She stood still, surveying her surroundings. A broken lamp. Clothes thrown in a furry. The corner table knocked over. Remnants of last night. A fight. A breakup. A tearing of souls, limb from limb. She stood in the midst of it all, not moving. Not feeling. And then it all came rushing in.
A meeting. A hitting it off. The summer love. The romance. Sweet kisses in the park at night. Candlelight dinners and drinks by the river. He had kind eyes. She had a small mouth. Their hands fit together, snug not tight. Entwined. Walking home between class, between work. A few minutes, here, there, in between the business. Stolen memories out of time, a lifetime of moments collected privately, two children sneaking behind the house to explore the backyard full of possibilities. Exploring hands, exploring bodies. A summer love faded into an autumn fairytale.
“Amanda, let me in.” Knocking at the door. She still couldn’t move. “Just a minute.” She sounded empty. No one home. Go away, please. Don’t leave me. I want to be alone. Don’t go.
“I’m coming in.” A key turned in the lock. The door opened.
“Josh and I had a fight.”
“We broke up.”
“Are you all right?”
A shrug. There was a stain on her sweater. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? Was it mustard? She hadn’t eaten anything in this sweater since she had last done laundry. It can’t be mustard then. Maybe it was the light. She always hated the lights. She used lamps instead. The shards of broken glass would have to be cleaned up and the lamp replaced.
They bought that lamp at a garage sale from an old couple. A sweet old man and an even sweet old woman, finally unable to provide themselves with enough care, moving into a home. Selling their old things. So many old things, things nobody would want now. They hadn’t sold much all day. Maybe they didn’t want to. She saw the lamp and asked how much it was. The lady smiled and said she could have it. She insisted on paying for it. Finally they agreed. She carried it home. It had a brass base and a stained-glass mosaic lampshade that cast a multicoloured glow throughout the room. It was a small lamp but it provided more than enough light. And it was comforting. It would have to be replaced. You can’t replace these things. Now everything was over lit from the main lighting, the lighting she always hated. And it left a stain on her shirt. Or was it from a dye?
“I’m sorry.” And she felt a hug. She felt it but she didn’t respond. It felt unreal.
“I’m hungry.” She suddenly felt the need to get out of the house. The broken glass could wait, she had to get out. “Let’s go out.”
“Are you sure?”
She grabbed her coat.
“You probably won’t need that.”
Paige was right, she didn’t need her coat but she wrapped it tightly around her anyway. The leaves were turning colour but the air was still warm and the sun shone bright. A perfectly normal day in a perfectly normal life. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was as if last night hadn’t even happened.
“And for you?”
The waiter had a moustache that didn’t belong on his face and long red hair tied back in a ponytail. Paige had already ordered and was looking at her. She didn’t know what she wanted. She always knew what she wanted. A pastrami sandwich with pickles and mustard and a spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette on the side. She ordered a house salad and a glass of water. Paige stared at her. The waiter wrote down her order.
“How hard can it be to remember that without writing it down?”
“I said how hard can it be to remember that?”
“Bring us two glasses of white wine.”
“I just want water.”
“And a water.”
The waiter kept writing everything down. He didn’t ask any more questions. He muttered something about being right back and left. She watched him go and he glanced back over his shoulder but quickly turned and darted back inside when he caught her eye.
“I said I just want water.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine. I’m thirsty.”
When the water came she drank it all at once. The waiter brought her salad as well but she just stared at it. Paige said thank you but she was just being polite. Paige never meant it when she said thank you. She only meant it if she hugged you. You could count on that. She hugged a lot of people. A lot of boys. It always confused them but she seemed to like the attention even though she’d pretend she didn’t. She treated love like a game and had never had her heart broken. She always broke hearts when she got bored. She must get bored a lot.
“He’s an asshole.”
“He’s not an asshole.”
“You’re allowed to admit he’s an asshole.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not good at this. Do you want to leave?”
“You’re not eating.”
“No, I’m not.”
“We can go somewhere else.”
“I’d rather stay.”
Paige kept sipping from her wine. Her pasta came and she ate. Amanda ate a bit of her salad but left her wine untouched.
“The rules of the game are simple. If you guess correctly, I do a shot. If you guess wrong, you can either do a shot, or get someone else to answer. If they guess it right, I do two shots, but if they guess it wrong, you both do two shots.”
“Seems a little too easy then.”
“The point isn’t to be right.”
“THE POINT IS TO GET DRUNK” everyone shouted and cheered.
Aaron had a way of making sure that everyone always had a good time. He was always cheerful, always the life of the party but never the centre of it. Amanda didn’t care for the bitterness of whiskey. She preferred wine and maybe a beer if she was feeling a little carefree. Aaron hated vodka and would always use whiskey. He seemed to take a sadistic pleasure out of watching girls try and stomach the taste of whiskey shots or the guys who tried to prove themselves but were unused to the stiff drink. Nonetheless everyone always had a good time by the end of the night.
When it was her turn, Amanda guessed wrong. She passed the question on to a guy sitting opposite her. Something about his leather shoes that didn’t match his belt that was clearly displayed because he had tucked in his plaid shirt fascinated her. He shouldn’t be wearing a plaid shirt tucked in, she thought. It makes him look short, but his legs are long enough that even though he’s sitting down you can tell he’s quite tall and slim. He would look a lot more handsome if he didn’t tuck his shirt in. And if he shaved. And got a haircut. But his shoes, they were interesting, and they stood out since everyone else had taken their shoes off at the door, so she chose him. He answered wrong too. Two shots. Someone passed her a shot glass but she gagged when the smell hit her. She shook her head no. The crowd booed. Someone yelled that she had to, that was the rules. She shook her head again.Aaron stepped up and took the glass from her hand and downed the contents in one smooth gulp. The crowd cheered and the game continued.
“I was going to do it.”
“Yes I was.”
The guy sitting across from her had taken off his shoes and now he wasn’t as interesting. He just looked like part of the crowd.
“You can have the second one.”
The glass was refilled and thrust back into her hand by someone she didn’t look at. She sniffed it and suppressed the urge to gag again.
Nobody was paying attention. It was somebody else’s turn and the party didn’t even seem to have taken any notice to this rule violation. She had a feeling that everybody thought they were taking the game seriously even though they weren’t. They would enforce the rules hap hazardously and give people a hard time if they didn’t drink but then they would almost immediately forget about it and move on. This is why she didn’t really like parties. She liked going to them. She liked talking to people. She liked the way people got drunk and let themselves loose a little bit. It made them more friendly and easier to be around, somehow. She took her shot and swallowed immediately, keeping her face stoic as the liquor burned down her throat and then the vapour wafted up through her nose, causing her eyes to water slightly, but she kept her face together.
“You don’t like it, do you?”
“That’s cool. Did I just pressure you into drinking?”
“I guess you did.”
“Now I feel terrible. Can I get you some water?”
She held up her beer. He stared at it, confused, then laughed.
“You’re making fun of me.”
“Is that cool?”
“I guess it is.” He sat down and extended his arm.
“I thought that girl over there was Paige.”
“Yes, it is. I’m Amanda. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”
“Is that your version of the things girls do where they give a fake number to the guy hitting on them to get him to go away?”
“Sounds like it must be.”
Aaron sat down beside her. He smelled of whiskey and men’s shampoo.
“So Amanda, who are you?
She couldn’t sleep. It was hot. The kind of hot where your sweat sticks to the sheets so they cling to you. She hated clinginess. She hated her hair. She got it cut too short. She shouldn’t have cut it. It was too straight. It was too dark. People looked at her like she was evil because her hair was too dark. They didn’t look at her eyes. She didn’t mind that as much. Some people never broke eye contact and that creeped her out. She guessed businessmen liked that in people. They liked confidence but they never seemed bothered by unending eye contact. She always felt like people were trying to sell her something or figure out her weaknesses by looking into her eyes so they could exploit her. But she didn’t like it when they stared at her hair, which was clinging to the pillow and damp with sweat. She wished she felt comfortable enough to sleep naked so it wouldn’t be so hot. She tried drinking some cold water but it just made her body heat up afterward. It also made her have to pee which meant by the time she got back to bed the sheets would be cold and damp. Maybe she should sleep on the floor.
The floor was significantly cooler than her bed but the carpet was rough and made her itch. She didn’t dare look at her phone to find out what time it was.
Stop thinking so much. Think about something else. Think about nothing. How do you think about nothing? Is it possible to think about nothing? Isn’t nothing something? I mean isn’t the thing that is nothing a thing itself? You know what I mean? Of course I do. How does my brother just fall asleep? He can just lie down and be asleep in a minute. It takes me at least half an hour just to lie still for long enough to start feeling tired and as soon as I realize I’m getting tired I wake up again. Does everybody else think in the first person? You’re being silly.
She wanted to kiss somebody. She just wanted to feel her lips pressed against someone else’s. It didn’t matter who. It mattered a little bit but that wasn’t the point. A good kiss would put her to sleep. She lifted her hand to her mouth and mimed a little smooch. Like that. But on another person. And then they can leave so I can get some rest. Like a booty call but without the booty, just the lips. That would be nice. She got up to get another drink of water. The light from the fridge was way too bright and it hurt her eyes. She spilled water all over the floor. She wiped it around with her foot. It felt gross and dirty but cold. She went back to her room and wiped her foot on the carpet, trying to get the dirt off. She climbed back into bed. She didn’t feel like sleeping at all anymore. She should try getting something done. She should read a book. She should watch a movie. A good cry might put her to sleep. She hadn’t cried yet. That was weird. She was tired of feeling worn out. She wished she could cry but nothing came. She just got a headache instead. Perfect. Just what I need now.
In her dreams she was having a party. Or rather her roommate was having a party, which was strange since she didn’t have a roommate and she couldn’t figure out which of her past roommates was supposed to be the one in the dream. A lot of people came over who she didn’t know. One of them was a character from her favourite TV show except it wasn’t really her. They were trying to go see a movie but nobody could agree on which one or which theatre or how to get there. Their house was two levels now, a main floor and a basement suite that was supposed to be separate but somehow was connected via an intricate series of doors and stairways. There were stalls in their bathrooms like the change rooms at a public pool and there was water all over the floor. They finally decided on a movie that was the worst movie of the year but was only one hour long so they figured even it was awful it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time. The movie still cost the price of regular admission. When they tried to leave she kept having to run back into the house to get a jacket or her wallet but she was going to miss her ride. Then she was at the theatre with everyone else and they were trying to find seats while the movie started playing. It was packed but nobody yelled at them to sit down or be quiet. Everybody kept arguing about how to get back home and she had a crush on one of the guys who lived in her house but she didn’t know who he was or how to find him, even though he lived in her house. She just couldn’t find him to talk to him. No matter how hard she looked.
She didn’t know where she was when she woke up and it took her some time to realize she was no longer dreaming and there was still a broken lamp in her living room.
Today was a good day.
The snow was falling heavily now and she was shivering under her jacket. Her scarf was tight around her neck like a noose and almost made her gag but it was more bearable than the cold air cutting into her exposed skin, already burned red and stinging.
Her fingers were numb as she fumbled to fit her key into the lock on her new home. She turned the handle and pushed but the door creaked with ice and did not open. She leaned on it. She threw her weight against it. Finally she pounded on the door, hoping Ashley was home. She saw her looking out the window and waved frantically, pointing at the door. Ashley shouted something but the sound was muted. She pointed at the door again trying to communicate with hand gestures. She heard a loud creak but no movement on the door’s part. Even with both of them trying to coordinate their movements it still wouldn’t budge. She fumbled with her phone and managed to dial.
“Get some warm water, or a hairdryer.”
“Okay just give me a minute.”
She wrapped her hands into her coat trying to find a pocket of warmth. She couldn’t feel her toes anymore. She looked like a convict in a straightjacket. A minute passed. She tried to peer into the window. Nobody was there. She pounded on the door again.
Her phone buzzed.
“Go around to the back.”
The back door was never used so the yard was covered in a foot of snow and the pathway hadn’t been shovelled. She stepped cautiously, snow pouring into her boots, freezing what little skin around her legs still had feeling. She slipped and fell landing on something hard that jutted into her hip. Now she would have a bruise. Her face was turning redder every moment. Something warm trickled down her leg.
The window at the back was frozen over so nothing was visible through it. She tried to scrape the frosting away. Her fingers trembled. Her fingernail snapped. She pounded on the door. A gust of wind billowed through the yard kicking snow into her face and hair. Her scar unravelled from around her neck exposing her skin that screamed and stung in the cold. It was getting dark. If she didn’t get inside soon she would freeze. At least she felt like she would. She couldn’t feel her insides anymore.
Ashley still showed no signs of appearing. The lights inside were all off and the frost was spreading, covering all the windows. No sign of life. No chance of warmth.
She ran back around to the front and tried to door again. It groaned and something cracked but still wouldn’t move. Her hair was wet with melting snow and weighing her head down more with every passing minute.
She tried to shout but her voice caught in her throat as the wind took her breath away. She gasped sharply, covering her mouth with her hand, trying to wrap her scarf around her face.
She was alone.
She leaned against the door and closed her eyes to rest. Her phone buzzed again. She struggled to remove it from her pocket.
“Where are you?”
It was all she could manage to say. She dropped her phone in the snow. She bent over. Thrust her hand into the snow. She couldn’t feel how cold it was. Finally her fingers brushed against the hard plastic cover and she managed to scoop it up. She leaned back against the door, trying to clean away the snow.
The door opened and she fell inside. Ashley yelped and jumped out of the way, dropping a hair dryer.
She was settling into her new routine. Class in the morning. Work in the afternoon. Study in the evening. Sleep. Repeat. On weekends she went for drinks with Paige. Sometimes Ashley came along. They talked about politics and art. She was studying sociology. Ashley was studying interpersonal psychology. Paige had graduated and worked in an office and complained about the air conditioning. Mostly they were happy. She had bought some new furniture. She put new photos up on her walls and replaced the broken lamp in the corner with a house plant. She didn’t know what kind it was but it livened up the room and smelled fresh.
Josh stood in front of them. He was with a girl who stood close to him and folded her arms in front of her as though she didn’t know what to do with her hands.
She felt nothing.
“This is Paige and Ashley.”
“Yes we have.”
“I’m Ashley. How do you know Amanda?”
She glanced at him quickly and looked away. It was uncomfortable but not awkward.
“This is my… this is Kathleen.”
She felt no need to break the silence. She felt almost nothing beyond the slight loss of words she always felt at meeting new people. Nothing significant. Nothing with history.
“You look well.”
“So do you.”
Ashley fidgeted with her drink. Paige held her glare on Josh’s face. Kathleen tugged at Josh’s arm. Josh started to say something, stopped, pretended to stifle a sneeze, cleared his throat.
“Well I’ll see you around?”
“We’ll catch up sometime.”
“I’d like that.”
She turned back to her friends. She knew they would never actually catch up. She didn’t mind. Not the way she used to. She didn’t watch him walk away. She didn’t watch Kathleen take his hand. She didn’t see if he looked back or not. She finished her drink and started a new conversation about whatever came to her mind.
Picture via: http://artmosaiclamp.com/urun/f7ab6a71b25e0b66079eb1ae2259d754.JPG