Certain things were missing. Some thumbtacks, a pair of socks yellowed at the heels, a coffeespoon. Catherine noticed immediately, but tried not to notice. Nobody likes a paranoid. Her boyfriend was an architecture student. She couldn’t imagine him putting up with someone who ranted and raved about missing coffeespoons. An image came to her of a muttering woman with long twisting yellow fingernails and rows of old mason jars filled with urine. What was a handful of thumbtacks? Nobody likes a paranoid.
That was summer. Autumn came. Leaves scuttled into doorways, the wind bit. In the street, strangers’ eyes narrowed and darkened, collars were turned up menacingly. Catherine, she was certain, was missing more things. Pieces of her life were simply unaccounted for. A worn copy of a chess manual, a rice cooker, an unopened tube of toothpaste. All gone, traceless.
Her boyfriend had left her in August. For several days--the hottest she’d ever known--he hadn’t called, hadn’t stopped by. Any attempt to reach him proved futile. One night, three fans blowing full force, the windows open to the city (she had no air conditioning in those days), she gazed at the empty can of cheap beer she was drinking and thought--What if I made him up? This boyfriend, who was to say he had ever lived, breathed, walked the earth. Who, other than I, could testify to his existence? Catherine tried to draw his face but kept getting stuck on the chin, which grew vaguer and more distant to her with each successive attempt.
He sent her a letter from Colorado, where he hailed from. He needed space, time. The usual business. That was the phrase he used. “The usual business.” Catherine, bewildered, seething, depressed, went to write him back but could not find any stationary in her apartment.
During a snowstorm that December--the streets a wasteland--Catherine drank Wild Turkey with her mother and watched Taxi Driver. About forty minutes in, she grew bored. Her eyes wandered, eventually fixating on a cockroach roosting beside a rubber plant. It spoke to her.
She turned to her mom and asked her if she had also heard the roach speak. “Yes,” she said, through sips of whiskey. “Now be quiet. I want to watch this.” Catherine asked the cockroach if he was the one taking her things, but all the creature seemed able to do was utter strings of expletives.
“Motherfucking shit. Asshole. Hey, Toots, I’m talking to you. Toots. Hey. Fuck.”
With spring came weather so startlingly beautiful Catherine felt deceived, almost cheated out of certain expectations of necessary suffering. One morning, eating a breakfast of lentils and weak coffee, she realized she had been unemployed for an entire year. This fact presented itself coldly, without fanfare, and she felt not surprise or dread or apprehension but something akin to relief. An entire year. Her fridge was gone and at night she dreamt of a hand pouring out a bottle of something clear, forever pouring, the liquid strong and clean and full of light, like the first light ever perceived.
The following morning Catherine awoke in a totally bare apartment. There was nothing for her here. Or anywhere. Outside it had all burnt down, and for miles around you could see the enormous plumes of smoke billowing out of the barren earth. There were screams and there was silence. There was, yes.
Catherine exited her building. She felt the heat on her face, deep and clean. Today was a good day. She would walk. And she did.
Heather Denton is a junior Comparative Literature from Verona, New Jersey. Generally, she likes reading/writing fiction, good sandwiches, & the music of Bruce Springsteen. I promise you she is trying her very best right now despite what they say about her.