Flannery

   

Emily Varnell

          On a tepid Wednesday afternoon in May, Jennifer McIntosh found her roommate dead in the bathroom. She had left work that day to surprise Fritz with lunch, with Korean food that was waxy and cheap, so they could argue whether they tasted hints of gasoline in the broth from the pumps next door. 

          It was a rare event, that excursion from her copydesk, from the stunted office building, in the middle of the day. Jennifer seldom left her seat for meals, preferring to answer emails as she ate her pre-packaged salads, the ones with separated compartments for the egg and bacon bits and cubed ham. But that morning when Jennifer sat down at her desk and looked at the sticky notes lining her keyboard and the picture of her and Fritz taped to the monitor with arms linked and thumbs up, sticking their tongues out in front of the Half Dome at Yosemite, she found herself unable to stare beyond the picture into her inbox. She and Fritz slept in the same bedroom, one on top of the other in a bunk-bed set, and Jennifer couldn’t remember the last time they’d eaten a meal together. 

          She almost called Fritz to confirm a time, an exact time she would be back with the noodle soup, but decided Fritz wouldn’t answer. Fritz would be at the apartment, holed up on the window seat with her journals, some stray pages finding their way onto the couch, the kitchen counter, the bathtub. Perhaps Fritz was working on her novel again instead of the articles she wrote for that SEO company, whatever it was called, earning a penny per word to boost search results. Fritz had finished the first draft of her novel, Jennifer knew. Yes, that would be good conversation for their lunch, she thought. Some coaxing to rewrite, maybe suggestions. It would fill the twenty minutes just fine. 

          Jennifer set a timer on her watch for 11:45 a.m., as she knew she would forget. 

          “Morning, Jen.”

          Jennifer turned in her chair, facing away from the gray paneling that boxed in her desk. She should really put up more pictures, she thought, she should really have more pictures of her and Fritz. Or of her parents, or even of a nice view of the mountains that stood in her parents’ backyard, so she looked less washed-out in her cube of gray. She always knew, secretly, that she would end up working in a place like this, wearing short heels and tying her hair in a bun and stopping by the water fountain to stare at another color besides the walls. But it never bothered her, as she figured she would decorate it with plants and pictures and get her work done early so she could write. She would be nice to her coworkers. Simply nice. That had not been the case, though, not at all. 

          Ben was standing with one leg tucked behind the other, two packaged salads in his hands, his face beginning to shine with oil at 9 a.m.

           “They ran out of the ones with ham. This one’s called Southwestern Blue.”

           “I can’t eat lunch with you today. I have to run home.”

           “Ah,” Ben said, now standing with both legs flat on the ground. The salads in his hands looked wilted. They could be expired, if he got them from the gas station by the Korean restaurant.
           “You can go now if you need to.”

           “No, that’s all right. It can wait.”

 

 


           One month earlier, when the sky was overcast but the streets were still warm, Jennifer had been sitting at their dining table, typing leftover edits from her first few weeks of work, ones she had to finish by midnight. Fritz burst out of their bedroom, waving notebook pages. She slammed them down in front of Jennifer, an exceptionally toothy smile stretched across her face.

          “Jesus, Fritz,” Jennifer said. “I thought you were asleep.”

          “Nope. Doing this.” 

          “Well, you’re normally passed out right now.”

          “Yeah, well. Come on, read it.”

          “Hang on.”

          “You’ve been doing that forever. Take a break.”

          Jennifer looked up. While she busied herself with work during the week, her first real work since their move to LA, Fritz took naps that stretched from two to seven. Jennifer had been coming home later each night, and she often found Fritz half asleep in the living room, the credits of some Australian film rolling off in the dark. Now, Fritz stood triumphantly before her, daring her to read the first page. Jennifer skimmed a few paragraphs.

          “I like it. Good opening.”

          “Well good, ’cause I really don’t want to change anything about it. Any of it.”

          “First drafts are never the best, Fritz,” Jennifer said. Fritz walked over to their red velvet couch in the living room. She swore it was from some porn set; they had found it for $30 in a thrift store, covered in matted stains. It had no arms and was shaped like a kidney bean, and Fritz liked sprawling across it provocatively. This time, she lay on her side and propped her head up with her right arm, then raised her left leg so her cotton skirt slid down to her black underwear. 

          “But it’s great, Jen, it really is. I don’t want to tweak it,” Fritz protested as she ran her other hand through her black curls. Her hair was greasy and tangled and chopped short, and her blue eyes were wide, taking in all the light from the single floor lamp in the room. “It’s the one, Jen.”

          “Well, you have to type it. No one’s going to look at it like this, with all your food stains in the ink.”

          “Fine.” Fritz jumped up from the couch and grabbed the pages off the table. “Bet you’re just afraid I’ll be more successful now.”

          “Oh, shut up. You have to type it, Flannery,” Jennifer poked her in the ribs and smiled as Fritz glared at her, one black eyebrow raised high. 

          “I bet someone would publish as is. Look at that oil stain. It’s fucking art.”

 

 


          Jennifer’s hands twitched when her watch went off at 11:45 a.m.. She grabbed her purse, nodded at the bent head at the front desk as she left for the elevator, the front desk that was never busy. She wondered what that woman did, Kelly the receptionist. Maybe she stalled the crazies, the people that came in mad after the press didn’t publish their erotic fiction, their attempt to be the next novel that lined the ends of checkout lanes, only sold in grocery stores for $5. Jennifer had never seen anyone, but Ben said once a guy came in waving a gun. That was it, he just waved it and went out. Kelly probably sat there, did nothing. Jennifer should have applied to be a receptionist. 

          She walked swiftly to the Korean restaurant a few block from the office; it had pink bars over the windows and no English translations on the menu. She and Fritz knew it by heart though, tried out things without knowing for weeks until they figured it out. She checked her watch and figured once she got the food, she could speed-walk the five blocks to their apartment, spend the obligatory twenty minutes eating, and full-run the ten blocks back to make the afternoon meeting. It was a reasonable amount of time for lunch, she told herself, more time than Fritz would ever expect anyway. Maybe Flannery, but not Fritz.

          Fritz, her Fritz, had arrived when they moved into the city in February. Fritz, the girl with a lotus flower tattoo on her left forearm and black gages she got the week they moved in. The girl with an insatiable appetite for Australian films and Korean food. Not Flannery, the girl with straightened black hair and clear painted nails and a degree in Art Studies. It was Fritz that wanted out of the confining mountains of Mariposa, California, that had packed a single suitcase and convinced Jennifer to leave four months ago in the middle of the night, to sneak out of their parents’ houses like teenagers, to immerse themselves in the frenzied productivity of the city, to try and join the world. 

          Jennifer was sweating when she made it to their apartment, the containers of noodles balanced in one arm as she unlocked the door. Their apartment complex had a consistently broken air system, and even when the weather was nice (as it was almost every day of the year), the air in the building was stagnant. The ratty blue carpet in the hallway sunk under Jennifer’s short black heels. It was one of the reasons why she ate lunch at her desk or left the office as late as possible. A small reason, though, she knew.

          Jennifer pushed open the white door with her foot and walking in, noticed one of their dining chairs sitting in the middle of the living room, facing the gray cushioned window seat. The large window was open, and so was the tiny window in the kitchenette. The smog and car horns of LA traffic filled the small space. Jennifer moved into the apartment and noticed the tower fan, which they used to keep the air moving, was turned off. The dining table was clean and tilted, one of the folding legs kicked in.

          “Hey, Fritz?”

          Jennifer walked past the table and looked down the miniscule hallway that held a mirror and the doors to the bathroom and the single bedroom. The bathroom lights were on, and the door was half open. A warm current emanated from the opening and spilled into the hallway. The heat lights, Jennifer thought. She and Fritz never turned on the old-fashioned bulbs. They were ugly and fixed to the framing, jutting from the mirror like something out of a rundown celebrity’s dressing room. They made the bathroom unbearably hot, encouraged the black mildew in the corners above the shower to grow. Jennifer walked forward and put her hand on the warm, white door. It opened easily. 

          “Fritz?”

          The heat from the lights radiated, and Jennifer felt it on her lips, at the edges of her scalp, in the swirling ends of her ears.

          She turned and threw up in the hallway, every muscle in her face straining toward the white and green speckled carpet, her mind blank as to what she should do with the body in the bathroom.

          She stumbled out of the hallway, out of the living room, out of the white door into the blue-carpeted hallway. Where was her phone? It was on the table, with the noodles and her keys. She could not go back in.

          Jennifer found herself knocking on her neighbor’s door three apartments down, the only neighbor both she and Fritz knew existed. She had only spoken to Mr. Kim a handful of times, in the stairwell when they happened to be going up together. She knew he lived alone. She realized he might not be there, but maybe someone else would hear her knocking and peek through their doors into the hallway. Soon, however, she heard shuffling feet, and Mr. Kim swung open the door. His round glasses were smudged, his graying hair was in disarray, and his wrinkled shirt was half-tucked into his pants. They blinked, both alarmed to be facing each other. Finally, Jennifer spoke, her tone plain and solemn, as if telling him how the sky was blue or the earth was round.
 

          An ambulance was sent to the scene, even though there were no signs of life. They were only keeping Fritz in there until the coroner arrived. They were on their way, fast as they could; they were running low on hands with a deadly accident earlier this morning. Someone driving too fast, hit a couple kids in front of the elementary school. Not surprising, one of the policemen said, not surprising in this neighborhood.  

          Jennifer would need to go to the funeral home, fill out necessary reports for keeping the body there, and did Jennifer want to call Fritz’s parents? Or should they, the officials, the ones who knew exactly what to say?

          She sat on a green bus stop bench as the police and EMTs told her the procedures. She nodded and nodded and nodded. Earlier, she had been on the blue hallway carpet and stared through the policemen, forming sentences she couldn’t remember. 

          Her stomach felt slick and oily. She balled her hand in a fist and pushed it into her gut, like she did with bad period cramps or the one time she ate bad ham in her salad lunch. She twisted her other hand hard onto the bench and felt the dirt and plastic and bird shit mash into her palm. She focused intently on an EMT driver’s sparse, brown mustache, keeping her eyes away from the ambulance parked on the curb. She did not want to look at that ambulance. She did not want to think about the lumps in the body bag. She did not want to think about the puddles in the bathroom or Fritz’s blue lotus tattoo painted red. She looked up at the apartment building, its white paint iridescent in the direct afternoon light. Across the different floors, a few square windows were open with faces pressed against the screens, trying to catch a glimpse of a body, a car crash, or whatever they thought was going on.  

          “We’ll take you to the funeral home, if you don’t want to drive. It’ll get you through traffic quickest,” another police officer said. He was tall and muscular, the opposite type of cop Jennifer saw roaming around the Santa Monica boardwalks and the monolithic movie theaters, the ones who were fat and easy to get away from. 

          “How will I get back?”

          “I can bring you,” said Mr. Kim. He shuffled forward, his house slippers flopping against the dirty concrete. 

          Neither the policemen nor the EMTs nor Jennifer had noticed Mr. Kim follow the procession down the stairs and onto the street. He had been leaning against the old, white building, listening and frowning. Mr. Kim had been the one to call the police, and he had stood off to the side as they photographed the scene and questioned Jennifer, his hands tucked into his belt loops. He had lived in the building for twenty years, and this was the second time someone had died there. 

          Jennifer looked at him and saw the downturn of his eyes and the grim set of his middle-aged mouth. His torn jeans bunched around his crotch, and his plaid shirt stretched across his belly. His greying black hair was matted on his forehead. His large hands lay by his thighs that strained the seams of his jeans, yet his shoulders and back were severely slouched, as if the gravity of the situation fell on him alone.
           “Okay.”

          Jennifer stared out the window as they drove, Mr. Kim following close behind the police car. The distant Hollywood hills seemed to stretch farther and farther from her, and her vision faded into a hazy scope of dark moving shapes and light. The cold air coming from the vents was nauseating. 

          She jumped as her phone buzzed in her pocket. She forgot the police had given it to her, brought it to her from the table as she sat in the blue carpet. It was Ben. Ben, her boss. Her boss that brought lunch to her desk twice a week, took her out on the weekends his wife was gone and seduced her in his Prius every Tuesday night when the parking garage was dark and empty. She stared at the number flashing on the screen, letting it go to voicemail before calling back.

          “Jennifer, where are you? We’re about to start.”

          He was in the conference room. She could hear her coworkers mumbling and squeaky, cheap chairs moving in the background. They would be sitting in a semi-circle around the conference table, some chewing on pens while others slouched in their rolling chairs. It was the weekly staff meeting, and Jennifer was supposed to take down the minutes. She was supposed to be sitting next to Ben and thinking about how attractive he looked in that cut-rate gray suit and how she  had shook in the back of his car yesterday, all while Fritz had sat at home on the window seat. Bile rose to the back of Jennifer’s throat. No, she could not do that, not yet.

          “I can’t come back,” she said. 

          “That’s not really an option.” 

          “Well I…I just can’t.”

          Jennifer heard him push away from the table and make his way past the other staff members. Benjamin Torres was a short man with a pigeon-toed walk, and he had been trying to make it in the publishing business his entire adult life. He was a manager for the romance press during the day and spent nights teaching English for an online university. His ear-to-ear smile had quickly drawn Jennifer in, and so had his witty, almost smart-ass remarks and the way his skinny hands felt on the nape of her neck. He was the first man to stare at her as she walked out of a room, and he was the reason why she never went home to Fritz. 

          The sounds of the conference room receded as he stepped out into the hallway and walked to a silent corner in the office. 

          “What is going on, Jen?” He lowered his voice. An unknown anger flushed her cheeks. She suddenly hated the way his low voice sounded, how raspy it now felt in her ear. She could imagine his greasy cheeks mashed against the side of his phone and him rubbing the end of his nose. He was hating her, wanting her. 

          “What happened? Do I need to come get you?”  

          “Can I just tell you later?”

          “What, Jen?”

          The policeman braked and put the car in park. He looked over his shoulder at Jennifer in the back seat. She glanced out her window and saw the funeral home, with its faded pink brick and short columns and angelic lettering of the owners’ last names stretched across the porch awning. There were lots of cars on the street and people, even small children on the sidewalk, all there for the accident at the crosswalk. 

          “Jen?” 

          She hung up, and the police unlocked the car doors. The sky was clear, and Jennifer and the police made their way to the door, past the crying families and confused children. Why, Jennifer wondered, why are the children here? She closed her eyes as the cool air from the foyer hit her face on the way in.

 

 


           “How about Fritz O?”

          Jennifer shrugged as she rolled down the windows. The salty air filled her nose and the Pacific breeze made the blonde hairs on her arms stand up. It was late afternoon, and the first half of the drive was behind them. They were back in her beat-up Subaru, their stuff piled in the back. It was mainly Jen’s; Fritz wanted to leave most of her things behind. The new Flannery, the new writer, must start fresh. 

          “Kinda sounds like a cereal box,” Jennifer said. 

          “Fine. But no Flannery. No more of that.”

          Fritz’s feet were pushed against the dashboard, her right arm hanging out the open window. She chewed the skin around her fingernails on the other hand.

          “I doubt they even know who she is, or was. You know, the last thing my mom read was Home & Garden,” Fritz laughed. “I don’t think there’s short stories in that one.”

          She tore off the bit of skin she’d been chewing and spit it out the window. 

          “All right, that’s gross,” Jennifer said.

          “Hey, you’re the one who agreed to go. You’re stuck now. Nothing coming between us.”

          “Sure,” Jennifer laughed and put her own hand out the window. They had taken the long way to LA, drove straight across California until they hit the coast and then headed south to their destination, their redemption. New York would have been much more ideal for jobs, they suspected, but with the little money they had left over from graduation cards and the little money Fritz’s parents lent her to try and get a move on in life, getting to LA had been hard enough. 

          “How about just Fritz?” Jennifer suggested.

          “Okay, sure. That’s better.”

          Fritz’s phone binged, muffled underneath her. She lifted her hips and pulled it out of her back pocket.  

          “Well, looks like Bridgett got into Stanford. I owe you 20.”

          “Good for her.” 

          “Ugh,” Fritz shook her head. “God knows how Mom and Dad are gonna pay for that but you know they’ll find a way for her. You know they will.”
 

 

 

          “Ms.? Ms. McIntosh?”

          Jennifer opened her eyes. The sterile smell of Visitation Room 4 turned her stomach. They had chosen to wait here instead of the lobby, the other deaths at the home drawing a far larger crowd. A mortuary assistant was sitting next to her, a black clipboard sticking off her hip. Her clothes were the same color as the chair Jennifer was sitting on, a pear green that did not flow with the plush floral carpet and the heavy brown drapes that took away the sun. 

          Jennifer blinked, still reeling from her memory. The woman stared at her. 

          “Were you asleep?”

          “No, I was just—” 

          “Just holding it together, yeah, I know.” The woman placed her wrinkled, soap-scrubbed hand on Jennifer’s shoulder. Some orange lipstick was smeared on a fake front tooth. How, Jennifer wondered, how is this orange supposed to make you feel comfortable about the dead?

          “Everything is ready for your friend. You don’t need to be here any longer, unless you want to be, of course. Everything that needs to be done is done.”
          The woman stood up, and Jennifer noticed Mr. Kim sitting in an identical chair next to her, his hands still placed calmly in his lap. He turned to her, and Jennifer saw he’d been crying.

          “I should call them,” Jennifer said. “I should call Fritz’s parents.” 

          “I can go outside if you want.”

          Jennifer shook her head. She hesitated before picking up her phone. Both of Fritz’s parents would be home. Mr. O’Connors ran an accounting business from the house, and Mrs. O’Connors cut coupons out of magazines all day. Their constant clucking and finger waving had not been welcome after Fritz came back from college. Jennifer’s parents had at least stayed quiet, in a disappointed way. The phone rang twice and when someone answered, Jennifer realized the police must have called them a long time ago. 

          “Oh god, god, god…honey, honey, it’s Jennifer. It’s Jennifer.” Fritz’s father’s voice fell away as he called to his wife. She could hear Fritz’s mother crying in the background. Jennifer could imagine her crumbled on the floor, digging her hands into the blue shag rug that had been in the O’Connors house since she and Fritz were in high school. She could imagine Mrs. O’Connors slowly unfolding her small frame and standing back up, walking over to the phone and snatching it, the rage that Fritz had run from boiling through her every vessel.

          “How could you not know? How could you not know?”

          Mr. Kim eyed Jennifer, hearing the noise from the receiver. Jennifer stayed on long enough to hear Fritz’s parents continue to yell at each other. Jennifer pressed her lips together and started to smile. She covered her mouth with her hand and laughed silently into her palm, afraid she would scream instead. Her stomach muscles ached, and her head was pounding. 

          “Should we go soon?” Mr. Kim asked, beginning to stand up from the pear green chair.

          “Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.”

 

 

 

          It was rush hour when Jennifer and Mr. Kim left the funeral home. The people from the crosswalk accident had disbanded, gone home, hugged their living kids tight. Mr. Kim weaseled them into the traffic gridlock, and they moved inches at a time through the streets. Jennifer rolled down her window and inhaled the hot fumes and exhaust. It tasted better than the visitation room air. 

           “Are you sure you want to go back to the apartment, Jennifer?” Mr. Kim asked. “Don’t you want to meet your parents or something?”

          Jennifer glanced over at him, and for the first time, wondered why he had been sticking around, why he had ever offered to drive her home.

          “Why are you helping me?” she asked.

          “I guess…I guess I thought if I didn’t help you, it would come back to haunt me, or something.” 

          Jennifer watched him drive on. There were no signs of spite on his pudgy face. Mr. Kim had lived in that apartment complex for two decades, and he was merely acting on the kindness of the human soul, she concluded. She had no other choice, really. They were taking the same traffic route as before, but Jennifer thought she wouldn’t mind if he took her somewhere far, far away. They were waiting at a stoplight when a group of pigeons landed on the telephone wire. Most were gray with the fringe of green on their necks, but one was white with tan spots, its little pink feet struggling to hold on to the wire. Jennifer leaned forward and watched them as they passed under the light. 

          “I always fed the tan and white ones. The pigeons, you know. I always fed them when Fritz and I went to the boardwalks when we first moved here. She never fed them. She just wanted to walk through the sand.”

          They were quiet again as they drove on, the traffic giving way once they got closer to their block. Jennifer looked up at the white building. The windows were closed; no more desperate faces were pressed against the dirty screens. 

          “Can I ask you something, Jennifer?” Mr. Kim said as she rolled up her window. They were parked behind the building, next to four dumpsters and the pile of mattresses that leaned against them. “How long had you known her?”

          “Not long,” she lied. 

          Mr. Kim cleared his throat. “I’m sure you already told the police this and all but … did you have any idea?”

          Her stomach felt oily again. She tried swallowing, but her throat was swollen. 

          “I guess I didn’t know her that well.” The words were acid on her tongue.

          They got out of the car and went up the stairwell together, Jennifer walking first. When they reached the blue carpet of the third floor, she turned to him, an obligatory weight pressing on her. She did owe him something. His round glasses were still smudged, but he had managed to tame his salt and pepper hair. He tried smiling.

          “Thank you, Mr. Kim.”

          He simply nodded and half-shrugged, looking like he was trying to think of something insightful or supportive to say. The air was still hot and stagnant, and the blue carpet seemed to swallow her feet.

          “My name’s George,” he said. As he smiled at her, Jennifer knew she wouldn’t be staying here and some other soul would move into her apartment and he would try to make friends with them, too. He would probably die here, joining the young girl from Apartment 34.  Jennifer then wrapped her arms around him and pressed her face into his shirt. He held her back with his arms lightly wrapped around her shoulders, in the most comforting manner a hug can be given.

          She pulled away from him and smiled, her lips pressed tight together. Jennifer turned around, faced the long hallway, and realized her apartment was still a crime scene, still being combed over. She went up to an officer. His uniform was blue, and he was wearing a latex glove on his left hand.

          “Are you in Apartment 34?” he asked.

          “Yes.”

          “Well you can’t go back in, I’m afraid, not for a couple days.”

          “Oh,” Jennifer said. She turned to Mr. Kim, and a wave of panic rippled through her. “I guess I should call my parents now.”

 

 


          The apartment smelled of bleach. The dining chair was still in the middle of the living room and the now-rancid noodles were still stacked on the table. The police and cleaning crew had closed the windows and the hum of the tower fan filled the room. The red couch lay empty in the living room, the brown kitchenette an island in the sea of white and green speckled carpet. 

          Jennifer had been standing by the front door for twenty minutes, staring at the space. She had spent the last two days holed up in a hotel room with her parents; the O’Connors stayed in the room next to theirs. The O’Connors had told her parents long before Jennifer finally called them, and the four of them had driven down to LA, arriving in the late evening. The O’Connors now had Fritz’s ashes and wanted to drive back to Mariposa soon. Fritz’s memorial service would be held on Sunday.

          Ben had been calling her, his voicemails indicating he went to their apartment and the police had told him something of what happened. Ben had only been to the apartment once before, and Fritz had been there. They had both laughed at him after he left, Fritz failing to mimic his pigeon-toed stride, walking across the flat red couch. 

          After three days, Jennifer got a call saying she could return to her apartment. Jennifer’s parents wanted to accompany her, but she refused. She only wanted to grab a few things, and only Mr. Kim would take her. He had given her his number before she disappeared with her parents, so she called him.

          “Mr. Kim? Sorry, George?” 

          “Mmm, yes?”

          “Were you sleeping?”

          “Yes.”

          “Can you come take me to my apartment? I’m at the Sleep Inn.”

          “Yes.”

          Now, he was waiting for her outside the apartment door, probably sitting on the blue carpet with his knees tucked to his chest.

          A note, she remembered. She had to look for a note. Mr. O’Connors had asked the police about it, but they hadn’t found any indication of one. Jennifer said she would look, just to be sure. She walked into the hallway, and the mirror on the wall glared at her. Her bun had fallen, strands of her straight brown hair loose. Her light blue blouse she’d been wearing for four days was wrinkled beyond repair, and her make-up was smudged. It was the blankness of her hazel eyes that made her face unfamiliar.

          The bathroom door was open, but the lights had been turned off. There was a wet, bleached spot on the hall carpet where Jennifer had thrown up when she first opened the bathroom door. She closed her eyes as she passed to the bedroom, but in the darkness of her eyelids, she saw splattered blood on the rim of the fake porcelain sink, the droplets rolling down the shiny plastic and pooling in the plugged drain, baking under the bright, swollen light bulbs. She could see Fritz on the grey laminate floor, her head pressed against the side of the bathtub, her chin tucked into her chest and her black curls stuck to her sweaty forehead. Her lotus flower tattoo painted red. Her soaked black t-shirt and jeans, her sliced left palm where she had gripped the razor blade. Her face turned off to the left and her blue eyes mere slits, staring at the blood around the base of the toilet.

          She choked as she entered their room. A single bedroom had been all they could afford. The bunk beds they had shoved into one corner weren’t too uncomfortable. Jennifer walked over to the other piece of furniture in the room, Fritz’s desk. It was normally covered with scrap pages and half torn-up journals, but Jennifer could now see patches of the cheap oak wood. There was no specified note, just piles and piles of her novel. Jennifer picked up what she could remember as the first few pages. 

          Fritz’s prose was beautiful, some of the best-written sentences Jennifer had ever seen. Her cursive was an art in itself, cascading off the lines of the notebook paper. It was about a girl, a girl named Marge, who liked to write, who liked her dog, who lived with her parents, who had black curls like Fritz. But Jennifer couldn’t make sense of anything beyond that. None of the paragraphs added up, none of the pages seemed to be in any order. Many of the sentences ran off into the margins, mixing in with other lines. Jennifer flipped through the other pages in the stacks. Many of them were blank or covered in drawings. Tears came to Jennifer. All this, her naps and her late night movies and her gages and her perpetual spot by the window seat, just to pass the time until Jennifer came home, the one person that was supposed to be failing at life, too. But Jennifer had left Fritz behind, with a window seat and a red couch for company.
          Jennifer could no longer breathe. She walked out of the room and fumbled with the front door until she was back out in the hallway. George was sitting outside of her apartment door, his knees against his chest. He nodded when he saw her.

          Jennifer sat down beside him and picked at the blue carpet. “I thought she was fine, you know, just how we’re all fine.”

          She paused and tore up a blue thread. There was a dull thud and the whirring sounds of fans turning on. The air conditioning had been fixed for the time being, and the hallway began cooling off. 

          Without looking up from the carpet, Jennifer said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, George. Why were you crying in the funeral home that day?”

          He shrugged and pushed himself up from the carpet, extending his hand to Jennifer. 

          “There was a man here, several years ago. He died from an aneurysm while he was standing in his closet. Took them a week to realize he was missing.”