I know this place. Do I live here?
Rain battered my umbrella and lashed me while I stood on the stoop and studied the door in the streetlight. The number—656—meant nothing, but the door—I knew the door. The house was dark. So was the street. Knocking would risk waking up someone.
I clutched the umbrella against a gust of wind. My rain slicker offered no protection against its chill. My feet in their flip-flops had gone numb. Somewhere in my travels (was I traveling?), a truck with a loud horn and bright lights had splashed mud over my jeans and left me sopping filthy in addition to sopping wet. Yeah, thanks, buddy.
I opened the screen door and took a deep breath. I lifted the knocker, struck it three times, and stepped back.
Above me, a second-floor light flickered on. A trail of lights proceeded down the central stairs. I waited, shivering. The porch light came on, and the door swung inward.
A man of about thirty peered at me through the screen. He wore a flannel bathrobe wrapped around a white t-shirt and blue pajama bottoms. His dark curly hair hung loose over his shoulders, and a short beard framed his face.
My heart sank. I didn’t know him. What could I say to this stranger?
“Angela. What a surprise.”
Angela. Is that my name? And I’ve angered him.
I was about to make some excuse and turn away when he opened the screen door. “Might as well come in out of the rain. I’d be hard-pressed to send a stray dog out in this.”
I followed him inside, shaking out the umbrella and closing it.
“Don’t you look like a drowned rat.”
“Where the hell have you been?”
“The truth is—”
He shook his head, waving away my words with one hand. “Later. Get out of your wet things first. Jesus, Ang. Lemme get your robe.” He disappeared.
I looked around, listening to the pelting rain outside. I stood in the vestibule of a renovated townhouse. A single light shone off the polished pale linoleum floor. The same light vanished into the fashionable deep red of the walls.
My bathrobe. I live here. Maybe I’m a frequent guest. If he expects me to strip in front of him, he must be my husband or boyfriend. So why undress here in the front room? Why not the bathroom or the bedroom? Why is he acting so cold? We must have had a fight. Why don’t I remember?
When he returned, I stood with my back to him, nude. He said nothing but handed me a towel, a pair of ugly pink pajamas with a pattern of happy Scottish terriers, socks, and a worn powder-blue terry bathrobe. I recognized none of these things, but they felt comfortable despite the hideous colors.
The stranger took my wet clothes. “I’ll throw these in the wash. I may as well start getting ready for work. Want some coffee?”
Did I drink coffee? I didn’t think so, but something hot sounded good. “Yes, thank you.”
I followed him down a hall lined with pictures of the two of us laughing, smiling, hugging, and kissing. We raised glasses with other people.
That’s Paris. And someplace in Eastern Europe, I think. Hawaii. We are happy…I wish I could remember.
He threw the clothes into a laundry room.
I should have done that.
In the tiny, tidy kitchen, the stranger measured out coffee scoops and poured water into the machine. The heating water growled, a familiar sound that made me smile. He sat at the kitchen table and hunched over his phone, scrolling. I sat opposite him as if I’d done this every morning for years—but something was wrong.
Coffee ready, the stranger rose. “Do you want milk or sugar?”
Did I? I declined both. He handed me a cup painted with red and black butterflies. I spit back my first and only sip of the vile liquid. At least holding the cup would warm my hands.
“So,” the stranger said without looking up, “why did you come back?”
Had I left? “I was cold.”
“Really? Eddie seemed to be keeping you warm enough when I came home yesterday and found you fucking him in the middle of the living room.”
So I was fucking Eddie? And in the living room? How crass. Who is Eddie?
“Nothing to say?”
I met his gaze and weighed my words. “Fucking Eddie was a lousy thing to do.”
I winced. “It’s the sort of selfish, hurtful thing people do without thinking and then regret for the rest of their lives.”
He spat a laugh. “Is that an apology?”
How could I apologize to someone I didn’t know for something I didn’t remember? My eyes rested on my hands.
What…? It must be a trick of the light.
I closed my eyes and looked again. The red and black outline of a butterfly showed through my thumbs.
But that isn’t possible.
Oh—that truck—the lights—the horn. I gasped. I pulled the hood of the bathrobe over my head and down over my face.
“I don’t understand, Angie. Since when do you drink coffee, anyway? The only thing you drink is your frou-frou teas—” I had a whole shelf of herbal teas, quite an indulgence in this micro-kitchen. “—You fly out of here. Now you come back and pound on the door at the crack of dawn. Eddie throw you out without your keys?”
“I don’t know.”
“What kind of answer is that?”
I pulled my hands inside my sleeves.
The stranger sighed and ran a hand through his curls. “I’m going to take a shower. Will you be here when I get back from work?”
“As much as I’d like to be, I won’t.”
He stood. “Fine. Whatever. Just—what the hell is wrong with you? Are you sick?” He pushed back the hood of my robe.
I don’t know what he saw. He staggered back into his chair, spilling his coffee. His eyes never blinked; his mouth hung agape.
I kept my head down.
There isn’t much time. I must say what I came to say. “I am sorry about Eddie—and many things. I am sorry I hurt you. I’ll miss you.”
“No. Angie! Come back!” He reached for me, but the robe collapsed in his hands, empty.
BIO: Denise Longrie’s work has appeared in Short-Short me, Drunken Pen Writing, and Wisconsin Review. She has self-published a chapbook of poetry, a short story, and a nonfiction book exploring pre-1900 speculative fiction, By Firelight. Currently, she is toiling away by the sparking light of a Jacob’s ladder on its sequel, It Came from the Pulps.