147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3
The apartment door slammed shut, but she didn’t hear the deadbolt. He always turned the deadbolt. Even if he was just going for a job or picking up their Thursday night avocados. Or limes. He never, ever remembered to get limes. Something that bugged her to no end in the first months with him, but that she had come to find endearing. “Love?” she called. Their place was not exactly the biggest. Their place. She still stumbled over that one. Their bed, in their place, was at the top of an unforgiving ladder that could only be called “stairs” in the most generous of circumstances. But for two rooms in New York, you made compromises. Some of these included being bounced on your ass when going to the bathroom.
It was quiet. Maybe it wasn’t their door slamming. Probably the Indian couple next door. Those boys could bang some doors. She leaned over the bed, remembering this time that she couldn’t stand fully erect to put on the clean pillowcases, or she would bruise her forehead on the slanted back wall. Then she heard the door close again. Definitely their door. And then their lock clicking. She put down the still-naked pillow and walked downstairs. As she cleared the last two steps, facing towards the wall and clinging onto the railings on both sides for support, she heard the door unlock and swing open.
“Shawn?” she called. But she knew he wasn’t there. No way. She walked toward the door. When she got within two steps, she felt the air exchange inches from her face. She realized she was sweating. Phone. Needed her phone. It wasn’t in her back pocket. Bed. Pillows. Upstairs. She slipped and cracked her shin against one of the steps. Blood dripped on the dark, faded wood. Get upstairs. Get the phone. She finally got to the top. It wasn’t by the pillows or anywhere on the bed. Then she heard it vibrating from downstairs. Back down, slipping on the last step. Finally upright, she ran across the room and grabbed the first and biggest thing she could hold. Smashing her guitar over the head of whoever was opening and closing her door, but she felt better having it in her hand. Where was her phone? She heard it vibrating. Maybe on the counter but the door, she ran to it and grabbed it. She looked up when the door slammed shut again. Full-view, eyes open. She saw the door. It was closed but then it independently swung open, paused as if someone stopped it with their foot and then kicked it shut. Her phone stopped vibrating in her hand. Everything was quiet. Then her phone rang.
It was a song she knew, but couldn’t name in this moment. Old and tinny. Something from a black and white movie with fainting girls and men in fedoras and waistcoats. Then it faded, the notes dimming. They were replaced with the sound of a child, young, when boys and girls have the same voices. The same accent as Shawn.
“Hello. Are you there? Someone? Can any body hear me? I don’t know where I am. I’m…I need my mummy. Is she there? Mummy?”
Carolyn stared at her phone. The screen was black. Nothing. She pressed the power button, the home button, nothing. The phone stayed dead.
“Mummy, I’m so tired. I want to go to sleep in your big bed. Rub my hair so I can go to sleep. Tell the scary goblins not today. Mummy…sleepy…” The child’s voice stopped.
“Carolyn,” she head, and she finally looked up from her phone. It was the same accent, only a grown man’s voice. She jumped and screamed when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
“Love, what are you doing? What’s the trouble?”
She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Someone’s here. In the house.”
“Who’s here? One of your work mates. Is it Dae?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are here. And there’s a little girl on my phone.”
He took the phone from her hand and examined it. He pressed the home button and the screen lit up, apps and wallpaper photo of a rosemary scone she had baked in place as usual.
“There’s no girl on your phone,” Shawn said. “And I don’t think anyone is in the flat.”
Carolyn grabbed the phone from him and put it down on the table. She rubbed her hand on her leg after she dropped it.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll bring you in some tea.”
“Fuck your tea. I’m not staying here,” she said.
“No,” she said. She walked past him to the next room. He heard her scoop her keys ups from the table. Then he heard them drop onto the floor. She swore and picked them up. Pushing past him in the doorway, she walked to the table with her phone. She looked at it, but refused to touch it. She didn’t feel Shawn pulling at her hand as she rushed out the door.
“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw a black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A ghost.
The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.
“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asks. The bartender raises his eyebrow.
“I know,” she says. The bartender shrugs and walks to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she says.”You think’d they’d start keeping it lower.”
“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.
“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”
“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said.
The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. Not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.
“ I saw him in Medea in some shithole theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed her kids.”
Carolyn was quiet. Pam slugged most of her drink. Her lipstick stuck to the rim of the glass. Her nails were painted black. So was her hair.
“Not an actor?” the woman asked.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“Pam,” the woman said. “Nun’s name.”
“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“No,” Pam said. “Are you?”
“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.
“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”
“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”
“I’m not asking,” Pam said.
“Okay,” Carolyn said.
“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “ Phone’s ringing.”
“I forgot my-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing.