The Earth Star

​Friday, June 27th

This is the first entry in my new journal—a gift from my dear friend, Megan H. Carter, who purchased said item along with a lovely house plant and a pair of housewarming cigars! We finished moving in last weekend (our first apartment!), and are both looking forward to a wonderful summer together!

Saturday, June 28th

We drank cosmos and smoked our cigars last night. It was so delicious! Unfortunately, we set off the fire alarm in the living room (I’m not sure if the other fire alarms even work, as ragged as they look), and I stood on top of a chair and removed it. I was stretched as far as my arm could reach, and I couldn’t figure out how to properly take it off the ceiling. Okay, I admit that I panicked. It was after midnight, and I didn’t want to wake the neighbors (we just moved in, who needs a complaint already!?), so I ended up yanking it out of the ceiling. We discovered that I just needed to twist it and pull, and the head would have separated from the base, and I could have unplugged it from there. Now we have wires hanging out of the ceiling as well as holes in the drywall from where I ripped the screws out. Meg and I decided we would have someone come fix it or try to fix it ourselves—can’t lose our deposit the first month here in our first apartment as adults! I have a few tools that my dad gave me. Maybe there’s something in there I can use.

Sunday, June 29th

Meg wants to try all the neighborhood happy hour specials this week, and I am excited to feel like a real townie and not just some college student. So far we know of: Monday night dollar hamburgers at The Shack, 50 cent wings on Tuesdays at Manny’s, and $2 Po’ Boys at The Tropical Isle on Thursdays. It’s a good thing my dad spiked my bank account, haha. A couple of our friends came over for pizza and we smoked blunts and watched people walking up the front steps. Can I just say apartment life is way better than the dorms?! 

Monday, June 30th

YES to hamburgers at The Shack, YES to cute boys buying us shots, YES to apartment living!

Tuesday, July 1st

Manny’s wings are the absolute best! And Meg and I met some people from our building there, and they told us about a bar down the street for Wednesdays, so we pretty much have a full week rotation. I think I might apply for a job at a coffee shop or something so I don’t have to miss out on happy hours. My new houseplant is already sprouting baby leaves so I definitely feel like I am cut out for adulthood. Meg was at work all afternoon and I must admit I felt a teensy bit sad when she came back and I didn’t have the whole place to myself. It’s just so nice to be queen of my own domain! But Manny’s was fun. They have the cleanest bathrooms of any bar I have ever been to.

Wednesday, July 2

Meg’s friend Abby brought her stupid purse dog over this afternoon and it knocked over my plant. She offered to clean it up but I was so mad that I did it myself. I’m not sure if the plant is ruined, but after Abby left, Meg promised me she would buy me a new one this weekend. I guess she felt bad, but it wasn’t really her fault. 

I don’t really want a new plant. I’m already attached to this one.

Saturday, July 5

Best weekend ever so far. The girls that live on the other end of the building showed us how to climb up to the roof and we watched fireworks up there and drank vodka tonics and smoked blunts and nobody could even see us from the street. I gave one of their friends my number, a guy named Jeff. He works at The Tropical Isle and promised me a free shrimp Po’ Boy this week. He isn’t a student so that means I won’t have to run into him on campus and I like that. 

Then this morning, Meg and I went to the farmer’s market to see about my plant. I think it actually looked pretty good but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to die after the stupid purse-dog attack. The woman at the vegetable stand, who has to be at least 4000 years old, said I shouldn’t move it around so much, just put it in a spot on the table and follow the directions. She smiled at me, “You have a strong bond?” I said I guess so. She said, “A plant roots in dirt, but in you also. Take good care.” I just nodded but Meg thought it was weird and creepy. Whatever, she gave me a handful of soil from a plastic garbage bag to replenish what fell onto the carpet and poured water in from her watering can behind the counter, so I’m pretty pleased and I think she was nice, so I bought a half dozen tomatoes and told her to keep the change.

July 15th

I haven’t been writing as much as I wanted to. I’m not feeling well lately, and I find myself getting distracted. Meg and I had our first fight. I know that it was my fault, and I apologized. 

It started early yesterday when she asked if I was going to go out with her to see a boy she met. It was Tuesday wing night at Manny’s, and he was supposed to be bringing his friend to meet me. For some reason, I thought that neither one of us should be going out on a Tuesday, and that we might want to tidy up the apartment since it had gotten messy. She said that I was being weird and being a bad friend by not going with her, and that I’ve never had a problem going out on a weekday before. I ended up going with her and barely said a word. I don’t even think I heard either guy say their name. She was mad at me again and told me so after we got home. 

I told her that I’ve been having weird dreams and waking up a lot in the night. I haven’t been sleeping much at all lately, and I feel like, if I can just get motivated to get some work done around the house and get ready for the fall semester (study ahead maybe?), it’ll make me feel better. I have a sense of dread for no good reason, and I feel like the only solution is to be neat and self-disciplined. I apologized again this morning and we hugged. She’s a good friend to me.

July 19th

I’ve been crying all night. I can’t even explain why. Meg and I haven’t talked in two days since I yelled at her for leaving her clothes on the floor in the bathroom. Actually, I was angry that, after showering, she had left the curtain open (which I thought looked sloppy), and one of the shampoo bottles was empty and just left on the floor of the tub to float in the slowly draining, dirty water. 

I screamed at her. In the middle of the fight she told me that I “was a totally different person now that we’re living together in an apartment instead of next to each other in the dorms.” I understand what she’s saying. I never kept my dorm room all that clean. I rarely even made my bed. I still have trouble sleeping, and feel panic and dread at different points during the day. The only thing that makes me feel any better is watering my plant and cleaning the apartment. I need to get control of my emotions. Meg went out again with the girls from the building. She didn’t invite me along and I feel awful. I feel awful about everything all of the time.

August ?

I don’t know the date. I got my student loan check, so I can pay rent, but for how long? Megan moved out yesterday saying that I was “too hard to live with.” I don’t disagree with her. I don’t know what’s happened to me over the past few months, but I’ve been struggling to keep my emotions in check. Megan and I fought again a few times since the last entry. I always feel like it’s her fault when we fight, and only later do I regret everything I’ve said and done, recognizing that I overreacted or picked the fight in the first place. 

We hadn’t spoken in almost a week when I came back from a walk and she had cooked some eggs and bacon. The smell in the apartment was heavy and dirty. I thought that it was going to seep into everything and make the whole apartment stink like bacon (thinking of it now, I realize that I thought it was somehow making a mess of the air. Ugh, that’s weird.) She said I wasn’t the same person anymore and that she was worried about me. I told her she was a slob and a pig, and maybe we shouldn’t live together. It was a stupid thing to say. The whole fight was stupid (and crazy?), and she asked her new boyfriend, the guy we met at Manny’s, to help her move out. They removed her belongings in a matter of hours—the time it took me to visit the farmer’s market to buy supplies.

I feel half lonely and half relieved. I know why I feel lonely.

Thursday

The landlord left a note that there would be an exterminator coming through the building in a few days. It said that he would spray primarily in the hallways and the window and door thresholds from outside. I feel a great sense of happiness that the exterminator is doing his job. I spent a long time this afternoon fantasizing about what it would be like if I were an exterminator. 

I missed the whole first week of classes.
Sunday

I’m not a bad person. I tell myself that often these days. “I’m not a bad person.” It’s a pronouncement to the still air of the apartment as I look out on the honking, shuffling, engine-revving street outside and know, every day, that I’m not going to talk to anyone. Nobody is going to talk to me. I’m going to visit the farmer’s market today, and get my supplies for the week. The woman who sells me tomatoes will recognize me, know that I know what I want (it’s the same every week), knows that I will not offer a reply to any attempts to inspire me to reach further into my purse, and she will speak to “the customer,” as she announces the total and I hand over the money, pre-counted—to the cent—and partitioned off from that which I use at the baker’s stand. It’s efficient, and it’s gracious (on my part) though not altruistic. I don’t want to waste her time, but neither do I want her to waste mine. I don’t have anywhere to go, nor do I have anyone to see, but I have recently developed a deep respect for pattern, predictability, and a simplified geometry of human interaction. I prefer acute precision over obtuse small talk. 

I often think that I am a minority of the most unique kind—like a snowflake, a fingerprint, or a dental impression. The woman at the vegetable stand, hunched over and shuffling on slippered feet, handles the money with hands as frenetic as an insect cleaning its mandible and antennae. Her clear green eyes, hidden behind dollop-sized glass lenses and age-melted eyelids, hibernate until a customer enquires or approaches, like prey with fatty pockets. Then the grandmotherly visage she affects for the curious onlooker hardens into the face of a pawnbroker or a produce pimp. 

Not so with me. She approaches me more carefully than the tourist before me, dressed in his idiotic sandals and the white t-shirt haphazardly half-tucked into khaki shorts. She catches me staring at the Earth Stars set in columns and rows of three (nine in total) near the back edge of her tent and smiles. Soon her demeanor changes, and she hands me the tomatoes that she knows I came for. I feel her watch me leave. 

It gets lonely, but I find undirected conversation cumbersome. On days when my schedule is empty, I find that I lack the self-discipline to avoid frivolously imagining conversations with other people. I fantasize about the perfect conversation using precise language where neither I nor my counterpart stammer, pause, or lose our place. Everything is orderly and follows a path: thesis, antithesis, synthesis in perfect order, balance, and logic. But I have trouble with the scene as it plays out in my mind. I, or the person with whom I’m speaking, inevitably slip, and there is a pause. I get lost, and I have to start over. (Today I fantasized about a conversation with the woman at the vegetable stand about her house plants until my knowledge thereof ran out, and I had to start the scene anew, this time about vampires.) It can ruin an entire day, and I’ve learned that a brisk walk can help distract me from that internal pursuit of ecstasy.
Sunday

I used to have friends. When I moved to this building, I lived with one of them until she left. I grew past her, but what I mean to say is that I grew beyond her. Her diction was sloppy, and her living habits eventually repulsed me. She was a student at the university, like I was, but she’s gone now. She left me a note nearly a week ago, slipped it under the door. I thought to read it but opted to finish a thought (which I can no longer recall) and by the time I was done, I was in the other room and had forgotten about her missive. I left the note on the table next to my door, placed perfectly within the border of the corner, careful to ensure that the two edges of the letter were parallel with the edges of the table.

Monday

I spent time looking at the arrangement on the table (I find this more comforting as time passes). My Brazilian Earth Star (my steadfast roommate, a truer friend than Megan), moderately exposed to the sun as per the instructions I was initially given, thrives in this apartment which I’ve kept at an appropriately tropical temperature. It’s centered from front to back and exactly one-quarter from the left side of the table top. Toward the back is a black stemmed lamp that I keep fastidiously dusted, careful to place its rectangular base, like the letter, aligned with the edges of the table. And then there is the letter, unread and folded flat, sitting perfectly in front of the lamp. Next to the table are my walking shoes, which have been giving me problems of late. 

They always sit midway between the door jamb and the back leg of the table. The laces I tuck inside, under the tongue, to ensure that they don’t rest in disheveled patterns on the floor. But for the past two mornings, I have awoken to find that the shoes are sitting in a different way than I’d left them. On the first morning, the laces were flopped over the sides, exactly the way I’d prefer them not to be. I knew that I wouldn’t have been so careless as to leave them in such a state of disarray, and I began to wonder if someone had come into my apartment. 

Last night, I made sure to place them carefully side by side, toes aligned and the edge of the heels one quarter of an inch from the base trim. This morning I arose to find that although the laces were as neatly tucked away as I’d left them, the shoe closest to the door was in front of the other one by nearly half an inch! I am deeply troubled by this, and I spent the entire morning checking all means of ingress into the apartment for weak points and all dark corners for intruders already inside. There wasn’t anyone that I could find, but the sense that, as I slept, someone made their way into the apartment unsettled me.

The windows were shuttered and locked, but I took the opportunity to use my small assortment of tools to shore up their effectiveness. I drove three nails through the bottom frame and into the sill, one in the center and one at each corner, ensuring that no interloper might break in during the night. Likewise, I drove nails into the edge of the door at an angle so they’d catch the frame. I was fortunate that the neighbors didn’t come knocking just then or call the landlord, as I had already made preparations to ensure that nobody could come in without my noticing and would be unable to open the door to answer them.

Monday

I was sure that someone had moved my shoes in the night, but I thought that, like the conversations I frequently imagine, there was some flaw in my capacity to maintain order. Perhaps I had carelessly bumped them as I turned away, my clumsy fingers catching the collar. But last night I took even greater care with their alignment, as concerned with waking to a perfect door setting as proving the existence of an intruder. I set them down, right shoe first, next to the table, and then the left, aligning the toes with a yard stick as a straight edge. After carefully measuring the space between the trim and the heel (exactly ¼ of an inch), I took a photograph with my camera. I looked at the scene one last time, admiring the blooming Earth Star and its purple stripes running laterally along its leaves. I blinked hard, thinking to capture the image in my mind, and went to bed. 

Horror! I awoke this morning to find that not only were the shoes again misaligned, but the letter on the table was so far askew that one corner nearly touched the edge! I suspected that someone had come into my apartment and moved things around and the thought of their presence—sinister, sadistic—sickened me. I thought to alert the authorities but imagined how the conversation would go. I would tell them someone had moved my shoes in the night proving that there had been an intruder. They would look around as I had, find nothing, and after a conversation, determine that I was mentally unstable. I will not tolerate the embarrassment.

I am afraid that I am mentally unstable. I keep reminding myself that I’m not a bad person.

Thursday

The power went out last night, and I found myself sitting in front of the vanity mirror directly across from the entryway, burning a candle on the table top to my left. The flame illuminated the side of my face in uneven micro bursts of dim, yellow light, leaving the other half semi-concealed in an ominous shadow. I stared at my reflection for some time. My eyes look to have sunk into their sockets and the skin is pinching into seams at their edges. My face is skeletal under hair I now keep pulled back in a haphazard bun barely held in by a hair tie. It was as though I began to have a conversation, not with an imaginary other inside my mind, but with the haggard visage I scarcely recognized in the mirror. I moved little, but the candle flame danced as the wick occasionally struggled to provide waxen fuel to the droplet of fire. I was pretty at one time—not beautiful, but attractive enough—and I had friends. I had a “social network,” and I had people who knew me and cared about me. It was as though the effects of some drug were wearing off, and I now saw in that gaunt face, brown eyes that were recovering some vigor. I wished for more light. 

While releasing my hair from the bun, I looked into the mirror at the wall behind me and observed the faintly glimmering surface by the door as light and shadow cartoon-waltzed this way and that on the bare wall. Something in the movement lifted me from my reverie, and I began to take note of the patterns left by the shadows thrown by my torso and head. The flickering silhouette stretched and shrunk, and then steadily, just over my shoulder, the shape of another shoulder, then a head, rose from my own shadow. Unlike the rest of the dancing darkness, the outline of this second form was static even as my own silhouette ballooned and shrank in the ebbing candle light. After several seconds of “rising” from my own shadow, the “other” shadow turned toward the table on the other side of the door, elongating into a beak shape that slowly opened (still stationary relative to the other forms naturally cast by the candle), and revealed jagged murky shapes inside its maw. That mouth grew longer and wider until, finally, the entire wall was covered in darkness. I know what I saw, but to my disappointment, the candle had burned out at the same moment the shadow figure grew to cover the room. I quickly lit another candle, and then another after that, and two hours later I went to bed without seeing the form again.

Friday

The power has been restored, but I burned candles in the hope that I might see the shape in the dim light on the wall again. All of the sticks I had are gone, and the holder I used for them is a misshapen waxen statuette. I resorted to using tea light candles instead. The flame is significantly smaller, so the shadows on the wall behind me are less pronounced. Nevertheless, I sat there for some time, reenacting the conditions that preceded the last encounter. After about three hours (or about one of my cheap candle’s worth of time), I was looking again at myself in the mirror thinking to myself how silly I was being. I was growing hungry, and trying to remember the last time I’d eaten. I considered blowing out the flame and abandoning this peculiar hunt, when, sure enough, that dark form began to rise behind me. The light was dimmer this time, owing to the smaller candle, so the shadows were less distinguishable. But it was there, rising up from my own shadow. I thought that if I let the candle burn out that, like the night before, I would not see the form again in the light of a new tea light. 

So I turned with candle in hand toward the shadow itself and confronted it at the wall. The flickering continued, and the light of the flame extinguished the shadow as it illuminated the wall. I stood there cautiously watching for any sign that it might return, and amidst the shadows thrown off by the lamp shade, the form of a bony, taloned hand began to stretch, not at the correct angle away from the light, but toward it. Down the wall and across the table it reached, closing into a fist on my friend’s letter. The candle began to gasp at its nearly empty pool of wax. I needed more light, and I knew that if I let that one extinguish, I’d lose the shadow again. I decided, in the interest of continuing this strange correspondence, that I would set the remaining flame to the lampshade, just for a moment, to give greater definition to the shadows in the room. 

I held the flame to the edge of the shade while the shadow-hand opened and clutched at the letter. Time would extinguish my candle in mere seconds, but just as the flame on the candle was shrinking to nothing, it slithered amoebically from wick to fabric where it settled briefly, and then began to grow. As the light increased, the contours of the hand on the letter sharpened, and, to my astonishment, I thought I heard, in the crackling of the fire, a voice. It was sonorous, barely perceptible, but between the cracking of the lamp shade, I heard it there and felt it vibrate in my eardrums (and, it seemed, in my stomach). I couldn’t decipher what it said, and the shade burned so quickly that I had little time to listen. I meant to use the lamp shade to set fire to another object—in a controlled fashion of course—so as to keep this particular evolutionary strain of fire alive, but I was too slow, and it burned out.

It never occurred to me to use the letter that rested on the table as I was too busy paying attention to the shadow-hand. I knew it was no use trying to light another candle, so I turned the lamp on—a bare bulb behind a charred wire skeleton—and removed the letter from under wispy black sheets of the scorched lampshade. Considering the hand’s position in the glow of the candle, I decided that it was interested in the contents of the letter, and I opened it. It was short, so I’ll transcribe it here:

Kate, I’m still worried about you and wish you would call me back or see me. I visited the farmer’s market today and saw the old woman I bought your plant from. She was really scary and called you a whore!? Actually, what she said was, “Your friend the whore-la,” or something like that. I’ve never heard someone use that word with the “la” on the end, but I assumed it was some leftover slang from her upbringing a thousand years ago. She kept laughing and saying it as I left. (Come to think of it, maybe she said “Your friend and the whore-la.” Maybe she was calling me a whore?) I’m not ever going back there. Anyway, it made me defensive and made me miss you. I know we didn’t part on the best of terms, and I just want to talk. Call me, please.

Love, Meg

Her uneven scrawl grates on my eyes. I find her letter to be an obvious ruse to harass and distract me, and after I’ve completed my present endeavors to my satisfaction, I intend to pay her a visit. I will use the letter tomorrow evening to ensure the primary flame remains unbroken long enough for me to hear more clearly what the shadow was saying. I sense that it has much to tell me.

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