Shimmer by Larisa Pazmiño
The cat stared at me in that intense way of cats, which some interpret as deep thought but really means the cat is trying to determine if you’re edible or not. When I learned cats obsessed over killing, and not cuddling, it made me like them better. Still I don’t want one. I didn’t want this one, and watched with relief as its outline shimmered and faded in the way of memories.
I didn’t want anyone else’s memories either but I seemed to be saddled with them. I wondered who else besides this cat would show up in my new apartment, still smelling of the fresh paint covering the old walls. I couldn’t see the future or communicate with the dead, but I did see memories. Signatures, I called them, of people, and apparently animals, who’d graced a place once before. They appeared, ever so briefly, then shone for a moment before they disappeared. Often accompanied by the person the memory belonged to, but not always. A distraction, for the most part, only distressing when something was revealed that shouldn’t be. Like yesterday when I met my neighbor, Scott, and his wife, Jenny. Another, much younger woman had her arms draped around his waist and looked at me, not unlike that cat, before she vanished. Maybe she was an old girlfriend from long ago or maybe she was a dirty secret from two days ago, but it seemed tawdry, and his wife seemed nice. Now it felt weird to even say hi to him when I went outside.
The only person I ever told about my strange gift suggested I make some money as a psychic. “But I only see the past,” I said.
“Yeah, but you would know stuff about them, stuff that you couldn’t know, and then you could make shit up, and they’d believe you,” he said.
Anyone else would have said I was nuts or taken me for a brain scan or insisted I had some deep-seated issues. But he believed me without question. He was also the one person who wouldn’t show himself to me. Whose image never appeared and then shimmered away. The person I longed to see more than anyone, even for that one brief moment. God, I missed him. Duncan, big, boisterous force of nature, my best friend since freshman year of college. I had to move out of the ramshackle Victorian house we’d shared since graduation, with a revolving group of other housemates, too strange and unsettling to be there without him. Thus I found myself in this little converted attic, a one room studio, alone.
We loved each other as two best friends can. No one ever really believed we had a platonic relationship, we were so tied together. But Duncan, a straight guy with a monogamy addiction who fell deeply in love with every woman he dated, and me, a pansexual woman with commitment issues, were practically siblings. He was like a twin brother, one who knew me better than I knew myself and could practically read my mind. Sex with Duncan would have felt like incest.
I begged him to get new tires for his car, but he didn’t have the money quite yet. And then one night, one blew out on a dark road. The other driver didn’t even see him as he crouched on the road, trying to change it, even as big as he was. I looked for him at his funeral, for his image to appear next to his mother or his actual sister or anyone really. But since that day he had hidden from me. My own late mother showed herself to me whenever I went to see my dad, along with some long dead relatives who I’d only seen in old pictures, but Duncan stubbornly refused.
I looked up and noticed the kid watching me through the window. The slope of the street meant the house next door’s second floor was level with the attic I lived in. The attic topped off a single family home; the older couple who were my landlords lived in the main part of the house. A wooden fence separated the two properties, and I could also see into the neighbor’s large yard, which had a big tree with a tire swing hanging off of it. The kid’s bedroom faced right into my bedroom/living room, and I caught him checking me out. I resisted the urge to flash him, since I didn’t want to end up on a sex offender registry and he looked to be about 14. I decided that window would have to stay covered for now. I wondered again about the dad and the woman I’d seen; maybe the kid was headed for a broken home. Maybe it was broken already, but the cracks hadn’t shown yet.
Took about a week to feel fully settled, to get used to the new commute from my job in the communications office of the college I’d graduated from. I planned to spend what was predicted to be a gloomy but seasonal September weekend staying in and reading and being a hermit in my very first ever solo apartment, but a knock on the door in the early afternoon said otherwise. “Thought you could hide from me, did you?” Lenore said when I opened the door. Lenore, who Duncan called my bad habit.
“Since I sent you the address, I guess I wasn’t doing a great job hiding,” I said, stepping back so she could come in. She was carrying a bag which she put on the table. She started to remove its contents. “Welcome wagon,” she said, naming the items as she handed them to me. “Gin, mint chip ice cream, Taki’s, and beef jerky. I think that’s all of the food groups covered.”
“Wow, thank you,” I said. I went to put the ice cream in the freezer and when I turned around she was right behind me, and I pulled her close, pressing my lips to hers.
As always, whenever I was with Lenore, within minutes we were tearing off each other’s clothes. I couldn’t resist her. She and Duncan had tolerated each other for my sake, but he thought she kept me from getting into a real relationship. I tried to explain to Duncan that I didn’t really want a “real” relationship, at least not with any of the men, women, or otherwise that I’d been with to that point (including Lenore, we had both agreed on that), but he couldn’t fathom it.
After, satisfied and tired, we ate beef jerky and swigged gin while lying naked on my futon bed. “This place is cute,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s nice to have my own place. Like a semi-real adult.”
“Semi-real?” she asked. At that moment, a young man appeared by my kitchen table. From what I could see, he appeared to be dressed like a soldier, World War II maybe. He vanished, and for a moment I considered telling Lenore about my weirdness, but she would likely think I was nuts. I knew the house was old, and I was in an attic turned apartment. I imagined many people had been through here before. I was going to make lots of new friends.
“Yeah,” I said, “an adult would have better furniture.”
She chuckled. The same cat sat on the bed and then disappeared. So I had a pet I didn’t have to clean up after – that was something. And here I’d been thinking of getting a fish.
“Well, I’m glad you moved on from that firetrap. I notice this one actually has working smoke detectors.”
I had to confess I hadn’t noticed. Again, a real adult would have.
“Well, chica,” Lenore said, getting up, “I must be off.”
“Working tonight?” I asked. Lenore ran the bar at an upscale restaurant in town.
“Yup,” she said as she put her underwear and bra back on and pulled on her shirt. “Hey, by the way, I saw your neighbors outside – the couple that live next door? The guy is a real creep.”
I sat up. “How do you know that?” I asked.
“I’ve seen him at the bar more than once making kissy-face with some young thing. Multiple young things. Not the woman that was with him who I assume is his wife?”
I lay back down. “Yeah, I got the sense there was something up with him. They have a kid, too.” I watched as a chubby woman with her hair in a ponytail appeared, looking at Lenore, reaching out a hand to her as she vanished. Did Lenore have a girlfriend? Was I the Other Woman?
“Well, maybe they have an agreement, but somehow I doubt it,” she responded. She sat back down on the bed and kissed me. “Fun, as always. You know, someday you’ll find the love of your life and I’ll be tossed aside like an old shoe.”
“Please, you know I never throw away my shoes,” I said.
Lenore shook her head and laughed. “Oh, Claire,” she said. “All hope is lost for me, but you still have some redeeming qualities. I thought about adopting some cats and becoming a crazy cat lady, but that’s cliché. I might adopt a bunch of snakes and become a crazy snake lady. Or a crazy ferret lady.”
“Ferrets smell. What brought that on?”
She shrugged. “Cute girl asked me out, and I went out with her, and I blew it. I acted like a weirdo. I don’t know what is wrong with me.”
“You’re fine. Maybe you just knew it was wrong and it was uncomfortable. Is that why you showed up here for a booty call? Not that I’m complaining. Been a while since I got laid.”
“Yeah, I could tell you’re out of practice,” she said, and I swatted her playfully. “Maybe. I like our friends-with-benefits thing. So I gotta enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Please. I’ll be hooking up with Tinder dates until my old age.” She gave me a skeptical look.
After she left, I took a shower and when I came out, a girl about ten years old was sitting on my bed. She smiled before she vanished. “Fuck,” I said, “Duncan, where are you?” I ate Taki’s and ice cream for dinner that night, wondering for the millionth time if I was just imagining all of this, if I really had a brain tumor or I was schizophrenic. I’d been to see Dr. Google enough times to feel reassured, but still, I worried.
A couple of nights later I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and a woman’s voice screaming. I leapt out of bed and ran to the window, the closest being the one that looked into the kid’s room. My phone said it was 3am.
The screaming clearly came from next door and more specifically from Jenny, with occasional loud responses from Scott. From the sounds of it, the jig was up and Scot’s behavior had been exposed. I looked down and beside the house, three young women stood, looking up. Before they vanished, I followed their gaze to the kid’s window, and noticed his blinds were open. “Shit!” I said out loud as I dialed 911. Luckily his light was on and I could see him holding the razor in his hand as blood poured down his arm.
Racing outside in nothing but the T-shirt and underwear I slept in, I banged on the door as I explained to the dispatcher that a kid was trying to kill himself. The screaming stopped, and Scott opened the door. He looked at me, confused, but before he could say anything, I shouted, “Your son!” I was trying to contain my own hysteria. “I called an ambulance already.” Jenny appeared behind him, looked at me and, realizing what I was saying, turned and ran up the stairs. I heard more screaming, and Scott followed, as the sirens got closer and the ambulance appeared.
I waited until they loaded the kid in the ambulance, and I heard them say which hospital they were going to. A cop had also shown up, so she asked me a couple of questions, and seemed satisfied with my answers. I went back to my own apartment, and tried to slow my breathing. My heart was racing, and the “what ifs” kept churning through my brain. What if I hadn’t woken up, and hadn’t seen him? What if I’d ignored the three disappearing women? What if he’d closed his blinds? How long would it have been before the kid’s parents stopped screaming at each other and found him? I wanted nothing more at that moment to call Duncan, to get him to talk me down. Instead, I took a cannabis edible and tried to calm myself.
I called in sick the next day – I had barely slept so was in no shape to work – and went instead to the hospital. I figured they wouldn’t tell me anything or let me see the kid, but I felt the need to be there. The lady at the desk basically told me the same thing but sent me to the floor anyway. The place was full of memories that appeared all around me; I had to try and focus on where I was going and not get distracted. I found the kid’s parents sitting in the hallway, looking straight ahead. I could see that Jenny had been crying but Scott just looked annoyed. When he saw me he bolted out of his seat. “What the hell are you doing looking in my son’s room?” he snarled. A young woman, different from the one I’d seen before, appeared by his side and then disappeared. Damn, what a dog, I thought.
His wife stood and grabbed his arm. “If she hadn’t,” she said tearfully, “Brent might not be here anymore. Do you realize that?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, realizing I had nothing to apologize for, “I don’t ever look into your son’s room, but I heard a lot of screaming and broken glass. I was trying to see if something was wrong.”
His face fell, and his anger gave way to resignation. “Yeah, well….” He turned away and went back to sit down, his head in his hands. Jenny looked at me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “For everything. You saved him. Thank you.”
“Is he going to be okay?” I asked.
She took a deep breath. An older woman appeared at her side, looking a lot like her – her mother maybe – and disappeared. “Physically, yes. But we need to get him some real help.” And yourselves too, I thought. I told her to give the kid my best; I suddenly felt the need to get out of there right away.
All I could think about was getting a cup of coffee, so I stopped at the first coffee shop I passed. As I was heading out the door, I heard my name, and turned around to see Christian, a Ph.D. student I’d gone out with, sitting at one of the tables with his laptop in front of him. We’d dated for a few months, but it was starting to get serious and I thought he was going to want to be exclusive, so as much as I liked him, of course I had been thinking about ending it. Because I am who I am. (“But I like him!” Duncan had said when I told him, “He’s so good for you.”) Interestingly, Christian beat me to it and just stopped calling or texting, so I assumed he was no longer interested.
“Hi, Christian,” I said.
“Got a minute?” he said. He gestured for me to sit down, and he shut his laptop. We talked and I found out that he was finishing up his doctorate in economics and teaching some courses at my alma mater. I told him what I’d been up to, basic small talk, until he decided to address the elephant parked firmly on the table.
“So, Claire, I feel bad about ghosting you like I did,” he said. Damn, I forgot how good he looked. While he wasn’t classically handsome, his face had a sweetness to it with his broad smile and deep brown eyes.
“It’s really okay,” I said, thinking about how I must look on no sleep or shower.
“No, really,” he said, “It’s not. I really had a good time with you. It was just getting kind of serious and I thought maybe you were going to want to be, you know, exclusive. That’s just not me.”
I laughed out loud. “Oh, Christian,” I said, “we have so much in common.”
“I was really sorry to hear about Duncan,” he said, “he was a good guy.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Thanks. I miss him a lot.” He reached across the table and took my hand and squeezed it.
“Could we hang out sometime? Maybe get dinner?” he asked, and I said yes. We made a plan, and I told him I’d better head home. You’d be proud of me, Duncan, I thought.
Later that evening, I saw Scott loading up his car. Jenny stood on the porch and watched him back out of his driveway. Memories were swirling around them, appearing and disappearing. He drove off, and then she went inside the house and shut the door.
By the weekend, the kid was home. I was about to take out my trash when I saw him sitting in the yard on the old tire swing. I could see the bandages on his arm, and watched as the same older woman I’d seen in the hospital stood by his side for just a moment before she vanished. I put my trash in the outside bin, then walked around the wood fence and back to their yard.
“Hi, Brent,” I said, “I’m your neighbor, Claire.”
“I know,” he said, and the lack of affect in his voice broke my heart a little. I wondered what kind of meds they had him on. “You called the ambulance.”
“I did,” I responded.
“I guess I’m supposed to thank you?”
I shook my head. “Nope,” I said, “you’re not.”
He nodded and continued to swing slowly back and forth.
“Well, I just wanted to introduce myself. If you ever need anything, I’m right up there.” I pointed up to my apartment.
“I need new parents,” he said, “the ones I got are defective.” A little bit of teenager sass had returned to his voice, and it made me smile.
“I thought the same thing when I was a teenager. Turns out they weren’t defective, just human and flawed.”
“My dad is a dick,” he said.
I didn’t disagree, so I thought it best to say nothing about that. “Someone once told me the best revenge against shitty parents is to grow up, be your own person, and be happy.” (Duncan is the one who said that, Duncan whose father dropped in and out of his life, Duncan who would have known what to say to this kid.)
“I’m nothing like him,” Brent said.
“Well, that’s a start,” I responded. At that moment, I heard Jenny calling Brent.
“Gotta go,” he said, jumping off the tire swing. “Thanks for saving my life, I guess. See you around.” And he went back into the house.
When I got back into my apartment, there he was at last. Sitting at my little table. Looking so familiar and yet so strange, with that slight hunch to his shoulders to make up for his height.
“I miss you so much,” I whispered, “Oh my god, I miss you.”
And Duncan smiled at me before he vanished.
Larisa Pazmiño has been a professional grant writer for 20 years, and has raised more than $10 million for various organizations. She has not been published to date. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Vermont (1991). She was born and raised in Washington, DC and has lived in North Carolina, Vermont, and Connecticut. She currently lives in Newton, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and poodle mix.