. “Very cool.”
Phil met women at the design school library where he worked part-time. I’d never understood how he picked up anyone there, because he had no interest in art. Less than me. He once told me that when he interviewed for the job they had just talked about his father’s architecture firm. I couldn’t remember how he and Darcy had met, but I assumed it was at the library.
“You were in a hurry before,” Darcy said.
“I was supposed to meet a date, but she flaked.”
“Was she supposed to meet you on my stairs or something?”
“Was she supposed to be like BAM here like the minute you left my apartment?”
Darcy looked at me like I was supposed to be in on a joke.
“Never mind,” she said.
Then I got it and laughed. “Well, you rolled and smoked half a joint,” I said.
Darcy laughed then too. She ashed the joint, set it on the tray, and said, “Be right back.” She stood up to go to the kitchen. I heard her open the refrigerator. Something fizzled, and an ice tray cracked. I closed my eyes and listened. I heard the wheels of the utensil drawer rolling in their tracks, the tinkling of a spoon taken up from its tray, ice cubes elbowing the sides of a glass. When she returned carrying highballs, I complimented the apartment and she told me that I’d already said that.
“These are Tom Collinses,” she said. “There was going to be avocado toast but the bread had mold.”
She handed me a glass, and I lifted it to cheers as she sat down.
“To the unexpected,” I said.
“To buzzing instead of using the key and scaring the shit out of me.”
We clinked and drank. Darcy looked around her room and nodded to the music. I wondered whether she was attracted to me. Her gaze never lingered, but she held eye contact when we spoke. I caught myself preening for her, running my hand through my hair. Her toes were painted turquoise and my eyes kept coming back to them, even though I’m not a feet guy. She had a ring on her left pinky toe. I wanted to ask if I could try pulling it off, but it seemed like a high thing to do. We talked about why people called me by my last name. She had me say my name aloud and told me it was the way I said it, like I didn’t want people to use it.
“This isn’t me coming on to you, by the way,” she said. “Just stating the facts.”
“I know,” I said, but I didn’t know what I knew.
We talked about allergens in the air and how Darcy was considering buying a vaporizer to save her lungs. We talked about her neighborhood and the people she saw in bodegas. She started telling me about a park that was always crowded in the morning with old people doing tai chi, but then I lost track of the conversation. The synth line of the music lay out in front of me in the air like a xylophone, and I rang the bars with my eyes.
After a while, Darcy leaned her head back and said, “Don’t you just love this band?”
I didn’t know bands, so I just said, “Mmhmm.”
She raised her head again and looked at me with bleary eyes. “Phil was such a waste of time. I know you have a bro code or some shit, but he sucks, right?”
“He’s a complicated guy.”
“Ok, whatever.” She finished her drink and set the glass on the floor. “Isn’t it strange, though? You and me together like this?”
“Yeah.” I finished my own drink and set it down beside hers. “We don’t have any friends other than Phil. Mutually, I mean.”
“Yeah,” she said. “See that’s what I’m saying. We can say whatever we want.” She stood up and pulled a weed jar down from her bookshelf. She packed a one-hitter from a grinder and handed it to me. “Go ahead and burn all of that,” she said.
I took a hit. “What kind of stuff don’t we talk about?” I said, swallowing my words to hold the smoke down in my lungs. I handed her the piece and exhaled.
Darcy shrugged as she sat down. “Stuff we’re ashamed or afraid of, right?” She put the piece on the chair between her thighs. “Like, you should cut your hair. That shaggy stuff around the ears isn’t working.”
“Whoa,” I said, drawing out the word. “Were you too ashamed to say that before or too afraid?”
Darcy ignored me. “And that Tinder chick canceling on you? What’s the play there? That normal?”
This was the second time the girl I was supposed to meet had canceled on me. I didn’t respond, but I probably should have. Darcy was waiting. She watched me and then took a hit from the piece, blew the smoke sideways out of her mouth, and gestured for me to take a turn.
I looked at her eyes. “Your glasses are distracting,” I said. “Is that what you’re going for?”
“Maybe I need them to see,” she said. “Come on. You can do this.”
I looked away. “Ok, well, you have bad taste in men.”
She laughed, started to say something else, then stopped and said, “Will you fantasize about this?”
“Us sitting here?”
“Me inviting you in to smoke and all that. Will you think about it when you jerk off?”
My brain slipped like a sprinter falling off the blocks at the gun, and Darcy laughed at the look on my face.
“Probably,” I said, just to say something.
“I knew it! Me too, I mean.”
It took me a moment to realize what she was saying, and then I couldn’t stop picturing it. I glanced over at her bed and imagined her turquoise toes curling against the sheets. I felt my pants tighten and the first prickles of sweat beading along my hairline. What was I supposed to say to her? What would Phil have said?
“I need another drink,” she said.
I followed her to the kitchen and paused long enough out of sight to adjust my pants. She pulled fresh glasses from the cupboard and set them down on the counter near a cutting board and some spent lemons. My breathing felt all out of rhythm as I stood to the side and groped the wall for a casual angle to lean on my arm.
“Down to limes,” she said. “How about Rickeys?” She took off her glasses and pulled her sweatshirt over her head, revealing a tank top cut deep enough to show a navy bra against her ribs. She put her glasses back on and pulled the sweatshirt free of her arms, tossing it to me and throwing her hair back with a smile that made it clear she knew I was watching.
“Rickeys sound great,” I said, stepping into the other room to put her sweatshirt on the bed. I did two quick push-ups and tugged on my shirt to smooth out the wrinkles before returning to the kitchen. One time I’d overheard Darcy and Phil having sex, and now I tried to remember how she had sounded. I thought about telling her, in keeping with the whole honesty thing, but I couldn’t work up the nerve.
Darcy pulled a cucumber from the refrigerator and palmed two limes out of a colander on the counter. She was cavalier with the knife as she halved the limes. At one point she nicked her thumb, stuck it in her mouth and raised her eyebrows at me. After juicing the limes, she sliced a cucumber peel thin as paper to garnish one of the highball glasses.
Darcy made another cut and turned to say something to me, but jerked and dropped the knife in a clatter. She held up her left hand, and her body stiffened as she saw the blood running down her index finger into the contour of her palm. Her eyes rolled up as her knees buckled, and it was all I could do to catch hold of her arms and guide her crumpling body to the floor. My shoulder knocked a glass off the counter, exploding it across the kitchen. As I struggled to keep her body upright, Darcy’s head lolled to the side, her face slack and bloodless. “Darcy,” I said. “Darcy!” I lifted her right arm over my shoulder and stumbled backward with her, easing her body down again in the hallway.
Time fell behind the beat as I called her name and patted her cheek—first softly, then hard. Maybe too hard. But then she came to, and I felt like I was surfacing for air after too long under. She opened her eyes and said, “Wha’?”
“You’re ok,” I said. “It’s ok.”
“S’is…” Darcy started nodding off again.
“No no no no no. Stay with me.”
“It’s ok. You’re ok.” I ran to the other room to grab pillows.
“Oh my,” she said in a small voice.
“Don’t look at it,” I said as I ran back to her with the pillows. I guided her hand to the floor by the wrist. “It’ll be ok.” But I looked closer at her finger and realized that maybe it wouldn’t be. The cut was deep. Blood ran across both sides of her hand and dripped to the floor. I propped the pillows behind her back and stepped carefully across the kitchen to grab a paper towel.
“You don’t have anything I could catch, right?” I asked.
“What?” she said. “No.”
“Here, hold up your hand so your finger is above your heart. Yeah, like that. Hold this paper towel to catch the stuff running down. There you go. Do you always faint like that from blood?”
She didn’t seem to hear me. I stepped back into the kitchen to pour a glass of water from the sink. Darcy shook her head when I tried offering it to her, but I insisted and she took a sip.
“Do you have a first-aid kit?”
I waited for her and started repeating the question, but she cut me off. “Bathroom.”
I headed to the bathroom and wondered whether I should call an ambulance. But then I saw my eyes in the mirror: red vessels snaking across smeary pink. Hospitals had cops, and there’s no way they wouldn’t know. I found eye drops in Darcy’s medicine cabinet and shook so badly using them I had to dry my cheeks with a hand towel. The first-aid kit was buried beneath a blow dryer and toilet paper rolls under the sink. I carried it back to her.
Darcy was holding her injured hand in the air. The pain seemed to have roused her a bit. “What took you so long?” she said. Her voice was her own again.
“I couldn’t find it at first.”
“This paper towel isn’t stopping the blood. I can feel it getting through.”
I opened the kit and blinked as stars blotted my vision. I pulled a chunk of gauze from the box and laid it against the wound, squeezing it around her finger.
“Fuck,” she said. “Easy.”
“We need to slow the bleeding so we can clean it.”
“And so I stop bleeding.”
“Do I need to go to the hospital?”
Blood was coming through the gauze. I pulled more from the kit and added layers around her finger. I imagined talking to nurses in a waiting room. What if they smelled it on my clothes? Did cops bring dogs into hospitals? That couldn’t be hygienic.
“Olson, should I go to the hospital?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said. But I wasn’t. I heard footsteps in the hallway outside the apartment and froze. The footsteps passed, but anxiety rang through me like the peals of a bell.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t want to mansplain at you.”
“This isn’t about fucking mansplaining, Olson. I’m asking you a question. How do we know if it’s ok?”
“’Cause it’s going to be,” I said. “It just needs time to clot.”
“Here. Stand up with me.” I helped her slowly to her feet. “There you go.”
She started to lose her balance and leaned heavily against me. Her hand was clammy on my arm. After she collected herself again, we walked to the bathroom together, and I put down the toilet seat cover so she could sit and lay her arm across the counter. I held her hand over the sink and removed the gauze. “Now don’t look.”
Darcy rested her forehead on the palm of her other hand.
The cut was oozing. Could a person bleed to death from a finger? I turned on the faucet and said, “This might sting.” Then I washed the wound as best I could and watched blood spiral down the drain, realizing that the last thing I’d been sure about was the sip of water I’d made her take.
“Ouch. Damnit, Olson.”
“Sorry.” I had found a butterfly bandage in Darcy’s kit and hoped it would keep the cut closed. But first we had to stop the bleeding. I dried her finger with a washcloth and pressed down with more gauze.
“My whole arm is throbbing with my pulse. Is that normal?”
“We should get you something to eat,” I said. “Your blood pressure must be low.”
“I’m not hungry,” she said. “And why would it be throbbing if it’s low? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I could order chicken noodle soup?”
“No,” she said. “I feel nauseous.”
“Got any ginger ale?” I asked.
I brought her a can from the refrigerator and started removing more first-aid supplies we might need. “This is a good kit.”
She didn’t respond. I doctored her as best I could and for a moment even thought it might turn out ok. Maybe we’d be able to pick back up with the afternoon. But then the job was as done as it could be, and her finger was a cartoonish bulb of medical tape.
“Is that how it’s supposed to look?” Darcy asked.
The twinkling blotches were everywhere for me now, reminding me of rubbing my eyelids as a kid until they dazzled me with stars. I blinked and said, “Yes, definitely.”
We decided she should rest, so I helped her to her room and propped her up in bed with a boyfriend pillow. She waved away the ginger ale, but I left it for her anyway. Then I went to clean the kitchen. I put pieces of glass in a paper bag so they wouldn’t pierce the garbage liner. I rinsed and dried the knife and stuck it to the magnetic strip on the wall. The rest of the dishes I left in the sink. I sponged up the spill and peeled cucumber off the floor, imagining Darcy’s finger pulling apart again, the bandage coming loose under the gauze and the skin healing like a puckered valley.
When I returned to the doorway, Darcy was using her phone with her good hand. She looked up and said, “WebMD has me worried.”
“It’ll be ok. Try to think about something else.”
“But it might not be.”
“Please let me order you soup.” I tried to keep my voice steady and soothing. No irritation.
“I don’t want soup. I already told you. I just want my finger to stop bleeding.”
“Ok, ok.” I gestured for her to take it easy. “A banana might perk you up. Got a banana?”
I had just seen bananas on the kitchen counter. “I don’t feel like I’m helping anymore. Do you want me to leave?”
“You can go,” she said. “You don’t need permission.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No. It’s fine. Sorry I stopped being fun.”
I leaned against the doorjamb and tried to read her expression, but Darcy just stared off into space. My vision swam with stars. I blinked and cocked my head to try to clear it, but Darcy paid me no attention.
“What will you do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, without breaking her gaze. “Phil changed his HBO Go password.”
“You don’t know another?”
“No,” she said. “Or it wouldn’t matter, would it?” She moved her hand and winced.
“You can use mine,” I said.
“Your password?” She looked up at me.
“Can you text it to me?”
I pulled out my phone, and Darcy gave me her number. I sent her the password and wondered whether two people could use the login at once. I wanted to watch a show that night.
“I’m going to head out then…” I said, trailing off to make it a question.
“I need your username.”
“Oh.” I pulled out my phone again and sent her the username.
“Thanks,” she said. “Can you refill the one-hitter before you leave?”
“Are you sure you should?”
“Please just do it, Olson.”
I packed the piece and handed it to her with matches.
“Don’t tell Phil I fainted.”
“No worries,” I said. I wanted to say something else, but nothing came to mind. I realized I had been standing there for too long, so I turned and walked to the door. My shoes crunched stray glass as I went. Maybe I should have swept.
“Can you put the towel back when you leave, please?” Darcy called out.
I didn’t know how that could be possible. I opened the door and reached down to pull the towel into place as the door closed, but lost my grip and said, “Nope,” just as it shut.
Dust motes floated on the trapped air in the hallway. A radio played in one of the other apartments on Darcy’s floor. Something cracked like a knuckle as I rocked my neck back and forth over my shoulders. I walked down the stairs slowly and told myself to remember to order chicken noodle soup to Darcy’s apartment later. She really needed to eat something.
- J. Arthur Scott
- Illustration by
- Melissa Ling