Fiction: A Double Date

Carrey is alone in her bedroom. “I want something I’ve felt before but can’t feel now” she wrote this on a post-it note and stuck it to her computer monitor. It’s warm for February. So warm she had to open a window and take off her sweater. So warm that moths or beetles or whatever they are have flown in from outside. Her cat is staring at them flying around the bedroom light with a hungry look in his eyes. His head twitches as they move, his pupils get bigger and bigger.

Earlier that day Carrey was in her therapist’s office. The receptionist spoke too quietly. Carrey had to ask her to repeat every thing she said and it made her feel a little crazy. “I feel like I’m always off somewhere,” she says in her appointment. “What kind of person am I that basic interaction is so awkward for me,” she asks. “Am I just not paying enough attention?” When she talks for too long, she’s gets scared of the way her therapist clicks her pen. She’s got something bad on her mind, Carrey thinks. “Tell me what you’re struggling with,” the woman says. Carrey doesn’t know what to say.

Carrey looks at the sticky note again. She wrote it last night right after she turned off one of her favorite albums. She tried to remember what she was thinking. It felt like it came from somewhere in her mind she couldn’t reach right now.

Carrey was up late picking an outfit for her double date tomorrow. That was something she talked about with her therapist: she took forever to pick an outfit. She needed the significance of her appearance to be obvious. It needed to do most of the work expressing how she felt about what she was doing.

The date was with her boyfriend and his friend who happened to be dating a girl Carrey went to high school with. She just found out who the girl was today. She didn’t really remember her. She remembered the name, someone who had been in a few classes with Carrey, maybe they hung out in the same group a few times, went to a party together. She couldn’t pick her out of a crowd, but she probably signed her yearbook with something like “have a great time at college!”

Carrey wondered what her boyfriend was going to think of the girl. She was pretty, right? And she was probably normal too. She could probably remember someone’s name five minutes after being introduced to them. She probably didn’t write things down on post-it notes that she didn’t understand. She probably didn’t cry at commercials on Food Network.

The next night, Carrey and Ethan arrived early at the King street bar. Ethan decided to wear a down vest over his long sleeve shirt, as well as a teal baseball cap. Carrey wore a black skirt and a gray sweater. “We’re really early,” Ethan pointed out when they found a parking space. Carrey shrugged, “it’s hard to find a table once karaoke starts.” The other couple wasn’t there yet. Ethan and Carrey found table near the stage and ordered drinks.

` They finished their drinks, and a couple more rounds before the other couple showed up. A few people had sung already, but the night hadn’t really started. Carrey examined the other couple. The guy hugged Ethan and introduced the girl. Carrey smiled at them both. She was prettier than Carrey remembered. Maybe she didn’t wear makeup in high school or something. She was wearing a dress too. Carrey never wore dresses. She suddenly felt self conscious. She looked a lot like another boy. She imagined a stranger looking over at their table and seeing three dudes with one pretty girl. Ethan’s friend was giving her a weird look. She didn’t know him too well. Ethan was always over at his place playing video games, but she hadn’t met him that many times.

They ordered some more drinks. Some drunk girl went up on stage and sang “Love is a Battlefield.” She was doing well until the second verse when she forgot the words and started to look like she was going to cry.

The other couple went up next. The girl sort of dragged the guy up. They sang a duet that Carrey didn’t know. The guy got really into it, doing these cheesy hand gestures and putting on a Frank Sinatra voice. During the girl’s parts he made serious faces and added in harmonies. When they came back to the table, he had a huge smile on his face. “You should go guys,” he told Carrey and Ethan, “sing something dancey.”

Ethan shook his head. His friend shoved him a little bit “come on. It’s funny!” Ethan didn’t say anything, but he shook his head again and got busy checking his phone.

“I want to get another drink,” he mumbled, “want one Carrey?” He got up.

“Yeah,” she said. “Whatever looks good.” The other couple were laughing about something across the table. The date looks like it’s going well, Carrey thought.

The girl turned and looked at her, “you should sing something Carrey. You were in choir in school right?”

“For a couple weeks,” Carrey replied. She felt her face turn red.

She went up to the stage anyway. The guy running the show was telling some jokes about his life in the 1970’s, but he stopped when he saw Carrey walking over. “Looks like we’ve got another superstar, what track do you want dear?”

She hadn’t thought about this yet. She said the first one that came to her, ”You’re so Vain, please.” She couldn’t remember who sang it but he didn’t ask, thank God. The man got behind his computer and found the track. It started and Carrey waited for the lyrics to appear on the screen. Back at her table, she could see Ethan had come back with a fresh drink for her. He was saying something to his friend and laughing. The first line of the song came up and she started to sing. Ethan looked up and made eye contact with her for a second. She thought he looked confused.

Carrey listened to herself signing. Being up here on stage wasn’t like singing in the shower at home. It really wasn’t like singing at all. She felt like she was standing next to herself watching herself perform. The voice she heard was strange and alien. It was too deep for starters, and more than a little off key. Her throat was seizing up; she felt like she had to swallow but there was no time between lines to do it.

The audience clapped, she went back to the table and Ethan’s friend high-fiver her. Ethan smiled and told her she was great, and the girl agreed. She felt like she was going to throw up. She picked up the drink Ethan got her and took a big sip. Alright, she thought, I’m here. I’m back. 

 

 

Ethan drove her home of course. His car smelled like cigarettes and there were often bags of books or papers or trash stuffed in the back seat, but the passenger side seat was always clean enough for her to get comfortable. At first he forgot to turn his headlights on and Carrey was surprised at how fast everything was coming up to the car. When he realized, he swore and turned them on. Carrey could suddenly see a hundred yards down the road. The world seemed to slow down.

“What was up with you tonight?” Ethan asked.

“What do you mean?” Carrey replied. “I had fun.”

“Are you mad I didn’t sing with you? I didn’t feel like getting up on stage tonight. You sounded really good though. But you didn’t have to sing if you didn’t want to.”

“I liked it. It’s different seeing everyone from up there. But I just, I guess it was weird being on someone else’s first date. Do you ever feel weird around new couples?”

Ethan thought about it for a second. “Yeah, I guess so.”

 

 

Ethan dropped her off right at her building’s front door. She stumbled to the stairs and ran up them quicker than she needed to. She liked the feeling of her legs moving in a blur. The door was unlocked for some reason. She usually locks it. Oh well, she thought, everything looks like it’s in its place inside. The dishes are still there in the sink. Carrey laughed out loud; why wouldn’t they be in the sink? It’s not like a serial killer would do her dishes.

When they started dating, Ethan used to stay parked outside until he saw the light of her apartment come on. Tonight, he drove off as soon as he let her out on the curb. When Carrey was a kid, she saw a TV report about a girl who went missing right outside her house after being dropped off by the school bus. The girl was Carrey’s age then: maybe seven or eight. Her bicycle was found behind some bushes a few days later which was strange because she didn’t have time to ride it anywhere before she went missing. A police man on TV said he thought someone moved it to make it look like she went out on her own after she got home.

Carrey wasn’t supposed to be watching TV after dinner. Her mom had found her crying with the report on. She remembered asking what the girl did wrong, and whether she would disappear too if she was a bad girl. “Of course not honey.” her mom told her, “the angels are here to keep you safe.”

“Even when I’m alone?””

“You are never alone, Care. Even when you are walking by yourself, there’s an angel there looking out for you. They won’t let you get hurt.”

But sometimes she felt so alone. When her mom died, Carrey felt really alone for the first time. The loneliness went deeper than feeling like nobody liked her or understood her. It felt like there was nobody else on the planet. She felt alone as a human being. She never really got over it.

She put he kettle on. It took forever to heat up on this stove. Everything in her apartment was a little bit broken. The fridge hummed so loud on hot days that she couldn’t fall asleep, the windows whistled with cold air in winter forcing her to sleep in her clothes. Only half the burner worked. The water boiled eventually. Carrey stood next to the stove the entire time. She was paranoid that she would forget the kettle was on one day and wake up to the smell of smoke and find herself trapped. She imagined the firemen finding the melted metal of the kettle dripping down to the floor and tracing the fire from there to the curtains or the trashcan.

Was this the life her dad imagined her having when he worked weekends and nights to pay for her to take piano lessons? Carrey couldn’t even play Chopsticks. If tonight was any indication, she couldn’t even sing. The tea was ready. She poured herself a big mug and took it with her into the bedroom. She pulled off her bra and changed into shorts. The bed was the same as it had been in the morning: a mess of layers in all different states. She was a restless sleeper and would frequently push all but one sheet off the bed along with all the pillows. The blanket would become her pillow.

The silence in the house felt like a colony of tiny insects crawling over Carrey’s skin. The idea of music or a podcast was revolting. The idea of someone else’s voice in her head. I wonder what Connor and Jamie are doing right now, Carrey thought. She imagined where they lived. She imagined them taking an elevator up to their apartment and holding hands as they looked out over the city. She looked out her own window at the brick wall of a Chinese laundromat. She could see steam coming out of a vent which meant someone was in there working late.

“I want something I’ve felt before but can’t feel now.” The note on her computer was still there. Carrey tried to remember when she wrote it. She must have been drunk. She was drunk a lot these days. It wasn’t doing a lot for her though. She would write a lot when she was drunk, but most of it was crap. When she read over it, it seemed like someone else must have written it. Like that note. What did she mean? What state was she in when she wrote it? She couldn’t remember. What was the feeling?

Flicker, her black cat, came out from somewhere. He liked to stay under the bed for most of the day. When Carrey first brought him home, she opened his carrier and off he went. She couldn’t find him for a bit before she noticed the open window. Carrey panicked. She lived on the fourth floor. Even a cat would be seriously injured jumping out of there. But as she searched the apartment over and over she became more and more convinced that that is exactly what happened. The shelter was going to check in next week and she was going to have to tell them Flicker had run away, or worse. She slammed the window shut and reopened it, wondering if the cat was out on the fire escape. She didn’t want to lock him out. She thought again and shut it. Maybe he was inside after all. She was paralyzed with anxiety. She collapsed on the bed and cried. Everything came up at once. Her parents, her ex boyfriend, Flicker. She was face down in a pillow that was getting wetter and wetter. Then she felt the small furry weight on her back and knew that Flicker, at least, was okay. She lay there dry sobbing for another hour before she could find him a bowl of food and a dish of water.

She learned that he loved to hide. His favorite place was under the bed, but he would hide in the closet as well as the pantry and underneath the couch. Sometimes he would hide under the covers of the bed only to leap out and into a different room when she sat down to read.

Carrey invited him up to the bed and he accepted. He fit right in between her arm and her body. He curled up and began to purr, asking to be petted.

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