Dying in Reverse

Best of the Boards
Kate Miffitt


The new empty house
Photo Credit: _StefwithanF

It was the day her couch disappeared. She didn’t know where it went, not that it much mattered anymore. She lay on the ground along the wall where the couch used to be, and looked up at the ceiling instead of out to the empty surrounding rooms. She was waiting for she didn’t know what. Perhaps the roof to rip off so that she could become one with the sky.

She hadn’t talked to anyone in thirteen days. She wasn’t even sure she could. She could speak, but she didn’t know if she could be heard. Or seen. So she just stayed in her increasingly empty home. She hadn’t left the house in ten days. When she woke and found her car was gone, she just went back to bed, because she still had a bed.

She didn’t know what was happening to her, or why. She knew only this: one thing disappeared everyday. And there wasn’t anything left.

*

It started with a brush. A hair brush that just wasn’t next to the sink in the bathroom one morning. She cursed herself for leaving it in her gym bag, and then instead of running out on the windy autumn morning to get it from her car, she finger-combed her long hair into place. Only later, when she went to the gym in the afternoon, did she realize the brush wasn’t there.

Four days later, when the air turned crisp, she wanted to curl up in her favorite sweatshirt and watch movies on the couch. When she opened the drawer, the faded navy-and-gold sweatshirt wasn’t there. She opened all the drawers, then the closet, but couldn’t find it anywhere. She begrudgingly put on the less-warm and baggy red one, and wondered where she had left it.

She had these days of feeling forgetful, disorganized, or careless, and they scared her. This was not like her. She was never disorderly. She did not lose or forget things. She worried that this was what happened when you turned thirty, that your mind just betrays you and you are no longer yourself. She worried that this was what happened when you lived alone for too long, that you lose yourself when you’re not anchored to another. She worried that her job, which had become increasingly more stressful, was ruining her.

And then she came home, and the picture was missing.

She stood in the living room the afternoon of October 21 and stared for a long time. Something wasn’t right. The hairs rose on the back of her neck as she worried if someone was in the apartment with her. She didn’t move, only turned her head to look around. And then she saw it. The empty space over her couch, where a framed print used to hang. A black-and-white pop print of an iris. It was gone.

Something shifted in her head, and all the frustration she had directed towards herself dissipated. She did not misplace a 24-by-36-inch wall hanging. She did not accidentally leave it at work, or in the car.

Something strange was happening, but she didn’t know what.

She reviewed all the things that she thought she lost over the past few weeks. A brush. Sweatshirt. Pen. Coffee mug. Nearly one thing every other day. She wondered if there were more things missing, and started looking in cupboards and closets. One plate short. Blue towel gone. She had lost more than she knew, and this frightened her. She did what she always did when she was scared and unsure—she made a list.

She approached these occurrences of missing objects like a detective investigating the occult; she was methodical in the face of the illogical. It was inexplicable, yes, but it was not without order—items could be inventoried. Patterns could be identified. Causes hypothesized. She had a purpose in the chaos, and it invigorated her.

She awoke early the next day, almost eager to see if anything new was missing. When she pulled the iron from the closet to press her clothes before work, she eyed the contents. Everything seemed to be in the right place. She showered, and found everything she needed for grooming—soap, shampoo, lotions, toothbrush. Hair dryer, tweezers, mascara.

As she ate cereal from a bowl that completed a set of four, she felt disappointed. The loophole that she uncovered that suggested that she might not be crazy or senile was closing. The kitchen items were intact, whereas she was not. Split-personality. Amnesia. Manic Depression.

With fifteen minutes to spare now before she had to leave, she laughed at the thought of getting nine cats and filling the cupboards with tuna, to immerse herself in her insanity. She stirred the remaining milk in the bowl, half-hoping that an image would appear, a vision of a future that made sense.

“Fuck.” She put the bowl in the sink, and went into the living room. She opened every drawer in the desk. Fingered every book in the bookcase. Fluffed the pillows. Then she went back to her bedroom. She looked into the mirror, and the face looking back was somewhere between pretty and plain. But she did not look crazy, or unlike herself. She lifted the top to her jewelry box. And there it wasn’t. The charm bracelet her father had given her when she finished grad school.

A slow smile spread, and she added another item to the list.

Her alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., her new wake-up time since her investigation began. It was getting harder to get up early as the winter air made unwelcome any space outside of her bed. She turned on the light, confirming that the lamp was still in its place. She walked down the hallway to the kitchen, and took the coffee grounds from the freezer. She walked to the counter. The coffeepot wasn’t there.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit.”

She could handle losing a mug, a pair of jeans, a pen, a book—despite the obvious mystery about it. But she could not handle losing her coffeepot. Until this point, the disappearances had been a nuisance, yes, but they had also given her a profound sense of purpose that she hadn’t felt in a while. She enjoyed working on figuring it out, but she couldn’t do anything without coffee.

She gave up on her morning, and instead threw a few things in a gym bag and left. She had no desire to work out before the sun was even up, so she headed into the steam room. As the heavy steam filled the air, she watched as the visible space around her receded. Just like her life. Things disappearing, and she couldn’t see what was really happening. She showered, dressed, and then headed to the diner next door. The bar was lined with suits and retirees at 8 a.m., and she grabbed an empty seat and waited impatiently for her first cup of coffee.

A waitress who looked like a Myrtle came by, wearing a name tag that said Rose. She had purple-gray hair in an updo that never came down. “What are ya having?”

“I’ll have a coffee. And an egg and toast.”

As she sipped her bitter, weak coffee, she decided that she couldn’t go on just losing things. She didn’t have that much to begin with in her apartment, and she cared about good coffee too much to just lose an appliance.

She looked around at the other people sitting at the bar—the thin old man wearing the brown cardigan, the mid-30s guy wearing a suit and too much gel… Were they losing things too? Could this be happening to everyone? Why would it just be to her?

She had to talk to someone, preferably someone who would not think that she was totally crazy.

Michael was the first person she told. On the day that she added the 34th item to her list, she called and asked his voicemail if he could meet for lunch. They had met for lunch a few times over the past year, to try out being friends. This time it would be different. This time she really needed him.

She got an email from Michael right before her 11 a.m. meeting, and lunch was set. At noon, she grabbed her coat, and headed out into the cold air for the four-block walk to the cafe. Michael was there already, seated at a small table in the corner. She noticed two mugs. He had already gotten her drink.

She walked over, and he stood and kissed her cheek. Their eyes met briefly, and up close she was sure she still loved him. And then she backed away, and from a different angle he was the guy who broke her heart. Arrogant. Selfish. Introverted. If only she could just look into his eyes forever.

“I was surprised to hear from you. As I recall, our last lunch ended with you saying you never wanted to see me again.”

“I know. And I meant it. But… I have something I need to tell someone, and you’re the first person I could think of that already thinks I’m crazy.”

“You have something to tell me? And here I thought we were going to be friends.”

“It’s not about us. Something weird is happening to me. Too weird to even say out loud. But I need to tell someone.”

“Okay.”

“I wouldn’t tell you if I wasn’t totally desperate. So, about a month ago, I started losing things. Little things, like my hairbrush and stuff. And then one day I came home and the print above the couch was missing.”

“The one we got from IKEA?”

“Yes. And ever since then, I’ve been keeping a list of what’s missing everyday.” She pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Michael.

He scanned the list quickly, and then looked up at her. She braced herself.

“Do you have some crazy stalker or something? Have you seen any weird guys hanging around lately?”

How had this not occurred to her? “I… didn’t even think about it.” She thought about the weird guys she knew. The one religious guy at work who tried to recruit her whenever she looked sad, which had been often this past year. The neighborhood homeless guy who was always friendly when she walked by. The one bad date she went on since leaving Michael when the guy just kept asking about sex. None of them seemed like the stalker type. Was there an unknown person with access to her apartment?

“We’re getting the locks changed on your apartment now. And you’re not staying alone tonight.”

Michael searched every possible entrance of the apartment to make sure it was secure, and then sat down on the couch to wait for the locksmith. He put his feet up on the coffee table, the same way that always drove her crazy. She sat down next to him stiffly. He self-consciously glanced at her, and smirked as he put his feet on the floor.

“I’d offer you coffee, but…”

Michael laughed. “Do you have any wine?”

She put two glasses on the counter, and worked on opening the bottle. She looked at Michael sitting in the other room, and a wave of relief rushed over her. She’d told Michael, and he didn’t think she was crazy. He thought she was in trouble. Like her, Michael was action-oriented, and she felt like together they could figure this out.

They were on their second glasses when the locksmith came, and they giggled as he worked on the door. They were getting drunk at three in the afternoon, trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing coffeepot, instead of sitting in their cubicles. Michael tried to put on a straight face as he accepted the new keys and paid the locksmith. As he closed the door and latched the new lock, they both burst out laughing.

She awoke a few hours later, her neck cramped from being curled into the corner of the couch. Static was on the TV, and Michael was asleep at the other end. She had only stayed awake for fifteen minutes of the movie, she was sure. She got up carefully, and immediately noticed the ache in her stomach from the wine and lack of food. She placed a call for their favorite Thai delivery, and watched Michael sleep.

The aromatic pumpkin curry and pad thai woke Michael, and they ate quietly in the darkened living room, each dealing with their respective early hangovers. Without the wine buzz, it was weird that they should be sitting together like they had so many other times, eating takeout, and yet not be that couple they once were.

Michael finished the last of the noodles, and sat up straight and looked around. She knew he was taking a mental inventory of the place.

“Thank you, Michael, for coming over. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

“Today was fun, actually. I’ll sleep on the couch so I can keep an eye on the main entrances.”

She was surprised that her first reaction was disappointment, but she settled on relief that they would not share a bed, and that he was the one who suggested it. She kissed him on the forehead. “You know where everything is. Good night.”

She awoke to Michael shaking her shoulder gently. She smiled and stretched and tried not to breathe directly on him. She had slept better than she had in a while.

“Hey. You’re late getting up.”

She popped up. Her alarm hadn’t gone off. She pointed in the direction of the nightstand. “The alarm clock is gone.”

Michael’s face darkened. “Are you fucking with me?”

“No. Seriously, it’s not here.”

“What I mean is, are you fucking with me? Like, is this your elaborate plan to get me over here? Because no one came in or out last night, and it’s a little suspicious that something is missing from the room you were in.”

It took her a second to process his accusation. Then she was livid.

“Yes, Michael. I hid my alarm clock. I want to be late for work, and have this shitty morning, all to get you back. Do you think I’m like a desperate 14-year-old girl or something?”

“Well, things don’t just disappear.”

“That’s exactly why I came to you. Because they are. But you want to make this about you, like always. You want to be the hero. You want me to go crazy over you. You can’t stand that I’m fine without you, you narcissistic fuck.”

“I’m narcissistic? I came over here because I was worried you were going to get hurt.”

“Yeah, well I’m not. And certainly not again by you. Just get the fuck out.”

*

She sobbed soundlessly, the air emptying out of her as she curled to protect herself from the pain in her stomach. She ached as she realized that she had loved, and been loved, and that rather than a comfort, it hurt to have had all that, when only that was never enough. Today, it was enough. Today, the couch was gone, and there was nothing left.

She didn’t know what would happen when the morning came, but she longed to say goodbye. She didn’t have a phone. She didn’t have a pen. She didn’t even have clothes she could put on to go out. But there were people out there that she wanted to tell that she was scared, and that she loved them.

Michael. She couldn’t help but miss him the most, in spite of herself. She felt comforted and incredibly alone at the same time when she thought about him. He was the one who really knew her, and she him. But even that secret knowledge wasn’t enough to keep them together. Perhaps it was the insight into their darker selves that drove them apart; he saw the things in her that she hid so well from herself.

It was his arms that she wanted around her while she faced the inevitable disappearing. It was his words that could soothe, and give her the real courage that she was so good at faking on her own. And it was to him that she had so much more to say.

Her mom. Her sister. Julie. Sarah. Uncle Jim. All these faces flooded her imagination, fraught with confusion, sadness, anger, helplessness. She knew her existence was essential to their sense of order, and her withdrawal was akin to waking to find your couch missing.

She stood up. She went to the window in the kitchen and searched outside for divination. If this was the end, she was determined to name it, to mark it with a ritual goodbye. A so-long to this world and the people in it who wouldn’t understand, and would be lost a little without her. A wish for each of them. A sign that said she was here.

The April sun was bright, bringing with it the first new life of the Spring. She scanned for a clothesline, fancying an elaborate escape from her situation like a prison break in the movies. But there were no such props. As she gazed into the calm afternoon, she almost forgot why she was at the window, and then she saw it. About ten feet from the back door. A dark piece of charcoal.

At the door, she looked quickly to either side and saw no one. She hopped the few paces and picked up her rock. The black soot colored her fingertips, and she laughed through her tears. She looked up at the sun, as it caressed her skin with warmth. The sensations of whatever cellular activity tingled within, and she knew she was still alive with a certainty she hadn’t felt in days. And with that, she ran back inside.

She started to write.

pencil

Kate Miffitt is an instructional designer by day, and a procrastinator by night. When she’s not procrastinating, she can be found cooking, playing drums, obsessing over the Lost finale, and even occasionally writing. She aspires to write magical realism, but often settles for witty Facebook status updates. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two dogs. Email: katemiffitt[at]gmail.com

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