New Short Story - First Page

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I was once again finishing a bottle of cab merlot blend while my parents seemed concerned about my mental health. The subscription wine in my glass didn’t smell like anything, even after reading the tasting notes from the brochure. I’m cold. I should have put some slippers on before the call, and now we were half an hour into a story they’d told before. I excused myself for a second to find them. They were by the couch in the living room, where I’d left them last night. There, I told them. I’m definitely fine. I’m wearing slippers. That was not what they meant.

My computer is distracting. I can keep my parents in a window and have six other windows open, vying for my attention. At some point during the call, I opened my articles list and began reading this photography blog. I skimmed the words while keeping up my end of the conversation. It’s easy. It’s just a matter of practice. You can absolutely do two things at once. After a few moments though, I could feel the energy in their words dissipate. It’s inevitable with video calls. If you don’t volley back just as hard, it feels like there’s nobody there at all.

So I shifted my attention back to my parents, giving them as much as I could for updates. No, I wasn’t seeing anyone yet. No, I wasn’t looking, not really. Was I on the dating sites, as they called them? Only a little. I didn’t like them. Did anyone like them, I asked? Is anyone happy with this? Is it harder for people like you, my mother asked. At first, I didn’t know what she meant. I’d forgot. Why would it be harder? She didn’t want to say it. She dragged out a you know…” for a while. I did clue in. Oh. Right. I told her I guess?” It wasn’t something I thought about much anymore.

Being nonbinary just isn’t that interesting. I’m just not that into myself. I’d much rather hear stories about other people. I read a lot. I like to listen. Maybe I got that from my parents, whose phone calls sometimes sound like job interviews. How do you talk to someone without barraging them with questions? I just wanted to know more.

I was warm. The wine was emptier. I was lonely. Thanks mom and dad.

The call ended the same way it always does. They don’t ever actually want to get off the video, so I have to wait until the conversation dies off and they feel they have to leave. My dad made some excuse about having to make dinner, as if they weren’t going to order from the same Italian place down the road from their house. Well, we don’t want to keep you,” my mom says after 45 minutes. But, they weren’t keeping me from anything. I wouldn’t even change chairs, just tabs. After getting off the call, I did some shopping, some reading. I checked the shipping number for my next wine box. I didn’t send messages to any of my friends.

I’m not sure what happened, but things faded. Maybe I wasn’t interesting enough for people to keep up with. Maybe we didn’t actually have enough in common, and when you took entropy and proximity out of it, it didn’t make sense to keep it up. It’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. I know I could change it with the smallest bit of effort.

My apartment was quiet. I didn’t own any pets. I did own a white noise machine. In the middle of the night, I woke up every night at three am for six weeks before I figured out it was a garbage truck making its rounds, so now there’s a white noise machine on my nightstand. I would forget to turn it on before bed, so I bought a little plug that connected to the internet so I could put it on a timer. If you have a problem, you can sometimes solve that problem with money and plastic. Sometimes, I’m still in my living room at eleven, and I’ll begin to hear this whir from the bedroom. It’s the sound of duct tape covering a leak.

I walk through my apartment. It’s not much to walk through. It’s a living room and a bedroom, a small kitchen, a small balcony. A bathroom, a hallway with a small closet. Everything is somewhat modern and designed, but after living here for a few years it just feels cramped. I can’t buy anything without throwing something away first. It’s not a bad way to live, but it isn’t very interesting. I can’t add to the space.

Sometimes I think, I’m not worth designing something like this. Who is? Who is this for? Someone spent time and money and part of their life to build such a thoughtful, tight space, only for its occupant to be a ghost.

I could buy a neighbor’s apartment. I hate to admit how often I’ve thought about it. It’s the only way to get more without starting over. I go out to my small balcony sometimes. I place my elbows on my tiny railing and peer over at my neighbor’s identical setup. There’s enough room for two chairs and a tiny table. I haven’t done that but they have. If their balcony was mine, I’d buy chairs just like that.

I went to crack a beer but found myself nearly out. What the hell, it’s only seven. I could say I did something tonight by going out. I could walk. The microbrewery wasn’t far. I asked my phone what the weather was like. I put my headphones in. The microbrewery was fifteen minutes away by walk. If I skipped the ads, I could get through most of a podcast.

My elevator doesn’t have that trick where, if you hold down the close door” button, it’ll just keep going to the lobby, skipping all the floors where people have hit the button. I’d heard about this trick on a podcast. I’ve always wanted it to work, but it never does, not in any elevator I’ve tried. A few floors down, someone always joins me. The experiment fails. Before the door fully opens, I pause my podcast. My headphones stay in.

Today, it’s a girl. She’s shrunken. Not small, just trying to not take up space. She’s defensive, worried. She isn’t looking at her phone or listening to anything. She’s looking at herself in the floor-length mirror on the left side of the elevator. I’m on the right, looking at her only a little bit, mostly with my peripherals. She’s wearing a pretty dark red dress, stockings and heels. The heels look a bit chunky and comfortable. She crosses her arms for a moment but then uncrosses them. She checks her hair in the mirror. She’s nervous and maybe cold. I’d be cold. How could you not be cold? You’d be cold in a warm room wearing just that dress.

We reached the lobby and she got out ahead of me. She gave me a polite smile as she left. We were hitting the same exit, so I stayed back and checked my phone to give her distance. It isn’t a race. As I put it away, having looked at nothing but the time that I’d then immediately forgotten, I saw her turning around and heading back into an elevator. Maybe she forgot something, but she looked upset.

I left the building and turned. I smelled cigarette smoke. There was a man leaning near the entranceway. He was lanky and took up space, relaxed, like he owned it. He was the opposite demeanor of that girl. He was looking at his phone, slowly swiping at whatever. As I walked by him, I drank in his features. He was taller than me. His hair was long but tucked behind his ears. He was that sort of tall, dark mysterious sort of thing, a big chin for his features, and strong cheekbones. He looked like he could be a model or an actor, that sort of stupid handsome you can’t buy. The hand that held the phone equipped several rings, all different shades of silver. I could see the hint of a tattoo on his neck, the rest disappearing beneath his jacket collar roll. He caught my attention. How could he not?

His other hand, which held the cigarette, came up to his mouth, and he took a drag. His eyes met mine for a brief moment, likely sensing that I was walking a little too slowly by him, that he was being drunk in. His eyes didn’t communicate annoyance, but recognition. Sure, they told me. Go ahead. I don’t blame you. His eyebrow arched just the smallest amount. I kept it and finally looked away.

November 16, 2020