"Strange"

"Describe yourself in one word," says the man with the greasy smile sitting across from her. "Fluid," says the pale, but striking girl. Then, after a pause, "destroyed."

He nods slowly, "You're perfect for this campaign," he said. And the girl with the imaginary cracked mask in front of him smiles her shattered smile and quietly leaves. She wonders about the tuna she had for breakfast. Is it still in her esophagus? Or has it traveled to her stomach. She thinks about the lunch she won't eat. She remembers all the cruel words and criticism that was never really meant to hurt her but 'there was just something off' about her.

So was the life of this girl. She had no name. She had no face, no personality. She had many; echoed in the faces of people all around her. She was everyone she saw on the street, she was the voice of despair, the image of suffering, and she was currently wearing Armani shoes. She was slated to be the newest girl to be the poster child of suicide hotlines all around the world. It wasn't glamorous but it made her money. Everyday she woke up and put on her next gimmick out of the bag of tricks she kept under her bed just to face the world. This mask met her lot of people, people she would consequently come to love that would never quite love her but would capitalize on the fact that she did.

After all, it was her credo to capitalize on suffering, unrequited love, etc. It was only fitting that it was used on her, in the end.

There was the red-head with the heart of gold, the heroine addict who felt like home and the best friend who loved her like a sister; but her greatest love yet was her ability to lie to all of them.

This girl, she kept her secrets wrinkled underneath her mattress next to crumpled bills, tens and twenties and that needed to be paid, next to a collection of odd paper clips that were either colored funny or otherwise unusable.

She was of average looks with a few exceptional qualities but somehow managed to win over most everyone she met. First her smile the never truly reached her eyes drew them over, and her eyes empty and hollow but at the same time full of intensity captured their attention. Remarkably it was these things that caught the attention of casting directors and modeling campaigns, but she was just a normal girl. She knew she deserved none of what she had, but she desired it and that was good enough for her. So, for a few brief glances in time the people she met, the pictures she took, the men she loved, were hers, and only hers before they fluttered on to someone or something new. It happens all the time, people and possessions leaving, until one day long after she forgot to remember them all the things she had been running from ran into her all at once.

Literally, ran into her.

And they all wanted to meet for coffee.

She didn't like those kind of things, relationships. If you love someone let them go, before they come back run for your life. Often she could use her uncanny memory or unnatural intellect to scare people who wanted to be closer to her away; sometimes she let them in. This wasn't either of those things. This time, she had to. It seemed as if the shock of the meeting had knocked all conscious thought out of her head and she was waiting for the call of, "Cleanup in aisle three," and to see the cell phone pictures of words spluttering out of her mouth.

She let the boy with the heart of gold in, for example. They knew each other only a day but she loved him. Or she thought she did because there really wasn't anything she could say about him. A lot of the times she started from her second best love, which was really the 1st love of her life although she'd never admit it. He was tall, funny, and smart. Not to mention older. Okay, a lot older…which never really mattered to her. To her, he felt like going home, like wherever he was she belonged, she was comfortable. He made her feel good and appreciated and not alone.

Until he left.

Then there was the friend who loved her like a sister- who was never really there for her at all.

So ever since she has loved no one. She says she's done with love just like every other woman who's been scorned. But she just ended up loving in a way she never realized she was. It was that way that she did most things she said she wouldn't. So she met all the men for coffee, and she found it sick and twisted that they all somehow found each other in the end and became friends. She also found it even more demeaning of fate that they all lived together. It was times like these that she kept a ring in her pocket so in case of emergency she can slip it on her finger and pretend that she's just oh so happy and married with a house in the hills and two kids; and yes she does look great for just giving birth. But no, not this time. This time she didn't have an opportunity to stick her hand in her pocket. This time she didn't have pockets, this time she actually had to tell the truth, or what she believed the truth. It wouldn't pay to lie to these men. One of them was an expert liar; he was able to make her believe even the most false things. One of them was so genuine it was impossible to lie to him, and one, well one was someone she would consider a friend and she didn't believe in lying to friends. She would never admit that she still loved the friend.

In the end, the first would be her undoing.

And so, she had coffee with them, at their apartment. It was the fancy kind of coffee that tastes so good that you really don't have to add anything to it but you do anyways because you want to seem like you're more three dimensional than a cup of fancy coffee when really you're as flat as that picture you posed for last week at the bar. You talk to them; they ask you how you've been. The same thing that always happens in these situations, some of them look at you like they miss you, like they never want to walk out that door again. She looked at the boy who felt like home, and longed to scream at him and ask him 'what the fuck?' but instead she just smiled at him and told him that she really liked the place and 'would you please get me another cup of coffee, please.'

After a suitable amount of time she almost cried when her phone ring and she said that she had to take the call, that it was her boyfriend and that he was 'in dire need' of her expertise in the field of laundry. Her laundry. And knowing how she worried about everything, they all stood up, hugged her and showed her to the door after each holding on a little bit too long and squeezing a little bit too hard. Once she got down the driveway she hit the gas and was doing sixty before the next stoplight. After being followed upstairs and locking the three deadbolts on her door she sat down on her oversized couch and cried, the image of the addict's face freshly burned once again, upon her brain. The newspaper the next day, showed on the very last page among all the terrorist attacks and starving homeless a headline that made her heart sink, "Car Crash Kills One." Again, she sobs. She always cries at car accidents. She knows in her heart of hearts that she passed that very car on her rush home. She knows she was probably the only one to witness the driver putting on make-up in her mirror. She frowns at the fact that at least she'll be partly done up already for the funeral home in charge of her body. She thinks of how life saving it would be to make a device that could re-arrange the atoms of the metal that made up cars so they could harmlessly pass through objects instead of being smashed to bits against trees and buildings and killing other people. But it isn't possible, yet.

The next day she wakes up. She doesn't get dressed. She calls her agent and asks if she has anything to do that day. He tells her that she does. He tells her that she needs to go down to the studio for the anti-suicide campaign. She double checks in planner. Under the three o'clock slot she sees it, "suicide." She says that he must be mistaken, that shoot was yesterday. She says that she couldn't make it. She cancelled the appointment. And sure enough, the next week there are posters and commercials for a new suicide hotline with a girl who looks better than she does but is made up to look just as distressed as she does in her pajama pants and a college sweatshirt from somewhere she has never even seen. So she stayed home with 'her boyfriend,' who was actually just calling to tell her that they had successfully gotten the stain out of her favorite dress and to please come pick it up as soon as possible.

The next day she went out. She wore dark sunglasses, a stylish coat, and long gloves to hide her telltale fingernails. No way would she be caught again. She went to the supermarket and bought a newspaper, ripped out the apartment listings and threw the rest away. She read the ads and called a number five minutes later. Five hours later she was on a flight to some far away city, and then in a rental car in her assistants name to an off the map town where she would start all over and not love anyone that would later come to live less than fifteen minutes from her and risk getting back together with them one late night when they got drunk and showed up on her doorstep. They weren't catching her this time.

Five days later, the movers came and packed all her stuff and shipped it away to that middle of nowhere place. When she'd taken care of everything, hired her manager, and her assistant, she left to this new place. It was cozy, which was really just code for boring, but it seemed like a place she could hide, forever. When she got there she saw all the boxes sitting there, and slightly excited as if she were opening boxes of things she had just bought she ripped them all open, her confusion growing with every cut of the razorblade on box after box. Until finally in all of her confusion she realized that none of this was hers. She really was opening new things, none of this was hers. She called the movers, and no one answered. She slept in the strange bed for the night, and picked up the strange newspaper the next day. On the front page in bold print was the headline "Couple Dies in Brutal Mugging." It was clearly big news for this tiny little town. She sighed. Then she picked up the strange phone and called the number from the first newspaper she bought in the supermarket almost a week ago. Every moment slid by so slowly it seemed like hours in this state of confusion. She panicked. She looked out the bare windows. First she used the newspaper to cover them, but then thought that would look to unusual. So, she dug through the strange boxes and hung up the strange curtains, and then she peered through them. She panicked again. People were walking past the windows and stopping to stare. They had mournful looks in her eyes. She was so confused, she found a kitchen knife in one of the strange boxes, and again slept in the strange bed with it buried under her pillow.

The next day when she awoke she looked down the stairs from the second floor to see the living room full of blinding light. When she walked down the stairs her mouth dropped and she clutched the knife in her hand with white knuckles and proceeded to check the whole house for intruders. Then, still aghast she walked back into the living room and looked out the window to where there were now no curtains hanging, no boxes open and a small collection of pictures and candles on the sidewalk in front of the house. An hour later, she had cleaned up the pictures of unfamiliar people and put the curtains back up. She opened the boxes back up and took out a wedding album with faces of people that she had seen before but didn't recognize. She put the album back in the box. She never was one for marriage. Later that day people showed up and ignored that she was there, they started digging through the strange boxes, and were concerned when people were staring through the windows. They hung the strange curtains, and she told them it wouldn't do any good. She asked if it was their stuff. She asked how they got it; she stole their key ring and the key to her house. Then, as quietly and solemnly as they had entered, they left, the key in their hand and locked the door behind them.

Convinced she was crazy, she went to the office of a shrink tucked away in the far corner of the tiny town she now lived in. The building was a little ratty and run-down. She passed a man walking the other direction that nodded at her and smiled, and she was pleased to finally be acknowledged. She went into the office, and she waited, and the man who walked past her in the other direction came out in a lab coat and said that he was in fact the doctor. She'd seen so many strange things already that she shrugged off this anomaly and told him what had been going on. He told her that she sounded schizophrenic and that she had multi-personality disorder. The switch in her brain would flip and reseal all the boxes and take down the curtains, but after she would wake up she wouldn't remember doing any of it. She told him about the knife she was now starting to carry in her purse. He didn't seem alarmed. He chuckled and told her that the only person she was defending herself against was….well, herself. He wrote her prescriptions. He told her where to fill them. She threw the knife in the trashcan on the way out. When she got back to the house late that night, she saw the curtains still hanging there. Of course they were there, she hadn't been home to go crazy and take them all back down. She forgot about the candles and pictures on the sidewalk. She forgot about the key she had taken from the strange people. And once again, she sunk into a strange, dreamless sleep.

Again and again she did these days until she got the strange newspaper and read the headline that yet again mentioned a strange story.

"Yesterday evening a man was killed on his pursuit to find a missing woman he had tracked all the way to the middle of nowhere. His friends and roommates say that after running into the girl in a New York store he fell back in love with his old flame. When he went to her house to find her he saw that all her stuff had been moved except for the receipt of a flight ticket. After following her all the way here, it would appear that his long lost love will again, be long lost, this time for both of them."

And again, she cried for the poor man. The next day they ran the time and date of the memorial service. For some reason, she went. When she arrived, to her surprise and displeasure, but also regret, she saw the picture of the man. The addict. The man that she had once loved, and still did although she never thought about it, was dead. But he had found her. He had come all this way to look for her so it must have meant that he did love her, and that he did in fact still care. And she sobbed again. There were a few people who looked uncomfortable at the funeral. She sat in the widow's seat. Nobody came up and offered her condolences. The priest looked familiar until she realized that it was the doctor, and the man that she had met on the street. She figured that somebody had to pick up the slack in a town of so few. She was startled when she heard a familiar laugh next to her. It was the man who died, the man she loved, the man who felt like home. She thought to herself, this isn't possible, and he answered her, yes it is.

She reached in her pocket and took out the pills, ate four, and went on pretending to sob because the medicine wouldn't let her do it for real. He followed her home. She took more pills. That night, she crawled in bed with the knife, and the drapes were still hanging downstairs. She thought maybe, maybe the drugs were working. Maybe.

And she thought this until the next morning when she woke up and rolled over and saw the man laying next to her even though the door was locked and there was a knife under her pillow. Gently she rolled out of bed and snuck downstairs, and the curtains were still hanging, the man was still dead, and buried, and gone. Not upstairs. She took more pills and went back up stairs. He was gone, and she thought to herself the pills must be working. She thought this not nearly as long as the last time when she smelled the scent of bacon drifting up the stairs. She walked down into the kitchen through the living room where the curtains were still hanging but the people weren't staring. She held the kitchen knife up in the air when she saw him, cooking. He was always cooking. She didn't understand how he could have made it down the stairs without her seeing. She didn't understand how the pills could have let him back into the kitchen. This was their fault. So, instead of blaming the pills like she should have she instead raised the knife and stabbed the man. She shoved it in her purse and walked out the door and to her shrink's office. When she told him what she'd done he asked to see the knife, too calm to not be on drugs too. She held the knife out and a look of shock spread across her face when she saw that it was just as clean and shiny as before she took her pills walked down the stairs to the living room where the curtains were hanging and no people were staring, and right up until before she stabbed the dead man she once loved.

The doctor just laughed and prescribed a higher dose of pills. When she got back to the house, the sidewalk was clean, no one glanced sideways at the house, and there was no man cooking bacon in her kitchen, nor was there a pool of blood. She sighed, contented and then began to read the newspaper again. In this strange newspaper from this strange place nothing else strange had happened. No one had died, no one had moved in or out. The middle school was putting on a play. In the listings section, there was a house for sale. Week after week, the house was for sale. Again she called her movers and asked where her belongings were, and not these strange boxes. Again, no one answered.

She went to the middle school, and saw the play. She saw the suicide hotline posters that she was supposed to be on. She saw the girl who took her place. Three weeks later she saw in the strange newspaper that the girl had committed suicide. Her cell phone rang. It was her agent; the agent that she had fired before she left town, and for that reason she never answered. It rang and rang and then the voicemail rang. He wished that she could come back. He wished that she could do the ad. He wished that she would have loved him because he loved her 'oh so much.' He said that he wanted to marry her.

He hung up.

She took a pill and sat down with a cup of the fancy coffee from the three amigo's apartment. "And then there was two," she thought. The next day she punched in the code for her saved message box. She listened to the message again. It was still there. It was real. She walked into the living room, and she opened the strange boxes, and she dug through them, looking at the most private things she could find. She looked at the curtains that were still hanging and that weren't so strange anymore. Then she heard the annoying voice in the doorway of the man who just wouldn't go away and was supposed to be dead. She stopped jumping the fourth time she heard it. Her heart stopped racing the sixth time. She stopped listening by the eighth time. This time, he said something that interested her. This time he told her what she had wanted to hear ever since he'd left her.

"I'm sorry," he said. He touched her skin, his fingers sliding through the trail of her tears. The soft violin music she had been listening to got louder and louder. She stood and looked at him.

"What happened?" She asked. He told her. He told her how he loved her and how she was so young and how he was forced to leave and that he had always loved her. He told her that the most valued winter he ever had, the most meaningful moments of his life were when it snowed and they were barricaded in the house together because it was too risky to go anywhere.

He tells her he loves her, and she cries. She cries and she tells him that she loves him too, and she doesn't take the pills. He doesn't go away. She won't let him leave her again. She needs him like she's never needed anybody. At night, when she climbs in bed instead of taking the knife and hiding it under the pillow again she lets him wrap his arms around her in the kind of embrace they never got the chance to share when they were really alive together; not just existing. In the morning she wakes up alone. She panics. She flushes the pills down the toilet thinking that maybe, just maybe, she took one while she was sleeping. Its then that she smells the bacon again. She walks down to the living room where the curtains are hanging. The strange people let themselves in and took the strange boxes. She walks into the now familiar kitchen and sees him, the man she loves making breakfast, the man who is supposed to be dead. She grabs the kitchen knife again but this time she slices melon, to go with their hearty breakfast, and for the first time since he left she actually eats a meal, and enjoys it. Now the strange house in the strange town feels like home. She goes to bed again, and the next morning she wakes up to find him still there. They go to the plays at the middle school together. People start staring at the house again.

One of the shutters has fallen off. The stairs out front are sagging. Vines are growing up the house. Weeds clutter the once meticulously groomed lawn. The ad in the paper still reads "house for sale." She fixes all of this. She sees her shrink and tells him what she did with the pills. He just chuckles again and says she's done well and 'they were just placebos anyway.' She leaves and goes back home. The house is in disrepair again. The man who is supposed to be dead is standing on her porch, she smiles, and the house is fixed again. Everything is perfect again. He is her pill.

A month later when her stomach starts to swell, she takes a pregnancy test. She thinks, maybe I should have asked for the pill. But no, now she has her family that she's always wanted with the man she always loved. So she goes to the shrink who is also the priest and she tells him, and she asks him to marry them. She picks out a white sundress and wears her hair up loosely and they get married, barefoot in the dirt and grass at the front of the dirt with the whole town as their witnesses. No one stops to congratulate them. The girl cries. The man holds her and people stop and tell them how happy they are for them, and she is happy. The shrink acts as her obstetrician, and they deliver the baby.

Four, five, six years down the road, the child plays in the dirt, the house is in disrepair still, even worse, the curtains are hanging in the living room and the woman is wearing the white sundress again. She smiles at the child playing in the dirt while standing on the porch with her hands on her hips. The baby giggles and the father, the man she loves, and who is supposed to be dead, runs out and plays with the girl. His little daughter.

She thinks to herself from her perch on the porch, he can't be dead. This child is the proof, how can someone dead make such a precious life? And this child is her pill, her breakfast, her lunch, her happy. This child is everything good in the world and the man holding her in his arms is the world.

The next thing she sees is the child running, running, running…running into the street, running in front of a moving car. Then her husband, runs after her. She screams. She doesn't have time to save either of them.

And then her husband who was supposed to be dead is dead. And the precious little life they created together is dead. She goes back to her shrink, the priest, the walking man. She asks him for the pills again. She goes back home and plans the funerals for her pretty little girl and her husband who should have died years ago. After the funeral she goes home. She looks at the curtains that seem strange. She looks at the bed and hides the knife under her pillow. She wakes up and goes in the kitchen which feels wrong without the smell of bacon. She picks up the pill bottle and lays down on the bed that she and her husband shared all those years. She smells his cologne still lingering there, she breathes in deeply. She takes some pills. She misses him less. She takes some more and she forgets to remember. She finishes the bottle. Her last thought is of her daughter and her husband, the placid look on their faces.

She's back in the supermarket, and the men are trying to get her attention. They're saying hello and offering her coffee. She's back in her Armani shoes. She's headed to a photo shoot for a poster about anti-suicide hotlines. She agrees to meet them for coffee. She looks at her planner and writes it in, Coffee, right there above suicide. There's a traffic jam. She calls and says she can't make it until after the shoot. Two weeks later her face is plastered all over on the suicide hotline poster's she posed for. She hears about a woman who crashed applying make-up to head to a photo shoot in the same building. Reports start to say it was a suicide. She passes a man in the street on the way from her parking spot he looks at her and smiles. He waves. She walks in and talks. She goes in the kitchen when the addict, ex-addict, asks if she wants more coffee.

She tells him, "You know, I've missed you. I never stopped wondering. Every time I would see a reminder of you."

And he tells her, "I've missed you too." And they kiss. Five years later they get married, her in a white sundress with a slight baby bump and barefoot, and him, smiling swinging their first child through the air.

Her family they tell her she should have stayed with her handsome, rich, business man boy friend who was never around. "Your loss," they tell her.

But really, she won. She won and nobody knows, and that makes it like she never won at all, but she doesn't care because she has a husband and a daughter and a baby on the way. He smiles and he laughs and he runs his fingers through her caramel highlighted auburn hair and he kisses her. He whispers in her hair, "I love you."

And he is her pill. She calls her psychiatrist and says that she's never coming back. She flushes her pills down the toilet. She fires her agent and assistant and tells the man with the greasy smile that 'there was just something off about him' when he offers her another deal. She sells her apartment and moves to a little town in the middle of nowhere with her husband and her daughter. She buys new curtains with the money from the posters. Everyday she wakes up to the smell of bacon in the kitchen and her daughter playing in the dirt, and she laughs a genuine laugh. Her smile twinkles in her eyes and she realizes that the life she was living was no life at all.