Home Alone [Repost]

Prompt: Bedtime

laundry basket with hand

I was so terrified the first night I had to be alone in the apartment that I tried to keep busy, and even to tire myself out.

I took two loads of laundry back and forth from the communal laundry room, which was frightening in itself. A laundry room in the basement of a public building? Perfect bloody crime scene. It was a dim, colourless and chill room, despite the running of the dryers. There were no windows and one of the two lightbulbs was perpetually out, so I could barely see my shadow as I unloaded the last pile of clean clothes into a basket. I gagged at the combination of the First Day of Spring dryer sheet smell and the scent of damp dust that clogged the ventilation screen.

There was a thin film of grime on the concrete floor: Did no one ever clean this place? And for some reason there was a large once-clean plastic tarp stuffed in the corner of the room. I tried not to imagine what it was for, or consider that someone might have placed it there with deliberation, for a future purpose.

There was one entrance to the laundry room through a heavy door which was supposed to lock but didn’t. Once closed, no one in the building could hear a person scream.

Oh lord. I ran up the stairs with my basket of laundry, didn’t even take the elevator, and then slammed the door so hard once safely upstairs and in the apartment again, that the dishes in the kitchen cupboard rattled.

I vacuumed the apartment and cleaned out the inside of the dishwasher with a pitcher of water mixed with Alka-Seltzer, since I couldn’t remember what my sister told me about some naturally fizzy cleaning solution. I tried to phone her but there was no answer. I hoped she would call back, even if she thought I was asleep. As if I could sleep.

They say some serial killers operate over 10, 20, even 40 years, stalking their victims and getting to know them just enough to gain their confidence. Then boom! Look out. I didn’t care who came to the door, I would not open it. Not even if it was the kindly old woman who lived on the first floor, and whom I nodded to if I saw her in the hallway. I had never seen her face close up. She could have been anyone.

Sometime the serial killers took souvenirs of their victims. God, I didn’t want to think about it. They usually liked a type. Were there any murders over the past 40 years of young, freckly, red-headed women? I was almost sure there was. I was a type, a popular murder-victim type. Shit.

You couldn’t talk them out of it either. They were psychopaths, or something. They didn’t care. You couldn’t appeal to their conscience or sentimental side because they didn’t have either. I could say I had to live because my child was in the Intensive Care Unit weeping for her mother. A serial killer would laugh. You just had no chance. You had to hope your serial killer would at least be quick, not one that keep their prey locked up and…

The phone rang. Thank god, maybe it was my sister. Maybe she would come over. But when I got to the phone, there was no one there, just a dial tone. A dial tone!

It was after 10 pm, who would call and just hang up? No one I knew would do that. The security guy in the lobby at work, the older one with the comb-over and the big hands, would have access to my phone number, and he had been staring at me. Yesterday he had started to wave at me, but I was distracted and ignored him. Maybe that triggered something. It didn’t take much to trigger a psychopathic serial killer.

But maybe it wasn’t a serial killer. Who wanted me dead? My mind raced. Gregory at work didn’t like me. I got promoted before he did. I didn’t like him either; he wore too much cologne. Was lusting after a job enough motivation for a brutal murder? It was in films and TV. Some people were just very ambitious.

I took a hot shower to calm my nerves. That was a bad idea, for obvious reasons. I showered with the bathroom door open, and the shower curtain undrawn, so water got everywhere and if the killer was in the apartment he would have seen me naked. How was that supposed to help?

When I started to dial my sister’s number, I realized it was now close to 11 pm. She would be in bed, and start to worry about a call so late, and for what? Her younger sister, with a foolish, overactive imagination, panicking about nothing. Calm down, you silly bitch. Calm. Down.

So I watched a recording of Love, Actually before I went to bed, to get my mind off the dark and onto the frothy, but I discovered I hated that movie. What was I thinking? Hugh Grant was just a big pain in the ass. They all were.

It was too warm in the bedroom, but I dared not open a window.

A sleeping pill. No, better not. I was tired, my bones ached from weariness. It had been a long day. I was desperate for sleep. But who could sleep? I was a common serial killer victim type. They took souvenirs. I was completely alone. Someone was stalking me by phone.

Who had called? Did Gregory want me dead? Was the old lady really old, really a lady? Why hadn’t I been more friendly to the security guy at work? What was that noise? Why didn’t my sister call back? What was that big plastic tarp doing in the laundry room? Was I about to die?

…Finally, morning. Finally. Finally, daylight.

I put some coffee on, my hands trembling and weak, then went to get the newspaper. When I opened the apartment door, I noticed something. In my rush to get back into the apartment from the laundry room, I had left my key in the lock of the door. There was a pink feather dangling from it, and my key to the mailbox, and a mini-flashlight.

My key was in the lock of the outside of the door, and had been there all night.

I immediately called my sister, who, in her always empathetic way, shared my complete horror at my mistake, and didn’t laugh when I burst into tears.

Still, why had my serial killer spared me? I pondered this for the entire subway ride to work.

 


  • Original Prompt: Misstep, March 12, 2016
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Bob’s Brain [Repost]

Prompt: Ready

burning_book-t2

“I know I could probably do better than you, physically speaking,” Bob said. “We all have  our levels of attractiveness, and it’s funny that we rarely stray, either up or down, from those levels.”

So, Envy thought, could this be why such a presentable, almost handsome young man was never in a lasting relationship? He was a tall man, strong, broad in the shoulders and wide in stance, like a football player, with a fair complexion and neatly trimmed chocolate brown hair. His manner was open and friendly— always smiling, as he was now, with wonderful, traditional manners. He liked to open doors, take the curb side when walking, pay the tabs, bring a rose or a bottle of rosé when he picked up a lady for a date.

But he seemed to have no filter. Was that a result of indulgent parenting? Cluelessness? A disinclination towards self-examination? Maybe no one had ever called him on his proclivity for unnecessary truth-telling.

“Excuse me?” said Envy. They had stopped at a neighbourhood pub, halfway between the stadium and the car, on their way home. It was extremely dark, not as crowded as it should be, and the bartender seemed to be hoarding ice. Envy’s gin and tonic was flat and warm.

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Bob.

“How should I take it?”

Bob leaned over and kissed Envy on the cheek. She pulled away. He said, “It can’t be a huge surprise to you, Envy. I met your sister-in-law. She is a model. You are not a model. It’s not a big deal, why do you mind?”

“If you think you can do better than me, physically, I think you should,” said Envy. Of course it was no surprise to her. She was distinctly un-beautiful: her eyes and nose and mouth were placed as if God had randomly thrown these features from a distance onto her face. She tended to have very sensitive skin, so it was rarely smooth and without blemish. She would never be taller, and, she suspected, would never be thinner.

When he’d picked her up at her new condo that evening, she was ready, coat in hand. She took the bottle of rosé and set in on top of a large cardboard carton. The hallway and living room were still stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked. Bob peered in. “Bit of a hoarder, are we?” he said. She took that remark, and so many others, as if it was a joke. But no, it was not a random joke, it was just Bob’s brain spewing out unfiltered comments like a leaky faucet.

Well, this time it hurt.

“That was a hurtful remark,” Envy said. Bob started to order her another gin and tonic but she put her hand over his and shook her head. “I’d like to go home.”

“You could tell me I have a big nose, I wouldn’t be hurt if it was true,” Bob said, and then, as if he realized the weakness of the analogy, he made the mistake of expanding. “I just believe in honesty. I don’t lie, Envy. It’s not my style. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t be hurt if you said something I thought was negative, because if I am honest I have to expect honesty in return.”

“I am telling you something negative. You say hurtful things and don’t care. You don’t have to share your every passing thought, especially when it is hurtful. Of course I know I’m not beautiful. We ugly ones are the smart ones, remember? Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, I don’t need to be reminded about the fact that I’m not pretty, like when I’m out on a date.”

Bob had the grace to look surprised. “But you are pretty.”

“But you could do so much better.” Envy stood up and put her coat on. Instinctively, Bob helped guide her arms into the sleeves.

“Not so much better,” said Bob, unadvisedly. “I mean—“

“Just take me home, Bob,” Envy said, sighing.

They walked the rest of the way to the car without speaking. This seemed to be the pattern for all her attempts at relationships, since Marcus. A conflict, then silence, then the last chapter finished and the book closed. And burned.

But as Bob started the car, he turned to her and said, “I’ve wanted to kiss you and touch you since I first laid eyes on you. I said the wrong thing. Here’s the right thing: you are not a model, but are the sexiest woman I have ever met. Will you come back to my house and allow me to make love to you?”

Envy stared back at him. She couldn’t help but wonder: Did he finally understand that the truth is not always expedient?

Was he telling the truth now?


  • Original Prompt: Lukewarm, February 12, 2017.

Unpredictable [Repost]

Prompt: Clothing (or lack of)

blue-striped-beach-umbrella

Jerry’s new next-door neighbours asked him to pitch in on a proper fence between their two properties, to replace the old post and rail, spruce fence that was falling in on itself. So Jerry paid less than half (since his was the “back side” of the fence) and the neighbours built a six foot high, cedar lattice-topped privacy fence.

They were leaving their side untreated, they told Jerry, because they liked the natural aging of cedar, but he should feel free to paint or stain his side as he chose.

So it was while he was applying a coat of semi-transparent wood stain and sealer to the lattice top of his side the fence, that he saw who he thought were his neighbours, Sandy and Ron, pulling weeds in the big old shrub and flower border up against the back alley.

He couldn’t really tell if they were Sandy and Ron at first, because all he saw were two big asses, one a little narrower than the other, one sunburnt already, as they were experiencing a summer-like spring. They were uncovered, and it was harder than you might think to recognized asses and limbs without clothes on. When they stood, and Jerry was able to examine their faces objectively, he saw that yes, they were Sandy and Ron, his new neighbours.

Now Jerry had seen many bodies in his seventy years, that’s for sure, but it was the context this time, of folks he barely knew and had seen in pants or shirts or skirts or dresses, now with every body part hanging out. And body parts just hang there. We forget how body parts hang, Jerry thought. It seemed impractical to Jerry, evolution-wise, to have hanging, vulnerable parts, that could expose one to injury or impede flight from danger. It seemed a better design to have all those dangled parts housed internally.

But then, Jerry didn’t believe in a god or creator anymore; and a woman’s breasts were usually attractive to men, which was undoubtedly helpful when propagating the species, and probably a man’s penis revealed things about him that primitive women might have found educational.

“Jerry!”

It was not his neighbour Sandy’s voice, but the voice of Lily-Rose Roades, the young high school teacher who resided in the bungalow next to Jerry on the other side.

She was in the back lane. He ducked instinctively when she called his name, so Sandy and Ron wouldn’t see him peering through the lattice, and waved at Lily-Rose, who was holding a covered casserole dish.

He stepped off the ladder and they met at the gate, which was part of the old spruce fence, and hung on one hinge.

“I’m just going to say hello to the new neighbours,” Lily-Rose said. “I’ve never lived in a neighbourhood before, you know. So this is what you do, right?” And she held up the casserole, which was in a white Corning ware casserole dish decorated with blue flowers. “I just loved the jam and pickles you brought me when I moved in.”

“Oh, thanks again, and definitely what you do,” Jerry said.

Now Lily-Rose was a grown woman, and didn’t need protecting, but Jerry was old-school and chivalrous in his way, and didn’t like the thought of Lily-Rose inadvertently bumping into Sandy and Ron and their hanging parts.

“Do you have time for a cup of tea, a beer, or one of my famous Harvey Wallbangers?” Jerry asked. It was only 3 pm, but a weekend.

Lily-Rose had never tasted a Harvey Wallbanger before, which is a cocktail made from orange juice, vodka, and Galliano liqueur. They sipped their drinks on Jerry’s covered patio, and looked up when Ron appeared in the lane. He was poking his head around the tall fence. They could only see his uncovered face and torso.

“Hey neighbours,” Ron said, “care to join us for happy hour? Clothing optional.”

Lily-Rose happily took herself and her tuna and bow-tie pasta casserole into Ron’s garden, and she and Jerry joined Ron, Sandy, and their bits at a small round plastic table shaded by a blue striped umbrella.

She kept her clothes on, and so did Jerry.

The world was getting more and more unpredictable, Jerry thought. He had never felt comfortable with surprises, because in his experience they were so rarely pleasant ones. But Sandy and Ron seemed to be nice folks, and he was startled by his fondness for Lily-Rose, and a body was just a body. He started to think, for the first time in his life, that unpredictability might not be a bad thing after all.


  • Original Prompt: Fence, June 26, 2016

Black Angel [Repost]

Prompt: Fashionable

dark angel

Black never comes back, because it never goes away.

Black has been my constant, steady, reliable fashion companion and confidant since I was old enough to feel angst. And when the angst goes away, the black is still there, pure and angelic.

A black cashmere turtleneck sweater is as angelic and pure as a heavenly choir.

I’ve strayed from my choir, sometimes wearing red and turquoise together in rebellion. My deep, dense black companion doesn’t care, chuckles to itself, and waits patiently for my rebirth.

Then, it slaps me on the bum. Reminds me how flattering the choir is. We have black tea, and watch film noir, and paint black outlines around our eyes.

Black is not the negative of white. Black is an angelic choir.


The Long Days — Repost

Prompt: Pace Oddity
Prompt: Memorize

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I get up as late as possible, telling myself I will shower after work instead of before work. Makes logical sense.

I complete my assigned tasks. I’m a professional. The day drags, and I become weary of smiling and listening to the same banter, the same jokes, the same complaints and petty politics.

Once back home, a large drink is in order. I don’t feel creative enough to cook, but defrost something instead. We eat in front of TV, with a bottle of wine.

More wine, more TV, then finally, bed, where I dream I am the master of a herd of wild horses.

On the weekend, I sleep later. It’s physically very hard to drag myself out from under the cool white sheets and plump duvet. I meet friends for late lunch. There are jokes and banter, complaints and petty politics. But the pizza is filling. The glass of wine I drink with lunch makes me drowsy, and I nap, dreaming I am a time traveller.

I wake in time to make dinner. We had planned to go see a movie, but I feel a bit tired, so we have steak and salad at home. I’m not very hungry, but have a few more glasses of wine.

Finally it is time for bed. Finally. The day passes so very slowly, it is almost painful. I feel pricks of hurt, and aches in places there should be no aches. But at last, I can turn out the light, and return to my dreams.

__

For me, this is partly what depression feels like. The day passes agonizingly slowly because there is no joy in it. There is no connection, only numbness. Yet you have to meet and speak to people as if everything is perfectly fine; you have to perform everyday tasks as if they matter. There is only one real and meaningful thought: This will soon be over.

Some depression is triggered by an outside event. Sometimes, it is nothing but an inexplicable shift in your feelings of self and of others. People who are depressed can’t help it.

If you have such feelings, please speak to your doctor. There is relief for depression, whether it is counselling, medication, or a combination of the two.

If you recognize depression in a friend or family member, realize that pep talks don’t work. They need actual, professional help, and you can encourage them to seek help by pointing out there is no shame in depression, and that there is effective help available.

If the shadows grow too long, and the day passes so slowly that you are desperate to hurry the night, please call an emergency hot line. You can feel better.

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  • Photo: Getty Images.

Dear Agony Ant: WTF [Repost]

Prompt: Grit

Tsunami


Dear Agony Ant,

What are the worst possible things that could happen on a Saturday night date? Because I think they just happened to me.

Sincerely,
WTF


Dear WTF,

Without question the two worst possible things are:

1. Going out on a double date with your boyfriend’s best friend.

So, you and the best friend don’t get along, mostly because he is everything your boyfriend is not: cocky, arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and is none too fond of you, either. You are an adult, right? You can handle this. What you can’t handle is your boyfriend, as the evening wears on, soaking up the friend’s assholery like a sponge, so that when you are alone in the car, driving home, he turns into his best friend. This leads to an argument.

2. Arguments in the car.

There is no escape when you and your fellow combatant are stuck in a moving car. Crawling into the back seat does not help. Shouting sounds twice as loud and three times more hostile. Silences are highly tense moments when you both think of something even worse to say.

And when the boyfriend stops the car, opens the passenger door, and in a grand gesture worthy of his best friend, snarls “Get out!” you have a decision to make.

Do you exit the car in the dark on a country road and hope you get assaulted so boyfriend will feel terrible? Or stay put and stew silently, planning a revenge which includes no sex, ever, for all eternity? Either way, catastrophic.

So avoid the above two situations.

By the way, WTF, what happened to you on your date?

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

I met my new boyfriend at a hotel bar, and he just disappeared, leaving me alone on a bar stool. Second, I lost my purse, or it was stolen. So I had no money and no phone. Then the hotel called the police and I was arrested for prostitution because I asked the guy on the stool next to me for some money. What’s worse, I think the boyfriend stole my purse.

Sincerely,
WTF


Dear WTF,

WTF, indeed.

Love and peace,
agony ant