By: Katie Nickas
Objects in the bathroom mirror appear farther away—the fleur-de-lis hook where my bathrobe hangs, the portrait of the cat I drew from my bedroom window—all are stacked and hung in these rooms, which feel like they’re made of papier-mâché, that if someone whacked hard enough with a stick, it could scatter drywall and plaster across the carpet like confetti.
This level of decrepitude feels strange and jarring, but it’s mine and there’s no room for fear or regret in what’s ours—only patch-up work and setting paintings over holes and scratches and trusting that self-healing will eventually seep into the walls and repair them, too.
So I buck up and leave the bad stuff in a garbage bag on the doorstep next to the white marble cherub left behind by the last tenant—beads from Mardi Gras or Carnaval still strung about its neck—and agree with Drunk Larry, whom I met last Wednesday in the laundry room and keep seeing everywhere, that the emerald-green moss growing on the sidewalk stones appeals to the romantic in all of us.
No one else but a romantic would want to live here.
In the Italian restaurant two blocks down, there is an ad for wine featuring a famous painting by the Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. It depicts a circle of long-limbed maidens in white gowns holding hands in a forest.
In 1482, Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ would have afforded him a $2 bottle of wine. Now, it’s priceless, the tagline reads.
One Friday night after work, I sit sipping wine across the table from my boss, who asked me to dinner. He wears a grim expression no matter what the future holds. It is difficult not to notice this.
The tall, spindly red chalice placed against the ad’s black background enchants me, compels me to lace my fingers around the stem of my own glass of red. At this point, I’m not drunk or tipsy, even—just kind of woozy.
“How are the product descriptions coming along?” he asks.
Despite his sallow complexion, there’s something about the squib that’s bold—even debonair.
“Good. Next week, I’ll have your teammates show you how to use the specs.”
Taking another sip, he holds the contents in the space between his lower lip and teeth, making a dry, sucking sound. I clasp my hands beneath the table.
“I’m feeling better about things,” I lie. “There were butterflies at first.”
He smiles in recognition.
“That happens to people when they first start. Once you get the hang of it and find your own way, it will flow more smoothly. It’s my job to get inside your head and see what we might be able to work on improving together.”
That’s it, I think—where the boldness lies. Not that he wants to get inside people’s heads, but that he’s fond of telling them. Is that boldness or shamelessness?
He notices me staring at the painting and sighs.
“I wish I could keep your attention.”
“It’s not you,” I say. “I’m easily distracted.”
He raises both eyebrows.
“You’d better make sure to hunker down and focus. We’re going to be having a whole lot more items coming in once the year unfolds.”
I continue drinking. We’re now three-quarters of the way into the bottle, inebriation setting in. I will hunker down, I tell myself. I will focus. But first, I need to tell him I’m ready for the check because I can’t sit there with him any longer.
Without hesitation, he gets the waiter, which earns him respect.
Once at home, I type Botticelli into my computer. According to one article, the painting is considered one of the most controversial since the birth of Neo-Platonism. An allegory for the lush growth of spring, it contains hidden imagery and symbolism, including Venus, Cupid, Mercury, and the Three Graces.
I think of it one night a few weeks later as I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror checking out my figure in leopard-print panties and a matching underwire bra. Part of me wonders if the time for wearing this type of lingerie already came and went before I remind myself it might never have existed.
Coming out of the bathroom, I slide down the hall and peek into the bedroom to find my bed empty, which is disappointing. For some reason, I thought the boss might be lying there—not that sleeping with him wouldn’t be disgusting and immoral, but because it’s also so fearless.
I return to the bathroom mirror and look at my reflection again. This is boldness, I whisper. This is fearlessness: standing by myself.
My co-worker, Val, is in top form Monday morning. She’s carefully concealed her disdain for the office in a collection of unrelated objects that sit on her desk—a black plastic spider with wiggly legs, a family of succulents, and a brown nameplate with white letters spelling out the words Every Day I’m Hustlin’.
Val knows I know how much time she spends trying to get under my skin. She glares at me from across the expanse, her eyes widening to deep, dark lakes. I want nothing more than to escape—to frolic through the woods like a long-limbed maiden in a white gown. I want to be honest with Val, to tell her how scared I am to let go of these fantasies. But I know she’ll just roll her eyes and tell me she’s busy, or add whatever truth I reveal to the list of insecurities to use against me later.
I imagine us parting on one of our last days. The scene plays out in my head.
I’m sorry we couldn’t be better friends, or even acquaintances. Maybe we could get a coffee someday, or go to a movie. You like movies, don’t you, Val?
The bloodier, the better.
She is staring at me as my imagination wanders. Val is a spirit, I realize, both dead and not dead. Someone who is trying to rise above the dry, graven earth that always felt so natural to me.
I know I have to treat her kindly from now on.
At the end of most days, there’s time to spare. That’s when my brain reels flashbacks to entertain itself.
The scene is a grainy picture of an old, brick house surrounded by maples and pines. While the outside of the house is dark, the inside is aflame with color—bright bursts of orange and red. There’s music and drinking and dancing. People are gyrating on tables. It’s my first night away at college and my roommate has taken me to a party. I’ve just sipped a beer and fallen back in my chair. I glance up to find her dancing with two guys on the table, beer bottle clasped loosely in her hand.
The oddness of reliving the memory at the office makes my head spin. I close my eyes and rock back and forth, waiting for it to pass, but instead it keeps rolling, the haphazard camera work throwing up the scene at odd angles, the partygoers upheaved with wedges of bar, table, and floor.
Now they’re holding hands and dancing in a circle, carefree, blissful, like the maidens themselves.
Rocking creates a soothing motion that returns me to serenity. Then I can relax, knowing instants like these are wont to roll into the light of memory from time to time, emerging from ancient forests like new.
Katie Nickas writes atypical, offbeat, and plain old weird fiction. Her work has or will appear in magazines including Anti-Heroin Chic, Asymmetry, formercactus, Literally Stories, The Oddville Press, Reflex Fiction, Soft Cartel, and STORGY. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @katienickas.