She thought about calling her parents but remembered that it was too late there. Time zones seemed so unnatural to her and yet they made sense. She had always been an hour behind them anyway.
She often stared in wonder at her neighbor: always in pajama pants, walking a sad piece of cotton that was supposedly a dog, stomach distended while everything else on his body was depleted to the bone, flat affect and impotent eyes. But her neighbor would disappear behind a tree line and she would return to whatever she was doing. Then the leaves fell and she could see him all too well.
She received a Christmas card in the mail from a high school friend, but when she opened the envelope there was nothing inside. She must have forgotten to put the card in, she told herself, still swaddled in her winter coat though she had been inside the house for about an hour. Throwing away the empty envelope, she recalled how this friend used to come over and they would lay on the couch at opposite ends, TV screen flickering in their irises, feet touching. Feet exchanging temperature back and forth, hot and cold, cold and hot, but rarely comfortable or the same.
Her mother was the only person left on earth who still clipped articles from a real newspaper and reminded her to buy Forever stamps right before the price rose again.
After she had graduated from college, her father had asked her what was next. There was a substantial sum of family money for her to use for anything, but it seemed more like something looming in a closet than a gift. She replied that she wanted to open a boutique downtown and sell things as pretty as what hung in her own closet. But he told her, no, boutiques never made any profit. People are too comfortable in the enchanting atmosphere. They are satisfied to look and dreamily float back onto the street. If you want to do retail, he told her, you must open up a chain store in a mall. The thumping heart beat of music, piercing lights and enclosed walls make people Darwinian. They must gather up as many items as possible for survival. It truly feels like the end.
The boyfriend kept all the cards she gave him, though in a box in the basement. His collegiate intramural soccer trophies were on a shelf in his living room.
Little red pimples formed along her jawline from constantly leaning on her hands, as if she needed the extra support as she read the weighty matters on her screen all day. She felt too old for pimples.
Growing up, her father, mostly an investor and steward of the family money pile, chose to spend his time developing elaborate meals for the family. He would make these pasta dishes effortlessly. San Marzano tomatoes like delicious, fleshy hearts with cavatappi noodles. The noodles were so ornate and whimsical looking, and surprisingly hollow in the middle. They were his favorite noodle. Sometimes she would sneak into the pantry before dinner and suck on the raw noodles, then crunch down when it was softened a bit and safe for the teeth, hoping it would calm her appetite. Her father would spend hours preparing and she would swallow the plate in seven minutes or less.
At his desk, her father used to sign checks – Graham L. Gershon – in a flourish, pridefully displaying what seemed like unnecessary consonants. She used to sit beside him and scrawl her signature in crayon with the harried desperation for enthusiasm found at a New Year’s Eve party.
The dentist gave her a night guard to put on before falling asleep to keep her from gnawing away at herself.
Most days, she got up early before work to sit by the window and read. Occasionally, birds or squirrels would venture near her window. They would show off on a high branch or make these swift movements unnatural for a human to make, seemingly just for her, and she would assume she was Snow White.
Returning to her parent’s home, she always regarded the Mantle of Picture Frames. On the right side, her sister smiling on her wedding day alongside her groom. No one could remember the family before he was around and nobody wanted to. Then another frame with the same two people, this time three kids: one on each lap and one on the floor, tantrum filling up in his eyes. The left side of the mantle was her: the high school graduation picture. Beside it, a picture of her three nephews.
Her sister would call to remind her to send a birthday present to a certain cousin, or to call Grandma, who just had surgery. She never remembered these things on her own but was still able to feel connected to her grandmother with dementia. She often couldn’t remember who she was or where she was or what she was doing or to whom she belonged, either.
She could never meet her friend at the movies because the friend was incapable of showing up until halfway through or would wander into a different movie that looked more interesting. She learned to go to the movies by herself so that spending time with friends might involve actually seeing and speaking with them.
Strangers at parties often asked her about her rather traditional job, surprised, knowing about the inheritance. She chose to reply tritely, “It keeps me out of trouble,” then gulp her cocktail. She would not say the truth; that having free time would prove she wasn’t capable of getting into trouble, which is far more sinful. The overwhelming amount of sugar in the cocktail often made the alcohol affect her differently, skipping the dreamy stage altogether and making her disoriented and sloppy.