Loneliness approaches slowly. Often you don’t notice it until it’s already smothering you from every direction, cornering you in the dirty fly-infested kitchen at three in the morning while you are drunk and vulnerable, feet aching from walking all the way home in borrowed shoes.
It’s something shrouded in shadows, overlooked, but you can see it clearly in the fluorescent light of the refrigerator as it buzzes like a tired fly. How could you ever have missed it? It is such a gigantic and looming presence above you.
There is buffalo sauce smeared stupidly across your face and drying sticky on the tips of your fingers. Your eyes are wide, and your head is already starting to pound. It’s not cold enough in here for the jacket that you still haven’t taken off. And it’s so, so quiet at night. Even the people in the upstairs apartment are silent now. No one will help you.
Desperate, you crawl across the floor like an ant. You could die here. You could be squished under a heavy boot, and how long till anyone would notice? Or would they notice at all?
You make your way from linoleum to carpet, make your way to the threadbare sofa and lean against it, reaching for the remote with shaking hands. The TV will make your fear go away, or at the very least weaken it. You flip it on to the weather channel.
The anchorwoman speaks to you of winds and rain, wildfires, and meteor showers. You turn the volume up.
“-light afternoon showers on Wednesday,” she says, “but a clear night in the mid-50s.”
As she speaks, you calm down. You imagine her on a Wednesday night in the mid-50s, re-doing her lipstick in the bathroom mirror before leaving work, donning the raincoat she wore in the morning, taking a detour on the way home.
She is the picture of success, but does she have love in her life? Is she any less lonely than you are?
You imagine her mother once told her that a woman who knows her worth is destined for loneliness, and she resented the implications, but look at her now. Every man she meets is mediocre, lackluster. She is tired of being the better one in every relationship. More beautiful, better job, better personality. There never seems to be anything in it for her. Her friends tell her she’s too picky.
The strip club lights reflect in dark pools left on the asphalt by the afternoon showers. She steps in a puddle and watches the neon distort beneath her high-heeled boot.
In the club, no one recognizes her, or if they do, they don’t say anything. The bartender knows who she is but only because she comes here often.
She orders her usual gin and tonic, puts it on her tab and heads to the ATM.
Things she has noticed about strip clubs: when women go to them, regardless of whether the strippers are men or women (she frequents both), it’s almost always some kind of celebration. The men there can be depressed and jaded and alone, but the women are always in groups, always rowdy and excited.
She watches the patrons as much as she watches the strippers because while there is undeniably a sexual component to this pastime, it’s about more than that too.
Somberly, she tucks a twenty into her cleavage and beckons a stripper forth, and the stripper crawls across the stage in a mocking imitation of you on your kitchen floor, sticks her face in the anchorwoman’s tits, and pulls the money out with her teeth.
The anchorwoman wonders, as she always does, if the stripper might recognize her face – maybe she doesn’t know exactly where she recognizes it from, but maybe there is still a touch of familiarity, a sense of deja-vu.
She imagines that the stripper clings to this feeling. Who is this woman seeking her services? Where does she know her from?
The anchorwoman has never seen this girl here before. She imagines she must be from out of town, here perhaps to pursue her dreams.
She imagines that on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, the stripper walks to the research lab on Park St. for her unpaid internship. She’s only just moved here and hasn’t yet realized that there is a shuttle that stops just around the corner of her apartment complex near the basketball court and the drugstore, where the highway partition blocks off the sounds of the traffic and the view of the woods.
Sometimes her eyes glaze over while she catalogues samples of human DNA, alone in a windowless room after a long night of lap dances and stimulants.
Sometimes on her way home, she walks past a tunnel whose purpose she can only guess at, and she looks in to see if anyone is there. They never are. It’s just a compulsion.
A pair of seagulls in the parking lot fight over scraps of three-dollar pizza and bits of food in discarded Styrofoam boxes. The sky is choked with smog. She can feel it sink into her pores.
She hasn’t made any friends in the few months since she’s moved in, so on her nights off, she sits by herself on the windowsill in the dark and drinks from a bottle of Barefoot wine and watches the lights and the shifting smoke in the dark sky, listens to the sirens from the station across the street.
Her downstairs neighbor, a college-age kid she’s only seen in passing, meets up with older men from Craigslist on Thursday nights, and she watches them park and walk through the lot to the building, each of them grotesque in their own unique way. And sometimes she can even hear snippets of conversation when they leave the windows open.
The stripper wonders, taking a sip of wine, if the neighbor likes interacting with so many people, or if maybe he’s lonely too. She imagines he is – it’s cliché, but she imagines the sex only makes it worse, and the next morning he wakes up alone with vomit on his pillow, and he smears his palms through it, one hand still swollen from an infected bug bite. It’s starting to smell now. He mentally adds it to the list of things wrong with him.
He snaps a picture on his phone and texts it to a doctor he used to fuck around with.
What is this? Says the doctor.
My hand, he replies.
He texts the same photo to a psychiatrist he fucks around with somewhat regularly.
? the psychiatrist writes.
My hand? He replies.
You should probably ask a doctor, says the psychiatrist.
So you admit ur not a real doctor?
The psychiatrist doesn’t respond.
He texts the same photo to a father of two that he plans on fucking around with in the future.
What is it? says the father. My phone can’t download pix.
On TV, he watches a red pinwheel spin slowly across the screen.
“Scattered thunderstorms later on Thursday,” says the anchorwoman, “as hurricane Zenobia makes her way towards the coastline.”
He changes the channel.