I went to the beach with the woman who lives in my closet.
She’s nothing like me. She has long, messy, brown hair and faded eyes smudged with black. Her nose points upwards like her face does and when she blinks her eyelashes get caught in her eyebrows. I wish my eyelashes did that. Perky breasts that poke through thin cotton—she won’t be shy at the nude beach. I will.
I don’t want to go to the beach. I’d rather stay home and drink coffee until noon and spend seven hours allegedly working. I’ll be anxious otherwise. It’s hard to be in the moment when the moment is always somewhere else.
But Jane, as she calls herself, is pervasively persistent.
“What are you doing today?”
I’m in the kitchen of my one bedroom apartment. It’s my favourite room. In here, the philodendrons creep from clay pots on the deep windowsill, down the white walls, up the white walls, basking in the pools of butter-yellow sun melting through the window. A collection of old jars and ceramics filled with wild rice and spices line the blue-tiled counter.
“Mm…” I don’t like that question. None of your damn business, I think. I keep my back to her as I slice a banana into my oatmeal. Coffee sits in the press next to me. She sidles up and helps herself.
I flick my hand through the air. “Have some coffee.” My eyes slant toward Jane’s offending hands as they grab the press and tilt it into my own favourite mug. Slender hands with short nails. Hands the colour of burnt sun.
“Thanks,” she yawns, her sloppy consonants swimming with the sound of organic espresso splashing against porcelain. Jane is oblivious to my tone, passive-aggressive as it is. Maybe because I use it so often. Does she think that’s how I really sound?
“Come to the beach with me.”
“I have some work to do,” I say, shuffling to the dining room table.
“It’s Tuesday. You don’t work on Tuesdays.” Jane slides into the chair opposite me, her foot finding rest next to one thigh, knee rising up under her chin.
Shoving a giant spoonful of oatmeal into my mouth, I chew hard. “Are you my secretary?”
It is weird, the way I talk to her—like I’ve known her for a long time or something.
She’s right. Technically, I don’t work today. But there is… other stuff to be done. Other work that seems to lengthen my endless to-do list, endlessly.
“You haven’t come with me to the beach once! I’m leaving on Saturday.”
“I’m leaving on Saturday,” she repeats.
“I heard you.”
“You said ‘What?’”
“I didn’t know you were leaving. Like, leaving leaving?”
“Yeah. Heading to Seattle.”
“Oh. I thought you were staying for a month.”
“Four weeks on Saturday, my dude.”
I knew Jane wouldn’t be staying long. But somehow this feels unexpected. As much as her presence is an annoying reminder of my own resolute sameness on a day-to-day basis, the thought of her absence makes panic rise up in my throat. Is this fucking banana giving me heartburn?
“Why didn’t you remind me? I can’t keep track of your schedule. Now I’ll have to… to rush to fill the… closet.”
“Um, it was in the ad,” Jane says. She could laugh now, and would be entitled to—she knows I don’t usually rent out my closet. But Jane looks at me, steady, serious. I fidget with the rip in my shorts.
Jane looks a little pathetic, the way she hunches at the chunky oak table, my mug almost comically large in her teeny, curled hand. Everything about her accentuates her smallness, exists solely to contrast her fairy-like structure; her bushy brown hair with the thick fringe, the baggy jeans and loose sweater. The black makeup around her round eyes plays tricks on the rest of her face—the hollows beneath her cheekbones pop, the constellation of freckles dusted across her nose look garish, as though under a black light. Even Jane’s give-a-shit attitude bursts from her body like it was meant for someone bigger. She is magnetic. Sometimes I hate her for it. Sometimes I hate her because she is free. Today, it’s both.
I found her on Craigslist, which I have an unhealthy habit of scrolling through when I’m bored. I don’t have social media, and I’ve taken to the Next 100 Postings as my own little guilty form of consumption, and the Next 100, and the Next…
I found her only a quarter way down the first page:
$200 to live in your closet!
I clicked on it. Not because I was looking to fill closet space, but because I would never do that. Who was this person, and why did they want to live in a stranger’s closet?
I’m Jane. I am coming to the city for a month and if you have an extra closet (creepy-crawly-free preferred), I will pay you $200 to sleep in it for a month. Couches are great but I like the floor and i like my own space. I’m quiet and I don’t dream 😉
Obligation hit me. This girl Jane, whoever she was, had called me out specifically. I was free of creeps! This was Craigslist. A thousand real creeps would jump on this. A freewheeling girl in their closet? They’d offer her a couch, then their bed, then…
I emailed her. She’d answered right away. The next week, I had a tiny young woman taking up space in my hall closet, and she didn’t even seem all that weird.
“What do you even have to do today?” Jane persists.
I finish chewing the banana in my mouth and slowly sip my coffee. I think about having a cigarette, how it might taste in the morning while I stare out the window. But that’s silly—I only smoke when I travel.
“A bunch of shit.”
Jane rolls her eyes. You look dead when you do that, I think. With all the whites showing. Damn Jane and her big eyes. When she leaves, no one will be here, pleading with me to go play on the beach when I should, I should, I should be basking in the glow of my computer screen. Working. “Working.” Working?
“Sasha, please come to the beach with me. It’ll be good for you, I promise. Everyone should tan their nipples at least three times a year. I swear to god, if you haven’t before, it can be quite humbling.”
I bite my cheeks and furrow my brows at her. What the hell is she talking about?
“Oh, yeah,” she continues, as if I’d responded aloud. “It doesn’t work on the president because he uses a tanning bed. But I swear, Ra will do you well.”
I can’t help it. I laugh. “Ra?”
She nods, and with a finger and hand gesture, points to the sun outside.
At noon, the beach is crowded, but calm. The baked sun sears the bottoms of my feet, and my face, contorting in constrained agony, is the most obnoxious sight amongst the free nipples and bare bums and floppy sun hats and curtains of chromatic beach blankets strung between upright logs—an open-concept shop. The wind rolls off the ocean and floats them into a billowed slant, a rainbow sailboat content to stay right where it is.
We find a vacant spot against a giant knot of driftwood. Jane spreads out the old bed sheet she had when I first met her. The corners flip up against the wind. Fluidly, like she’s made of liquid, Jane unbuttons her denim shorts and they fall and she lifts the thin cotton shirt over her bushy head of hair and spills her lithe body onto the sheet, leaning back onto her elbows, tilting her face, her breasts, her nipples, toward the sun. Tan-line free.
I glance around, but nobody is looking. They talk quietly amongst themselves, or sleep, or read. Some wade into the cool water, naked humans in a sea of crystals. Lowering myself on the sheet next to Jane, I wrestle my clothes off from a seated position.
“Take off your bra,” Jane says.
“I am,” I retort. I do. No one looks over as my bra hits the sand, or my translucent breasts squint into the sun. When I close my eyes, the only one watching me, anyway, is Ra.
Jane leaves on Saturday. The skin around my nipples is peeling on Sunday, and on Monday, too. On Tuesday, there’s too much coffee in the press—I can’t finish it all by myself. My shirt rubs against the burn on my breasts. I take it off and, as I sip my coffee, alone at the table, half-naked, I can’t help it. I laugh.
Author & Picture by Dayna Mahannah
Edited by Alessia Yaworsky
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