Way out east, in the cold cramped confines of a Manehatten bar, a mare got drunk and contemplated adultery for the hell of it.
"--and I'll tell you something else," she muttered across the table, just loud enough to be heard and just soft enough to be misunderstood, "who in this city can throw so well? I didn't call the police but--" She choked out a tear and twisted her cry into a cough. "Did I do the right thing?"
The stallion across the table stared at Octavia until she slumped into the table, then took a sip of his drink. "Do you mean not calling the police, or not putting her out on the street?”
“People don’t just go hucking rocks through windows anymore. You have to know this isn’t a sporadic crime of passion."
“Well then what kind of crime is it?” She shook her head to drive the words home. The rest of the bar took a second to adjust to the tilt. Her hooves wrapped around her decanter like it was a lost lover. "That night went so fast. Poor Vinyl was so distraught. She hardly knew what she was saying.”
“But she did say it, yes?”
“Sort of. She was in pain, Frederic. Her legs are still cut up,” she admitted, though she omitted the fact that the sight of Vinyl’s injuries disgusted her. “I haven't seen her shake so badly since she went through withdrawal. You don't think--"
"Vinyl has not relapsed, that’s not the issue," he stated. "She talks to her brother, still. Visits him once every so often--”
“Then you know she tells him everything. He won’t shut up about how amazing it is they’re reconnecting after their parents died, may they rest in peace. He’s so happy for her. For once, everyone was happy.”
When Octavia drank, she always drank without a purpose. She drank wine to get a good taste. She drank rum when she watched the Pirates of the Caribbean, as a tradition. She drank beer when she watched sports. She drank vodka when she remembered to be a proud citizen of her country. She drank whisky when she was thinking of committing a mindcrime, and she liked cider when she wrote music. She enjoyed liqueur with her cocktails, and she always drank her brandy without ice.
She always drank in a bar, because of a double-game her mind played on her. According to her reverse psychology, she knew that drinking alone meant alcoholism, and drinking in a bar wasn’t drinking alone, and she knew she went to a bar for that reason, but she pretended that she didn’t know. Or that she knew. After a few drinks, it started getting blurry. Despite her fondness for drink, her alcohol tolerance left much to be desired. And boy, did she desire it. But, while she couldn’t have supreme alcohol tolerance, she was quite coherent until her tenth or eleventh stiff drink. And it was only her sixth drink tonight.
So she drank.
"We've been attacked before,” she said. “She was never this shaken up, even that time we got beat up outside the concert hall. I didn’t even know what to say.”
Frederic carefully picked up his tulip-shaped glass from the table. “I’ll tell you what her brother told me when we last spoke. He says, ‘I’m overfuckingjoyed to tell you this, Freddie, Vinyl is no longer sinful, she’s clean, she’s pure, she’s as happy as I’ve ever seen.’”
Octavia huffed. “What does he know? This is his third overdose and we both know it won't be his last.” The room tipped and swam in an amber haze. She grabbed her drink to keep it from falling over. “Plus he beats his wife, I hear. What does he know.”
“He knows that no one wanted you around before that rock sailed through your window, no one but Vinyl. Now it seems even she’s moving on as well. Remind me again why you’re still sharing a bed with her?”
Octavia shivered. “Fuck you.”
Frederic swirled his liquor. “I don’t know what you want from me, then,” he said after taking a long, slow sip. “If you wanted someone to curse at, you could have found a street corner and went to town. If you want advice, I’d say a stallion who uses alcohol to kick his morphine addiction is twice the addict he was before. She’s an adulterous little bitch who deserves to burn in Hell for all eternity--plus, may I remind you, the good Gods frown on homosexuals.”
Octavia grabbed at the decanter. “You’re awful.”
“No, you’re an idiot. Okay? I’m trying to be a good friend here.”
Octavia drank some more, eyes leveled just above the rim of the glass, tired and hopeless and vengeful and blue around the edges.
“You know as well as I do that the symphony staff holds no sympathies for my kind or yours,” he said. “You’re already on thin ice. My hooves are tied--I’ll lose my job.”
“Your kind?” she spat.
“Listen to yourself. I know you’re drunk, but try to be reasonable. I came here because I thought you’d listen to reason, but all you’ve done is throw it back in my face, like I’m supposed to understand you. No one understands you, okay? You’re a deviant.”
“How reasonable of you to say. What reasonable thing could I do in this situation, Frederic?”
He chuckled darkly. “I don’t suppose you could stop being a faggot.”
Octavia tried to throw her drink in his face only realize her cup was empty. At most, she managed a very intimidating point, like she was half-set to break the glass over the table and go on a rampage. In a way, she was glad her own alcoholic tendencies saved her from ruining Frederic’s suit. The city around her was fond of speaking for God, but the only true commandment she needed was this: do not waste good drink.
“Look, I should really be going.” Frederic stood up. “I think coming here was a mistake. For that I apologize.”
“Wait, don’t do that.” She grabbed for the decanter again and missed. She brought her hand up to bear and realized how badly she was shaking. Like a drug addict going through withdrawal. “I’m sorry, don’t leave. There’s still glass everywhere. I don’t want to see it.”
Frederic threw his coat around his shoulders. “I think that’s exactly where you should go then,” he said, and made for the door.
Loneliness had a way of following her around, like an eastern wind creeping through the cracks of a wall. In her early life, it came in the evenings, when her father would arrive home from work and open the large wooden door to his empty mansion in Canterlot. Now it came careening through the bar door, where it enveloped Frederic and carried him into the night. Back then she could make as much noise as she wanted, sing whatever microtonal madness consumed her that day and accompany herself in whichever wrong key felt right on the big out-of-tune grand piano in the foyer. The house would always echo back.
Now, though--that wasn’t the case. She wanted to scream, shout, whisper. But doing so would be the death of her, so she threw some bills on the table and ducked into the wild Manehatten winter.
The bells chimed ten as Octavia rounded the street corner. Deep inside the heavy walls of the church, a choir rehearsed hymns of peace and forgiveness--but not for her.
As she reached her apartment, an imposing six-story block of brick and mortar dug into the ground across from the ancient Celestian church sometime between the beginning of the world and the second after, she looked up at her window on the third floor. She knew it was hers without having to count, because it was the only one that was completely shattered. Even for being such a bad neighborhood, all the other apartments had glass and insulation.
Octavia had cardboard.
When she reached her door, she dug one hand into her pocket to fish for her keys and rapped the other on the door.
No reply. Was Vinyl not home? Or something else? Couldn’t be--it was the stupid boots she had on. They just made it impossible to properly knock on a door. Anyway--the keys were already in her other hoof, so it didn’t matter.
“Vy?” Octavia called as she opened the door. All the lights were off. Was Vinyl away? Or something else?
Without pausing to take off her boots, Octavia flipped the foyer lights on and walked to the bedroom.
“Vinyl?” she asked again.
From beyond the closed bedroom door, Octavia heard sheets rustling. “Mmm--yeah?” came a muffled reply. “What’sat? That you, baby?” More rustling sheets. “hang on--just a second, hang on.”
“Are you okay?” What was that on her breath--suspicion? Or just alcohol?
“M’fine, just hang on, okay?”
Like she so often did, Octavia stopped and waited. In another moment the door cracked open, and out popped Vinyl, wrapped up head to hoof in a poofy white comforter.
“When did you leave?” she asked.
Octavia leaned down and fussed at the blankets bunching at Vinyl’s shoulders. “You’re going to wreck this thing if you keep dragging them like that.”
Vinyl kicked the door open and gestured at the shattered window. “Not as much as the glass I’m still picking glass out of the carpet will.”
Octavia nodded and brushed past Vinyl to inspect her work.
The hole in the window was covered by a few layers of cardboard scrounged from the apartment’s communal garbage bin out back, four rolls of duct tape, eight bits’ worth of newspaper, and four of the uglier blankets they had lying around. All that still didn’t keep the cold out.
“Nothing else happened while I was away?” she asked over her shoulder, her eyes not once leaving the makeshift barrier.
A thin hoof clasped Octavia’s shoulders. She turned around and looked down at Vinyl. When she was all wrapped up like that, she seemed even smaller than she already was.
“I’m gonna go back to sleep,” Vinyl murmured. “Don’t forget to say your prayers.”
Vinyl almost leaned into Octavia, but balked at the last second. They stood next to each other for another moment, caught up in a losing war against the cold. Even with all their defenses, their boots and comforters, the room still froze them solid.
“I’ll be with you soon. I need something to eat.”
The boxy corridor leading to the kitchen felt much warmer than the bedroom. Finally, Octavia could relax a little, kick her boots off and make herself a sandwich and turn on the television and catch up with the news. The walls were ugly and white like dusty snow, but she had her paintings to take her eyes off the color. The sort-of silence tore at her guts, but she had an expensive sound system to push it away. She was finally home.
And for the third time this week--and it was only Tuesday!--Octavia fell asleep alone on the couch, the television murmuring a dim color lullaby about tomorrow’s weather forecast.
The glass fell on the floor, but the rock sailed all the way to the other side of the room.
Vinyl screamed. Everything was a tangle of bed sheets as Octavia flung herself to the floor and grabbed the baseball bat tucked beneath the bed. She knew this day would come. She had grown complacent, but she knew it would have to happen. It always happened. In the first panicked moments of wakefulness, as she sucked air through the thick fibers of the carpet and braced herself for the inevitable, she thought about all the precious things in her apartment. Her cello, her beautiful cello which cost more than her life would ever amount to. The paintings she had bought at the local art gallery that hung on the wall. Her sound system, all the wonderful dials and tuners. The china. Vinyl. The heirloom vase. Outside, someone started shouting. In her stupid naivety, she thought they would rob her.
Would she be on the morning news tomorrow? All they reported on now were homicides and the weather.
Freezing shards of winter air whipped through the hole in the window. The cold froze the sleep in her eyes, but it got her moving. She crawled along the floor to the other side of the bed where Vinyl lay, still screaming to herself in early-morning delirium. Her voice fried and cracked, like it always would when she woke up too early.
“Stop, Gods, stop stop don’t--” Vinyl moaned again. “Fucking glass on the floor.”
More shouting from outside. It sounded like the whole city had congregated to throw rocks through her window. Bright moonlight made the floor sparkle. Octavia recoiled. “Are you hurt?” she asked.
“Fucking glass on the floor.”
Octavia hopped across the bed, where there wasn’t any glass. “Where’s it hurt?” she asked as she hefted Vinyl off the floor.
“Gods help me,” she moaned over the din.
A quick examination revealed a few shards of glass stuck in Vinyl’s hoof, as well as a few more in her legs. A few deep cuts, some superficial punctures. Blood.
“You’re fine, okay?” Octavia stared hopelessly at the dark streaks on the sheets. “You’re fine.”
More shouting. The whole city seemed to be raising its voice in one focused collected unintelligible roar. Octavia groped around in the half-light for the baseball bat.
“Vinyl, get away from there--” she started, but it was too late.
Using her uninjured legs, Vinyl braced herself between the bed and the window and peered out into the abyss.
“There they are!” someone shouted from outside. “There are the fags!”
Vinyl tried to cover a cry only to smear blood on her face. “Oh god,” she whimpered, and collapsed onto the bed.
“There she is!” someone else yelled, “back to her old ways!”
“The gods smile on us!”
“My girl, I thought I had cured you last night! Did you not writhe in ecstasy as I--”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Vinyl chanted, blood on her face, eyes red and crazy, tugging on the bed sheets like an animal, “shut up!”
“The cold should keep your lust dormant, you whores!”
“Get the hell away from me!” Vinyl screamed.
“That’s not what you were saying last night, baby!” the apparent ring-leader shouted back. “But I guess we’ll just have to try again longer and harder the next time!”
“Adulterers go to hell, Neon! Shame on your and your bitch wife!” Vinyl roared before losing her breath.
Octavia clutched the bat to her chest and shivered. Winter clung to the shattered edges of the window and clawed its way into the room. “Do they know you?”
“Octavia, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, they weren’t here for you.” She opened her mouth wide and wailed in anguish.
“I have to tell you something. I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry Octavia, you have to understand--it was a mistake, I see it now, they’re right, they’re right God they’re right--”
“Are you serious? No, they’re--they just figured out we’re gay, that’s all. This happens, it’s not--”
“Adulterers go to hell, Octavia! No exceptions.”
The floor sparkled. The city shouted. Octavia understood.
Vinyl finally shattered. “They weren’t here for you, Gods protect us Celestia protect us Luna of Darkness protect us--
Without any cry to disband, the mob disappeared. Maybe they just got cold. The softly falling snow covered their hoofprints. The wind scattered their cries. The city devoured their bodies like they hadn’t even existed at all. The only thing left of them was the rock sitting in the corner beneath a crumbled section of plaster.
Octavia stared at it in amazement.
“That’s a big fucking rock,” she commented. “Who in this city can throw so well?”
“He said he wouldn’t tell, Memorare, o piisima Celestia--”
But she was beyond repair. Between shivers and gasps she incanted, “Memorare, o piisima Celestia, non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia esse derelicta. Nos tali animati confidentia ad te, Mater, currimus; ad te venimus; coram te gementes peccatores assistimus. Noli, Mater Verbi, verba nostra despicere, sed audi propitia et exaudi--please don’t leave. There’s so much glass, I can’t see it. Please, I’m sorry--”
The noise and cold proved too much for Octavia to bear. Without a word, she sealed Vinyl in the bedroom and sat herself down on the couch facing the door with the baseball bat in her lap. Frigid cold still burned at her eyes--how she wanted to close them and go back to sleep! She grabbed the remote and cranked the television until her precious sound system threatened to blow. Sleep no longer held its usual comforts. Release no longer felt its usual comforts. Somewhere deep beneath the fear and surface tension was a sense of duty to protect what was hers.
As she stared at the door, watching, waiting, silent, the news anchor trumpeted, “Good morning Manehatten! Thank you for tuning into Manehatten 24, your source for the latest local news and weather.”
Octavia jolted awake and threw the blankets off. The television was still on, though the news anchors had been traded for two grotesquely pretty morning-show hosts. “Happier days on are on the horizon!” the attractive stallion lead spoke in a neutral tone that made Octavia want to beat him with a club. “We’ll bring you up to speed on the newest round of foal-protection laws, but not before we get a bit of good news about today’s weather forecast. We’ll be back--”
Octavia looked around for the remote. When she couldn’t find it, she stood up and turned the television off manually. The couch squeaked as she moved, alerting the house’s other occupant.
“Good morning.” Vinyl walked out of the kitchen, a mug of something dark roasted and delicious in her hooves. Her legs were covered by a fuzzy sweater with too-long sleeves. “Talking to Freddie musta took more out of you than I thought.”
Octavia pursed her lips, but didn’t turn around. Those words had something to them--they sparkled like broken glass. “Sorry,” she said, “I must have nodded off.”
Vinyl hummed as she went back to the kitchen. “I’m making eggs,” she said. “Want some?”
“No, but is there any more coffee?”
She nodded towards the kitchen. “It’s the Columbian stuff you like.”
Once Octavia had poured herself a cup, she sat down at the small wooden dining room table and admired the art on the walls.
Her favorite piece, a medium-sized square oil reproduction of a lush Canterlot garden in fall, hung on the wall opposite her. The colors reminded her of her childhood and the great open expanses of land and sky behind her father’s mansion. It was like another world. No matter what the weather outside, no matter how drafty the apartment got, no matter how many holes were punched in her little haven, the painting remained, and so did autumn.
Vinyl appeared beside her, holding a big plate of scrambled eggs. “I made some for you anyway, but if you don’t want them I’ll eat them.”
Octavia nodded her thanks and went back to the painting. How much of that beautiful land had been blasted by griffon bombs and frozen by magical cold fronts? When Autumn came again, would there be any plants left to shed their colors and die?
“Mhm--What are you thinking about?” Vinyl asked as she stuffed her mouth with eggs.
“Just the weather,” Octavia surmised.
Vinyl chuckled. A chunk of egg flew onto the table cloth. “This cold spell, right? It’s twice as awful given the giant hole in our house.” Octavia frowned as Vinyl pointed across the table. “Hey, could you pass me that ketchup over there?”
“I will not permit you to put ketchup on your eggs. We’re not like barbarians.”
Gulping down another mouthful of food, Vinyl replied, “Fine, miss priss.”
She reached across the table. Her sleeve bunched up for a split second, exposing a deep red scar running up her foreleg.
“How are the cuts?” she asked. “Are they any better?--”
Vinyl shirked her leg away and pulled the sleeves down. “They’re fine.”
“You really need to be using the disinfectant. They’re not even bandaged.”
“I just wanted the ketchup, jeez.” Vinyl poised the bottle over her plate and squeezed it with all her might. “Shit,” she muttered as condiment splattered over the rim of the plate, “I’ll clean that up.”
And that was that. Not another word from either of them. What needed to be said? Winter had its own routine. Winter brought them together, but only in a certain way. There had to be routine. Octavia had her coffee. Vinyl had her ketchup and eggs.
There were moments in these absentminded mornings when Octavia sincerely believed she would sit at this table every morning for the rest of her life, drinking the same cup of coffee. What cause did she have to leave? Deep down, Octavia knew Vinyl was a traitorous adulterous whore--and she hated her for it, hated her every second she stepped out into the cold and remembered how hopelessly alone she was without her--but what was the alternative? It was bad enough that she was an outcast in a city full of outcasts. It was winter. Without Vinyl, she had no one. Her need was not lustful, or heartfelt, or pure. It was cold. It was pathological.
Without a word, Vinyl stood up and dumped the remains of the eggs into the garbage, then disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later, the sink started up.
Octavia went back to staring at the painting. She shivered--Vinyl must have not closed the bedroom door all the way--and thought back to what Frederic had told her last night. Clean, pure, and happy as she’d ever been.
The thought repulsed her. The room was too damn cold. It made her so angry that the pipes couldn’t work fast enough. This world was filth, pure filth, and everything it touched turned to filth. The world was filth and the city was dry and vapid and barren and cold. It was her fault--her goddamn fault for fucking the wrong guy, for letting it all slip--her fault for the hole in the window. She might as well have thrown the stone. Vinyl was a goddamn saint now with her prayers? Fine, let her live with the Gods. Saints didn’t have to be virgins, but it sure helped that they weren’t whores. The faggot sinner whore Octavia was going to go wallow in the filth of the earth, drink and make music and fuck Freddie, what did he know anyway?
Octavia grabbed her cello case and headed for the door.
“Are you going out?” Vinyl asked.
“Yes. Symphony rehearsal. I want to get there early and review my part.” She left out the name and location of the bar she would be stopping at on the way there, for Octavia was not an alcoholic and only alcoholics drank alone and when you were in a bar you were never really alone, right?
“Alright, have a nice day then.” As Octavia slung her instrument case over her shoulder, Vinyl called out again. “By the way, could I borrow some money? Just a few dozen bits.”
Octavia raises her eyebrow. “Why?”
“I need some stuff. For the window.”
“What kind of stuff?”
The sink stopped its gurgling. “You think I’m gonna buy drugs?”
“No,” Octavia replied, “of course not,” though she didn’t mean it.
“I’ve been clean for two months.”
“Don’t you trust me?” Vinyl said as she stared coldly into the sink.
Octavia wanted to say, “No, I don’t--”
But she knew it would be the death of her, so she threw some bills on the table and ducked into the bright, bleak winter morning.