Flash Fiction: Guest by Anastasia Lugo Mendez

I don’t know where he came from.

It’s Saturday and he sits at the kitchen table. His hand is on the table, fingers curled as though around a coffee mug. His gaze is set somewhere not on the table, perhaps through it. The light through his body falls strangely, it says something of gauze, dirty glass, fog on a river. He doesn’t stir when I set my coffee near his outstretched hand. Sitting across from him would be too direct, but sitting next to him feels personal. My breakfast follows the coffee, and I eat forkfuls of egg, bacon and toast as he sits there. I wash it down with the black coffee, spend half the meal poring over my phone, the other half paging through a book. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t speak.

After breakfast, I spend the morning tidying up. Cleaning the bathroom counter, wiping flecks of spit off the mirror. My toiletries go back in the medicine cabinet, in the vanity drawers. Lip balm and eyeliner roll around in the drawers, small bottles of oils and lotions stand like mismatched soldiers, like a crowd standing rapt at the edge of a disaster. He doesn’t appear in the medicine cabinet mirror when I close it, although I expect it. I keep an eye out for him in reflections, in the folds of the bedspread, in negative space.

Before I leave the house, I look for these things: a jacket over the arm of the sofa, a set of keys on the hook in the kitchen, a pair of shoes laid parallel in the hall closet. I listen for footsteps, the scratch of pen on paper, the closing of a door. I walk from room to room. I am alone.

I spend the rest of the day running errands, meet a friend at a movie theater that evening. We watch something we won’t remember tomorrow, we eat overpriced popcorn and drink pints that go warm before we can finish them. The night is summer warm, sunset-tinted into late hours. At my car I feel the moment build, that line between friendship and not. It would be this way with anyone, on a night where concrete sidewalks lose their grime and become places to sit. We sit at the curb and share a clove cigarette, a youthful indulgence that takes me back to college. We are young and beautiful and we say goodnight.

He is in my bed when I return. Not in a crater, in some sunken way that implies he’s been there and gone. He is under the covers, turned on his side. The blankets rise and fall over his body, a mountain range silhouette. I drop my purse at the bedroom door, kick off my shoes. My feet are dirty but I get into bed anyway. I leave space between us, enough that I cannot answer if he is warm, if he is solid, if he has a scent. I imagine it. Yes, he is warm, yes, he is solid, yes, he smells clean, human, like someone I have known and loved. He does not move, and I wonder if I am solid, warm? Does he smell the clove cigarettes, the spray of perfume?

Sleep comes. In the morning, he stands by the window. Light filters through him. I run my hand over the other side of the bed. I want the bed to feel warm, to hold his shape. It does not feel like he has been there at all, but I cannot say how long he has been at the window, watching the world rise. The sun and the birds, the birdsong and the fluttering leaves, the fluttering light.

I want to stand by the window. I want to slip my hand into his, watch the birds at the feeder, the bluejays and black-capped chickadees. I want to tell him hello. I want to wish him good morning. I want to say, it is so good to see you. How long it has been. I hope you can stay. 

Anastasia Lugo Mendez’s short stories have been featured in Utah State University’s journals Scribendi and Sink Hollow as winners of the graduate fiction contest in 2015 and 2017; recent work can be found in Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon.  

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