NEXT


It was Tuesday.                                                                                    

She knew that it was Tuesday, because she could hear the muffled drone of the vacuum above her head. Her upstairs neighbor always vacuumed on Tuesdays. For two years she’d lived with the sound and it was always right on schedule. It had eventually become a thing known on a subconscious level, as repetitive sounds and actions often are. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d paid it much attention. She couldn’t recall marking it as a special occasion, not for some long time.

But today she noticed. Today it stood out, stark, discomforting.

It was Tuesday, 11 a.m.

Her foot itched.

She’d always wondered about people who were so damned organized. Most especially she wondered why people were so rigid in their routines when they didn’t have to be. This neighbor didn’t have a job, after all. This neighbor was retired. This neighbor didn’t do much of anything, except keep tight schedules.

There was housecleaning day, thus the vacuum. There was grocery getting day, post office day. There were the scheduled walks, never spontaneous.

There was even phone call day.

She’d never really tried to keep track, to note these habits as if listing them out. It was knowledge taken for granted. Something she’d noticed in her first year living in the building. The sort of thing that seeps into one’s brain and sticks, because brains like to make their own lists.

She once fancied that her neighbor kept these time tables out of boredom. After all, being retired seemed boring. No one even visited her neighbor. Maybe that was scheduled too. Maybe it happened once a year, for two hours on one day; difficult to say. It was a sad, repulsive thought. Keep lists of things to do so you don’t get lonely and you never get bored. But aren’t the lists boring?

Anyway. She didn’t pay that close attention. She might have missed it when someone visited.

How sad and lonely, keeping schedules, she thought, especially such mundane schedules. She herself didn’t keep schedules. Well, as little as possible, anyway. There was a work schedule of sorts, but right now she was on a forced vacation.

Her foot itched again, but she still couldn’t reach it.

It occurred to her that maybe if she’d meted out her life, her time, in consistent little blocks, she might not be in her current predicament. And maybe someone would have come looking for her. Maybe someone would’ve called, wondering why she’d missed an appointment. Maybe she’d have a boyfriend to rescue her from the dull prison of her apartment.

Her mouth was dry.

She hadn’t been able to keep a boyfriend, because they all thought she was too flighty. That was the word. Other words were flaky, spacey, unreliable and shiftless. She wasn’t shiftless, she just preferred freelancing. There was less oppressive structuring, that way. She could make her own schedules, schedules that weren’t really schedules, because they were always at the mercy of their owner’s whims.

Her mouth hurt and it was dry, but she still couldn’t get a drink.

She recently met a man who seemed to agree that life shouldn’t be compartmentalized. That one should be open to spontaneous events, in fact, one should create their own events; bend to their whims and desires. Do this, he said, and the world is yours, isn’t it?

He said a lot of things that she probably didn’t understand so much as thought sounded good at the time.

Making their own rules sounded ideal, though of course, at some point a person had to show some restraint. At some point there had to be a guideline, or it was just anarchy, chaos. Not to mention, how do you date someone who may or may not be around in five minutes, let alone five days, for example. This had been her problem before. This had been what guys thought of her before, that she was unreliable.

But that was the least of their problems.

Her fingers were getting numb.

He’d agreed that some sort of structure was occasionally called for. He’d said what was even more important than this, was discipline. It hadn’t made sense to her at the time, since it seemed they were speaking of the exact opposite.

But no, he’d said. There is discipline, and then there is discipline.

She was beginning to understand. Actually, she thought she might’ve understood a few days ago, but clearly he disagreed.

Her fingers were numb again, but she was having a very difficult time wriggling them this morning.

She really wished now that she was like the neighbor upstairs. She wished hard for it, for the hundredth time this week. If she was like the neighbor upstairs, the sweet little old lady who never bothered anyone, rarely talked to anyone in the building, and did everything exactly when she was supposed to, things would be so very different right now. She wouldn’t be waiting for him to return, for one thing. She wouldn’t be so hungry and she wouldn’t be so sore.

Why, if she was like the lady upstairs, she probably wouldn’t have met this guy. No, she wouldn’t have, how could she have? And if she had, he’d have found her unappealing, very unappealing, with her perfect little life, her perfect little lists, and all those people expecting her, like the grocer and the post office workers and the librarian who always saw her on Monday mornings. She always goes on Mondays and always at the same time, to turn in a book, stop and chat a moment, and then find a new book to take home and read by Monday.

If she had just kept a damned schedule like that, she’d be with a man who, when he said he’d be back at five, would be back at five. Not five the next day, or the day after, but five that night, five sharp, and he’d have fixings for dinner. Yes, she’d cook dinner at the same time every night, if she could have a guy like that, instead of the one she got.

She’d certainly still have her tongue.

But it was Tuesday. An entire week must’ve passed. She knew, because she remembered hearing the drone of the vacuum above her head when she woke up, tied to the bed and groggy, something in her mouth. She’d thought at first she was dreaming of the sound, the vacuum, because it was such a normal thing stuck down deep into her subconscious. Brains like to make their own files.

It was Tuesday when she realized he’d cut out her tongue and shoved a gag into her mouth. Tuesday when he left her there and she’d tried to scream past the gag but it hurt, and her mouth was full of blood, and she choked, and she cried which made her choke more, so she finally learned not to cry.

She had no tears left, anyway. She was so thirsty and there was no water.

And no one was looking for her. No one could hear her even if she could move to pound on a wall, or scream.

Probably because it was Tuesday the 22nd, the day the notice on her door had informed her that men with pressure washers would be cleaning the building. It was going to be repainted.

Sorry for any inconvenience.


                                                                                                                    

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