By Robin Rhyner

“Are you kidding me?  You don’t remember Matt?  Matt McEldowney.  You know… Matthew?  Swim team and ski team, right?  Very tan.  Very gorgeous.  And so mean.”

I still can’t remember him.  Brandi shakes her head at me.  “It’s like we didn’t even go to the same school.  You never remember anyone.  Where were you?”

I stare out the window at streetlights reflected in puddles.  I see our faces in the window pane and look right through them into the still-black sky of the December morning.  I turn and look into her real eyes, and smile carefully.  “They just didn’t matter that much to me,” I say.

“Who does matter to you, Jennifer?   I swear, you’re going to end up totally alone.”

Later, after work, I unlock the front door, dump the mail on the desk, walk out of my shoes, shrug off my coat, and finally, collapse on the couch.  The cat hops up to lay across my belly, resting her head on my chest.  She is a gray-striped tabby with rings around her tail.  She purrs as I pet her.

The phone rings.  But I don’t answer it.  I can hear my stomach growling.  I haven’t eaten since breakfast with Brandi this morning.  I feel the hollow twang inside my belly, like the voice of a guitar string vibrating inside me.  But if I get up to make something, I’ll disturb the cat.  I listen to the sound of Brandi’s voice in my head.  “You’re going to end up totally alone.”  I push the cat to the floor and walk to the back of the house.  I turn on the electric heating pad and curl myself around it under the goose-down comforter like I imagine I did with the hot-water bottle my mother might have made for me when I was sick.  When my eyes get used to the dark, I can see the outline of trees against the just-black sky of the December evening filling my bedroom window.  I slide the window sideways so that I can’t see my reflection in the glass and the night air rushes into the room, wet with rain and smelling of pine trees and old blackberry bushes.  I fall asleep listening to water dripping off the gutters and the clock ticking in the hall outside my door.

I wake up yelling in the middle of the night.  I sit up so fast in bed that it leaves me dizzy and I have to hold on to the headboard.  My panic consumes me.  This nameless wanting that searches me out in my sleep.  My cheeks are wet with tears.  I sit on the edge of the bed until morning comes. 

“Jennifer!  Wait, Jennifer!”  There is a girl calling my name from the other side of the coffee shop.  I turn to look at her and she walks over, rolling her eyes at me.  “Jeez.  Weren’t you going to walk with me?”

I have no idea who she is.  “Do I know you?” I ask.


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