Posted on: February 4, 2016
Seventeen uneven stairs lead up to my apartment. It's hazardous to try and hit them all, one stretching for miles and the next as narrow as a tightrope. I've learned there are also a precise number of steps to reach my heart. Neglect one and I can't forgive the misstep, no matter how hard I try. I blame my mother for that. She taught me to never, ever forget.
Except these days it's literally the only thing she can do.
"Don't move back in with your mother. Your life is spiraling in the wrong direction." Tabby rejects her apartment most nights in favor of mine because the man across the alley from her has started vacuuming in the nude. To salsa music, from what she can make out, and his hip gyrations turn her stomach.
She arrives just as I'm getting off of work, and she helps clean the newspaper ink from under my nails with a utilitarian brush. It's like scrubbing away dinosaur blood, because the print medium is dying and soon no one will recall what it's like to have a story inadvertently transferred to their elbow.
Right now 1950's Lonely Hearts Killer chases a girl across my wrist, but the story races off the edge of a bone, unfinished. Tabby reads the imprint, points to the faded date, and shakes her head.
"You're an archivist. These stories expired. No one cares anymore." Tabby's world view starts and ends with the moment she's living in. She's more akin to the naked cleaner than she'll ever admit.
"Not true. Cold cases, sometimes. Or classifieds that never sell." I won't admit to her that I have been lost in a maze of memories after our break-up, and I've called a few of those numbers, decades later. One man told me his father had placed an ad to sell coins but then swallowed them because it was the last thing he had left to remember his dead wife. Tabby is immune to nostalgia; she is a time capsule hurtling forward. When she takes a moment to match up our fingerprints, I swallow my sigh. It holds no value for her.
"Does your mom have an extra room?" she asks, whipping her hair into a sloppy knot on one side.
"Just the one I'm taking. Her apartment is tiny, but it's rent controlled. And there are other reasons to stay." She's etched hieroglyphics into the walls and irreparably splintered window frames. Let's see them charge my corpse, she tells me when I worry about the way she's marked her height in Sharpie on the kitchen wall because she's convinced herself she's shrinking. No apartment could ever recover from her presence.
"We could share, if you want company. I've slept on a floor before. At camp." Tabby doesn't understand that she's exhaling painful memories like cigar smoke and the rings are settling around my throat.
"I'm getting a new job, too. I can't walk all the way from Forrester Street. It's practically out in the wild," I say.
"If my neighbor weren't a perv, I'd say take my spare room. My brother doesn't stay over anymore. He and Shelly want to move now that she's pregnant. The city's bad for children."
"The city's bad for everyone...except you and my mother," I joke. Tabby and I push our shoulders together and watch the condensation on the window evaporate from the heat of our breath. It's how she snared me the first time, promising that our combined chemistry changed the atmosphere. Never once did she hint at the possibility of us being a failed experiment.
"Can I visit you at your new place?" she asks.
"You said it was a bad move. A backwards move," I taunt, pretending the words on my lips are somehow connected to hers.
"Did I?" She turns and kisses the perimeter of my cheek, and a whisper of my nostalgia infects her because when she withdraws, her face is redder than before. And we're both on the floor, a compromise, because I want her and she wants the steady wooden boards rocking against her back with me on top of her.
"I told you I was good with the floor," she says minutes later, pulling her sweater across her shoulders, returning to my left hand to scrub ink that refuses to dislodge. I feel like a relic of hers. An ancient artifact sewn into the apartment.
"This," I jar myself free of her and stamp the floor where we’ve just been. "This is the backwards move."
Tabby refuses to look at me. I envy my mother because her sickness is prying the painful memories out of the folds in her brain. And I envy Tabby, because her nature allows her to do the same. I am the only one bound to yesterday. I'll remember every word my mother forgets, and I'll remember every inch Tabby kissed.
"I'm packing tonight, if you want to help." I wave a Sharpie in the air. One I picked up from my mother's apartment last night after we finished the ritual where I reintroduced her to the faces on the wall. She still knows my name, and it's as tangible a thing as the marker to hang onto.
"I'd really stay with you at your mom’s," she offers. "I'll sleep on the floor and we can hold hands."
Tabby's heart is in the right place even though weeks ago she told me she'd taken another girl home and that only for a few moments had been in love with her the way she often said she loved me.
"I'll remind you of better days," she repeats, pretending that she’s capable of expanding out of the moment to be generous to me.
"Just help me load the boxes," I surrender, promising myself I will study the way my mother forgets. I will study, and as long as she knows my name, I will embrace each day with her, fresh.
Written by: Sarah Clayville
Photograph by: Anthony Delanoix
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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