Fiction, Caitlin Frazier
“Can I tell you a secret?” Ramie leaned in, letting her shirt get caught on the table. She did it to remind me that my attention should be on her, and now it was. I didn’t even really feel all that sexual right now, sometimes people want your attention and so you give it to them. She never liked it when I would face the door, she claimed I spent too much time acting like a dog whose owner just came home each time the door opened. But she always lets me do it. I don’t mind looking like a dog if it means that I get to take in as many people and their interactions as possible. She used to joke that I had chronic writer syndrome, obsessed with witnessing the most amount of things rather than experiencing the more drawn-out few. It was our first source of conflict as she always blamed me for having a wandering eye and a wandering mind. She would also call herself an artist, but she prided herself on the boundaries that she had learned to set.
“I’m choosing to no longer take it personally when I don’t get the role,” Ramie pronounced one day after not hearing back from the non-union tour she had gone through two callbacks for. And just like that she did it. She went from crying a week after every audition, knowing that that meant that there was never going to be a call, to crying once a month at her scheduled “mourning time”. At those times, she would allow herself ten minutes of crying about theater-related things and then she had to go on. She said that to herself a lot now, almost like a mantra: you have to go on.
There was a time when in-between when she would respond to my writing crises with only those words. It was a bad time for both of us, with her coerced peace and my repressed peace and (in her words) habitual insistence on chaos. But we were over that for this week. Neither of us was on our period and we had sex only two nights ago.
“Yes, I’m dying to know.” I tried to mimic the dramatism of her question, and her need to ask it at all.
I tried to laugh at myself in hopes that she would laugh back when she said, “I’m taking a job in London.”
“Like an acting job or a job job?” I could tell she was upset at me asking this, she liked to think I didn’t believe in her.
“Kind of both, I’m going to be a drama teacher at a school there.” She shifted in her seat, letting her shirt fall back. “I think it’s time for me to move on.”
“From acting completely?”
“Like I said, I think this will be a good in-between.” She stared at the table in front of me and watched the ice in my drink melt for a few seconds.
What could I say to someone giving up their dream? I opened up my mouth to talk but then closed it before any sound came out. My movement caused her to leave her ice-watching trance and look at me, right as a couple around our age opened the door to the restaurant and I looked out of habit.
“Glad to see you don’t plan on giving up on your dreams.” She looked around for her purse for a while, questioning where she had put it less than twenty minutes ago.
“Why London?” I asked in an attempt to stop her from her urgent yet unsuccessful search for her purse.
The stalling was over, she found her purse and got up. “If I’m not going to be acting I might as well be in a place I love.” She left me at the table and it was my turn to watch the ice melt.
I moved into the house a month later, leaving behind our apartment and the overflowing trash bag full of clothes that Ramie decided were for donation after forgetting to unpack them for a year. It was more Ramie’s place than mine, my things still failing to make a dent in her particular home decor, my coaster collection from every place I’d been since I decided Junior year of high school on a life-changing trip to Italy that coasters would be my thing still left packed in the box Ramie allotted me to store on her side of the closet.
Ramie had left three weeks ago, a week after she told me she was going, and two days after she said that she would be looking for someone new in London. And aside from the few awkward Facetime calls of her instructing me which of her leftover boxes were to be shipped to her mom in Philadelphia, we hadn’t talked. There was little to talk about. There was little to write about.
To live in the house is to become one with the house. It was easy to fall in and out of believing this, or even remembering that this is the slogan of the place. It always felt like a commitment to brand image rather than a commitment to the artists temporarily inhabiting this house. Artistica, a company that sounds fake but has five houses like this across the country, thrived off this messaging. I first read it in the pamphlet addressed to me and Ramie, while she was engaging in her extensive post-shower routine, waiting for me to do the same before touching the sacred space of the inside of the bed. I almost threw it away, dismissing it as another writing residency I was for sure going to get rejected from. I instead chose to put it in the pile on my side of the kitchen table, burying it under the few physical copies of my most recent short story that were set to mail out to journals “sometime,” hoping that the due dates didn’t pass while I couldn’t bring myself to buy stamps. I knew she was going to find it when she eventually got the stamps and mailed my story for me.
“Did you apply for this?” She said while sitting on the couch in the dark, waiting for me to take my place in her dramatic scene.
I had submitted the application the day after getting the pamphlet while Ramie was busy filming a self-tape, going past her own three-take rule, and blowing out her voice singing Candy Store from Heathers for the Legally Blonde ensemble open call. I did it more in an effort to make my procrastination worthwhile than to maliciously apply to live in another city without telling the significant other that I live with. “Yeah, who knows if I’ll get in though.”
But I had known I got in and she did too, the acceptance letter only a few paper shuffles away from the pamphlet in my table pile. She would normally let me squirm for a little while, enjoying the only time she gets to see me act. “Well, are you going to take it?”
The curtains had closed, “I think so.”
I became one with the house before I even moved there, letting it pick me up from my home with Ramie and let me float under the hope of something new, something not here. My blind investment in this idea lasted until I got there. Fresh faces and barely remembered names, we piled on the couch with the comfortable quality of close college roommates who wanted to make sure nothing dipped into the romantic. We watched the welcome video. And it wasn’t until I heard the first suppressed laugh from behind me, making it hard to hear the European woman’s narration of the rest of the house’s rules did I realize it was all bullshit. Maybe the collective realization was a part of becoming one with the house.
I came to know the people in the house better than I knew myself while living here. There was a collective ego involved in the art produced in the house. Finding out that Sandi’s voice is akin to a siren and also doubles as a good backing track for masturbation, or that you could see Annie’s paintings being anywhere in the world one day, versatile enough to be a bus bench or the mural in some rich person’s penthouse only soothes everyone’s imposter syndrome. Being chosen as a group of equals made it so that we were only as good as one another.
So the group was a constant source of inspiration. My best work was the stories I modeled after people I knew, or at least as seen before. I was never good at putting things in my own head and sometimes needed a little outside help. I needed the curve of Elaina from Starbucks’s jaw to inspire me to write a piece about feminine masculinity. Or to let Ramie drone on about the college friend she got coffee with that afternoon, even though they both hate each other, my mind going into autopilot so that I can watch how the couple across the room’s arms move when they’re fighting without trying to look like they’re fighting. I’ve never written from a place of regular inspiration, each idea of mine not coming from my brain world and coming from the world through my eyes. It was hard to not make everything one-sided.
I felt comfortable here in that way. Everyone here used each other for “inspiration”. It seemed that friendship here was counted in who you base your characters on, not who you care about the most. Elliot and Annie were the only ones to blend the two. They decided to move into the same room by the end of the summer. It was no longer economical for them to waste time walking to each other’s rooms and workspaces.
“You think they’re fucking?” Sandi had asked me when everyone had gone upstairs after the games first started to get boring but we all kept playing them because we didn’t know how else to hang out. We were the last ones left with semi-full wine glasses and me and Sandi had a commitment to not wasting alcohol.
“This soon?” My mind had been orbiting around the idea of sex since the break-up, each time getting closer and then immediately moving a galaxy away. Me and Ramie had spent nights laughing about how awesome our post-break-up hate sex would be, so good it would lead us back together in the end.
We listened for how many doors were closing upstairs but with the addition of people moving in and out of the bathroom, we couldn’t come to a conclusion until Sandi, buzzed off more wine than she needed, decided to walk into Annie’s cracked room door to find that she wasn’t there.
Quick enough, Elliot and Annie became sort of the house power couple. It was interesting to see how two people you barely know become one person in different mediums. I had never thought much of Elliot’s poetry, or poetry in general. I respected the form and its purpose but I didn’t think it was up to me to decide what makes a bad poem. Elliot’s poetry was not my taste, the words too abstract to be sensical, but maybe it was meant to reach a different audience. I had only seen the ones she wrote about the house’s garden. She handed me her notebook once, instructing me to not flip the page, the rest were too rough of drafts to be seen by me. “We’re not that close yet,” was her explanation.
I read a few too many explanations of a tulip that I’m sure were meant to be metaphors for not-tulips but I couldn’t tell.
I’ve seen a lot of writers lose their focus when getting into a relationship, including myself. Ramie was the first girl I’d been with whose sheer lust hadn’t made me not write a single word for at least a month. And that wasn’t the case for Elliot either or Annie for that matter. They started sounding more similar, speaking in their own unique language that was halfway towards mindreading. Annie started appearing in Elliot’s signature denim button-up, and then eventually bought her own when borrowing wasn’t enough. Their lives were molding, and somehow the rest of us were able to see all of it while not being in it. I’d never experienced this state of perpetual voyeurism with my friends, nevertheless my roommates.
The first wave of eventual boredom from the lack of any type of screened media made me unnecessarily attached to them. Ramie and I had been together for so long, too long to have forgotten the muscle memory that comes from being physical with another person. Elliot and Annie didn’t have that yet, they had a friends-with-benefits-ship that turned into a relationship and you could tell that their bodies had learned each other before their hearts did. Ramie had made me wait a month before she would take off her bed shorts in front of me, swearing that we’d be better in the end if we knew each other now. It was hard to look at the pair without thinking of what me and Ramie must’ve looked like when we were first in love.
Elliot and Annie loved each other differently than us though. I had had one conversation with Annie pre-Anniot (which is what me and Sandi started calling them first between us and then to their faces). “Is this notebook a family heirloom?” she asked me from the other side of the kitchen table. I would categorize her as nervous, both about my potential reaction to my notebook she ruined and about having to fess up to it, too old not to.
“No, not really.” My face told the story I was trying to hide behind positive reassurance. It wasn’t an heirloom, but it was the last notebook that Ramie had gifted me. This one still had space left from my April birthday, and it was the most ridiculous one yet.
Ramie had given me eight notebooks over our time together. The first was a nice cork-exterior notebook with weighted pages that came with a pen that wrote like a dream for the first month before I left it to get lost in the tote bag I used for that month and left in the pile on the unreachable side of my desk. We were getting smoothies for our one month, this was when both of us were still trying our best to be low-maintenance, and giving each other more than just one sticky note for each of our month markers. After the first notebook, it became Ramie’s cop-out gift. I would use anyone that she would give me, and she started putting it to the test, going to the Family Dollar and getting some of the most obnoxious notebooks I’ve ever seen. She got them for me as much as she got them for her. They were her way of making my frequent and inopportune reaches for my notebook amusing instead of annoying.
This notebook had galaxy print on the front and cheetah print on the back. And I never thought how ridiculous I must’ve looked writing in it until I was crying over it. Annie stood there, and then decided to move, and then decided how to comfort me even though we had never touched more than the awkward bumping of thighs while sitting side by side on the couch. She went with a classy back touch and gave me the grace of never having referred to it since.
Watching her with Elliot was familiar in this way. Like she moved in service of comfort for Elliot.
We respected each other’s official and unofficial workspaces in the house. The tree in the front yard became Sandi’s tree, even though she would only try to work there when the weather was perfect. It sat undisturbed by the rest of us in case Sandi wanted to return. Annie and Elliot’s unofficial workspaces were also merged in their union. They mostly inhabited Annie’s dining room table set up, the use for an official dining room obsolete to us. I used to take the couch in the mornings to enjoy Annie’s peculiar music, the lyrics becoming ingrained in me despite never asking her for the titles. I sat there today, listening to their conversation that barely came through over the music.
“I love you,” I was sure this voice was Elliot’s, half based on actual evidence, half on feeling like Annie wouldn’t initiate a sentence with the word love in it.
I thought hard about how long they’ve been dating, how much time has passed while we’ve been living here. It seems like too much time to still be writing in the same recovering water-damaged galaxy notebook.
“How much.” Annie’s response cut through the wall. Any promise I made to myself to let them have their privacy suspended to hear their fight play out.
“Not this again.” I wondered how many times they’d gone down this path. If their fights always started off this way, with a proclamation of love.
“Why not this again?”
“You always turn everything into a writing exercise.” Elliot was moving around now, no longer struck by the need to stay in one position. I’d like to think that Annie was painting her at this moment, and Elliot shifting was an act of protest.
“Well, when you choose to write exclusively about me, everything is a writing exercise.” Annie's voice gets half muffled over the noise of her moving too, the thin curtain divider between the dining room and the living room being used to its fullest extent. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pick a fight.”
“Do you not like me writing about you?”
“I don’t mind. I just worry that it might be the only thing you have to say.” They returned back to silence after hearing Sandi clicking some bowls a couple of rooms over. When I looked down, I realized that they’d helped me fill the last of the galaxy notebook.
We were responsible for the completion of at least one full-length project by the end of our first year here. We could stay for longer after the completion of the project but only if we were immediately starting a new one. The pressure to create here lay dormant until the once-every-three-monthwas once every three months meetings each of us needs to have with Anastasia, the founder of the house. She was an artist herself, an advocate for artistic isolation being the best thing for the artists and for the world.
I had met with her briefly before I got accepted. We got on a video call for five minutes where she decided if she liked me. The only question she asked me wasonce-every-three-month about the necklace I was wearing at the time, a black obsidian crystal necklace that Ramie didn’t wear anymore because she was taking a break from crystals. The acceptance came as a shock, especially since she seemed to be asking whether or not I believed in crystals more than she was trying to follow up on my potential artistic prowess.
I was preparing to lie to Anastasia. It had been three months and the closest thing I had to a manuscript couldn’t seem to progress further than a short story that Annie and Elliot would find too familiar if I would allow them to read it. I felt like the possibility of me writing another book seemed to dwindle by the day, with each one feeling like more of a waste of time than the last.
“You don’t have anything for me?” She asked after the brief exchange of how are yous.
“I have a short story. I think it might be something worth publishing if you don’t mind helping me send it to a few magazines.” I knew the story would bear me nothing but a few more rejection letters to add to the receipt spike I stole from my two months of working at a diner.
“I’m going to be frank with you Alex, since this is our first check in and I don’t want you to continue to travel directionless. You can count short stories towards the full-length project but if you really want to come away from your time here with anything of substance you need to write something longer.” Anastasia left a pause for more of a dramatic effect than for a chance for me to respond. “Let’s see the story.”
She didn’t like it, she’d picked out a few too many paragraphs she deemed completely unusable for me to think she would send it to anyone without substantial edits and maybe even a slight change in my writing style.
She was about to end the call when she asked, “Have you thought about writing something having to do with your last book? A prequel or a sequel?”
I had. I had written fifty pages of a sequel before throwing it away for being just like the original but worse. My first book was a coming-of-age story set in college, which may or may not be quite similar to my own life. It didn’t make me famous but it did give me the occasional small bookshop reading to no more than ten people at a time, at least three members of my audience were there on purpose with the rest deciding listening to me was something to do.
The thing about writing about my life at that moment is that I knew there would be about five years when I would have nothing to write about myself in between. I may know myself the best, but that doesn’t mean I do anything book-worthy every day. I turned to writing about others, or at least what I could imagine about others from seeing just a small snapshot of their life. Ramie and I would sit at the coffee shop every Sunday for at least three hours, her occupied with editing self-tapes and audition searching, and me trying to tune into at least one of the four conversations happening around our table at any given time. Ramie played along on my inspiration hunts, her brief appearance in my last book as the light at the end of the tunnel being enough to keep her from wanting me to write something about her.
“I’ll think about it. ”A sequel was out of the question.
The house seemed to make a space of its own. The smallest on its street, it was the kind of house that the neighbors either wished to forget about or told their friends that their neighborhood was different, they were supporting artists there. The neighborhood would lay claim to their art one way or another. The rumor was that the neighbors buy the artwork of the people that live here, that if you sang loud enough the agent down the street might hear you and give you a contract, that if you managed to sit on the porch and look like you’re musing the most like you’re getting ready to produce poems better than the Sonnets, a book deal might fly in from the back yard. I had not spent enough time on the porch, but I had seen the neighborhood for all it was worth.
It had been two weeks since my meeting with Anastasia, and four days since getting two rejection letters from the magazines she sent my short story to. I started a new journal, my first normal-looking one in a while. I lingered a little bit too long deciding between a classic black composition book or the one covered in blue sparkles that would surely permeate every object I owned for the foreseeable future. It was ridiculous in the way that Ramie would love, even though she would never get me something as impractical as glitter.
I went on a lot of walks, the house was still a computerless, phoneless “artist's dream” hellscape. I wanted nothing more than to find inspiration through scrolling until my mind went numb. With the first round of boredom came hopeful inspiration, and with this round came despair en route to depression.
I traded out my wishful screen time for walks around the neighborhood. When I first started, I thought that writing wasn’t even about writing anymore, it was about networking, and if I walked around enough, maybe a rich person could give me three book deals. I sweated out my dry clean only button down dissociating into this fantasy the first time, switching to pajama shorts for the rest of my walks. Maybe the controversy of unpresentableness would cause me just the same attention, maybe more.
I spent a lot of my walks thinking about Ramie. Mostly what she’d say to me right now, and how she’d be smiling and laughing at her decision to not put herself through this anymore. Despite the lack of media, I did not suffer from a lack of dreams, and they were all, unfortunately, about her. All signs were pointing towards her, running away from here, joining her in London and hoping that she’d take me back. I thought of what could be the most mysterious yet romantic place for this rekindling. I would tell her to meet me at a train station, the high ceilings carrying the words of our getting-back-together fight to some unexpecting traveler searching for their own writing inspiration.
I’d tell her, “I love you, please forgive me.”
And she’d say, “I never stopped loving you.”
And when I heard the chain of a dog’s leash and was yanked back to the reality that I was on the street, in front of the house they were tearing down completely to replace it with a sleeker, “more modern” townhouse instead of the one that’d been there pushing fifty years, I realized that even my daydreams lacked originality. I smiled at the dog and avoided eye contact with its human, and then thought about how the dog owner might’ve been the one who would give me my book deal for the rest of the night.
The up-keepers of the house must’ve known that its inhabitants would be prone to spiraling at this point in the program. They allowed more phone time and offered us the option of taking a fully automated course to further our work.
I used up my increased phone time to call more than just my mom. I had decided today I was going to call Ramie, her new international number is in one of my old notebooks, not memorized like her old one. It gave me more to look forward to than my science class on bees. I had wanted to learn something new, and I found out that it might be too late for me to develop an affinity towards science. I got to move differently with the hope of the Ramie talk. I tried to use my hope for writing fuel but I drew a garden of mismatched flowers in various ranges of artistic quality instead. I waited until the early afternoon, hoping that Ramie would be home from work and had already had a quarter of a bag of tortilla chips in preparation to wait until a regular time to have dinner.
She’d known it was me without having to go through the awkward phone introduction again. “What’s up?” I thought she would be at least one reality show deep into her unwinding routine but I could hear the unwavering background noise of the street behind her voice.
In my anticipation, I had lost track of my nervousness to talk to her again. “I caught you at a bad time?”
“Well, yes, mostly a bad time. What’s up?”
I realized I hadn’t come up with a predetermined subject matter or reason for the call, I sat trying to look for one for a beat too long. “Hey, look, I have a group from work waiting for me inside, would it be ok if I called you back later?”
“Yes, of course.” I wanted the most time to talk to her that she would allow, and I had nothing but time here.
During this waiting period, I finally felt involuntarily compelled to write. My yearning transformed into the first poem I’ve written that wasn’t against my will. It was of course about Ramie, she was worth writing poetry about and I was sad that I hadn’t done so until now.
She never did call me back, life getting in the way I guess. I took this time away from the real life she lived in to remember her through writing.
“Come outside with me,” Sandi stops me from taking my fourth walk of the day. We walk through the empty house to get there. Elliot and Annie had taken to sitting in the backyard more now, it having both more privacy and more space for their work than the dining room could contain. It was deadline season, but for those two it meant putting the finishing touches to an already mostly-done piece, and for me, it meant cramming at least thirty more pages so that Anastasia would possibly have the thought of recommending me to an agent. My writer's block had essentially been cured, but I was still trying to make up for my weeks of wandering.
Sandi provided me with a mid-afternoon distraction. She took me outside to her tree, the grass empty, her pages of lyrics being taken upstairs for recording. I didn’t realize how badly the house had gotten out of hand until I was looking at it from the front. The lawn was an overgrown jungle but it looked better that way, more lived in. It was probably the garden equivalent of a sink overflowing with dishes that didn’t get touched until it was absolutely impossible to get a cup of water, and even then it might still take a few days of filling up a cup in the bathroom sink.
“Have you been getting enough nature?”
“Not like this.” I let my hand slip into the grass and pulled some of it out, letting the scraps get on my thighs like I did in elementary school. “I think I might leave.” Sandi didn’t seem surprised, no one but the neighborhood dogs would be surprised. “To be with the girl?”
I nodded slowly, even though there was no guarantee. “I understand why she left this.” I was starting to think that the house had beaten me down more than it had built me up. That I was past the point where the struggling would make me better, where I would push through.
“Can I say something crass?” Sandi always said something crass and I was scared that she needed permission. “You left her for the way that she so easily left this,” she gestures to the house, to the people who were still calling themselves artists. I wonder if Ramie still did that.
I thought a lot of things about me and Ramie’s break-up but none of them included me leaving her. She had flown to a different country easier than I could pick what variation of my coffee I was going to order at a cafe I’d never been to.
“Don’t forget yourself so easily,” Sandi added in the dead air that came from thought.
I had spent the past two months working on a story whose characters were some blend of the people in this house. It was my only way of coping with the devolving situation in the house. Annie and Elliot had seemed to be in a habitual rough patch the second the honeymoon phase ended. I had walked in on more than one occasion of Sandi acting as a couples counselor for Annie and Elliot. She would talk to each of them separately about the same issue, she had become a secret orchestrator of conflict resolution and it seemed like she could multitask her jobs of therapist and musician quite well.
She started coming to my room on nights when Annie and Elliot were either fighting or fucking too loud to hear us talking. “I’m not doing too hot,” she told me. I had spent a couple of my walks jealous that no one came to me for advice, as if my break-up would spread to them. Looking at Sandi now, I realize there was nothing to be jealous about. She looked like she had been spending the last year living in a cave, everything being too much stimulation for someone who was used to none. “They need to break up.”
I started spending more of my time with Sandi, the perception of me being bad at relationships rubbing off on her and making her unavailable for advice sessions. “What would you say was your number one emotion right after you and Ramie broke up?” Sandi asked me this after several silent working moments, it seemed almost scientific, saving me from the twinge of sadness that still comes when Ramie is brought up. We’d been sitting in her spot outside again, unaffected by the weight that seemed to overtake the house.
“Cold.” I thought of the time when the weather was just starting to turn warm and I would still wear my winter coat, swearing that I needed it. “Is it for a song?”
“Yeah, maybe if I write about break-up feelings enough I’ll send some subliminal messaging to our favorite duo.” She nods her head toward the house and smiles at her own joke. She’d been going back to herself, having more room in her brain for things unrelated to Anniot.
She laid her head on my lap as she put her guitar and notebook to the side to take a break. I had grown used to Sandi’s unique method of platonic affection, I had dismissed most of it to loneliness, and I had liked the warmth. I let myself relax into her a little more each time, I went with the compulsion to put my hand in her hair and I felt her put more of her weight onto my leg, letting her head be supported fully by me instead of holding onto some of it herself.
We sat there for two moments, aware that everything had changed.
We alleged that they broke up. The night after, Annie came down for breakfast attempting to look refreshed and Elliot came downstairs after Annie had gone outside with no attempt to cover up the fact that she had been crying all night and maybe even a little this morning, me and Sandi looked at each other, we knew it was done. Sandi tried to fight her smile.
When both of them promptly went to their rooms after dinner, Sandi and I waited the obligatory three minutes to make sure they were gone for good before going and opening up a bottle of wine in celebration.
“To Anniot,” Sandi whispered. She tried to silently laugh while our glasses clinked. I laughed out loud at her repressed laugh.
She waited until I swallowed my wine before she kissed me. Somewhere in between me registering what we were doing and deciding whether or not I liked kissing her, Sandi stopped, grabbed my shoulders, eyes dead focused ahead of her before she mouthed, “Listen.” She pointed up. The bed creaked rhythmically.
“So how’s the house been for you?” Anastasia was more perky than I’d ever seen her. She shed her dedication to professionalism with each meeting. This time she looked like she was more equipped to go on a coffee date than be the intimidating leader of Artistica.
I wanted to tell her a lot of things. I could start with the imminent and looming threat of Anniot, with their loud fighting and even louder sex. I could then venture into my complicated feelings toward Sandi and the fact that we hadn’t talked about our kiss since it happened. She was back to her “cave days,” when she would work all day in her room and promised herself that she wouldn’t talk to anyone on her way to the bathroom and the kitchen. I hadn’t talked to her more than a good morning over cereal.
“My work is going okay,” is what I led with, scared of overwhelming her and maybe even getting Annie and Elliot in trouble, maybe even getting me and Sandi in trouble. I didn't know Artistica’s official standpoint on in-house relationships.
“I see that, do you need anything from me?” I had expected some sort of unintentionally backhanded remark from her, or maybe even an outright declaration of her dislike of my work but she sat uneager to leave but indifferent towards staying on the call that made her seem genuine.
“I guess not.”
I waited until the end of the year to figure out whether or not I was going to stay in the house. Sandi and Annie had already committed to another year. Annie and Elliot had gotten over their mutual adoration of the other and decided that being together was no longer what was best for their art. Annie liked it here, Elliot found it fine here but could write from anywhere, and would maybe even prefer to not do it here. Sandi had already converted her room into a makeshift studio. She was Anastasia’s unofficial favorite and was set to release her first album pending the single doing well in at least one country.
I decided to leave, missing my phone and the ability to watch people other than my roommates or neighbor’s pets. I had gotten used to being in a cocoon from the world and maybe it allowed me space but I was ready to be suffocated again. I miss the way that the real world stimulated my brain and I was tired of coming up with my own version of inspiration.
I was going to miss Sandi more than I realized. I spent my final hours in the house bawling my eyes out next to her feeling weirdly nostalgic for people I was almost vowing not to speak to for the next year they would be in the house. Sandi held my hand and swore she would use all her phone time on me. She had managed her long-distance boyfriend this whole year through twenty minutes of phone time a week. He had gotten accepted into the house for this next year, so she would need someone new to talk to.
Annie and I stood awkwardly, having barely touched since the day she comforted me in the kitchen until we decided that it would probably be our last opportunity to hug.
“Oh the places you’ll go,” she said during the embrace. I held her a little tighter, trying to negotiate with a potential tear.
I hadn’t decided yet whether or not I was going back to Ramie. She never called me back. She probably remembered the morning after but then got in a pattern of remembering and forgetting until it was embarrassingly late to have remembered resulting in her having never called at all. Being reunited with my phone, I decided to text her if she was available to call right now. She responded by calling me.
“How’s the real world treating you?” Her voice was different, back to the way it used to be when she would strain it by singing too much.
“Have you been singing again?”
“Yeah, I actually wanted to tell you, I’m back in New York. Do you remember Millenium Theater?” Millennium Theater had been the main contributor to Ramie’s final mourning time before she left for London. She had made it two rounds deep in callbacks for three shows in their season.
“Of course, I remember. Are they done being stupid?”
“Yes, they asked me if I could swing two of their shows. Someone dropped out last minute.”
“Can I live with you?” I had left the house having no plans just knowing that I needed to leave it. I planned on staying with Janice, my college roommate’s sister, who married rich and was always willing to lend her spare bedroom. I had thought about seeing if me and Ramie’s old apartment had been available again, thinking it would be nice to feel like I was returning somewhere familiar.
“Whoa! At least buy me a drink first,” she laughed at her own joke, one she’d say whenever I would try kissing her in public. “I have nothing more to offer than an air mattress next to the couch I’m sleeping on.”
“You’re back to living the dream?” Ramie almost exclusively couch-surfed her first few years living here. She was waiting for herself to make it before she would give herself the luxury and stability of having a place or even a bed of her own. She gave up her wait for stardom a little before we got together, claiming that she was too old for la vie boheme. She referred to her years of being seconds away from homelessness fondly and referred to it as the only time she was truly committed to her art.
“Something close to it.” She seemed genuinely happy. And I wanted to ask her about her teaching time to which I’m sure she would respond with some variation of how going abroad changed her, even if it was to only make her more the same.
“I’ll take that air mattress.” I had forgotten the unpredictability of artistry. I missed it.
“Oh, the air mattress is metaphorical, it is a bring your own air mattress situation.”
Caitlin Frazier is a recent graduate of Georgetown University with an English major and a Theater and Performance Studies minor. Caitlin started her writing journey during her time spent at home during COVID. Writing allowed her to find deeper parts of herself, and it has been full steam ahead ever since. In the summer of 2021, she attended the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive and is now part of Barbara Walton Playwrights' Arena alongside 5 other wonderful young writers from Georgetown and Howard University. Off the page, Caitlin likes to sew and dance.