Anyway, the prompt up at brigits_flame this week was "Fuel". What sprung to mind first was Steam by Peter Gabriel (gotta love those 80s graphics).
Give me steam
And how you feel can make it real
Real as anything you've seen
Anyway, I didn't use that.
I wanted to write something with robots--I love robots, hapless, eager-to-please, misunderstood AIs--but after walking on glass for the first lousy 317 words, I realized it just wasn't happening. (One of these days I will actually mange to write a vignette with a robot in it, I swear.) But, to me fuel has always been food, among other things, so I ended up doing something with that.
This is a continuation of my Pape and Danforth storyline. I'm not quite as proud of it as I was of the original, but I do think it's funny.
And here it is. Thank you all, as usual, for reading. :)
Charles was on the sofa, huddled under Josh's blanket. It still smelled faintly of sweat from when Josh was sick, because Josh kept forgetting to take it to the laundry room. Charles didn't really mind the smell, even though it probably meant he was inhaling pneumonia germs every time he breathed. Josh always kept his door shut, so at least the blanket didn't stink of Gloria's cigarette smoke like everything else in the apartment did.
Charles was very hungry, but he was too tired to actually get up and get something to eat, since he always felt sick when he hadn't eaten for a long time. He would have liked macaroni and cheese, but that needed stuff like a pot and waiting for the water to boil and then more waiting, and right now that felt like way too much effort.
He wasn't sure if they had any macaroni and cheese left, anyway. Or butter to make it with. Or milk. He couldn't remember the last time he or Josh bought groceries, and he refused to use his job at Sobeys to steal food the way his coworkers did.
He was vaguely wondering if there was any peanut butter left when Gloria came in, swearing and stamping like she was trying to kick the cold to death.
"Fuck," she said. "You could die out there."
"Hey," Charles said, even though he wasn't feeling well enough to actually be glad to see her.
She shook her feet out of her boots, leaving bits of muddy ice next to the door. Charles thought he really should start putting a towel down. "Where's Josh?" Gloria asked. She stepped carefully around the melting ice and hung her parka up on the door hook. "Is he still working?"
"He's staying with Matthew," Charles said. "He said they were going to check out some new club or something."
Gloria was unwinding her ridiculously long scarf, but she stopped for a second when she heard that. "What the fuck is his problem?" She asked, sounding amazed. "He just spent the whole week on the couch coughing his fucking lungs up."
"He said he was fine," Charles said. "He went to work today, even."
Gloria shook her head. "He's such an asshole."
Charles didn't know how to answer that, since it was kind of true. Gloria managed to balance her scarf on top of her parka hood, then rubbed her hands together and blew on them. Her pigtails looked like twisted straw from the wind, and her cheeks were bright, blotchy pink, in the way that Charles associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.
He knew she'd had a cigarette on the way to his apartment. He could smell it on her, drifting across the room. He thought about little smoke molecules settling on the couch and his bed and the blankets, slowly sinking into his skin. Gloria had tried to quit lots of times, but she was never very good at it.
"Can I stay tonight?" Gloria asked. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. "Monica has her girlfriend over again."
"Sure," Charles said, trying to look like he meant it. "You want to sleep in Josh's room?"
Gloria made a face. "No way. He's probably got skeet all over the sheets." She wiped her nose again. "My nose is running like a fucking faucet. Hang on." She disappeared into the bathroom. Charles could hear her blowing her nose loudly through the open door. Gloria came out sniffing and coughing, then had to swallow a bunch of times. Charles tried not to grimace, because he didn't want to hurt her feelings.
He thought about telling her that if she didn't smoke she wouldn't cough like that, but he just kept his mouth shut. He was too tired and hungry to get into another fight about it.
"That's better," Gloria said. Then, "Yeah. She arrived yesterday. It was supposed to be a surprise or something. They were already in a screaming argument when I left for work this morning." She pulled the elastics out of her hair and tried to finger-comb it, wincing when her fingers caught in the tangles. "Damn," she muttered. "I forgot to buy a decent brush. Fuck. Yeah, so they were fighting again. And I just knew that if I went home they'd either be throwing things at each other or screwing in the living room." She winced again, pulling her hair so hard her head was tipped to the side. "Inconsiderate bitches."
"I'm sorry," Charles said.
"Thanks," Gloria said, and her pale lips flickered in a smile. Charles always thought that Gloria looked beautiful when she smiled, but she never seemed happy enough to do it much. She finally finished with her hair, though if anything it looked worse, since now bits of it were sticking up from static. "I just wish I'd grabbed some of my stuff before I left the apartment." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "Do I have any underwear here?"
"I don't remember," Charles said. "I don't think so."
"Damn," Gloria said. "Can I borrow a pair of your boxers, then? To sleep in?"
"I've only got one clean pair left," Charles admitted. "But I'm pretty sure Josh did some laundry yesterday."
Gloria's mouth twisted. "Great. I'll probably get crabs."
"You got nothing to eat in this place, you know that?"
"Yeah," Charles croaked. He nodded slowly, chin scraping back and forth against the dull-yellow arm of the sofa. He was so hungry now that the thought of actually eating made him feel like throwing up. He considered going to bed, but his room seemed very far away, and Gloria was still wide-awake anyway, making banging noises in the kitchen.
"You want to order a pizza?" Gloria asked when she finally came back into the living room. She was carrying an open container of Nesquick and a spoon. She flopped down onto the sofa next to Charles while he was trying to shuffle upright. She landed on the blanket, trapping him.
"I don't have enough cash for pizza," Charles said, which was true, though the idea of pizza was actually pretty horrible.
"Fuck. Now I really want one." Gloria sighed and slumped further into the sofa. Her hip was against Charles' butt, since his feet were dragging on the floor. She looked at Charles hopefully. "Does Josh have any cash? I can pay him back tomorrow."
Charles thought about it. "I don't think so," he said. "He was talking about how worried he was about next semester's tuition." Charles had even offered Josh money, but Josh refused to take it. Josh hated accepting anything from anybody, unless it was during a fistfight.
"Damn," Gloria said. She scooped out some Nesquick from the cheerfully yellow container and ate it dry from the spoon.
Charles lifted his head just enough so that he could watch her doing it. "Is it good like that?" he asked.
Gloria shrugged. "Yeah, it's okay. Kind of like Jell-o pudding powder." There was chocolate smeared at the corners of her mouth, and for a second Charles had a weird urge to lick it off. He blinked it away, hoping she didn't notice him staring at her.
"You ever have that?" she asked him. "Like, when I was in grade school I'd sneak packs of Jell-o out of the cupboard and eat them dry at recess. I'd pour them into my hand, like this." She held out her cupped palm. "And then lick it off." She looked at Charles. "You never did that?"
Charles shook his head. "No."
"Oh," Gloria said. "It's pretty good." She sounded a little disappointed. She took another spoonful. "I'm fucking starving. I wish you had peanut butter."
"Me too," Charles said dully. He watched her eat more dry chocolate powder. He hadn't thought you could eat it like that. He dropped his head back to the armrest. "You eat the weirdest crap. You know that?"
Gloria hugged the container to her chest, wide-eyed. "I'm starving," she repeated, like he hadn't understood her. "I didn't get dinner."
"Me neither," Charles said.
Gloria stared at him. "Why the hell didn't you eat?" She was still hugging the jar protectively, her other hand holding the spoon up like she figured she'd have to beat him back with it.
"I kind of got forced into a really long conversation," Charles said.
"Oh," Gloria said. She looked guiltily at the Nesquick, then back at Charles. "You want some?"
"No, thanks." Charles exhaled softly and settled deeper into the sofa. He wondered, meanly, if Gloria could even taste the Nesquick through all the ash and crap that was probably on her tongue. Maybe it tasted like chocolate cigarette smoke. He closed his eyes.
Gloria let out a loud huff of air. "Fine. Here." Charles cracked his eyes open to see Gloria thrusting her spoon at him. Charles barely managed to turn his head in time to actually get the chocolate into his mouth instead of smeared across his cheek. Then he had to fight not to cough powder all over the blanket and couch. When he finally swallowed it all, he coughed for so long it made his lungs hurt.
"Thanks," Charles said weakly, when he could talk again. "That's totally disgusting."
"Really?" Gloria blinked at him.
Charles nodded. He wiped his mouth with the blanket. "Tastes like crap."
"Huh," Gloria grunted. She looked at the Nesquick jar like it might've changed ingredients while she wasn't paying attention. "That's weird." She looked at Charles again. "Do you want any more?"
Charles shook his head. "No. You go ahead."
"Awesome," Gloria said, beaming. She leaned over and kissed him, a wet smack on his cheek that he was sure left muddy smudges of chocolate. "You're such a sweetheart."
"Thanks," Charles said. He smiled faintly at her before he lay back down. He closed his eyes again, listening to Gloria scraping her spoon along the bottom of the container.
He was half asleep when he felt her hand on his face. "Hey," she said quietly. "Hey, Chuck, you okay?"
"I'm just hungry," Charles said. "I hate being called 'Chuck'. You know that."
"Sorry," Gloria said mechanically. She was patting all over his head now--on the back of his neck, his temples, threading her fingers through his hair. "I think you've got a fever."
"You think everyone's got a fever," Charles mumbled.
"No I don't!" Gloria said hotly. "You must've caught whatever Josh had."
Charles opened his eyes again. He looked at Gloria. "I've got pneumonia?"
"I don't know," Gloria said. She pressed her lips together, worried. "Maybe you should go to the doctor."
"Damn it," Charles said. He pushed himself upright, letting Josh's diseased blanket slip off his shoulders. He was suddenly a little dizzy, and he put his face in his hands. "Fucking Josh." He took a deep breath; it hurt. "Yeah," he said on a breath. "Okay."
"How about tomorrow?" Gloria asked.
Charles nodded, hands still over his face. "Yeah," he said. He dropped his hands, letting them dangle loosely between his knees. "That's probably a good idea."
Gloria snorted. "No shit. It's like, eighty below out there right now. Come on." She pulled on Charles' arm to make him stand up, kept pulling on it until he stumbled obediently after her into his tiny bedroom. She pushed him gently on his back. "Go to bed."
Charles crawled gratefully into his bed. He still had his street clothes on, he remembered dully, but he was too tired to care. The blanket felt weirdly cool when Gloria tossed it over him, and he shivered.
"You want anything?" Gloria asked him. "Actually, I think all you have is water. Do you want me to heat some water for you?"
Charles smirked, then realized she was serious. "That's okay, thanks," he said quickly. He pulled the blanket tighter around him.
"Great," Gloria said. He could hear her walking back towards the living room. "I'm going to have a smoke, then."
"Open a window," Charles said.
"Fine," Gloria huffed somewhere near his door. "I'll freeze my ass off so your incredibly classy apartment won't smell like du Mauriers. You're welcome."
The apartment already smelled like cigarette smoke, but Charles knew there was no point in mentioning that. He forced himself to sit up. "Hey, Gloria?"
She opened his door again, peered around it. "What?"
"Thanks," Charles said.
Gloria rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'm the fucking wind beneath your wings." But she was smiling when she said it.