A Millennial Ghost Story (Chapter 4)

by Dash Owens

First time reader? Check out chapters onetwo, and three.

Maeve first met Mary when she was still a teacher. They met at a staff happy hour and shared a car home. While they waited, it began to rain. They rushed under the canopy of a nearby apartment building, at which point Mary declared a desperate need to urinate. With Maeve’s back turned, Mary crouched over a doormat. Maeve wasn’t sure if she would ever become friends with Mary, but it seemed like a good story to remember the details of. When Maeve left teaching to pursue her Ph.D, she wondered if it was a mistake. She wouldn’t be able to see Mary every day. 

Mary described herself in a manner riddled with deficits, as if she embodied the millennial concept of “basic”-ness with her blonde hair and spray tan. In Maeve’s eyes, she wasn’t. Mary was, in every conceivable interpretation, “all in.” Mary’s presence was felt with a force that most people falsely attribute to their friends at reunions and in Facebook birthday posts. (Mary once made a birthday post for Maeve in the first year of their friendship. She didn’t do it again.) She was a friend with stamina; Maeve felt every interaction like a strengthening muscle, the sinews tight and able to endure meandering conversations about life and its torturous desires. In a long ranting conversation, Mary would cut in with a, “So you want–” or “Why wouldn’t you just–.” The interruptions forced Maeve’s foggy thoughts to become something more clear and sharp, much like Mary. Maeve could declare her true feelings to herself, or she would finally hear the ludicrousness in whatever she just said. Maeve once offered Mary a litany of complaints about their school too typical to repeat, in the midst of which Mary put up a flat, stern hand to pause Maeve’s soliloquy and asked, “Are you saying you want to quit?” Maeve immediately replied, “No!” And then, “I mean, I want to be more than just a teacher.” Mary’s lips were zipped into a tight line and she gave a quick nod, “Alright then. You need to decide what more means.” At the time, Maeve didn’t realize “more” would turn out to be an incomplete fifty-thousand dollar degree. 

Now Maeve did see Mary every day, though Mary didn’t see Maeve. At night, Maeve watched reality television next to Mary and her roommate. Maeve couldn’t remember the roommate’s name, and she waited for Mary to say her name. Instead, Mary said, “Hey, Babe!” and “I’m home! How are youuu?” Maeve never watched any of the shows before. They were supposed to be full of drama, but nothing ever happened. Sometimes someone said something mean, and then everyone cried and yelled for two episodes. Maeve didn’t see the point, but she didn’t have anything else to do. 

Maeve noted a peculiarity: Mary never mentioned Maeve. How could it be? Maeve continued to think, think, think, think, think. Mary, her stalwart friend, didn’t seem at all like someone who lost a beloved friend in the last month. If anything, Mary seemed absolutely fine. Maeve’s purpose in following Mary changed. She wandered through Mary’s apartment looking for any evidence of herself. An obituary? A picture? Something to prove that Mary knew Maeve was dead. Unless no one knew? 

Maeve lingered, waiting for every one of Mary’s conversations. It was hard because she texted so often, and Maeve relinquished some of her preconceptions about space by existing in the wreath created by Mary’s hands and arms wrapped about her phone. Still, Mary didn’t read nor type anything to do with Maeve. Maeve did discover the name of Mary’s roommate, or she thought she did. Mary sent a text to her mom: “For Christmas, I need a maid service. Jenn is a slob!” Maeve assumed the text referred to her roommate. Maeve was also pretty certain that Jenn was not the slob in the apartment, but Mary’s mom would be visiting over the weekend, and it was convenient to blame everything on someone else. 

Sometimes Mary’s co-worker Thomas came over and they had sex. Thomas had thin brown hair long enough to be folded into a bun. He was small and slight, and he usually dressed in a way that seemed too casual for the circumstances. His chin and cheeks were darkened with patches of hair, not long enough to be considered a beard. At Mary’s birthday a year earlier, Maeve imagined Thomas one day wearing birkenstocks for the sake of comfort. He played guitar and considered himself a songwriter. He was teaching “for now” even though it wasn’t his passion. He knew who Father John Misty was, and he said he sometimes liked to wake up early so he could “write.” Mary described him as, “Not hot, but he has a vibe.” Some days Mary said she loved him, and on others she called him her best friend. At the time, Maeve assumed Thomas was a placeholder until Mary met someone else. That had to be the case because she thought he was an idiot. When Maeve lingered behind the couch and watched them kiss, her thoughts were a key malformed for the lock. Maeve thought she should feel surprised, but instead she experienced a dissonance, as if her thoughts were misaligned with other thoughts. Feelings, like surprise, weren’t feelings per se. Maeve imagined pages and pages of typewritten text with inconsistent indents. She wasn’t formatted correctly anymore. It would be distressing if she could feel distress. 

Maeve locked on to the reality shows playing in the background of Mary and Thomas’s amorous meetings. She followed closely the lying and grotesque displays of emotion like a middle school algebra student solving for x and plugging the number back in just for fun. It was a marvel to see the formula work out again and again and again. “I just want you to trust me!” a young wife screams at her young husband recently arrived from Israel. “How can I trust you when you lie to me?” he screams back. The same ten seconds of the argument had been previewed for several episodes. When the next episode played automatically, the same conversation replayed. Then, as the cameras swirl around the couple’s apartment, there is a cut to an interview with the young wife. “We had a fight, but I know I love him more than anything. What if our marriage doesn’t work?”

Maeve almost settled into a new cycle with Mary — school, home, tv — but there were too many breaks. At first, Maeve filled six to seven hours watching Mary sleep and wandering around the apartment. Even when Mary fell asleep with the television on, eventually the streaming paused and a message appeared: “Are you still watching?” Unable to hold the remote and click yes, Maeve drifted through Mary’s building. She thought she would see someone doing something with novelty, but mostly she saw everyone doing and saying the same things she saw in Mary’s apartment; different bodies eating dinner, having sex, and watching television. And they all slept. Maeve found one middle-aged man reading The Economist , and she settled on him (in him? Maeve wasn’t sure how she rested in any spot…) so she could read as well. At some point, Maeve decided not to wait for page turns and moved on. Sometimes she returned to middle-aged-Economist-man because she thought the living Maeve would have liked dead Maeve to be reading The Economist in death, but she found the man consistently fell asleep after skimming two or three pages. Sometimes she stumbled upon him again and couldn’t remember if she had been there before. The visits all ended the same. The futility of reading led to the more promising search of an insomniac with a streaming service. 

Brooklyn was full of insomniacs to watch television with. One night, Maeve watched an entire season of a network sitcom about housewives who were also bankrobbers. Three women of distinct body types exchanged quips and gunfire for twenty-two minutes. When Maeve was alive, she would have disregarded the plot as “hammy” and the dialogue as drivel. Maeve watched television, but she had the good sense to discern between television acquired through an antenna and prestige television for $14.99 a month. That is, until her credit card was declined and service was cut off.

Maeve’s current insomniac liked to lay across their bed in a small one bedroom apartment, head falling lopsided off the edge. The woman didn’t wear pants, and she spent the entire night stroking her full bush with her right hand while her left hand cupped one breast under her t-shirt. She sometimes smiled at the show, but she mostly remained still as she rhythmically twisted and petted the coarse curls while intermittently squishing a lardy boob. Occasionally, Maeve was startled by a sudden giggle or the insomniac rising to urinate or to refill her glass of water. Maeve knew it was time to leave when the insomniac turned off the show, rubbed herself against a pillow for a few minutes until completion, and then fell asleep with the light on.

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