Sunday, August 24, 2008

- to walk through walls.

I tell everyone I’ve moved back home, but actually, I live nowhere. Paying for a storage unit to keep my books in is far cheaper than rent.

At night I ghost through the walls of houses and apartment buildings till I find an empty abode. You can tell the degree of emptiness just by breathing the air. The difference between not-home-yet and been-gone-for-a-while-probably-not-coming-back-tonight is distinct. That human smell of warmth and skin sinks and settles over time, without the passage of movement to liven the air again.

In these private domains I poke about, judging the occupants according to what books they have, if they have any at all. I study what photos they choose to display, and look for the photos they close away in albums and drawers and boxes under the bed. I find diaries and read them with only token guilt, and reassess the judgements I have made of these people I have never met accordingly. Sometimes, if I decide I like someone, or am feeling fairy godmothery, I pay one of their bills and hide it away.

I don’t eat their food. That would be stealing. I’m an invader, not a parasite.

My back is ruined from night after night of couch surfing. I’m not comfortable sleeping in someone else’s bed, with my head on someone else’s pillow, where they dream. That’s unhygienic. That’s asking for trouble.

When I slide into this apartment I experience a moment of recognition, yet I've never been here before. I don't know her, but standing in her kitchen, I feel I do. The private space of only one person, one tea cup and one bowl in the sink, one book by the bed, dirty washing piled none too neatly in the corner, underwear drying out in the open in the living room. The assumption that no one else would see these things. Little tics and signs I couldn’t define out loud; I’d found someone lonely.

I can’t find her diary. My instincts tell me she has one. My instincts tell me that, even living alone, she hides it well.

I leave her a big bunch of flowers. Not romantic ones, but lovely ones nevertheless, the biggest most lavish yellow tulips I can find, and a card with only a smiley face on it. I worry that might upset her – who wouldn’t be upset to find someone had broken into your home, even if it was to leave flowers? – but go ahead and do it anyway.

The next day, while she’s at work, I peek in. She’s placed a bowl of milk beside the tulips. I drink it, and because I don’t want to exacerbate any problems with reality she might have, I leave a note: I’m not a fairy, and you’re welcome.

I can’t stay at her place again, I realise sadly. She knows now, and she’ll be looking for signs. Still, I don’t want the mysterious stranger breaking her solitude with flowers only to up and vanish again. I leave a second bunch of tulips, and an ambiguous note stating my intent to disappear. Not that I’d ever appeared to her.

Dammit. I shouldn’t have done that in the first place.

One night, I find a wall I can’t walk through.

My face is a casualty of this discovery.

Intriguing. I touch my nose gingerly. Good thing I didn’t inherit my grandfather’s nose, else the mess would be greater. But...what? Are there other people who can walk through walls? Are we so common this home must be guarded against us? It is nothing remarkable, being one apartment in an old block, with the same floor plan as all the others. Why is it special? Why can’t I get in?

The wall feels like a wall when I tap it, now an unfamiliar sensation. It’s a wall, like...a wall. I can’t get through, which means I have no choice, I must get through.

The ceiling and floor are barred as well. Night after night I return and struggle against this mysterious wall that is so frustratingly wallish, and make some small progress – the spearing of a finger tip here, the depression of my palm there. All my instincts are rendered useless, so I combat them every step of the way, going blind and dumb and slowly. This wall demands I respect it, I learn it, I come to know it well, and one night it all becomes clear, and-

I fall through.

My feet tangle in power cords, I trip over a side table, rip the cable from the wall and land hard on the carpet in an entirely undignified pile. A man stares at me in horror.

I forgot to check if there was anyone home. Whoops.

He surges to his feet, and a great waft of stale armpits roils from him. How did you get in? he demands, outraged.

I gesture at the wall and pick myself up.

But I built them strong, I built them perfect! No one should be able to get in, no one should ever be able to get in.

People get through, I say, unexpectedly and inevitably so.

He looks disgruntled, with hair that hasn’t been brushed and tracksuit pants that he’s grown too comfortable in. It’s a nice little place, and well set up, but it smells like he doesn’t goes out much. I spread my empty hands, a bemused little shrug.

So it would appear, he mutters, and here you are.

I shift uncertainly. This is awkward. I’ve had some near misses in the past, but never actually crashed in front of someone.

I’ll just be going then. Through the door, if that’s okay.

Wait, he says, surprised, and catches himself. I mean, you just got here. It must have taken you a while to get through the wall, I really did build them well. You could tell me how you did it. Or not. I mean, whatever you’re comfortable with. I have Pepsi, he adds, and in him I recognise someone lonely.

I’m not staying, I say, but I’m in a fairy godmother sort of mood. Casting about, I spy a whiteboard on the fridge and on it write an address.

The password, I say, is ‘yellow tulips’.


  1. Anonymous25/8/08 01:05

    That brought a big smile to my face. Possibly your best one yet, Tessa.

  2. I'm gonna go ahead and say this is my favorite of your Night Shift Stories so far...

  3. Aw, you romantics.

    I note you both live alone. :p