The building had a drab stairwell, always murky. There were exploitation chambers on all floors of the tenement. Inside these rooms were an array of characters from many walks of life. The working girls were made of glass; recycled bottles of different sizes, with heads screwed on where the caps would otherwise be. I felt an unbearable love for the smallest. She was constructed from a little gin bottle, about the size of a tobacco pipe, with a soft, brown face made from felt. My darling Tashka.

I screwed all the different bottles in the different chambers, but could never bring myself to with Tashka; I’d sit and listen to her stories, though. She’d stand there, telling me of the tyranny she’d fled. She hoped to make contact with her brother again. She didn’t know where he was. I knew, but I wouldn’t tell her: up on the top floor, in the top room. He was a disturbed and volatile man, a fugitive from the border police. I’d knocked on the door one night. Knowing who dwelt in every other room, I was curious.

Tashka told me she wanted a man to love her, but they all just took advantage of her size and good nature. Many of the Johns had robbed and beaten her.

I spent time with the others to avoid Tashka and suppress my feelings. I felt I was misguided, that my “love” was more pity and a desire to protect. When I visited the others, I couldn’t believe the rate at which they made money. They laughed at my own efforts at hustling. Their trade was far superior. One of them was painted with black and white stripes, and she had an old, matted black brush for hair. Her name was Rozno; her body was softer to touch than the rest. I screwed her once, though it was not a pleasant experience. All the way through, I felt a revulsion I couldn’t account for.

Eventually, I confessed my love for Tashka and we began a relationship. But it was a relationship in name only. I merely popped in now and then for coy smiles and terse, awkward exchanges.

One night, I sat in the Great Attic: a glass prism on the roof of the building. It was good to forget what lay beneath. I could see night sky outside, partially obscured by dark treetops. I had used the trees to access the place, climbing one and entering through a window. But before long, I went down again. I couldn’t help myself.

I sat with some other Johns. They were made from a variety of bolted metal panels. We were in a room about halfway up the tenement. We heard a commotion coming from above; bangs and screams. A John went flying out of the room and up the stairs. What followed were regular, twenty-minute intervals, each one ending with another John doing the same. Once a John left, he never returned. I thought these displays of bravery were to impress a female in the room with us. I had my Tashka, though. I had no interest in the girl.

Yet when even she disappeared and it was only me left, I decided to investigate. It took an age to reach that top floor. I hurtled up the winding staircase. My stitch grew worse and worse. But I finally flew around the last bend, onto the final flight of steps. I could see figures ahead, but no movement. Some of the Johns’ possessions were scattered on the stairs. I reached the landing.

There, I beheld the remnants of Tashka’s brother and all his trinkets and keepsakes, strewn across the ground. With them were the panels, nuts, and screws that had made up the Johns’ bodies. Worst of all were the small fragments of a bottle and a brown felt patch lying nearby. I looked up in horror from the mess. Rozno stood over the rubbish like a scavenging rat. I sweated; she flashed a badge and told me to show my hands.