Fiction · 05/01/2013

The Moment in 19

At some point we came to realize that every other tenant in this building is actually just us at a different moment in time. Some are at moments where they are older than us. Some are at moments where they are younger. The building is a long, one-story structure, and it looks like an old motel. We’ve lived here a while, we think, but can’t remember how long exactly.

At first we tried to figure out who each other version of us was, or, more accurately, when. But we thought it rude to ask, and we’re not very good at guessing. We’ve taken to just calling the other tenants “moments.” Sometimes we qualify a moment by their apartment number. Like: the moment in 8, or the moment in 17.

We’ve taken up smoking again. It’s something to do. The weather is mild, a bit cool. It’s good weather for smoking. We exhale thick clouds, and they hang in the still air. We watch the moments leave their apartments. We watch them take out the trash. We watch them park their cars.

We call the moment in the apartment next door “the moment in 19.” The moment in 19 has a cat. We don’t remember owning a cat, or ever even liking cats, but the moment next door looks younger than us, so at some point we must have had a cat. Maybe the cat’s owners are on vacation. Maybe the moment is doing someone a favor. It’s all very confusing.

Yesterday, we heard a knock on the door. We opened the door to a young couple holding a bottle of wine. “Oh!” they said when they saw us. “Sorry!” Then the moment in 19’s door opened and a cat walked out tentatively. An arm reached from the doorway and scooped the cat back inside. The couple laughed nervously and followed. We caught a waft of something cooking. It smelled good. There was music playing. Light poured out onto the concrete stoop where the couple had stood, and it looked warm and homey. Then the door closed.

Sometimes we say we’re going to get out more, but then we don’t. Instead we stay home and yell. We bang on the walls. We tire ourselves out and fall asleep. We wake up alone, wearing the clothes we were wearing the day before.

There is an older moment that gives us sour looks. The moment wears athletic clothes. We’ll be outside smoking, and the moment will come back sweaty from a run. The moment makes a fist and then coughs into it. The moment pretends we’re not here.

Last night we woke up in the middle of the night. We wrapped ourselves in a blanket and went outside to smoke. The moment in 19 and the moment in 19’s guests were just getting back from somewhere. They were walking barefoot, carrying their shoes in their hands. Their pants were rolled at their ankles. They must have come from the beach.

We want to be more like the moment in 19. We didn’t even know there was a beach nearby, but there must be. We are going to be friends with the moment in 19, we tell ourselves. We are going to go over there, knock on the door, and introduce ourselves. Tomorrow, we tell ourselves. Or maybe the next day.

For a while we feel good. We feel hopeful. But then we’re overcome with the feeling that we’ve lost something. Something dear to us. We can’t remember what we lost, but the feeling makes us short of breath. We go outside for a smoke. We smoke one, then another one. Then we go back inside and we bang on the walls. We yell. We bang on the walls and yell until we tire ourselves out. Then we lay down. We didn’t know there was beach nearby — this is what we’re thinking as we drift into sleep.

When we wake up, we decide to spend the day indoors. We start smoking indoors. We use salad plates as ashtrays. We don’t even crack a window. We feel lonely, but we don’t yell, we don’t bang on the walls. Again, we fall asleep thinking about the beach.

Then we wake up and feel refreshed. We open up the curtains. We open up the windows and let the fresh air in. We get dressed and step outside for a smoke. There’s a moving van parked in the lot. We wonder who’s moving away. We hope it’s the moment in the athletic clothes — that awful moment that’s always giving us sour looks.

We spend the day cleaning the apartment. We tell ourselves that tonight’s the night that we go next door. Tonight’s the night we introduce ourselves to the moment in 19. Maybe the moment in 19 knows what’s going on around here. Maybe we’ll go down to the beach together.

Around eight o’clock we take a long look in the mirror. We take a deep breath. We step outside. The moving van’s engine is running. The headlights are shining on us and we can’t see who’s in the driver’s seat. The moving van does a Y-turn, and just as it rumbles away, we realize that the moment in 19 is driving. We stare at the taillights as the van drives away. We light a cigarette and try to think, but no thoughts come. Then we bang on the door to apartment 19. Nothing happens. We try the door knob: it’s unlocked. We walk in and find the apartment empty. The floorplan is exactly like ours, but reversed. It’s as if the wall between the two apartments was actually mirror, and we had somehow wandered inside the reflection. Except for in the reflection, there’s no furniture, and the walls are a different shade of white.

We’re tired yelling. We’re tired of banging on walls. We don’t know what else to do, so we take off our shoes, we roll up our pants and we leave the apartment. We walk across the parking lot and onto the street. It’s dark out. There is no moon in the sky, but there are a few street lamps here and there, casting a dull yellow glow. We hear the sound of waves so we walk towards it. The street dead ends into a large sand dune. There’s no curb. The dashed yellow line in the middle of the road disappears under the dune’s sandy base. The last street light looms overhead. We stand for a moment in the pool of yellow light. We hear waves. We smell the minerally smell of a large body of water. It’s vaguely sour, vaguely sweet.

We climb the dune. The sand is cool as our feet sink slightly with each step. As we crest the dune, we see the beach below us; it’s so vast and dark and empty it takes our breath away. Against the sky, there is no horizon, just a gradient of darkness. We see the water as ripples on a surface, as whitecaps that roll above the darkness and then flatten against the sand.

We walk towards the water. Our eyes adjust to the dark. We see a group of people standing near the water’s edge, near the whitewash that’s lapping at the wet sand. They wave to us, call us by our name. We approach them. We can’t make out their faces in the dark, but they know who we are and they’re happy to see us. They have a telescope on tripod that’s planted firmly in the sand. “Look,” they say, “we’re watching a satellite. It’s a spy satellite. Come here, have a look.”

We walk closer. We bend to the telescope’s viewfinder. We close one eye. We look through the lens with the other. We’re not sure we know what a satellite looks like. We try to imagine it floating along in outer space. We try to imagine it spying on us. We take a deep breath and we look. We take another deep breath and we hold it in. We try to hold still. We see a little dot through the lens. We try to hold it in our focus. We try to see something. This is why we’re here. We’re looking for something. Something that looks back.

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A Milwaukee native, Tyler Koshakow now lives in the Pacific Northwest. His fiction, book reviews, and snarky cover letters have been published by DOGZPLOT, Bellingham Review, and Hobart respectively.