I heard him before I took out my key. He chattered away behind my door as soon as I arrived at the landing on the second floor of my apartment complex. I don’t know if he had heard my particular footsteps on the wooden stairs.
Perhaps I smelled different than our neighbors. They didn’t congregate in the entryway anymore. They had all but dissipated from the hallways in wisps of smoke behind their yellowed nicotine-tinged walls.
When I opened my studio’s door, my cat greeted me at the threshold. L. used to pick him up as soon as she was in our two-bedroom apartment. She carried him like a baby, cradled in her arms. He slitted his eyes in content and purred.
My cat had just wanted to be held like me, like L. I wonder if L. would’ve kept coming home if I had gone to her at the door like my cat. I would be there to greet her and then I could hold her. Not in a hug with a butt squeeze or a boob honk or anything other than graceful welcome.
I carried the mail with ads for dollar stores, fourth-place grocers, fast food coupons, commemorative coins, a bill, a monthly magazine. I carried in the empty trashcan dumped after scooping my cat’s litter. I carried in enough groceries for just me to eat a single serving, to not have leftovers. I carried nothing after looping another loop around Lake Eola to be around people but really nowhere near anybody. I carried everything that I didn’t think I should handle but still held.
After L. had set down my cat, or sometimes before she did, she would visit me at my desk in our office room. I would be home before her after having gone to work earlier. I was trying to write and I felt like I was being disturbed. At my best, I said hello and popped a kiss.
I hadn’t turned from my screen that held me in place to her. I didn’t get up from my chair to her. I didn’t do what I could’ve done.
Recently, I came home to my studio to a box by the door without a return address. I held groceries in my hands. I unlocked the door and went inside.
My cat threaded through my legs. I set down my groceries by the fridge. I wiped down my groceries before putting them away.
I returned to the door, opened it, and wiped down the doorknob. Then, I scooted the box inside with my foot. The heavy box slowly slid along the pine floor. I wiped it down. I spotted that the box was from Godiva with the logo of the nude lady riding on the horse. I hoped that it was from L.
Once, L. had been home before me on a weekend I had had to work. I came home to the lovely lust of her. She just called to me saying, “Babe.” We called each other that. She called from our bedroom.
I cut the cardboard box with my kitchen scissors. Inside, a foil package covered something. I cut the foil. Soggy ice packs slipped out of the foil and wet the cardboard. I pulled out a metal container.
I had followed L.’s voice. I walked down the hallway. The early evening light made the threshold of our bedroom glow. I entered. She lay down naked. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel her sly smile.
I opened the metal container. Only wrapped caramel, milk and dark chocolates filled it. No note.
I wondered what note I wanted to get: Bittersweet regret? Sappy reconciliation? Poisonous rage?
I wondered when would someone call to me, call me anything like Babe again? When will someone call for L.? When will she call to someone else?
I had felt like it couldn’t wait. I thought I had to write instead of just being there ready for L.. Since I wasn’t there then she wasn’t there.
L. had begun to come home and sit on our couch. She would scroll through other people’s anonymous sorrow on Post Secret. Later, I wondered if she would have written: I just had my anniversary. I never wanted to be married.
We would be alone together in our apartment until one of us made dinner. Then, we came to the table and gobbled up the meal. After, we both sat on the couch trying to decide what to watch.
I remembered last watching “Fleabag” with L.. L. liked to watch the awkwardness and self-punishment of others, perhaps liking to watch an empathetic mirror for herself. I wondered if L. felt like Fleabag—a woman who felt so guilty over pain of love, but who also just wanted to do what she wanted to do and wallow in the consequence, while also just wanting to be told what to do and ultimately forgiven while not forgetting. Fleabag and L. wanted to be independent, while also wanting to belong.
If L. was Fleabag, then was I supposed to be the Priest who gets crushed by her awful love? I hadn’t vowed celibacy! Or was I supposed to dominate her by telling her to kneel? I wasn’t a god. But I did love L. and I knew her confessions. Could I absolve her? Would I ever not hope for her?
I didn’t like to be alone in my studio. I didn’t like to return to boxes that opened up memories. I didn’t like to know that the box had been sent from an aunt for Easter making me wonder what L. had done for a virtual service with her family. I didn’t like to think about chocolate and the Easter Bunny, since L. would call me Rabbit. I didn’t like to think about being called Rabbit because I had always called her Fox in our bedroom in our home. I didn’t believe I was staying-at-home at my studio. It wasn’t home.
I went grocery shopping. I went walking. I went biking. I went running away from the downtown hub of Lake Eola’s circuit path and to Orlando’s spoked paths around the Expressway.
I stretched. I ate late—sometimes just a bowl of noodles so I only had to wash one fork and throw away the container. I used the remaining hot water for a pour-over of coffee even though the caffeine spiked my anxiety. I read on the loveseat with my cat on a cushion until I sometimes fell asleep with the light waking me up from dreams.
I would dream L. back. She would appear home, to our apartment again. I would be there at the door and be so glad and hug her and listen to her and then lead her to the foggy bathroom in the flicker of candlelight with a drawn bubble bath and a sunflower, maybe a cold beer, and say, “Enjoy.”
I would shut the door and hear the hiss-pop of the twisted bottle cap. Her clothes would slump to the floor. L. would moan as she dipped her toes into the water’s heat. She would bathe in the romantic ease and loving warmth and welcoming return.