The sun gave birth to an embryonic luster finding its way between the crevices of my curtains. I woke up to noises of a roaring vacuum. Taylor was cleaning, again, and I couldn’t help but to feel at fault.
I started my mornings two hours early but never complained. I liked Taylor. We lived in a duplex in a small town outside of the city. Sometimes I imagined us living together, even though we were separated by a stone wall and staircase.
About a week ago, Taylor invited me over for dinner. I considered her gesture amicable. We had lived together for only three months, and instead of speaking, we infrequently shared awkward eye contact—and some blushing—at least on my end.
That day, Taylor greeted me at the staircase. I waved, spewing an emphatic “hi,” and followed her inside her apartment, catching a whiff of roasted rosemary chicken and baked potatoes.
We sat and ate, barely exchanging words. Taylor seemed reticent, and I knew I came off as no better. I couldn’t say hi to her every day let alone hold a conversation. She had an intimidating lustrous aura harboring a winsome demeanor, a pair of thick-framed glassed and embracing poise contrasting her apparent introversion. Maybe she wanted to say something, everything. That’s how I felt.
A fur coat caressed my leg. Looking down, I saw a large Maine Coon cat making love to my shin. Another cat with short hair joined, meowing as it made circles around my other leg.
“They’re friendly,” Taylor assured.
“I see, I see,” I mouthed.
“I told myself I’d be more honest with people.” She picked at her food before looking up at me.
“What?” I asked, watching the cats explore my bottom limbs.
“Sorry,” she replied, “I have a bad habit of talking out loud.”
“It’s fine! Don’t apologize. Honest about what?”
“About why I really invited you over. I need your—”
The ambience shifted from welcoming to scratchy, the air previously smelling of food to a litter box, or two. I had walked into a snowstorm as I began to distinguish every airborne piece of hair, counting every subtle body tremor through my palm held tightly on a chair, sweating, in fear of whether it derived from the heat, or allergies.
Taylor’s head tilted. “Are you okay?”
The first sniff left my nose, causing my eyes to immediately water and the tissue around my throat to constrict. I responded with a nod, hoping she’d continue her sentence.
“Oh my god! Are you having an allergic reaction!”
“No!” I cried, focusing on her previous words. I thought she wanted me. I wanted her too.
“I have medicine! Please, sit tight,” Taylor pushed her chair back to stand. “I can’t believe I’ve caused—”
“No!” That time my words were muffled, my chest tightening by the second. I beat her to my feet and rushed toward the door.
Looking back, I beheld a disgruntled face. Taylor quickly apologized, and I answered, “Not your fault. Next time, I’ll be ready.”
Since then, we haven’t talked. I’d pop a diphenhydramine pill and see her, but I figured she could easily come to me, especially if she had planned to confess her true intent.
The following week, the vacuum never sounded. Instead, my doorbell rang. I got out of bed, my heart racing from both a sudden rise and an excitement to see Taylor’s face. Rushing to open the door, I found a basket by my feet. In it, a card read, “Please accept my apology. May you still help me out? Please stop by at any time.”
The basket contained assorted fruits and a bottle of allergy medicine. Behind it sat a toolbox.
Delvon T. Mattingly, who also goes by D.T. Mattingly, is an emerging creative writer and a PhD student in epidemiology at the University of Michigan. His fiction has appeared in Maudlin House, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his two cats, Liam and Tsuki. Learn more about his work at http://delvonmattingly.com/. He tweets here: @Delvonmattingly