by Jenny Lee Allen
Weeks later, she would recall watching him as he slept, the awkward expression of a little boy manifesting itself over his handsome face. So gentlemanly and such a charming smile. And my, oh my, he had the touch. But every morning she was gone just before dawn saying, "I'll see you next week." That's how she worked in those days. It was not about dependency. She convinced herself that she had no intention of catering to his every need or hanging around to hear how much he missed her. It was a good time, she told herself, and that's where it ended. Every night, she swore that she knew the difference between temporary fixation and long-term lust.
She thought her volatile mood would be relieved, even slightly, by this departure. Instead, it only intensified. Every evening after work she sat in her windowsill, picking at the split ends of her long black hair and smoking. Bad habits she had never been able to shake.
She let the ashes from her cigarette build on the ledge as she watched a spider crawl over the window screen frantically, stuck in the web it didn't understand. She'd been watching it for a week and couldn't imagine how it was still alive. It couldn't be living off her fag ends. Could it? It finally scurried off the screen and onto the sill next to her. She lifted the screen, gave the spider a flick with her middle finger, and watched the tiny speck disappear in mid-air.
The phone rang and she ignored it by walking over to her stereo and turning the volume up. The second she did so, the floor vibrated under her feet. She thought she heard shouting somewhere but she couldn't be sure and sat back down on the sill.
She found herself there on the weekend too. In the morning, after breakfast, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, ashes still amounting to nothing. At least that spider was gone. The man who came stumbling out of her bedroom in his boxer shorts was no stranger, but he was no love either. They had met at work and she found him convenient.
"Jesus Christ, M."
"Jesus Christ, yourself, Adam. What's your problem?"
Annoying, but convenient. Her name was Montana. He could only ever remember the first letter. She felt like killing him every time he said it.
"Just...Why the fuck do you have to listen to that shit so early in the morning?"
She decided that responding might be dangerous. Telling him to piss off might fuel her disgust and she would probably end up hitting him. She bit her tongue until she tasted blood and glared at him. Finally, he slunk away into the bathroom. She went back to her window.
She saw only a dingy, silent city. Never once did she see a single human being pass by. All the buildings and cars and people blended into the sidewalk. Any one person was nothing more than a slab of concrete, stone faced, cold, and invisible. But she kept watch in case he showed up one day. He never did. She couldn't risk it, though, so she watched for a sudden flash of colour to appear in the concrete void below.
Suddenly her eyes refocused and she could only see the grid pattern of the window screen. She thought of the spider. Maybe she shouldn't have condemned it to life in that dead world. Maybe it had been living off her fag ends after all.
The bathroom door swung open. She could barely see Adam's shadowy form pass through the apartment. In the dull morning light, she lost sight of him once he opened the front door. As he stepped out into the hallway, she could no longer hear his footsteps. If she hadn't seen his grey hand against the blue door, she would have thought that the door had slammed itself shut. She squinted in concentration but she couldn't even spot him crossing the street in front of her building.
She began restoring her apartment to its usual pristine order. She couldn't imagine how one man managed to make such a mess of it in a single night, but he always did. The phone rang again. The only person who would call her at nine in the morning on a Saturday was her mother. She cleared beer bottles from the end table and dusted off the phone without picking it up.
She spent the day wandering aimlessly through her apartment, frequently stopping to check the street. She flung herself onto her bed to watch the ceiling fan and allow herself a few minutes of comfort. In the living room, she never sat on the couch but walked straight past it, picked up a book from the coffee table, and sat at the window pretending to read. With her book open to some arbitrary page, she never took her eyes off the sidewalk. After a half hour or so, her eyes went blurry and she feared she wouldn't be able to see him if he passed. She put the book down, scattering ashes everywhere. She drifted from room to room, lighting cigarette after cigarette.
When the sun fell, she turned on all the lights. With the exception of Adam, and several other random men she kept around to pass the time, she never allowed the gloom of the outside world to enter her home. And she learned never to leave her apartment on the weekends. She drew too much attention to herself. Those around her found her vile and unnecessary. She found them relentless and unforgiving. Over the years, an unspoken agreement developed. She stayed out of their way and they stayed out of sight.
During the week, she could make it to work and back home safely. She would leave her apartment, walk three blocks, and take the underground to work. She never varied her route, never got on or off at a different stop, never ran a last minute errand on her way home. If she needed anything, she worked out the safest plan for getting it. Her entire life was a routine now. Routinely going to and from work, routinely pacing her apartment, routinely waiting at the window. Since she left him, it was all she had. He knew her routine as well as she did, and she hoped that sticking to it might bring him back around to her, or her to him. She never knew which way it would go. But she knew that it would, eventually.
She never went to bed that night. She never slept much, anyway. Late night desperation was always her favourite. The point where she couldn't care less about anything. She became eerily serene and stopped thinking. She could still feel the blood running through her veins, though her fingers and toes remained cold as it failed to reach her extremities. But the only part of her that mattered was warm. And as long as her heart was warm, she was still alive. So what did she have to worry about anyway? But she realized that it wasn't just warm, it was burning. She noticed how fast it was beating. And she started to think that maybe this wasn't really living. Which was fine for the moment because it was late and life seemed a long way off. And if life meant caring and worrying and running the risk of turning cold, she wanted nothing to do with it. Not until he returned. Not until she woke up next to him again and remembered that she was more alive than the rest of the world would ever be, alive and living.
She sat the entire night. Never regretting, just watching.
At dawn a spider appeared on the window screen and behind it, a familiar spot of green in the overcast morning.