monophobia (the irrational fear of being alone)
she collects words. makes lists and pins them in her apartment. her walls have long forgotten the color of her hair, her caving clavicle, her clattering teeth. they have been blinded by the paper: mostly scraps, forced onto the rough wallpapering. the walls, they resent her for covering their eyes.
(she knows this because they whisper while she’s asleep.)
she is always writing. she has pens everywhere. extracting them from behind her bookcases, buried in her sock drawer. you even find one pinned on her wall.
why’s that pen up there? you ask.
i was making a list of things that i can always trust, she says nonchalantly.
you don’t ask: what about me? don’t you trust me?
instead, you clear your throat and survey the wall that is weighted with fluttering papers. it’s like the whole wall is about to take flight.
adding quickly she says that: i realized soon after i can’t even always trust a pen. the foreverness of their ink, the way it bleeds through the paper desperately, trying to escape… but you know, once you make a list you can’t change it.
you didn’t know this was a rule. but if she says it’s one then it is. she’s always been good at these things. she’s usually right.
you sit down at the coffee table. its surface is covered with shards of paper laminated over with stained plexiglass. a splatter of dried coffee covers the title of a list with four items: love money happiness fame.
pointing to it, keeping your index finger on the stain so the list won’t run away, you ask about the list delicately.
that silly little thing? she cries.
yeah, you shrug, trying to look disinterested. remember what the poster looked like in the counselor’s office? disinterested: pupils that slither to the corners of eyes, raised eyebrows, hand on cheek.
it’s a list of what people think you need in life, but is actually complete bull, she says. i made it a while back.
and you’re back to reading the lists. you finish reading the coffee table’s surface, so you move on to the legs. there are four, but the lists are plastered on crookedly, words often left dangling, only to be finished on the next face of the leg.
she turns around, sees you crane-necked, and laughs hoarsely. the pawing of a pen against cheap paper, the sound of her rippling hair, the shreds of lists flapping against each other like a paper ocean. familiar sounds.
she tiptoes to reach the top of the wall. says nothing as she does so. neither do you.
buried deep under the sofa lies another layer of lists. these are personal and you’re glad she’s busy taping a new fleet of lists onto the ceiling so she can’t see you absorbing everything. head half submerged in the dusty darkness, you find unlucky numbers (10 – when the older kids, your role models, taught you about popularity and cafeteria lunch and magazine covers and ribcages, 12 – when you feel grey all over for the first time, 15 – when you’re sitting with the grey on your birthday, no one else, just grey. everywhere.)
you army crawl deeper into the murkiness of the under-couch. here you find dreadful colors (stained white – the color of bathroom tiles and toilet bowls and office walls, ocean blue – the color of your eyes trapped into one dimension, grey – how loneliness feels, all scratchy and hollow and damp.)
she’s done taping the lists up. her pointed feet step down from the ladder and land lightly on the plexiglassed lists on the ground.
where are you? she asks quietly.
you scramble to read more, absorb more, even though you know this is knowing too much of her.
reluctantly you roll out, yelling boo with lackluster energy, coated with dust.
you found my secret spot! she says, flustered.
you push yourself up with your arms and sink into the couch, causing dust to ricochet off the cracked leather.
you notice that in your absence, the whole ceiling has been plastered down with lists. you spot beautiful words, best days of the week and most populated countries. a thicket of paper whispers around you.
you stand up, knees trembling, large eyes, confused eyes. all four walls are lined with lists. the ground is, too. the tables, the bar counter, the fridge. and the ceiling.
you spot one last list resting cockily by the mirror: worst places to be trapped in.
the only item is: your own brain.
as soon as you look up, the ceiling comes crashing down in a fitful plume of smoke and crackled cement. as you emerge from the rubble with plaster and slips of paper on your arm, you notice that she is gone. and so are the endless lists with their endless words.
so it’s just you now. just you.
Claire Shang is a sophomore at Hunter College High School in New York. She runs and drinks tea almost as much as she writes. Claire’s works have been recognized on a national level by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and she will be published in the forthcoming issue of Moledro Magazine.