K leaves her apartment with gift in hand after twenty-five minutes of checking. Checking that her flat iron is unplugged, that she has her wallet, (that she has cash – yes, sixty dollars), that she has her keys, that she has her cellphone, that all the faucets are off, that the oven is off, that the stove is off, that her flat iron is absolutely unplugged, that the pipes have absolutely no chance of exploding, that the door is locked, that she most certainly has her keys, wallet, cellphone, yes? And the door is locked? Is she sure?
She pulls on the handle using the bottom of her jean jacket.
Walking to the elevator she thinks, Am I sure the flat iron is unplugged? Do I remember unplugging it? Yes. But was that yesterday or today? The elevator dings and her eyes bug out in concentration, remembering. She checks her bag. Keys, wallet, phone. Keys, wallet, phone. Keys, wallet -
She checks all the way until she hits G. Out of breath.
K is off to a housewarming party. The gift! Does she have the gift? Where is it? Oh, it’s in her hand. She picked out the most adorable matching apron and potholder at Anthropologie that afternoon - something she herself would never use (she had a fear of starting a fire in the kitchen) - but to someone without the stress of her affliction, she thinks it will be lovely.
She wonders who will be at this party. She has a feeling she knows. Actually, she has been bracing herself all day for this. All month. If he’s there, she’s just going to say hi, smile and maybe a how-have-you-been. She won’t hug him. No, he’s not the hugging kind of guy. Of course, she’s referring to her ex-boyfriend - a poet - a Swedish-pale-skinned-gray-eyed-Rimbaud.
K has a tendency to fall in love with poets. She met Swedish Rimbaud at a party the year before - a mutual friend’s birthday - where they were the two most uncomfortable people in the room. There are people who need people and then there are people who would prefer not to need people.
So they talked, or she talked and he listened, or she talked and he appeared to be listening, and they drank black coffee, or he drank it black and she with milk and sugar and they saw American movies with Swedish subtitles, or he saw them and she had seen them before, and they pored over books together and she read his poetry and they wrote each other poems that were good for a while and then the poems became rather unfortunate (“photographing tequila sunrises”) and they kissed and they fucked but not in the way that’s nice and good and then she realized she had a soul or what appeared to be one and that poets can only love their poetry and don’t know how to love people, and especially those poets that are also alcoholics.
She consults her cellphone’s GPS for the address. She is early. Not fashionably so. She is thirty-three whole minutes early. And the party was said to begin at 9:30PM. What can she do for thirty-three whole minutes? This is a problem she often runs into and there’s only one option. She checks again. Keys, wallet, phone, keys, wallet, phone - Okay. They’re all here. And she has the gift. She takes a peak at it to make sure she took off the price tags. She did. So for thirty-three whole minutes she decides to walk around Stuyvesant Town. It reminds her of a little gingerbread village. This is cute, she thinks. She imagines the kind of people that live here are the kind of people that like children and dogs. K is not the kind of person that likes children and dogs. She does not like creatures that cannot control their own saliva (or slobber, if you will).
She can’t take the walking around anymore. It is hot. She is not allowed to sweat. She smells good and she knows it. She is wearing “Océan” by Outremer. There is no other option but to go inside.
She finds the right number on the calling pad and buzzes in with her elbow. She gets in the elevator and jabs at “6” with her elbow. She used to have a fear of elevators ever since she fell three flights in an elevator at a Boston hotel. But now she just fears the germs. If she were to have walked up the six flights, she surely would have gotten sweaty.
She rings the doorbell of 6C with her elbow, and a skinny blond girl with a tube top opens the door. “Sorry I’m early. I just –
The girl hugs her and accepts the gift, opens it, loves it. K thinks, I did well, takes off her jacket and hangs her bag on the back of a chair. She is here. She is alive.
By 10PM, the party is finally a party. The kitchen is fully stocked with alcohols of all different types. There are about twenty-five or perhaps a hundred people there, she can’t quite tell. They stand swaying to indiscernible Top 40 Pop, clinking their red cups. This is the kick-off to the semester.
The temperature is rising. I better not sweat, she thinks.
She decides that now is about time she should be getting a drink. There is champagne. Yes. She thinks champagne is the finest drink. If she has to drink another cranberry concoction she might throw up. Champagne is good.
Now is a good time for a drink because once the champagne is in hand, her eyes graze a slight figure that has just walked in. Rimbaud. He strikes like a soldier’s PTSD and her heart compresses as if shrink-wrapped in the meat case of a delicatessen, next to the baloney. The sudden thought of meat revolts her.
She knows she should acknowledge him in an adult way, but he is obviously not acknowledging her, so she thinks she might as well make it seem like she is the absolute life of the party.
She drinks more and is starting to feel warmer. She turns toward a random boy who could be anyone and starts to laugh, pretending like she just had the most hilarious conversation with him and that the two of them are most certainly going to have sex later that night just-you-wait. She suddenly has a desire to dance, but doesn’t. Instead her eyes float back to Rimbaud.
Rimbaud looks uncomfortable as ever, slunk against the wall, as if he were trying to camouflage into the pink floral wallpaper like a chameleon. Rimbaud is newly sober, or rumored to be. She had known this because she may or may not have been obsessively reading his blogs about his newfound sobriety and change of heart ever since they broke up.
And now she is done with her champagne. How did this happen? She feels even warmer than before, although she thinks that the champagne is weak or that it very well might be seltzer. She can never quite tell when she is intoxicated or just tired or just sad or just desperate.
Then she remembers her bag. Where is it? Her eyes rove the room. It is still on the back of the chair where she put it when she came in. Relief.
At this moment, she sees Adonis.
And Adonis is a man.
She remembers Adonis from her days with Rimbaud. They had been classmates and double dated once. She spread a rumor (which was true, so it wasn’t really a rumor) that Adonis formerly worked at the Museum of Sex and was given a parting gift of fifty boxes of all-natural Viagra that he claimed “didn’t do shit” so sold them to the students at twenty bucks a pop. “That’s the entrepreneurial spirit,” she had said.
Adonis had been with this Croatian Chick, a psych major with pink hair. They all drank Fireball in his room (or Rimbaud and Adonis did most of the drinking) and they listened to the Doors on the radio. Adonis turned it off after a while because he said it was getting “too goddamn depressing.” Rimbaud finds the Doors a major turn on though. K and Rimbaud would listen to “The End” on repeat every time they had sex. The song was already a symbol of the Apocalypse, and now it had become her own. Adonis asked if it would be okay if he and Croatian Chick fucked “right-here-right-now,” but before K could really answer, Croatian Chick said she “should-really-be-going-now.” When she left, Rimbaud said to Adonis, “Never date a psych major, dude.” And then turning back to K, “You’re not a psych major, right?”
The room is still hot. August hot. Adonis’s skin is coated in a sweatshimmer. He is just sparkling. Attractive, but sweaty. However, she does not see him as an object of her desires. She knows he is a friend of Rimbaud too. A good one. He wouldn’t try any funny business tonight. She wouldn’t want that anyway.
“How are you?” He says with a smile.
“I’d rather not do the whole smalltalk thing if that’s okay.”
“Then let’s dance.”
His gusto is surprising. They tango. They waltz. They bunny hop and quickstep. They are on fire. He lifts and dips her, which she finds semi-impressive. And K is less worried about the sweat, even though Adonis is dripping at this point.
They talk now. Not smalltalk. Adonis apologizes for the deal with the Croatian Chick. He knows he shouldn’t treat girls like that. That’s the last time they had seen each other. K is starting to feel a foreign feeling. Is she relaxed? He says he feels comfortable around her, like he doesn’t have to try and impress her and that he really likes talking to her and would she like to continue talking outside?
She knows why all guys say this lets-step-out-for-some-air thing, she is not naïve, but for some reason she trusts him. Champagne just happens to be her trusting-elixir. They’ll just be a second. It’s hot as hell inside anyway.
The outside air is relief. She and Adonis start walking. It is dark, but the streetlamps serve as guiding stars.
“What is your greatest fear in life?” He asks.
Being mugged? Murdered? Being alone? Paranoid? Not living up to my potential? Dying before I’ve been fulfilled? Leaving behind a shitty legacy, or none at all? Forgetting to unplug my flat iron and causing my apartment to burn down in a fiery -
“What’s yours?” She asks.
Adonis is the kind of guy that has no fears. Or wouldn’t admit to them anyway.
“Let’s hold hands.”
His hand is sweaty. She doesn’t have hand sanitizer anywhere in sight. She knows there is a bottle in her bag, but that is still at the party. She had decided not to take it with her, because they would only be a second outside. So she distorts reality. She imagines that the sweat on his hand is clean because he is a god. And the sweat of a god must be pure.
He stops. “I think you have potential. I think you have potential to just go crazy one day.”
She thinks, What kind of crazy? Charles Manson crazy? Salvador Dalí crazy? Paris Hilton crazy? She thinks, When is he going to let go of my hand?
They talk about why she is worried. She says she is worried about all the kids that are killing themselves. She is worried about how every day she obsesses about counting her multiples to 4,096 before she’s allowed to go to bed, like a nightly prayer. She’s worried because she is unhealthy, she cannot breathe sometimes and sees stars and does not eat enough and eats too much. She is worried because she is always nauseous. She is worried because she cannot stop reading things she shouldn’t be reading. She is worried because she has written things she is ashamed of and has not written things she is ashamed of. She is worried because for the past twenty years, she has not lived, merely existed.
They decide to go back to the party.
The door is locked. Everyone is gone.
Adonis’s phone is dead. Her bag is inside the apartment. Her bag containing her keys, wallet, phone. ID. Sixty dollars, cash. It is inside and she has no way of accessing it.
She has nothing left to check. She has nothing. She is possessionless.
She can sense Adonis sensing her panic. She has let go of his hand. She is trying the door. She thinks about picking the lock. With what? She is hopeless, she is doomed, and there is no other option but to cry.
“This is all your fault! How am I ever going to get my stuff back?”
And as if he were just informed of a minor inconvenience such as a five-minute wait to be seated at a restaurant, he says, “It’s no big deal, you can just tell the guard you don’t have your keys, you’ll get a spare, you’ll come back here tomorrow morning and everything will be just fine.”
She hates that expression, everything-will-be-just-fine. Just fine is not good. Just fine is neither good nor bad. Just fine is just fine. She hates Adonis. She imagines how stupid she will look trying to heckle with the guard. This never happens to her. She is always prepared and never loses anything. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands if she’s not checking. They hang at her sides like two dead birds.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
He takes her hand again, giving it life. His hand isn’t sweaty anymore. Is she sweating? Maybe? She hopes not. She hopes she still smells good. Like “Océan” by Outremer.
They start walking and she notices the street signs and says, “We’re going the wrong direction” so they turn around and walk East. Or West. She doesn’t know which but it doesn’t matter.
They go into a sketchy little convenience store. She walks with him to the back and he gets a water bottle. She wonders if the cashier thinks they’re lovers. She hopes he does. He pays, drinks his water in one large gulp, like an Olympian, and throws it out. His skin gleams in the moonlight - not moonlight - the light is actually the cheesy flickering neon pall of the shop sign. It still makes him look immortal in the dense August air.
Bathed in any light, he is still Adonis.
He stops as they come to a bench. “There’s something I want to ask –
He pauses. This is the first time he has really paused. In so intimate a way.
“Let’s sit for a while if you don’t mind.”
But she does mind. She absolutely cannot sit on public benches, especially public outdoor benches. She is terrified by the possibilities of all the exotic germs and diseases that could be building their empires on the very surface that she - K - was about to sit on. She was wearing a skirt too, so her legs would most certainly be in direct contact with the surface in question. She thinks about her fears. Bathrooms, elevators, salt water, meat. She remembers when her father used to eat a whole chicken in front of her, and splatter its juices on her placemat as he bit into the soft meat. Doorknobs. Hotel TV remote controls. Bodily fluids. Her mind flashes to Rimbaud’s dirty sheets and his dirty hands.
She can sense Adonis sensing her hesitation. She inhales, remembers her breathing. Up the ladder on four, hold for four, down the ladder on four. He sits down and looks at her.
She sits down, too.
He tells her about when he was thirteen some girl gave him a hand job under the table at his brother’s bar mitzvah. He tells her about when he lost his virginity from a gypsy woman in Central Park. He tells her about his fantasies.
And she is actually starting to feel something warm again. Not the warmth of the August air, not the warmth of the champagne, but some nostalgic warmth from within - her heart breaking free from its shrink-wrap.
There is silence for too many moments.
“Are you in love with him?”
“Rimbaud. Are you still in love with him?”
She knows the answer but hesitates. She imagines him anticipating her answer like her answer would make a difference. He puts his hand on her shoulder, pets her hair.
He continues to pet. He is rhythmic in his strokes and it is calming. She’s not even thinking about her keys, wallet, phone. She is not even thinking about anything.
“Would you feel weird if I –
Moving towards her.
“I don’t know. But what about –
He turns to her and puts a finger to her lips, and there is no other choice but to let him. It is hot, she is exhausted, she has nothing. She lets him kiss her. She sinks down on the bench, resting on his shoulder, now turning her face away. She has nothing to check. She doesn’t want to check. She doesn’t want to count. She doesn’t want to sanitize. She remembers she once had a feeling like this before. Like when she was a child and would play at Nauset Beach in Cape Cod. She and her sister would sit in a deep pit they built in the sand called the “Sand-cuzzi.” And she wasn’t afraid of getting infected by the gutted jellyfish in the surf. She didn’t care for the potpourri of cigarette buts and used condoms. They were all dead, deactivated and lying there. They were just things. Just stuff.
And then, she is back. She is sitting with sweaty Adonis, legs sticking to the filthy public-ness of the bench. She knows first thing when she gets home she needs to take a shower. She should also wash her sheets in the morning before the rush of lazy Sunday washers.
“I need to go now.”
And Adonis says goodnight and disappears down the street.
She has somehow gotten back into her apartment. Her flat iron is still unplugged. The stove and oven are off. The pipes have not burst, the faucets are off. There is no fire. All there is left to do is sleep.
Kaila Allison is a senior at New York University studying Literature and Creative Writing. She is from New York and proud of it.