When Lisa first hears the police helicopter hovering above her apartment fourplex, she’s braced against her bathroom sink, taking stock of her collection of razors, trying to determine which one will slice through her veins with the least amount of mess. She’s never realized, until now, how many razors she’s collected in her brief time as a tenant of 5919 Lakewood Boulevard. There’s her older, duller Schick and her new, sharp Venus, purchased when CVS was out of Schick refills, but she’s also unearthed a rusted-over Bic disposable and a men’s electric razor, which is useless for her purposes. She can’t explain the last two. She’s never had a man here, and she’s always hated cheap, throwaway products — one-day contact lenses, travel shampoo bottles, microwaveable lunches — but lately, her life has been reduced to the economical and non-reusable, fast-food wrappers and Salvation Army clothes and do-it-yourself haircuts. Which is why Lisa’s picking the rust off her Bic, fiddling with the needle-nose pliers that will remove the blades from their plastic casing once she’s melted it with her lighter. Twenty-three job application rejections, the most recent of which arrived yesterday, means that disposability has moved from a habit to a necessity.
Scratching the rust off the blades is a waste of time, she knows; if she does this right, she won’t have to worry about tetanus poisoning her blood. She picks up the lighter, another cheap throwaway from a multicolored six-pack. This lighter is blue, also a product of the Bic company, like the razor she’s dismantling and the pen she used to fill out all those job applications. A corporate family tree stained by what Lisa’s about to do with its wares. Lisa’s own family tree has collected plenty of those stains: her great-grandfather (hanging), her second cousin (shotgun), her uncle-by-marriage (car purposely stalled on the railroad tracks). Her stepmother used pills. She’d done it perfectly, just as she’d done everything else; Lisa had come home from school one day to find her stretched out in the recliner, a note and an empty bottle of lorazepam resting on the end table. Lisa has always striven for perfection, from the files she used to arrange in their cabinets to the check marks she’s etched into so many application boxes. She goes back to picking the rust off her razor blades. She watches the tiny brown flakes fall into the sink.
A helicopter’s whirring interrupts her work. The chopper has started flying in a tight loop, the loops closer now, as if the cops could see through her ceiling and know what she’s planning. Lisa recognizes that this type of thinking is dangerous. Paranoid. Her next-door neighbor had ranted about conspiracies and privacy until he’d been evicted by the sheriff’s department for lack of rent payment. Lisa had known that wasn’t the way she wanted to go out even before she’d checked her bank account and felt its emptiness settle into her stomach, next to her ever-present, low-level hunger. No, it’s more likely that the cops have zeroed in on some petty thief using her neighborhood as a getaway route.
Or maybe even using her backyard: The helicopter’s rotor is louder than she’s ever heard before, beating the air with a violence Lisa has always associated with her father’s construction jobs growing up, the tools of his trade so much more visceral than the file folders and photocopiers she lost when her company downsized half its administrative staff. The chopper must be hovering immediately above her bedroom roof. She wonders if this brutal rush of air was the sound the firstborns heard in Egypt, just before the Angel of Death snatched their lives away. She wonders how it would feel to be borne to heaven by such a force of nature, to be snuffed out under the immense weight of its machinery. She remembers her father lifting her off the couch and carrying her up the stairs when she was a very little girl, his bedtime stories full of the sounds of jackhammers and bulldozers and hammers and saws, and she convinces herself that this experience would be very much like that one.
The helicopter drops lower. Its nearness is dangerously out of control: One slip of the pilot’s joystick and her apartment building will become an accidental landing pad. Lisa imagines it bursting through her bedroom ceiling and incinerating the cheap, throwaway detritus of her life — perfect. When it happens, she wants to be waiting.
She takes one last look at her apartment before heading to her bed. She can see the entire space, bathroom and all, from her front doorway — the most obvious example of how small and ineffectual her life has become. There’s no dishwasher or air-conditioning unit. The kitchen tiles, the bathroom cabinets and the bedroom door are all the yellow of uncared-for teeth. The pictures on her walls are from happier times — graduations, birthdays, family vacations — but they hang crookedly, as if her building has resigned itself to a permanent slouch. Lisa hates the fact that she’s paying almost $1,000 a month to live in a place that so thoroughly embodies her despair. The thought of these four rooms ablaze kick-starts her heart into something close to happiness. When she flings herself onto her bed — face up, spread eagle, ready — her smile feels like it might break her face in two.
The helicopter continues to sink. Its searchlight glows through the bedroom windows, so that the entire room is suffused with an overwhelming light. The panes flex as if their muscles, too, are preparing themselves for impact.
Lisa’s limbs go rigid and an immense pressure builds in her chest, as if she’s already accepted how the landing skids will feel as they crush her body: her ribs cracked, her sternum snapped, her heart exploded. Her breathing accelerates until it matches the rhythm of the blades. It’s too fast, she knows — her lungs cannot keep up — but the reptilian part of her brain won’t regulate; it’s tricked itself into thinking that her elevated heart rate and racing pulse are due to sex, or something like it, that’s she’s rushing to fulfill la petite mort. Part of her hopes that she will literally run out of breath in the instant before the helicopter lands — an even littler death.
The blades hover. Lisa breathes.
Then, the helicopter lifts up and away, so slowly at first that it takes her a moment to realize what’s happening. There are no shouts from her neighbors or sirens from approaching police reinforcement, just a withdrawal of sound and light. Lisa listens until the thrum of its blades are no more menacing than the long-ago whisper of her father flipping the pages of a storybook.
Gradually, her breathing returns to normal. Her limbs unfreeze, although they feel strangely heavy, unwilling to break contact with the bedspread. Her smile is the last part of her to unkink, like a hose that’s been incorrectly coiled. She doesn’t know what exactly, but she knows the helicopter has taken something from her, ripped her certainty or determination or will straight out of her chest, so that her emptiness now extends through the entire core of her being.
Lisa returns to the bathroom sink. She stares at the razors for a long time.
Rachael Warecki’s fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic and elsewhere, and has received an honorable mention or been a finalist in contests held by Glimmer Train, The Masters Review and The Stoneslide Corrective. Rachael holds an MFA in fiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is part of the leadership team for Women Who Submit, L.A.