”I just can’t stop, ” I say to her. Her wrinkled face pulls itself into concern and I try not to look at it too long. It’s a reminder and I want to be kind, but the anxiety that’s pulling at my chest begs me to reconsider. I look out the window. We’re driving through the countryside and passing through a small town. It’s one of those cloudy days that make everything seem comfortingly bleak. Overcast sky, a drizzle that comes and goes, and that scent that makes you feel as though you’ve either grown from the dirt or are about to return to it. I felt the latter.
As I glance back at her, her weary lips pull into a gentle, self aware smile, and I can tell that she knows I am avoiding her eyes.
”I feel like all I’m doing these days is racing along, trying to get the next thing done while dragging my nails into the skin of the present, madly trying to keep hold.” There’s an old house out the window that looks as though it hasn’t been lived in for a decade. The paint has chipped so thoroughly that the siding had become a deep mildewed brown. The roof is a haven for moss and the windows are all broken out, except for the window in the attic—a half circle of yellowed glass that reveals nothing about the interior of the house, save that it is dark. I sigh.
All observations happen in an instant. Our vehicle moves along, and we pass it by.
”It’s not even that I want to go back, it’s just that I wish that I could stand still and just be here.” I finally look her in her eyes. They are clear. I can tell that though my sentiment is not shared, ours are not dissimilar.
The vehicle stops to wait for a train to pass. I watch the graffiti as it passes us by.
She’s in a waiting room. The walls are a pale yellow, there’s artwork on the walls of nothing in particular. She sits in a chair that has silver metal frame and faux leather padding. On the small square table next to her are four or five magazines that give the vague impression that they’re four or five months old. Behind her, there’s a window to an empty receptionist’s desk and behind that, record storage that appears to go on indefinitely.
She looks like the morning after. Her hair has been bleached blonde and you can tell because a half-inch of roots has grown in. Her nails are manicured with fake French nails, all looking almost good, except for one which is missing the plastic piece and has been restored to its natural state, albeit glue-covered. Upon first glance, it looks as though she has two black eyes, but closer inspection, if one has any desire to inspect, reveals that her eyeliner has simply bled, covering the skin around her eyeballs. The left bra strap has slipped and dangles as listlessly as she does.
A man walks through the pair of sliding doors in front of her. He wears a well-tailored suit with a thin tie. His hair looks nice and is a color that falls somewhere in the spectrum between brown and black. His face is pleasing. She looks at it, determines that it is so, but finds that she cannot determine anything about the shape of it. Her mind slips off the contours of it, and she settles on the idea that his eyes must have been kind. She hopes that his eyes are a good sign, that his kindness will extend to her.
He sits down in the identical chair next to her, crosses one leg over the other, and rests his arm on the chairs and his face on his fist, looking at her with kind and attractive eyes. She gets the impression that he is smiling at her.
“So I hear you’re considering taking up haunting.”
"I don’t know how to tell you I’m letting you go," she says. She’s doing that thing she does when she’s thinking, grabbing her left thumb and moving it around with her right. I can hear the minute pops it makes as she does so. She broke it when she was seven and it’s popped ever since, even when she moves it for normal activity. She told me once that it never hurts, except when there’s a storm coming. "But I have to." It hasn’t bothered her much recently. The summer’s been unseasonably dry, small mists and drizzles here and there. There was really only one big storm and the buildup had each pop of her left thumb’s knuckle sending an ache through her whole hand. When the storm finally broke, we sat in the unfinished basement that contained the couch from her old apartment, and the table from my parents.for an hour, we talked about how we should look into finishing it, and how much her hand hurt, and then we found the old jenga blocks and played a game that didn’t last for very long because she was so impatient and I was always taking too big of risks. We tried once or twice before giving up the endeavor entirely. Board games and things like that were never for us, even in the best of circumstances, severe storm sheltering aside. When the power stopped flickering and finally gave out we decided to just go to sleep, instead of struggling to find candles or flashlights in the pitch black. If we’d ever prepared for anything, we would have had one or two down there, but the foresight would have taken all of the adventure out of the storm. We stumbled our way to the couch, threw the quilt it maintained over ourselves, and tried to talk for a while before the silence came, and then the sleep.