Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.
The next night, Elise didn’t come home. Nor the night after that. I barely noticed the time slip by, but when she returned, she brought a man with her.
She wasn’t the type to coddle living things. Most people like to have something living nearby — a plant, a fish, a cat, another human. I’d never seen another living being in her space. It was just her and me.
He was chewing gum when he stepped across the threshold, his eyes following her as she vanished into the bathroom. He closed the front door gently, then stood in the pristine living room.
Tabula rasa, meet tabula rasa. He was as well groomed as the apartment, concealing a bit of pudge and a mountain of uncertainty under a pressed and tailored shirt.
“Elise, where’s your garbage?” he asked, his voice too loud for the space.
He could barely understand her answer, but found the trash anyway, taking the gum from his mouth with his fingers, which he did not wash in the sink.
Was this her someone to talk to? It didn’t seem so. She emerged from the bathroom in only knee high socks and a loose wool sweater. Nothing they said after that held any meaning.
She didn’t let him take the sweater off her, although she allowed him to peel off the socks with a reverence most would reserve for church. He failed to please her, so she pleased herself, not bothering to hide what she was doing as he collapsed next to her. He left a few hours later, after they’d both fallen asleep.
She did not invite him back.
I waited. Seasons changed. She didn’t speak to me again, and gradually, I reintroduced my calling card: three long and inexplicable scratches on her arm. The new scratches, once again discovered in the shower, did not result in another one-sided conversation. When her fingers lingered over them, she smiled fondly, drawing on some memory I couldn’t reach.
She left for a few days after that, packing a small overnight bag filled with lace dresses and long silk nightgowns. When she came back, it was with starry eyes and a chest full of vapid sighs.
When I crept under her covers that night, ready to slash at her other arm, I found her body covered in long, thin marks. Someone had gotten there before me.
I hovered centimeters over her skin, halfway to being offended. There was nothing to do but leave my own marks anyway, but it hardly seemed meaningful. I wasn’t even sure she’d notice three more marks on her pale, covered arms.
For good measure, I ripped through her dress. Let her try to ignore that.
Yet, she did, discarding the nightdress into her laundry without a second glance, humming in the shower, stroking the lines on her arms, legs, and stomach. Whoever her new paramour was, she had no space in her head for wondering about demons.
That suited me perfectly, even if it meant I needed a new plan.
Her absences lengthened with the sun’s reign. I would have followed her, given the opportunity, but without a vessel I moved as slowly as a glacier. She wasn’t ready yet, and if she kept ignoring me and absenting herself from her own living space, she never would be ready. I would exist only as a concept until some other poor fool moved in.
She was too fond of my favorite kind of physicality. I needed to change my game.
One night she came back weeping, mascara running down her face. I felt her emptiness from the moment she came in from the street: heartbreak, plain and simple. That was a memory I could touch. Unhappiness fell within my domain.
I saw it all as it ran through her mind on repeat — her lady was leaving, called to work in a far away city. They’d only known each other for a few months, but Elise hoped, then begged to be taken away with her. To be worthy.
This I could work with. Her intensity of feeling finally made her easy prey, and once she cried herself to sleep, I ripped into her dreams. I became her lady, a beady eyed, heavy set woman of no particular grace. Elice had only cared about how her lady covered her in praise, each strike accompanied by an ode to her uncertain beauty. Afterwards, her lady would hold Elise, glowing, and she would vanish into the soft pink cloud of warmth and safety.
In the dream, I did all of this, just to snatch it away.
“You’re too much to take with me,” I told her, shifting my hefty body to lean over her. “Don’t worry, pet. I’ll put you to sleep.” I put my forearm over her throat and bore down. As she began to choke, I showed her my truest face.
She woke gasping, the memory of my form already vanishing, but the rest stuck like tar to her soul. Sleep didn’t find her again until dawn.
Let no one convince you that human unhappiness is varied. After a few eons it all runs together like snow-melt to the sea. Hers was no different. She bundled her self-worth up in new dresses and old tears. The dreams I sent her barely made a dent in her nightmares, so plentiful were her naturally occurring fears. It seemed to her that her lady had lifted her from mediocrity. She would do anything to not descend again.
Limes replaced the grapefruit in her fridge, accompanied by rare treats of melon. She soaked up the torments I sent her.
After a month, she disappeared.