He stands in the open doorway of the fridge in his underwear. The chill light spills out behind him in the dark. Fog curls from the walls of the fridge in response to the sticky summer air. He fishes a pickled peach from the jar in the fridge. A bit of juice escapes and runs down in his beard. He closes the fridge door and pads through the dining room into the sunroom. He sits on the old woven couch and watches the long street. Headlights play across the windows as gravel in the driveway crunches under wheels. The headlights cast shadows, foreign and long, against the far wall. He listens to the car door open and close. He fishes another peach from the jar. The dogs run out of the bedroom and stand at the door, heads cocked at odd angles. The clicking of the deadbolt echoes through the house. He watches Eric walk by and into the bedroom.
“I’m here,” he calls.
Eric walks into the sunroom.
“Want a peach?” He asks, holding out the jar. The brine in the jar sloshes. The peaches swim in circles. “You look handsome in the dark, suits your complexion,” he says, taking a bite of peach.
“What?” Eric laughs, sinking onto the couch next to him. He wraps an olive arm around his chest and pushes his face into his neck, in the curve above the shoulder. “What are you doing out here?” he asks, his words muffled.
“I was just thinking about Canada,” he says, taking another bite of peach.
“You just dribbled peach juice on my face.”
“The porcupines like the taste of the glue used in the plywood, so they come out at night and I remember the sound of them chewing on the eaves of the cabin. Your tires in the driveway sounded like that grinding.” He takes another bite of peach.
He smells lilac bushes in a dream and wakes with a start. The wine bottles rattle as he tosses them in the recycling bin. He checks the mail and finds six notices from the bank. He cuts himself while doing the dishes, the good knife, the Christmas gift from his roommate’s sister, finding the soft meat of his palm. His shoes creak. He seals the envelope. The cards clatter as he shuffles them. He takes the film off the frozen lasagna, the heat rolling out from the oven and coaxing a ring of sweat from the base of his hairline. He brushes his hand across his thigh, dusting his jeans with the orange powder of the Cheetohs. His phone lights up as he types on the keypad. He organizes the book case in alphabetical order first from a to z and then the reverse. The doorknob to his apartment comes off in his hand as he turns it. He passes the stack of past-due library books as he leaves, the pile tilting against the wall, a mountain of dimes, growing slowly. The marshmallow burns the roof of his mouth as he pulls it off the stick. The tea kettle hums a low chord. He pops the top of the bottle. The sounds waves reach him, soft and golden. He places more spinach than he thinks necessary for the dish in the pan, knowing it will wilt down further than he expects. He bends down to tie his shoe and remembers his childhood friend, the one that got the tennis shoes he wanted, the ones that pumped up, and how he had burned to own them.
He hadn’t planned for tonight to turn out the way it did. He hadn’t expected the drinks being as strong as they were. He didn’t know he would turn the corner and see him. He didn’t anticipate getting loud and pushing through the crowd out into the chill of the evening. He left his helmet at the bar. He left his debit card too. The fluorescent lights of the gas station bathroom play across his face, drawing out gaunt shapes. He vomits in the sink. Sweat crawls down to his nose and hangs there. It’s a bad idea to ride your bike this drunk. A pain fires between his third and fourth ribs. He holds his hand to his side as he breathes. “Fuck, I’m out of shape,” he says, spitting into the sink.
The egg cracks unevenly as he taps it against the side of the bowl, several small pieces of shell crawling down the side to the batter. He scatters the crumbs in the bottom of his paper bag under the table, watching as a few finches work up the courage to dart under and claim them. He peeks out the bottom right-hand corner of the living room window, sneaking a look at the person ringing the door bell. The eyes of the fresh-caught squid seem to follow him as he passes the fish stall at the market. His oar cuts into the water, the canoe rocking gently with the shifting of his weight. He puts a pot of coffee on. He eyes his grandfather warily as he accepts the plate with a pimento cheese sandwich on it. The waitress stands over him, tapping her order pad with a pencil. He picks up his roommate’s pumice stone in the shower, and thinking of her, rubbing it against her foot - one hand bracing against the tub wall - sets it back and rinses his hands in the water. The car’s thermostat dial clicks as he turns it to defrost. In his dream, he finds a manatee while snorkeling, several ribbons of red curling out from her back where she met with a motorboat. He sets several pieces of bacon in the skillet, the fat spitting as it hits the pan.
“I rode all the way over here with a fucking cast-iron skillet – open the fucking door.”
The deadbolt clicks and the door swings open.
Eric is standing in the entryway. He crosses his arms and doesn’t move.
“I couldn’t call. I don’t have your number.” He stands on the stoop, bike resting against his hip. “Can I come in?”
Eric steps aside.
He wheels his bike in and leans it against the fireplace. “Can I get some water?” he asks.
“I’ll grab it,” Eric says and walks out of the room.
He sits on the couch. It is deep and his legs stick out. He hears the faucet shut off and scoots forward so he can bend his knees.
Eric returns and holds out the water. He remains standing.
“Do you wanna sit?”
He sits on the edge of the cushion at the far end.
“So you finally brought my skillet back.”
“Yeah, I cooked some with it, but didn’t wash it.”
“Only took you, what, two of my skillets ruined to learn that?” he asks, smiling.
“I’ll never forget it.”
“I bet you won’t.”
He pulls the skillet out of his bag and sets it on the ground. Eric’s dog ambles over and sniffs it. He reaches over and scratches between his shoulder blades. The dog starts licking the pan.
“I also brought your Roseanne box set,” he says, pulling it out of the bag, “it’s just too good.”
“I’ve been relying on reruns on cable,” Eric says scooting closer on the couch and snatching the box.
“Damn, can’t wait?”
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” he says. “What else you got in there?”
“I found your Jeep’s service manual in a drawer the other week,” he says, pulling it out and setting it on the arm of the couch.
Eric leans over and fishes through the books and notebooks in the bag. “You getting rid of this too?” he asks, pulling out a plastic zombie figurine.
“That just stays in my bag,” he says grabbing the zombie away. He drags it in a lurch across the couch cushion. “He’s been watching my back. Eating brains. Living the life.”
“The undead life.”
Silence grows between them, broken only by the noise of the dog still licking the pan on the floor.
“You know that’s gross, right?” He says, nudging the pan with his shoe.
“Doesn’t bother me.”
“Well, let me be the first to tell you.”
“I’d still go back in the house for you,” Eric says.
“What?” he asks, turning to face him.
Eric scratches his beard and looks at him from the corner of his eye. “You heard me.”
“You need to work on your nonchalant act.”
“Do you remember the time,” he begins, “we were playing zombies and I got so mad at Victoria?
“And so drunk,” Eric interrupts.
“Oh, come on, not that drunk.”
“You’re talking about the time she got the skateboard and made it to the helipad and you flipped the board over?”
“No, the other time.”
“When I used dynamite to clear the helipad?”
“You were drunk then too.”
“I’ve lost about half my zombies from you flipping boards over.”
“I’ll buy you a new pack. Don’t worry, It’s a small price to pay.
“Zombies and cast-iron skillets?” Eric asks, raising his eyebrows.
He holds the banana to the side of his head, mimicking a telephone. He picks at the scab above his left eyebrow. He grabs an old woman’s shoulder, bracing himself against the lurch of the bus. He picks at the apple seed stuck between his two front teeth. When it’s quiet, he can hear his sunburned shoulders crackle as he moves them. He watches the man’s jaw line move as he talks. He wakes with a start as the bookshelf next to his bed crashes into his dresser. He watches as his roommate embroiders a tiger. He pours the frosting over the petit fours. He quickly counts the bartender’s freckles as he orders. He picks up the tissue paper on Christmas morning, folding it and placing it in the gift wrap box in the closet. He buttons his cardigan. He moves his queen to take his opponent’s rook. He moves left on the bench as the girl across from him blows smoke in his face. He pulls a fudgesicle out of the freezer. He swears as the train terminal rejects his swipe card. He eats pancakes, dipping each bite in a pool of syrup on a separate plate. He twirls his fork, trying to break the string of cheese traveling back to the plate. He throws a book across the room at the roach. The chickens in the back yard, pecking beneath his bedroom window at pebbles and insects call to one another and wake him.
He rolls over on his back and pulls the Afghan throw over his head. The light from the lamp next to the bed winks through the spaces the crochet hook did not braid. Even though he has just washed it, it smells like the old house. There, underneath the April Spring Fresh is a smell less commercial: old, dog, a comforting must. He stretches his arm out from under it and pushes the fabric across his teeth. It squeaks – the fibers of the wool vibrating against the stridulations of his teeth. He pulls his arm back under and wiggles his fingers through the holes – rings on his fingers, no bells for the toes. He knows it’s a matter of time until the smell of this house will settle on the blanket: the onions his roommate always cooks with, the peach brine he spilled, and the cut of chill he swears is from whatever’s haunting the house.