ARRIVING 17:45 RJ TRAIN TO BRNO, said his text. LOVE YOU.
“When your train comes in, I’ll be standing on the platform,” I texted back. I didn’t want to sound overly eager, but I felt like a part of me was missing when he was gone. It was the first time we’d been apart for more than a few hours since March. Not like we were obsessive! Just that right after I’d moved in, there’d been the lockdown and we’d both started working from home. Our home. The way we slid into such a comfortable rhythm seemed like some kind of sign. When we had a conflict, we would briefly retreat to our corners of the cozy apartment. After a few hours he somehow always knew exactly what to say. I’d relax, the tension melting from me as I folded myself back into his arms. “We fit like two hands,” he’d say, and we did.
That August morning he’d left early for Prague for an important meeting. I wanted to go with him but he said he’d be back in time for a romantic dinner. “Just the two of us,” he’d said, which was funny because it had been just the two of us for months. I’d been in touch with my friends of course, but mostly by text. And some of them had seemed to evaporate after the first month – replying to my messages only sporadically, or not at all. Well, who needed them? Somehow things with Joe... we had a little world. Insular, warm, secure. Just the two of us.
I wanted to clean the apartment before he came home, a surprise for him. I hated housework and Joe found it relaxing, so I really hadn’t cleaned much at all since we moved in together. Plus he was kind of fussy about how things got done, and any time I tried to do much beyond loading the dishwasher, he would take the broom or the sponge from my hands. I appreciated finally living with a guy who liked to clean, and he kept things a lot tidier than I would. Still, I wanted to pull my weight! As soon as he was out the door, I stripped the bed and put the sheets in the wash, opened all the windows for some fresh air, and started on the bathroom. By noon I had moved to the kitchen. Blasting Missy Elliot’s most recent album, which I hadn’t listened to yet properly, and thinking about dancing with my friends, I felt a pang of longing for them, but it wasn’t like being lonely. I’d been lonely, and this was just… nostalgia. I didn’t need them, not now that I had Joe.
I stopped for lunch, a quick sandwich that I ate over the sink, the hum of the dishwasher just below me, now on the rinse cycle. Hang up the last laundry load, I said to myself, making a mental checklist. Put clean sheets on the bed. Then empty the dishwasher. Then it will be time to go to the station and get Joe.
The hot summer sun was the best clothes dryer, the crisp smell of sunshine on cotton, but it was clear the sheets wouldn’t be dry in time for me to make the bed before I went to the station. I knew there were two sets of sheets, but Joe had always made the bed and I wasn’t sure where they were. I started opening drawers, surprised at how well I knew my way around the apartment, how much it felt like mine. Previous boyfriends I’d lived with had cleared out a drawer or given me a few bent hangers. Joe had immediately made me feel like I belonged with him, in our castle, together. I just didn’t know where the sheets were!
Finally I found a box under the bed. Aha! A bright pattern I recognized from our trip to IKEA in February, when we were just starting to sleep together, before he’d asked me to move in. As I pulled them from the box and shook out the folds, the smell of lavender drifted through the air. And then something fell onto the floor, something that had been hidden in the folds. Setting the sheets on the bed, I knelt down to find what I’d dropped. A cell phone! How… my old cell phone. I held it in my hands, completely confused. It was certainly my phone; the spiderweb crack across the screen from when I’d dropped it last year was as familiar as the lines on my hand. But I’d lost that phone on New Year’s, eight months ago. I remember still how oddly disconnected I felt the whole day, waiting for the restaurants to open on the 2nd so I could ask if I’d left it there; standing in the long line at the store to buy a new phone with my new tech-savvy maybe-boyfriend Joe helping me re-install all my accounts and make sure that everything was secure. Why was my old phone under the bed? Why was it fully charged? And why was it still logged into my old accounts?
I sat on the floor with my back against the bed, my mind reeling. It was 4 o’clock. I couldn’t think. Had he been reading the messages I’d been sending my friends for the last eight months? What if we didn’t get along at all, and he was just… constructing himself based on private thoughts I’d expressed elsewhere?
When your train comes in, I started to text. When your train comes in… what? Where could I go? I found a blue IKEA bag in a drawer in the kitchen, tore open the wardrobe and started to shove my clothes into it, but there was too much. I looked helplessly around the room. My perfumes lined up on the dresser top. My favorite coffee mug in the dishwasher, waiting to be put back in the cupboard. My life already entangled with his.