the unmoored (a short story)

the unmoored (a short story)

It was in college when we realized that some of us were born with very much and others with nothing. It seems amazing, now, that it took us that long. What we didn’t know, and some of us still don’t, is that such a difference in birth creates a divide, between the havers and the have-nots, between the cautious and the unmoored.

Back then, I lived off campus and there were very few nights when a friend of mine wouldn’t drop in, saying hello or goodbye or whatever. We ate takeout in round plastic containers and smoked blunts on the balcony, flicking the ashes into the street below. I had a record player but only three albums and they were in constant rotation, over and over and over. Two were by the Smiths, the other by Billie Holiday. I fancied myself sophisticated.

My friends were all from distant locales that were impossible for me to imagine. Laura from San Francisco, Rita from San Juan. Esmerelda from Quebec, Jane from Quito. Douglas from the American South, Miller from South America. And there was Veronica from Cambridge and her Serbian boyfriend whose name I’d not yet bothered to learn. I was from the city, my apartment just blocks from the house where I grew up.

One night, Miller came over after dark. He was wearing an oxford shirt and an air of superiority. We talked very little before having sex on my bed, the sheets beneath us. I suppose it was something we had done before. Afterwards, he showered with the door open and I went into the kitchen. A knock and Veronica came in with her Serbian boyfriend. Both were beautiful, neither looked that happy to see me. I asked them how they were.

Miller came out of the shower. He had a finger in his ear to displace the water lodged there. Veronica gave me the why is he here? eyebrows and I shrugged. I went over to my big stainless steel refrigerator and remembered I hadn’t put anything in it. It was cold.

Miller left. Out on the street, a burst of exhaust. A truck made a turn. Veronica smoked on the balcony.

I’ve forgotten your name, I said at her boyfriend.

He didn’t reply.

How long have you known Veronica?

Still nothing. Maybe I wasn’t really speaking.

I put my head down on the counter. My hair was a mess. I could hear him moving quietly, finding a comfortable position in his chair.

His voice started soft. I used to not know anyone here, he said, and now I do.

What changed? I asked.

I don’t know if it was them or me.

Maybe both.

I think Veronica’s finishing her cigarette, he said.

It was true. She came in, closed the sliding door. She asked me about Miller, then about myself. I answered her quickly and then they left. I did not sit in her boyfriend’s seat, even though that chair was my favorite.

He came back the next week. I knew he would. It went like always. He talked about himself for a few minutes. He was an orphan, had lived with several different families in different Serbian cities. American college and Pell grants had saved him. I guess, he said, I was forced to adapt.

We had sex and he decided to not stay the night. Don’t tell Veronica, he said. He got his coat from the counter and for a moment he was framed there in my vision – a small man in front of my large refrigerator. He made sure he had his keys before he left.

Once he was gone, I looked up various details of his life on my laptop and then went to bed. In the darkness, I asked, who are you? and no one answered.

by camille pirtle

This story was written in August 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. It is previously unpublished.