Wednesday 2:42 A.M.
Starbursts blink from streetlights like they’re sharing a secret as I wake to find myself slumped in the back of a cab, without any recollection of how I got here, or where I’m going.
I stare hypnotically out the window as city lights streak by against a blanket of darkness, lulled by the pensive hum of the car radio.
“Not much longer,” the driver murmurs, braking suddenly at a red traffic light.
Our eyes lock in the rearview mirror until the traffic light changes and the city slides away in a swirl of neon.
“This tune is for all the insomniacs out there, looking for sleep like it’s a star-crossed lover.” The DJ’s laconic voice disappears under the strum of an acoustic guitar.
We cross the Brooklyn Bridge listening to Paul Simon sing about the moon’s desolate eyes. I look up, above the jagged skyline of the city’s silhouette. There’s no moon in the murky sky tonight. A siren wails ominously in the distance as we cruise through a maze of sleepy streets.
“We’ve arrived.” The driver’s voice breaks through the jumble of my drowsy thoughts.
I pay with a crumpled fifty-dollar bill clutched in my fist and cross the one-way street to the apartment I share with Amy. It’s on the second floor of an old brownstone that’s been transformed into a modern apartment block with a sundeck on the roof.
When I’m at the street door, I realize I don’t have my keys or purse. I rest my forehead wearily against the rough brick wall next to the entrance and reluctantly press the intercom buzzer to wake Amy.
“Come on, Amy. Please be home.”
Leaves fall from half-naked trees like autumnal rain. I do a double take. The leaves are not just an anomaly. They’re an impossibility. Who ever heard of fall leaves in midsummer?
Watching the leaves float ethereally onto the sidewalk deepens the disquiet I’ve felt since waking in the cab. The last thing I remember before opening my eyes was working at my sun-drenched desk by the office window until I was startled by the sudden ring of my desk phone.
“This is Liv,” I said into the receiver as I looked out at a magnificent summer sky.
Everything after that is a blank, until now.
My breath hovers in the frigid air like a restless ghost. Summer, I realize with a shiver, has disappeared like a wrinkle in time.
I press the intercom buzzer again, and again. Each time, I keep my finger on the button for a little longer until eventually the kitchen lights turn on, illuminating the stoop. I hear a clatter of footsteps on the stairs.
“Amy, I am so sorry…” I begin as the building door swings open.
It’s not Amy standing on the threshold. It’s two strangers. The woman is tall with straight hair. Salon gold. She wears pajamas with a blue bunny print. Her pedicured feet are bare. Next to her is a tall, athletic man with tousled blond hair and matching stubble. He wears gray sweatpants and a white top that he lifts to scratch his taut belly.
“What the hell are you thinking, ringing our doorbell in the middle of the night?” It’s the woman who chews me out.
“I didn’t know that Amy had friends staying tonight,” I stammer, taken aback by the bite of her tone.
This is not the first time I’ve returned home to find strangers staying at my apartment. Amy is a brilliant doctor who graduated at the top of her class. I love her to death, but she can be scatterbrained about updating me on what she considers mundane things, such as friends from back home camping out on our living room floor for a couple of weeks.
“I’m Liv,” I introduce myself. “I’m so sorry I woke you. I forgot my house keys. Again.” I roll my eyes self-deprecatingly.
The woman’s humorless gaze remains fixed on me.
“That’s why I rang the doorbell.…” My voice fades out.
Neither of them moves out of the way. Their blank expressions unnerve me.
“Well, I guess I’d better go upstairs and get some sleep. It’s been a long day.” I step forward, eager to get into the warmth of my apartment and, hopefully soon, the comfort of my bed. As I move across the threshold, the woman slams the door shut to try to keep me out.
“Ouch.” I wince when the door hits my foot.
Despite the pain, I don’t move my foot out of the way.
“You need to go,” she tells me.
“That’s my apartment.” I point to the top of the landing.
“That’s where we live,” says the man. “You’ve made a mistake.”
I almost believe him until I catch a glimpse of the distinctive tiled hallway floor and the dark timber staircase banister with its curved edge. They’re unique period features preserved to maintain the building’s heritage character.
“I’ve lived upstairs with Amy for years.”
Recognition flashes across his face at my mention of Amy. I exhale in relief. We’re no longer talking at cross-purposes.
“Amy Decker?” he asks.
“That’s the doctor whose junk mail we get,” he tells his girlfriend, as if I’m not here.
I want to tell him that Amy still lives here. As do I. I bite my tongue, aware they have the upper hand. After all, I’m the one standing out in the cold.
Soft warm light beckons from the partly open apartment door upstairs. I ache with a crushing longing to go up there and resume my life. The only way to do that is to convince them to let me in.
“I’m so sorry for the mix-up,” I grovel. “It’s been one of those nights! I’ve lost my purse and my phone.” I shiver in the cold. “Can I at least use your phone to call my boyfriend, Marco, to come and get me? It’s freezing out here.”
The woman gives me a death stare. I could die of hypothermia on the doorstep for all she cares. Her boyfriend is more sympathetic.
I look up at him, my eyes wide and pleading. He hesitates and then pushes open the street door to let me in. His girlfriend stares daggers at him for caving in. Her feet stomp angrily all the way up to the landing.
Copyright © 2022 by Megan Goldin