At first, I thought I was wet, but it was just cold air. I stood up from the couch to trace where it was coming from. All the windows and doors were closed. I made my way around the room, feeling at the walls, until I got to the fireplace. It felt like I was in a meat locker.
I popped my head inside and looked up, but it was too dark to see anything, and my glasses fogged, so I went back to the couch. My mug of coffee was starting to cool down, but I sipped at it anyway and waited, watching the fireplace. Eventually, I saw her bare feet, tinted blue, drifting down. It took her a while to land. She had always been dramatic about her entrances. She grasped at the top of the fireplace with her hands, her nails chipped and black, and ducked into the living room. She was dripping, but the carpet stayed dry.
“Why now?” I said. “You could at least give me a call first or something.” She had only come back once before. I found her curled up in the bathtub. She must have come up from the drain.
“John, I miss you,” she said. “When are you coming?” Her irises had faded so that her eyes looked almost entirely white, like eggs.
“How am I supposed to know that?” I hadn’t stood up. I didn’t want to encourage her. “Why don’t you stay where you’re supposed to and wait until I get there?”
“What have you done to our living room?” She was looking over at my liquor bar. “I knew you’d drink more once I left. Is that Scotch? Where the hell is all the bourbon?” I’d never liked bourbon much. I thought that would be one thing I could get rid of after she left.
“It reminds me too much of you,” I said.
She approached me, and my glasses started to fog again, so I took them off.
“You look nice,” I said. Her hair was wild, sticking out in every direction. She had always kept it straightened even though I made sure only to compliment her when she didn’t.
“I haven’t eaten in years,” she said, and she spun around, fluttering her black dress. I felt a drop of something hit my cheek, but when I went to rub it away it was dry. The room now smelled like a harbor — of sweaty men gutting fish in the sun.
“Look at us,” she said. “We’re both here. We’re here right now. I can see you, and you can see me. This is enough.” She coughed more black onto her hands.
“You think you’re here, but you’re not. Look at your feet.”
She looked down, squinted, and wiggled her toes. “They still move,” she said.
“The carpet isn’t wet, honey. You’re wet, but the carpet isn’t. Go back up the chimney. Be patient.”
“I just want to stay a little while.” She coughed again but kept her hands at her sides, and the black faded before it landed like water freezing in mid-air. She stepped toward me, and spiders scattered from where she had been standing.
“You know we can’t touch,” I said. “Remember last time?” It had been a nauseous pulse — like the south poles of two magnets repelling each other. I’d never seen sadder eyes in my life. They’d still had much of their color then.
“Then I’ll watch you,” she said. “Until I have to leave.” She sat in the La-Z-Boy on the other side of the room and watched me with a smirk on her face until I was finally able to fall asleep on the couch. Before she left, the first time, she was never the last one to fall asleep. I’d have to drift off to her snoring each night. She’d always been the heavier sleeper in the relationship.
I woke up around three in the morning and saw that the chair was empty. I’d somehow managed to kick off one of my socks, and two of the couch pillows had fallen onto the carpet. I peered back up into the chimney but didn’t see anything. The cold in the room had left — so had the smell. I made a few rounds around the house, and retrieved some firewood off the back porch. I’d need it to fall back asleep.
NICHOLAS SIEGEL is a graduate of Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing program in Louisville, KY. His work has been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Five on the Fifth, Bird’s Thumb, and Literally Stories. He is a lover of bourbon, coffee, music, and animals. You can find his work at nswriter.com.