Red Dress and the Basement
We’re sitting in the basement watching the light flicker across the floor; from the window to the cement tiles, cold on my feet, grey under my feet, casting shadows of weeds from the window. My favorite time of day not to be alone. I’m sitting in the basement watching the light flicker across the floor, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re doing. I’m not sure what you’re doing. I look to see what you’re doing. You’re talking loudly and nodding your head to the music in the background, and listening to music in the background, and tapping your foot heavy against the ground. Tap. Tap. Tap. I try to tap along too to see if I can make the floor vibrate, but it doesn’t feel me, and you don’t feel me, though I look at you to see if you noticed my, “I’m here doing the same thing as you,” look. But you don’t look, so I listen. Again.
“I think it’s a symptom of our society. Our society has no storytellers anymore, and I think it’s because stories are supposed to be communal—I think they’re supposed to reflect something deep in a culture that can connect to us, but the problem is we’re not connected to anyone anymore.”
It’s possible that you are high. It’s likely that you are high. Higher than me, who isn’t high at all because I never get high, but anyways it feels like a space difference, you up there and me pressing into the ground. And it makes me think about a girl I saw once on a drive between the coast and here, where the landscape turns into fields caught between the mountains. She was caught between the mountains, in the grass where the oak trees stand alone in the field. I remember driving past and seeing a red dress against the green fields and wishing that was me, in a red dress in the fields between the mountains. If I am alone, I would like to be alone like that, I thought. I think. I still think, about something I saw two years ago driving to the coast. But still I’m here with you, alone in my basement.
“I’ve lived at my apartment for three years now and I still don’t know my neighbors, that’s all I’m saying…”
I’m surprised to watch myself as you talk. I tuck my knees up into my chest and wrap my arms around them tight. Curl and I’m smaller. Shrinking into myself. I wonder if you notice that I’m getting smaller. I look at you and you are looking up. And I think how black your hair looks in the basement and I think about what you’re saying and how I’ve thought about it before. I’ve wondered about it. About the day that I get bitten by a rabid dog/feral cat/one eyed goat/old man with sputum and it turns into a gangrenous infection and I lie down on the floor of my apartment to die for one day/one week/one year later before someone notices. The landlord notices and wonders, “why isn’t Madeline paying her rent anymore, it’s been a year now?” So he uses his key and opens the door, and there I am malodorous on the floor. Dead as a doornail and he calls my mother and he calls my father, and he calls my Aunt Michelle and says, “Did you know Madeline is dead?” and they will say no, how long has it been? And he will answer that it has been a year or more, at least, and can they claim the remains, if they can remember what I look like.
I hug tighter and grow smaller. Twist into a ball and squeeze tighter and tighter. I look at you out of the side of my eye to see if you notice that I’m shrinking. I think it would be nice if you noticed. I think it would be nice if you would look down from the ceiling and say, “Hey Madeline, where are you going? You’re shrinking smaller and smaller, I can see it, and you should take some deep breaths, because maybe that will plump you back up.” It’s a practical thought, with chances of working, but you don’t say anything, and I don’t say anything. I just hug tighter and hold tighter and hope if I squeeze hard enough and hold long enough, maybe by this time next year I’ll be a girl in a red dress, alone in a field far away.
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Portland Fiction Project
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