7 a.m. One of them stirs underneath the duvet. No matter how cold it is outside the covers, they hop out and onto the hardwood floors to make coffee for the pair. While the water boils for the Chemex glassware, they survey the kitchen: It remains of a modernist, minimalist, Scandinavian style.
Throughout the single-floor ranch I can find no cursed mirrors nor eerie portraits. No window vines to rustle or petals to spoil then drop—succulents, plump and prideful, make no one shiver.
7:20 a.m. Steaming coffee poured into unadorned white mugs, then one lover brings over a cup to the other. They sip in bed. I used to leave inauspicious shapes among the grounds they left behind, but they never noticed, not once.
I’ve learned to make contact in other ways: I love a takeout menu, its inked pinks and greens. Pluck it out the trash, lay it across the mantle. But how did this get here? My owners keep only books with black or white spines. The words that spark their joy fit into an aesthetic, match their geometric prints. So I try to bomb them with color, ruin a scene.
7:45 a.m. Begins the series of showers. One scrubs up with a black terrycloth, one scrolls the news on a phone. The couple strictly dresses in black, white, leather. Even for telecommuting.
8:30 a.m. They log on to their jobs in different rooms, one from behind a bedroom door, one from a spot at the dining room table. They grouse to themselves sometimes that they furnished this place not expecting to spend this much time in it. Low-backed dining room chairs and even the sturdiest of headboards offer insufficient lumbar support.
If I’m up to it, I’ll make the WiFi cut out. Or hide an important thumb drive, “misplace” that manila envelope.
10:45 a.m. They remain in their separate “offices” but message each other ideas for an interior redesign—just fantasies, though. I pray they’ll bring me home more tools to work with, but during this year of lockdown, this house feels colder and sparser than ever. Still no old pipes to rattle or moan through. Oh, grant me a claw-footed bathtub! In any color that isn’t slate.
It’s not easy being the kind of ghost who haunts a house decorated out of an Ikea catalog, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up.
12 p.m. They break for lunch. If I am lucky they’ll notice I pulled a loose thread on their linen tablecloth and opened a proper hole.
There’s no other way to tell them who I am … or was. Before this was an open concept home, it was a different kind of dwelling. My bones are here and they were at rest, until they weren’t. I long to return to natural cycles of production and rest. This modern human condition is a constant pacing, a late-night anxiety fit. And I resent the order they’re trying to impose on this land, which was harmoniously wild for so long. I don’t believe I can keep up these small acts of resistance indefinitely—Will I go extinct? Grow stronger or weaker? I’m not certain but something tells me things could boil over, at last.
5 p.m. They should stop working, but they don’t. Some invisible force compels them to type-type-type, open just one more email. Their labor honors no rhythm.
Perhaps if they took a break they would remember that everything decays in the end.
8 p.m. One of them encourages the other to break for dinner, though they’ve both been sipping wine for an hour. They do allow a dark red liquid in this instance, a detour from the house’s palette. The only colors allowed in decor are champagne or clay; so committed, they wrap Christmas presents in plain brown paper!
Tipsy, hungry, this is when they are most aware of me. They’ll say the room seems a little off, or shiver like they’re being watched. (They are.)
Lately I’ve been snapping off bits of wicker from their chairs, leaving them in unexpected corners of a room. So far, it has only elicited a perplexed trip to the trashcan.
But tonight, when one bends over to inspect a slice of dried woven reed, an accusation erupts. “HOW ARE YOU BREAKING THESE?”
Even I startle at the sound of anger. The meek reply, “Me? I thought it was you?” doesn’t soothe.
“Don’t play dumb, it’s just the two of us here, I know it was you!”
Fighting, slamming doors, then somehow kissing, biting too. They leave a mess around the house, I didn’t have to tip over a single scented candle.
At rest again, they ache with the awareness that they don’t touch anymore. Then I sense why tonight different: One of them is leaving. Contemplations of loss, of death.
11:40 p.m. Sleep is where they are most attuned to me, where I can sow seeds: Don’t just browse the new catalog from West Elm, start over. What if you really cleared out? Don’t even sell to a new owner. Cut your losses and let the floor fade back to earth. Give your roof to the birds. What could be more minimalist than no walls at all? When the sun rises, accept something different.
Laura Eppinger (she/her) is a Pushcart-nominated writer of fiction, poetry and essay. Her work has appeared at the Rumpus, the Toast, and elsewhere. She’s the managing editor at Newfound Journal. Visit her here: https://lauraeppinger.blog/workspub/ She Tweets at @lola_epp