By Haley L. Daniels
There were so many streetlights standing tall in a row like an army, each sent a pool of light onto the pavement in perfect six-feet circles. She took slightly longer steps every so often to skip the shadows between them. It had just started snowing—she correctly estimated how cold it would be but failed to prepare, and now she clutched her coat tightly (the zipper had broken) and chanted the number of steps as her boots hit the ground, one hundred seven-tee nine, one hundred eight-tee. She reached the apartment building, perched on an incline on a very clean street, and was relieved not only to be somewhere warm but somewhere nice. She rang the bell and was buzzed in immediately.
She was scouting locations for a short film she knew would be bad. She had that feeling, not that her work was useless but a feeling about her own demeanor, too cheery, too content, and she knew she would not jeopardize her good mood in exchange for precision. She also felt tired, and did not have the stamina to argue with herself.
The film was about a man who finds a small alien boy living in his basement. He makes the boy dinner, they watch The Ballad of Lefty Brown, then the boy’s father beams him back up into space, and the man is left alone. She was looking for a sparse living room with a TV and a tenant who would agree to let them shoot there for free.
Inside, long, thick curtains covered a sliding patio door. They were the most dominant fixture, reddish brown with a pineapple-like pattern. The boy who lived here was an acquaintance of hers from freshman year, and they had a residual fondness of friendship uncapitalized upon. She didn’t know why he moved off-campus, she’d thought it was because he was from Milford and preferred more space, but now she saw how desperately he wanted to feel grown-up, that his apartment was more an exercise in the spirit of independence than the execution of it. That’s okay, she gave him, it was a fine spirit.
And it was terrible for the film: loud, speckled granite countertops, a floral couch cover, no TV. He greeted her warmly and looked around the place with pride, tapped his coffee machine and said, I built that. He explained how he can turn it on and off from his bedroom with an app on his phone. She nodded, and tried to compose her face in order to look sufficiently impressed, in order to make the favor of opening his door feel worthwhile. He gestured over the lengths of his dominion: How’s the place?
She didn’t want to say it, how his living room compared poorly to the one she’d imagined for the movie—though the declaration said nothing of the apartment itself, it felt unappreciative of his hospitality. She sat on the floral couch and played it off like she was stopping by mostly to chat, she said she probably wouldn’t make the movie anyway, and it occurred to her then they hadn’t spoken in almost two years. She saw now that he was uncomfortable sitting alone with her. He called for his roommate, a dark-haired girl who looked just like her, and it was apparent by how he said her name, Claire, that he was in love with her.
Claire sat opposite them impatiently on her laptop, working on some kind of algorithmic design. He told her about their business, he thought it was going to be very, very big, and she said, how’d you get into this, algorithm? Well, he said, he’d never done computer science before, he heard about it, from a friend. From a friend? And then you just went and did it, knowing nothing about it? He shrugged. Then she said, and said it in a way that was casual and sincere, like she was just passing by and observing the state of things from very far away, she said I used to feel like I could do anything in the world.
I do, I do feel that way, he said. She looked at him closely. She had introduced jargon and she knew it, the language of San Francisco and self-help and good parenting, so she regarded him with suspicion, as someone too brainwashed to understand himself.
But she looked and saw he was serious, and whatever the reason, his training, his intelligence, his parents, he could do anything in the world. Just like that. He was 21, in his own apartment, with a patio, with curtains that had pineapples on them, with a dark-haired girl who didn’t love him back, with a website about an algorithm his friend told him about. She was so sad, who was she to feel any differently than this, ever, any different.
When she walked home, she didn’t feel the cold, she didn’t count her steps. She burned, her cheeks burned, and she chanted steadily as her boots hit the ground, I don’t believe you, I don’t believe you, I don’t believe you.