At the Same Time

Excerpt

By Melissa Sharpe

I am making tea. I get the biggest mug I have, fill it nearly to the top with tap water, microwave it for one minute and thirty seconds, and then I’ll try this new jasmine green tea. I am making tea. The crackly buzzer by my door growls at me. I already know it’s Phillip. I can’t even think of who else both knows that I live here now and would even want to visit me. I walk over to the door and push the button as far in as it will go, yelling, “What?”  

“Let me in. I left my keys.”

“That’s your fault.”

“Just walk down the stairs and unlock the door for me, man.”

This stupid eight-unit building. There were six other people I could have ended up across the hall from. Six other people I could share a rear balcony with. I go down the stairs and open the front door. Here I am in the dark. In this old building, letting in my irresponsible neighbor. You can hardly believe I was making a seventh birthday cake not that long ago. In a totally new and bright white kitchen. Apron around my waist, I swear. But I don’t get to do that anymore. That was back when I lived in the townhouse. The tiles on the floor of this apartment are original to the building.

Phillip has a bottle of something in a crunchy paper bag clenched in one fist. He holds it up and gives it a gentle sway back and forth. It’s so late, and the day won’t end. I try to let Phillip walk up the stairs first, but he just stands there, so I go up first.

I picked this apartment because I could afford it, and I thought the neighborhood was one of those places where everyone was relaxed and painted outdoors on the weekends or something. I don’t know. It felt like something that would make sense because there was a yoga studio not too far away, and not that I was going to do yoga, but that was the type of mood I needed to be around. Some kindness. A place where everyone would love to be a part of me starting over or whatever I was doing.

My microwave beeps once. A reminder that I have to come get something out of it.

True story: I took that microwave from the basement of Michael’s townhouse.

At Michael’s townhouse, when I lived there, the neighbors never left their keys behind or annoyed me. If anyone was wondering.

Phillip tugs the bottle out of the paper bag to reveal that it was, in fact, a bottle of rum. That isn’t annoying, but Phillip is always irritating me in other ways. See it’s so easy to end up at his apartment because of the balcony we share. You go out there, and then he’s out there with his friends, and then you look around and it’s like you are doing something. Look at me! I’m with all these people. I can have so much fun! I want to record it. I take pictures. Try to make Phillip and his friends look older. My age or close to it. So fun, right? I have to press my finger to the circle on my phone screen twice before it takes the picture.

That party on the balcony could be my new life, and if I try, maybe I can make you wish it was yours. And you sure as shit don’t want it.

When I was still at Michael’s townhouse, one day his phone was on the table next to me, and it kept humming and humming. I could glance to the side and see the partial messages on the center of his screen. Buzz: She wasn’t happy. Buzz: What was he thinking? Buzz: So much more to consider. Even with that humming and buzzing around me, I enjoyed that life so much I forgot to take pictures of it.

There is a slight chance that because we have spent a lot of nights on the balcony talking and drinking, and because we have gone grocery shopping together twice, and sometimes I do borrow or lend him things, that Phillip believes we are friends. But I hate the sight of him. He’s easily fifteen years younger than me, and he wears shirts with dumb things on them like flames.

On the balcony, Phillip opens a beer and hands it to a friend of his, a guy I have seen before and perhaps have met, but still he seems unfamiliar. When I can’t remember people and things, I make deals. Once I can’t remember X number of things, I know it is time for me to start doing this so I can remember better. Or stop doing this other thing, so I can remember better. If I lose my keys, I won’t drink for a week. That sort of thing.

I had this glass Phillip handed me, but for some reason I can’t find it, so I go in my apartment to get a new one. It’s not a bad place, really, I have this air plant hanging above the sink. It is my second air plant. With the first one, I thought you didn’t have to do anything to it and it grows. Just grows. No water, no soil, it survives on the air. As it turns out, interestingly enough, you have to water your air plant pretty regularly. But without anything under it to catch the water, you have to put them in your sink to soak or spray them. It’s about 7,000 times more inconvenient than a regular old house plant. But because I killed the first one, and I know you don’t get to try many things over again, I’m taking care of this air plant and giving it a bath in the sink every week.

At Michael’s townhouse, which I used to live in, he had all these house plants. So much greenery and lushness. In the dining room there was a tree. A goddamn tree. A ficas, with these brilliant medium-green leaves and gentle twisty branches. It was cultivated love. But it was also so much decay. The wet soil always smelled like someone’s disease, and the leaves would curl and rot as they fell in the pot and all over the floor. Michael would bake chicken with rosemary, but I couldn’t tell if we were celebrating domesticity or eating flesh surrounded by decomposing plants…



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Image by Dieter Freese from Pixabay