You are reading Fiddleblack #12
I’ve been calling a dead woman’s phone number for years.
It wasn’t long before that when she showed up at my door. Things were tense around here in those days, and I wasn’t feeling particularly social that evening. When the knock came, it would have been easy to ignore. The twin bodybuilders nearby often bang on the windows and slip notes through the too tall crack of the entryway making strange requests. “Can we bench press you later?” is often on the menu. When I used to feel ornery about my sulking being interrupted, I would answer the door disheveled and barely dressed. It usually offended the alcoholic’s mother who visits her son once a week, but can’t manage to remember he doesn’t live in this apartment. This time it was Eileen.
Eileen and her peroxide hair that had been left to bake in the sun too long. We both fancied big sunglasses and vintage bags, but tonight she was cradling a cat. She apologized profusely and whispered, “He’s dead.”
She seemed to enjoy saying my name and would curl the letters around her Revlon lips, ending each syllable with a gentle sigh. Her cadence made everything sound like a question, but she claimed to be born with a psychic gift. One time she told me I was going to get married. “You’re so handsome,” she would gush at my ex, D. When I had to break the news he was just my roommate now and that us holding hands that one time outside was just his way of trying to reassure me everything was going to be ok, her face went white. Then she told me I was psychic.
I entertained her with stories about my father who used to make me guess the suit of each card while holding my tiny hand over the deck. It was a game we played in the yellow kitchen, but it always seemed so important to him. His mother, my grandmother, told me a secret back then: she learned to read a tarot spread with playing cards so she could hide it from the family. Italians are superstitious no matter the circumstances.
Eileen who I barely knew, but had confided some deeply personal stories to, was standing in her tiny apartment. I was staring at a dead cat that was more like knots of fur that had knitted themselves into something. She was crying, and her house smelled like urine. I held her, and she told me I was beautiful. “I used to be beautiful,” she said. I told her she still was—even though the lines around her mouth were caked with lipstick, and her breath evaporated against my face like cheap wine.
It wasn’t long after that we would see each other at a party across the street. My best friends were having a baby, and Eileen doted on them. She showed up drunk that night and made lewd comments to some French guy I had just met. She told him she wanted to fuck him and that she loved the French. Everyone got awkward and quiet, but Frenchie couldn’t take his eyes off her, and neither could I.
Mr. Peepers was wrapped in a blanket. I tried to tell her he was getting stiff and that we should put him in a box. She was rocking him when I left her, sipping from a long-stem glass and quietly sobbing.
Before she moved into what she refused to call an assistant living facility, she gave me her Johnny Cash records and jewels. She called everything her jewels. I used the purple purse she gave me for a job interview, which won me a compliment from the humorless woman seated across from me. I told her it was a gift from an old friend and that she used to be an artist, too. She remained incredibly uninterested.
There were many phone calls, most of them when Eileen was drunk. We talked about everything we never seemed to have the time to share while she lived here. She asked me about my art and confessed that she watched me brush my hair one evening through my window. She used to talk to my cats through the glass. I listened to stories about her family while fading in and out of sleep. Sometimes she just cried, and then she would repeat my name. She insisted on throwing me a dinner party that never happened, but spent almost an hour each time we talked describing the wine and cheese she wanted to buy, and how she would set the table. I held the phone with my neck and watched the flesh clinging to the nail on my finger as I tore it off, listening to her tell me about the beer she would buy D even though he had been gone for months.
I stopped taking her calls when they came later and later at night. Her last voicemail was despondent.
“Something bad has happened.”
Alison Nastasi is an artist (MFA) and entertainment journalist from New York City, currently residing in Philadelphia. She is the weekend editor for the arts and culture website Flavorwire and writes about film for Fandango, Fearnet, Movies.com, and MTV. Previously, her work appeared on Cinematical and Moviefone, and she has been published in Rue Morgue Magazine.