My first impression of her was that of a lost child. Her pale face peered through the doorway on the stairs and looked at me with her clear, dark eyes. She seemed surprised and slightly frightened by my presence. As I was about to introduce myself, she retreated with her basket of laundry and allowed me to pass through the door. I was struggling up in a slow five-story climb with a large box filled with picture frames and photo albums--the result of a broken down elevator.
As I went through the door, her eyes locked with mine, as if in a silent agreement that the absence of propriety was a conscious and unanimous decision. I felt guilty for my obvious fascination, yet her need to satiate her own curiosity provided what little excuse I needed to satisfy my own. Her abiding gaze betrayed her longing for acquaintance--two dark mirrors that reflected my own intoxication, pulling me in, demanding my attention.
As she brushed by, she turned her head to prolong our locked gaze for a moment longer. When she finally tore her gaze from mine and pattered up the stairs in small, graceful steps with her bare feet, I inhaled the air she saturated with her sweet scent, and watched the hem of her white summer dress swaying softly above her shapely legs.
Staring at the corner where her shadow slipped away and listening to the echoes of her feet against the cement stairs, I started to feel light-headed as my surrounding began unraveling all around me. My face was hot, and my eyes felt like they were imploding. When I regained my thoughts, I found myself unable to look at a framed picture sitting on the top of the box amidst the stack of photo albums; it was of Janice and me on our honeymoon, kissing beneath the impossibly blue sky of Waikiki Beach.
Her name was Evelyn, I later learned. The entire building referred to her as “The Ghost.” I didn’t know it then when I met her, but as soon as I heard the unflattering nickname, I understood why. She had a certain translucence about her, floating and intangible, weighed down only by her melancholy; a sadness she wore like a shawl, wrapping herself in its promise of ever-present embrace.
I didnt tell Janice about her.
Usually, I am very open about this sort of thing. Janice is confident and mature enough to handle my praises of other women’s beauty, and usually agrees with me, expressing her own admiration. This time, however, it was more than just taking note of someone’s physical beauty and grace; it was being overwhelmed by the mere presence of another person’s soul.
In my panicked and bewildered state, I did the only thing that seemed reasonable: to demystify the source of my curiosity. After sorting out my responsibilities as the new apartment manager, I paid her a visit.
Her apartment was on the top floor. Luckily, the elevator was functional again, or else twenty floors wouldve been daunting.
I rang her doorbell and waited a bit longer than I normally would have, but as I turned to head back to the elevator, her door opened.
Peering from behind her door, she stood silently and looked at me with her large, child-like eyes. Her shoulder-length black hair framed her small face, and on her white summer dress were drops of blood, still wet, scattered on her chest.
“Hi… Are you alright?” My voice sounded thick and congested.
She followed my glance to the blood on her dress, then nodded and held up her right hand, showing me where the blood came from: a deep cut on her forefinger, still bleeding, dripping onto the marble floor. I realized she hadn’t done a thing to try to stop the bleeding.
I cut myself. She explained. Her voice was like tiny bells heard in the distance, faint yet distinct.
You need to stop that from bleeding. I pointed to her finger. The sound of her blood splattering on the floor seemed unnaturally loud. The crimson drops, her pale skin, and the heat from my face made me feel slightly dizzy.
Im Ashley. We met a couple of days ago on the stairs? I offered my left hand for her uninjured hand to shake. She looked at it, then slowly reached out. Her hand was cold, and her grip weak.
How did you cut yourself?
Ium. I was making something. She looked down and kept her eyes on the floor.
“Try keeping your hand above your heart. It stops the bleeding faster.”
She raised her hand, but looked uncomfortable, not knowing what to do with it. I reached out and gripped the palm of her injured hand. It felt fragile and delicate; I was afraid the bones that held her hand together might collapse if I gripped too hard.
Do you have a first-aid kit or something?
She shook her head and backed into her apartment. I held on to her hand and followed her.
I stepped into her living room and scanned for something to wrap her finger in. Her apartment was spacious, with white walls and pastel colored furniture. It was odd that everything seemed to have been purchased in complete sets, as if the person who purchased them refused to breakup what was meant to be together. My immediate impression was that she lived alone. They say lonely people can spot each other instinctively, and as I glanced around her apartment, I had the distinct feeling that her loneliness was more familiar to me than anything else about her.
Next to the living room was the kitchen, and it was small for a large apartment, but it was quite a sight--fully stocked with every imaginable spice and cookware, all appeared to have been used frequently. I quickly located a roll of paper towel, tore off a sheet, and wrapped it around her injured finger. Blood immediately soaked through the white sheet.
“You should keep a tight clamp--never mind.” I noticed her indifference to her injury, so I gripped the base of her bleeding finger firmly and held it above her heart. She looked at my hand and saw my wedding ring, then turned her face away. I felt her trying to pull away, but I had a good grip on her finger. She tried only once, then stopped struggling. By then, I had forgotten why I knocked on her door in the first place.
What followed should’ve been an uncomfortable silence, but I felt as if it was my right to be there, and my privilege to be concerned for her. She accepted my willful intrusion without a word, submitting to a kindness unasked for. I knew in that moment my life was about to be changed forever, and I could never go back to the moment before I met her.
I woke up drenched in sweat, and in that moment of confusion, it felt like blood trickling down my temple, tickling my chin. While controlling my breathing to slow down my heartbeat, I drew reality in, letting it ground me. My senses were alert, but the dream clung to the back of my mind, unwilling to let go. I didn't feel safe. A slight push would've sent me spiraling down into the nightmare again.
I turned and watched Janice in her sleep; so peaceful and at ease, as she is in her waking hours. She had always been a deep sleeper, and I often teased that she slept like the dead, but I'm grateful that even in her sleep, she seemed to radiate the same unique ebullience that often made her the center of attention in social situations .
When I felt I had a stronger grasp on reality, I allowed myself to wander back into the images from the dream.
I was in an elevator, going up for what seemed too many floors to remember. Although I couldn't see outside the elevator, I could sense that there was darkness beyond the four cramped walls. When the elevator reached the top floor, the mechanical slide of the door intruded into the silence of a long, dark hallway.
I kept the elevator door from closing with one foot while I looked both ways down the hallway. There was a door at the end of the hallway to my left, and knowing that was Eve’s door, I felt a sudden urgency to reach her, as if I had to get to her before something else did. I reluctantly let the elevator door close behind me, giving up my sole illumination, and took steps towards the complete darkness. Feeling my way towards the door in the darkness, I eventually found the doorknob. The door was locked.
I tentatively placed a finger in front of the keyhole, trying to reshape it mentally. The tip of my finger started to compress itself, but I felt no pain. When it had compressed enough, I inserted my finger into the keyhole and started feeling my way around its mechanism. In my mind, as if I could see through the metal and the wood, I saw a chaotic landscape of oddly shaped latches instead of the standard set of pins lined or ringed in a cylinder. As I scanned past all the latch shapes with an unexplained confidence that only one would allow my entry, I recognized the right one without knowing what it was; a latch in the shape of the Venus symbol. When I pulled on it, the door opened with a click, and the darkness of the hallway gave way to the light in her apartment.
Silhouetted against the bright sun outside, with only the sheer layer of the curtains drawn, I could see Evelyn standing with her back facing me, looking out the glass door leading to her balcony. In her hand, a small blade glinted in my eyes. Slowly, she took the knife up towards her chest. I wanted to yell for her to stop, but my voice evaporated as soon as it left my throat. By the time I ran to her, she had already sliced off a finger.
Turning around, she held her bleeding finger in front of me, her face calm and blank. Her blood sprayed onto her dress and onto my face. Every drop began to burn as soon as they made contact with my skin. I reached out and grabbed her hand to stop the bleeding, but the blood kept spraying, imbruing the carpet around us, soaking its way through the walls and furniture.
Inch by inch, her blood dyed the entire living room into a deep crimson, enveloping us, climbing up towards the ceiling. Her blood was hot, and the heat emitted from it was unbearable. When the blood suddenly burst into flames, I snapped awake.
(To be continued)