Amanda, or Mandy, depending on who was addressing her, didn't have much time before she had to leave for her reading, but she still had to do it. For the past five years, at least once a day, sometimes more, she did it, and this night would be no different.
She hoped that someday she would be able to stop, that she would wake one morning, not wanting to do it any more, but today, tonight, was not that time. She had to do it. Wanted to do it. So she would. Just once though, and then she'd leave. She hadn't read her work in public since the holidays, and knew at least a handful of people, mostly fans of her older stuff, the more humorous stuff, were looking forward to hearing it. She didn't want to let anyone down by showing up not feeling quite right.
Doing the thing once, she can carry on as normal. Any more than that and it sticks to her.
She poured herself a small glass of wine which, normally, would have been bigger, but she was still anticipating being able to drive herself to the bookstore that night. She got her phone off of her desk, sat crosslegged on the living room floor of her apartment, and dialed.
Sometimes they don't pick up, which feels like an itch gone unscratched. Tonight, there was no doubt in her mind, they would.
The voice, middle-aged, female, chipper, hit Amanda's inner ear like fingers snapping. She sat there, not answering, listening to the silence that rolled in after the greeting deadened, imagining the room she was reaching warming to her. Knowing her.
"Hello?" The voice said again. A bit more impatient. Concerned. And then another time ... "Hello?"
Amanda grabbed for the moments in-between the woman's words and breath. Squeezing them. She heard a TV, faintly, in the background. It made her want to scream.
"Both of my parents died in that house," Amanda said, as calmly and plainly as if she were ordering a pizza.
"Miss. Please. I asked you to stop calling here." The woman couldn't sound surprised by what she'd just heard. She wasn't. She'd been getting this same call for years. At this point, Amanda suspected, it was just as much a part of her daily routine to receive the calls as it was for her to make them.
"I'm sorry," Amanda said. Again, calmly. A simple misdial, and not something that felt like a necessity. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are, dear. God bless you." The woman ended the call and Amanda took as deep of a breath as she could, holding in the last few bits of the connection, and then exhaling them. Sometimes she liked to imagine that doing so, in time, would transfer the air over there to the air in here. Making her living room just a bit more full of that living room.
She wanted to call again, but stopped herself. She was excited about the reading, and was proud of herself for feeling so. She gathered up her bag, keys, notebook, and walked out, locking up safely behind her. Sitting behind the wheel of her car she looked up at the dark empty windows of her apartment, imaging that air, her home air, still inside. She touched her right ear and put those fingers to her lips. That too.
The drive to the bookstore was quick. She practiced the poem she was going to read as she drove. She said it out loud, letting the red and green lights of the road help to punctuate.
This house is made of blood and bone,
I will never die in a rental.
When they come back for me,
once the streetlights turn on and it's time to go home,
I will be new.
Who will look for clues of me?
Who will go through my stuff,
putting things against their chest?
A dramatic and embarrassing hug. A fantasy.
Who will make a story for me,
bigger than the one that I made for myself?
Our skin wraps around these walls like dripping paint.
Our breath fogs these windows still.
Mine the warmest.
This house is made of blood and bone,
and one day the salt of my body will get absorbed into it,
hovering uncomfortably -
poofy, and anticipating.
And after sun sets,
when the outside heat loses its grip,
fertilize the floor boards,
and wait for my own tense fruits.