I’m lying in bed waiting for Allie to come out of the bathroom. We’d both smoked a little pot and our usual ridiculous pre-bed conversation (philosophy, celebrity gossip, etc.) was turning into our usual pre-bed sex. Allie has to take her usual pre-sex bathroom break. My mind is blank as I’m lying there, already having forgotten whatever we were talking about. The blood has left my brain at this point, and re-concentrated elsewhere.
When she comes out of the bathroom, she’s got this look of sheer terror on her face. I don’t take her too seriously right away because it’s Allie and she’s most likely just trying to get a rise out of me. We’ve been together for years, attracted to each other initially for physical reasons but stuck together by a no-holds-barred sense of sarcasm and an inability to not fuck with each other (or anyone else for that matter). But in the ten steps between the bathroom and the bed I notice that her Sicilian, olive skin has gone completely white. Her eyes seem wide and milky, a little less red than they usually are after a hit or two. I’ve never seen this look from her before, and now I’m a little bit worried myself.
“What’s up, babe?” I ask her as she inches nearer, and I notice a note that she has in her hand. It’s a piece of white paper, slightly bigger than one of those oversized post-it notes, and there’s two lines of writing in black pen on the front. I notice her eyes scanning the lines over and over again, reading them silently. It looks like her handwriting, from what I can see, but I’m too far away to be sure. It’s definitely not mine. From the look on her face, however, I’m sensing that it isn’t hers either.
“Did you write this?” she says, and her voice quivers ever-so slightly. I didn’t, and I’m certain now that she didn’t either.
“What does it say?” I ask. Allie was away in Europe for the week leading up to this night, and I did a little house-sitting for the first two days of her trip, so it isn’t nonsensical that she would ask. We’ve left each other little notes before when the other was gone, even haunting ones like “I hope it’s nice and warm” on the bed.
But instead of reading it aloud, she just hands it to me:
look at me please
take off your hat and scarf
It’s too mundane to be a creepy joke, but it’s not quite incoherent enough to be gibberish. It’s not a list of items, or anything to which I could easily attribute an explanation. It’s just a list of commands. Oddly specific commands, to be used in a scenario that doesn’t seem to jump out at me.
I give a little nervous chuckle, but Allie doesn’t think this is funny.
“Seriously, what the fuck is this?” she says harshly, but she’s not accusing me of anything - she’s scared. “It was lying on the top of the pile of shit in the trashcan.”
“I really don’t know, babe.” And I really don’t know. I was home alone on the first two days of her trip, and both of her roommates have been gone for the week. They haven’t been home yet. For the past five days, this house has been empty.
Now I’m a little bit scared, too.
We spend the next five minutes or so trying to figure what the hell this is. Allie starts to convince herself that the pot is clouding our brains and that there’s an explanation hiding in a THC-subdued memory of a random night in her room. But I’m less convinced. See, I have an intensely photographic memory, and can recall the slightest details about the most trivial events. I don’t just forget things that I’ve seen, even if I want to. And these commands are way too specific for me not to remember.
look at me please
take off your hat and scarf
It’s been a terrible winter, and everyone’s been attacking my sexuality as of late due to the array of pashminas I picked up on my last trip into the city. There’s also that five-panel hat that I bought at Urban which Allie doesn’t seem to care for, but at this point I’m grasping at straws. Allie’s never said these things to me, and even if she had, she wouldn’t have written them down. If anything, this is a private conversation that the two of us had, transcribed hastily by someone else.
I take the note, crumple it up, toss it back in the trash, and try to stop thinking about it. Allie pulls me into bed, and eventually we fuck ourselves to sleep. Mine is much less restful than hers.
Over the next few days, I notice that Allie has seemingly forgotten all about the note. She hasn’t mentioned it once, and she’s wandered through her daily routines as happy and giddy as ever. I haven’t forgotten yet. Initially it was just the mystery of it all, racking my brain for some logical explanation while trying to banish the memory of that fucking note altogether. But, every so often I notice something that reminds me of the note, and the mystery is slowly being replaced with a sense of unease, maybe even fear.
Like the other night, before dinner, when Allie was showing me this trick that she learned to help faux-hoarders let go of clothes that they just can't seem to get rid of.
“Turn the hangers so that they’re all facing one way at the beginning of the year, and always put something worn back in the other way. Then, take a look at the end of the year and see which ones you haven’t turned around. You should sell those, or give them to Goodwill!” she says with a smile as she shuts the closet doors. It’s a pretty neat trick.
We head downstairs for dinner, and I realize not ten minutes later that I left my phone on her bed, so I head back upstairs to grab it. I flick the lights on in her room, and my eye is drawn immediately to the open closet doors. I know that she shut them. I tell myself that I might have pulled them open before we left to look at the hangers, their pointy faces doomed to stare into the darkness of the closet until they’re worn. But deep down I know that she shut the closet doors, and I know that I didn’t touch them before I left. At this point I’m thinking that my memory must be failing me. I decide to start keeping tabs on every single thing that either of us touches, hoping to find that the inconsistencies in my memory are just the product of a string of sleepless nights.
But then it happens again. This morning, when I stopped to use the downstairs bathroom in the hallway behind her kitchen. It’s a full bathroom, jacuzzi tub and all, but it’s mostly used as a powder room for guests because of the odd placement in the floor plan. One of her old roommates used to pay her for exclusive use, but that girl moved out a few months back. Since then, the only use that the poor tub has gotten is from the spiders who’ve chosen it for a grave.
But there weren’t any bugs in there at all this morning, and I know Allie well enough to know that she wouldn’t touch a ladybug with a ten-foot pole. And I noticed a few drops of water glistening in the back of the tub, far from the normal drip drip of the faucet.
“Did you clean that bathroom?” I quip as I re-enter the kitchen. She grunts out a “Heh!” and makes a face at me that implies that I must be crazy. I’m starting to hope that I am.
At this point, it’s been nearly a week since I’ve gotten any sleep at all. I haven’t been smoking any pot, and that’s not helping. I’m trying to stay lucid so that the notebook is accurate.
I’ve been secretly keeping track of everything that Allie or I do over the past few days. Every time we touch or move something, I write where it gets put down. I got this little notebook from the convenience store – white pages, slightly bigger than one of those oversized post-it notes – and it’s small enough to sit surreptitiously in my pocket without Allie noticing. I don’t want her to think that I’m crazy.
Whenever I notice something off around the house, I check back in the notebook and make sure that it's where it’s supposed to be. There’s been a few more inconsistencies so far – coffee scoop in the wrong drawer, a frying pan on the stove that I’m certain we didn’t use – and even though I know her roommates don’t drink coffee or cook, I’m trying to convince myself that these things are normal in a house with roommates. I wonder how long this has been going on for.
It’s what I notice in her room that troubles me the most. The stuff that only her or I touch, and the stuff that I have the best shot of keeping track of. Her towels changing spots on the rack, slightly damp when I know that no one has showered. The loose cap on the toothpaste that I’m certain I tightened last. The window cracked slightly open in the morning when we wake up. Allie’s been complaining that she can’t find her pair of tiny scissors that girls always seem to have, even though page eleven of my notebook says:
put the tiny scissors in the medicine cabinet
She doesn’t keep her door locked, but maybe she should.
Every single creak or night-sound that I hear has lost its innocence. I had to switch sleeping sides with Allie in her bed. From my normal side I could stare into the darkness of the bathroom through the mirror across from me. She’s noticing the bags under my eyes, and I couldn’t spend another night clenching them shut - afraid of what I might see reflected if they were open, and wondering what I’m missing because they’re closed. If something’s been moving her stuff, it’s probably better if I don’t know what it is.
One night, she almost catches me scribbling the positions of everything on the table beside her bed. She’s talking to me, but I’m only hearing word-like noises as I invoice the night stand.
“Look at me, please!” she barks and my stomach drops a little, but I’m not sure why.