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26 readings

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Lights of red and white strip past, keeping the night alive. It is cloudy, the moon useless. I left my hat at Anna’s apartment last night, so I am on my way to pick it up. She lives in a tall building more or less in the center of town. I can never remember the name of it. Every Friday, as agreed, several of us get together to play half a round of crosswords and drink. After standing outside for several minutes, I hear the buzzer. Anna finally answers my call. The door opens; a long elevator ride up. No, I don’t want to come in. Tonight, after I get back, I plan to stay in my room. I live on the second floor of a mutual friend’s house, less in the center of town but only a minor walk.
Again, no way to listen to music. Sometimes quiet is good. Slowly the lights of downtown dim into the darkness of the suburbs. Seven dark bodies pass me, one in heels. No one moves so I am forced to take a path to the side. They all are talking, something about an election. No one seems to notice or care except for a man who looks directly at me. In this area of the country eye contact is taboo, and despite this, he continues to stare even after I lock eyes with him. This doesn't last long, and his eyes bolt down as if to avoid any responsibility. I usually walk after it rains. Today is not a rainy day. Today is dry as a bone and the wind throws my hair every which direction. Leaves have not yet fallen off of the trees but temperatures have dropped, like every other year, too low and too fast. This flimsy jacket has left me walking at a fast clip. I take a left and see the light of my room, the only light from my home or any near it. Someone is walking towards me.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
I know him. From where? Can’t remember. I think from a class in college.

“I’m doing well, how about you?”
“Oh I’m good. Sorry, random question: if you have mice in your kitchen, how would you kill them?”
“Probably just with a pan or something”
“Oh okay thanks. My friend asked me this earlier and I didn’t really know what to tell him. See ya!”

The only communal lights we ever leave on at night are those in the stairwell. My eyes are irritated from the wind so I rush up the stairs and bump into a vase. I knock it over. Water spills out of it and all over the floor, dripping down slowly from stair to stair. No flowers, real or fake, were in the vase so I had never touched it before. I get a towel, mop up the obvious puddles quickly, and make my way back to my room.
After leaning into the heavy door I see a figure lying in my bed. Jesus Christ, who could it be? Automatically, I slip back out and close the door to only a slit where I can see in. It is a man, I believe. The lamp on the left end of my room, on top of my desk, shines a dim yellow light on his head. Short dark hair straight like straw pokes out of my quilt. No shoes are on the floor and there’s no way he is wearing shoes right now. Although he faces away from me and directly into the wall, I can see his eyelashes blinking every several seconds, swiping away my heart and soul. The tree outside my window is bending in the wind yet there is no sound. I hear nothing. There is no way he has not heard me. Not only did I knock over the god forsaken vase, but this house is at least one hundred years old so every movement is audible. I close the door. No sound at all. Flat against the wall I close my eyes. How should I know what to do? Who is this? The painting my friend put up in the hallway is directly across from me. Light from around the corner illuminates it just enough. In the painting are seven men in a field, dressed in black, seemingly inspecting the land for use. An Irish Setter is at the heel of the third man from the back. The dog looks at the painter. Time is an old man and I am driving behind him.
I wake up on the coarse carpet which has destroyed the right side of my face, just beside my eye. The light from my room shines through the thin slit around my head and out into the dim hallway. According to my watch, it’s only been thirteen minutes. I close my eyes again. Another thirteen minutes pass. I haven’t fallen back asleep. I look at the carpet. I haven’t vacuumed the hallway in weeks. I listen. His audible breathing is slow, but not slow enough to be that of sleep. Shallow, mouthy, breaths leak from under the door and into my ear. Again, I close my eyes.
I hear a sound like a brick being dragged across concrete. I open my eyes and sit up, holding myself up by my hands. In the low light of the hallway I see a small object under the carpet moving every which way like a pen doodle between myself and the bathroom door. Now I stand up and step back against the opposing end of the hallway. It does not move towards or away from me, really. Nor does it spell out anything. Gibberish. The lump may be small, but it is loud. After a minute or two I realize that it will not harm me and I let out the breath I have been holding. The lump stops in the far corner under the handle to the bathroom door but does not disappear. Returns to silence. I get down on all fours and peek an eye underneath the door. At first I only look at the interior wall. No silhouette, only normal light. Now I look to the right towards where my bed frame is placed. I don’t think he’s moved. I stand, take a deep breath, and turn the handle. My room is all the same. He hasn’t touched a single thing since his arrival. I ease my way towards him and his still body. He has not moved, not even an inch. I still see his eyes blinking from behind the edge of his head. I step in and close the door behind me.
Now it’s a guarantee. He knows I am in the room. My shadow is cast on the right wall, uncovered. Out of the corner of his eye my dark elongated form stands behind him. I take a small step forward but do not shift my weight to my front foot. Nothing changes. I retract my step and return to my original stillness. It takes at least five seconds to reach the zipper at the top of my jacket. Another ten to unzip it. I take it off with tenderness, keeping my arm as straight as a board to avoid noise. My body bent at the hips, I carefully place the jacket on the floor beside me. Eyes do not unfocus. I slip my shoes off, right then left, without untying them. Now I step my way to my desk and shut off the light.


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