I lit the candles in the living space. We had increased pain practices to five times a day. Freedom House was almost ready to join The Light. The Darius was allowing new members but only if it was an extreme situation, and in two days there was to be no more recruiting. A few days ago, Miles brought a ten-year old girl back to the house. She was prostituting on Pacific Ave. We named her Grace.
All the candles were lit. Penelope came into the living space wearing her usual white apron and panties. Her apron had pink fingerprinted stains from wiping her hands on it as she cooked.
"The Darius asked me to set plates out on the floor with pork on each plate," said Penelope.
"Wonderful. I can help." I said.
"I'm glad you've come to enjoy it here Ivy. You've become a big part of Freedom House."
"It's the home I've never had."
"Me too." said Penelope.
The Darius sat in the middle of the living space, everyone else sat around him.
"The Darkness is coming sooner than expected. It's coming to stop us, to stop our Journey to the Light. We must stop it. Today marks everyone's entrance into The Free stage. In eight days, we will enter The Light. We must strengthen our minds and bodies. Pick up the plate in front of you."
Miles lifted his plate and I could feel his stare in my direction.
"Penelope made this for all of us. We will eat this pork today to enter The Free."
I looked down at the cooked meat, the smell entered my nostrils and shot down into my stomach, making my stomach turn. I hadn't eaten meat for months now.
"Take a bite, all as one." The Darius said.
I used my fingers to pick up the pork and bit into it. It was tougher than I remembered. The repetitive chewing motions exhausted my jaw and the meat stayed one moist blob in my mouth, never getting smaller. I almost vomited but forced myself to keep it down. I heard a gargling sound and looked over to see Sylvie vomiting onto her lap. The Darius walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"That's quite alright Sylvie. This is normal. We cannot waste though. Penelope, get a spoon."
"Yes The Darius." said Penelope.
I chewed and chewed while looking over at The Darius and Sylvie. Was my mind playing tricks on me? There was no way he was going to ask her to scoop it up and eat it, was there? I believed in The Darius, but how did this fit into our Journey?
Penelope skipped through the kitchen smiling and handed The Darius a spoon. The Darius held the spoon pointed straight up, in front of Sylvie's face. Sylvie, pale with saliva down the corner of her mouth, took the spoon. The Darius smiled, "Smile Sylvie, this is what we all need. Don't waste, eat it."
Sylvie looked down at the chunky liquid on her lap. She took a scoop and brought it to her mouth. I looked away but the sour smell lingered in the air as a reminder.
"I'll have some. You're not alone Sylvie. We're in this together." Penelope said.
Penelope got onto her knees in front of Sylvie and opened her mouth, a signal to Sylvie to feed it to her. Sylvie lifted the spoon, the liquid swayed to the edges almost spilling over from Sylvie's shaking hand. She placed the spoon on Penelope's lips and tilted it into her mouth. Penelope slurped it down and before finishing it, a small chunk was on the corner of her mouth. She used her pink stained index finger to push it into her mouth and sucked her finger dry.
"Here's the flip phone. It'll be your one and only source of communication with us. You'll need to hide it. What we usually suggest is for you to tape it to your body then when you are in the location find a spot to keep it hidden, one where nobody will find it. Maybe underneath a floorboard. Or behind the toilet. It's up to you, just don't let it get discovered. You aren't required to call, you can just text. You need to begin all your texts with our code so that we know it's you. The code is: OpCLT. We have an emergency code as well. This is to be sent only if you believe you or another person is in immediate danger. That code is 666. You need to erase all messages whenever possible. Is this all clear Detective Arc?"
"Yes sir, all cl--."
Detective Salvino's cellphone barely started to ring and he'd already answered it.
"This is Salvino. Are you sure? The Whole Foods off Soquel Ave. Got it. See you soon."
Detective Arc finished taping the cellphone to her upper thigh. She wore loose pants, flip flops, and a red tank top. Her left eye was swollen, and her upper cheek was split.
"Let's roll Detective." Sophia Arc said.
Detective Salvino dropped Sophia off one block away, on a residential street. She walked to Whole Foods and stood in the front. She looked around and spotted Detective Bailey parked and sitting in a black Honda Civic. He signaled to her to look to her left. She glanced over and saw a man returning his cart. She looked back at Detective Bailey to get confirmation. She slid down the wall of the Whole Foods and sat on the concrete.
"Can you spare any change sir?" said Sophia.
It was Cyrus. He looked down at Sophia and squatted down to her eye level.
"What the hell happened to you?" Cyrus said.
"You know, some call it true love." said Sophia.
"Where I come from, true love doesn't leave black eyes."
"Well I guess we don't all have your luck." She said.
Cyrus reached into his pocket and handed Sophia ten dollars. He walked toward the parking lot and then stopped. He turned around and went back to her.
"I didn't always have this luck, someone took a chance on me and showed me true love. You want to come with me? I promise you it'll be worth it."
I sat in Freedom Park next to the coy pond. It was the first time in a while that I felt confused. Orange, black, and white strokes glided under the surface of the water. The colors blended together, and my mind transported me back to my mom's apartment, the orange and white floral print couch. It was a Sunday and the sunlight from the open window was the only brightness that came in. A glimpse out into the world. The sound of children laughing outside echoed through the apartment.
My mother and Steve had started early that Sunday, around 10 in the morning. An empty bottle of vodka was on the living room floor and the cap was missing. I pictured a small ship with sails inside the bottle and I was the captain, sailing far away, never looking back. Mother was passed out on the floor and her arm flung over, sending the empty bottle into motion, rolling away and coming to a stop against the wall.
I heard him come out of the bedroom. He swayed back and forth with no shirt on and sloppy, ripped up jeans, the top button popped open from his bulging stomach.
"Darrrleen, git up." Mother didn't move. Her hair covered her face and she was laid out on her back.
Steve grabbed a half-smoked cigarette out of the ashtray on the coffee table. He searched his pant pockets for a lighter and lit the cigarette. It hung from his mouth, hands free as he stood over my mother.
"Darrrleen, get your ass up." He kicked her but no response.
Steve kneeled down and with his thumb and index finger took the cigarette out of his mouth. He moved the lit side down towards mother's arm and pressed it into her forearm.
"What the fuck." My mother yelled.
She pulled herself up, holding onto her forearm. I sat on the couch, hugging my knees to my chest and pretending not to look.
"What the fuck was that?" She asked.
"I need some food." Steve said.
"I'm not feeling to well baby, can't we --"
Steve grabbed my mother by her neck and squeezed.
"I said I need some fuckin' food. That's what I need and that's what I'll fuckin' get."
She held his hands at her neck, her veins bulging out of her head and her face bright red. He let go of her and threw her toward the floor. She immediately vomited onto the carpet.
"You disgusting pig." Steve said.
She held herself up with her hands, facing the floor and her hair stuck to her cheek, wet with vomit.
Steve grabbed the back of her hair, holding her hair in his fist. He pushed her face down into the puddle of throw up, "Go ahead slurp it up."
"Ivy, can we talk?" It was Miles.
I looked into the pond and saw the coy again, swirling around each other.
"What do you want Miles?"
"I care about you Ivy. I'm sorry if I upset you. Please, we need to stick together."
"I care about you too. I just don't want to ever go back to the outside. I can't. You don't understand"
"I do understand. A lot of us here had it hard on the outside but..." Miles looked down at his hands.
"What?" I asked.
"There's stuff that happens here too. Ivy, I want to show you something tonight when everyone is asleep. Will you come with me tonight?"
"Where?" I said.
"I have to show you what's in the Red Room."
I turned and looked at Miles.