What happens after they leave.
After he left, striding out huffily and incredulously without so much as a backwards glance, I paced the hallways of the apartment-turned-office-turned-guestroom that wasn't mine. I opened doors forbidden to me, peered into cabinets full of files and architectural renderings. I ran shaky hands across the surfaces of desks, over keyboards in the darkened offices that lined the converted compound where bedrooms, a kitchen, and memories should have been.
The breeze from my quick, nervous steps produced a tickle on my thigh that all of a sudden started to feel like the blow of a hammer with each movement. Looking down, I noticed the hem of my black negligee was falling on one side like wall paper peeling in a grand old house; not the result of the earlier struggle, no, but still an insult, proof that decay eventually engulfs all things. The feeling of devastation that fraying edge produced in me was frightening, and I felt certain that it had been that gaping imperfection that had made him treat me badly, had made him leave.
I knew I would never, ever see him again.
Without realizing it, I had done several laps of the apartment containing the room I was renting. It was nearly three a.m.; within a few short hours, the proprietors would be here to begin the work day, and together with their team of employees, would fill the space with ringing phones and clanging fingers, turning every room except the smallest one in the back corner where my bed and television and armoire were into a working office. I would soon have to wake up, ready myself among the hum of a day already underway, and walk past each open office door on my way out, as I did every morning, wondering who was looking at me and what they were seeing.
But first, I would have to sleep. And before I could sleep, I'd have to calm down, stop my heart from ripping through my chest.
The sight of his ring on the bedside table exacerbated the panic that grew from a single-celled seed in my stomach into a tumble of weeds that threatened to sprout from my mouth and nose and ears, attach to the walls and floor, and trap me in place for a hundred years.
I had to keep moving, but there was nowhere to go, no one to call, and no eyes to meet. Breathing was no longer automatic, so I wrestled to flip on the emergency generator in my lungs. I selected the three-second setting, and at each interval I dutifully, manually drew breath. Eternities passed between each gulp.
The apartment expanded like a universe, and became too large to traverse without the danger of running out of fuel and collapsing. I couldn't risk being found in a torn negligee the following morning; they'd know what I did, that I had broken the rules and invited someone in, and worse, that I had made the wrong choice of companion, and they would tell the school and I would be relocated or sent home. I had to stay in my room now.
Air. I seemed to recall a balcony somewhere in the apartment. Of course, it was in my room, my own room!
I tugged at the fraying pulleys that commanded the ugly, algae-green window shades that separated my room from the balcony outside, drawing them up although the cold night air made them groan in protest. Hand over hand, I hoisted them open like a sailor in a storm. I stepped outside into the cold night air to peer out into the courtyard at the center of the apartment buildings, half expecting a turbulent sea to rise up and sweep me away.
There was no sea, but instead dry, cracked concrete dotted with benches and clumps of persistent, straw-like grass. Not a single light was on in any of the little apartments surrounding me; I was the only human left alive, and inside my room his ring glowed with an alien light reflected from the television set where at this hour the only entertainment came from commercials featuring live sex operators who moaned on command.
I impulsively grabbed my cell phone, a cheap flip phone with a cheap pay-as-you-go plan, but there was no one I could afford to call at this hour, no one who would say the right thing. How could I explain the terrible thing I had done to survive, explain the panic attack that followed the physical attack, the insistent clawing and pawing, that followed the invitation that I, so stupid doe-eyed, had extended to a man I didn’t know but was certain would rescue me.
I threw the phone onto the bed, and before it even had time to make contact with the rumpled blanket, I threw myself onto the bed, as well.
The contact jarred me from my panicked frenzy, and just like that I was engulfed in calm grey tentacles of exhaustion. I fell asleep on top of the phone, and was awakened three hours later by the persistent beeping of its alarm that like a bird of prey jerked me from a rhythmic sleep among the waves.
His ring was still on the nightstand, but in the early morning sunlight its overpowering metallic glow wasn't bright enough to blind me anymore.