Sylvia had all the next day to talk herself out of the party. As sun set, she sucked on menthols and paced the balcony shared with the other smokers on her side of the building. It had a view of a brick wall. Inspiring.
At least the woman who talked loudly on her phone wasn’t there tonight. The amount of anxiety she inspired combated any effects of good nicotine.
Sylvia’s phone buzzed. It was Liam.
“What’re you up to?” he asked. His voice was an immediate comfort. This was a better plan. Stay home, catch up with Liam. Ask about their friends two thousand miles away. Wonder if they missed her. Did they miss her?
But she only managed “I’m just hanging.” He sensed there was more. Prompted her. Liam always knew when she was holding back. “I got asked to some party, but I’m sure there’s no one there to talk to. I don’t think I’ll go.”
“What? Come on, this is it. Your tribe could be out there. Work friends?”
“No, some guy asked me.”
Liam was quiet. “Some guy?” To Sylvia, that hesitation was a million years. The star that died at the end of her sentence had stopped giving light by the beginning of his. She backtracked.
“We met the other night. It’s no big deal. I know his roommate, this girl…”
“Dammit, Sylvia. You know how lucky you are, right? To be able to move wherever you want, start over with a job, just be a new person and start a new life?”
Sylvia wanted to tell him what being haunted meant. That running away only gives you blisters between your toes, because the ghosts hang on to other parts of you. And wherever you go, there they are. Packed away in the suitcase. There’s no new life. There’s no new person. There was her, and her shit, and the shit she’d always had. Liam knew her. Liam should know that, too.
She tuned back in, but he was still going: “I wish that I could have the opportunities you have. I wish my life were half as easy, and here you are complaining. About what? Because you’re afraid someone won’t like you? Fuck you.”
His words caught in her throat. She choked. “Excuse me?”
“I don’t remember why I called.”
“Is this seriously because some guy asked me to a party?”
“No, I told you. It’s because you’re complaining. When I hang up, don’t call me back.”
A surefire way to make Sylvia want to call back as soon as the dial tone hit her eardrum.
She redialed. Again. And again. Her insides were spreading and contracting and convulsing. Itching, like a junkie. Like a goddam fucking… a text lit up her phone. Liam. “srsly fck off”
Sylvia took out another cigarette. Flicked the lighter. Again. Her thumb slipped. Again. She snapped the cigarette in half. In desperation, tried to light both halves. Gave up. Threw them in the planter.
Back to her loft. Back to the floor. Back to sobbing with her hands in her hair and her head between her knees. She needed Liam. Needed to know there was a beacon somewhere, in all the world, in New York especially, who gave a fuck about her. Without him, who did? Without him, who mattered? She deleted his number so she couldn’t call it. She threw her phone under the bed. Crawled under to retrieve it. Turned it off. Hurled it in the closet. Flicked it back on, but there were no new messages. She fell asleep leaning against her hamper, the mix of sweat and old perfume inside it lulling her into the safety of moments that existed before this one. There had been moments before this one, right?
The header image is adapted from a photo by Flickr user durera_toujours