A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened…
“Sometimes, it’s like I can physically feel the weight of every object I own.”
“Are you counting things you rent too?” Logan asks. “Because, David, if you put all your stuff in the bathtub and tried to pick it up, I think you’d be crushed. By the bathtub alone maybe.”
“Thanks.” I roll my eyes over at her.
I pick up a bag of Q-tips from the edge of the sink and hold it flat on my palm. Logan is sitting on the lid of the toilet, leaning all the way back with the top of her head resting against the peeling wallpaper. She reaches over and lifts the bag from my hand without sitting up. She looks at it for a moment then balances the Q-tips on her nose.
“Doesn’t it feel heavy to you sometimes? Like it’s all about to cave in?” I ask, ducking down a little so I can see my whole face in the low bathroom mirror.
There’s a knock on the front door of the apartment.
Logan sits up and the Q-tips tumble down. “Are you expecting something? A package?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Not unless you ordered in.”
“Friends? Relatives?” She chuckles.
“Who has ever just showed up at our door?”
I scuff my toe at one of the little piles of brown wood dust on the baseboard. They look like they came from the work of a dozen tiny drills.
“I think I should try it,” I say. “You know, the minimalist thing. Maybe cut down everything I own so I could carry it. If needed.”
“Where would you carry it?”
“Just. If I needed to carry it. But, then what really gets me down is the waste. If you could bundle that up… Like all the food wrappers, containers, dirty dish water, and shit—like literal shit. Everything. And then lug that around too. How many days before you couldn’t budge?”
“At tops?” Logan tosses the Q-tips at the counter. The bag slides past its mark, teeters, then falls with a tiny splat into the sink.
She had been washing her face earlier when I came in, then she’d sat down to listen to me without draining the water. So, it idles there, the water, murky with face oils and soap scum.
The bag of Q-tips floats for a moment then goes under. It comes to rest near the stopper. I stare at it shipwrecked at the bottom of the sink.
The knock on the front door repeats.
“I’ll see who’s there.” Logan stands up.
“Wait. You can’t,” I say and catch her around the waist.
She laughs. “What are we going to do? Take up all our belongings, barricade ourselves in this bathroom and just, like, stay here?”
“All I’m saying is…” The small plastic clock on the shelf catches my eye.
“Look, it’s not even 10 a.m. yet but if we answer the door, the day will be over.”
“Woah, this sounds serious,” says Logan. “So, you’re expecting what? An axe-murderer polite enough to knock? Or, no, a time machine?”
“Listen. It’s just… if we open the door something interfering could be on the other side, something we have to deal with. We planned to spend the day together; we’ve already got a trajectory. You, me, simple. However, the direction we’re headed in right now will inevitably change if we open that door. If we confront someone who’s on the outside and let them in, and let them redefine our day, our time together could be ruined. It might mutate into something like—I don’t know—unfulfilled empty space.”
“So, if we don’t answer the door, we can forestall the impending void and have an enjoyable day or something like that?” says Logan.
“I mean. Well, I don’t know if it’s really quantifiable in terms of good, or bad, or enjoyable, or whatever. But, there is a trajectory. Our trajectory, a path that no one else is on.”
“Okay, I’m with you.”
“That knock is an inevitable conclusion we have to push away. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”
“Hey.” Logan reaches up and places her hands on my chest for a moment.
I take a breath.
“I said, I’m with you.”
We hear a more insistent thud-thud, thud-thud outside. Logan turns and clicks the bathroom door shut which softens the final thud.
“So, that’s the solution, isn’t it?” she says. “We just keep doing what we’re doing and pretend not to be home.”
I run my hands through my hair. “The way I see it we have to. But… I just realized that the knock has already changed our trajectory. By interrupting us here—and causing this conversation—it’s altered the routes our thoughts and actions were previously set up to follow for the rest of the day. Which in theory—”
“Who cares. Let’s just get back on track. What were we talking about before?”
“There’s no going back. We’re facing a different direction, aren’t we?” I look around the bathroom. “And there’s something extra too, an extra emotion. I feel guilty. I didn’t feel guilty earlier—not about this—but now I feel guilty for not opening the door. We are in fact home, so we should in fact open the door. Right? That’s what normal people do when they are inside their sanctuary structures and other people come knocking. Do you feel guilty?” I ask her but keep going, “Don’t you see this new trajectory the knock has made us follow? It hurled us toward a paradox, an existential conundrum: If we answer the door, we sacrifice our day. If we don’t answer the door, we sacrifice our integrity.”
“No way,” says Logan. “Why should we feel guilty? Lots of normal people don’t answer their doors. It’s not a paradox; it’s just a fork in the road. We pick the path that aligns best with our priorities.”
I realize I’ve exhausted myself. I sigh and say, “Those people out there. They can just come here to our door, impact our futures, and then walk away without consequence, probably without even knowing the impact of their actions.”
“Yep.” Both of Logan’s hands hold on to one of mine now. “And we ignore them.”
I don’t respond. I wait, listening. The knock seems to have stopped.
Suddenly, Logan tugs on my hand. “Wanna do it in the shower?”
“This is the road we take,” she says. “We not only decide not to answer the door, but we also decide not to feel guilty about having already scheduled this day to be together. We said together which means just us, uninterrupted. And what’s more together than this?” Logan throws off her hoodie.
I blink a few times. A grin slides up her face which makes me smile too.
“Okay,” I say and follow her lead.
We get in the shower. We laugh because everything’s so slippery and it’s difficult to cling onto one another, but every time Logan starts to slide, I scoop her back toward me. She holds me tight, and I imagine breathing her strength into my lungs.
Eventually, we dry off and re-dress. I sit down on the bathmat. Logan ruffle-dries my hair, then wraps up her own hair in a towel—that soft-serve ice cream style. My gaze drifts to the chaotic splash patterns we made on the wall and ceiling.
I realize that the bathroom door—just beyond the soles of my feet—is still staring me down. The door as the portal between worlds. “What if…” I turn to Logan and see her standing behind me in the tub with her ear pressed to the wooden window sill.
“C’mere. Listen,” she says. “There’s this weird sort of chewing or clicking sound. I think we’ve got termites.”
Thud, thud, thud. We both jump. I stare at the bathroom door and imagine what lays outside our little barricade. “Who could be that persistent?” I say.
“Maybe they’re pursuing your outstanding warrant.” Logan laughs and lets her hair down.
“How dare you, madam. I am an upstanding citizen.”
“It’s bound to be church-goers with pamphlets, then.”
“Shh, keep your voice down, they’ll hear us.”
“Quick, turn off the light.”
“In here, behind the shower curtain.”
We pretend to cower in the tub. Logan grins at me. Our game dissipates the worry that felt so heavy.
“I’ll tell you who it could be,” Logan says leaning into me. “A time-traveling cyborg who’s come from the future to exact vengeance for something we haven’t done yet.”
“But we’re innocent,” I plead.
Logan goes to gather our towels then starts tying them to the window latches. “Help me build a shelter,” she says.
I drape the opposite end of the towels over the shower rod to create a canopy. It’s a squeeze, but we both hunker down in the tub.
“Do you think we’ll survive the fallout?” I ask.
“It’s hard to say.”
After a few minutes, I stretch out, one foot dangling over the edge of the tub. Logan sits between my legs and leans back against me. In the still steamy bathroom, we both drift off to sleep.
Sometime later, we both jolt awake to the sound of knocking again. We let the sound invade our world only in that it leads us into a game of trying to quicken the other’s heartbeat. Logan tries for fear and tells me about the impending gunfire and invasion. I get a better result with surprise when I splash cold water on her. Logan’s about to deal out some payback when–
“David, wait,” she says suddenly.
We hear different noises beyond the bathroom door. A click, footsteps, keys jingling. I pull the shower curtain closed tight and we cling to each other, listening.
“Looks empty. Maybe they’re out of town?” says a gruff voice.
“Yeah, the first notice we put out last week is still sticking out of their mail slot, but the old Honda that’s registered to this unit is parked outside,” says another man.
“Then they took a taxi. No one’s here, anyway.”
One of them calls “hello” and “property management” a few times. The shower curtain wavers as the bathroom door is flung open and shut. Logan and I exchange looks.
“Christsake. What is that?” the gruff voice asks from down in our bedroom.
“A hedgehog. Ahh, man is he cute. Hi, little guy.”
“C’mon, let’s go.”
“Shouldn’t we take him out of here?”
“And do what with it? Shit, I don’t get paid to pet-sit.” The gruff man snorts.
“Well, we can’t leave him here to get poisoned!”
“We’re not gonna let the thing get poisoned. Besides, we don’t know these people, they might sue us if it dies.”
“So, they haven’t signed the consent form and they’ve got a pet here. We’ll have to seal it off. Cover the door and the vents while we spray the hall and the other units. Then, we get the perk of slapping them with a fine when we come back to do another sweep.”
The footsteps grow quieter and the apartment door clicks shut.
We’re silent for a long moment.
“Spray the other units? Spraying what?” I wonder.
“I think they were talking about pesticides. I saw something posted in the hall,” Logan says.
I shrug. I study Logan for a second. Whatever fine they charge, this is worth it. We both feel curiously triumphant.
“Let’s go get Schopenhauer?”
Logan clambers to the bathroom door and peeks out. “Double mission. I’m starving,” she says. Then, looking back at me still in the tub, she scolds me. “On your feet, soldier!”
I scramble to attention.
“Take this weapon.” She hands me her hairbrush. “You rescue Schopey. I’ll make a run for supplies. Ready? On my count.”
Logan flings the bathroom door open and summersaults haphazardly through the doorway. I point my weapon each way. Then, staying flat against the wall, I edge into our bedroom. A moment later I return with Schopenhauer’s cage in hand. Logan comes rushing back clinging a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers to her chest.
“Retreat! Retreat!” she shouts diving through the doorway and barricading us inside again.
I fish out the shipwrecked bag of Q-tips, toss it aside, and drain the water. I set Schopey’s cage across the sink.
We sit down on the floor.
“I killed people today,” I say slowly shaking my head.
“No, you rescued one of our own.”
“And you got the spoils of war.”
I pour some crackers out onto a handheld mirror and set it on the floor between us. Logan reaches a finger through the cage and holds out a glob of peanut butter to Schopey.
“Do you think they still use mustard gas on people?” I ask.
“They’ve probably got something much worse these days.”
We eat peanut butter crackers until we’re content. We become lost in us, alternating between silence and conversation. We crawl back into our bunker in the bathtub. We exchange peanut butter kisses. Schopenhauer runs in circles on his wheel.
Soon, the little light left in the sky seeps dimly through the window.
In the hours leading up to our surrender, we pick apart every scenario until we’re out of options—viable or fantastical. Finally, Logan concludes that if we want to go on living, we’ll eventually have to leave the bathroom. With the knock and its interference with our trajectory growing distant, Logan and I emerge with Schopey and slink off to our bed sometime late in the night.
Monday morning comes like a kick in the stomach. Lonely shower. Cold breakfast. Tragic glances. As Logan is leaving for work, I hear her call out to me. I round the corner still rummaging in my briefcase and come to her side. She has the front door open but instead of being able to see the hall, we both stare at a black tarp fixed tightly across the doorway. Logan pulls out the piece of paper that’s spent a week shoved in our mail slot. She unfolds it and reads.
Holding up the notice Logan looks into my eyes. “We’ve still got time,” she says.
Logan and I drop everything we were holding. We grab Schopenhauer’s cage, run back into the bathroom, and lock the door.