Richard Chiem

SHE GRAPPLES AT the sheets, for some reason or another distressed, having her bad dream, and a tension carries over. She can sense the vibrating alarm from her cell phone, the warm light through the blinds as stripes along her back, the murmur of cars and people and commotion outside. She feels as though she is being followed all day after leaving bed, moving her body from room to room, for buildings and buildings. There is a slight pause in her breathing and she touches her chest as though she has lived this day before, the same day for years now, with this dry taste on her tongue, these familiar smells. She waltzes from rooms with a concerned look on her face. Making breakfast and fixing her hair in the kitchen in her apartment, she says, I invented the term lifer. Ask me about boredom hunger or bloody mouths, and I become a genius.


These days, feeling wave on wave of terrible loss, sitting closer next to each other at McDonald's is the only way we communicate. Other than this, we do not talk nor reach out. We wait for vanilla ice cream cones and double cheeseburgers, lovelier when we're being quiet and despondent, almost floating. The light beams hum unnoticed, very bright lights permeate. Although I have no special powers, I feel as though I have been to where you have been, I feel as though I already know how this will end, how it keeps going and dying. There are cars and other girls in the parking lot. I remember my devious days, when I used to dissolve in peals of deep laughter, imagining you existing somewhere, planning to come here.


In the video, I was about ten years old, see my short blonde hair. See how you can't see my face. I lived in old run down apartment complexes; sometimes we moved only a few apartments away, when money grew tight. I moved from floor plan to floor plan, of the exact same design and model, always choosing to sleep under the window in every new place. My mother wanted me to live this way under her watch. She waited most days for the sun to set before telling me to take out the trash. Often I ran to the dumpsters down the block in my slippers, afraid of the dark and the things I believed in that surrounded me. For months, I ran back and forth from the dumpsters, everything was pitch black around me, the noises were spare and frightening. Sometimes, I imagined my heart in my mind when I was running toward my front door, my heart was a bloody mess, or I imagined the view behind me getting closer.
One night, I stood for a long time near the dumpsters, transfixed by the above rain clouds and sparrows on telephone lines. They stared back at me and perched there. For months, I raced and ran, taking the trash out strenuously, scared for my little life. One night, instead, I walked outside with the trash bag slowly, almost naked around the cul de sac, in short shorts and a tank top. I walked around and explored the entire apartment complex, and listened to sounds from other buildings and the way leaves broke apart and got stuck on the pavement, the way wind would continue to blow and howl in my hair. Every part of my body would turn cold.
In the video, I was approaching the pit bull tied down to my neighbor's mailbox. For the first few minutes, I was waving to the dog as though I could understand the what the dog was thinking, and I was walking closer on the sidewalk. The pit bull was already barking and tensing his hind legs. In the video, I was within an inch or so of the pit bull, with my hand trying to reach out. See how when you can see my face, she turns off the camcorder. It was my mother's camcorder. Shot a day after I was exploring around the apartment complex, after I was taking out the trash, my mother was filming me the whole time, the final tape containing footage of me walking towards a pit bull tied to my neighbor's mailbox, people I have never met before.
I kept the tapes since I found them, for years now, sometimes right next to my favorite movies, it's one of the weird things about me.

Chloe jaywalks across the street, avoiding eye contact with every driver on the road, and paces the edges of her apartment building to avoid the rain. The dark streets around the condos made Chloe think of murders, carrying a bottle of wine in her hands. She has turned off her cell phone and taken off her shoes and jacket, leaving them on the floor in the lobby that leads to hotel swimming pool, covered in shadows in the floodlights. There is a fountain so large near the pool, the sound of the water falling often drowns out conversations happening on this floor, unless you're right next to each other, talking in each other's ears. From his hotel room, Jesse can see everything, having an almost bird's eye view from his balcony. Chloe dives underwater, in her underwear, and treads the length of the black swimming pool with a single breath. Jesse tries imagine what she's thinking, the bite of the freezing cold water. On the wall, a security camera blinks and turns to a blind spot, almost following Chloe's motions. She floats in malaise on her back and drifts star shaped on the water, and finally makes eye contact. She says, I have a high tolerance for pain. She says, I think you and me are going to be okay, I will keep getting older with you wherever you want. Jesse watches Chloe as she uncorks the bottle of red wine, spilling into the pool, and she undresses while smiling, mumbling things he cannot hear.