This week, fiction from Terence Taylor that ponders a strange shared living situation.
Narrated by Devante Johnson.
Produced by Davis Walden of the Viridian Wild Podcast.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have a story that ponders a strange shared living situation.
But before we get to supernatural spaces, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. We’re working toward our goal of bringing you new episodes every week, but we need your help. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And don’t forget, our merch store is open. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “The Share”, written by Terence Taylor and narrated by Devante Johnson.
Kenny had been in the apartment for almost a week before he noticed the sounds. Running water from the kitchen when there was no one there, soft feminine humming in the next room. Music from a distance, faint as a whisper, yet intimately close, traces of Nina Simone and Toni Braxton, jazz classics and soulful R&B, with occasional flashes of percussive third world rhythms. Whiffs of perfume every now and then, or a brush of warm air, soft as a breath on the back of his neck. Nothing tangible, just dim echoes of a phantom female presence.
He dismissed it as new apartment jitters; the acoustics were different here, that’s all; so was the airflow. Thin walls made noises from other apartments sound closer than they really were; airshafts outside the bathroom windows carried strange smells from floor to floor.
Wishful thinking played a part in it as well. Losing his live-in girlfriend, Nadine, after two years together had left Kenny hungry for the constant company of a woman, for her civilizing influence over his space and time. He missed the lost signs of femininity left in Nadine’s wake, from scented potpourri sachets to stockings found in odd places, from potions to treat any ailment in the medicine chest to a refrigerator stocked with fresh food. She was more than his girlfriend; she’d been his anchor, his connection to the real world, the only thing that kept him from being an introverted, porn-addicted computer geek living on take-out food like most of the programmers on his staff.
The last night Nadine made them dinner, the night she’d told Kenny it was over, he couldn’t believe it. How could she not have been happy with him when he was so completely satisfied with her? But, of course, his inability to see past his own needs was one of the reasons she had for leaving him.
Except that he was the one who had to leave.
This apartment in Brooklyn was the first he’d found that he could afford, larger than he’d expected to find, a one bedroom with enough space for a makeshift home office, and rent-controlled to boot. It was a corner apartment in an elevator building, with windows on two sides that poured in bright light during the day, with good cross ventilation when there was a breeze. North of Flatbush Avenue, it wasn’t quite trendy Park Slope, but Prospect Heights, an up-and-coming neighborhood on the other side of the avenue. Still black enough for him to feel comfortable, it was just gentrified enough to have all the Manhattan comforts he’d grown used to uptown at Nadine’s.
His only problem: the odd sounds and smells of the phantom woman that reminded him of Nadine when he tried to sleep at night, naked and sweating in record summer heat, unrelieved by electric fans and open windows. Kenny lay on a queen-size mattress on the bare floor in the dark, played blues on the stereo to block out the sounds of traffic and shouted conversation from the street below while he tried to masturbate himself to dreamland with memories of his lost love and DVD porn. Kenny was alone, on his own, for the first time in years.
He hated it.
* * *
The next week Kenny spent long hours at the office with no time to meet anyone new, finishing up a major web project for a big client. At home he’d discovered that the building was mostly filled with tenants who’d been there since their youth, holding onto rent-controlled leases well past retirement. Kenny finally spotted a neighbor around his age that weekend as he wheeled his bike down the hall for a ride in Prospect Park. She came off the elevator with a bag of groceries, smiled and nodded as they passed.
She was a petite young woman, gray-eyed with a cocoa dark complexion and long corn row braids. Kenny caught a breath of her perfume as she disappeared around the corner, the same scent he’d smelled in his apartment. He’d finally found the source. She had to live in one of two other apartments at his end of the hall.
Kenny thought about his neighbor that night instead of Nadine while he tried to sleep, what her skin would taste like, salty or sweet, how her braids would feel against his bare shoulders, whether she slept in a t-shirt, in the raw or a silky negligee. He could almost feel her presence in the bed beside him as he slept that night, warm, close, her soft breaths matching his.
A few days later he saw her again on his way home. They met just as he turned the bend in the hall. She smiled and said, “Hi!” as she passed. Kenny nodded back, kept going to his door as she vanished around the corner. She’d come from the far end of the hall, so she had to live in the apartment across from him. He considered knocking on her door later to find out if she was single by inviting her over for a drink, if he had the balls.
Rejection would be lethal, but friends had encouraged him to be daring and try new approaches after the breakup. He’d been off the market for two years; they said he had nothing to lose. Nothing, except that he liked this girl, what little he’d seen of her, and didn’t want to blow his only chance of getting to know her better.
Kenny cleaned up the living room when he got inside, just in case, threw dirty laundry from his bedroom floor into the bathroom hamper. He did a little work on his computer and watched TV until later that evening when he heard the door across the hall open and close as someone went inside. Kenny got up, pulled a bottle of Chardonnay from the refrigerator and grabbed two glasses, hoped she liked wine, that she wasn’t either AA or overly religious.
Kenny stopped himself from obsessing, juggled wine glasses and the bottle in one hand, used his other to open his door and crossed the hall to knock on hers.
There was the sound of movement from inside and Kenny felt his heart pound faster; a slight flush of flop sweat bloomed on his back and cheeks. The door opened and a skinny old white woman in a worn plaid housedress blinked at him from behind thick bifocals. “Yeah?”
“I’m…” Kenny didn’t know what to say. She was the last thing he’d expected to see when the door opened. Could his dark-skinned dream girl be this woman’s daughter? Grand daughter? Caregiver? “I just moved in.”
The old woman eyed the glasses and wine, wary. “Yeah?”
“I’m sorry. I thought someone else lived here. A young woman I saw in the hall.” “She lives there.”
The old woman waved toward Kenny’s door. He sighed. She wasn’t just old; she was senile.
“Thanks. I, uh…” There was no use explaining further. Kenny floundered, backed away. “Nice meeting you.”
“Okay.” The old woman shrugged and shut the door after one last longing look at the wine bottle. Kenny stood alone in the empty hall, closed his eyes and let his heart slow. Stupid. This was stupid. The girl must be in the other apartment, closer to the elevator. Then why was she coming from back here?
“Hi, again,” said a familiar voice, and Kenny opened his eyes to see her standing there, smelled her sweet scent catch up to them as she stopped at his door.
“Hi,” he answered, and thought to offer her a glass while he thought of something to say. She took it with a smile. “I was coming over to introduce myself, but got the wrong apartment. Kenny Gaines. I just moved in.”
“Yeah? Me, too. Yolanda Morgan,” she said, and clinked her empty glass against his. “You want to come in for a minute? Pour me some of that wine?”
She had keys in her hand, and before he could answer she slipped one into his lock and turned it. Kenny opened his mouth to protest, but when the door opened words failed him. He walked forward in disbelief for a better look.
Nothing in the room belonged to him.
It was as if he had accidentally gotten off on the wrong floor and stepped into someone else’s apartment. He knew his was still almost empty, with only a few lonely pieces of scattered furniture bought at Pottery Barn since leaving Nadine’s. She’d owned most of what was at their place before he moved in, what little he’d taken with him barely filled a room, much less his apartment.
Instead, he stared at a fully furnished living room decorated with a woman’s touch, a smart, well-traveled woman with great design sense and enough income to indulge it. There were African and Polynesian masks on the wall, good ones, not cheap knock-offs, but the sort of thing you’d find on your own while on the road. A modern but comfortable sofa and chairs with clean simple lines were positioned to let the art in the room catch your eye and interest, inviting relaxed conversation over drinks. Big pillows covered in African mud cloth and Japanese textiles lay piled on Moroccan carpets between the fireplace and a low wooden coffee table, littered with architectural digests and art magazines.
Kenny stared up at a massive framed brightly colored photograph over the mantle signed by Lyle Ashton Harris, a popular black artist whose work he could never afford. At home, Kenny had a five-dollar Jacob Lawrence poster he’d bought at a street fair taped up on this wall. He looked at the photo more closely.
It was Yolanda in an abandoned warehouse, eyes closed, face ecstatic, belly bare, feet naked, wearing large gold hoop earrings, a white tied-off blouse and floor length skirt, hair bound up in a white cloth. The transparent spirit of a voluptuous black woman, scantily clad in yellow and gold, floated slightly above Yolanda’s writhing body, the two figures captured at the moment of blending into one. The title under the signature read, “Oshun enters the Acolyte.” Yolanda poured them more wine.
“Do you like it?” She stood beside him, looked up at the photo, talked about the art as if nothing was wrong. “It’s a gift from the artist. I met Lyle at a gallery opening a few years ago, and he talked me into posing.” Her relaxed at-home air only made the situation more bizarre. It was all so damned casual and ordinary. Kenny marveled at the weird beauty of the moment. If this weren’t some kind of hallucination or psychotic break, it would be the smoothest pick up he’d ever made. “I love it too much not to show it, even though having a huge portrait of myself over the mantle makes me look vain.”
“No. It’s great.” He turned away from the picture and blurted out, “I live here.” “What?” Yolanda looked sure she hadn’t heard him correctly, a flash of confusion flickered across her eyes as she stepped back. “You what?”
“I don’t know how to explain. It’s crazy, but … I have to see something.” He pulled her towards the door. She tried to break free, as if suddenly worried he was insane. “Just come outside for a second. Bring your keys.”
He got her to the door and out, pulled it shut. “Lock it.”
She shook her head and sucked her teeth, but did it. Kenny put his key in the lock before she could stop him. When she saw that it fit, she stared at the key, then at him, and waited. Kenny turned the key and unlocked the door. When he opened it, his apartment, the one he knew, was on the other side.
This time it was Yolanda’s turn to be stunned. She stepped inside, walked slowly to the center of the room, shocked into silence. When she turned back to face Kenny tears streamed down her cheeks.
“This is impossible. So God damned impossible.”
She looked about to collapse. He grabbed her arms, supported her. “Tell me about it.” “Damn, Kenny! How … how did you stand there for so long without saying anything?”
“I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.”
They compared their keys, which were completely different, even though they both opened the same lock. To be sure they weren’t imagining it, Kenny and Yolanda tried the trick a few more times, locked and unlocked the door with one key then the other to see the two apartments, then fled.
They went to a new jazz club down the street, declined the trendy ambience of the restaurant, sat at the bar and ordered doubles. Other young couples milled around them, laughed and joked their way through pick ups and first dates while Kenny and Yolanda drank in silence, listened to the music and tried to reclaim their hold on reality. Yolanda finally looked Kenny in the eyes when she was halfway through her second Hennessey.
He did his best to smile.
“So. Since we’re sharing an apartment I guess we should get to know each other,” said Kenny. It was the only clever opening line he’d ever had. The tension broke and they laughed until they cried, drifted close to hysteria and back until words poured out as they tried to explain what the Hell was happening. Dimensional warp? Quantum flux? Was it a time or space loop, black magic or mad science, a blessing or a curse? Kenny’s nerdy high school years spent watching hours of “Star Trek” reruns and reading science fiction gave him an endless supply of possibilities to offer Yolanda.
For once, he was relaxed on a first date, if you could call it that. He entertained and soothed her by spinning out wilder and wilder theories, his hands carved out spatial explanations in the air of how two apartments could occupy the same space at the same time, yet be completely separate.
“They couldn’t be completely separate, though, could they?” Yolanda stared out the front window of the bar as the conversation slowed, looked through their candlelit reflections in the glass to the street as they finished their fourth drinks and ordered another round. The sun had set while they talked; car headlights flashed past, lit the street outside in lightning quick bursts, like strobes. “I mean, the dynamic tension of trying to stay apart, it seems like there’d be some kind of leakage every now and then.”
“Like osmosis. Things slipping through the membrane to whichever apartment has the least, trying to find balance.”
“You just better leave my CDs and DVDs alone,” she warned, and giggled at the absurdity of it all. For a moment, Kenny could see the girl the woman had been, sleepily curled around the stool beside him, guileless, trusting. A door in his broken heart opened and invited her in. He stood, put down money for the bill and tip, extended a hand.
“May I walk you home?” For some reason that set them off on another round of laughter, as he helped her to her feet and guided her out of the bar to the street.
* * *
At the apartment door they both hesitated, unsure who should use their key first. Kenny waved Yolanda forward and she opened the door. He shuddered. While the shock of their discovery had faded over drinks, conversation and flirtation, seeing her belongings behind what he had always known as his door gave him a chill again. She felt it too, paused before she went inside alone.
“I guess it’s good night.” She turned back to face him. “Thanks for everything. I know this is all pretty weird, but I still enjoyed meeting you.”
“Yeah. Me too. And, yeah, pretty damn weird.” All he could see were her lips, full, moist, parted, tilted up at an almost ideal angle for him to lean forward and steal a kiss. So he did.
He didn’t really steal it. Kenny could tell immediately that she gave it to him freely, and then some, a kiss that answered any lingering question about her availability. They pulled apart, startled by the intensity, but Kenny understood. He’d seen this exact moment in too many grade B horror movies, when the hero and heroine fell passionately into each other’s arms just when they most needed to run.
“I’m sorry, it’s…” She glanced inside and actually trembled. “I think I’m just a little afraid to stay here alone tonight.”
“If you want company…” he said, and winced. Any other time it was a cheap line that would have gotten him an icy stare, but Yolanda looked relieved by his offer. “Your place or mine?”
“As long as we’re here…”
She laughed, stepped inside and pulled the door open wider for him to follow as she turned on lights and low music, then went to the bar to pour them a nightcap. They didn’t have sex that night. Kenny curled up under the sheet spoon-style behind Yolanda, in his boxer shorts and T-shirt, gently cupped her warm soft breasts in moist palms. As he fell asleep he could smell coconut oil in her hair, gently kissed the back of her neck and tasted her when he licked his lips with the tip of his tongue.
She was both salty and sweet.
The next morning Kenny and Yolanda tried to understand their unique living arrangement by conducting experiments. They addressed notes to each other and slipped them under the door to see which side they’d appear on, separated and shouted to see how much sound traveled be tween the two spaces; burned incense to see if smells crossed over, like demented high school science projects out of The X-Files.
Hours later, they still only knew what was happening, not how or why. The two keys opened the front door onto two identical copies of the same space, no matter who used the keys, and neither key had any markings to indicate where they’d been made, except for an ironic “Do not duplicate” stamped on both. The rooms inside were the same down to cracks in the walls and leaky faucets, only the contents, including cable and phone lines, were different depending on which key you used.
After hours of investigation and experimentation all they were sure of was that neither of them wanted to lose their lease. Even if they‘d somehow stumbled onto the Bermuda Triangle of shares, like true New Yorkers, neither of them wanted to move out of a great rent-controlled apartment in a rising neighborhood. The only question was how to pull it off without anyone else figuring it out.
“We can’t pay two rents again at the end of the month, they’re bound to realize something is wrong,” Kenny said over lunch at a local bistro. “I’m surprised they haven’t already, since they got two leases for the same apartment.” He felt more like his father in daylight; examined the practical aspects of a surreal situation, when last night he’d explored the fantasy. “So what do we do? Tell them we’re sharing the apartment and split the rent?”
“Sure. It’s not like we’ll really be living together,” said Kenny. “And we’ll never find another deal this good. Believe me, I looked.”
“Don’t I know it.”
They decided to work it out with the Russian super, but that evening, their frenzied torrent of words as each tried to explain without really explaining completely lost the recent immigrant. He finally silenced them. If his wife gave Yolanda a lease after he’d given one to Kenny, a mistake had been made. If they wanted to share the apartment, they had to pay one rent, but more for two tenants.
They gladly arranged to get back Yolanda’s rent and deposit, gave the super a new check for the next month’s increased rent and Yolanda wrote Kenny a check to cover her half while she waited for her refund. Back upstairs, they opened the door to Kenny’s apartment with his key to celebrate in his place with champagne, then stepped out into the hall and into Yolanda’s apartment with her key to have dinner.
* * *
They fell into dating without thought, drawn into a relationship like co-conspirators bound by a shared secret, went to movies and shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, free concerts in Prospect Park, jazz clubs in Fort Green, combed the neighborhood for fresh entertainment to enjoy together. Kenny started to feel whole again; Yolanda filled the void left in his life since losing Nadine.
It was more than just the strangeness of their meeting or the intimacy of their living arrangement that made him feel close to her. They shared a taste for the same music and films, got along with each other’s friends and even looked right together when he caught glimpses of their reflection in store windows and restaurant mirrors. They fit. Kenny was falling in love, and each day he was sure he saw signs in Yolanda that the feeling was mutual.
When they finally had sex it was tender, prolonged, multi-orgasmic for them both. They ended lovemaking wet with sweat and tears of laughter, held each other all night, amazed to be so lucky to have found each other.
They spent the weekend bouncing between their beds, cooked together in her kitchen then scampered into the hall to go back to his place for DVD movies on his new flat panel plasma TV. They talked about their childhoods, their first jobs, where they’d been and where they wanted to go. By the end of the weekend they talked about where they might go together.
Weeks went by as they continued to live jointly but separately in the same apartment, lives entwined but with enough distance to enhance the time spent together. Kenny felt a satisfaction he’d never known before, a sense of oneness that made him realize what he had been missing from other relationships.
Kenny had found more than a new partner in Yolanda; she completed him. He wanted to tell her that without it sounding pedestrian, when what he wanted was so much more than anything he had ever had, more than he’d ever believed possible.
* * *
That night, Kenny watched Yolanda all through dinner at a local restaurant, admired and desired her as if she was a rare work of art. He listened to every word she said, but his attention was on the voice inside that told him to tell her how he felt, to share what he wanted with her, for them.
“I love you, you know.” He said it suddenly, before he chickened out, as if it were something he wanted to make sure got said before it was forgotten. Yolanda stopped talking, looked surprised and a little embarrassed, like he’d just squeezed her thigh in church. “What’s gotten into you?”
It should have been a warning, would have been to anyone else. Not, “I love you, too,” or “Thank you,” but “What’s gotten into you?” He pushed ahead, oblivious, Custer charging Little Big Horn.
“My time with you, it’s all been so right, so perfect. You’re more than my girlfriend. You’re like a part of me. I don’t ever want this to end.”
Yolanda leaned back, stared at him with a smile on her lips but not in her eyes. “Kenny, are you proposing to me?”
He hesitated, not sure if that was what he meant, but poised at the cliff’s edge, took the plunge. “Sure,” he said, “Why not? That’s a good place to start.”
“A good place to…” She shook her head and laughed, but didn’t sound amused. “Kenny, it’s been a month.”
“Over a month and a half.”
“Too soon to talk about forever. I care for you, I do, but…” She stopped, her hands fluttered in front of her, helpless to shape the thought in words or gesture.
Kenny started to reply, then sense finally kicked in and he stopped himself from saying more. “No. I’m sorry.” He waved to the waiter for the check. “It’s the wine. It makes me overly romantic.”
She took his hand loosely, with her fingertips, not a full-handed clasp. “It’s a lovely thought. I just think we need to take our time.”
“Of course, we do.” He smiled and slipped his hand over hers; covered it completely. “I understand.”
But he didn’t.
* * *
They left the restaurant in silence; slept apart that night for the first time in weeks. Yolanda began to cool, even though she denied it, and the more she withdrew, the more Kenny wanted her. On dates she seemed distracted, distant. More and more often, when they got home to bed they went to sleep without sex. Yolanda said she was busy with work and on a tight deadline, but Kenny’s antennae were up. He’d been down this road before and kept an eye out for further signs.
It didn’t take long.
Yolanda was at his place for dinner, already making excuses that she had to leave early to finish work on a presentation for a new architectural client. While he pulled dinner out of the oven, she wandered around the room with her wine, stopped by the fireplace. “What’s this doing here?”
Yolanda picked up a small china dog, paws raised as if begging, a tacky souvenir of her dead aunt that was usually on the mantle on her side. She held it in her hand, stood near the hearth, puzzled. “I thought you hated it.”
“I do,” said Kenny. “As much as I could hate anything of yours.” He went to Yolanda, kissed her hand as he took the dog from her and examined it like an artifact of some alien culture. “Did you bring it over?”
“No. Of course not. Why would I do that?”
She took it back with an impatient frown and left his apartment, her key in hand, and closed his door behind her. A moment later he could hear the ghost of the front door open on the other side, sense her step across the room as she blew through him like mist, replaced the dog where it belonged.
She didn’t speak of it again that night, but over the next few days more items switched sides from her space to his and his to hers.
“It’s like we’re moving in together,” Yolanda said one night in bed on her side, after they’d found some of Kenny’s socks in her drawer. “Like the two apartments are merging the longer we’re together.”
Kenny laughed. “Osmosis. That saves us some trouble. I hate moving, even if it is to live with you.” He leaned over to kiss her, but she rolled away, sat up on the edge of the bed, her back to him, face averted.
“That’s just it, Kenny. This came up before. I don’t know if I am ready to move in with you.”
Kenny felt an old familiar feeling constrict his gut. Her words had the same “We have to talk,” tone of the conversation he’d had his last night with Nadine. He had seen it coming, but now that it was here he wanted to put his hands over his ears and hum. Maybe little kids were right. Maybe if you couldn’t hear or see something bad, you really could stop it from happening. Yolanda didn’t give him time to try.
“I need more time than you’re giving me. You’re still moving too far, too fast. I can see it in your eyes and … I don’t feel the same way about you.”
“I can slow down…”
“No. You can’t. You know you can’t. I’m sorry, Kenny. I should have said something sooner.” She was on her feet before he could reach out to her, put on her robe, bound it tightly closed and moved to the door, still looking away. “Do you mind if I sleep alone tonight?”
Kenny’s cheeks burned. “No.” He picked up his robe, felt for his keys in the pocket. His slippers felt heavy on his feet as he made his way out to the living room to leave for what felt like the last time. “Can we talk tomorrow?”
She took too long to answer as she moved to shut the door behind him. “We can talk. Maybe not tomorrow.”
The door closed and the lock thudded into place. Kenny pulled out his key, unlocked the door and walked back into his dark empty apartment and a dark empty life. Kenny flopped down on his mattress on the floor, lights out, no music, ignored the noises from the outside world; tears trickled from the corners of his eyes despite himself. It was because he was too stable, he thought, too quiet and reliable, that’s why he kept getting dumped, because he wasn’t some slack-jawed, lowlife Neanderthal niggah who pumped them full of bastards and abandoned them. That’s what black women wanted no matter what they say, he told himself, some macho 70’s exploitation movie secret garden rape fantasy. Not an upright, reliable, stay-at-home black man like him who knew how to take care of a woman, how to nurture and protect her, someone who wanted a real union, a bond.
A lasting bond.
He fell asleep as the sun rose, tumbled twisted up and sweaty in his sheets as he dreamed he was being devoured by a burning bush with a multitude of hungry carnivorous buds that bloomed into the faces of all the women who had ever dated and dumped him. As his flesh was dissolved from his bones by acid nectar that poured from their mouths, he heard them sing to each other, competing with tales of who had hurt him the most.
When he woke that afternoon Kenny resolved not to let this setback put him back into a depression. He was better than that. It was a dark rainy Saturday, a good day to stay in and catch up on work. He sat in front of the TV, watched CNN and used his laptop to sign onto the web sites his company had launched for clients that weekend, went through page-by-page, made sure they were all up and running. He sent e-mail notes to subordinates as he found last minute flaws to fix and by the end of the afternoon, his work was done.
The weather was worse than ever. Kenny rummaged through refrigerated leftovers for lunch, nuked them in the microwave while he switched stations to see what was on the SyFy Channel. He dropped into his beanbag chair, and waited for the timer on the microwave to go off when he felt something odd.
He felt Yolanda.
She was somewhere near. Very near.
The slight traces of her presence in the apartment he’d felt when he first moved in had grown stronger since their relationship began. They’d spent so much time together he hadn’t noticed it, but separated, Kenny realized he could tell where Yolanda was on the other side, could even make little sensory connections between them as he followed her trail. He forgot about the microwave when it called him with a chime, tracked Yolanda instead and picked up thin scents of what she smelled, faint snatches of what she heard. Rough terry cloth texture tickled his fingertips; his feet ignored his carpet to feel Yolanda’s floor under her bare soles. Kenny sighed, content, breathed in and out at the same time she did and for a moment felt as one with her as he had when they’d slept together curled up in bed at night. Kenny could tell Yolanda was on the couch, reading. There was a warm spot where she must be; electric light reflected off her hair, shimmered like faint heat waves in the air. Kenny pulled his beanbag chair to the spot and fell asleep in her unseen lap while the afternoon storm raged outside the window for them both, the same raindrops striking the same glass. For the rest of the weekend, Kenny trailed Yolanda around the apartment, got better at following her traces, learned to read the subtle signs that told him where she was and what she was doing on the other side. If she sat on her couch to watch TV, he changed to the same channel, sat in the same spot on his side and slowly matched his breathing to hers. A bath? He climbed into his tub, filled it and adjusted the water until he was sure the temperature was the same, until he felt like he was in the tub with her. They shared meals at different tables in the same space, he moved his mattress to her side of the bedroom and slept the same hours in the same positions she did; whispered her name in his dreams.
There was nothing she did he didn’t echo, no move he couldn’t shadow; as weeks went by Kenny still had Yolanda with him in real and tangible form, despite the breakup. Even though he knew there was something wrong in what he was doing, he reveled in their ghostly reunion, at being able to keep her in his life in some way, no matter how small. He willed a deeper connection across the space between them; tried to pull her closer each day.
Items from her apartment began to appear in his again, the odd vase, a slipper, silverware, her comb; either she didn’t notice their absence or refused to talk to him long enough to ask for them back. Things came through more often and more of them, ever more personal, as if Kenny had broken through a dam, created a hairline crack between the two spaces that was spreading, crumbling, about to burst.
All he had to do was keep pushing.
* * *
Kenny woke in his beanbag chair, where he’d shared a long afternoon with Yolanda before he nodded out, and heard something slide under his door. He stood, stumbled over to see what it was, still half asleep. It was a sheet of recycled blue paper, a note from Yolanda on her stationary.
Kenny didn’t even read it. If she had just left the note, she couldn’t have gotten far. He opened the door, saw her slip around the corner, and ran out to join her.
“Yolanda!” He slowed when he saw that the elevator hadn’t arrived yet. She looked away, nervous, pushed the down button again. Kenny stopped between her and the door to the stairs, held up the note.
“I need my half of the deposit back.”
He opened the note, skimmed it. “You’re moving? When?”
Her eyes looked past him to the elevator door for an out. One foot tapped the floor like a jackhammer.
“Tomorrow. I’m packing tonight.”
“Why?” He squeezed the word through clenched teeth as his eyes watered. “Baby, I’ve lived near ex-boyfriends before, even stayed with a few until I found a place of my own, but this, this is…”
She raised her hands, dropped them again as if there was no way to describe what they had here. Kenny reached out, but she backed away, paused as if what she had to say was hard to get out. She spoke in a quiet voice, almost inaudible; couldn’t meet his eyes as she said it.
“I feel you, Kenny. When I’m home. One breath away from me, all the time.” She looked up, her eyes wet, anguished. “Things disappear. It’s too much. It’s like you’re feeding on me. I need more than space. I need distance.”
Before he could respond, the elevator door opened. She rushed inside, pushed the button to close it and get away from him. Kenny let the door slide shut without trying to stop her, felt his stomach and hopes fall to earth with the elevator.
She was really leaving him this time.
* * *
Kenny drank that night.
There wasn’t enough booze in the house to do the job, so he had more delivered, more than enough to blot out the horror that lay ahead. He was so used to having Yolanda near that he wasn’t sure if he could survive losing her cold turkey. It would be a terrifying life of real isolation, living alone with no one but himself and he wasn’t that fond of himself right now. When he thought about it, maybe he never had been; maybe that explained the continuous stream of live-in girlfriends he’d had since he left home. He’d never lived alone. As soon as one left or threw him out he’d always found another. Were they just buffers between him and himself? The thought depressed him even more.
He poured another drink, dropped the glass and instead of looking for it downed his next shot from the bottle as he enjoyed his last night with Yolanda. Kenny could hear the music she played while she finished packing; a vintage recording of Yoruba music she’d picked up on a trip to Havana. They’d made love on the floor of her living room to it one night, percussion pounding, rich vocals invoking Oshun, the goddess of love and beauty, who rules over the sweet rivers and streams of the Earth, fills them with her fertility.
The drums rose, thumped louder in his ears as Kenny connected to Yolanda’s ears and skin instead of his own, heard and felt the rhythms of She who blesses the river and is the river invoked by the recorded voices and rhythms of long dead singers and musicians. Tears blurred Kenny’s vision as he strained to see through Yolanda’s eyes, tried to glimpse the portrait of the goddess floating on the other wall like a beacon, prayed for aid, called with her music for help, pleaded for her to reunite him with his lost love.
Almost as if in response to his drunken prayer he felt Yolanda’s presence near him. He drew her to him, could tell she sensed him, felt her pull away, but raw need poured from him in waves like a magnetic field, unseen but powerful, attracted like matter irresistibly closer. The music raced faster as wild laughter rang through the room from the speakers, the mocking titter of the goddess Oshun.
Kenny felt energy fill him, whatever force it was that shaped these two worlds and held them apart, felt boundaries dissolve as the two rooms blurred and merged, overlapped until he could see Yolanda and her space clearly, cleanly double-exposed over his.
She was more visible as her fear grew; her will to resist him faded as the drums grew louder. Whatever power brought them together was Kenny’s now, to push in any direction, mold in any fashion. It was driven by his need, his desire, and his only wish was to have Yolanda again, that they should never part. Whether the ability had always been waiting in the apartment, or been summoned by some need of his so deep it could twist reality to be filled, it was now Kenny’s to do with as he pleased.
His physical body dispersed like gas as he melted into a fog that blew over Yolanda, enveloped her in a cloud. She inhaled him like smoke, like the breath of life; Kenny felt himself enter Yolanda’s body as Oshun had entered her in the portrait. He filled her lungs, her body, and without thinking took her apart, separated her cells like his and whirled them into a wet cloud of organic mist that was neither Kenny or Yolanda, but a vortex of living matter that spun like a new nebula until it was both, united.
It was more than a physical merging; Yolanda’s entire life was revealed to Kenny in all its intricacy, every moment, every wish, every thought opened one by one and consumed, made part of his life, his memory, his identity. Their identity.
There was a scream; Kenny couldn’t tell if it was his cry or Yolanda’s, a cry of pain, pleasure or both. A hot burst of bliss filled them like a perfect, prolonged orgasm and they sank into deep sleep, the restful healing hibernation of a caterpillar in its chrysalis. The cloud coalesced as the storm subsided, cooled and slowly took form like the surface of a new planet; bone gelled, hardened, gave root to muscle that bloomed with the skin and hair of a new being. Drums played the fresh life to sleep as the goddess smiled and danced in dream into the dawn.
* * *
Afternoon sunlight crept across the floor, gently woke the solitary figure that lay asleep on the living room carpet. Kenny lay face-down on the floor at the front door, fists clenched in front of him as if he had gripped Yolanda’s ankles and been dragged there as she walked out.
He was alone. She was finally and completely gone. He could feel it. Their merging had been a drunken fantasy like the hungry singing flowers on the burning bush he’d dreamed after Yolanda broke up with him. He’d wanted her so badly his shattered heart had found a way to salve him to sleep while she left, gave him a vision of total union, a vision that was gone now, leaving him with an even greater feeling of emptiness.
Kenny wept as if at his own funeral; tears blurred his vision as his fingers felt something on the floor not noticed before. He wiped his eyes dry, picked up the pale blue envelope that had been slid halfway under the door; Yolanda’s stationary, still scented with her perfume, Kenny’s name scrawled in her distinctive cursive across the front. There was no note inside, no final parting message, just a single object made of stamped brass on a plain metal ring. The key to Yolanda’s apartment.
Kenny dressed, left and locked his apartment then used the key to open Yolanda’s. It was
empty inside, broom clean, even the marks of where her furniture had been were erased from the floors. He walked from the living room through the bedroom, the bathroom and kitchen, all devoid of even the slightest trace that she had ever been there, air still sharp with the scent of cleansers.
When he walked back to the front of the apartment Kenny saw that he’d been too hasty when coming in. The apartment wasn’t completely empty. He had overlooked the obvious. There on the mantle was the little ceramic dog that had belonged to Yolanda’s aunt; the first thing Yolanda had noticed crossing between their spaces, the beginning of their end.
Kenny didn’t know if she’d forgotten it, if it was too frightening a reminder of what she’d nearly escaped, a warning to him not to be so needy, or left merely as a memento, a goodbye. He picked it up, almost put it back down to leave when he had an idea, a spark that fired the flame in his heart again. He pocketed the statue of the little dog and rushed out into the hall to consider his options.
Kenny had the key, if not to Yolanda’s love, then to her apartment and his future. Yolanda was gone, but with her key she’d given him a way to fill the hole left by her departure. He stood at a crossroads outside the two apartments, one key in each hand; he could dispose of the second, forget it had ever existed and leave his love life to fate. Or he could use it to find a more suitable mate this time, a woman who understood the innumerable possibilities of their unique living arrangement, someone who understood him and could share his apartment, his heart and his life. It could take a while, but he would take the warning of the begging ceramic dog at face value, and slow down long enough to make the right selection. Two keys. Two roads. Kenny stood at the door and stared at them; contemplated the consequences of each, happiness or madness, fulfillment or obsession, an answer to his prayers or a path to his damnation.
The only question left was which was which.
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Audio production for this episode by Davis Walden of the Viridian Wild Podcast.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
People have been secretly living in the basements and attics of occupied apartments and homes for a long time. A woman’s ex of 12 years got out of jail and lived in her attic; another woman found a man living in her attic and wearing her clothes; and a Japanese man found a woman living in his cupboard. But the creepiest story of all? A man living in Manhattan became concerned because he noticed items and food missing from his place, so he set up cameras to see what was going on. He captured a woman crawling out of his cupboard, peeing in his sink, grabbing some snacks, then sitting back and watching TV…all while he was home. Once he had the video evidence, he called the police and the woman was arrested.
We’ll be back tomorrow with our full-cast Halloween season finale.