The Room
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

Once there was more. There was a white bathtub, a pink washcloth. A house, a sun filled day, a boy and a girl. A man.

Was there a man? Often she forgets.

Now all is still. She has a square room, a bed, a view of the street. She likes the stillness. The fan hums, the heat comes in, and she feels like a cat, languid and limp.

She owns no essentials. She buys her food at the drug store: baked beans, white bread, peanut butter, cans of Coke. As she eats, she watches the people on the street: a mom with two little kids, an old lady pushing laundry in a metal cart, a hunched-shouldered group of boys in low-slung jeans.

Once she had a house with a smooth drive, oak trees in the front yard, a swimming pool in the back. She was a wife and a mother. But she likes it better now. Here, no one watches her; no one tries to read her mood. It's just her, in this room, and out there no one looks up and no one sees her looking down. 

There's an old man who lives on the next floor up. He spends all day in the park, never changes his clothes. She heard that he did time for touching a little girl, but here no one minds too much. Once he stood real close to her in the elevator, and she felt his breath, hot, stinking of peppermint and beer, and felt an urge to hug him. She wanted to let him know she understands what it's like to slip. She knows how to fall and fall and never stop.

The girl and the boy and the man, they never knew. The girl and the boy were his, sewn into his skin with gold thread. His love left no room for hers, and she saw that it was that way and always had been and always would be, and so she locked the bathroom door and let them pound with their child fists. She let them yell until they were hoarse.

She said, "I am not your mother."

She said, "Tell your father I'm dead."

That might have been years ago. The boy and the girl could be grown by now. The girl could be one of those down on the street, a toddler on her hip as she sucks in her cheeks and flirts with the boy in the low-slung jeans.

He told her to leave.

He said, "Go."

Night falls. She watches for shadows in the doorways.

They stood at the top of the stairs.

He said, "You're a monster."

Cars pass, lights skimming over her hands. She eats a slice of bread, half a can of beans. She hears footsteps in the hall. A man laughing.

She is here. She is gone. She is here.

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk has work in or coming from The Literary Review, PANK, Joyland and others. She lives in Manhattan.

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