We agree to liaise at the apartment building. I picture myself shepherding you through the tour and already feel perturbed before I’ve parked.
We surveille the vestibule and await developments. You hang your arms over the railing and momentarily drop your head.
“This cruelty-free deodorant has turned out to be anything but,” you say.
This three-story brick complex is barbarous and listless enough to suit you. A distant television is the only sound. There are bike tire tracks on the walls opposite the mailboxes. All the trappings of a dwelling you would consider renting. Or at least looting.
The landlord or property manager or whoever arrives. She sedates us with small talk and you politely avert your eyes.
Her precious schoolmarm demeanor has little effect on me and it’s difficult to determine whether I should be proud of this.
She leads us up to the third floor.
“This dining nook is large enough to host a dinner party, if I can muster enough friends to appear,” you notice once we’re inside.
She runs through the floor plan and the numbers with you while I test the plumbing. I go to wash my hands but can’t figure out how to turn on the sink. I pull at things and twist certain parts but nothing budges. I look underneath it, on its sides, flip the wall switches just to be sure. I walk out and remain quiet.
The woman gets a phone call.
“How’s school?” I ask.
You look startled.
“Let’s find somewhere we can discuss this.”
We move into a bedroom.
“First of all, your enthusiasm is becoming a problem. If you must know, school is going okay. I have this…semi-respected professor who’s very complimentary of my work. But it seems as if he’s becoming senile so I can’t really take him seriously. I have to question all of it.”
The woman ends the call and joins us, walking to the far side of the room to open a window. While she’s leaning over to lift one, you focus on my face and whisper “defenestration” like you want me to push her out into the gravel lot below.
“That abandoned car in the ravine down there should be towed by next week,” she says as she turns around.
She gets another call. I wonder if she is some kind of real estate magnate.
“And are your parents still in that, uh, rough patch?” I squint at you.
You tell me about running into your dad at the grocery store and him not recognizing you. How he blamed it on you wearing a hat. That he disclosed he’d kept a secret pet hidden in the garage. Your mom unearthed the ferret behind the bucket of badminton equipment and later hissed at your dad when he attempted to recuse himself. Then how your mother retaliated by purchasing a used lifeguard chair from the internet and planting it in their pool-less backyard to survey the neighborhood and whistleblow at behaviors she observed but didn’t take to.
“Melodrama” sounds like a caramel-based candy bar, not the highly emotive scenes it contains, though both are perhaps equally fabricated, I think.
When we’ve seen everything there is to see, you shake her hand while saying, “Please accept this symbolic gesture.”
I glance back to observe her wiping the hand she shook with on her skirt. She probably didn’t mean for me to see that.
I pick up what looks to be a Girl Scout badge from the grass and pocket it.
You sum things up by saying you haven’t been all too pleased with your own behavior lately, and so, acting as the only adult in your household, you have grounded yourself.
“It’s customary to stay home unless there are prearranged appointments such as these.”
You are learning that adulthood is basically a series of deciding things but never really getting to decide anything at all.
You’ve probably made it back by now and are reheating a bowl of some leguminous dish in your microwave.
I didn’t get a chance to tell you about the trap door at work. The door leads to what may or may not have once been a cellar. Employees regularly submerge their senses there after talking to clients (and each other) all day. The place seems ideal for a cigarette break, but no one smokes, so we end up bringing down lukewarm LaCroixs and standing around with those.
There isn’t a trap door anywhere in my house but I wanted a similar environment so I’ve created what might be a sensory deprivation closet. There’s nobody to escape from in this setting, only myself, and that is plenty.
You probably wouldn’t have a clue what to make of this news anyway, and you’re an adult who’s grounded herself, so what do you know?
Claire Hopple is the author of Tell Me How You Really Feel (forthcoming), Tired People Seeing America, and Too Much of the Wrong Thing. Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Heavy Feather Review, People Holding, Timber, and others. More at clairehopple.com.