Imagine: You’ve spent all day traipsing around London; lost in a maze of chaos, trying to find a hidden illusion; you’ve been living on hope, ignoring reality, fueled only by feelings you don’t understand.  You’ve been looking for a dream, never truly believing you’d find it, but now- incredibly - you have.  It’s right there in front of you – just behind that off-white door.  It’s there…

       She’s there.

       Behind the door.

       Imagine that.

       Candy’s in there…

       All you have to do is raise your hand and knock…

       That’s all.

       Just raise your hand…

       I couldn’t do it.  My arm wouldn’t move. It was dead, senseless…unresponsive.  It belonged to someone else.  For a minute or two, all I could do was stand there in front of the door, staring at the flaking paint, the grimy panels, the ill-fitting lock…my hands hanging down at my sides…my head throbbing…my body burning…hot…cold…inside out…sick with too many things.  Excitement.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Pain.  Passion.  Hope.

       Everything.

       Nothing.

       “Candy?” I whispered.

       Too quiet.

       I tried again.  “Candy?”

       It was still too quiet, but somehow the sound of my voice brought my arm back to life and I reached up and knocked on the door.

       “Candy?” I called out.  “Are you in there? It’s Joe…”

       There was no reply.  I put my ear to the door and listened.  Nothing at first…then something…a faint rustling…a creak …a single footstep.  Then silence again.  I knocked once more.

       “Candy…please…open the door.”

       This time I definitely heard her.  Light footsteps, moving slowly toward me, toward the door.  I stepped back – I don’t know why… It just seemed like the natural thing to do.  I stepped back and put my hands in my pockets.  Again, I don’t know why I put my hands in my pockets.  I just did.

       The door opened…

       And there she was – the imagined face in all its reality: pale, pained, bruised, and beaten.  One of her eyes was blackened and her left wrist was swollen and bandaged.

       “Candy,” I breathed. “What happened –”

       “I can’t talk to you,” she said weakly.  “You have to go…”

       “I’m not going anywhere.  Look at you…your face…”

       “It’s nothing,” she said, brushing at the ugly swelling around her eye.  “I’m all right.  Please, Joe…just go…leave me alone.  You’ll only make things worse.”

       “I won’t.”

       “You will…believe me.”

       I shook my head.  “I’m not going anywhere until you talk to me.”

       “I can’t…”

       I didn’t reply.  I just stood there, staring into her eyes, letting her see my determination. I wasn’t going leaving.  She could shut the door if she wanted to.  She could lock it, bolt it, nail it shut… She could do whatever she liked.  But I still wasn’t going anywhere.

       She looked back at me, nervously chewing her lip.

       I said, “The sooner you let me in, the sooner I’ll be gone.”

       She closed her eyes for a moment – her face darkened with sadness – then, without looking at me, she stepped back and opened the door.

       

It wasn’t a flat, just a room.  And it wasn’t even much of a room.  There was a double bed, a wardrobe, a mirrored dressing table, a few shelved, one or two books…a cheap CD player on the floor…clothes and towels piled all over the place.  There was a beaded doorway in the far wall that led into a small bathroom, but I couldn’t see a kitchen anywhere, nor any kitchen equipment – no food, no fridge, no cooker.  No television.  No ornaments, no pictures…

       Nothing for living.

       It was just somewhere to exist.

       I blinked and rubbed my eyes, squinting into the light.  The curtains were closed and the room was lit with a dim red glow from a heavy cylindrical lamp on the floor.

       “Don’t say anything,” Candy said, sitting down gingerly on the bed.  “Please… just don’t say anything.”

       The bed was a mess – tangled sheets, scrunched up pillows, a bedside cabinet strewn with all kinds of debris.  I went over to the dressing table and sat down on a hard-backed chair.  The surface of the dressing table was covered with bottles and tubs and jars and tubes…bits of foil…plastic wrap…matches…cigarette lighters…packs of painkillers…

       “I couldn’t tell you,” Candy said.

       I turned around and looked at her.  She was sitting cross-legged, leaning slightly to one side, resting her hand on her hip…as if trying to relieve pain.  Her hair was loose and she was wearing a long white nightgown.  The gown looked old – ivory white, thin and lacy…thin enough to see she wasn’t wearing anything else.  The outline of her body whispered underneath the cloth.

       I lowered my eyes.

       She said, “I wanted to tell you …honestly…”

       “Tell me what?” I said.

       “Come on Joe- what do you think? All this…” She waved her hand around the room.  “What I am…what I do…”

       I raised my eyebrows and looked at her.  “Why did he beat you up? Was it because of me?”

       She shrugged.  “You…me…it doesn’t really matter.  I know the rules – I’ve only got myself to blame.”  She reached over to the bedside cabinet, wincing slightly, and rummaged through the mess.  She found a cigarette and lit it.  “He doesn’t usually go this far,” she said, grinning through the cigarette smoke.  “I think he just got carried away.”

       “Carried away?” I said incredulously.  “Look what he’s done to you…How can you let him do something like that?”

       “Let him?” she said, shaking her head.  “God, you really don’t get it, do you? You really don’t know what it’s like.”

       “So tell me.”

       “Why? What difference will it make?” She flicked cigarette ash into an empty Coke can, then lifted her eyes and looked right into me.  “I’m a whore, Joe.  I go with men for money.  I give the money to Iggy.  He gives me drugs. That’s all there is to it.”

       “And that’s what you want, is it?”

       “That’s how it is.  What I want doesn’t come into it.”

       “What do you want?”

       She stared at me, her eyes pooled with tears.  “I want you to go.  Get out of here.  Go home.  Don’t get involved, Joe…please…just go.  You can’t do anything…”

       She was crying now.

       I went over and sat down next to her on the bed.  She sniffed and wiped her nose.  I took the cigarette from her hand, dropped it in the Coke can, then put my arm around her shoulders.

       “Please…” she snuffled, “it’s not worth it…”

       “Yes, it is,” I said, drawing her close.

       She rested her head on my shoulder.  I could feel the wetness of her tears on my neck.

       “He’ll kill you,” she said quietly.

       I looked into her eyes and smiled.  “He’ll have to catch me first.”

       She didn’t smile back.  She just looked at me for a moment, her tears still flowing, then she breathed out and softly kissed me.