A Fucking Steal

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April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review

by Chelsea Stickle

 

On nights when the haunting is extreme, Ramona slips into my bed like she was always going to end up here, and I only had to open my eyes. She mutters about the crying baby as she curls onto my chest. That’s the ghost that might get her, I think. The one that might get her to join them.

They’re trapped in the apartment Ramona used to share with an Oberlin grad who thought it might be fun to live in a haunted apartment. The roommate bolted after the first full night of banging on the walls. That’s the bride who fell to her death from her bedroom window on her wedding day. She’s protesting her ending.

The landlord won’t use words like “ghost” or “haunted” or “specter,” but he did lower Ramona’s rent to two hundred dollars for the whole two-bedroom apartment. A fucking steal. That’s why she won’t leave.

I keyed her after a few dates—a total cliché—but Ramona refuses to move in. A toothbrush and a drawer of work-appropriate attire are all she’ll keep here. If only Ramona kept herself here, she wouldn’t come to bed smelling like herring from the dead Russians or humming that tinkly tune that suckles on the edges of my dreams. It didn’t use to be this way.

It used to be that Ramona would come to me, and I could kiss the hollows of her clavicles, and sketch out the swallows she wanted tattooed there. She’d be sleepy but not so sleepy that we couldn’t knock out a few orgasms before bed, and in the morning, she’d be brand new. Now her ruddy eyes are crusted over with sleep and her skin is separating into plates waiting for an earthquake. One tremor down her fault line and she’ll scatter like a fistful of dust.

In the morning I slide my chilled jade roller under Ramona’s eyes. Her doll body is limp over the side of the bed. Submitting to my efforts but not assisting. My voice shakes as I plead, “Just leave everything. Stay here. You can’t go back there. It’s not safe. I love you. I want you to be okay.”

Before Ramona would’ve argued about needing a separate space so we can lead our own lives. Now she silently allows me to sketch on eyebrows. Tilting up her chin, I brush some pink onto her cheeks and peck her lips red. Her dead eyes are unfocused. When they do meet mine, they feel so foreign that I’m not convinced I wouldn’t accidentally walk past her on the street.

Around 2 AM the deadbolt unlocks. It’s her. I’m relieved she didn’t tip into an alley on the way over. The spare key stays in the lock. Her footfalls are heavy and her knees rise to her hips as if she’s forgotten what it’s like to have a body. She’s in some thin strappy white nightdress, even though it’s in the fucking thirties outside. At the end of the bed she stops and turns to crawl toward me. Fists knuckling the path, hips swaying behind. Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” grunting from deep inside her. Her mouth is on mine before I can push her off. Icicle lips. My earlier care cleared away by the day. She’s hungry for me again—for the first time in a long time—so I pretend that she’s who I want her to be. She pretends, too, and pounds my chest so that it sounds hollow. More or less hollow than she is now, I can’t tell.

 

Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbooks Everything’s Changing (Thirty West Publishing, 2023) and Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POP, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com and on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle

 

 

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