You put the key into the lock and turn it with a small click. He has nothing more inside than a change of clothes, a [[golliwog doll|Golliwog Doll]], and, tucked into his rolled up bow tie, your [[pill bottle|Pill Bottle]].
Before he can object you take the bottle and lock yourself in the bathroom. You can hear him calling after you, but it'll be easier to face everything if you can just swallow those pills.\n\nSo you do. Standing in front of the mirror you pop the last three pills and swallow them dry. One sticks in your throat and you can't get your mouth to the faucet fast enough. Now you have a headache and your throat is on fire, and your leg is beginning to ache. What was it he used to say to you? "This is the pits."\n\nOut in the [[bedroom|Bedroom]] Ricky is coughing and gagging again. You warned him, didn't you?\n\nYou could go and check on him. But let's be honest. If there's any warm water a [[bath|Bath]] would make your leg feel a lot better a lot faster.
[[Ricky|Ricky]] is lying there on the stained motel bedspread with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The [[record player|Record Player]] is blaring out jazz. His [[suitcase|Suitcase]] is sitting closed beside it.
You take your bag of clothes and the fifteen dollars folded in your sock and that accounts for all you own in this world. Loose ends... you have none of those. Isn't that nice?\n\nBut as you are putting on your coat you hear his voice behind you, barely audible over Cab Calloway.\n\n"[[Shengjie|Shengjie]]..."
<<if $needcombo == "yes">>You pick up the needle and the record keeps spinning. Ricky makes a swipe at you, but you're just out of his reach.\n\n"Open the suitcase," you say. "Please. I need my pills."\n\n"Sing it for me," he says.\n\n"What?"\n\n"[[Sing it|Sing It]]. I know you know the words."<<endif>>\n<<if $gotkey == "yes">>He's still humming along with the record. It makes him cough again.\n\n"Go back to sleep, Ricky. You're just going to make it worse."\n\n"[[Fuck you|Evening]]," he says.<<endif>>\n<<else>><<if $gotkey == "no">>The record was cut barely three years ago. You could hear the clinky music from the street.\n\n"You can do most anything but whatever you do," Ricky sings. His voice has gone scratchy lately. "There's only one thing. You've got to have chinese rhythm."\n\nHe knows you don't like this song. He knows [[you don't have it in you|Evening]] to tell him so.<<endif>>\n\n<<if $done == "no">>As loud as the music is in the places the two of you frequent, the volume is starting to get to you. Your head is starting to pound in time with Calloway's squeaky imitation of a language he has probably never heard.<<silently>>\n<<set $haveheadache = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>\n<<endif>>
He's still coughing when you come out. He's curled up on his side on the edge of the bed. You sit down beside him and slip your hand in his.\n\n"Maybe we should go back to the hospital," you say.\n\nHe squeezes your fingers.\n\n"I love you," he gasps.\n\n"I know."\n\nYou know.
His eyes are open just a crack when you look back. They're blue, aren't they?\n\nHe opens his mouth to say something but the sound doesn't come. The cigarette falls down to the front of his shirt and he doesn't make a move to grab it. The two of you just look at each other.\n\n"I hope you find what you're looking for," you say, and before you can change your mind you slip backwards out the door and into the [[darkness|Night]].
"I saw Calloway in the Cotton Club some time ago," he told you and the boys once. "Saddest thing I ever saw, a man like that performing like that in a place where they looked at him like that. They're the worst kind of people."\n\n"Gangsters?" guessed Eddie.\n\n"Hypocrites. Have you seen the pictures they have on the walls in there?"\n\nBut you hadn't, and neither had any of the boys. They don't let women in there. They don't like people like the boys in either.\n\n"They treat them... us... like we're all nothing but dirty savages who can't do anything but sit in the dirt and scratch lice. But what would they do without the black music groups they hire for beans? There wouldn't be any Cotton Club. Nobody would go."\n\n"Course they would," said Cary. "They got girl. 'Tall, tan and terrific.' Didn't you notice them?"\n\n"Get real, man," Bell told him. "Rick ain't interested in girls."\n\nYou and the boys only laughed after Ricky was gone.\n\nThat was [[a long time ago|Suitcase]].
<<if $needcombo == "yes">>"I need my pills," you tell him.\n\nThe glow of his cigarette flickers once and goes out. He tosses the butt into the carpet.\n\n"You're going to burn down the building and then you're going to have to live with that."\n\nHe echoes Calloway'snonsense syllables perfectly with the record as he lights a new cigarette.\n\n"Ricky, please just open the suitcase."\n\nHe [[ignores|Evening]] you.\n<<else>>"The least you could do is turn down the music when I'm talking to you," you tell him.\n\n"Don't you ever [[shut up|Evening]]?" he groans, closing his eyes and chewing the [[filter|Filter]].<<endif>>
He used to be so dashing, with his sleek dress jacket and the top hat cocked fearlessly on his dark hair. If someone told you back then that in six years you'd still be shacked up with whitey you'd have thought they were crazy. And yet here he is, a sickly, greasy-haired bandleader sprawled on a creaking [[bed|Evening]].
Outside the window the clouds are dark and heavy. It might snow tonight, unless this wind keeps up and manages to push the weather away.\n\n<<silently>>\n<<set $needcombo = "no">>\n<<set $haveheadache = "no">>\n<<set $gotkey = "no">>\n<<set $dead = "no">>\n<<set $done = "no">>\n<<endsilently>>\n<<display 'Evening'>>
You ought to know the words after three years. You drop the needle with a scratching noise and start to sing to the gibberish that plays. Singing was never your strong point.\n\nHe laughs and laughs until suddenly something seizes up inside him and instead he coughs. He coughts until he gasps, clutching the cigarette tightly in his teeth.\n\n"Here," he says when the rasping eases. He props himself up on one elbow and hands you a key from his shirt pocket. "[[You earned it|Unlock]]."\n<<silently>>\n<<set $gotkey == "yes">>\n<<set $needcombo == "no">>\n<<endsilently>>
He looks more tired than you've ever seen him. He's too still. But his skin would be more bluish if... wouldn't it?\n\nYou limp over on your sore leg, take the cigarette from his mouth, and put your ear next to his nose. There might have been a breath. God knows you know nothing about these things. But if there was a breath there, it's too shallow to help him now.\n\n"Best of luck," you tell him, and you crush out the cigarette on his lips.
You take the bottle out of its nest and it rattles, almost empty. He took most of the pills himself, even though he always complains that they make him tired. There might be just enough to get down if you get a drink from the [[bathroom|Bathroom]].
<<if $haveheadache == "yes">>The last of your pain pills is in that suitcase. You try opening it and find the latch finally caught [[this time|Evening]].\n<<silently>>\n<<set $done = "yes">>\n<<set $needcombo = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>\n<<else>>In a moment of weakness [[Ricky|Evening]] once told you it was his dream to have stamps from all over the world on this suitcase. Wost case scenario, he wants to go to [[New York|New York]] again.<<endif>><<endif>>
It is snowing after all.
You are Snow 1935
He told you a few days after he performed a two hour show and encore with double pneumonia. Some girl had come to him in a snit and told him he'd gotten her pregnant. But he couldn't marry her because that was only a little more legal than if the genders had been swapped. So instead he'd brought her this ugly little blackface doll with red and yellow rags for clothes.\n\n"I told her it was to remind her," he said. "It was to remind her that if you want to get on all you gotta do is follow the formula."\n\nHe held out his hand for another cigarette, and even though the doctor said no, not after what happened, you just didn't have the heart to refuse him. You gave him one, you did, and he lit it off the butt of the first. "And what's that?"\n\n"Smile pretty," he said, and raised up on his elbow to cough a little. "Just... smile pretty and [[play the game|Unlock]]."
You haven't heard the banging in the pipes that signifies someone has run the tap yet. The water comes out still fairly hot and, while it doesn't make your leg feel better, it does make you feel better. Warmer, even, in spite of the weather. When you finally dress again and come out to the bedroom, you feel like nothing can touch you.\n\n[[Ricky|Finish]] is sprawled in the center of the bed, his eyes closed. The cigarette, dangling loosely from his lips, is still burning. His fingers are twisted into the bedspread. But--and here's one to consider--the [[door|Door]] is right there.
Megan Stevens