You ever have a song pop into your head that you just didn’t want to hear? Whatever song you’re thinking of, mine’s worse: it’s Katie’s song.
Yeah, I knew her.
The parts of my life where our paths cross flash before my eyes: Katie eyeballing me in class; Katie putting her hand on my leg on the bus; Katie and I staining each other’s clothes; Katie stretching out the collar of my shirt as I pull away from her. There she is, showing up at my apartment, unannounced, uninvited, in my mind’s eye the way it happened. But I don’t want to see it. I shut my eyes and the images won’t go away.
It’s three in the morning and I should be in bed. Katie’s thinking the same thing and wants to keep me company.
There’s a knock at my door. My heart starts racing. Whatever this is can’t be good. Good news doesn’t knock no your door at three in the morning. I go to check the peephole knowing full well that whoever’s on the other side has heard the floorboards creak. Another knock raps away.
I check the peephole. It’s Katie. Of course it’s Katie. How’d she get in the building? I open the door.
“What are you doing here?” I hear myself say.
“So, no ‘hello’?” she says.
Her eyes are stuck on the spin cycle, I can tell she’s flying on something and it pisses me off.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in,” she says.
“You show up here at three A.M., high as the fucking moon and you expect me to invite you in?”
“I’m not high. I’ve been drinking a little…”
“You know what? No.”
“No?” I can tell my rejection hurts her, it excites me a little.
She wasn’t expecting to not be let in. The thought never crossed her mind. But if I let her in now, I know that I’m implicitly telling her that it’s okay to pull this shit. And once it’s okay it’ll happen again and again …
“Go home, Katie.”
I start to close the door but she slaps against it with an open palm.
“Please,” she says, “I can’t go home. I just need a place to crash, I swear I won’t bother you.”
“That’s not my problem, I don’t even know you right now,” I say and the door closes. I take a look through the peephole and I can see she’s just standing there stunned. She crosses her arms unsure of what to do. Some weak part of me starts to crack, she looks vulnerable, devastated. It’s almost irresistible. But I need to be strong here. I have a point to prove, a valid point, an absolutely essential one.
I stand by the door, listening to her heels clip clop slowly, unsurely down the hall towards the exit door. When I hear it open and fall shut, I hit the sack.
But she doesn’t let me sleep.
I can hear her pacing in the loose stones between my building and the one next to it. Lot of shady characters in that building, mine’s the nice one, but it hardly matters because if either one of them caught fire, the other is fucked, they’re that close. And no matter how nice my building is or once was, the one closest to it taints it. Guilt by association —
I lose my train of thought.
Katie’s phone goes off right beneath my window, that stupid ringtone, Katie’s song.
Why doesn’t she answer it?
It’s cold out there, I know, and she’s not exactly dressed for it. I wish she would just go away, just go home. My mind screams, nobody wants you here. But that’s guilt tripping Katie, she’s just trying to make me feel bad for not letting her in.
Damn ringtone, there it goes again.
Christ, answer it!
But she doesn’t. Had enough of it so I stick in some earplugs, they do just a good enough job to cover her pacing, disturbing loose stones.
I can still hear her though. Pacing, banging and scratching against the stucco wall trying to get my attention. I can hear her muffled pleas through the window but I only smile to myself knowing that I’ve won. Your guilt trips are meaningless, powerless against me.
I hear Katie’s song once more before drifting off with a smile on my face but wondering why she doesn’t answer it.
At eight o’clock I look out my window with puffy eyes and creased skin. I can see about a half dozen people in and out of uniform in the dark, narrow space between the buildings. They’re kicking up one hell of a racket and they don’t seem to care too much that they’re waking everybody up because they’re examining the body of a dead girl.
A dead girl named Katie.
She was strangled, stabbed, murdered. Looking out the window I can’t un-see her lying atop the loose stones no matter how tight I close my eyes.
I follow the investigation on the news. Police have no suspects. Before too long the story goes away. And all this time I’ve never been able to get that song out of my head. I hear it when I’m driving, I hear it when I’m working, it pops into my head in the shower so I start humming and whistling the tune just before a shadow darts behind the curtain.
And now it’s three in the morning and I’m hearing it again with my own ears.
I can hear it playing outside my window. I always hated that song, but this time it isn’t driving me crazy. This time it’s a banshee’s cry, the chimes of a grandfather clock at the crossroads of infinity. ‘The bell tolls for thee,’ the thought comes in to my head from out of nowhere. This time, it makes my throat go dry.
“I’ve lived with the guilt,” I say to no one in particular, “isn’t that enough?”
But the only response is Katie’s song. I’m talking to myself here, but not for long. I know what’s coming. I try to brace for it and will it away. But there’s nothing I can do, my mind can’t turn back time or turn away a ghost. And then it comes.
I hear a knock at the door.
Credited to Lucas Klaukien