By Jean Strickland
I’m sitting on a futon, sober, trying not to touch the jackets strewn across the back. Stereo music pulsates, shredded and staticky. Someone near me is yelling a back-and-forth drink order to their friend in the kitchen. A ping pong ball knocks into plastic cups.
My roommate Rachel dances on a table. The tie on her blouse is undone, shaken loose by recent movement.
An instant later, Rachel stands by the kitchen bar, blouse tied.
Her expression reads what the fuck. Around the party, people exclaim. A thing happened, but I don’t know what it was.
Someone behind the bar shouts, “The alcohol restocked!”
People refill their drinks. Two sit beside me. The futon shifts, leaning me toward their weight. My whole body tenses.
“A time jump?” one asks. “You don’t think it was a mass displacement?”
“Why would all the vodka suddenly reappear in a mass displacement?”
Someone backs into another person who bumps into the side of the futon and apologizes to me or the space around me. I sort of shake my head and my hand kind of flickers.
The futon abruptly unshifts, and the two people are gone, somewhere else. Rachel is by the bar again. Someone rips open the cabinet and thrusts into the air two full bottles of vodka. A person behind me whoops and hits the back of the futon. Startled, I duck. The laughter around me, in celebration of the reoccurring alcohol, feels heavy.
I want to go home.
My keys and wallet are in my jacket pocket. When I arrived, there weren’t many people, so I draped my jacket over a stool next to the bar. Since then, a young woman has sat on the stool, on my jacket.
The space between me and her is eight feet, through a corridor of people. She eats chips, talks to a friend.
Her friend stands to refill the chips. Their conversation pauses. I dig my grip into my legs, trying to unparalyze them.
Just ask her for the jacket, I urge myself. It’s easy.
The young woman flicks through her phone. She crosses her legs. My jacket sleeve sways.
You can do it, I try to urge again. Just do it, just stand up, and go ask for the jacket. No one is watching. No one is looking at you.
Logic is a useless tool.
I push my knuckles into my sternum and try to tell myself what to say, but every constructed dialogue twists into something else. I’m sorry, but would you mind, considering, um, my jacket? sounds like Get off my jacket or I’m a stupid idiot who put my jacket where people want to sit or Everyone is watching me talk to you or I’m suffocating.
She instructs her friend where the chips are from afar, and the impossibility of approaching her weighs on me so heavily that I consider leaving without my jacket, walking home to a locked apartment, sitting on the stoop, burying my head in my hands, and hating myself alone.
For my sixth birthday, my mom got a pinata. The bat was red plastic. It carried me forward and I spun, missing. Try again, my mom said. It’s easy. All the kids stood around me and I spun, missing. I tried to leave the circle, but she turned me around.
That was one of my first anxiety attacks.
I had another when I tried to get food at a buffet at my cousin’s wedding because I wasn’t sure where the plates were; another waiting for a clerk at a shoe store to bring me another size because there was nowhere to sit; another when I was supposed to meet my parents at a restaurant because I didn’t know which door to go in.
People bring in a cake from outside and shout “Infinite cake!” Rachel gets on the bar, pops a cork, and cheers. In that chaos and through my self–loathing desperation, I unhinge my legs. My vision narrows and I feel like I need to run but I have nowhere to go and the longer I don’t move, the more noticed I feel, so I try to go to the bathroom but someone’s in there so I walk along the wall trying to seem like I’m going somewhere but then time blips and I’m on the futon in the center of the room again and my brain throws papers in front of an industrial fan and I’m breathing through cheese cloth.
Rachel notices the young woman. “Oh, I think that’s my friend’s jacket!”
“Oh! I thought it was just, like, someone who lived here.”
“No problem! I’ll give it back.” Rachel takes my jacket. She brings it to me. It’s warm from being sat on. I hold it to my chest and just when I realize that I can’t figure out how to say I’m leaving, Rachel tells me she’ll see me when she gets home and to feed Muffin if she’s late.
Outside, time breathes again. My car rumbles. The steering wheel is cold from waiting.
You couldn’t do it, I tell myself, but it’s been done. That’s what’s important. So it’s completely fine that you couldn’t do it because you can’t do anything.
I cry for ten minutes before I flick my headlights on.
I don’t process the drive.
At home, Muffin mews desperately. The cabinet is open. Her food has all been knocked to the ground. She weaves between my legs, whining. I open a can and scoop the food into her bowl.
I tell her, “I’ve done it for you. It’s okay.”
Then, I spend the next few hours lying and staring at the ceiling. Muffin curls heavily on my chest. I breathe beneath her.
* * *
Jean Strickland received her BA in Writing from Loyola University Maryland, and her fiction has appeared in Literary Orphans and Strangelet Journal. She enjoys watching anime and convincing people to play games with her. Find her on her website or twitter @b4heroes.