Author's note: I apologize for the long delay, especially after that snail-paced first chapter. Though I had this mostly done the same night, I was unexpectedly out of the house a lot over the last few days. In any case here's part two with part three coming up soon. Enjoy.
I saw a lot of Lisa that summer. She came into the restaurant at least once a week on nights where I was working, and I made an effort to give myself time to catch up with her. We worked on two or three Habitat builds together, but I wouldn’t say we ever hung out again like that first night. The next and last time I would visit Lisa’s house in Port Wright would be to help her move. I was the only person that showed up. It was at that point that I first realized how much her social situation had decayed since losing her job. She never talked about other friends, and I would later find out that her mother had been the last family member she kept any contact with.
It’s easy to bemoan my lack of wisdom in retrospect. I tell myself I was a much younger then. I didn’t have the lessons I have now. I was completely enthralled by Lisa. Though I would not have been able to admit it to myself at the time, I cherished the exclusivity of my friendship with this beautiful, fascinating woman. That blinded me.
Come August we moved in together. Ostensibly our relationship was landlord and tenant, but the Madison townhouse was not well-designed for sharing. My rental agreement gave me most of the downstairs. Other than a bedroom and bathroom, the entire area was open floor space roughly demarcated into a den, dining area, and the house’s original kitchen. Lisa had the upstairs which was four bedrooms and the master bath. The excess rooms had been reorganized into an office space, a sitting room, and a woefully inadequate kitchen/dining room. We shared the basement, a lightless cave useful for storage, and an entryway. It wasn’t a great place, but I did have a lot of space and the rent Lisa asked for made me feel like I was cheating her.
For the first week or so we were very conscious of each other’s territory, but that broke down almost immediately. The upstairs kitchen was useless and the ceiling of the ad-hoc shower in my bathroom was so low I could barely stand up. She started asking if she could use my kitchen, and that turned into us having meals together. Since she would already be downstairs and we’d be socializing, it was only natural that my den became a common area. For all intents and purposes we became roommates. Had it been anyone else been living upstairs I probably wouldn’t have tolerated it, but because it was Lisa I couldn’t have been happier.
I’d spent the last year living alone, and I’d not realized how much that solitude had worn on me. My courses were in computer science and electrical engineering. Hard classes, long hours, and a constant march towards deadlines and exams. Some people hate unavoidable social interaction in their home. I didn’t. Even on days we saw little of each other, I was always very grateful for someone to talk about my day with.
Were we friends at that point? Yes, I think so. Close friends even. I was still completely infatuated with her, and I don’t think that tension was entirely one-directional. I was young, I take good care of myself, and without being too arrogant, and I’m not unsuccessful with women. In retrospect I’m certain she knew I had a crush on her. What kept things from moving forward? There are some women Lisa’s age who would have viewed a handsome young lover as conquest. Lisa would have viewed it as a failing. Maybe even as an imposition on me. She was never forthcoming about her love life, but I knew there wasn’t much to tell. At the time this puzzled me. How could such an incredible woman have difficulty finding suitors? My eyes were too close to the ground, I didn’t realize how much she had isolated herself from the world. She was frequently out of the house, but that was for business. She was under a lot of stress trying to reign in and manage her mother’s rental business.
I should have seen it coming.
I remember the last night vividly. She’d come home in tears that afternoon. I don’t think it was anything specific, just Lisa reaching another breaking point of stress and sadness. I ordered Indian carryout, her favorite. She barely touched it. After dinner, I stayed on the couch to pick at a coding assignment; Lisa went up to take a shower.
Normally when Lisa was having a day like this she’d go to bed early, but that night she wanted company. She came down the stairs shivering. It was December and our central heat had been failing intermittently. I’m not easily bothered by the cold, but Lisa was always freezing. Her hair was still wet, badly dried; her clothes were nothing more than grey sweats and a red tee. There’s no bra, I can see her nipples through the shirt. If you’ve seen the media stock photos of her, and I mean any of them, they don’t do her justice. Her figure is stunning, pure hourglass. I had to remind myself not to gawk.
“Hey.” I called out over my shoulder.
I gave the couch cushion next to me an emphatic slap. She sat down next to me, much closer than I’d intended. Hauling a quilt over her legs, she handed me a corner indicating we should share. I took it, and she snuggled up until we were touching. I’d hugged Lisa plenty of times, we’d shared a lot of high fives, and she kissed me on the cheek on my birthday. This was something new.
“You smell nice.” I remarked.
She snorted rudely. Picking a lock of hair off her shoulder she sniffed it,” I think it’s my shampoo. You smell nice too, I like your cologne.”
“I don’t wear cologne, I think that’s just deodorant.”
Drawing the blanket up to her chest with her elbows, she covered her face and let out a long sigh.
“No.” she sighed,” not especially.”
“Just not doin’ so good?”
“Just not doing so good.”
Neither of us spoke for a few minutes after that. She asked me a few polite questions about the program I was writing, and I explained it as best I could. We lapsed into silence again.
“Lisa…” I paused, “It’s going to get better. Things will slow down eventually. You’ll get the hang of it. Winter isn’t going to last forever. You know, seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. If you’ve been feeling upset ” I didn’t want to say depressed,” lack of sunlight and the fact that it doesn’t really matter if we leave the milk out anymore could be contributing. You know that right?”
Lisa put her head on my shoulder, “I’m forty-three Jack. I haven’t had a steady relationship in ten years. I’m never going to get married, I’m never going to have children, I don’t have a career anymore, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life running a struggling business that I increasingly dislike. My purpose in this world has become managing upkeep of two dozen houses that are all rented to sorority girls.” And even if I did have money, even if I had all the freedom in the world, I don’t know what I’d do with it. There’s no place I want to travel, there’s no crap I wanna buy, there’s nothing I want to do.”
“You can’t think like that! There are things you want to do, you’re just not in the mood. Wright Property Management can go fuck itself. You don’t want to helm that ship anymore, I’ll help you get it in a position to sell and I’ll help you sell it. It’s not like you can’t teach again, tomorrow we could…”
“Shhhh…” she put her hand on my cheek, making me look at her. She kissed my cheek, softly the first time, then more aggressively, almost on the mouth, trying to get my attention,” Jack, stop. Stop talking. You’re twenty-one. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. I don’t so much. It’s not as easy for me to be optimistic.”
“Yeah, but you can’t just give up.”
It was so male of me. I was thinking like an engineer. I wanted to look at her problems rationally. Try to find solutions. It didn’t occur to me that they weren’t the issue. Lisa didn’t need dating advice or help with her business, she needed to be happy. She needed to know she was loved.
I should have told her.
I should have asked her if she was having dark thoughts. I should have asked her if she was going to hurt herself. I should have told her what that would do to me. I should have told her I loved her or kissed her or did any other fucking thing than what I did. I'd thought I had more time.
I put my arm around her and we cuddled together for maybe another twenty minutes, watching some documentary about bees that was on TV. Then she got up to go to bed.
“I’ll be fine.”
“I just need to get some sleep.” She paused at the door to the staircase,” Thanks for listening Jack, you’re sweet.”
I was handed her death certificate six days later by a lawyer her company kept on retainer. It was time stamped 47 hours after our last conversation by a doctor and clinic that were located in Zurich. The cause of death was listed as suicide in block capitol letters with no further qualifications or explanations given. I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t even know she’d been in Europe. She’d mentioned leaving town for some vague reason, and had sent me a final text telling me she was going to be gone the first night she didn’t come home. The lawyer didn’t know any details. Despite spending five hours on the phone I was unable to get a hold of anyone in Switzerland that could tell me more information.
I was read her will and surprised at the magnitude of the bequeathing she had left me. A small portion of her assets had gone to charity, several thousand dollars were left as college money to a niece I had never heard of, everything else went to me. I almost failed school that semester. It was finals week, but there were so many other little things that needed to be done. Bank accounts that couldn’t wait to be transferred, insurance accounts that couldn’t wait to be cancelled, seeing if I could coordinate some memorial service with the any friends or family despite having no idea what had happened with her body, and of course trying to figure out what to do with the property I now owned. It wasn’t until a week after the fact that I even started to truly mourn. I hadn’t had the time.
Lisa was suddenly and bizarrely gone forever, while I faced the monumental task of getting my ducks in a row over the month afforded to me for winter break. A memorial was held in my home town, a few teachers and several students from the school showed up to pay their respects. I gave a terrible eulogy that probably begged more than a few questions about the nature of our relationship to the mourners. After a few hundred phone calls I was able to put her multitude of accounts in order. I even hired a lady to manage the office and properties.
I was thankful for the work. Four weeks of time alone with my thoughts would have been too much to handle.
It was in January, on the first day of class for the spring semester that it happened. Checking my phone after class I saw seventeen missed calls. All were from the same number made at precise five-minute intervals from a cell with an area code I didn’t recognize.
The walk home from the computer science building takes fifteen minutes. I tried calling the number back several times, but each time cut to a generic voicemail. When I arrived, I could immediately tell someone had been in my home. We’d had a light snowfall the night before, but though I’d not had the time, the porch, steps, and walk had all be shoveled and salted. Workshop traction mats had been cut to size and nailed down to each of the steps and the porch. I was surprised to find the door still locked. Objectively, walking right into my house was stupid, but to this day I still shiver to think of what would have happened had I called the police.
It didn’t look like a break-in, however my den had been completely reorganized. The coffee table and one of the couches was in the kitchen and the other had been backed up to block the door to my room. In the now open space were three neatly stacked piles of boxes, several large aluminum and plastic briefcases, and a huge metallic crate that was considerably larger than a refrigerator.
I called out, no one answered.
There was just too much stuff to look through. Several shrink-wrapped binders and packets were laid out over the boxes, but there was no clear indication on where to start. Lacking any better ideas, I examined the large container first. The siding was geometrically dimpled aluminum, the edges lined with matte black plastic. Heavy plastic handles were bolted to several points along the top and sides, and the opening seam was three quarters of the thickness from the back. Five steel buckles held the door shut, each with a keyhole in their center. A small key was chained to one of the side handles.
I decided I wanted it horizontal so that whatever was inside wouldn’t tumble out. A pair of wheels was implanted in the back bottom edge, so I moved it to an open enough piece of floor and tipped it back. I wasn’t ready for the weight. I almost threw out my back setting it on the carpet. My leatherman freed the key, and I set about unlocking each buckle and popping it open.
There was no obvious place to grab the door, so I slid my fingernails into the seam and wiggled it open wide enough to get purchase. The door itself was surprisingly light. Getting to my feet, I swung it open to see what was inside.
It was Lisa.
Author's note (now that you've read it): Again I know the pacing is kind of slow, but these are the stories I like to write. I have this outlined pretty far, and I can guarantee some robot fucking the upcoming installment. This was written in a few hours and save spellcheck is almost entirely unedited. I may go back and clean things up later, I may not, but if there's anything really egregious let me know. I hope you liked it.
Post posting author's note: I'm kind of anticipating this conversation so I'll get it out of the way.
DEAR READER: "But Captain Storytime, you said this would be a transformation story and it's looking an aaawful lot like built."
ME:" I know what I said, I know where this is going, I ain't fibbin no one, it's all coming down the pipe, be patient."
Last edited by CaptainStorytime
on Wed Jun 06, 2012 7:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.