Sometimes, most often in the middle of the night, I wake and find myself in the kitchen standing in the glow of the refrigerator, open and empty. In this half-awake state, I once considered walking to the corner store to get something to eat after having found no food in the house. I had already put on my slippers and was sliding an arm through a jacket sleeve when I awoke fully, standing a few feet from the opened front door. Before any more of the black night could enter the house, I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaning against it with the waning force of my body.
I can hear children outside the house, stopped at the path leading from the sidewalk to the front door. I watch them from behind the curtains. I don’t want to scare them. They look at the house as if a ghost lives here. I catch words like plague, vanished, and quarantine although they can hardly pronounce them. I don’t want to hear what they have to say, necessarily. But I do wonder if any of it is true.
I feel foolish now, looking back on the time the government first told us to stay indoors several weeks for the sake of public health. We didn’t think much of it. Until a few months later and we were still here, inside. I remember looking out the window one afternoon and noticing that the sidewalks were empty: the neighbors, the dog walkers, the joggers. Gone. Even the planes overhead and cars on the road nearly ceased altogether. You joined me at the window and we sat with our arms resting on the window sill as our eyes roved back and forth, hoping to see something moving out there. After several hours, it became dark inside and outside the house and we could no longer see. Just past time for dinner, we didn’t feel up to making anything to eat, so we felt our way along the walls of the rooms until reaching the bedroom and finding our way into bed. My head upon your chest, I tried to relax and let the full weight of me rest on you. In a state of crisis, the body was tense and heavy. Your steady breath kept time and I slowly forgot the world outside our windows as I abandoned my body to yours. In those first weeks, I never stopped carrying my body alert, although I would later learn to hold that heaviness alone.
The mail still comes. Coupon books and advertisements for fake insurance companies. It is the only time something from the outside world enters this house. The flapping of the mail slot on the front door causes a little breeze that disturbs the stillness in here. I used to stand by the door at 2 p.m. every day waiting for the mail person to come, just to know that someone was on the other side of the door, only a few feet from me. Now, around that time, I busy myself wandering from the bedroom to the dining room and back again so that I won’t feel the presence of someone from the other side. It is easier to forget the emptiness of the house that way.
I thought I may have heard you the other night. Just as I was falling asleep, a sound almost like a sigh rose from the other side of the bed. I was afraid to turn and see that I was wrong, that I was still alone. So I laid there, waiting to hear another noise. All night long I waited. Even in the morning I stayed, hoping to hear the sheets rustle or the bed creak. But I knew I must have been mistaken. That happens often, though, when I am almost convinced you are beside me until I realize that you are not. It was the wind coming in through the open window on your side of the bed that had deceived me. The one you had opened one summer night to listen to the crickets outside, but had forgotten to close as winter set in. Recently I tried to shut the window to keep out the draft and the bugs, but my body had become weak and I couldn’t get the window frame to budge. I threw myself upon it, forced myself on its brittle frame, but the wind kept charging through. Stubbornly I kept at it, shoving and pulling, until finally I collapsed on the bed exhausted. The window remains open and the gusts blow through me as I listen for your sounds in its wake.
You see, the fatigue of a life encapsulated together made our bodies strangers to each other. We no longer had sex. Then we didn’t kiss. Then we didn’t touch. Eventually we even stopped talking with each other. It started with mealtime. We had occupied the same space the entire day. There was nothing new to share at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so we started skipping meals or eating at separate times. One afternoon I made too much soup and asked if you wanted to join me. Sitting on the couch in the other room, you kept typing and didn’t respond, so I repeated myself. Perhaps you didn’t hear me or perhaps I spoke too softly, but you kept working without lifting your head to look at me. I turned and ate quietly at the kitchen table, and when I finished I poured the left-over soup down the kitchen drain.
For hours I would stare at the wall of your back as you slept and I lay beside you. When I woke in the mornings, alone in the room, I would turn my ear towards the kitchen to hear if you were making breakfast. I hoped for the scent of coffee, for you to open the bedroom door and bring me a warm cup. But there was no noise and no fragrance. Hungry, I tried to trace your silhouette with my fingertip against the backdrop of the empty doorframe, but I couldn’t conjure your shape so I stopped.
One day, I realized you were gone. I was alone in the house, I don’t know for how long. The cat had run away by then, his food and water bowl forgotten. There were no crumbs even for the rats. I had stopped going to the grocery store long ago, once I found that I no longer needed to eat. The body, somehow, just kept going. I walked through the empty rooms, looking for some sign of you. I called your name a few times but only heard myself responding – Here I am. Yes, I’m still here.
Sarah Hobin is a writer based in the United States. She has worked in arts administration in San Francisco, Oakland, and Salt Lake City, and she is currently an MFA in creative writing candidate at the University of Texas in El Paso.