There’s Nothing Left For You Here

Fiction / Allegra Solomon


:: There’s Nothing Left For You Here ::

            I real­ized my neigh­bor was see­ing the guy across the hall around the time things were get­ting rocky for them. Some­one more astute may have put the puz­zle togeth­er soon­er; may have cor­re­lat­ed the unvar­ied echo of the two doors clos­ing. His, hav­ing fresh­ly left her. Hers, after hav­ing watched him go. How one day their ani­mal­is­tic, gut­tur­al moans came croon­ing from my left, then direct­ly across from me. It was elec­tric the way their con­nec­tion pre­sent­ed itself to me. The pre­sen­ta­tion itself was a slow crawl, but when it came, it was gleaming.

            Ear­li­er that year, I heard them argu­ing through the thin wall that sep­a­rat­ed my neighbor’s unit from mine. My ear was cold against the plas­ter. I was addict­ed to this cold­ness; it was sooth­ing, med­i­c­i­nal even. The argu­ment wasn’t a shout­ing match. It was coat­ed in subtext—it was some­thing qui­et and brew­ing. Glim­mers of the spat echoed to me—my neighbor’s pup­py­ish prod­ding, her boyfriend’s sto­ic, male indif­fer­ence— and then I heard the sound of her front door closing.

            We’re okay right? He said.

           She said, Of course.

            The inter­ac­tion was almost lost to the white noise of my heater. It was in that moment I decid­ed to take out my trash.

            In the hall­way, I saw him push­ing her against her door with his hands in her hair as they fever­ish­ly kissed. A pink mess of lips and skin, miss­ing the mouth more than mak­ing it. I made a note not to look at any­one too directly—to bee­line for the trash room—but I have nev­er been good at resist­ing temptation.

            There it was: His black nails. Her shut eyes. I drank it up quick­ly, in one pas­sive blink and the after­im­age of them burned behind my eye­lids in a crisp orange out­line. When the girl saw me com­ing, she squeaked a non­com­mit­tal plea of resis­tance that dis­si­pat­ed as soon as it appeared I didn’t care.

           It was quite the oppo­site; the two of them com­pelled me beyond belief. There isn’t much else to it than this: I was awful­ly bored back then.


            All of my clos­est friends had moved out of state the year before and none of us were good at main­tain­ing emo­tion­al close­ness over that much of a dis­tance. My child­hood best friend and simul­ta­ne­ous ex-boyfriend of five years decid­ed that what we had was not a roman­tic love and nev­er was. There were no good shows on TV and the mid­west­ern win­ter was a force. What else was there to do? I let my home swal­low me whole.

            In my bore­dom, I’d start­ed to toy with the con­cept of rein­vent­ing myself. This was orig­i­nal­ly out of enter­tain­ment. Not appear­ance-wise. I more­so won­dered what would hap­pen if I went against all my nat­ur­al instincts and did what was thrilling rather than what I usu­al­ly did, which was what was right. Act on impulse for any lev­el of grat­i­fi­ca­tion with­out think­ing of the effects, just to move my blood around. It wasn’t always any­thing big. Some­times I would steal can­dy from Wal­greens and then throw it away because I could. Eaves­drop on my neigh­bors. Stare at peo­ple real long in pub­lic and watch them unrav­el before me. When I got deliv­ery food I would either tip entire­ly too well or not at all, depend­ing on the day and my mer­cu­r­ial tem­pera­ment. It felt like I was grab­bing my life by the neck and chok­ing it out, deadpan.

           Work had become the only social aspect of my life. I worked at Best Buy, rec­om­mend­ing print­ers and tele­vi­sions to fill the dead air. There was a guy I worked with named Josi­ah who would flirt with me in the breakroom—call me cute, short ver­sions of my name while every­one else addressed me by every let­ter. Run his fin­gers up and down my fore­arms while we sat in the Nin­ten­do aisle and argued about the most effec­tive char­ac­ter to use in what game. His girl­friend was a near­ly six-foot brunette. She lift­ed reg­u­lar­ly at the gym and could kill me if she want­ed, but—to her dis­ad­van­tage— had the sweet, sopra­no voice of a Sesame Street char­ac­ter. She always picked him up at the end of the day or brought him lunch when her law school sched­ule allowed. I went out of my way to strike up a cor­dial friend­ship with her; ask her how the first year was going, make sub­tle jabs at Josi­ah to seem like a non-enti­ty. Some days we would sit and talk for half an hour alone before she went over to him. On my birth­day in Jan­u­ary, she brought me a cook­ie with my first ini­tial on it in icing. My com­plex rela­tion­ship with her was one of my main sources of enter­tain­ment. The rush it gave me was too addict­ing to stop.

            At home I would usu­al­ly watch old episodes of New Girl or Every­body Hates Chris until my neigh­bors start­ed up again. Some days my ex-boyfriend would stop by to col­lect some of his old things, but he always left quick­ly, with­out much word or touch.


           Things with my neigh­bors became most entic­ing in Feb­ru­ary. There was a night where I heard the front door slam hard as they walked in the house; com­ing from—what I’d decid­ed was—a din­ner. I heard the bass in his voice, fol­lowed by the hard, undu­lat­ing tre­ble of hers.

            I turned down New Girl and returned my ear to it’s home on that cold wall.

            What about Christ­mas? She said. You wouldn’t want to spend it with my family?

            That’s ten months from now, the guy said.


            And so, we don’t have to wor­ry about that right now.

            You don’t think we’ll be togeth­er in ten months?

            I didn’t say that.

            There was a soft, bare­ly dis­cern­able whim­per and then things were qui­et again. I went back to my show and turned the sound all the way up.


            I nev­er heard the guy leave her house that night, or if he had, I missed it because my ex-boyfriend had called and asked if I still had his Cavs jersey.

            Yes, I said, because you gave it to me.

            He asked for it back calm­ly, and when I didn’t say any­thing, he said, I’m kind of wor­ried about you, by the way.

           I laughed. Why?

           Because you seem very lone­ly. Who do you talk to all day?

            My neighbor.

            Any­one else? he asked. You’re not being self-destruc­tive, are you?

           Not yet, I said. Maybe it would be good for me.

            I don’t think that’s true. You’re a very log­i­cal and empa­thet­ic girl.

            You wor­ry about me a lot for some­one who end­ed things.

           He sighed.

             Love is not exclu­sive­ly roman­tic. I can still care about you. Quit iso­lat­ing yourself—the pity par­ty is get­ting bor­ing. Then, he hung up.


            The next day at work I real­ized I didn’t real­ly know what my neigh­bors’ faces looked like, and I didn’t know their names. This was exciting—it still is, remem­ber­ing that mys­tery and what was pos­si­ble inside of it. How my impo­si­tions still held water. I had just learned the girl had orange hair—I caught a glimpse in the hall­way the night before. I knew the guy had jet black hair and pale skin, but that was all. Before I’d seen them, I had imag­ined them to both be blondes—that maybe they’d look eeri­ly sim­i­lar. They seemed like the type of white peo­ple to be attract­ed to a ver­sion of them­selves. I imag­ined her apart­ment had pas­tel mono­grams of her ini­tials on any bare wall space and a tank for ill cared for gold­fish. Through the wall my neigh­bor had the muf­fled voice of a petite, five foot, stick thin soror­i­ty girl. In real­i­ty she was this tall, round, red­head with freck­les. In terms of stature, the two of them looked each oth­er square in the eyes.

            Where’s your mind at, Josi­ah asked. He was lean­ing back against a row of Mario games that avalanched onto the floor while he played with the hem of my polo. I was stand­ing in front of him, spac­ing out into the open air over his shoulder.

            I’m just think­ing about my neigh­bor, I said, as though I was far away. She’s dat­ing the guy across the hall. I think they’re fighting.

            She your friend?

           I nodded.

            Rela­tion­ships are com­pli­cat­ed, he said. My girl and I fight all the time.

            Because you’re a cheater?

            I’m not a cheater, he laughed. If I was a cheater, we wouldn’t be stand­ing out on this floor right now.

            Josi­ah held my eyes for a long time before I broke the gaze and poked his chest.

            I like your girl­friend, anyways.

            Right. You two are all bud­dy bud­dy now. What’s that about?

            I don’t know, I said. I could feel him affec­tion­ate­ly tug­ging on my shirt as I began to dis­ap­pear into my mind. I think it makes me feel powerful.

            He flashed his teeth, laughed, then said with a mix of edge and intrigue, Most peo­ple wouldn’t admit that.


            I came home lat­er than usu­al that night, hav­ing been stuck in traf­fic. The guy across the hall usu­al­ly went to my neighbor’s place around eight, and I was afraid if I was late I would miss an essen­tial sto­ry­line. There had been many. I’d count­ed about three. A preg­nan­cy scare, a for­got­ten birth­day, unmatched love lan­guages. (I wish you would com­pli­ment me more, she’d said once. I just told you that your ear­rings look cool, he said.) The preg­nan­cy scare made me celi­bate for weeks, though, I sup­pose that had less to do with agency and more to do with the way things just were. When she for­got his birth­day it wasn’t a big deal, but it was obvi­ous to me, a room away, that he was down­play­ing it. One time he wait­ed in her house while she was gone to the store and he talked on the phone to one of his friends about it. (Yeah, we didn’t do any­thing, he said. No, no, it’s not a big deal. You know I’m not big on birth­days any­ways. Yeah, it would have been nice but, you know.)

            It was cer­tain­ly a rela­tion­ship forged by attrac­tion alone, and the mess of this real­i­ty began to creep up behind them. Though, none of this was impor­tant. This was a mat­ter of self; I did not want them to break up.

             When I got to my floor, I could already hear them as I passed by her door to get to mine. Des­per­ate sobs. Akin to the preg­nan­cy scare sobs, but less existential—more heart­bro­ken. Long, deep, drawn out—like being pushed out of a brass instru­ment. Under­neath those sobs was the guy say­ing, Come on. Are you seri­ous? You knew this!

           I stopped in front of her door and pressed my ear to it—a high-risk urge much eas­i­er to suc­cumb to than you might expect. I could hear much bet­ter out there; the sounds were crisp and alive, like I was stand­ing in the liv­ing room with them.

            You knew this. Like—I told you that at the start, the guy said.

            I didn’t know you were still see­ing oth­er peo­ple, though. I thought we were past that.

           Her sobs got caught in her throat.

            I am. I am, but I like you both. That doesn’t take any­thing away from you.

            I can’t believe this.

            Come on.

            I can’t believe this.

            To be fair, I had assumed she knew. Occa­sion­al­ly when she wasn’t home, I would hear him walk into his place, laugh­ing along with a voice that wasn’t hers. It was always so con­ve­nient­ly timed that I assumed it was an arrange­ment. Her heav­ing proved oth­er­wise, but it was enter­tain­ing, nonetheless.

            There was an abrupt sound of heavy foot­steps and the tell­tale sign of a lock being undone. I slow­ly and as unpan­icked as pos­si­ble, walked to my door and began to put the key in.

            The two of them were sud­den­ly out­side with me. It felt famil­ial, though nei­ther of them noticed my presence.

            Go. She point­ed to his door.

            Oh my God.

            I’m seri­ous. Go play with your oth­er toy.

            At this, I went into my apart­ment, only to get a bet­ter visu­al through my peep­hole. That was the mon­ey shot. At first, I could only see him—his back pressed against his front door, and his arms spread eagle, grasp­ing for a way out.

            We talked about this. You know monogamy isn’t for me.

            Then go—be free.

            She walked so she was stand­ing in his face, fore­head to fore­head with him. They yelled at each oth­er for anoth­er five min­utes before she said, I’m done, and walked back into her apart­ment. There were her foot­steps; the click of the door open­ing; the slam; and then nothing.


            The silence that fol­lowed was the qui­etest it had been in a month or two. I laid in bed and watched the ceil­ing fan turn until the arms of it liqui­fied into one sol­id cir­cle around the lights. I stared at the lights until it hurt my eyes; the bright cir­cles, blink­ing resid­u­al­ly in my view as I assessed my room. I had already been through both New Girl and Every­body Hates Chris’ entire series respec­tive­ly five and four times; there were no sur­pris­es left. There was noth­ing. Not even a drone of white noise or leak­ing faucet water. I checked my phone and I had no texts. Insta­gram was most­ly peo­ple I didn’t talk to any­more. One of my friends that moved away slid up on a sto­ry I post­ed about Inse­cure end­ing and said: I guess Lawrence can stay. I liked it and said: Girl, I guess. I scrolled through the rest of our mes­sages since she moved away. They were all about as incon­se­quen­tial as that. YouTube proved to be tem­porar­i­ly mind numb­ing and I watched a video essay about Mark Rothko. When that video end­ed, I stared at my reflec­tion in the black screen and traced the out­line of myself in the col­lect­ed dust.


            I found myself knock­ing on my neighbor’s door before I could think bet­ter of it. Like a quick flash—my knuck­les were against the hard­wood, and then she was twist­ing the knob.

            Her face was all red—freckles dis­ap­peared in the tear stained, inflamed skin. A mane of curls cas­cad­ing down to her shoulders.

            Yeah?  She looked me up and down.

            Hey. I live over there.

            She just nod­ded, prod­ding me for the point.

            I’m sor­ry, I began again. I just want­ed to know if I could bor­row a tampon.

            She broke an apolo­getic smile that was crooked on its left side. Her face fell in a way that seemed she was embar­rassed of her brashness.

            God. Yeah, sor­ry. Here, just, um— She opened her door and motioned for me to come in. What do you want—light? Super?

            She lived in a one bed­room that mir­rored mine. The bath­room was in that first hall­way, and I scanned her place as she dis­ap­peared into it. There was none of the per­son­al­ized mono­grammed art I’d expect­ed. No gold­fish. In fact, the walls were most­ly emp­ty aside from a few stock Ikea paint­ings and one lone, prac­ti­cal­ly vin­tage One Direc­tion poster right above her bed. The apart­ment smelled of nothing—no can­dles, no sprays, no oil dif­fusers, which was so un-twen­ty-some­thing-year-old-girl like of her I won­dered if there was some­thing wrong with her. There was one with­er­ing set of flow­ers on the kitchen island, but that was all. I decid­ed I liked my ver­sion of her place more—it felt truer.

            I’ll take what I can get, I said.

            What’s your name?

            She was rum­mag­ing through the cab­i­net under the sink, pulling out hair straight­en­ers and hair ties alike. I told her what it was.

            That’s fun­ny, she said. You look like one.

            Then she told me her name was Dar­leen, and I told her she looked like one too.

            It’s sup­posed to mean Darling—loved one, she said.  Which, I don’t feel much like right now.

            Mine means “Filled heart,” I said with air quotes.


            I shook my head. No. Not right now.

            She walked out of the bath­room with three tampons—two light, one super. Her body was swim­ming in an over­sized Mets t‑shirt, as if it was night­gown. As she placed them in my hand, she said, I know you can prob­a­bly hear us. Sor­ry about that.

            Don’t wor­ry about it. Seri­ous­ly. I put the tam­pons in my pocket.

            I used to hear you, too, actu­al­ly. That guy.

            Ah. I nod­ded my head. Sorry.

            No, it’s okay. I thought about you, actu­al­ly. I hoped you were alright when I noticed he stopped com­ing around.

            There was a moment of silence that sat a bit too long, but it main­tained a soft­ness I felt could be use­ful to me.

            It’s that guy right? The one that lives across from me?

            She smiled and nod­ded her head—still fond at the thought of him, despite every­thing that had just happened.

            Yeah. It’s a fun­ny sto­ry, actu­al­ly. Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.

            Sure. Thanks for these.

            I walked back into my apart­ment and put the tam­pons in the box with the oth­ers I had.


            For a while, it did not seem like they were going to get back togeth­er. Because of this, it was silent in my apart­ment for three weeks. This was bad for me—I need­ed them to occu­py my mind while home. I start­ed tak­ing extra shifts at work just to stay out the house. I would hope to come home and hear anything—them laugh­ing, talk­ing, fight­ing, fuck­ing. But there was noth­ing. My ex-boyfriend had stopped com­ing by because he’d effec­tive­ly got­ten back every­thing that he wanted—excluding the Cavs jersey—but would call occa­sion­al­ly. It was always out of con­cern; out of the pla­ton­ic love we’d built since we were chil­dren. At some point I stopped answer­ing him. It felt like the wrong deci­sion to make, so I made it. The resid­ual high sati­at­ed me for a while. I called some of my old friends a time or two, but it was always brief and most­ly unex­cit­ing in the way things nev­er were when they still lived in town. Pod­casts became impor­tant to me quick­ly. After work, I would sit out­side the store and watch the cars go by.

            Dur­ing the third week of silence, I burned my hand bad­ly at work. I was heat­ing up water in a mug to make tea, and while tak­ing it out of the microwave, I spilled it all over me. The skin tem­porar­i­ly became flim­sy and loose, and the pain reduced me to a child. Whim­per­ing and jump­ing as I shook my hand, like I’d fall­en off my bike and need­ed a kiss. A few of my co-work­ers helped me get ice until Josi­ah came in and said, You’re not sup­posed to ice it. Here, run it under room tem­per­a­ture water. He took my hand in his and ran the water over both of ours like it was his pain too. We stood there like that—his thumb glid­ing over the inside of my hand, sooth­ing it— until I told him I felt okay. He then sat me down and rubbed Neosporin on my palm. Nice and slow, to savor the moment. We didn’t talk much. I sat still and let him take care of me. It was then that I real­ized I had not touched any­one in a long time. I had not kissed any­one, hugged any­one, had my hand del­i­cate­ly loved on. It was a sud­den but alarm­ing rev­e­la­tion— dis­cov­er­ing I was will­ing to do any­thing for it. 


            There was not much else. I attempt­ed to build a book­shelf. Picked up a poet­ry book an old friend post­ed on her Insta­gram sto­ry. I start­ed going for walks. Any con­trol I felt I had dwin­dled into a thin string I could hard­ly tie. I had a close call steal­ing a can­dle from Bath & Body Works. I wasn’t able to sleep all the way through the night, even with mela­tonin. I laid in bed most nights and filled the absence with my mind. I imag­ined they were talk­ing on the oth­er side of that wall, or per­haps, they were talk­ing to me. Those moments felt awful­ly normal.

            In that forth week, Dar­leen knocked on my door. Her face was hard­ly vis­i­ble in the over­growth of her hair. When I opened the door she had a bot­tle of Caber­net in her hand, dan­gling like a weight. Before I could speak, she just said:

            I’m kin­da drunk, so kick me out if you want— but I need to talk to some­one and no one is answer­ing my calls.

            I would have been more offend­ed under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, but my need for com­pa­ny was stronger than my pride.


            The girl scanned my walls inquis­i­tive­ly, walked right up to a can­dle I had burn­ing and took a strong whiff—told me the can­dle smelled like “man.”

            It’s fen­nel and pine, I said.

            Fen­nel and pine, she repeat­ed absent­ly. Her voice was soft­er, and raspi­er than I remem­bered. She took her free hand to scratch her fore­head and began to lazi­ly walk through the room, pick­ing up note­books before putting them down—opening and clos­ing the blinds like they were some kind of puz­zle. She thumbed at the tape hold­ing up a Sade poster over the couch and I fought the urge to tell her to stop.

            You’re not busy? she asked, rolling one of my pens around the inside of her wine-stained fin­gers. I shook my head. Can I just vent to you? She asked.

            Of course. I repressed my excitement.

            Lit­er­al­ly stop me any­time. She then sat down at the kitchen table and began tear­ing up.


            She and the guy start­ed see­ing each oth­er in Novem­ber. He had knocked on her door to see if she had a bot­tle open­er. He nev­er gave it back to her, so a week lat­er she went over to get it—I had bot­tles to open too, you know—and he was like, I can’t find it. Here, come in. She sat at his counter, and they talked for two hours. I remem­ber think­ing he smelled like a for­est, she said. Right after rain.

            The open­er was in the kitchen draw­er the entire time. And then they fell into a rou­tine. She said at the begin­ning he did men­tion he was see­ing oth­er peo­ple, though, of course, she assumed it was for the time being. When they start­ed see­ing each oth­er every day she assumed she was the only one, and all those nights he didn’t come home she thought he was out being a drunk­en man with his friends at bars.

            He’s been tex­ting me, but I haven’t texted him back, yet.

            Yet? I sat up.

            I know it’s bad. I like him, but I don’t love him. We aren’t entire­ly good for each oth­er but, some­times you just take what you can get. You know?

            I do, I said.  I looked at her; body perched in one of my kitchen chairs, sip­ping direct­ly from the bottle.

            You seem to be cop­ing with your breakup well, though.

            I shrugged.  I won­dered how she would feel know­ing how much I knew about their rela­tion­ship, or the role she played in the coping.

            He was the last per­son close to me that still lived in town, I added, rock­ing back on the hind legs of my chair. All our oth­er friends slow­ly got city jobs and moved away one by one.

            So, what do you get up to now?

           Noth­ing. I’m very bored these days. I try to find ways to enter­tain myself.

            What’s that thing? She said, in a bub­bly, bur­py gig­gle. The idle mind being the devil’s playground?

            She drank more of her wine, and I watched it fall down her throat in car­toon-like gulps. It occurred to me that this inter­ac­tion might not be sig­nif­i­cant to her. Just a drunk­en ther­a­py to exor­cise her thoughts on her boyfriend—I, the only per­son present enough to help her do so—and in the morn­ing, this would all be a hazy half mem­o­ry, which could be qual­i­fied as a dream.

           I was a place hold­er. She was white noise. I sup­pose we all do what we must to get by.

           I have this idea of hit­ting rock bot­tom and becom­ing a worse ver­sion of myself, to then come back refined, I said.

            She stared at me blankly. Why would you do that?

            It might be fun. Keep me busy. It’s like play­ing a video game. Mak­ing all these bad deci­sions, but they’re mine to make.


            It was said as a half thought—her mind was else­where. She set the wine bot­tle down on the kitchen table. It was most­ly emp­ty and left a nice red ring on my white table­cloth. Then she said, I think I’m going to take him back soon.

            Even if he’s still see­ing that oth­er girl.

            She nodded.

            I’ll just deal with it. I’m not good at being alone. Does that make me a bad person?

            I’m not the best per­son right now, so you’re ask­ing the wrong one.

            You keep say­ing that. She drunk­en­ly tilt­ed her head to the right, and it made her whole body sag a lit­tle. What do you mean? She asked smal­ly. Like, what are you doing?

            I mean, I sighed. I might fuck my co-worker.

            That’s not bad.

            He has a girl­friend, though. And she’s real­ly nice. I like her.


            She squirmed a bit in her chair and avert­ed eye con­tact. I real­ized that maybe her ver­sion of a bad per­son and mine weren’t exact­ly mir­rored def­i­n­i­tions, but we were oper­at­ing from the same core.

            After a moment of silence, I saw her face tight­en. She said, Please don’t remind me of any of this in the morn­ing, okay? Then stood up to throw up in the bath­room toi­let. I could hear it echo­ing and splat­ter­ing against the porce­lain sides all the way from the liv­ing room. The retch­ing was vio­lent. I knew she would remem­ber none of this the next morning.

            I joined her on my knees, gath­er­ing her hair in my once burned hand like rope, and held her as her body lurched for­ward. After, I wiped her face soft­ly with a tow­el, gave her water, and walked her back to her apart­ment. Inside, she climbed into a big sweatshirt—It doesn’t even smell like him any­more, she said— and I laid her down in bed, push­ing a trash­can to her bedside.

            Lock the door, I called back. She said nothing.

            Once back in my apart­ment, I wrote on a piece of paper: BUY HER FLOWERS. SHE WILL TAKE YOU BACK and slid it under the guy’s door.


            Work was slow the next day because there had been an ice storm. The roads were slick and emp­ty, which gave us all free reign to be on our phones or take turns play­ing dif­fer­ent con­soles when our man­agers weren’t look­ing. Josi­ah and I hung at the back of the store, stand­ing as close as pos­si­ble to the HD screens to see what it did to our eyes.

            The thing is, I gen­uine­ly liked him as a per­son. He was dark skinned, had a head full of hair, and was twice my size—which was just my type. Our humors aligned in a way he often told me him and his girlfriend’s did not. I’m sure it was an inten­tion­al manip­u­la­tion, but I didn’t mind—it felt warm.

            There was an HQ replay of a Steel­ers game unfold­ing before us. I was mak­ing a com­ment about how it felt like 4‑D Smell-o-vision when he took my hand and used it to touch my hair.

            You do it your­self? He asked, eyes not leav­ing mine once.

            I smacked my teeth. Come on now.

            He smiled. You know how do to cornrows?


            He then took the hand and touched it to his head. I could feel the minute coils on my fin­ger­tips, already work­ing them­selves to bur­row under my hangnails.

            You think you can do mine? My girl’s out of town.

            I paused.

            When? I asked.


            Around that time, I often felt like I was sus­pend­ed some­where in the air, watch­ing myself live and act and breathe. Observ­ing my body move around pow­er­ful­ly from out­side my body, like a video game—removed from my actions, my con­se­quences. In that moment, I returned to my bones.


            Except for Dar­leen, no one new had been to my apart­ment in a long time. When we walked in, I become hyper aware of the rolled up, dirty white moun­tain of socks in the cor­ner by my vinyl—the way the couch frayed white where leather should have been. Where it once was.

            Josi­ah walked to the front of the room and thumbed through a poet­ry book that was sit­ting on the TV stand, skim­ming page seventy.

           Are you gonna show me around? He asked.

            There’s only two rooms, I said, more soft and less assured than any­thing else I’d ever said to him. 

            So, show me them.

            He motioned me towards him. When I was stand­ing in front of him he play­ful­ly turned me around by my shoul­ders and point­ed to the paint­ing above the couch. What’s this?

            I showed him the black and white Pol­lock imitation—left out that it was some­thing my ex-boyfriend and I had worked on togeth­er, long before we’d even dat­ed. I showed him the can­dles I hoard­ed and how they lived in the box under the TV stand, because I don’t burn them faster than I buy them.

            And this? he asked, pick­ing up a golf ball sit­ting on my desk.

            An old friend and I found it on a walk a long time ago.

            You seem like a sen­ti­men­tal per­son, he said, earnest­ly in a breath. I shrugged and became very hot suddenly.

            I have been one at times.


            We walked onto my bal­cony and spit off of it onto the cement—it was his idea. He said he used to do that a lot in the place he grew up. A small apart­ment not too dif­fer­ent from mine.

            I felt it again then— a pinch of con­trol while up there wield­ing our agency like gods. The pinch felt too much a moment lat­er when his hand touched my back and asked if we should wash his hair.

            Yes, I heard myself say. There was an elec­tric­i­ty in the air. A shift had occurred. I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I was still try­ing to decide what kind of per­son I was.


            We stood in the kitchen—he in front of me, back bent, head under the sink faucet. The room smelled like argon oil and mint—strongly grip­ping at the nose.

            I used to love when my mom washed my hair like this, he said. And then, in the most airy, sin­cere voice I’d ever heard from him, I think this just brought back a for­ma­tive memory.

            I’ve nev­er done this to some­one before, actually.

            I feel lucky, he laughed. To be your first.

            My fin­gers were tan­gled in sham­poo, wash­ing and lath­er­ing his hair from the back, hard­ly able to reach over his tall frame. He laughed when I used my nails to real­ly get in there. We were so close. I could see the open brown skin of his scalp and the way his hair sponged and soaked up the prod­uct. Some­thing about see­ing the top of his head, vul­ner­a­bly car­ing for him in this way, human­ized him to me. Proved he was breath­ing, warm to the touch, with blood inside. A per­son, with aches, hungers, mem­o­ries. When he was a kid his moth­er washed his hair over the sink, and he used to spit off bal­conies— the facts of a real per­son with a real life. He was him­self, and a son, and boyfriend. He was a boyfriend, and I was cradling his head soft­ly in my hands.

           When I asked if he okay he said, Yes—please, keep going. This feels good.

            It had been more inti­mate that I had expect­ed; the act of wash­ing his hair and feel­ing the heat of his body alone in my home as opposed to the open exhi­bi­tion of our job. It felt con­crete, not just a play­ful, casu­al tee­ter­ing on an awful edge for our own plea­sure. It was clear that this could be the begin­ning of a con­sis­tent complication.

            When we fin­ished, I sat in a chair—he sat on the floor at my feet, fac­ing the tele­vi­sion. As time went on, I became qui­eter. Tread­ing cau­tious­ly. I blow dried his hair as slow­ly as pos­si­ble, attempt­ing to find out if I was more moral than des­per­ate, more self­ish than kind, all while watch­ing his hair go smooth in my hands.

           When I clicked the blow dry­er off, behind the sound of the tele­vi­sion was my neigh­bor talk­ing. There were two voic­es, drip­ping with the spe­cif­ic affec­tion that comes post-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. She cooed and the guy laughed. I love them, I love them, she said loud­ly, and I won­dered if she want­ed me to hear. Yeah? He replied.

            They don’t sound like they’re fight­ing any­more, Josi­ah said.

            Yeah, I guess they’re not. She’s weak for him. I ran the end of a rat­tail comb down the mid­dle of his head to form a part. They prob­a­bly shouldn’t be togeth­er if I’m being honest.

            Who cares? Everyone’s just doing what feels best to them, he said stand­ing up.

            He turned towards me and asked if the part looked straight, extend­ing a hand so I would stand up too. His eyes scanned me as I stood in front of him re-draw­ing the part, push­ing some hairs to the side, avoid­ing the warmth on my face and what I’d like to do about it if I was, in fact, more des­per­ate than moral. His shoul­ders and my fore­head were lev­el with each oth­er. Sud­den­ly, my face was being held in his rough hands, pulling my gaze up so we were look­ing at each oth­er. I took the comb and adjust­ed all the zig-zag­ging parts, mak­ing it as straight as pos­si­ble. He licked his lips.

            Remem­ber what you told me you weren’t, I said, qui­et­ly. At work that day.

            I do.

            What are you now?

            In this moment? He laughed. I’m still not.

            It just seemed like in that moment, us being out on the floor was the decid­ing variable.

            I sup­pose you’re right.

            Josi­ah and I stood in a charged silence, and then he added, You don’t have any room­mates that are gonna come knock­ing, right? I shook my head. Any friends that just show up?

            No, I said. No friends that show up.


            No, I said. No boyfriend.

            He nod­ded as his hands trav­elled cau­tious­ly to my low­er back. Josiah’s lips brushed against my neck as he leaned down to my ear.

            That pow­er you felt, he whis­pered. Do you still feel it?

            His fin­gers pressed into my back slow and soft, as if play­ing a chord. My body knew that move­ment. It hummed. I exhaled as he inhaled, and I felt it as one.

            To be hon­est, it all hap­pened very quick­ly. I couldn’t bring myself to speak—I just leaned into the touch.

From the writer


:: Account ::

This sto­ry came to me in 2021 as the pan­dem­ic was still present, but the cul­ture and pre­cau­tions were not the same as they’d been the year before. I’d become hyper aware of my iso­la­tion and all the futile ways I’d attempt to feel con­nect­ed to oth­ers. Escapism at the time seemed to be the only bit of refuge—whether that be escap­ing online, in media, books, or my own imag­i­na­tion. I could often hear my neigh­bors through our adjoined wall, and I would won­der about them. 

I’d spo­ken to many peo­ple about how they’d dealt with their lone­li­ness at that time, and it became clear to me that des­per­a­tion lived with many peo­ple. I am always inter­est­ed in what des­per­a­tion leads a per­son to, and after the lone­ly peri­od that fol­lowed 2020, this felt like a sto­ry I need­ed to write. 


Alle­gra Solomon is a Black fic­tion writer from Colum­bus, Ohio. She received her MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ken­tucky and her B.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty. Her work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Tri­Quar­ter­ly, New Ohio Review, Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Review, Lol­we and more. She was the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kentucky’s 2022 recip­i­ent of the Fic­tion MFA award. She lives in Lex­ing­ton, Kentucky