You’ve left your phone in your apartment, and your work shift starts soon and you’re driving to the gig in Charlotte right after that, so you won’t have time to go back and get it, and would I mind too terribly to go back and pick it up for you? No. I wouldn’t mind at all. Your hand touches mine a little when you give me your apartment key. “I think I left it on my dresser,” you say.
“Sure,” I say, and take the key as if this is no big deal, as if you and I are the type of friends that go to each other’s apartments all the time. “I’ll be quick.” My heart speeds up feeling the weight of the key in my palm. Then I leave to go grab your phone.
I have to double back and ask your address, because I’ve never been there. It turns out to be in this cookie-cutter looking apartment complex next to a shopping center that sells frozen yogurt and organic groceries and overpriced secondhand clothing. The walls inside are this too-pristine shade of off-white and all the brickwork that’s supposed to look rustic just looks fake. The key sticks in the lock a little, and I begin to doubt that I have the right door, and then it turns and the door swings open.
I walk inside. Your coat- the one you wear all the time, but not today because it’s warm out- hangs on a hook on the inside of the door. It’s weird seeing the coat without you in it, or holding it, or nearby. I close the door behind me and stand facing the coat, inches from it. I can smell it from here.
The entire apartment smells like you. There’s the kitchen, right in front of me, and there are pots and pans in the sink, and I glide over to the sink and look at the residue in the pots and pans, trying to figure out what you’ve been cooking. The frying pan bears obvious traces of scrambled eggs, and the pot looks like oatmeal. I haven’t had oatmeal since I was a kid and my mom made it for me. The sight of all that gray mushy residue reminds me of my mom’s house, of home. But this is your home, and you’re a person who eats oatmeal just like my mom.
Then I look in the fridge. There are eggs and carrots and takeout leftovers and a Tupperware container of rice. And tons of condiments, mostly fancy ones like brown Dijon mustard for people who are too high-brow for normal mustard, gluten-free soy sauce even though I literally just saw you eat a bagel last week, and organic salsa because I guess there was something wrong with normal salsa. There’s also a big plastic box of spinach and a funny-shaped plastic container with a head of lettuce in it. The lettuce looks really soft and the label says it’s hydroponic, like the weed. I didn’t realize lettuce could be hydroponic. You have some salami with Italian words on the package, and croissants from the local bakery, and a ton of fancy cheese. Or at least, it comes in blocks and isn’t bright orange and the labels have Italian words on them, so I assume it’s fancy. You also have some of those cheeses that are wrapped in red wax, and I love those cheeses. I wonder for a second if you’d really notice one was missing, but there are only four, and people usually notice when there’s four of something.
You also have almond milk, even though you clearly aren’t lactose intolerant, so what gives. It’s now that I remember your girlfriend. It’s probably her. Your girlfriend likes chia seeds and almonds and nutritional yeast. She’s like… gluten-free or a vegan or a gluten-free vegan, one of those things. I’m not sure of the difference. All I know is I ate cheese fries in front of her once and felt bad afterwards. Maybe you’d hang out with me more if I developed a food allergy.
You told me you were pretty sure you left your phone in your room, so I find the door, and I open it. I feel almost like I’m in a video game or a horror movie, not knowing what’s behind the door, but it’s better than horror. Just anticipation. Like a high school dance.
I open the door and the light is off so it’s kind of dim and gray, with yellow stripes where the sunlight is cutting through the plastic blinds, and there it is: your bed. The comforter/duvet thing is rumpled, pulled back, and it’s dark green like a thick forest. Seeing your bed makes me feel weird, but also gives me that high-school-dance feeling. I want to jump into it and cover myself in that puffy dark green duvet, but we’re just friends and I’m only here for the phone. I make myself look away from the bed. There is a hamper full of laundry in the corner. I see brand-name underclothing and the shirt you wore yesterday.
The wastebasket has normal things in it. Receipts. Food wrappers. Crumpled-up tissues. Some tinfoil packet that’s either ramen flavoring or a condom, and the location suggests the latter, but who knows? Maybe you eat ramen in bed. You’re a human. You’re a person with a body, and I can’t stop staring at your preferred brand of Men’s Deodorant on the nightstand, the book you’ve been reading (I didn’t know you read books), an orange prescription bottle. I’m supposed to be looking for your phone.
Your phone isn’t on your dresser where you said it would be. It’s not next to the lamp with its Target clearance sticker still stuck on it, and it’s not next to the card from your mother, or the Bluetooth speaker/alarm clock/AM radio, or the mascot bobble head from your undergrad, or the plastic cup full of spare change. My dad used to have a plastic cup full of spare change on his dresser, and on Saturday mornings when I was a little kid I used to beg him to fetch it down from the dresser for me so I could play with all the coins. Your phone. I’m supposed to be looking for your phone.
It’s not on the floor, and I kick a pair of pajama pants off of your floor to see if it’s hiding under them. They’re nice pajama pants, made of what looks like real flannel, in a dark green and blue plaid. I bet they smell like you. They’re just sitting there, crumpled—the rest of your floor is so neat—and I nudge the fabric with the toe of my sneaker, shoving it out of the way, seeing if maybe the phone’s under there.
It’s not. I look again around the room, and it occurs to me that I can call it. So I pull my own phone out of my pocket, and open your contact and hit call and listen really carefully. First: nothing. Then: buzz
It’s muffled and takes me a second to figure out where it is coming from. It’s coming from your bed.
I step closer to your bed, which comes up to my waist. A real, grown-up bed height. Buzz. The phone’s definitely under your sheets somewhere. Gingerly, I take a corner of the sheet between my fingers. The sheet is soft and kind of thick. I think it’s flannel, maybe. I pull the fabric back carefully, like my grandmother used to make us do with Christmas wrapping paper so she could reuse it every year, and there it is, sitting in the small folds of the fitted sheet, screen all lit up, vibrating.
Your phone stops buzzing. The screen goes dark. Its weight has made an indent in the sheets, kind of, just barely, and it makes me think of your body and how you’ve laid here night after night right here on this very sheet, your back and shoulders and hips weighing down and pressing into the mattress. It makes me think of how your face looks with your eyes closed, the sound you make when you breathe, and then that high school dance feeling hits me all over again. I fill my lungs with the smell of you, you and your Men’s Deodorant and your phone which you have held so carefully in your palm. And I think of your girlfriend who you touch with those palms, how you have held her in between those sheets, both of you in t-shirts worn soft or less than that. It reminds me of how deep and breathy your voice gets when you’re tired. My hand tightens around the sheet. I’m probably getting sweat on it. If there was a crime here they’d find my sweaty DNA all over this corner of the fabric, and they’d cart me away to the police station for questioning, and you’d look so betrayed, wondering what kind of creep I was to leave my DNA in your bed.
I should trash the room. I should knock your wastebasket over, I should watch all the condoms and used tissues spill out onto the floor, I should knock over your plastic cup full of coins, I should tear the head off your mascot bobble head. I should rip the sheets off the bed and tear your pajama pants apart. I should set your Men’s Deodorant can on fire so it explodes. I should empty out all your condiments onto the floor and take a piss in your stupid girlfriend’s stupid almond milk. You’ll be so angry, so confused, and all the softness will go out of your eyes and you’ll yell at me until I go away. I can see it in my mind’s eye, the face you make when you discover I’ve wrecked your apartment like some kind of angry child. You’ll be so upset with me, so disbelieving. You’ll stop speaking to me. You’ll get a restraining order.
I pick up the phone and drop the corner of the sheet back onto the bed. The phone’s glass screen and rubber protective case feel heavy in my hands. I pocket it and walk out of your bedroom, closing the door behind me. The dishes sit unmoving in the sink.
I take piece of cheese, wrapped in red wax, from the fridge, and head out the door, locking it behind me. You’ve waited long enough. I promised I’d be quick.
Caroline Galdi has lofty ambitions, but spends too much time on Twitter where she quietly reads tweets as @cyclostome.