2: The Rabbit Hole


I am! yet what I am who cares, or knows?

My friends forsake me like a memory lost.

I am the self-consumer of my woes;

They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,

Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.

And yet I am—I live—though I am toss’d…

John Clare, “Written in Northampton County Asylum”


I have a theory that goes like this:

Nothing matters, really.

You can play your part, or not.

You can love, or not.

Either way, you exist.

Either way, you choose.

And I choose solitude.


My doorman is one of two people I willingly speak to on a routine basis.

“What’s my quote today, Ms. Swan?” he asks with a grin.

“‘Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.'”

“Ah,” he says appreciatively. “Martin Luther King.”

“Junior,” I add. “Goodbye, Billy.”


Black suit, blue and silver striped tie.

Kelly the Barista takes his order, and I can’t hear what she says but the look on her face tells me there’s a problem.

His shoulders tense as she speaks, then he hands her a bill and walks away from the register, leaving her looking after him with a dumbfounded gape. She quickly snaps out of it and his drink is in his hands as he’s walking out the door less than a minute later.

“What’d that guy want?” I ask nonchalantly as I buy a bottle of water I have no intention of drinking.

Kelly rolls her eyes, but her coworker grins. “He tried to pay with a hundred dollar bill. She told him we couldn’t make change it so he told her to keep it.”

I nod, surprised, as I commit this bit of information to memory.


“Do you ever see your behavior as predatory?” Dr. Cope asks, and I imagine it must take a great deal of effort to keep one’s voice so neutral.

“No,” is my calm reply.

She frowns, ever so slightly. “Do you understand how it can be perceived as such by others?”


She waits for me to continue, so I do.

“I’m done worrying about others.”

“Mmhm. The opinions of other people don’t matter to you?”

“Not anymore.”

I can sense her shift, straighten. Now we’re getting somewhere, she’s probably thinking.

“There was a time you cared?”


“What happened to make you stop?”

“Nothing,” I sigh.

“Are you sure?”

She asks this skeptically, like I’m a child who’s just reported that, yes mom, I did clean my room and may I please go outside now?

“Of course I’m sure.”


She begins writing again. I wonder if she ever just makes a grocery list or solves a crossword puzzle—surely no one is interesting enough to merit this much scribbling.

“What are you writing?”

“Does it matter to you what I write?” she asks pointedly.

“No. But I’m curious.”

“You’re curious? That sounds a bit like caring, to me.”

“It isn’t,” I shrug. “I can be curious without getting attached.”

“Alright. Talk about that.”

I hate when she does this, like I’m some sort of improv actor who just needs the right line prompt.

“Haven’t you ever just wanted to know things?”

“What kinds of things?” she asks patiently.

“All kinds. But sometimes, when you see a person, and you just feel… you just feel this connection to them, and you just want to… watch.”

She nods like she understands. “Is this connection mutual?”

“It doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel it. You see that person for a second, or a minute or whatever and you just want… you just want to know everything.”

“So this fixation… is about getting to know Mr. Cullen?”

“No, it’s knowing about him.”

“You have no interest in getting to know him, personally?”

“No.” I pause. “Yes.”




“It doesn’t matter right now,” I repeat. “I’m not a predator. I’m not going to— I’m just curious.”

She nods, checking her watch. “Right. Well, that’s our time. We’ll pick back up next week.”

I stand to leave when she says my name.


“Please be careful.”

I smile. “I will.”


“Afternoon, Ms. Swan,” Billy calls as I come closer. “Rumor has it you got a package today.”

“A package?”

I don’t get packages.

“Yes, ma’am. What’s my quote today?”

“‘Worries go down better with soup,'” I respond absently, quickly exhausting the short mental list of people who would have reason or motivation to send me a package.

“Yeah? What kind?”

“I don’t know. It’s an old Jewish proverb.”

“Anyone could have said that. You’re getting soft. Tomorrow, I want a real one.”

“Sure, Billy.”

Several minutes later, I set the package in question on my dining room table. The return address makes me nervous, but I open it anyways, ripping through the packing tape with my key and tearing through packing peanuts until I’m standing in a small puddle of white.

Something rips in my chest, just a little, when I see the contents at the bottom.

The shadow of a memory, sharp enough to stun.

After several moments, I place the package in the coat closet and spend the rest of the evening pushing against the inky tendrils of something threatening to color my soul.


The notion of following him begins to niggle on the edges of my brain with increasing intensity.

I know his stride, his expression of perpetual ennui, his habit of scratching his forehead as he talks on the phone, and the fact that he occasionally thinks it appropriate to pay for a cup of coffee with a $100 bill.

But what comes after?

Every morning, he walks out the door and climbs into a car that takes him to his life. His real day begins with whatever greets him when he gets out of his Towncar, and I have no idea of what that could be.

This isn’t normal, an ethical reflex sometimes reminds me.

It isn’t normal, but I watch his elegantly long fingers curve around his coffee cup and my chest swells with something… something that feels like need.

These morning interludes are beginning to no longer be enough. I need more.


Sometimes I forget what he looks like. My mind’s eye sees a straight nose, a strong jaw. A head full of hair and shoulders bolstered by private school posture. The parts, scattered away from their sum and he’s almost unreal.

And then, other times, I remember him perfectly.

“Ah,” I breathe into the air above my bed, my fingers making tighter and tighter circles around my clit. In my fantasies, he is not bored, he is desperate. He pants my name against me, breathing like a winded racehorse as I clench my thighs around his trim waist.

Bella, he’d grunt. Bella, Bella, Bella.

I want the idea of him inside of me.


One morning, it happens:

I finally touch him.

Rather, he touches me.

Rather, he crashes into me as he exits through the coffee shop door, much to my dismay. My disappointment is initially two-fold: first, he’s here earlier today and that means I’ve missed my chance to see him; and second, a few drops of his coffee splash onto my white sneaker.

“Pardon me,” he says absently, and continues past, oblivious to the stain he’s left on my shoe or the blight he’s wrought upon my routine.

My reason for sitting in the café today no longer exists and I watch him leave, my fingers twitching restlessly against my thighs.

Cullen’s driver holds open the back door of the Towncar, proceeding to shut it firmly as his boss disappears into the belly of the sleek onyx vehicle before looking me up and down. His eyes linger on me for a moment before he walks around to the driver’s side. I’m sure he’s filed my face away, just in case. That’s what I would do.

They’re leaving.

It’s today, my twitchy fingers tell me.

It’s today.

As the limo signals its return into traffic, I’m only half-interested in remaining inconspicuous to Cullen’s driver as I hail a cab and utter words I’ve only heard in reruns of ’80s cop shows.

“Follow that car.”



About hollelujah

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