A text message at 2:36 AM woke me from a dream about a talking snake who wore a tube sock as pants. In the dim light of my phone I could see the outline of the pile of clothes on my computer chair that looked like a man sitting with his legs crossed. I might have known that his name was Charlie. It’s a common name, ill fit for a man who practices taxidermy and collects rocks from the bottoms of lakes he scuba dives.
Charlie tips his hat at me and takes a long drag of his cigarette. Charlie knows, of course, that one shouldn’t smoke lest they risk lung cancer, but Charlie has never been one to care about the time or reason of his death.
The talking snake warned me of a great flood that would submerge the city. The steady pattering of rain outside my window reminds me that I never let my cat in last night. I hear the soft mewing of my baby outside. She patiently waits for me to open the front door. I hope she can swim.
Three chimes and a bird chirp: my text alert. I wonder who could be texting me so early in the morning. It could have been my mother asking me if I was awake because she has just finished her detective show on Netflix, and she couldn’t talk to my father about it because he’s been dead for six months. It could have been my best friend, Amanda, sending me a photo of her on the Great Wall of China as a reminder to me that she was off on some exciting adventure, and I was at home trying to write the next best novel. It could have been my phone company letting me know that my next bill was ready.
It was an unknown number with an unfamiliar area code. I guess we fizzled out, huh? Unlock phone for more.
I guess we fizzled out, huh? It’s a shame, I really liked you. I felt obligated to give this stranger closure. Maybe he had the wrong number, some girl at the bar gave him a string of digits that just happened to be mine. Maybe she was an old friend of mine from high school that I haven’t spoken to in years. Maybe I erased their contact in a petty attempt to cut someone out of my life for not inviting me to their brunch party.
Who is this? I watched the three dots bounce on the screen and disappear. One minute. Two. Five.
Of course you wouldn’t know, you never really looked at me anyway. My cat cried louder and a crack of thunder vibrated through the walls. The flash of lightning illuminated my room, transforming Charlie once again into a pile of laundry.
The snake had told me I could not build a boat by myself. “You are not Noah,” he had said.
I never really look at anyone anymore. I remember him, from Amanda’s going away party two weeks ago. He had sat next to me on the couch, his thigh warm against mine. He listened to me speak about House of Leaves, which I had just finished reading, and he leaned into me to whisper into my ear even though I could hear him just fine.
Good to know you didn’t just think I was ugly. I look up at Charlie, who I want to give me words of wisdom like my father did when he was alive, but Charlie is not real. I know that now.
The snake told me to be wary of trains because I might be hit by one someday. “You never know when you will take your last breath,” he had said.
I imagine that my last breath will be taken underwater, an inescapable reflex that fills my lungs with water. I sink to the sidewalk and land cross-legged beside a street lamp that is completely submerged in water. The light shines down on me, causing my shadow to ripple and dance along the pavement. I look above and see the debris wash away in the current. I look above and see my baby swimming in circles above my head.
I didn’t get a good look; I’d have to see you again to be sure. My mother sits at home most days in front of the television trying to convince herself my father is in the basement working on another deer mount for the hunting lodge thirty miles down the road. Amanda is backpacking in Asia to try to forget that her ex-boyfriend cheated on her with his coworker. My phone company representative that I speak to sometimes at the store when I go to update my phone doesn’t look like the kind of woman who would be partial to constructing a boat with a stranger.
They put baby marshmallows in the hot chocolates at Rustic’s, I’ll meet you there in thirty minutes. I roll out of bed and pull my leggings from Charlie’s stomach. He tumbles to the floor. On the way out the door I let my baby in. She nuzzles against my legs, her wet fur collecting on my shins.
My umbrella is in the car and by the time I’m in the driver’s seat my skin is clammy and my hair clings to the sides of my face. The rain collects at the edges of the road, running down the gutter into the storm drain. In Stephen King’s It there is a boat that travels down the stream, I can see it clearly: coated in wax, bobbing under the waves.
Three chimes and a bird chirp: Check out the view! Amanda writes. I examine the image at the red light. Amanda has always had a talent for photography, I tell her that. I didn’t think you’d be up yet, she says.
I didn’t either.
Rustic’s parking lot is empty save a beaten-up motorbike near the entrance. His back is to the door when I walk in. He runs his hand through his hair.
I look above the barista’s head at the counter into the cold glass eyes of a water buffalo. I remember that one from my youth, when I would sit on my father’s lap while he pinned skin to forms.
The barista calls drinks for Aaron, a common name, ill-fit for a boy who rides motorbikes in the rain at 3 in the morning to meet a girl who didn’t even know his name. He smiles at me when he turns around and I sit at the table facing the door.
“Wanna see a magic trick?” He asks after he takes his seat across from me. I nod. “First, I’ll need this napkin,” he takes the napkin and folds it into a tiny white boat.
“That’ll never float,” I say as I watch him scoop his whipped cream out of his mug and dispose of it in mine.
“Technically, anything will float,” he says as he places the boat delicately into the hot chocolate, “some things just sink faster.”