a place you can’t come back from
This one has been kind of a pain. It’s changed a number of times since I finished it nearly a year ago. It’s gone from uncomfortable ending, to sad ending to mediocre ending. There were visible ghosts at one point. It was only a ghost story at one point. I guess what I’m getting at is that it probably still isn’t in its final form, but it’s brand new and no one has seen it in it’s current form. I welcome feedback and hope ya’ll like it!
a place you cant come back from
“My god, I love the open layout.” Christina said leaning her hands against the back of the show-couch, resting.
“Yeah, this place is huge.” Arnie said back to her, glancing around the room to make sure the realtor hadn’t come back.
Arnie was slightly balding and overweight. He was a gopher for Steward and Lang, a semi high powered Law firm in downtownSeattle. He’d been in law school for years and it seemed the longer he worked for Steward and Lang, the less likely he would ever get his degree. The law firm paid enough for him to subsist so his laziness seemed to bloom.
Christina was constantly being called “thick.” She wasn’t by any means fat, but then again she wasn’t by any means skinny; Arnie, on the other hand, thought she was the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth. She was a third grade teacher at Frederick Douglass elementary and she played the part; long plaid skirts polyester blouses and up-done long black hair.
The two of them stood in the room looking at each other in wonder. This was the place of their dreams. It was a huge apartment, right next to a quaint little coffee shop, with a view of the Pacific.
They stood there like that, staring with small smirks into each other’s eyes, when the realtor walked back into the room.
“Sorry I forgot the keys,” She said pulling them out of her briefcase. “I forgot that each door had their own lock, but…” She looked up into the couple’s eyes and saw the confirmation which would make her day. “You two have the smiles of someone discovering their dream home.” Before they could respond she was pulling papers out of her small smart briefcase. “It’s a good thing I got the keys…” She tried to hide her smile, but she failed.
“Honey, is the box of flatware in the kitchen?” Christina yelled out to Arnie from her crouched position in front of a wall of boxes.
“Yeah babe, they’re in the box marked kitchen 2.” Arnie said pulling out a shoebox from a packing box marked: Art supplies. He quickly opened the drawer to his large oak desk and slid it to the back of the drawer, trying his best to keep the box hidden. He hadn’t noticed that Christina had walked into the room behind him.
“I can see your underwear.” She said coyly.
“Jesus!” Arnie jumped up, and slammed the drawer closed. Christina didn’t recognize from his movements that he was trying to hide the shoe box from her; she only saw his panic and took it as embarrassment. “Why do you always do that?”
“’Cause is funny!” Christina laughed while jumping on him.
They wrestled around on the ground for a few moments smiling and laughing, but eventually Arnie pinned Christina to the ground. He snarled playfully and snapped his jaws at her and she laughed and fought to free her arms. After a moment he stopped the playfulness and smiled down at her. “Welcome to your new home babe.” Then he lowered his head and kissed her, releasing her arms.
She kissed him back and pulled him down to her, hugging him. Then after a few moments she let go and he slowly got up. She stood and walked to the doorway. “I’ll be back soon…” She smiled at him then walked back to the kitchen.
She went back to the box she could only find with Arnie’s help and continued to unload the dishes. She took one out at a time and slowly and carefully unwrapped each piece of newspaper, placed the dish in the sink, then carefully folded the newspaper into a four inch square.
“Hey babe?” Arnie called from the bathroom. Need filler paragraph. “Babe?” Arnie called again from the bathroom.
“What is it?” Christina meticulously folded another piece of newspaper.
“Are there any stains out there?” Arnie had the door to the bathroom partially closed, but the echo he created in the empty apartment resonated perfectly in Christina’s ears.
“Of course not, they always clean apartments when people move in.” She reached into the box and grabbed another plate.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Arnie said staring at a red stain on the tile behind the bathroom door. He didn’t know where they had packed away their cleaning solution otherwise he would have cleaned it right then to spare Christina’s wild imagination, but he could swear that that copper stain, partially on the wall and partially on the ground was blood.
That night they huddled in one of the two empty rooms trying to decide which one would be the office and which one would be the bedroom. They had a single sleeping bag on the ground and the area around them was lit by the ethereal glow of candles. They had yet to make it to the store to get light bulbs.
“I don’t know if I like the fact that the fire escape is right outside of this room.” Christina said twirling Arnie’s curly hair around her finger; that is, what curly hair he had left.
“That could be a really good thing though babe. If there’s a fire, all we have to do is go out the window and down the stairs.” Arnie said lightly rubbing her hip.
“Yeah, but what if a burglar came up there. All they’d have to do is break the window and then we’d be dead.” She was trying to mask her concern and be as objective as possible, but she was failing.
“Out of all the places inSeattle, why would they come here? The neighborhood isn’t upscale and we’re on the third floor, you can’t even see if we have anything of interest, why would some thief just randomly pick our apartment?” Arnie was smiling, trying to avoid Christina’s infectious fear. He looked over at the window which held the fire escape and took a deep breath. He got up and checked the lock and closed the blinds, then lay back down next to Christina and blew out the candles.
“It’s still possible.” Christina said demurely. She rolled onto her side and then had a thought. “What about the other locks? Did you check those before we got into bed?”
“Get into bed? Babe we’re lying on the ground in a sleeping bag!”
“You know what I mean!” She said slapping his shoulder.
“Yes I locked the doors and windows. Now I’m not getting up again,” he said spooning her. “It’s sleepy time babe. No one is going to climb up three stories, just to climb in our window and besides, the fire escape ladder is raised. They’d have to be twelve foot tall to get to it. It’s just a new place, you’ll feel better once we get our stuff situated and it feels more like home.” Apparently he didn’t have to worry about her because she was already softly snoring.
Later that night Arnie woke startled. He’d been dreaming, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what
about. He tried to lie for a moment longer, but he felt pressure from his bladder so he gently got up, making sure not to wake Christina and went into the bathroom to pee. Once he finished he took a step over and turned on the water looking down at the faucet and a momentary flash of fear grasped him. What if I look up into the mirror and I see someone behind me? He thought, patiently waiting for the water to warm, terrified to look up at his reflection.
Don’t be stupid. He said to himself and that was all he needed. He took a shallow breath and looked directly into the mirror and the only thing that looked back at him was his own tired reflection. He gently smiled and then walked out into their immense living room. The apartment was two bedroom one bath and thirteen hundred square feet; it was simply huge. He looked out into the street lamp filled room and smiled. This was his new home. He could already see the arrangement of furniture. He walked over to the kitchen which had a window overlooking the fire escape and grabbed a glass of water. He looked out the window and down the fire escape; from the look of it, the ladder had descended all the way to the ground. When they viewed the house he could have sworn that the ladder had been pulled up. Then he thought back to the red stain in the bathroom and his mind started to wander. Oh, my god, could that be blood? Could someone have come up from the fire escape? He pushed the thought from his mind and climbed out the window and down to the first level to pull up the fire escape. He made a mental note to ask the neighbors whether they had lowered the ladder in the morning.
He climbed back in through the window and locked it. He started back to the temporary bedroom and then had an idea. He went back to his desk and pulled out the Art Supplies box and grabbed a few tacks. Before he lay back down with Christina he laid a few on the window sill in the kitchen and another few on the window in the room where they slept. He had trouble sleeping that night.
The next day Arnie went off to work leaving Christina behind to do some more cleaning. Christina loved the extra time she had at home. She loved the idea of nesting, especially in this large apartment; her fears from the night before gone with the morning sun.
Christina walked into the large open living space and stared out into the bright morning sun and smiled. She could unpack most of what they had brought over today and the movers should be here tomorrow with their furniture. She was already visualizing the layout, reveling in the thought of a nice chamomile tea and the most recent Nicholas Sparks novel in the nice little breakfast nook she was going to create while Arnie worked away in his office. It was perfect. It had room for everything.
She went back to the kitchen and continued to unpack in her singly odd way; very carefully unwrapping the dishes and silverware and wiping them individually with her small dish towel then placing then in the sink to wash off. She smiled, enjoying the mundane task in the fresh new apartment when she looked up at the sun filled window in front of them. She remembered briefly that the window also connected to the same fire escape as the room they slept in and noticed little thumb tacks sitting on the window sill. She made a mental note to yell at Arnie later for putting those there. She could have hurt herself!
She brushed aside the tacks and leaned to look out the window and down the fire escape. She could see from her vantage point that the ladder at the bottom had been pulled up. She smiled because Arnie was right. The ladder was pulled up. Who would want to break into their apartment anyway? She made a mental note not to bring the issue up again because she didn’t want to deal with his smugness. She could just see the look on his face and she couldn’t take it.
She finished the dishes about an hour later and moved onto the box marked jackets ‘n coats, carefully pulling the tape off the box and pulling it open. The box had a meticulously created divider to separate the coats and jackets from the hangers. Christina had cut another box and then used Gorilla glue to hold the divider in place. She pulled the box to the closet door and, one by one, took the hangers out and laid them on the rack. She had a number of colored plastic hangers and they all had to go in according to color; the blues with the blues and the yellows with the yellows. She smiled at the configuration once it was complete.
She then reached down to grab the jackets when she happened to look at the back wall off the closet. There was a small red splatter, down at the moldings. She grimaced and immediately turned around and went into the kitchen to grab the box she had labeled cleaning supplies. She grabbed her favorite bleach spray and rag and headed back to the closet. She sprayed like it was an infestation of ants, holding her body away from the spray and shielding herself with the hand holding the rag. Once she felt she had sufficiently slathered the stain she attacked it with the rag, pulling off just a little bit of paint in the process.
She folded the rag, careful not to touch anything she had just wiped up, and caught a glimpse of the maroon stain. It was just a glimpse and all she could smell was bleach, but she had a horrible suspicion that the stain was blood. Come on, why would there be blood in the closet? Christina, normally incredibly superstitious, was galvanized by the warmth and light of the sun and the exciting prospect for a new apartment, ignored her fears and threw the rag into the hamper.
She continued to clean and organize for a couple of hours, until the afternoon sun began to beat down through the windows and heat the apartment. She began to feel the beginnings of sweat break through her skin making her scalp itch and decided it was time for a shower.
She gathered her necessary toiletries and headed into the shower, turning on the hot water and shutting the shower curtain. She put her towel on the rack and the various bottles of soaps on the counter and turned to shut the door. There was another red stain behind the door on the wall again at the moldings. She squealed lowly and ran back out of the bathroom grabbing the rag from the hamper and the bleach cleaner from the kitchen. She went at this stain with the same ferocity as she did the one in the closet and then put the rag back in the hamper and the cleaner back in the kitchen.
When she got back to the shower she could see the steam coming from over the shower curtain and she chuckled to herself nervously. It was only a stain, she told herself, it was only a stain.
She de-robed and jumped into the shower, reveling in the hot water. She scrubbed herself thoroughly, until her skin turned red, then turned up the heat and deepening the tint. After about ten minutes she had finally had enough and turned down the heat, enjoying the afternoon sun coming in through the window, when suddenly the power went off. The lights in the bathroom went first and then the water started to get cold. She reached down to turn the water off when there was a loud knock on the front door. Four distinct pounds. She jumped then turned off the cold water. She wrapped a towel around her body and yelled out “Just a minute!” Then ran to the bedroom and opened a new box quickly, giving herself a cut on the cardboard in the process. She swore and sucked on her finger as she pulled on some tights and threw on a long tee shirt. She made it to the door and opened it slightly hiding behind the door. The hallway was empty.
Christina, scared slams the door shut and makes her way back to the temporary bedroom. The room has echoes of the afternoon sun, now setting, laced across it. She looks at the window sill and sees more tacks sitting on it and suddenly she realizes what Arnie put them for. They were a defense mechanism. She quickly pulled the blinds on the window looking out over the fire escape, then she turned and grabbed her sleeping blanket and ran into the other bedroom, laying the sleeping bag in the closet, shutting herself in and sliding the closet door closed.
Inside the closet she cried. Not necessarily out of fear, but out of helplessness. She understood that she was letting her mind run away with itself, but the thought of being alone in this alien house, despite how beautiful it was, suddenly scared her.
She cried for what seemed like forever. She cried until her mind cleared and she couldn’t remember what she was crying about. The tears wiped her memory and slowly lulled her to sleep.
Arnie came home shortly after she had fallen asleep, content to come home to a new place. He noticed that most of the boxes in the living room were still there and he smiled to himself. Christina must have spent so much time being her meticulous self that she didn’t get to everything. He went from empty room to empty room until he started to think that she had run out to get some dinner for them. It wasn’t until he went into the bathroom and he heard her familiar snore. The snore that sounded a little more like a moan. He followed the sound until he walked into the room opposite their new bedroom and found the sounds coming from the closet.
Arnie slid the closet door aside to find Christina lying in her sleeping bag asleep on the ground. He leaned down and slightly shook her shoulder, then kissed her forehead and she abruptly sat up looking him straight in the eyes.
“Where the hell were you!” She says bunching the sleeping bag in her fists and bringing it up to her chin, covering her body.
“I was a work babe.” Arnie said, slightly recoiling.
Arnie opened his mouth to say more, but Christina dropped the sleeping bag and hugged him tightly.
Arnie woke up the next day, showered and wondered what had come over Christina the night before. She wouldn’t let him out of her sight, even just to go to the bathroom, and then there was that outburst at him when he got home.
She’s so superstitious, He thought, moving into a new place and sleeping there must be horrifying to her. There’s nothing familiar about the place.
He quickly washed himself and was grateful that the furniture was coming today. It would mean other people in the house and it would also mean a distraction. When thy finally had their possessions there it would finally startg feeling like home to her.
He shut off the shower and glanced at his watch sitting on the bathroom counter. 7:45AM, he was going to be late…again. He quickly dried himself and then noticed the red stain on the wall behind the door. Damn, he thought. I forgot to clean that yesterday. That’s not going to help Tina calm down at all. He looked back at his watch and swore to himself again.
He cracked the door open, slowly as to make sure he didn’t make any sound, then peeked into their new bedroom. Christina was sound asleep, her tousled hair in her face as she lightly snored. She made a mandate last night that they would no longer be sleeping in the room with the fire escape access. It was just too dangerous.
Arnie tiptoed into the kitchen and rifled through the cabinet under the sink until he found the bleach cleaner and he made his way back to the bathroom. He sprayed the stain a few times and then took a swath of toilet paper and wiped it clean, flushing the red paper down the toilet.
He quickly got dressed and looked in on her one more time.
“Love you.” He said softly making sure not to disturb her, then slipped out the door and went to work.
At work Arnie sifted through paperwork, trying to organize the jumbles the privates left on the desk for the various cases the lawyers were taking. Arnie was a master at his craft. He would organize just enough to know where everything was and then procrastinated for the rest of the day, handing off the documents to the various lawyers as they came by for them. He always gave them exactly what they were looking for, but his desk was a total mess. It was his protection mechanism because it ensured that no one else in the office knew what was going on in that horrible mess of a desk.
It was while he was sifting through the piles during his morning that the phone call came.
“Thank you for calling Steward and Lang, this isArnoldspeaking.”
“When are you coming home?”
“Damn it, when are you coming home” There was venom in her voice.
“Later on babe. What’s up?” He asked but there wasn’t any real concern in his voice.
“Come home now.” There was something wrong with her voice, but he couldn’t quite place it. Just something…off; Something not quite Christina.
“I’m working babe. They’d cut my pay.”
“I’m never going to get anything done!” He could feel her frustration flowing out through the phone covering him in a thin layer of anxiety.
“God, I should just kill myself!”
“Tina, what’s wrong!” In their various arguments they had had, Arnie had always tried to keep his voice down; he told himself it was because he was level headed, but deep down he knew there was no one better for him than Christina, and the thought of angering her and increasing the probability that she would leave was too much to take. He didn’t yell this time either, but the timber of his voice did rise.
“I need a specific time when you’re getting home!” She was starting to whine.
“Please talk to me!”
She paused for a moment, ashamed at herself for what she was going to ask next.
“Do you think our place is haunted?” She trailed off by the end and he could barely hear her.
“Babe, there’s no such thing as ghosts. What happened?”
There is another pause on the other end of the phone and then in another meek voice Christina comes back on.
“Are you cheating on me?”
“What?” His hand tightened on the receiver.
“I found some letters.”
“Letters? Babe I’ll be home later…”
The phone cut out, leaving a horrible sorrowful tone in his ear. A sound indicative of an ending. But before it did, Arnie could swear he could hear someone knocking on a door through the phone.
When Arnie got home that night Christina was already asleep on the couch. Her gentle snores told him where she laid in the darkened apartment. The apartment seems impossibly cold, so after kissing her gently on the forehead and making sure she’s completely covered with blankets, he turned on the heater and made his way to the shower. He turned on the hot water and looked at himself in the mirror as he waited for the water to warm up. His eyes are drawn and there are large dark bags underneath. In the poor light of the single bulb in the bathroom he looks ten years older than he actually is and he suddenly feels depressed. This is his life. He is an aging intern working for a soulless law firm, where he virtually has no upward mobility and he has no idea what he’s even doing at the firm in the first place. The only reason he took the job in the first place is because he wanted to be more responsible for Christina’s sake. He wanted to be the breadwinner like all the classic TV shows portray. He wanted her to have the lifestyle she always wanted, and yet here he was, a balding, overweight, gopher at the age of thirty burning the midnight oil for lawyers who could care less about him and not at all for his girlfriend at home.
Once the water was warm enough Arnie peeled off his clothes and stepped in. The water itself was hot, but for some reason he just couldn’t heat himself up. It was as if the cold had sunk in his bones and kept his core cold. He twisted and turned in the shower trying to keep the hot water on his freezing body.
While he was shampooing his hair he heard Christina call for him. It was faint, but he distinctly heard her soft caring voice. It was the voice she used when they had just finished in bed; slightly sultry, but infinitesimally caring.
“Just a minute babe. I’m getting out now.” He called from the shower, hoping for a little late night coitus.
Once he turned off the shower the water on his body seemed to freeze. He grabbed the towel as quickly as he could, but in doing so he saw a red stain on the wall behind the bathroom door. Damn it, I thought I got that! He thought to himself.
He quickly dried himself off and grabbed the bleach cleaner again and some toilet paper to clean off the red stain. Then he went into the bedroom threw on some clothes and went back into the hallway. He stopped immediately. There was a figure walking out in the main room. He felt a chill course through his body and he took a deep breath. As quickly as he saw the shape it disappeared and he thought for a moment it must have just been Christina-until he heard her soft snore.
He quickly flipped on every light switch in the vicinity and looked around the open room. The only person in the room was Christina and she was sleeping on the couch. Arnie shivered as he walked over to her. Was she sleepwalking? Sleep talking? But she sounded so awake.
He got over to her and took a quick look about the room making sure there was no one there, but he noticed the kitchen window slightly ajar. No wonder it’s so cold. He thought as he walked over and shut the window. He looked down, just as a precaution and saw that the ladder to the ground was pulled up. Then he turned and walked back over to Christina, making sure to put on the heater full blast as he passed it.
He gently shook her and kissed her again on the forehead.
“Why don’t you love me?” She said in a voice which didn’t sound like her own. He wouldn’t have believed it was her except for her lips moving. He kissed her on the lips and picked her up carefully, grunting in the process, and took her to bed. When he lay her down he gently kissed her ear lobe and whispered “I do love you” and covered her up in blankets. He fell asleep shortly after.
Arnie woke in the middle of the night when he heard footsteps in the hallway. It sounded as if Christina had put on heels and was walking around on tiles. He sat up and felt Christina’s side of the bed and found her absent.
“Babe? What are you doing?” Arnie said getting up from the bed. She must have turned off the heater, he thinks to himself, shivering as he put on a sweater. He opened the door from the bedroom and again heard heels clacking on the tile. It almost sounded as if they were running away from him. Outside the bedroom it felt even colder. He shivered and looked about the hallway, flipped on the light switch. It didn’t go on.
“Babe?” He called out, as he peered through the darkness. He thought he could see her moving around in the large living room, but he wasn’t sure if it was just shadows and his sleep deprived mind playing tricks on him. He walked out into the kitchen and noticed that the window was open again. Startled he closed it and peered out through the window. The ladder was down.
He whirled around and whipped his head to the left and right searching the room.
“Tina, where are you?” He said hoarsely, trying to be loud, but at the same time trying to be quiet.
“Why don’t you love me?” He wasn’t sure if it was Christina this time. It sounded like her, but at the same time it didn’t. Something about the timber of the voice, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Baby where are you?” He said again a little more forcefully. He took a step forward and hissed as he stepped on a thumb tack. He pulled it out of his foot and turned to the window sill, noticing that they had been brushed from the sill. He shut the window then heard more footsteps behind him and a weak knocking at the front door.
A chill ran through him making him involuntarily shiver and he grabbed the coffee pot, wielding it as a weapon. He walked over to the front door and looked through the peep hole. There was nothing on the other side. He turned and looked through the room and saw a figure standing with its back to him in the corner. Arnie’s mouth went dry and he clicked his tongue trying to get some moisture back, but failing. He slowly walked towards the figure, brandishing the coffee pot. He got to within a few feet when he heard the shower curtain shut and a sob coming from the shower.
Arnie gulped and cocked the arm back ready to bash the figure with the coffee pot and reached his other hand out to turn the figure around. As soon as he touched it the façade fell and what he could have sworn was a person dissolved into a pile of clothes.
There was a louder knock at the door and Arnie turned and jumped. He heard more footsteps and saw the window in the kitchen was open again. Shivering he walked towards the bathroom. The door was open and he could see the curtain shifting as if someone were on the other side moving around.
Arnie took a deep breath and began towards the shower when the light in the spare room came on. He turned to see Christina sitting in the middle of the room with blood on her hands, flipping through notes from his past girlfriends.
“Why don’t you love me?” She said with tears in her eyes, looking directly at Arnie.
“Babe why are your hands bloody?” Terror gripped Arnie and he took a step towards Christina, as he did, the curtains billowed into the room. The ladder was down and that window leads to the fire escape! Arnie thought briefly, but before he could come up with a more concrete thought, the door to the spare room slammed shut and the shower curtain opened.
The tub was filled with blood and it had splashed out onto the floor and the walls in the bathroom. There were bloody handprints covering the walls and written in blood on the mirror were five words.
“I do!” Arnie said and took a step backwards. He saw stains covering the walls, bleeding down to the moldings. Down to the spot he cleaned twice already.
There was a loud knock at the front door behind him and he turned to look at it. He felt a breeze of freezing cold air and the lights went out. In the darkness he felt a hand on his chest and a brush of hair against his cheek and a soft feminine voice whisper in his ear. Liar!
Arnie woke the next morning, disoriented. He was curled into a fetal position on the bathroom floor and his teeth were chattering from the cold tile. He sat up to get off the tile, still confused as to where he was. Then he remembered. He shot up holding his hands out toward the shower curtain, but it was open and there was nothing in the shower, except for a single ray of light coming in through the window and illuminating the bathroom.
Arnie stood and rubbed his eyes in confusion. The red stain behind the door was still there. Arnie lumbered out into the hallway. He looked into the spare room and saw Christina curled up on the floor holding something in her hands. Arnie turned and went into their bedroom to start packing clothes. He had already made the decision that they weren’t staying there for the night.
As he was packing he thought about how easy it was to get this apartment and the smile of relief the realtor had when she saw they wanted it. Arnie grabbed the cell phone off the night stand in the room and dialed the realtor.
“Caroline Jacobs!” Her familiar bubbly voice souded tinny in the phone.
“What is wrong with our apartment?”
“Excuse me? Who is this?” Concern and a little fear filled her voice.
“ArnoldLawton. Third floor apartment. What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know what you…”
“What happened here?” His voice was cold and he stopped looking at what he was doing, but continued shoving random clothes into his duffle bag.
There was silence on the line for a moment and Arnie waited it out. Eventually she sighed and told him a story.
“A couple lived there before you. He was cheating on her. Apparently she came home one day and caught them in the act and she took a butcher knife went into the shower and turned on the cold water. She waited in there until he came to investigate and she killed him. Killed the other girl in the hallway and killed herself in the closet. Why are you asking this now? Did something…”
“You bitch! How could you!” Arnie said and hung up on her. He stopped packing and put the heel of his hand to his face and started to weep. This place was supposed to be his freedom. He was supposed to be able to relax here and he was supposed to learn what love really meant here. It was his first time living with a girl and she seemed to really care about him.
“Were you talking to her? It’s ok, I knew you never really loved me.”
Arnie jumped when she spoke. He thought she was still sleeping in the other room. He must have woken her when he yelled at the realtor.
“Babe!” It was all he could get out because he couldn’t comprehend what she had just spoken.
“I’ll leave.” She looked down at her feet and her hands clasped a folder. The folder he had hidden in his drawer so she wouldn’t see it. The folder with letters from the one who got away.
“Oh, baby, no…” He chuckled a little bit and he stood up from the bed gesturing that he was going to hold her. She flinched and backed up.
Immediately Arnie felt like he had slapped her. She acted as though she were scared of him. Arnie thought he could hear the squeak of the handles turning in the shower.
“Why don’t you love me?” She was crying. Tears were pouring down her cheeks.
“Babe…” He held out a hand and she took a step back.
“It is because I’m fat? Because I’m ugly?” Water blasted through the shower head and hit the back wall.
“No.” Arnie said forcefully. The lights flickered in the house and Arnie could feel goose bumps. It was cold.
“You are beautiful now help me pack; fast.” He grabbed her arm and she ripped it back, out of his hands.
“You’re only saying that. What about these? Why did you keep these? Why did you bring them here?” Christina said waving the folder in his face.
Arnie didn’t have a response for her, but he did hear foot steps go toward the kitchen.
“I blinded myself thinking that you love me, but I knew all along it was only a matter of time. Guys are all the same. They never stop looking for options.” She waved the folder in his face again. “I’m not going to be one of these girls who holds onto the hope that because you kept a couple old things that you’ll call back. I don’t want to be played.” Her hands were balled at her sides now with the folder crushed in her hand. “I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME!” Arnie was pretty sure she couldn’t see through the tears in her eyes and he was also pretty sure he heard a knife retract from its sleeve in the kitchen and heared a soft knock at the front door.
“I do love you! I do!” He was rolling his eyes and huffing because of his fear of what was in the kitchen. It was his fear for himself though, it wasn’t for Christina.
“Admit it.” She said making a smug look and wiping tears from her eyes; Arnie could hear footsteps walking back towards them.
“Goddamn it! What do you want me to say!” He said flailing his arms.
“I see the way you look at girls as they walk past. You’re with me for now, but you’re always looking for the next thing.” She pounded his chest and then he backed away. He grabbed the duffel bag and went to sling it over his shoulder when behind Christina in the doorway he could swear he saw a hand on the door jamb.
“You want to get of here that badly huh?” Christina said slumping. Tears rolling down her cheeks.
Arnie didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what love really was. He wasn’t sure if he ever really felt it. He knew what it meant to lust and to yearn, but what did it mean to love? How could you let one person have everything you have. Let them have everything you are?
“No!” He said it, but there was no conviction in it, and Christina caught it instantly.
“Why did you bring me here? Why did you say you want to move in with me? Were you only looking for cheap rent?”
The room dropped twenty degrees and Arnie could see goose bumps jump out on Christina’s arms. There was a soft sobbing from the other room. Arnie looked over Christina’s shoulder into the other room and she ever so slightly turned her head.
“Babe, we need to get out of here!”
“Our home…” She said.
The door to the bedroom began to close and the light receded from the room as clouds passing over the sun. A low moan echoed in from the bathroom and a loud knock came from the front door.
“Babe listen…” Arnie began and Christina looked him in the eyes. Her cheeks were puffy and her eyes were red and her lip quivered. “I don’t know what love is. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love. But I wanted to move in with you.” He raised his hands, gesturing around the room. “This is a place you can’t come back from. Moving in. There are only two paths we can take from here. We go on or we don’t. I don’t know if I love you. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but I know I don’t want to live without you. We’re moving forward and that has to be what’s important.”
Something crashed in the kitchen and Arnie suddenly felt tired. He let the bag slide off his shoulder and it echoed when it hit the ground. Christina looked at the window sill and there was a knife sitting on it. Arnie hadn’t noticed it sitting there earlier.
“This is a place you can’t come back from.” Christina echoed.
“Baby please!” Arnie pleaded.
Christina looked into Arnie’s eyes and he looked back. She took a small step forward and they fell into each other’s arms.
The apartment was in a horrible neighborhood. It was small and dingy.
“Who was the previous tenant?” Arnie asked the realtor.
“A couple of college kids, who graduated and moved on.”
Christina looked to Arnie and smiled.
“We’ll take it.”
Carol-Ann and the Nothing Man
He knew Carol-Ann was outside and it terrified him. He sat in his little hotel room staring blankly at his computer screen. He had spent months, in intervals, sitting in hotel rooms trying to finish his masterpiece and Carol-Ann hated it. She always grilled at him about it. “Why do you have to go out? What’s wrong with writing at home? What do you do? Do you sleep there?”
The last question always baffled him because she always asked it. Granted there were times when he left the hotel room to come home and sleep in the same bed, but most times he slept there. The real reason she asked was because her jealousy had overtaken her. Carol-Ann was normally very level headed, so much so that people often thought she was on medication. She would sit and listen while someone would pander her style, or criticize her paintings. She would purse her lips slightly and nod, accepting and cordial. But when it came to her man, she would loose it. She never told him the real reason because she knew she was being ridiculous, but whenever he went away she could see him sitting there in that depressing little hotel room (in her mind it was always dark and dirty; there was always only one light in the room, always stains on the walls, and always some cheap girl in a tiny pleather skirt.), with a guilty and sullen look upon his face, while some hooker sucked his dick.
She had called him twenty minutes before telling him she was coming. He was in the same position as he always was; slumped over the laptop, with one hand on his cheek and the other scratching his head, a look of consternation on his face. He came to the hotel to write. His initial reasoning seemed to make sense to him. It was full of rhythm and superstition and it worked.
He was on the biggest tour of his career. His first book was called “Bird’s Release.” It was a story from the perspective of a boy with autism and it told of his struggles to be understood. It was pure schlock, but people loved it. The SF Chronicle said he “caught the breadth and possibility of life” and Newsweek said it was “pertinent and intelligent. A must read for anyone with a soul.” He saw it for what it really was; gimmicky and trite. He felt like a sell out, as if he didn’t know how to create so he followed formulas. His second book, “The Correct Ideal for a Failing Marriage” was a mirror to his life. This time the Chronicle said he was “Genius” and Newsweek said he was a “Rock Star Philip Roth.” The narrator of the book was a disillusioned Basketball coach who spent long periods away from home…writing in hotels. In the book the couple broke up and got back together on her death bead, years later. In real life the couple ignored their problems and stayed together.
The biggest was the third. He had a large tour inNew Yorktouring 8 stores and he stayed at the Hilton for a week. It was called “The Devastated Sole” and it was about a man traveling from coast to coast trying to understand his meaning in the world. It was about this time he started noticing a common theme entering his writing he hadn’t before.
The time he spent at the Hilton in New Yorkwas the most productive of his life. He began to think his problems came from restlessness and being tied down. He equated this wanderlust with his inability to be happy with his home life. Namely Carol-Ann. After his tour had finished, he thought back to that room where he had the revelation, that place where he had been so productive. He thought about the joy in getting back to the room and pressing that little power button and having that little machine show the extension of his mind which came from his fingers. He thought back to the feeling of the words flowing through his hands, the actual world receding and the fictional one taking over, and he made another reservation. He had no reason to go toNew York, but that room was calling to him. That cold, solitary vestige from life.
Carol-Ann knocked at the door and took a deep breath. She had stayed by him for so long. She stayed with him when he was just a poor wannabe tripping over words in the dictionary. She stayed with him through the initial shock of his first real success. She had stayed with him as his ego shrank and he became scared of the fame. She watched him through a window of his pride as he began to shrink in on himself. She watched him transform from a confident strong handsome man, to a blithering, self loathing, vapid pedant.
She watched him decline as her own abilities escalated. She began painting as a hobby but quickly became serious. She had talent. What some people call “the eye,” she was brilliant at capturing images. The first painting she sold was of a marble countertop interlaced with a stovetop containing two burners. Both the burners had plastic covering them, as if just purchased. Next to the stove top was an empty bottle of ketchup, fallen prone with a small red globule spilling out of the mouth. Carol-Ann called it “battered bride lying on the alter of her missing husband.” She was the bride.
She sold it in a gallery a week after her husband’s first release. He didn’t notice she sold it until a month later.
Carol-Ann’s next sale was featured in Juxtapoze. It was a Candelabra with one burning candle. The wax that slid down transformed into a mustang running with it’s mane swimming in the breeze. She called it “The Great Escape.” Once again she was represented in her painting and once again he didn’t notice for a month. This sale came in between “The Correct Ideal for a Failing Marriage” and “The Devastated Sole” and her husband just didn’t seem to hear when she told him.
She got off the phone with her agent, heart beating and eyes tearing. She went to tell him with an unending grin on her face and she found him in his study, writing. She called to him and said she had just gotten off the phone with her agent. She was going to ask him if he would attend a release party with her because she had just attained clients who were going to pay her to paint…but she never got to. He sat at his computer and lifted his right hand with his index finger pointing up, indicating her to wait. His eyes never left the screen. He brought his hand back to the keyboard and took a deep breath that said “Don’t ever fucking do that again” and went back to writing.
He started going to hotels to write after that. He wrote every day.
She forgave him though. She had so much love to give and so much need for belonging, for acceptance. She had never felt ostracism before. Carol-Ann had a good life; a good relationship with her family and never a shortage of money (though to be fair there was never an excess of money either). She had two relationships in her life and they both ended mutually and quickly and with little hardship. So when she realized she was having trouble with her husband she ignored the symptoms and internalized her anger and despair. The only time she let her spirit free was in her painting. It was such a cathartic release for her to express her inner longing through the abstract characters she painted, because in her real life, the life in which he shared, she repressed her true feelings in fear that he would leave her. She had become complacent and agreeable and forgot what life was like before he was in it. So she would dream of leaving and live vicariously through her not-quite-real counterparts.
While Carol-Ann slowly released her inner longings he moved from hotel room to hotel room. He initially got the same hotel room, that room at the Hilton which was so productive for him, but it soon wore off. There was something missing, something since the last time he was there. In his ignorance he couldn’t tell that he missed Carol-Ann. She would rub his shoulders when he sat hunched over the screen for too long. She would cook him dinner while he stared at the wall; stretching his mind for what his next chapter would hold. She made love to him when he ignored her needs all day long. He just continued to move from room to room and from city to city, gradually getting farther and farther from Carol-Ann.
To fulfill the void of companionship he started calling sex lines. Sometimes he would just call to talk about his problems or a particular plot problem, sometimes he masturbated to their sensual coos. It never dawned on him to call Carol-Ann and it never dawned on him that if he did, she might think it odd; as if he were only calling because he had a problem. Or maybe it did dawn on him, because he knew that the only time he called her was when he had a problem. He justified his jejune behavior by arguing semantics; he wasn’t actually penetrating anyone, so he wasn’t actually cheating.
He went from hotel to hotel in his search for that lost feeling of creativity, but every hotel room, every mile which separated him from Carol-Ann seemed to deplete his desire. He was in the midst of his fourth novel, the one he started in the Hilton those few years back, as he awaited her arrival. The book was the chronicle of a woman scorned. She was married to a man who neither paid attention to her, nor cared what she did. He loved her dearly, but he didn’t know how to show it and thus separated himself with the trapping of his art.
He only wrote what he experienced though and after the years of writing the book, it was only then that he realized he was writing about his own relationship. In his book the main character was tired of the life they were living. She never saw her husband and when she did he was cold, distant. She tried to fill her time with crocheting and other disingenuous tasks while swallowing her dissatisfaction. The woman (whom he hadn’t named yet…after six hundred manuscript pages) sat at her mirror one day and saw the first vestiges of age, a slight crow’s feet around her eyes and smile lines surrounding her mouth, and behind her in the room was nothing but emptiness and a small sliver of light shining from the window to the door. She took another look at her aging face and the clear lighted pathway to the door and she made a decision: there will be no more lonely nights. It was at this moment when he finally thought of a name for his heroine. He would name her Angelica, for the nearly spiritual imagery of the light showing her way to freedom and for the celestial patience of his wife Carol-Ann.
When Carol-Ann knocked on the door the man realized his mistake. Carol-Ann had seen the sliver of light, she had been shown the door and she was here to tell him she was leaving. When she knocked, he quickly got up and stood blocking the door, mute.
“I’m leaving you.” She looked at him expectantly. She wanted him to say something. She wanted him to tell her not to leave. She wanted him to tell her he loved her. She wanted him to laugh in her face and take her in his arms and kiss her. He said nothing.
“I’m tired, and I don’t like being lonely all the time.” He was terrified. His throat was so dry he felt like is was going to crack. He wanted to take her in his arms. He wanted to caress her face and kiss her newly forming tears. He wanted to tell her he would never leave her again. He wanted to tell her he loved her. He said nothing.
“I know you don’t care. I don’t know why I waited this long. I guess I was just hoping. You’re free now.” She stood there for a moment, then gave a little frustrated hop. He said nothing.
She turned and walked down the hallway. He raised his hand to her back, imploring her to stay, he wanted to speak, but nothing would come. He thought she would turn back. He thought she would give him one last chance, but Carol-Ann had made up her mind. He had no love for her. He showed that. He said nothing.
He watched her leave the hotel hallway and walk out into the blinding sun. He didn’t let his arm fall. His throat croaked, but he didn’t say anything.
His arm fell and his mouth closed and he sagged on the door jam when he heard a squealing of tires from down the hallway. He had heard the sound many times before and it always made him cringe. It was one of those sounds that was always followed by a crunch indicative of crumbling plastic and twisted metal. Before he knew what he was doing he ran down the hallway. He hit the doorway at stride, splashing out into the bright noonday sun. The light blinded him for a moment, time only enough for him to dream he was somewhere else. To dream he was waking next to Carol-Ann in bed from a terrible nightmare. When his eyes focused he saw her lying on the ground, surrounded by a pool of blood and half-way under a beat down Ford Taurus.
He had no recollection of it, but he ran to her and cradled her in his arms. Flashes of “The Correct Ideal for a Failing Marriage” flashed through his head and he looked down into her eyes. He said nothing.
“Who are you?” Carol-Ann’s brain had been jostled by the impact of the car, damaging her Temporal Cortex and erasing her ability to remember who he was. He took it to mean that even now, in her death throes she had not forgiven him. She didn’t want him around.
She was just happy to have someone hold her, finally getting the intimate contact her relationship had lost.
As he lay there with her body as she slowly slipped off, he thought back to the last thing he wrote:
The most amazing thing about her is her ability to see past my bad habits. She can ignore my imperfections and treat me like a man, while I deal with what I have to. It wasn’t until she came to the door when I realized how much I loved her. She came to tell me she was leaving and I loved her more than I ever had. Ever. In that moment I knew all I had to do was tell her those few words and everything would be ok. Everything would be as it should. All I had to do was say those three words…
“I love you Carol-Ann…”
I wrote this story while staying in a Stockton, CA hotel. I’d been there for two days, training for a promotion, when the idea of a man who needs to get away and write came to me. It was amazing to me how easy it was, no distractions, nobody to ask me questions or ask me to go out to a bar; I could just sit there and write. It was liberating.
But then again I understood that with anything it had to fade after a while, and the most preeminent thing to fade if you don’t nurture it is a relationship. Carol-Ann is the protagonist in the story, she has her dream and she wont let anyone get in the way of that dream, whereas the Nothing Man is just that, he can never get beyond his self absorption, which turns to self loathing, because he sees the relationship deteriorating and with it his hold on his reality and it terrifies him. However despite his fear and reservations, he thinks the money and the fame will bring him the happiness he needs, so he strives for it, only to be left on the outside looking in at what a better life could mean. In the end Carol-Ann was the only thing that actually mattered, but he ignored that for so long that he lost her and the only thing he could look back upon is a series of hotel rooms and memories of a computer screen.