On the phone, past midnight, I am arguing with Blake: “It is earlier here, we are out to dinner.” “Are you wearing your jacket that is from the Gap.” “Yes, you hate this jacket.” “I like it, I’ve even complimented it before.” “No, you don’t.” “Yes, I do. Also, I read The Corrections, and I thought it was good.” “Don’t make me laugh.”
In the morning, outside, the woman who is the neighbor tells me to pet her dog. Her tattoo on her chest is of the paw prints of an old dog who died before she got this new dog. She says, “The paw prints are accurate,” and she asks me if I want a TV, “…it is up for grabs, if you need one.” I help her carry groceries. I do this by moving my muscles in the hot air like damp Styrofoam. In the house, there are framed photos of basset hounds. Some are the old one and some are the new one, I think. I notice a tall shadow-like figure outside. A long beard hangs down over twisted limbs, and thin grey arms spread open to rest on the chipped paint as though its long blue-grey face were a part of the crown molding. The woman looks at my yoga pants while she says that she is usually a vegetarian but there is meat in the fridge. I nod. She says it is from her mom who was over yesterday, but she hasn’t had any of it. She tells me that she loves her guilty pleasure shows. She used to be a researcher, and she loves to read, but she also has her guilty pleasure shows, stuff like The Walking Dead and Dexter. The smell of the house is damp and sweet. The dog begins to pant, and the woman hangs up her jacket, which is black and covered in white dog hairs.
The next day at work my fingers become sallow white because there isn’t any blood in them, but I know what to do, I have to squeeze down my arm to push blood to my hands. Shelly sees me doing this. “Are you okay,” she asks me, I tell her, “Yeah, I’m fine, thank you for asking.” “That is called Raynaud’s,” she tells me. “It is not serious, a lot of women have it. Some men have it too. Caffeine makes it worse. And being cold.” “That sounds right,” I tell her, and I smile at her, and she smiles back, warmly.
Later, Patrick meets me at the Avery, which is a bar that looks like a house outside. The inside is dimly lit with velvet bar stools and dark wood detailing female nudes on the walls. He is already there and is already drunk. He orders me a French 75. His hair is long and dark and stringy and he has teeny crooked bottom teeth and he wears a biker jacket. He tells me this will be my new favorite drink. He tells me he is a hard worker. He tells me my clothes are nicer than his. He asks me how I got my job. Blake, who is my ex, is texting me while I am with Patrick. “I am on a date we shouldn’t text lol,” is what I say, and Blake says, “lol I want to see who you are with,” and I send a snapchat of Patrick, with his head on the counter, which is something he does for a second to be funny, and because he is very drunk. When we finish our drinks, Patrick is angry, but he is also having fun. He doesn’t want me to leave. He doesn’t have a car. He is too drunk to notice a tall dark blue-grey shadowy presence following behind us like a gnarled old tree on legs. When I get home, Patrick texts me, “hey sassy girl.” I tell him I’m sorry for leaving so quickly. He tells me he just doesn’t want to “get fucked over.”
I drunkenly wander around my apartment in the dark. The towering ghost uses a boney blue-grey hand to pass me a pitcher, and I water the plants, and respond to texts. Something smashes in the bedroom while I am in the kitchen. The apparition stares, eyes like moons, mouth drawn in, expressionless. The contents of my dresser are on the floor, a thin arm has swept across the top of my desk with a clatter. My heartbeat is in my earlobes. My heartbeat feels larger, as if it beats for the entire house, and not just for me, as if my body is an organ for the real body, which is the house.
Before I moved here, I was dating Blake, and days before I left, he said, “Sloane is my dead name.” Soon after I moved, Blake visited me in Providence, and he asked me if I thought he looked different. He said that the testosterone is working really fast. He told me I’ve become condescending. He told me I am a perfectionist. “No one should be this clean,” he said. I told him to go out of my room so I could close the door. “Stop looking at me,” I said. When I came home from work, he had been looking through my makeup. I could tell, because I remembered setting the Glossier cheek tint on top, but now the Anastasia brow pencil was on top.
When Blake left, I re-watched all of Charmed, and then Criminal Minds, then I started Gossip Girl, but I kept falling asleep, and couldn’t follow the plot. A lot of times if I fall asleep now, that ephemeral figure arrives with knotted knuckles and unplugs my laptop. A lot of times I pretend I am not home so that the woman who is the neighbor will not try to contact me, and a lot of times I think I will respond to Shelly’s texts later, then I forget to respond at all. When I can’t sleep, I walk aimlessly from room to room and wonder how it is that my plants have not yet died. I think about how heavy water has settled in the corners of this house with old layers of heat saturated in the walls and the house feeling like lungs breathing water and muscles moving slowly through thick air and winter seeping over the house reaching deep white hot into old wet bones and sweat freezing joints into painful knots and bloodless toes are like useless cold rocks. The shadowy ghost that has been following me sees to it that I never let dishes pile in the sink. I clean the floors every day despite my body feeling like a slow, creaking machine. In the dead silence of winter, when the snow muffles all sound, showering is not important to me, but the counters are still always clean, and the dishes are stacked neatly upon the shelves, the books are organized by color, and the laundry is folded crisply in drawers.
Now on the phone with Blake, I tell him that my clearest memory of him was back in Denver, when I was sitting on the bus on the way home from his house one morning, and I was listening to “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” by Carly Rae Jepson in my headphones, and I was crying, and drinking coffee. Blake tells me that when he visited my new apartment here, he looked around a little while I was at work. He says he found nothing because I am perfect. I tell him “I know.” “Well actually I did find one weird thing.” “What.” “Under your bed.” “What.” “It’s in a box under your bed.” “What.” “Look.” My cheek presses cold floor and white bloodless fingers reach out through darkness and the specter of the house with lank bedraggled limbs pushes forth a box that I pull out and take off the lid and inside there is a brown rough fabric object wearing a green stiff dress with eyes that are little buttons and a mouth that is straight across and stringy tangled hair and a note, the note says, “Brittany, Your Great Grandma Greathouse made this doll out of a cornflower sack, she was a strong woman. Love, GrandMary.” I tell Blake, “This is something my grandma gave me,” and Blake says, “I know, I read the note,” I say, “ok,” Blake says, “I was scared to tell you I found it, cuz I thought you would be mad,” I say, “I don’t care, I’m not mad, but I am sorry if it scared you or something,” Blake says, “I also looked at your recent Amazon orders, but they were all normal, just like phone chargers, and stuff like that.”