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Greta

I give him a minute, watching the shadows shift and change on his face, listening to the deep rumble of his breathing. I call his name and he does not move. I grab his beard and pull on it as hard as I can, and he coughs, but his eyes remain closed and his breathing does not change. Ryan has left the building.

I move quickly, taking out my phone and the second thing that Greta put in my purse before I left tonight. It is a small flash drive. I start Ryan’s computer and immediately attach the flash drive once his computer boots up. Ryan has a password, which was to be expected, but Greta’s program doesn’t care about passwords.

Ryan’s wallet is in the back pocket of his jeans that lie in a puddle at the foot of the bed. In it he has three credit cards and a driver’s license. There is also about two hundred dollars in cash. I take pictures of the credit cards, both the front and the back for each one, using the camera on my cell phone. The fan on his computer runs as Greta’s program takes over, a strong, eager whirring sound that grows louder as the fan speeds up. I remember how Greta giggled into the back of her hand when she told me what the program did. There is a moment, when I am bent over his bed, snapping a picture of the back of one of his credit cards, the fan screaming like a vacuum cleaner when Ryan’s eyes fly open.

I jump up and drop the phone, my hand pressed to my mouth. I remember the homeless man’s eyes, how yellow and wet they were, the surface glistening, like the eyes on the fish you see at the market. I remember how they looked at me, the gaze in them dull and uncomprehending, yet secretive and sly, dark things moving at the bottom of a murky ocean. I remember how he licked his lips and how I imagined they would feel on mine, his hair tracing shapes against my face. And in that moment, even as I stand barefoot in Ryan’s apartment, shivering slightly in the cool air blowing in silently through the vents, I think about Greta, out on a date or sitting at home with Amin, stoned and on the couch, watching a movie. I think about Greta, laughing at every dumb part in every dumb movie, or currently inserting a similar thumb drive into a similar computer in another luxury apartment in Seattle, anxiously chewing on that one thumb nail like she always does. And my hands are cold, hard little fists hanging at my sides, my nails biting into the soft skin of my arm, my teeth clenched so tightly my head hurts. I think about Greta and I want to take those fists and bring them down on something, again and again and again.

Ryan is moving around in the bed, his hands pressed to his head. His eyes are bulging from their sockets.

“Mom?” Ryan asks and drool is leaking out of the side of his mouth. “Dad won’t come out of his room, Mom. He hasn’t come out of his room in three days,” he says.

I stand there, my head throbbing with something so big it threatens to tear me apart, wondering if I should just run out of the door, when just as quickly as he appeared, Ryan disappears again. His eyes close and he mumbles a few words before rolling to his side, away from me. He curls up into a ball. His snoring this time is deeper and louder. The image of Greta giggling and eating ice cream dissipates like a dream. When I open my hand, there are small, purple bruises from my nails cut into my palms.

I pick up my phone and finish taking pictures. I put Ryan’s credit cards back in his wallet, being very careful to put them back in exactly the way I found them, something Greta taught me years ago. A few minutes later, Greta’s program is done running and I turn off the computer and stick the flash drive back in my purse.

I make sure to wipe clean every surface that I’ve touched, methodically replaying the events of the evening and attacking each space with deliberation. When I’m done, I stand over Ryan for a moment, watching him sleep, the dark color of his hair standing out in stark contrast to the white of his bedspread. I think about leaving a message, I always do, but I know that Greta’s rules are very specific, so I settle for covering him up with a blanket instead.

I leave quietly, letting the door close behind me with a soft click and then I’m all elbows and knees until I’m out on the street and away from Ryan and his apartment and this brief intersection of our lives, this first date that is finally over.

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