The Other Stuff
This blog Jacquelyn and I have created attempts to give you some insight into those things we enjoy. We sincerely hope it produces in you a desire to do one deceptively simple thing: to do the things that you enjoy; to surround yourself with people and activities that make your life richer, more fulfilling and more fun. We don’t necessarily want you to do what we do. We’re just offering suggestions. Like we’ve said: Life is short. It is not a dress rehearsal. You should treat it like it’s your one shot.
In that regard, we have started a new category on our blog called The Other Stuff. It will highlight some things that don’t comfortably fit into the other categories.
And for our first entry in The Other Stuff, I wanted to share with you a short story I’ve written. It’s called “Displacement.” We hope you like it.
It wasn’t so much that things were misplaced; each of them, independently of the other, knew they had misplaced nothing. Well, not so much that first time when her glasses were missing, of course; or the second time, really, when it was his glasses that were gone. Were the truth to be told, when she couldn’t find her glasses that first time she thought he had hidden them somewhere as kind of a joke. A bad joke, she thought, but still just a joke. But after asking him where they were and after he had expressed ignorance, holding his hands up as if he were being robbed, she harbored some small unstated belief that she actually had misplaced the glasses herself. And several weeks later when his glasses were gone, he had that same suspicion, that he had simply misplaced them, but nevertheless accused her of doing the same thing, of moving them. Retribution, he had called it; but he too thought it was just another bad joke. And although the glasses, both hers and his, had been found later that same morning, they had each denied the other’s accusation. And while neither believed the other’s denials, their respective disbelief, each to the other, was kept closeted, lest it impair their nascent relationship.
But by the third time, though still convinced the other had done it, for whatever reason, they had nevertheless assured themselves, in conversations among themselves, that something else was at work. So after their conversation had ended and their mutual assurances had been offered and accepted, they had both agreed that it wasn’t that anything had been misplaced. It was more that the items, whatever they were, seemed to simply hide, out of sight; and as neither of them had any other explanation, they had concluded, somewhat sheepishly, because, you know, it just couldn’t happen, that the items had hidden themselves, apparently of their own volition. And because the items couldn’t just hide by themselves, they began to open the closet door, just a bit, so they would catch just a glimpse of the other’s disbelief.
First, it was her glasses that had been misplaced. Her inability to find them – her hand groping blindly for them where she had placed them on the nightstand the night before – was instantly disastrous because she couldn’t see well enough to look for them without them. But he eventually found them, tucked between the cushions of the couch. And she had been late for work.
But then it was his glasses that had gone missing. That was not quite as disastrous because he needed them only for reading. She, in turn, her own glasses poised on her face, had found them quickly. Again, between the couch cushions, but this time poised upright, instantly identifiable, one lens peeking out as though the glasses, as they searched for them, was itself looking in turn for them.
But then it was her underwear that she was positive she had left piled on the floor in a heap, just next to the bed in a hurry to get her clothes off. He had remembered asking her to leave them on so he could just pull them aside; if circumstances warranted pulling them aside, of course. He liked the look of them, but more, he liked the feel of them, lacey but rough against his fingers. The fact that her underwear was missing the following morning revealed her response to his request.
Soon it was other things missing. His wallet. Her bag, Louis Vuitton, along with the effluvia contained within it. His left shoe. Her right, Louboutin, which, because they were Louboutin, pissed her off. Her stockings. His socks. Each time they searched the apartment and ultimately, each time, they found the missing items.
Her glasses – jammed horizontally in between the couch cushions. His too; but vertically, which was why she had found them so quickly. Her underwear had been draped over the back of one of the dining room chairs. His socks were under the chair in the living room; her stockings were both beside and under the couch. Her bag had been completely divested of its contents and distributed all over the place. The bag itself had been jammed under the couch, barely within arm’s reach, but her makeup clutch which had been in the bag was in the refrigerator hiding behind the orange juice. Her cell phone and the remainder of her bag’s contents was out on the narrow, concrete balcony, each item placed neatly upright on and surrounding the small table between the two balcony chairs, as though each had been inspected and then carefully placed.
It didn’t really bother them particularly – though the makeup bag being in the refrigerator and its contents on the balcony, they had decided, was very weird, hugely perplexing and not a little bit scary – since the temporary losses occurred over a relatively long period of time. That’s how he put it: “a relatively long period of time.” It was six, or maybe seven, months since they had begun the relationship. And it was perhaps a dozen items that had been misplaced during that time, perhaps a few more, discounting as one the individual items in her makeup clutch.
The Louis Vuitton bag was just the most recent, and while it’s misplacement was decidedly strange, it wasn’t until she catalogued all the instances for him that he, too, thought it strange. And since she had taken the time to flip through that extemporaneous catalog of misplaced items for him, showing him each one as if it were on its own page, documented, catalogued evidence leading inexorably to her conclusion, obviously she thought it was strange long before he did. Although that shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise since it was his apartment.
“They’ll turn up,” he had said early on. “They’re here. Somewhere.” Though at least half of the time his attempt at being light and casual was met with an icy stare.
“I can’t see,” she had said when her glasses had gone missing.
“Where the fuck is my goddamn shoe,” she had uncharitably remarked when she could find only one of those.
“I need my bag,” she had said when her bag was gone. “And I need my stuff, too. And no, before you say it, I can’t wait for it to ‘turn up.’ I have places to be.” She was naked, head on the carpeted floor looking under the bed, her body triangled, her smooth back acting as the hypotenuse. But as she spoke to him she had straightened, the sheets still warm from their night together, her knees still planted wide on the carpet. She adjusted her glasses and then held up her hands as she spoke, elbows on the mattress, palms facing him, ricocheting the curled middle and index fingers off each of her palms syncopatially at the words, “turn up.”
By this time they were near the end of the six or seven month period since she had started to come over, since the misplacements had begun, so while he didn’t necessarily understand her irritation, telling her that the items would indeed, “turn up,” since they always had, she now understood that this relationship was well into that inevitable time when couples didn’t dissemble anymore, when they voiced what they were thinking – at least up to a point.
She had used the term “misplaced,” as in (though she had never used these exact words), “I believe I’ve misplaced my bag.” What she really meant, of course, was “displaced,” because misplacement implied, to her, some overt act, of carelessness, of negligence, perhaps, and she also knew that neither one of them had misplaced anything; though if misplaced through either carelessness or negligence she wondered whether she would recognize it. Displacement, on the other hand, she thought, seems to be somewhat divested from the actions of a single person. Displacement seems to occur through events larger than through the efforts of one individual. She considered some examples: she had a misplaced sense of loyalty, for example, though she knew she didn’t; not really. Or less prosaically, she had misplaced her keys. Its juxtaposition from the concept of displacement is apparent: the refugees had been displaced in a time of war.
The individual thing displaced – whatever personal property it may have been – was displaced in space, certainly, because, once displaced, it was rarely found in the place in which it was left. But sometimes it was displaced in time as well, because sometimes it would be found hours, days, or in once instance, weeks later (the item displaced at that time being one of her gloves), residing in the same place in which they both concluded it had been originally set, on his dresser, as though they had merely overlooked it. But they both knew they hadn’t. It simply was not there; and then weeks later it was.
“What’d you do with my glasses,” was her initial inquiry, early on. He was up and out of bed immediately, asking her questions about where she could have left them.
“Where did you last see them,” he had asked.
“I left them on the nightstand,” she said.
“Are you sure,” he had asked. So she had repeated herself. And when he had eventually moved into the living room after searching the bed, the nightstand, the dresser and the bathroom, he had found them tucked between the couch cushions.
He held them aloft.
“Ta da,” he had said triumphantly.
“How the fuck did they get there,” she had asked, ignoring his triumph.
But as the displacements began to occur more frequently, and when he simply denied any knowledge of its location, let alone its liberation, lately offered from his side of the bed from which he didn’t move, she didn’t believe him but she was playful about it. At least initially.
For example, when her underwear was missing:
“I didn’t wear your bra last night; so I don’t know where it is.” He didn’t move his head from its position on the pillow, his face turned away from her facing the closed window.
“You’re lying. I saw you last night. You thought I was sleeping but I saw you pick it up and put it on. What’d you do with it after you paraded yourself in front of the mirror?”
“Very funny,” he had said, still covered, unmoving.
But as the duration of their relationship lengthened, growing a bit harder and more brittle, less flexible with an attendant loss of emotional malleability, as the mystery of the displacement became more pronounced, the playfulness left, replaced with a certain halting endearment. Although that, too, soon devolved. So she would say:
“I know you want a memento; you know, of our time together. And I’ll give you one. Just tell me what you did with my ____.”
“I don’t have it. But are you thinking about going somewhere,” he had asked.
“I am if you don’t tell me where my stuff is.” And he had again professed his innocence.
“Fuck,” she had replied and continued to look for it.
Her responses were soon bereft of the prior kindnesses, of the kindred playfulness, of the endearments, too; a reflection, she recognized long before he belatedly did, that the relationship had lost its luster. Their relationship was no longer new. And less than a year into it, they soon realized that they had devolved, too; they had each become a little harder toward one another, a little more brittle, too, each metaphorically holding their arms protectively across their faces as their words were barbed.
There were her accusations – though characterizing them as accusations may have been too harsh a depiction – which were routinely followed by his denials. Or there were his accusations and then her denials. He had told her that his accusations were warranted as pay back for her baseless presumption that he’d hidden her things; because he hadn’t. But she thought he was being obtuse in the extreme because he continued to move her “stuff,” as she described it, when it so clearly irritated her.
But after the tenth or twelfth accusation followed by the tenth or twelfth denial, they had called a truce to the sparing and had formulated a plan, each silently concluding the other was to blame for the displacement, thinking the other was simply lying – but for reasons completely unknown. And probably unknowable. They thus had decided they would place something deliberately, both remembering exactly where it was placed, and then look for it in the morning. Simple in concept. Simple in execution. So simple in fact that they thought it incredible they hadn’t thought of it earlier.
They’d talked about it before bed, agreeing on the particular item and the location. Her gloves, it so happened, were the items they selected. The routine was basically the same: they went to bed, talked briefly, had sex, most of the time somewhat mechanically they would have both admitted had they been asked and had they been honest, slept and woke. Occasionally the sex would occur in the morning, after they had awakened. Or in the middle of the night, at those times always initiated by him when he had been awakened by an erection. Or, more often than not, not at all. Nevertheless, but for those nominal deviations involving sex, which were admittedly tangential to the plan they had devised, the plan was virtually the same each time. The items had been placed, they went to bed and woke up the next morning.
But incredibly, it never worked. Not once. The next day blossomed into a new argument. He thought they had agreed to place a different item. She thought the item was placed in a different spot. Even when they had talked about it before going to bed, there was usually something wrong the following day: either they couldn’t agree on what was placed, or they couldn’t agree on where it was placed. With respect to the gloves, one was there but the other was simply gone.
It didn’t occur every night, of course. Many nights they placed an item in a particular place, woke the next morning, and the item was in the same spot to which they agreed the previous night. It was only when they couldn’t remember, or couldn’t agree; then, on those occasions and only then, would it be displaced. It was as if something unseen was interfering with their memories. It was as if once they were deep into REM sleep, their breathing deep and sonorous, someone stole into the room and pushed a probe in through their ears and stirred up the memories cushioned silently, cavernously within. Though admittedly neither were absolutely sure whether their failure to remember was the cause of the displacement or the displacement was the cause of their failure to remember, each nevertheless thought the other was merely – but irritatingly – wrong. Deliberately so.
So they decided to write it down, carefully describing the article and its location, both thinking it idiotic that they had to do this, each thinking silently, that were it not for the other, all this would simply go away. They had done this with the glove, writing “Gloves – Dresser,” but the next morning incredibly neither recalled if they had placed just one glove or both on the dresser.
“It says ‘gloves,’ plural.” She held up the note mere inches from his face.
“I know what it says. I’m not an idiot. But I don’t remember both gloves. I only remember one. And I don’t like being interrogated.”
“You’re doing this on purpose. Why are you being so obtuse?”
But most of the time, as they each recognized, everything was fine. They would awaken just as those people do who are not subject to the malfeasance of displacement. Once awakened, they would shower, sometimes together, most times not, dress, drink the two cups of coffee each of them required before they could acknowledge to themselves that another day was suddenly upon them, and be on their way, each to their respective jobs. On those occasions, nothing was out of sync, nothing was out of place.
But on those occasions when they forgot to write it down, or in the case of the gloves, writing it down hastily, apparently inexactly (because, as she later admitted after they saw . . . whatever it was they saw . . . she didn’t remember whether it had been one or both of the gloves either), each time something would be gone. And sometimes, even when they did write it down and remembered where they had placed it, irritatingly, it would be something else that was missing, some other item they had forgotten in their haste, or because they were tired, or because one or both of them was mad or distracted or, occasionally, but now rarely, happy.
The ninth month of their relationship coincided with his birthday. She bought him a security system, the present unwrapped, no bow, the price still on it. The present consisted of two indoor security cameras, monitored if you wanted to pay the additional freight, along with an app that one could access to view the movement captured by the cameras.
They had gone to dinner. His choice since it was his birthday. Their conversation had ebbed and flowed and even though they were both slightly drunk by the time they arrived back at his apartment, having had a martini each and having split a bottle of wine between the two of them, she had insisted that they take the time to set up the security system that evening with one camera in the bedroom focused on the bed and the other in the living room pointed toward the door leading to the hallway outside the apartment. As his one bedroom, one bath apartment was twenty stories up, they had concluded it was wasted effort to point a camera toward the balcony, notwithstanding that one time her cell phone and the stuff from her makeup clutch had been found there. In that instance, though, they had both agreed, at his urging, that she had simply left the phone out there, though she knew she hadn’t, and they had both ultimately forgotten about its displacement. They had conveniently ignored the other items from her bag that had accompanied the phone on the balcony, each placed upright, because they frankly didn’t have a ready rationale for the fact that her bag had been disassembled nor a rationale for the location of the found items, each apparently placed on the balcony table deliberately, carefully, the clutch itself in the refrigerator. Poised behind the orange juice.
They also had no reason to believe that anyone came into the apartment at night since the apartment building’s security alarm, connected to the hallway and balcony doors, and which they set every night religiously, had never sounded, which obviously supported the theory, though neither could remember, that the cell phone, in that one instance, had been merely left behind. Again, there was no accounting for the placement of the clutch itself nor for the placement of the remainder of her clutch’s contents found on the balcony, each carefully placed upright.
She awoke first the next morning and she reached for his phone to check the app before she moved from her side of the bed. She was greeted with a recording of the sex they’d had in the middle of the night. She shook him awake and immediately told him to delete it. Though he promised to, he never did. But after that first night, seeing nothing out of kilter, nothing out of sync, he had decided not to avail himself of the monitoring for an extra $39.99 a month.
It was the same the next dozen nights, sometimes with, but mostly without the sex, and for those nights when they’d had sex, his immediate promise was aired to delete the recording, even without being asked. But again he never did.
And nothing happened for the dozen nights thereafter or the dozen after that. And they began to forget to check the app the following morning and often forgot to set the cameras themselves. And a dozen nights more elapsed, then two dozen and they soon forgot about the issue of displacement entirely.
Until one night three months later. She had awakened soon after they both fell asleep and had retrieved his phone, had pulled up the app and set the cameras.
“Just in case,” she murmured to herself. She placed his phone back on the nightstand and immediately fell asleep. At three in the morning, she woke him up.
“Hey! Wake up,” she whispered, pushing gently but determinedly on the outline he imposed on the covers.
“What?” He was startled. He looked at the bedside clock. “It’s three o’clock in the fucking morning.” She was the one who usually slept through the night. “What is it?”
“Look.” She was sitting up in bed, clearly awake. Her face was lit from the screen on his phone. The room was otherwise pitch black. She hit the “Play Recording” button, a large green button below a stationary image of the bedroom. He groaned and pushed himself upward and rested his head against the headboard.
The image they stared at was of them both sleeping, moving, the covers undulatory over their covered forms, cocooned in the bed, the bedding rippling as they changed positions, moved the pillows, adjusted themselves until they fell back to sleep. They stared for fully three minutes. At nothing.
“What’d you wake me up for? There’s nothing there,” he had said, and turned to go back to sleep.
“Wait for it,” she demanded. He turned back and again watched the stationary image. He waited two minutes more. And then the image changed. Something was at the edge of the bed near the shuttered window. She pointed.
“There! Do you see it? Do you?” She was triumphant. Her elbow found his ribs.
“Quiet,” he said, casting an irritated glance at her, as though her outburst would disrupt the digital recording of the darkly silent scene.
But it was not movement they were watching; not really. It was more like a faint ripple in the image itself. The ripple seemed to move, slowly, almost imperceptibly left to right through the bedroom, starting underneath the window, above the upholstered chair. But it was more than a ripple. It had form. It seemed to have substance. It looked like the optical displacement of a straw in a drinking glass and at the same time like ripples on a lake’s surface. She could see through it, as though it wasn’t there, but its image displaced the images behind it as it undulated silently. It had moved and now stood at the end of the bed, as though watching them, stock still but softly undulating nonetheless.
He looked up into the darkened room toward the place in space though now hours distant in time where it had stood and seeing nothing looked back at the image on the phone, stationary but still moving, rippling, slowly, silently. A full minute passed and then two and then three as it stood at the end of the bed, silently.
“What’s it looking at,” she asked.
“It’s watching us,” he replied.
The scene on the phone was reflected in the mirror attached to the dresser which sat at the end of the bed, echoing the scene, making it seem as though the apparition was larger than it was, as though it encompassed more of the room. Through the mirror they watched the image of themselves in the scene, lying in bed, as if they were the ones who were rippling. It was as though the mirror was a vertical pool of water and they were looking into it at their own reflections lying in bed as they rippled and pulsated. They watched it move again, whatever it was, slowly, back and forth at the end of the bed. It seemed to change color as it moved, from a clear blue to a soft yellow and then to a pale pink, and then back, though in the dark, illuminated only by the street lamp far below, it was difficult to discern. It moved laterally back and forth at the end of the bed and then seemed to turn toward the closed bedroom door. It paused once more and then seemed to simply float through it, out through the door and apparently into the living room.
“What the hell …,” he began.
“Watch,” she demanded. She clicked on the button on the app labeled “Camera 2” and the living room came immediately into view, the camera now poised on the table next to the couch. “I moved the camera.” The second camera thus now captured the whole of the room. And there the apparition came, moving toward the camera, the optical displacement emanating out of the closed bedroom door, moving slowly, becoming larger in the field of view, again stationary for two minutes more, as though it was looking at the camera. As it approached, he moved back in the bed, his head now higher on the headboard as if moving back from the apparition on his phone. He turned to look at her, the camera’s image still illuminating her face, her body stock still, her eyes fixed on the unfolding scene. He moved his eyes back to the image and as he did, the displacement turned again, flashing from light blue to a pale yellow, as though looking out through the balcony door; and then turning again, back to the camera, though neither of them were sure why they thought it had turned, except that the color variations seemed to precede some change in direction.
They could see the displacement better as the light from the street lamp shone brighter into the uncurtained living room. It was blue and then yellow and then pale pink again as it moved throughout the room. It moved closer to the balcony door and then apparently moved through the closed door and now was on the balcony itself, hidden briefly behind the outside wall. They waited another few minutes for it to reappear.
“Is it gone,” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “Watch.”
The displacement appeared in the living room again, slowly emanating out of the wall separating the balcony from the apartment, as though squeezing into the room like toothpaste from a tube. Once in the room again, its pink color faded to yellow once more as it proceeded to the hallway door. Once there, it again seemed to turn, as though looking back at the room, turned again and receding into the hallway door, receding like a small, silent wave at the shoreline, but here, disintegrating at the hallway door as though it had never been.
She turned off the phone. The bedroom was blanketed into darkness once more, the dim light from the streetlamp below creating a syncopated rhythm from between the blinds. She turned to him.
“What the fuck was that,” she whispered. He thought she looked a little scared, though admittedly, his eyes had not yet adjusted to the dark.
“I don’t know.” He was whispering, too, but neither could fathom why they were whispering.
“Maybe there’s a glitch in the software,” she offered. “Maybe something’s wrong with the cameras.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. Not both of them. Not at the same time.” They sat in the dark.
“Do you think it has something to do with our stuff being moved?”
“Of course not,” he said. Then a moment later, “I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t know. But what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” he responded slowly with just a hint of irritation, his eyes turning briefly in her direction but his body still motionless. They both looked back at the blank screen on the phone.
“Neither do I.” She turned to him again. “But what was that?” He turned his head and looked at her and said nothing for a long time. He turned his eyes back to the phone.
“I don’t know,” he said slowly, quietly. “I don’t know.” They both watched the screen, not speaking, for an indeterminate amount of time. She broke the growing maw of silence that arose between them.
“It was like … it was like, I don’t know, somehow … familiar,” she began.
“What do you mean, familiar?”
“I don’t know.” She paused. “It seemed somehow recognizable. Not recognizable like a face or a person. It seemed like it was more of a memory; one that you can just barely remember or like a faint recollection of some kind, a recollection of an event or,” she paused, “or maybe of a time in the past.” She turned to face him. She held his forearm. “You know what I mean?”
“No. Not really. It didn’t look familiar to me. I didn’t have any sense of that at all.” They sat for a long time. She released his arm and pulled herself low into the bed. She pulled the covers up close around her neck. Finally, she spoke softly.
“I don’t think I can stay here anymore.”
“Yeah, I get that,” he said simply.
She closed her eyes as she retraced a memory from her childhood. The memory came unbidden, without context. But it was the familiarity that she had recognized. She saw in the apparition the heat rising off a hot sidewalk on Galveston Island, slowly undulating on a summer’s day twenty years earlier; one of her hands was held by her father, the other held a dripping vanilla ice cream cone, the heat from the sidewalk softly rippling and distorting the image of the Ferris wheel in the distance. She had turned and looked out toward the gulf, the water still and warm. She saw in the apparition and now remembered following the glint of sunlight that day caught in a single wave moving across the placid water, echoed vestiges of a boat long gone.
She turned in the bed away from him, the far away, time borne image impressed on her retinas. She shut her eyes but she couldn’t sleep.