Cheese and Handcuffs

cheese:handcuffs

I sit on the windowsill of Nikita’s old high ceilinged bedroom and stare at the wall.

“What is that?” I ask him. On the wall opposite the window is a large painting a bit like a tree’s rings. There are different designs that wrap around and around from a dot in the center. Each is in a different style and has different designs inlaid.

“Everyone who lives here paints on another ring. My ring will cover the whole rest of the wall when I leave. And I will paint over that last person, it is ugly.”

I look at the last ring on the circle and contemplate how little I understand art. The rest of the room appeals to me more. The walls are crumbling and cracked, and you have to sweep up old lead paint chips every time you open a window. Nikita looks up at me from his computer.

“You know love is not always roses and poems.” He says

“Oh, no?”

“No.” he says. “Sometimes love is cheese and handcuffs.” He smirks. “That is the love you need to find.” He looks back at his computer. I open the window to smoke a cigarette and brush a few paint chips off of my jeans. As I smoke, Nikita reads to himself from the floor. He has pale soft skin and thin feathers for hair. His eyes are dark and heavy but always seem to be laughing. I don’t know if he can grow a beard. His body is thin and boy-like, as is his face. He is wearing a sweater loose, in a way that would be self-conscious on a less self-assured man.

“Do you know how to climb?” he asks

“I suppose. You mean like a ladder?”

“Yes, like that.”

“Yes.”

“Good, I do not want you to die.” He smiles.

“Why?”

“We are going to the roof.” He says. He stands up and walks out of the room. He walks all the way to the end of the dirty hallway and we enter a room with nothing but an old rusty bathtub and a window. He opens the window.

“There”, he says, pointing at a ladder attached to a perpendicular wall three feet from the window. I look at it, look at him, look down out of the window to the dark ground four stories away and say, “What the hell do you mean there?”

He smiles. “Come” he says, and steps onto the ledge, reaches out and snags a ring on the ladder. He begins to climb. The night is wet, cold, and filled with the stench of poor decisions. I follow, apprehensively. I shake. I make it to the top, a slanted wet sheet of metal crisscrossed with a multitude of thick trip-worthy wires. Nikita is standing a ways from the top of the ladder smiling. “Do not walk on the wires. They make noise.”

“Sure thing.” I tell him, holding on to the wet side of what may have been an air conditioning unit for support. Nikita trudges up to the apex of the roof and stands under the lights of the city. I follow, slowly. At the top I light a cigarette and look around. I want to take a picture but my hands are shaking. I love roofs, I love seeing cities and skies and trees and stars from this vantage point. And as I stand on a roof, above the world, I always feel calm and think about all of life’s big questions at once. But, as I stand on this particular roof, only one question bounces around in my head and it is this. Are we going to be climbing back in through that fucking window?

I ask Nikita “So, does that ladder go all the way to the ground?”

He smiles “I don’t know.”

“So, how do we get back in?”

“Through the window,” he says in an amused tone and walks off to stand dangerously close to the edge of the roof. I stand in a panic. Not entirely sure whether I am scared of him falling or of having to shove my much larger frame back through a tiny window while four stories off the ground. I think about how I would explain him slipping suddenly on the slanted, wet roof. And worse, how would he explain the dead American fellow on the ground outside when I miss the window completely. Nikita turns back to me.

“Ready to go down?” He asks.

“Sure” I say. We walk back to where the ladder is attached to the roof. Nikita watches me as I knock, nick, kick and step on every wire along the way. He starts down the ladder first. I watch from the top as he casually steps over death and pulls himself through the open window.

I take a deep breath. It doesn’t help.

My hands shake, my knees shake, my feet would have shaken if not for carrying the tremendous weight of the much larger, much shakier bits of my body. I slowly make my way down past the fifth story window. I’m sure I would have thought something of it if my brain were not writing a long and very touching letter to my mother, apologizing. When I get to the bit where I am supposed to step over death I see Nikita standing in the window, smirking.

“Step there” he says and points at the unstable looking strip of metal pretending to be a window sill. I do. Death looks up my pant leg and laughs.

“Grab here.” Nikita taps the top of the window and a few paint chips fall to their death. I do.

“Now pull yourself in,” he says. I take a deep breath and, in a moment my cowardly brain will never let me remember, I duck in. I find myself standing next to the rusty old tub. Nikita pats me on the shoulder.

“You were very brave,” he says and then walks off down the hallway to get us some wine.

25 comments

  1. Hello! This is walliver from Reddit. I’ll try to leave comments as I go. Some will annoy you, some will be pointless, but others will hopefully be constructive and useful.

    First impression: you can clearly write. There’s a nice flow to this piece, no glaring mistakes, all very readable.

    Main plus point for this story is Nikita. I like the character you’ve created and would love to seem him appear again. I also enjoyed some of your descriptions. These two stood out for me: “thin feathers for hair” (and the line about not knowing whether he can grow a beard) and “the unstable looking strip of metal pretending to be a window sill”, which helps show his fear very nicely.

    Negatives: I think you could’ve pretty much started it at “Do you know how to climb?”. You’d need to include your description of Nikita and the state of the flat somewhere else, but there are two things in the opening section that stand out to me for more depth which I was waiting for you to come back to, but you never did.

    One is the painting that’s been added to by each occupant of the room. That’s a really interesting idea and could easily be the joint between so many stories. Maybe Nikita’s tracked them down and has learnt the full story, and realised that the last one (maybe an ex- or a friend that he inherited the lease from?) has ruined the piece for him.

    The other is the title of the story. If someone said “Sometimes love is cheese and handcuffs” to me, I’d definitely want to know what they meant, but your main character doesn’t seem to care. I can guess where Nikita’s going with the handcuffs (although you could flip that — make me seem like I have a dirty mind when Nikita’s thinking of someone who will go on dangerous adventures and risk their freedom to be with you, which ties in with his personality) but the cheese? I’m lost. Maybe you just wanted to show Nikita as being quirky, but I want to find out more.

    Also, by starting with that question, you also leave more space for things to happen on the roof, which otherwise seems a bit rushed.

    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi,

      I agree with what Oliver said here. I would have loved to read more about their time on the roof. After all, we spent time following the characters on their perilous climb up to the roof, so I was expecting something to take place there (it doesn’t have to be anything dramatic; it could just be them talking/thinking about whatever it is that they want to talk/think about on a rooftop).

      Overall, I enjoy this. It felt rather short, but that’s only because I enjoyed this piece.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. Well, this was the first story I wrote about being in Russia. There are actually a lot more later on. The character referred to as “N” in later stories is Nikita from this story so if you want to read more, check them out.

        The one thing with Flash Fiction is having to choose what I focus on. If I focused on the events on top of the roof too long it would have run beyond a thousand words. Plus, I was too shit-scared to remember anything in to great a detail from being up there.

        Liked by 1 person

    • The same sort of character appears in some other stories that are a little bit weirder. (The Mermaid With the Hyena Tattoo, 100 Words for Overcast, and a few others.) If you’re curious. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a piece of creative writing by a blogger—Not with tentative appreciation for the effort, or admiration of a few turns of phrase or set descriptions; not because I detect some shared sensibility, or am happy to come across the rare thoughtful observer (sometimes observing kind of strenuously)—-All those good qualities pertain, but I didn’t need to seek them because you gained my trust so quickly that I unreservedly put myself into the author’s hands. I believed what was happening, and who it happened to, and that it happened in that way, and that you were honest—And I liked inhabiting that universe.

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    • You have more than made my day with this. I really appreciate you taking the time to write it. I can’t think of anything else that would be more encouraging to hear. Thank you.

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  3. Interesting read and good job. I don’t quite understand the meaning of the title but perhaps you meant it to be that way. Thank you for the follow and it is good meeting you.

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  4. Terrific story. Nikita could have explained the meaning of life, cheese and handcuff manoeuvres on the roof but I’m with you, flash365, getting back through the window would have been my mind’s single occupant. The flow, the humour, the length, the intrigue, all spot on. I’ve been looking forward to going through your back log and it’s finding the time. Stories like this just ensure that time will be found 🙂

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  5. Hey. I LOVE LOVE LOVE: ” filled with the stench of poor decisions. ” as well as what follows it. Also love, “stepped over death.” You have a great strength in metaphors. I have begun a brand new rereading of all of your work in order. I felt as if I were missing some elements by having started in January and skipped a few. So I’m starting at the beginning again.

    Love metaphors. Keep coming up with them.

    love,
    auntie

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  6. […] Cheese and Handcuffs: This a true story that happened right when Nikita and I first met. It can give you an idea how our relationship began and blossomed. It is the only story based in Russia not written in my usual style. […]

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    • haha, it is the best option. And yeah, this was the first story that Nikita read of mine and the story that led to us working together. I am glad you liked it. Sometimes I like to look back on it and see how my writing has changed but still, I enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

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