“Open the door!” she screams, unsure of why she was already so panicked. “Tom! Let me in!” Her ear is pressed against the door, desperate for the smallest of sounds. After a moment she wraps her arms tightly around her chest, trying to keep herself from shaking. Just the night before they had had sex, his skin shockingly moist against her cool body. As he pulled out of her, she gripped his back, while he seemed to wrench out all of her insides; her stomach caved in, her gut groaned for some sort of sustenance, but he emptied her out. She rolled away from him, feeling as though she were about to fold into herself. She’d wanted him to fill her, every crevice of her, but it wasn’t working anymore. As he reached over to rest his heavy hand on her back, she wished she could disappear into the warm blanket.
Annie shut the apartment door behind her and stood for a moment in the darkness. The blinds were drawn shut, preventing the early evening sun from shining in. Tom had called in sick today. She knew because he hadn’t replied to any of her emails—that was always a sure sign. He’d been calling in sick more often lately: migraines, he claimed. She had no reason to distrust him, but she worried about the unpaid bills layered on the fridge. She pulled off the most recent electrical bill and beneath it was a photograph of the two of them from their trip last summer to Niagara Falls. They were both wearing those cheap blue ponchos, mist rising in the background. She’d waited all trip for him to propose, and when he didn’t, she was surprisingly relieved, although she never allowed herself to think of why.
Tom had already been disciplined once at work for his abundance of sick days; Annie knew this because she found the opened letter from Bayer headquarters sitting on the counter. He was lying to her about the amount of time he was missing, but she didn’t know how to ask him about it. Some nights, as they lay side by side, she rehearsed in her mind the things she might say and then the things he might say, but it always ended in a fight, so instead she’d roll over and go to sleep. Last year he finally got a permanent job as a researcher with Bayer, and she thought maybe that would make him happier and it did for a while. They both benefited from his signing bonus and Annie finally got the apartment she’d always wanted in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh.
She stuck the bill back on the fridge, burying the smiling faces hidden inside the hoods of the blue ponchos.
She quietly slipped out of her shoes and tiptoed down the hall, past the kitchen. She stopped for a second, but she didn’t hear anything. She thought for a moment that perhaps he was not home, when she heard something crash onto the bathroom floor.
On the phone he’d told her there was snow. “Snow in June! Can you believe that?” he’d said, laughing. “They say it’s a good sign, a fresh start!” She’d wanted to ask who they were, but a hushed voice on the other end was rushing Tom off the phone, and she lost her chance. She asked him to send pictures, but now, she can’t think of what she’d do with them—pictures of Wyoming covered in snow.
I feel the laughter echo inside the hollow walls of my stomach. It bubbles out from between my pursed lips. On the phone Annie had said that she’d be here waiting for me. At the time, with the freshly falling snow outside my bedroom window, I believed her or wanted to, anyways. As soon as I turn the doorknob to our home, I feel its emptiness. I reach into my pocket, as though searching for some tiny grains of leftover coke. Herb warned me about this, the dangers of coming back home, of stepping into “the mine fields” as he calls them. But things had been so great at rehab. On the ranch I hadn’t thought about drugs once.
“Do you think about me, about us?” she’d asked me the last time we spoke. I hesitated, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I didn’t know how to tell her the truth.
“I haven’t had time to think about us. I’ve been so busy trying not to think about drugs,” is what I should have said. Instead I blurted, “This process isn’t about you, Annie. It’s about me. For once I’m doing something about me.” Herb had coughed loudly next to me, warning me that I was stepping into dangerous territory, but the words had already been said.
“Really? You think that all the drug using wasn’t about you? You don’t think that everything that has been going on the past year has been about you. Nothing but you!” As she screamed into the phone I pulled the receiver away from my ear. I glanced over at Herb, but his eyes were fixed on the floor, as though trying to hide in the shadows. Normally he wouldn’t be there in the office when we made our calls, but I had asked him to stay with me. I was too scared to talk to her alone, and now he could see why. Herb made a motion with his hands as though telling me to breathe, to calm down. But I couldn’t think straight. My fingers gripped the phone and I watched as my hand moved and gently placed the receiver on the hook. The air-conditioned room suddenly felt frigid, icy. The snow had long melted, and with that there was one of the worst dry spells Wyoming had seen in years. In a matter of days the grass had shrivelled and the once pristine white fields and mountain tops now seemed dirty and dead.
I close the apartment door behind me and watch as my duffel bag falls to the floor. I imagine tiny particles of dust billowing out from underneath it, as though the place had been vacant for years. The room is pitch black with the thick blinds drawn shut. I debate opening them, but for some reason I don’t want to let it in—the light. I stand for a while at the door, my hands jammed in my pockets. I wish I had a cell phone so I could call Herb. We weren’t allowed to bring Blackberries or any type of electronic device with us. I make a mental note to ask Annie what she did with all my stuff.
There’s a scurry down the hall as Mr. Smells comes racing toward me. He purrs as he rubs his head against my shin. As I reach down to pet him, I think that she never would have left him here alone without food, even if he is my cat. I pull him into my arms and begin to search around the apartment. In the darkness I can see the shadows of the things that used to be here: the framed picture of us from our first date that she kept on the small table next to the door, the bowl on the same table where she kept her keys. There is nothing major missing, just small things, the things that I need to see the most are gone. I stand outside the bedroom door, Mr. Smells still purring in my arms. After a few moments he impatiently frees himself from my grasp and runs to hide under the bed.
I hesitantly step forward and turn on the light. This new perspective highlights everything that I had not wanted to see before: she’s gone. All of her. The bed is made, the dark purple fitted sheet tucked neatly under the mattress in the way she always begged me to copy. There is still the familiar white chair by the closet door where she sat each morning as she pulled on her pantyhose. But the rest of it, her smell, her clothes, her books, jewellery, all of it is gone. It is as though she had never lived here to begin with, as though I’d simply made her up.
As I step into our large walk-in closet, something catches my eye. On her side of the closet she has left one thing hanging. I flick on the light and reach for the grey sweatshirt. As soon as I touch the fabric I remember it immediately—the sweater I wore when she found me in the bathroom. I try to erase the image from my mind, but I can’t stop it. Herb said it would go away eventually, but I’m having a hard time believing him. From this, the only note she has left me, I know she can’t forget it either.
She rushes down the hall as she hears something crash on the bathroom floor. Her hand grips the doorknob, turning it frantically, but it’s locked.
“Open the door!” she screams, unsure of why she’s already so panicked. After a few seconds she hears him shuffle across the tiles and he slowly unlocks the door. She steps into the room, but he keeps his back to her. There are shards of glass along the floor, a vase that held flowers he bought her yesterday is smashed into pieces, the lilies positioned like casualties on the cool floor.
“What happened here, Tom?” But she doesn’t want to know the answer. When he doesn’t respond she steps forward, trying to avoid the glass, and grabs hold of his shoulder, turning him to face her. His nose is bleeding andto dribbles on his grey sweater. He also has a cut on his hand which he’s wrapped with the hand towel. His pupils are black and large, the whites red as though he’s been crying, but somehow different in a way she doesn’t want to recognize.
“Tom?” she pleads, but he averts her stare.
“I’ll clean this up, just get out!” he suddenly screams, pushing her away from him. He hadn’t meant to, but he pushes her too hard. He watches as her tiny frame lands hard amongst the shards of glass. He should pick her up, but instead he stares as she struggles, cutting herself every time she places her hand on the ground, trying to lift herself off the floor. Her white skin cuts so easily, the blood falling quickly and effortlessly. He hears her screaming his name, but he doesn’t recognize her voice anymore. She finally pulls herself up and races toward him, beating her bloodied hands against his chest, his face. Without thinking about it, he turns away from her, walks calmly back toward the counter to where he had left his line of cocaine, the one she hasn’t noticed yet. And with her watching, he inhales it quickly, effortlessly, as though breathing in the white powder were something he did all the time.
She stands and watches the scene before her and imagines it’s something she’s witnessed before. Her blood drips from her hands and legs onto the floor, pooling with his. He turns back to face her, rubbing his nose, inhaling, sucking all the powder back as hard as he can. And in that moment, with her eyes on him, he feels his eyes cry—not his body or his mind, just tears coming from his eyes. He wants to wipe them away, but it is as though he can’t make his arms move. As he looks up at her, he sees tears tumble down her cheeks, and he steps forward, brushing his fingers along her face.
He pulls off his sweater and begins to scrub the blood, talking, spewing words like “rehab” and “co-dependency”. The whole time she doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. He seems to have found something he needs in that bathroom, while she tries to figure out what she has lost, and when.
I left for rehab two days after she’d found me in the bathroom. I knew it was what I needed. She had said she’d drive me to the airport, but that morning as I was packing, she told me she didn’t feel well, she couldn’t get out of bed. “Normal,” Herb had told me on the first day. But nothing felt normal anymore.
Looking at the sweater now, it amazes me that she was able to get all the blood out. I immediately run to the bathroom as though the shards of glass and dying flowers would still be strewn across the floor. But it’s clean. Nothing left. Her makeup and perfume gone. I had hoped it had been all a dream. Maybe I would have turned on the bathroom lights and I would see myself standing there, covered in blood, Annie bleeding, and I could start over. Not turn toward the line, but instead pick her off the floor and leave this room. But that chance is gone. She’s gone. I walk toward the counter where the line once was, the last one that I did. Running my fingers across the countertop I try to remember what it looked like, how big it was. My fingers twitch, and I feel an aching throughout. I try to tell myself the ache is for Annie, for the touch of her skin—but Herb taught me to stop lying to myself.
Annie manages to get all of her things packed before Tom gets home. She raced into the bedroom and grabbed the last bag off the bed. Mr. Smells was curled in a ball on Tom’s pillow, his new spot. She kissed his head, knowing she’d never see the cat again. As she passed the bathroom on her way out of the apartment, she thought for a second that she saw him in there—Tom. She wondered, as she often had, what would have happened if she hadn’t opened that door. These were all the things they were meant to sort out when he got back through “couples counselling,” he had said. She knew what he would say if she had told him she was leaving. “You’re giving up on me? On us?” He would most definitely say “me” first, as though she hadn’t spent the past five years of their relationship fighting for him. But she was tired. Empty. What if he came home and nothing changed. How could she trust him again? How had he kept this all a secret from her and what else was he hiding? And worse, how had she shut her eyes and let this all happen? Somehow she had become lost in him, and she needed out.
Up until two hours earlier she had planned on staying. As she waited patiently for him to come home she decided to open an email from him that she’d been ignoring for the past three weeks. She opened it to find a picture of a wide, expansive field with a towering mountain in the background all covered in snow. The sun was shining, glimmering off the freshly fallen powder. There were no footprints, nothing. She pictured Tom standing in the snow, taking that photo, and imagined the litter of footprints he would leave in the powder.
With her last bag in hand she closed the apartment door behind her. Her mind was drawn back again to the snow, and she imagined herself in Wyoming jumping into it. Then she wondered whether or not the snow is still cold in June, with the summer heat beating down on it.