Table of Contents
Day in the life of two campus squirrels
By Sarah Stolar
The squirrel is a staple of the University of Michigan’s culture. They make their homes in almost every corner of Ann Arbor, causing mayhem among themselves and providing entertainment for the people who walk through the city’s streets and parks each day. I don’t claim to know everything about squirrels, but in applying the findings from research on the psychology of these (in)famous rodents, I can at least sound like I know a thing or two about squirrels and demystify the lives of our honorary campus mascot.
October had always been Kaia’s favorite month. The fallen leaves crunching underfoot paired with the chill breeze created the ideal setting for the quintessential college experience. The outdoors were a loving complement to the mugs of hot coffee, piles of soft sweaters and horror movies that were waiting for her inside her apartment.
Kaia stepped off of South University Avenue and made her way toward her art history class at Angell Hall, stepping through the arch and toward the Diag as hundreds of other students scurried to arrive at their prospective destinations. It was like a pattern of nature, this migration of students leaving from or heading toward a new location 10 minutes before the hour. A pack of swans headed north, limited only by a semesterly class schedule.
Passing by the Shapiro Library, Kaia could see at least six squirrels in her line of vision, though there were likely many more hiding behind trees and under benches within the same area. Fox squirrels, gray squirrels and a couple black squirrels were all visible among the detritus and dwindling grass on the ground. Their little paws clacked on the pavement and carried them in seemingly random directions as they climbed trees and ran across the parade of undergraduates monopolizing the sidewalks.
Kaia always thought that the Ann Arbor squirrels were cute, if a bit brainless. Last fall, her roommate had even kicked an unlucky, frantic one of these creatures while running in Nichols Arboretum as it darted in front of her on the path.
They were cute, but that did not mean Kaia found them completely endearing, or respectable. Squirrels could be ruthless, mean, erratic — and their scavenging habits involving campus trash bins diminished any majestic quality they may have otherwise carried.
In essence: Squirrels were a part of Kaia’s life, sometimes adding dynamic, comedic value or wholesome interactions. But overall, they were just — there. For her and the rest of the some 30,000 students who trek across campus each day. A neutral component of life in Ann Arbor.
As she passed the Block ‘M’ on the Diag, Kaia saw one of these well-known, overweight squirrels of Central Campus nosing its way through a pile of plastic cups and takeout bags on top of one of the trash cans that hug the Diag’s cement benches. Not seeing what it wanted after searching for several seconds, the squirrel jumped down and started sniffing the ground by a tree. Kaia didn’t know what it was thinking, but it seemed determined, in a thoughtless kind of way.
She exhaled a breath out of her nose in a semblance of a laugh and continued walking toward the doors of Mason Hall. As she stepped in the building, she thought: Those dumb squirrels.
The stockpile was 46.38 feet away at a 29 degree angle when facing north. Dig approximately four inches down, and there will be two walnuts … confirmed! Cache numbers 36 through 39 still need to be checked today. Caches 3, 13 and 20 have been raided by neighboring enemies. Will proceed with operations to claim further territory and obtain additional resources. Next step: Infiltrate human waste receptacles and analyze inventory.
Bo had been working this territory since she was a kit, her entire three years of life spent in the same two-mile radius, doing what she could to obtain the resources she needed to live and to ensure she was covered for the long-term. She had a network of treasure troves, storing the most valuable and durable feed she could find at precise locations around the area. Most of these were carefully embedded within root systems surrounding the concrete and brick mass that was ever populated with people. They were always sidestepping the innermost portion of this brick mass, these people, as if something terribly bad would happen if they stepped directly upon it.
A rectangular clearing surrounded by buildings on each side, Bo made her home in a central location of the humans’ habitat, where there was always the possibility of food and plenty of space to spread her resources.
She continued her investigation into the state of her resources. Dig, check, hide was the rhythm of her work. Her two small paws worked in tandem to reveal each store while her mind was 15 steps ahead, thinking of possible threats to her hard-earned belongings and cataloging those she had already deemed secure.
Bo was always prepared, considering each negative outcome that could arise in the future. Hers was a popular territory, and many other squirrels fought for placement within this rich hunting ground. It could be ruthless, but she was not afraid of concocting calculated plans to secure her network and subsistence.
Predators were never too much of a worry due to the sheer volume of people interacting within Bo’s living space. This was one thing they were useful for. Yet, the behaviors of these confounding humans that invaded her home each day — tying pieces of nylon tarp to the trees within which she made her nests, covering her scavenging grounds with squares of linen and taunting her with inedible food — introduced further obstacles to days already filled with carefully outlined agendas.
Hunting, storing, measuring, indexing and defending were integral components of the machine that was her existence.
An essential step of this ritual was sifting through the waste receptacles placed on nearly-even intervals at the corners of the concrete rectangle, with additional containers dotting the periphery of the area. The food from these bins was invaluable in late autumn, as the trees no longer grew the nuts she relied upon. Soon, Bo would be thrown into the lethal grip of winter with few scavenging resources outside of the occasional generosity of a human offering an almond.
Her mind moved faster than her paws as she immersed herself within the receptacle, finding nothing but paper and plastic. She found a single sunflower seed, shaking her head back and forth as she decided whether to transfer it to her abode or consume it as today’s fuel. A quick, careful decision: The seed was quickly eaten, not worth expending the energy to store.
Failed attempt to scavenge receptacle for long-term goods; caches 36 through 39 secured.
In the warm months, Bo lived a comfortable life. She could depend on the humans to offer her an assortment of treats, including nuts, seeds and fruits. But with each passing day, the degrees dropped steadily and, consequently, Bo’s hard work began. Finished with the day’s tasks, Bo turned toward her tree, to recharge with some rest before another day of grueling work exercising her recollective abilities.
She stopped. Putting her little nose into the air, she detected the faintest hint of the lottery of her scavenging procedures: A simple, perfect peanut, approximately 37 feet away. But moving farther.
She had to find it.
Forgetting her tree, she turned away and slowly walked forward, examining the air for a hint of the delectable scent she had just captured — there! A human on a two-wheeled vehicle was racing ahead with a sack on their back. On the side, in a slim pocket, Bo spotted an open plastic bag, from which the enticing smell was emanating.
A few peanuts were nearly falling out of the opening in the bag. If only she could reach them, grab them and take them. That bag would last her for a week once the snow covered the ground.
Minemineminemine she said over and over inside of her head as she raced after the vehicle that seemed to be going exponentially faster than she was. She instantly calculated the scene before her: If she increased her speed by 3.7 miles per hour, she could reach the human on the vehicle within 24 feet. Her determination drove her forwardforwardforward, across the pavement, onto the road, nearly colliding with a large vehicle before almost hitting an even LARGER blue and yellow vehicle where humans were gathering in a pack-like formation. 10 feet.
The human moving on two wheels was still ahead, but less so now. Bo kept running, catapulted forward on survival adrenaline and methodical conviction, when suddenly it happened.
Three perfectly round, whole peanuts fell out of the sack. She stumbled, but kept moving forward as this attainable prize was set before her. Her fur and skin jiggled as she ran, the extra food she’d been given by the humans throughout September slowing her down. But she was so close to heaven on Earth it didn’t matter.
She was there — wait!
Her head whipped to the side, to where motion had caught her eye. Jumping out from one of the blue and yellow monstrosities of a vehicle, was another, skinny squirrel. Heading right for the peanuts. Her peanuts.
Fall was ABSOLUTELY Pat’s least favorite season. It meant plants were dying, which meant he was getting close to winter, which meant approaching death and fighting for his life among the snow for more food. No camouflage, no protection — Pat was utterly and devastatingly defenseless against the raptors in the sky if they saw him from within the trees.
Nothing gave Pat more distress than the upcoming cold season. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Loud noises, sudden human movement, other animals, strong smells, bright lights and sprinklers were also understandably terrifying and always antagonized him with their appearances! There was never a time for rest as a result of these ever-constant, entirely-petrifying and lethal dangers to his existence. It wasn’t HIS fault if, instead of protecting his food, he had to run and hide from a human blaring obscene, gritty sound from a portable electrical device!
Hunger was driving his every move. Pat’s stores were always at risk. Self-preservation was the only rule; everyone acted for themselves here, wherever “here” was. The presence of human signs made Pat think that this might be an important place, with strange landmarks dotted throughout. This included a tall, brown habitat built by the humans that chimed with a high-pitched sound every once in a while, and humans often congregated on a nearby section of ground covered in sand, throwing a round object back and forth.
Pat lived only according to what he could gather for himself before frost began covering the ground. His entire body ached as he arrived at the last of his dozens of food storage sites, having already checked the others in his dwindling set of stockpiles. He dug and dug and stared down into the hole in the ground. Nothing — all gone. He wasn’t surprised; he was, however, hit with simultaneous feelings of dread, disappointment and slowly blooming panic as he realized what this meant.
He looked to his left. That sonofabitch squirrel who lived in the tree next to him was screaming at him in derision, two walnuts peeking out of his expanded cheeks as he raised his high voice. Usually, Pat would fight tooth and nail to take HIS property back. But this just exhausted even more energy, energy that should only be spent finding and storing what he could keep for himself. A sharp, scratchy sound ripped out of his throat as he turned toward the trees once again in search of a single nut or piece of fruit.
I can’t — I can’t find any more. But I have to, I have to look everywhere, I have no other choice. It has to be done.
One of those blue and yellow monsters screeched to a stop before him, releasing humans from its belly and swallowing up several more. Pat began running right past it — hold on. A human was holding his favorite treat, a mix of fruit and nuts, but she was already being consumed by the beast. He himself would have to enter, and quickly, if he wanted any chance at this delicious item.
ThinkthinkthinkthinkTHINK. Okay OKAY we need it let’s do it go go GO!!
Pat flung himself forward, bounding, leaping into the air and into the maw of the monster, seconds before its teeth snapped shut.
He froze — he was surrounded by humans, on all sides. He planted himself at the feet of the human with the mouth-watering food … but almost immediately the monster began to move.
No! Nononono!! Pat was flung from his perch next to the human and SLAMMED into the side of the monster’s belly. He slid down down down the cavern as it turned, hitting the back of its body as it continued its menacing sprint forward.
Pat gripped the ground and the sides of the predator with all four paws as it screamed and screeched every time it moved, making the ground shake and Pat’s grip slip. The viewpoints to the outside world were blurry, everything moving at much too great a speed! The movement seemed to last for hours, shaking him from any spot he tried to remain in.
If he was subject to one more minute of this hell, winter wouldn’t even be a concern — his heart would stop on its own.
The beast began to slow, shaking Pat from his spot once more, but he was able to keep his hold, on the bus and on his very life. At last, the doors of the forsaken monster opened, Pat’s heartbeat thumpthumpthumping faster and louder than he’d ever thought possible. Seeing an opening among the legs of humans packed into the small space, he flung himself out of the beast onto the pavement. His head darted side-to-side, taking in his surroundings within milliseconds, adrenaline pumping through his veins.
Pat heard a human scream and shout in the foreign human tongue. Whatever it meant, the person was clearly distressed. But that was of little concern to Pat.
He tried to slow his racing mind, his senses overwhelmed and his body aching from holding onto the monster as it raced forward. Blinking hard, breathing harder, he surveyed his surroundings. Oh no — the human with the food was gone. Pat’s panic quickly rose again, his eyes searching for any sign of the treat that was once just feet from his minuscule little pawtips.
He stopped; A marvel lay before him. Three of the largest peanuts he had ever seen lay twenty feet before him. The blue and yellow monster had transported him to a true land of plenty!
Pat sprinted, as quick as his legs would take him, closing in, closer, closer, closer to the target —
BAM. He was hit by a mountain of fur, fat and skin, slammed away from the food he desperately needed and attacked by claws and screams of what he now knew was a much larger behemoth of a squirrel. They rolled and rolled, and Pat finally snapped out of his shock long enough to begin fighting back.
A tangle of paws and tails, screaming at each other, the two creatures held nothing back in their quest for dominance, for survival and for the ultimate prize. Time seemed to slow and quicken at once, this deciding battle a chance for life or death, the parties chasing and clawing at each other, back and forth until only one was standing.
A fatal dance, an altercation like no other.
Kaia started walking back to her home off of Geddes Avenue, through the Diag and past the Central Campus Transit Center. She took in the fiery colors of the leaves, the cloudy day around her one last time before retiring indoors for the rest of the day.
She stopped as she heard a violent chorus of chitters and screeches coming from her right. It sounds like cartoon characters trying to kill each other. Kaia glanced over, seeing two small brown furry masses running in circles around a pitifully tiny pile of peanuts. It was comical, really, how they zoomed around an area no larger than ten square feet with their ferocious energy. No other thoughts in their tiny little heads besides chasing each other, their actual goal probably already forgotten.
Kaia sighed and stepped toward the pathetic creatures. She took out a few cashews from the nut mix in her backpack and stopped before the chaotic squabble. The squirrels stopped their pursuit and jumped back from her, retreating several feet at the approach of this terrifyingly large human. Kaia laid a few of her treats down a foot away from the pile of peanuts. The fatter squirrel explored this new pile with curiosity while the regular-sized rodent remained at the original pile, too apprehensive to get close to her.
They both sniffed their respective piles tentatively, flicking their heads back and forth before shoving the riches into their mouths and running away in opposite directions.
Kaia zipped up her backpack once more and stood up from her squatted position, thinking to herself as she continued home.
Those dumb squirrels.
Statement Correspondent Sarah Stolar can be reached at email@example.com.
Red Water, Clear Water
By Riley Hodder
Content warning: Descriptions of animal abuse, violence, blood, murder and suicide.
Sometimes she daydreamed so intensely she would almost turn into a fog.
Margot was 15. She turned into a fog that day, the day that it happened. A girl had skipped class because her cat died. Margot got to thinking about what would happen if her dog died.
She could feel its soft black and white fur underneath her hands as she twisted its neck, could feel that snap, like the pop of a balloon as you watched somebody squeeze it: terrifying, but satisfying. She could feel the dog writhe, its tail and legs slap against her thighs. She could see its blue eyes staring up at her in fear. Fear that would never fade.
And then she blinked, and she was in her bathroom back at home, washing her hands of something.
The cold water had been the thing to wake her up, its cold touch seducing her back into reality. She wiped her hands on a towel and gazed into the sink. Was that dirt around the rim of the drain?
Her mother cried into her father’s arms that night — their dog had never come home.
The next day, the whole school was talking about the “animal serial killer” running rampant through the town. First Madisyn’s cat, next Margot’s dog. By the time the chatter dissolved and people forgot about the whole thing, three more beloved pets were dead, and Margot had to buy one of those pill organizers for her new meds.
“And what?” Nick said, chewing the crust of his pizza, wiping his fingers of grease. “You think you killed your dog?”
“I don’t know,” Margot said. “I daydreamed about it. And then he was gone.”
“Yeah, but you daydream about everything,” Nick said. “That doesn’t mean you actually did something.”
She was 25 now and a crime reporter. Nick hadn’t come out to lunch because he wanted to. He came because Margot forgot her briefcase. And as her fiancé, there was an expectation that he’d bring it to her.
Margot had only brought up the dog — what was his name again? — because she was terrified. Nick hated it when she brought up the story and she knew he had stopped listening at this point. But she was scared because there was a serial killer on the loose in their town, slaughtering victims meaninglessly and mercilessly. Scared because she was wasting hours of each day sunk in her daydreams.
Daydreams that had consumed her, just like they had when she was 15.
“But I daydreamed about it the day that it happened,” Margot said.
“Did you daydream about the other animals?” Nick said. His brows were furrowed at the center of his forehead, creating lines across his face that made him look older.
“Then it wasn’t you. Just a coincidence,” Nick said. “You couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“That’s not very nice,” Margot said.
“What?” Nick laughed. “You can barely make it to work. You think you could actually carry out a murder?”
He seemed to think this was funny. Margot felt like she had swallowed worms, and they were writhing in her stomach.
“What? You want me to believe you were once some sort of bloodthirsty killer?”
“I want you to believe in something I have to say.”
Nick didn’t go up to the office, just kissed her cheek and left straight from the pizza parlor. Margot went into the lobby and got into the elevator. Just as the doors were shutting, her editor, Amy, slipped inside.
“Hey Margot,” Amy said. “Great piece on the serial killer, by the way.”
Margot gulped. “Thanks,” she said, and hid her hands in her back pockets so Amy couldn’t tell she was shaking.
“I wanted to tell you I’m really proud of you,” Amy said, smile softening. “For working so hard … after everything that happened with your parents.”
Margot’s mom had died four months ago. Her mother, who would hold her daughter’s head in her lap and play with her hair, even when she was sick. Nick had held Margot all that night. Nick’s stiff, cold arms had reminded Margot so much of her father — the way he never cared, the way nothing seemed to matter to him.
Margot’s father had always hated that stupid dog, with its barking and shitting everywhere. And Nick had always hated Margot’s mother.
Margot’s father died a month after her mom did — committed suicide in their empty house. Margot daydreamed about killing him herself, but she knew they were dreams. Still, it seemed more realistic, at least to her. Her father never cared all that much about her mother.
“Thanks,” Margot said, again.
“Of course,” Amy said. “What’s that on your shoe?”
Margot looked down. There was a large, red splotch.
She remembered the dream. She had gotten home from work yesterday and sat on the couch, thinking about their neighbor. Just yesterday he had smiled at her on the street, came up to her and asked her on a date. When she denied him, he called her a “fucking bitch.” She imagined gutting him, right then and there in his front yard, hidden behind his stupid, white fence. She imagined strangling him with his own intestines.
“Pizza sauce,” Margot said, smiling at Amy. Margot’s phone rang.
“Who is it?” Amy asked, more in politeness than anything else.
“My source at the police department,” Margot said. Her heart began to race in her chest.
“Another murder?” Amy asked. “From the serial killer?”
“Let’s hope not,” Margot said.
“How do they even know the murders are connected?” Amy asked. “They all just seem … bloody, to me.”
“Because all the victims look alike,” Margot said. She clicked the answer button and ignored the voice in the back of her head that whispered, They look like Nick. Like your dad.
“Margot,” her source, David, said quickly. “There’s been another murder.”
“Shit,” Margot breathed. She walked briskly away from Amy, afraid of giving some detail away that she didn’t realize. You didn’t even daydream about the first three, she assured herself. “Where? When?”
“We found his body at the trash dump just outside of downtown,” David whispered. “He had his own intestines wrapped around his neck.”
In her mind, Margot was sitting beside Nick as they watched TV on their couch. Margot was still upset. Upset that he hadn’t believed her about her dead childhood dog. Upset that he never really seemed to believe her about anything.
“Did you hear about the other murder?” Margot asked.
“I read your article about it,” Nick said. This was a slight surprise.
“I daydreamed about him,” she whispered. “Just yesterday. Before I found out.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Nick hissed underneath his breath. “Not this again.”
“I’m scared, Nick,” Margot’s voice was wavering. “Can’t you just help me?”
“What? You want me to lock you in the fucking psych ward because you’re daydreaming?” Nick spat at her. She could imagine his face in her mind without even trying, without even looking at him. “Jesus Christ, Margot, you are mental.”
“I’m scared of myself, Nick, isn’t that reason enough?” Margot said. “It’s not … safe. It’s not right.”
“What? Margot, you can barely remember to get up in the morning, let alone kill someone.”
“I can’t remember half of my day,” Margot breathed. “I don’t know where I was when that guy was murdered.”
“You were here,” Nick said. “Complaining about my shit cooking, if you don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember. I don’t even know what’s real anymore.” She was sobbing.
“God, Margot. Can’t you just calm down for one fucking second? You always do this. You make something out of nothing. You turn a spat over the dishes into a week-long argument. You turn a couple of coincidences into the fact that you’re a murderer. It’s pointless. It’s going to ruin your life.”
At least, that’s what Margot imagined he would’ve said, but she had grabbed the knife she stashed in the space between the cushions and stabbed it through his jaw before he could finish.
Her hands were not shaking as she stared into his blue eyes, once full of loathing, now blank with terror. She felt the blood run down her hand. He was alive, in pain and staring at her. A rush of realization flooded his eyes, and it was everything she had ever wanted. Fear, belief, understanding, all at once. Relief crashed over her, like when you first step into the shower.
He could not scream; he was either too scared, or the knife in his jaw was keeping him from opening his mouth. She imagined the sound anyway.
She woke up from her daydream while soaking in the bath. The second the water, reality, touched her, she was lucid again and staring at their sterile white bathroom. She dipped her hands, shaking again, into the water.
She’d never daydreamed about killing Nick before. Her fiancé, the boy she loved. He was familiar and terrifying and the only thing she had. She shut her eyes, willed herself to believe it was just a dream. Nick never believed her mind, why should she?
But when she opened her eyes, she couldn’t deny it. The water was red, red as the footprints and handprints staining their clean, white bathroom tiles. Red as the blood pooling just outside the bathroom door. Red as Nick’s tongue lying on the dinner table. Red as the blood staining their couch, their walls, their everything.
She stared at the water and willed it to become clear. She could almost imagine it. She kept trying.
Red water, clear water, back again.
Statement Correspondent Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
My friend Rina is a real estate agent. Her retouched face stares at me from billboards at several intersections in the city; next to her right cheekbone is text that reads, “#1 Realtor in the Metro Area and the Lakeshore!” followed by a regal, cursive logo.
Today, though, I am seeing her face in person. We have agreed to meet at a coffee shop at a strip mall midway between our two houses. It’s been a while: she is always busy posing in a pantsuit next to a waterfall marble countertop.
I arrive at the cafe a few minutes before 10 and walk in the front door after parking my car. Rina is nowhere in sight, so I sit in an armchair by the window to keep lookout while scrolling through content on my phone. A video of an attractive man using a watermelon as percussion finishes playing onscreen as I hear the muffler of a motorcycle veer into the parking lot.
It’s Rina, adorned in a blue sweater and an athleisure bottom, straddling the leather seat. She parks, dismounts, pats her pockets and walks in through the glass front doors while checking her texts. Her low-heeled boots on the concrete floor of the cafe are metronomic; after a few beats she looks up from her phone.
Rina holds her arms out as she walks toward me and rotates her wrists back and forth, jazzed.
“Sara! It’s so good to see you,” she says. I hold out my arms and we embrace. With my nose over her shoulder I expect to smell the mingling scents of a department store perfume section, but instead I’m greeted by something more focused and leafy: amplified salad.
“It’s really nice to see you, Rina. It’s been a while,” I say. “What are you wearing? You smell good.”
“Oh, that! It’s my new lemongrass serum,” Rina says. “I’m all natural now. Well, my cosmetics are.”
The last time I saw Rina, and all of the times before that, natural was the antithesis of her appearance. We met as new reporters for the Gazette, but her posture, pasted smile and the neutral sleeveless dresses she wore to the newsroom suggested she had higher ambitions. She wanted the sense of celebrity that an endnote reporting credit couldn’t deliver.
“What’s with the new look?” I ask, referring to the lack of pantsuit. “You don’t look much like your billboard.” It’s like someone turned her lipstick saturation down using a photo editor.
“Well, Sara. It’s all a part of my new motto: simplify, simplify, simplify.” Rina sounds like the author of a self-help book. “Have you heard of Marie Kondo?”
I think about the digital culture article I wrote on Kondo back when she became popular. I start to say “yes,” but Rina cuts me off and teaches me about how to tell if something sparks joy or not.
“Coffee would spark joy for me right now.” I put on a flat smile.
“I see you’ve finally gotten good at segues.” Rina’s words prick my ego. She leads us toward the ordering counter; I look up at the long chalkboard menus attached to the wall trying to decipher drink names like “Raspberry Sunset” and “Zebra Zappuccino.”
Rina orders quickly, and at first I think she’s been here before. “Medium coffee, black.” She hands the cashier her card.
“Rina Stone!” The clerk looks up from the register. “I see your billboard on the way here every morning!”
“Well, it’s quite nice to know I’m noticed.” Rina stabilizes an elated smile she can’t quite contain. “And you are,” she pauses to read, “Carson, hmm. One of my exes was named that, but now I just refer to him as Carcinogen. What a name. Ew.”
Carson’s face dims.
“Here’s your receipt. And for you, ma’am?” He gestures to me.
“I’ll do a mocha. Small, please.” I move next to Rina and hand Carson my card. He returns it and then Rina and I walk down the pick-up area of the counter.
“Way to make a barista feel bad about their name,” I half-whisper to Rina. The brown-walled cafe suddenly feels small. “We should get out of here after we get our drinks.”
“He knows it’s not about him. But fine.” Rina gestures toward the parking lot. “We could drive to my new house! This will be fun. I’ve recently downsized.”
The last time I saw Rina’s house, everything was in boxes for the upsizing into a “modern farmhouse” after her post-Gazette real estate business took off I told myself that would happen to me once I landed a big reporting job on one of the coasts and that my ethically earned money would be superior to Rina’s wealth that simply existed by taking advantage of people’s need for shelter.
I preemptively doubt Rina’s place is much of a downsize at all, but I recall the new perfume and surmise a hope that things can change. The barista sets our drinks at the counter. We grab them, and Rina starts to sip.
“Which way out of the parking lot to your place?” I ask. Rina holds a finger up while she swallows her coffee.
“Left out of here and then you’ll follow me to the new subdivision,” Rina says. “There’s a gate on this one that I’ll have to swipe you into.”
We walk out of the coffee shop and into the parking lot toward Rina’s new vehicle. She clicks her helmet on, and nestles her coffee in a handlebar cup holder.
“So what’s with the motorcycle? Pretty early for a midlife crisis,” I poke.
“Two wheels are simpler than four, that’s for sure.” Rina says this as if it’s common knowledge. “So much easier to clean, and the open air…Mwah.” She blows a kiss to the breeze surrounding the strip mall. I feel as though our thoughts might exist on separate planes.
I walk over to my car. I follow the motorcycle out, and while we are in sequence my dented sedan feels like a punchline. She glides the motorcycle nimbly between lanes, weaving between cars and accelerating through yellow lights. The nursing home, the high school fields and the car dealerships are a peripheral blur; my focus is on keeping up with Rina and her flashy fender.
She reaches her neighborhood on the other side of the Beltline half a minute before I do, swipes the little ID card and the gates slide open. Instead of a castle on the other side, we pull into the concrete driveway of a sprawling one-story.
“Here is home!” Rina declares, dismounting. Her low heels click again, this time on the path up to the front door. She turns the key.
“Don’t mind the boxes, I’ve been cutting back on my romantic affairs. Hopefully they’ll come to pick up their things soon.” She says this nonchalantly. “How’s your love life going? Anything new?”
I think about the video I watched earlier of the attractive man slapping rhythms on a melon.
“I have some options open.” I say this and look away from Rina. “Some possibilities with a musician.”
“Well, that makes sense for you, you know, as a music reporter and all. Mine just see me on the billboard and email through the website, and my web person passes on the best.” Rina opens a cabinet with unadorned cups in it. “Do you want any water from the Brita? I’ve gone cold turkey on Evian.”
“All good, thank you.” I say, wandering into the living room. The view looks out to a rolling lawn that abuts a golf course. At least my apartment patio doesn’t need to be watered or mowed.
Rina continues the conversation. “You’re still working at the Gazette, right? Or anything new?”
“Yeah, at the paper still,” I say. “I’m on two beats now; hasn’t led to anything bigger, though.” I recall meeting Rina when we first started, sitting next to each other in the newsroom. She radiated charisma, something my baggy sweatpants self desperately needed more of. Now, standing 20 feet away from her and wearing the same clothes inside this large-yet-downsized home, I fear that we are only friends now because we used to be.
“I think you have to make a bold statement, as a creator, as Sara. Like, really do something with your reporting. Anyone can just write about the internet,” Rina says. It stings a little. I walk closer to the picture window and look outside and avoid her eye contact. She continues. “What’s your mantra for living? ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify’ has helped me wonders.” She smiles at the thought she just spoke into the air.
“Hm, yeah, I guess so,” I say. “Did you want to show me the rest of the house or something?” I hope Rina’s professional practice will distract her from my own.
“Oh. Okay! I’ll switch into realtor mode.” Rina gestures with her palm. “Well, here’s the living room and kitchen; you’ve already seen. Let’s go down the hall to the master. I think you’d really like the view.”
Rina continues the tour. I nod and smile at the right moments, and she tells me about whatever she thinks is important. It feels less like an open house and more like what our relationship has become.
“And look in here.” She palms a metal door handle and turns it to reveal a small walk-in closet. The shelves are stacked with black and gray athleisure, in identical columns. I recognize the stack of pants because they are all the same as the pair Rina is wearing right now.
“I was inspired by your outfits and how you wear the same old clothes all the time.” Rina smiles as she says this, hoping it’s contagious. “What’s more simple than that? Many artists and designers do the same thing.”
I look down at my pants, their surface complicated by a small hole here or a cooking stain there. I’m more aware of the sweater over my arms and torso, one that I’ve probably had since college. I think about how to respond to her not-quite-compliment.
Rina’s voice rises to break the silence. “You know, I’m a little offended, Sara, that you’re not giving me anything to work with here. This whole morning we’ve been doing whatever you want. You chose the coffee shop, and then you were the one that decided to leave.”
Rina’s hands conduct the parts of her incoming argument.
“And then we were just talking like old friends in the kitchen when you told me you wanted a tour of the house.” She looks me in the eyes, about to sell me something. “And now, when I’m trying to connect with you on some level, you just stand there and look down silently at your pants.” I swallow.
“Well, Rina, I’m a little offended by how you expect me to praise you and ooh and aah over your new supposedly minimalist lifestyle when it’s what I’ve been doing this whole time. This isn’t a choice for me, you know.” I gesture up and down my outfit. “I don’t strategize my visual brand, these are just the clothes I have. I live in a lousy apartment because it’s what my newspaper salary can pay for.”
I turn my head as if to speak to the rest of the room. “And you’re one person living in a three-bedroom new-construction suburban mini-mansion. That’s not simple at all.” I look back toward Rina, where she averts my gaze.
“I see, I see.” Rina is quieter. “But when you fall into a job like the Gazette, you have to make a choice, you know, to climb out and find something different.”
I jab back. “It’s more complicated than that, Rina. You don’t know my life.”
“Well, well, shall we continue onto the yard?” She puts on politeness and starts to lead us out down the hall. We find ourselves in the kitchen again.
“I have to go, for an afternoon concert I’m covering.” I look away as I lie.
Rina leads me out the front door past the boxes and swipes the card to open the gate out of her suburban dynasty while saying goodbye. I drive past the coffee shop and directly home to my apartment complex. I muddle around my kitchen and bedroom for the rest of the day.
A few days later, I get a message from Rina apologizing for hurting my feelings and asking to hang out again. She proposes that I give a tour of my apartment before we go look at an open house at a philanthropist’s place. I imagine Rina’s judgmental face upon touching my linoleum countertop, so I ignore the text for a few hours, and then I forget about it. After a week, the unanswered messages feel like the stale dust atop my kitchen cabinets; I don’t feel the need to do anything about it.
I still see her billboards once in a while and think about how I have her real phone number, not the one for her secretary. I tell myself we are in different places now and that I need to focus on what’s important in my life, I need to do things to better myself. Streamline it: It’s what Rina would have wanted.
I think of our distance simply, but even her edited expression gives me a pang of regret as I drive by the billboard. I regret losing her real face underneath but wonder what I could have gained from having a retouched face of my own. Every once in a while I’ll change my mind: I’ll start to text her and apologize. I propose that we catch up, as old friends do. But I always backspace the words, knowing it’s more complicated than that.
Statement Correspondent Oscar Nollette-Patulski can be reached at email@example.com.
Carter’s Four Rules For Being a Ghost
The instant I open my eyes I start to disappear.
It’s a pull that starts in the tips of my extremities and starts spreading me apart like I’m ink diffusing into water. Something about this new but familiar living room is making my sight blurrier by the second. Blinking rapidly, I leap up from the couch where I was sleeping. All I am is an electric, echoing panic, drowsy under the weight of this invisible pull. I’m becoming less, and less, and less. I’m suffocating, I’m suffocating, I’m suffocating. Chest heaving, I collapse backward into a wall. My arms flail uncontrollably, the wisps that used to be me, my mortal, tangible form trailing through the air. In my haze, I’m vaguely aware of a lamp caught right in the crossfire of my flailing.
I hit the lamp, and the lamplight flickers. Mist coalesces back into the shape of my body and my scribbles of thoughts begin to fall back into legible lines. Somehow, I’m whole again.
I look over to where my right arm should’ve broken my brother’s apartment furniture. The lamp stands planted and absolute on the couch side table, casting a muted hourglass-shaped glow across the ceiling and the floor. The air is still. The night is a deep dark. The rise, fall, rise of my chest slows to a steadier rhythm.
I notice my hand is now translucent. I move my open palm directly through the lamp shade and through the glass bulb. The light stutters as I do so.
Now that I’m able to think, I take in my surroundings. Andy’s one-bedroom is just as messy as it was when I went to sleep. A pizza box sits open on the counter. Grease still shines on the TV remote where our pizza-covered fingers turned the volume up and down on “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” I couldn’t hear it well enough, but Andy couldn’t risk another noise complaint from his neighbors. It’s all the same, yet somehow wrong.
An uncanny fog rolled through while I slept, and its muggy moisture now clings to every surface in sight. It’s a new lens that’s dropped over my eyes and I can’t shake it off.
The gravity that was pulling me apart seems to have left — whatever the hell that was. There’s still a lingering tingle on my fingertips, still a magnetism caressing the back of my neck. But every time I swing my hand through this lightbulb, the magnetism disappears.
I’ve felt panic before, but this time it felt different. More removed, living more in my head than in my body, and even then it’s like I was watching myself freak out instead of actually feeling it. I should be lightheaded from how heavy I was hyperventilating, but I’m not. There’s a draft in the top of my soft palate that’s missing — I’m not feeling that curl of air that pivots at the throat and cools the body from the inside out. My chest rises and falls, but I realize it’s more out of habit than anything else. Not because it needs to. Not anymore.
Because ghosts don’t breathe.
Andy found my body that morning. I left the room. An older brother is not supposed to find his younger brother’s corpse on their couch. That’s not something I needed to see. But not even a wall could’ve muffled his surprise.
Andy has always been stronger than me. Whenever I needed a jar opened, it went straight to him. When our parents told me about my heart condition, it was Andy who reassured me I wouldn’t drop dead the second I left the house. Andy was who I went to when the world became too much for me. I never knew what I’d do without him. But now I have to watch him figure out what to do without me.
The first thing Andy did was call our parents. I’ve never heard him cry before. The sound drew me, or this post-life embodiment of me, back into the room, partly out of disbelief.
His broad shoulders are shaking. His eyes are squeezed shut. I stand before him, the invisible subject of his sorrow, unsure of how I could possibly help, unable to even attempt any semblance of comfort. So Andy sat inconsolable on the floor, our mom and dad sat on the phone, and I sat across from him, unable to feel the welling up of my own dulled pain as it gave itself away by rolling down my cheeks.
Days have come and gone, and honestly, there are ways in which my life continues as normal. Other than the unknown force from beyond turning my brain and being into amorphous spaghetti every now and then, I’ve been alright, in this non-human form. Whenever I feel that force, that pull getting a little too friendly, all I have to do is wave my arm through a lightbulb.
But the lightbulb is starting to lose its warding powers.
The force washes back over me, forcing me down on my knees and shoving cloudy cotton in my head. Throw my hand nonchalantly through the lamplight, making it flicker once again. The force’s grip relinquishes for only a moment before it doubles down again. I try the lamp again, more forcefully this time. It’s getting harder to see. If I was still alive, I feel sure my nose would be bleeding. This can’t be my undoing, not yet.
There’s a glass sitting on the table next to the lamp. It’s the cup of water I filled for myself before the last night I ever slept. In my anxiety, I move quickly to push it off the table. It falls and gets chipped from its impact with the floor. Finally, the force subsides like it’s supposed to.
OK. I don’t love this development. I guess if I’m going to continue being a ghost in my brother’s apartment, if I want to resist whatever abyss lies beyond this pulling force, I have to start knocking things over.
Being a ghost, I suddenly find myself with a lot more free time. Because ghosts don’t sleep.
There’s a whole avenue of the night that I’ve never been able to utilize before. You know what ghosts do at 3:45 a.m.? Personally, I look at my brother’s PS4 and wish I could play it again. Picking up the controller puts the whole console on the fritz. Or I read. Was I a big reader before? No. But being a ghost and occupying the space between life and death will make a reader out of anyone.
I hear things sometimes, especially during the time of night when most living creatures in their right mind are asleep. The first wail I hear makes me run to Andy’s room. It stabs my heart and twists it like a knife to think he’s in all this pain because of me. It’s not Andy, though. His sleep is troubled, but not in the crying-out-in-the-middle-of-a-nightmare kind of way. This means that these cries are coming from outside the apartment. I mean it has to be other spirits, right? Surely I’m not the only one. I hope that by minding my own business I never have to run into the true poltergeists terrorizing the night.
A week passes, maybe more. This life-after-death thing is still very new, and I don’t really need time to tell me anything anymore, so days blur together. The funny thing is, I didn’t even believe in ghosts before I died. I didn’t believe in an afterlife, either. Guess the joke’s on me with that one.
Fear of death doesn’t go away after you die. Right now I tentatively maintain the ability to think, which is the only way I know how to be. Every time the unraveling force returns, and it does often, it sends me spiraling into petrifying hypotheticals. What will I become without a body or a mind? Will I be anything? It’s a second death, which is stupid because I already went through all the turmoil of dying the first time.
I hate this stupid mysterious force for wanting me to die a second death.
All this I think about with eyes perpetually open, neither tired nor hungry, staring at the wall behind Andy’s bed frame as I watch him through the night.
Ghosts don’t feel things. This makes sense hypothetically but it’s much stranger to experience in your daily life. Even when I knock mugs off tables that I’m sure Andy won’t miss, there are no sensors in my fingers to tell me I’ve bumped into solid ceramic.
And I can’t see my reflection in the mirror. I’m staring at one now in Andy’s bathroom. Today marks the first time he’s showered in weeks, and if I could give more of my attention to that accomplishment, I might be really proud of him.
But the magnetic field of my demise is crawling back up my spine. I try to furrow my brow, stretch my mouth into a smile, a frown, any crooked configuration. Maybe if my face contorts enough, I’ll shock my crazed reflection back into the mirror.
If I were alive, the damp mist coming from the hot shower would collect on each follicle of my arms, each pore on my face. I want a stubble to grow on my chin so I can be annoyed at how itchy it gets, and scratch it whenever I’m thinking through physics homework for a degree I can no longer work toward. There’s an unstoppable, insurmountable gravity starting to pull at my shoulders. I want to hug my brother, to wrestle him, to push him, to hit him after saying something dumb. I don’t want to disappear. I’m not ready to disappear. I want to yell, to scream, to curl up into a ball, to feel something, anything …
My fist connects with the mirror, and it shatters. Force immediately subsides, and disappears more completely than it has before. Behind me, the water shuts off. I didn’t think, I just moved, and somehow my balled up hand corporealized enough to break something in the living world. My hands are shaking. There’s a jagged tear of glass clutched in my hand that I don’t remember picking up. I’m smiling. That was … exhilarating.
My smile gets bigger. As a ghost, I can do anything.
What would happen to me if I stayed on this strange ghostly plane dodging certain second death forever? No, really, who would tell me not to? Who would stop me? Who would know?
There were so, so many factors to consider when I was a living person around other living people. You have to worry about every word, every action and how it will rub up against another person in your vicinity. There are social rules built around this, manners and personalities and acceptances. Do you know how much care that takes? How much premeditation? I can’t believe I did that for so long. It’s exhausting just to think about.
I could stay here forever, and no one would be able to stop me.
I drop my dagger of glass and we both watch it clatter to the floor.
I pace back and forth all night.
Ghosts can’t stay.
I could’ve hurt him back there.
Ghosts can’t stay.
His face when he saw what you did to the mirror …
Ghosts can’t stay.
You scared him out of his own home. You did that. How could you terrify someone that you claim to love? You’re a monster, Carter.
“I don’t want to disappear!” I yell this as loud as I can. No one hears, no one notices. Nothing happens.
But I think I’ve already made up my mind.
A ghost is not meant to stick around. Not if they don’t want to become someone unrecognizable.
I open my mouth, and my chest fills and collapses in a way that resembles a deep breath. I tilt my head. There’s a tickle of magnetism on the back of my neck.
I’m not human enough anymore to stay.
So gravity returns to undo me, and I let it unweave every fiber of my spirit. Starting at my fingertips, I begin to diffuse. Ink in water. Fog in forest. Snow in summer. My body is smoke, and my mind is a fire, but the flames are quickly cooling down to embers.
I don’t have to worry about me anymore. And neither does Andy.
Statement Correspondent Danielle Canan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A house for flies
Old houses are difficult to live in. Extreme heat and chill come from bad insulation, partially due to aging window sills with painted-over handles and shitty screens; summers can be especially problematic. Radiators melt shoe soles and burn curious visitors’ hands in the winter months, but summer’s inescapable heat is easily the worst part of an aging home.
That was why Chloe and Janet kept as many windows open as they did in their tiny abode: roughly 11 of them. (Chloe believed that the north-facing kitchen window was painted shut; Janet believed that Chloe just wasn’t pulling hard enough.) They did not get along, Janet and Chloe.
They met in a Facebook group before their senior year of college, both Looking For Housing As Soon As Possible. After one month as cohabitants and recent graduates, Chloe moved back home and Janet moved to Utah with her boyfriend of three years.
Janet was an Aries sun with a Pisces moon. Chloe thought astrology was for stupid people.
They had nearly nothing in common, and any chance of friendship was ruined by Chloe’s inability to wash her dishes within 48 hours of dirtying them and Janet’s boyfriend living with them for the first four months of their lease. Janet made it a point to never clean Chloe’s dishes and never say anything about them until they began to overflow. She did clean up the kitchen table, where Chloe often left a mess — crumbs belonged in the trash, not on the table.
During their first semester, Janet’s boyfriend liked to watch football in their living room and often yelled at the blaring TV while Chloe studied for her environmental science exams. Even after he moved out, Chloe avoided their shared spaces and otherwise looked for any reason to be out of the house.
Their living room remained undecorated other than the TV and basic Ikea table — Janet hated Chloe’s retro, slightly torn National Parks posters, and Chloe hated the sickly sweet smell of Janet’s cinnamon swirl and cake batter candles. Chloe’s makeup constantly took over the counter space in their bathroom and Janet never washed their hand towel.
It’s not that they hated each other, but having nothing to talk about whenever they crossed paths made for some uncomfortable tension. Between the bad windows, dirty dishes and constant, silent annoyance with one another, it was no wonder they regretted signing the lease.
Then they had their bug problem.
One afternoon, a few hours into a workless Saturday in July, Chloe and Janet both happened to be home. This did not occur often, and it never lasted more than an hour. They were both enthusiastically crossing out the calendar days until their lease agreement ended, and Chloe had already packed up half of her room while Janet hid most of her pots and pans in her closet a month prior. She was afraid that Chloe would finally burn them past recognition or use or take them with her when she moved home. Chloe never noticed that they were missing because of her consistent use of the same half-washed, left-out kitchen ware. She did, however, notice the giant housefly circling the living room.
“Hey, did you let a fly in?” Chloe called to Janet in the kitchen.
“Why would I?” It was a stupid question, but Janet had probably let it in when she went onto the porch that morning.
They watched in silence as the fly latched itself onto the window pane, right above the cracks in the screen where it could have escaped. Chloe rolled up the old newspaper in front of her, keeping her eyes on the fly the entire time. She lowered herself to her knees on the couch and lunged. Just as her newspaper crashed into the window in a loud thwack, the fly swung past the front of her face, heading in Janet’s direction. Janet squeaked, and grabbed an unopened letter on the kitchen counter, shooing the monster fly away from her.
Chloe sprang up from her knees, carrying the newspaper with her. “What are you doing? Kill it!” Janet rolled her eyes, swatting the letter in the air as the fly circled Chloe’s unwashed plate on the table.
“We wouldn’t have flies if you didn’t leave your dirty plates out!” Janet exclaimed. Chloe ignored her as she stalked toward the plate.
Thirty minutes later, Janet stood on the couch with an old Ulta magazine while Chloe ran around their living room, trying to herd the fly out. When their new housemate finally landed on the wall behind Janet, the fly’s fight was over.
“Ew.” Janet looked at the back of the magazine, now covered in fly guts. Chloe took it from her hand, threw it into the overflowing kitchen trash, and shook her raised fists in victory. Janet laughed. It was the longest time they had spent together since agreeing to the yearlong lease over coffee.
In the hour after, Chloe did not immediately retreat to her bedroom, and Janet decided not to make a comment about Chloe’s tea bag drying on the table. After the sun set, they said goodnight and nearly smiled. It was almost nice.
Sunday was more peaceful than usual. In the morning, in front of the fridge where the previously in-date but now expired milk sat, Chloe made a joke about the fly’s ghost haunting them through bad milk. Janet laughed again, and they stayed in the house for a bit longer than they might have on any other Sunday. That night, when they passed each other at the door of their shared bathroom, Janet said that her bike tire popped. They both laughed when she said that it was the fly’s fault.
On Monday, the peace dissipated. Neither of them could think of any more jokes to make, and they went back to tense silence and flat smiles. In the evening, Janet’s boyfriend visited, commented on the state of Chloe’s dishes, kissed Janet goodbye and as he left, a single fly snuck in through the swinging door.
Janet cleared her throat from the living room couch, glanced sideways at Chloe and declared, “Oh no, not another one.” Chloe darted her head toward her housemate.
“Should we get rid of him? Or do you think we have enough bad karma from the first one?” Janet grinned in response.
For the next three days, they both halfheartedly swiped at the giant bug when the other was present. They didn’t really want to kill it — other than the occasional buzzing, the fly was a relatively personable and respectful guest.
“Should I leave some pasta out for him too?” Chloe yelled to Janet, muffled by the food in her mouth.
Janet snorted, “With the way you leave your dishes, I’m sure he can scrounge something up.”
There was silence, and then Chloe laughed, spitting some ravioli out of her mouth. They laughed even harder, and Janet didn’t worry about the pieces of chewed up food left on the table.
Maybe more bugs would help maintain the pleasant atmosphere.
A fly cannot live forever, though. After another week of pretending to try and remove it, it disappeared — out the window or crumpled into the air vents. Silence suspended over the house again. This time, Chloe and Janet could not wait until another got in, not if they wanted to make the best of their last three weeks together.
After returning home late that night, Chloe secretly let in one desperate, indoors-seeking fly. Before the sun rose the next morning, as Janet loudly ground her expensive, single-origin coffee beans, and upon not noticing the newly homed airborne housemate, she also intentionally welcomed a new fly. Their conversation again settled over the two flies and what to do with them, as well as jokes about their house being the new fly graveyard. Unfortunately, the two new flies seemed to die more quickly than the last.
The day after the flies’ double-death, Janet left the front door open for the entire morning. Chloe took a few of her dirty plates and stuffed them into the highest cupboard. The human housemates pretended not to see the eggs that the flies were laying in their trash. Janet’s boyfriend did not want to come over anymore. He said that they had a fly problem.
But their conversation was never better. One Saturday night, Janet even asked if Chloe would want to watch a movie on their couch together. They couldn’t decide on a movie, but it was the thought that counted.
They no longer had to bring new flies in — it appeared as though their house was the birthplace of all flies. Maggots seemed to live in their walls, food was only ever delivered and eaten on the safety of the front porch and wearing earplugs to sleep became a necessity to block out the sound of constant buzzing. Six days later, Janet’s boyfriend had enough. With a little less than a week left on their lease, an exterminator was called.
Chloe opened the door Friday morning to a man in long pants, high boots, thick rubber gloves and a respirator covering most of his face.
“You called about a bug infestation?” Chloe could barely hear him, and could only stare at his covered face in shock. She had not called for an extermination. Maybe Janet went behind her back after having enough of Chloe and her fly jokes.
For a moment, a wave of betrayal passed through her, and then she saw Janet’s boyfriend standing on the street in front of his parked car, his hands crossed over his chest with a stupidly concerned look on his face.
Chloe tried to inch the door closed, attempting to spare the exterminator’s eyes from the trash heap their living room had become. He placed his hand on the door to stop her.
“You did call about a fly problem, right?” Chloe still stared at him in silence. Janet came up behind her and pulled the door open, unaware of the previous one-sided conversation. As Janet looked past Chloe at their visitor, the door widened enough for the exterminator to take stock.
At his deep, muffled inhale, Chloe and Janet twisted their necks, though they already knew how everything looked.
All of the dishes were piled onto the kitchen counter and living room table — at least 30 flies circled them, landing occasionally onto the bits of rotting food. The exterminator could probably see the eggs from where he was standing. Another 20 flies darted between the rooms, dipping out past the exterminator and then returning back inside. This was their home now, and Chloe and Janet shared it as willing housemates.
It was the most goodwill the house had ever seen, with hundreds of flies and 12 closed windows.
Ten minutes later, they stood outside, looking up at their rental house from the front lawn. The exterminator declared that it was the worst infestation he had ever seen. Chloe was out of jokes, and neither she nor Janet was sure if any of their things inside of the house could be saved (from the maggots and the chemicals).
Eventually, they turned and looked at one another. They both smiled a bit and nodded, nothing to say. Janet stayed at her boyfriend’s house until all of the flies were removed and the last days of her lease with Chloe were up. She retrieved her hidden pots and pans from her closet.
The day before, Chloe took the least maggot-infested and toxic chemical–smelling of her packed suitcases and the rest of the pots and pans from the kitchen. (They were not hers.) The exterminator said that the house would have been better burned down, and they never received their security deposit.
In the years that followed, Janet still sometimes left the front door open when she sat on her porch, and Chloe still sometimes forgot to wash her dishes. When a fly occasionally entered their separate homes, Janet and Chloe opened their windows instead of grabbing their fly swatters.
Statement Contributor Giselle Mills can be reached at email@example.com.