This is what I know happens when I leave – by Emma Carte

The girl moves from one drawer to the next. She is thin, rail thin and her hair is cut short, in a plain kind of way, but she still looks crammed into that tiny kitchen, if you could call it that. The only thing that separates it from the rest of the studio is an island that juts out from the far wall. It only has enough room for one stool, for one person to sit. I sit on the couch, in front of the round coffee table. It is painted black and has what I believe to be pineapples intricately carved into the legs.  The table functions also as kitchen table, bookshelf, and nightstand, seeing as her bed functions also as couch.

“I made a pie, have a slice. It’s apple. My mother’s recipe,” she tells me.

“Okay.” I hate when they bring up their mothers.

The kitchen cabinets open and slam. In lieu of an oven mitt, she pulls out an old dishtowel, someone’s initials on it in light blue script. Probably her mothers.

I watch her as she opens the oven. Her arms could snap under the weight of a pie. She places it on top of the stove and blows. She’s wearing a thrift store fur coat that goes to her ankles. There are slits cut into the sleeves from someone whose wrists had not cooperated with the coat. Everything in the place is busted, but she’s got this fancy new coffee maker.

            “Your heat get turned off?” I ask her.

            “I swear it’s absolutely impossible to get by in this city. One day it’s rent, the next heat, then water, then they’re asking for your goddam soul,” she says. She is trying to sound poetic but we both know it’s not working out.

            She brings the pie over to the table, cuts a slice, steaming, and sets it in front of me on a plate with a fork. It is burnt but not badly. She sits across from me on a floor pillow that was once white and she’s wearing these dark glasses, picks at her fingers. She’s all twitchy watching me, waiting for me to take a bite. Looks like she could flake away like burnt crust.

She’s crying a little so I bite into the pie and swallow it, without even chewing. It burns the roof of my mouth, but I don’t notice until later when I run my tongue across the glossy, enflamed surface. But she’s still crying, so I pull it out and put it on the table.

She doesn’t say anything, just stares at it, and walks over to me. She places her hands on either side of my face, still not saying anything, but I know she is more than thanking me. Her hands are like a child’s, soft and small and as if she were asking or begging for something I could never give her. But then she remembers why I am here and she reverts back to that crooked husk of a person.

“Pay me back next week, I’ll be back in town. Don’t make a habit of this,” I manage to say.

She shakes her head avidly, like a bobble head. “I’m getting a job. I’ve got some jobs lined up.”

I offer her the rest of my pie, tell her it’s good but I’m just too full. She declines like I thought she would. I leave without saying goodbye.

This is what I know happens when I leave the building. What I know happens when I leave every building, every two bedroom home, basement, garage with a couch and a mini fridge. She fumbles around more drawers, they always fumble around. She finds the necessary equipment. She fixes herself up until she feels the pulse in her arm, until she can practically hear it. And she falls back in love with him over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.