Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Melissa Brooks


"Split"
 

            Fluorescent lights shone down on Patricia's head, illuminating the sweat she felt budding along her hairline in this room with no windows. The ceiling was too low, the floor too concrete. Like a prison holding cell. What kind of room was this for an interview?

            She sat alone on one side of a long table across from three confident professionals, real adults who wore well-pressed suits and sleek sheath dresses. The lone woman had voluminous waves and perfectly applied makeup. Patricia's own hair hung limp around her plain face, its only flourish color-tinting lip gloss. Her cheap skirt and cardigan draped her skinny shoulders and legs like giant bags. How dumb she looked. How juvenile.

            "Three words to describe yourself," one of the men said.

            "Um…that's tough. Like, how do you boil yourself down to three words?" She laughed nervously. Her voice sounded alarmingly high-pitched and girlish. "Oh, I know! Hardworking. So that's one. And, well I'm responsible and … and … let me think for a minute." She closed her eyes, trying to see where the third and final word might be hiding, but all she saw was an infrared Rorschach on the back of her eyelids.

            The silence seemed to stretch on and on. She opened her eyes. They stared at her with blank faces, completely inscrutable.
           
            She wanted to say, "Look, I get better grades than everyone you interviewed." She wanted to say, "While everyone gets shit faced, I study." She wanted to say she'd never missed a single class, had never been late in her life, took everything she did seriously, right down to her job at the video store. She cleaned and stocked the shelves while her co-workers sat behind the counter flirting.

            "That's okay," the other man said. "We can come back to that one. How about your worst quality?"

            "Is that a trick question?" Another nervous laugh.

            The woman tapped a pen against the table. A relentless tap tap tap. How was Patricia supposed to think?

            Her mouth grew dry. She forgot to smile. She waved her hands wildly around her like a goddamn helicopter. Once she realized she was doing it she shoved them back in her lap, only to forget seconds later and start waving them again.

            This was why she wanted to direct, not act. The spotlight was too much. They expected her to be personable, like she was interviewing for an anchor position, not an intern position, where the only thing that would likely be required of her would be to fetch coffee and unjam the copier—do television studios have copiers? Either way it wasn't rocket science. But they acted like it was. Like they needed the perfect person, like they could tell who the perfect person was based on a thirty-minute interview, like they could tell everything they needed to know about her in that miniscule amount of time.


            She wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt before shaking their hands but it made no difference. She left WGN's studio humiliated, horrified. She tried to reassure herself that everything was okay, she was fine, she had a chance, only to be overtaken by another voice saying no, you were horrible, it's over. Your chance at a job is gone. You're going straight back home to Mom and Dad's after graduation. She'd sleep in her childhood bedroom surrounded by her childhood things—stuffed animals, lavender walls, a border of teddy bears floating with balloons. She'd help her mother around the house, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing dishes, toilet, tub. In between chores, they'd watch daytime TV—because her mother's viewing habits were less discriminatory than hers—before napping on the couch, tired from boredom rather than actual mental or physical exertion.


            The parking lot was quiet. Too quiet.

            Patricia had only taken a few steps when she felt dizzy, everything tilting a little, the people tilting, the cars tilting, all the world tilting, growing fuzzy. She put her hands on her knees, breathed the fresh air in deep. Her insides grew too big for her skin; bones, muscles, organs pushed against her, pushed out, trying to burst free. With a yell, she felt her insides rip from her. She fell to the sidewalk.

            After, there was relief.

            When she opened her eyes, Patricia saw herself, an exact duplicate of herself, sitting right next to her. The same long dark hair fell across her face. They were even wearing the same thing, right down to the hand-me-down black heels her mother had long since lost any use for. Patricia reached out but this other self, this Other Patricia, stood before she could touch her.

When she opened her eyes, Patricia saw herself, an exact duplicate of herself, sitting right next to her.

            She followed her across busy streets, through crowds of people, onto the bus. This Other Patricia looked so small, her legs like little sticks in those scuffed up heels, feet barely scraping the bus floor like a child.

            The Other Patricia didn't even look at her, like Patricia wasn't even there at all. She just stared out the window, face as blank as plastic. Was that how Patricia's face, the real Patricia's face, always looked? She felt like she was in a dream, watching herself move through the world.

*       *       *

            The Other Patricia didn't look at her until they reached their dorm suite. Patricia waited for something momentous, for their bodies to float up from the floor and collide, for an explosion to shake the universe. But nothing happened. The Other Patricia only glanced at her with that same glazed blank face, like she wasn't fazed at all. Like she'd always lived a life in which there were two Patricias. Maybe she had. Maybe she'd been living right alongside the real Patricia since she was born, invisible until this very moment.

            The Other Patricia rifled through her roommate Melanie's top dresser drawer, pulling out a sandwich bag filled with at least a dozen joints. She sat against the bunk beds the real Patricia and Melanie shared like a couple of six-year-olds. Patricia had begged her parents to let her live off campus her senior year, but they didn't like her living in the city. They at least wanted to know she was safe on campus. Never mind girls got assaulted on campuses every day. Girls got assaulted everywhere every day.

            The Other Patricia lit a joint and inhaled deep. Patricia didn't like smoking pot, dreading the loss of control of her thoughts, her words, her actions, her facial expressions, Melanie pointing out how frightened she looked when she didn't even know she looked frightened. Or she'd laugh uncontrollably for no reason at all, incapable of stopping, terrified she would die of oxygen deprivation. But the Other Patricia looked so calm.

            Patricia sat beside her double on the floor. This close, the Other Patricia's skin seemed almost translucent. Patricia swore she could see the smoke snaking down the Other Patricia's trachea, into the mirrored pink lungs filling like innertubes. Chicken pox scars and giant pores overwhelmed her face, which meant they overwhelmed Patricia's face too. Everyone probably thought she was disgusting, including Dylan.

*       *       *

            The first time Patricia met Dylan, he'd been reading D'entre Les Morts, ill-translated to The Living and the Dead, the source material for Vertigo. She admired his smooth skin, his long lashes, his unwavering concentration. She sat beside him on the campus bench, trying to act casual, like she was just sitting down for a minute to retrieve her sweater from her backpack, like she just happened to glance his way and notice what he was reading.

            "That's a good book," she said as casually as she could.

            "Yeah I like it," he said. "But I like the movie better."

            Everywhere, people always said books were better than movies. Sometimes it was true. But when it came to true visionaries like Hitchcock, it wasn't. She was glad Dylan felt the same way. It felt like a sign.

*       *       *

            The bedroom had a smoky sheen to it. Patricia started feeling lighter, like she was floating just above the carpet, high off the Other Patricia's secondhand smoke. She leaned her head back so it rested on Melanie's mattress.

            "At the end of Vertigo, do you think Judy slipped or jumped off the bell tower?" she said.

            "Hell if I know," the Other Patricia said.

            It always seemed so ambiguous. Hitchcock wanted it that way, Patricia's mother said the first time they watched it together. He directed the camera to stay locked on Scotty, so Judy slips sideways out of the frame. Patricia had been awed by the power of such decisions, how something so small could create such mystery, putting the audience in some beautiful trance just like Madeleine's.

            "Judy sees the nun's shadow and thinks it's Madeleine's ghost. That's a given," Patricia said. "She's scared. Maybe she just takes a step back and accidentally falls, or she jumps because she's too afraid to come face to face with the woman she betrayed."

            "Why is it a given?"

            "What other explanation is there?"

            The Other Patricia shrugged. "Judy only worried about having a secret that would make Scotty ditch her. Not that she helped kill someone. So why would she jump?"

            "So you think she slipped."

            "No, that doesn't make sense either. I don't think she'd believe the nun's shadow was a ghost so there was no reason for her to be afraid." The Other Patricia took another hit. The smoke hung in the air, nebulous. She hunched her shoulders and wiggled her fingers at Patricia, emitting a series of dramatic, high pitched, "OooOoos!" "Watch out, I'm the ghost of Madeline come to haunt you!"

            It was dumb, but Patricia couldn't help laughing at the silly voice mocking the movie she revered, making her reverence itself seem a little dumb. She didn't feel self-conscious about it like she would with Melanie. Even her secondhand high wasn't making her paranoid, so her laughter was enjoyable for once, not catastrophic. She felt safe.


            The doorknob rattled, but the door was locked. The sound of clinking metal and plastic—Melanie looking for her keys.

            Patricia jumped up. "Quick!" she said, but the Other Patricia remained slumped against the bed. Patricia threw open the window and sprayed Febreze in front of the fan. A stream of mountain-fresh particles danced around the room.

            "Hurry, hide!" she told the Other Patricia, but the Other Patricia looked at her with that blank expression again. The front door was opening. Patricia dove into the closet.

            Between the door slats, Patricia saw strips of Melanie stacked in horizontal lines. Melanie waved a hand in front of her nose. "Man, it reeks of skunk in here." She smiled. "You have to breathe into the dryer sheets."

            "Sorry," the Other Patricia said.

            "So what are you doing, you're just sitting here?" Melanie said.
           
            "I guess."

            "Don't you think that's a little, I don't know, weird? Why don't you at least watch TV or something?"

            "Don't feel like it, I guess," the Other Patricia said. Patricia wish she'd made something up, told Melanie she'd just taken a hit to relax and was about to watch TV. Or read. Something.

            Melanie lifted an eyebrow. A judgey, skeptical eyebrow. But she seemed to quickly dismiss any strangeness she perceived and plopped down on her bottom bunk, legs dangling beside the Other Patricia's head. "I just had my interview. It was fantastic. I think I have a real shot."

            Melanie had already submitted her application by the time she asked Patricia if she was okay with it. "You don't mind do you?" she'd said, smiling sweetly, acting like she was being considerate by preempting Patricia from saying what she really felt. But Patricia figured Melanie was so irresponsible, there was no way she'd get the internship over her.

            "How'd it go for you," Melanie said.

            The Other Patricia shrugged. "Could've been better."

            "I bet you were great. You're so smart and responsible, I'm sure you blew them away."

            The Other Patricia snorted.

            "You okay? You seem a little, I don't know, apathetic," Melanie said.

            "Was that on your word of the day calendar?"

            Patricia laughed without meaning to. She clapped her hands over her mouth. This was it. Melanie would open the door and realize there were two Patricias. How would she react?

            But Melanie didn't even look toward the closet. "What are you talking about?" she said.

            The Other Patricia sighed. "I just have senioritis I guess."

            She'd laughed so loud. How could Melanie not have heard? Was she that self-involved? Patricia coughed nice and loud. Still nothing.

 

She'd laughed so loud. How could Melanie not have heard? Was she that self-involved? Patricia coughed nice and loud. Still nothing.

            "You have to be careful with this stuff." Melanie took the joint that Patricia forgot to hide. She inhaled and held her breath so her voice came out low and strained. "You're a rookie."

            Patricia opened the closet door. This time, Melanie did look, but she didn't seem to register Patricia's presence. Her eyes focused only on the door.

            "Damn, it's getting windy I guess," Melanie said. She shut the window and left with the rest of the joint.

            "Why couldn't she see me?" Patricia said.

            The Other Patricia slumped against the bunk beds, slipping lower and lower until she lay flat on the carpet.

            "What are you doing?"

            "Napping."

            What a waste of time.


            Patricia wandered into the hallway. "Excuse me," she said to a couple passing girls. They kept walking. "Hey," Patricia said, louder this time. When she tapped their shoulders they turned, but seemed to look right through her.

            She ran outside, around the quad, tapping every student and professor she ran into, shouting in their faces, aware she looked like a crazy person, free to act this way only because no one showed any signs of hearing her. Seeing her. Like she was invisible.

*       *       *

            When they first moved in together freshman year, Melanie had picked up Patricia's ten-dollar eyeliner pencil and raised a judgmental eyebrow. "You wear this?" When Patricia asked why she shouldn't, Melanie said no reason, she just thought "drugstore" makeup always looked a little cheap and clumpy—but she was sure it was fine for Patty, who was probably better at applying it. Patricia worried that all this time, people, Dylan, had been looking at her and thinking her eyeshadow looked cheap. Ever since then, Patricia locked herself in the bathroom when she got ready so Melanie couldn't critique her method or products.

            Now, she stood in the living room, a mess of makeup burying the coffee table, watching the Other Patricia meticulously apply mascara right beside Melanie, getting ready for a party at Dylan's. Melanie stared into a vanity mirror, working on an expert cat eye.

            "Done," the Other Patricia said.

            Melanie looked her over. "Why don't you let me do your eyeliner for you, Patty? It's really thin. Don't you want Dylan to see it?"

            Patricia waited for her double to say sure, to let Melanie wipe off her makeup and reapply it like she was incompetent. Let her dress her like she had no sense of style. Like she was a walking train wreck without Melanie to rescue her.

            "No, I like it this way," the Other Patricia said. "I still look like myself." So self-assured. Patricia wondered how the interview would have gone if only the Other Patricia had appeared an hour sooner.

*       *       *

            Dylan lived in a one-story house off campus. The door was open, so they walked right in. A bunch of people were camped out in the living room, locked in a surprisingly boisterous Tetris tournament. In the dining room to the right, people played some drinking game with cards. Dylan wasn't in either.

            Patricia quickly lost sight of Melanie. But the Other Patricia moved confidently through the house, saying hey to everyone she passed, high fiving any hand that greeted her, inhaling each Jell-O shot thrust her way. In the kitchen, she unabashedly fumbled with the tap like she didn't care what she looked like. When some guy said, "Drink much?" she didn't even flinch. She kept going until she figured it out. Patricia would have avoided it just to not look stupid.

            Soon, the Other Patricia's confidence rubbed off on her so she grew bolder, poking random people and laughing at their bewilderment when they looked for the culprit and found no one.


            The party grew more and more crowded. Tetris broke down and gave way to bad dancing and too-loud music. The relentless bass hurt Patricia's head. There was nowhere she could walk without being surrounded by a throng of bodies. They radiated so much heat that she began to feel light-headed. Soon everyone grew fuzzier and fuzzier, dimmer and dimmer, like they or she was evaporating.

            Patricia leaned against a wall to steady herself, pushing aside a kissing couple who fell to the floor, where they continued kissing like nothing had happened.

            The Other Patricia touched her shoulder. "Let's go outside."

            Patricia followed her to the porch, where there were still too many bodies but at least it was cool, at least it was quieter. They sat on a wooden bench with flowers carved into it. Had Dylan picked it out? Or had his mother?

            Suddenly, finally, there was Dylan. He wore dark jeans, a black t-shirt, ankle-length boots. Beneath his messy hair, they made him look effortlessly cool.

            "What's up, Patricia?" Dylan asked.

            "The ceiling," the Other Patricia said, smirking.

            It wasn't something Patricia would ever say, but it was nice to just sit back and let the Other Patricia take the reins, bypassing that crippling feeling that made it feel like she was going to implode. It felt like she'd pulled off some great trick.

            Dylan moved to sit beside the Other Patricia. He nearly sat on top of the real Patricia, but she slipped out of the way before he could crush her. She leaned against the porch railing, pushing aside yet another couple.

            "Shit, I'm drunk," the girl said. "Ha ha, ha ha!"

            "Hey, I like your shoes," Dylan told the Other Patricia. The three of them looked down at the red high tops she'd had since high school. The toes were scuffed and smudged, the soles threatening to peel off.

            "These old things?" the Other Patricia said. "I got them from my drug dealer. I'm not sure what they're laced with, but I've been tripping all day."

            Melanie had told Patricia that joke. She'd rolled her eyes and called Melanie a dork, but Dylan laughed.

            "You should do stand up," he said.

            "You're teasing me," the Other Patricia said.

            "Maybe."

            He moved closer to the Other Patricia, leaning in, smiling. A hand found its way to her thigh, far above the knee. Suddenly, Dylan pulled it back and cleared his throat. He rubbed the back of his neck vigorously. He wouldn't even meet the Other Patricia's eyes, staring instead at her shoes. "Listen, would you want to … I don't know." He paused. "Hang out sometime?"

            "I guess that wouldn't be so bad." The Other Patricia smiled.  

            If he kissed her double, would Patricia even feel it?


            They looked for Melanie to leave but couldn't find her anywhere. At Patricia's insistence, the Other Patricia asked all kinds of people if they'd seen her, but no one knew where she was. Finally, someone said she left with "some guy." Any other night it would have bothered Patricia. But she felt more secure beside her double.

            The next bus wouldn't arrive for forty minutes. They could walk back to campus in that time. Patricia figured walking was better than standing idly at the bus stop at night, anyway, made them a less easy target for the muggers her mother was so worried about.

            The street was so empty, the night so quiet. When she first moved to the city her freshman year, Patricia never thought a single street would be empty or quiet. She imagined every square inch of the city buzzed and hummed and pulsed with life no matter what time it was.

            "We should suggest the movies to Dylan," Patricia said making her way down the sidewalk. "That way, we don't have to worry about what to say. If we go out after, we can just talk about the movie. Maybe we should see something bad. It's easier to make fun of things than to have serious conversations."

            The Other Patricia suddenly hurtled to the ground, crashing to hands and knees. Someone had pushed her. Someone was digging fingers into her neck, ripping her purse from her shoulder, running away with her wallet, her phone, her keys.

            Patricia didn't think. She chased after him, grabbed him by the back of his t-shirt and yanked. He fell backward onto the concrete, looking startled. He jumped up and charged at the Other Patricia since she was the only one he could see. He swung the purse at her head. She clutched her eye. He pushed her back to the ground and kicked her in the ribs. Patricia tried to shove him off of her double, but her hands seemed to fall right through him. Why couldn't she touch him? She tried to push him again and again, growing angrier and angrier, until finally, her strength came back to her and she knocked him to the ground. She grabbed the purse strap and pulled.

            "What the fuck?" he said, sounding scared, but he kept a firm grasp on the purse and yanked it away before running back down the street.

            Shit.

*       *       *

            Patricia followed her double to the bedroom, watching from the doorway as she rifled through the jumble of rolled up socks in Melanie's top dresser drawer.

       "What are you doing?" Patricia said.

            "I have a headache." She grabbed the joints from Melanie's top drawer then returned to the living room. She put on Vertigo and settled onto the couch, lighting a joint.

            Patricia sat beside her, examining the eye that was already starting to puff up. "You should put ice on that before it swells shut."

            The Other Patricia closed her eyes. "I'm so tired."

            Patricia went to the freezer. She made an ice pack and put it on her double's face. "We should go to the police," Patricia said. "I can describe him, I'm sure of it."

            "No you can't. It was too dark, too fast, too fucking blurry."

            She'd started the film halfway through, so Judy was already running to the top of the bell tower, pretending to be a suicidal Madeleine. When she reached the top, there was Gavin, his dead wife limp in his arms, the real Madeleine. It was the only moment the audience ever actually saw her. You can't even get a good look at her face before her treacherous husband pitches her corpse from the bell tower. When she lands on the church roof, you only see the back of her head. She could be anybody.

            Patricia always assumed Madeleine and Judy were identical strangers. But it occurred to her then that she didn't really know if Madeleine even looked like Judy at all. If she was soft-spoken and well-mannered like Judy made her out to be. She was obliterated by Judy's riveting portrayal of her, swallowed whole by this character, this fake woman who never existed in the first place. Just like Judy.

*       *       *

            Melanie came home the next morning. She'd gone home with Colin, the guy she'd had a crush on for a while.

            "Sorry for ditching you," Melanie said. "You get home okay?"

            "No biggie," the Other Patricia said. She didn't say anything about the mugging. Her eye hadn't bruised but her ribs had. Patricia wished it were the other way around, so Melanie had to notice, had to do something, had to force the Other Patricia to act since she, apparently, could not.


            When it was time for class, the Other Patricia refused to leave the couch.

            "You go, if it's so important to you," the Other Patricia said.

            Patricia stole a notepad from the nurse's office and forged a doctor's note claiming mono. She signed a fake name and stuck a copy in each of her professors' mailboxes.

            While the Other Patricia lay on the couch—at good times watching movies, at bad times staring blankly at the wall—Patricia diligently worked on assignments, reading, writing response papers, posting on discussion boards. She was so close to graduating, she had to finish this last semester. But she struggled more and more to touch things, to grab things, to get a firm grip on the world.

*       *       *

            When Patricia returned from class on Friday, the day of their date with Dylan, the Other Patricia was asleep on the couch. She shook her shoulder. "Get up. It's time to get ready."

            "I'm not going."

            "But you've wanted this for so long."

            "No, you've wanted this."

            That hadn't occurred to Patricia, that they might not want all the same things. She certainly couldn't make the Other Patricia go. Maybe it didn't matter. It wouldn't really be her on the date. She supposed she only hoped that she'd gain her corporeality back and when she did, Dylan would already be her boyfriend, bypassing all the awkwardness and anxiety that came with first dates, second dates, third dates.

            "Will you at least call him?" she said. "Tell him you don't feel good or something."

            "What difference does it make?"

            "He's waiting for us. For you."

            The Other Patricia went to the bedroom. She opened Melanie's top drawer and rifled through it. She closed the drawer and opened the second, the third, and finally the fourth and bottom drawer, where the bag of joints lay hidden beneath a pair of jeans.

            "You can't keep stealing Melanie's pot. Look—she even moved it," Patricia said.

            The Other Patricia didn't answer. She returned to the couch, joint in hand.
           
            "Can you please just do this?" Patricia said. "Dylan's perfect for me."

            The Other Patricia snorted. "He doesn't even like you."

            "Why'd he ask me out then?"

            "He asked me out, because I was flirting, because he thought I'd fuck him."

            Patricia didn't think that was fair. She was the one he talked to first. He only sat beside her double on the porch because of all the times he and Patricia had talked before the Other Patricia ever emerged.

            "We have stuff in common. Movies. Hitchcock," Patricia said.

            "Who cares? Why would you go out with someone just because of a fat old dead dude who didn't give a shit about women?"

            "What are you even talking about?"

            "Madeleine and Judy aren't people. They're just pawns to torture and kill," the Other Patricia said. "Judy's death isn't even supposed to be sad. I mean, do you even care when she dies? I mean, are you heartbroken? Do you grieve for her lost potential, the way she's been manipulated and used by one man after another? You don't do you?"

            Patricia had seen Vertigo so many times her perspective was muddled by the reactions of a long line of Patricias younger than her. She tried to remember back to the first time she watched it, at the theater with her mother all those years ago. Had she mourned Judy? She couldn't be sure, but she didn't think so.


            Melanie returned later that night, chipper and glowing.

            "Patty, guess what!" She rushed over to the couch and sat on Patricia.

            "Jesus." As Patricia stood, her body moved right though Melanie's, inhabiting it for one brief moment where she felt not just Melanie's skin invade her own, but her blood, her heart, her brain. Patricia shuddered and quickly moved to the armchair.

As Patricia stood, her body moved right though Melanie's, inhabiting it for one brief moment where she felt not just Melanie's skin invade her own, but her blood, her heart, her brain.

            "Hey, guess what?" Melanie said, drumming the Other Patricia's butt. "I got the internship!"

            Patricia stared at her. It couldn't be true. She had to be lying. She had to be.

            "After the summer, there's a good chance they'll hire me fulltime! Bet I'll be anchoring the local news in a year." A director couldn't have manufactured a better smile to show how insensitive she was. It was as though Melanie had completely put it out of her mind that they both applied for the internship.

            "What'd you do, suck off the boss?" the Other Patricia said.

            "Hey what's your problem?" Melanie said.

            "You have no work ethic. You skip class all the time, you smoke pot all the time, your grades are embarrassing."

            Melanie was trying to contain her anger, her outline quivering. Patricia had never seen her angry before. "Look, I'm sorry," Melanie said. "I know you wanted the position too, but I can't sabotage my future just to spare your feelings. Do you have to be such a bitch about it?"

            The Other Patricia burst out laughing.

            "What the hell is wrong with you?" Melanie said.

            "Nothing," the Other Patricia said. "You called me a bitch. You called me a bitch. It's hilarious."

            "You're fucking high."

            "So?"

            "I miss the old Patricia. The one who was nice and polite and responsible." Melanie stood and walked to their bedroom.

            "The kiss ass you mean," the Other Patricia called after her. "The one who made you feel good about yourself and the shitty things you do."

            Before she slammed the bedroom door, Melanie said, "Hey, if you could stop stealing my pot, that'd be great, thanks."

            Effing Melanie. She only got the job because she was more charismatic than Patricia, so pretty and confident she made you believe everything she was saying. It didn't matter how hard Patricia worked.

            "You look like shit," the Other Patricia said suddenly. She extended the joint. It seemed to float between them, as though the only way forward was to take it. What did it matter anymore? So Patricia took it. Rather, she tried to take it. But her hand moved right through it. She kept trying to grasp the joint but she couldn't, no matter how hard she concentrated.

            The Other Patricia brought the joint back to her own mouth. She blew the smoke at Patricia, trying to give her a secondhand hit the way she'd seen so many people do. That's when Patricia realized she could no longer breathe. Didn't need to breathe.

Patricia felt herself fading, growing fainter and fainter throughout the night.


            Patricia felt herself fading, growing fainter and fainter throughout the night. By the morning, she could see through her skin, to the muscle and through the muscle, to the bone and through the bone, looking through layers of herself at the cold tile floor.

*       *       *

            She left the Other Patricia behind.

            It was warm out, but not too warm. There was a gentle breeze, the sky bright with only wisps of cottony clouds. If this were a movie, she would have demanded overcast skies, brutal winds, unseasonably cold temperatures. She'd be shivering as she walked down the street, looking abject, hair whipping in her face that the audience would know she didn't have the will to move. But her hair was in a ponytail.

            The breeze grew stronger, funneling through her face, her torso, her legs, until it grew so strong it picked her up, carried her away from campus, through the city, pushing her farther and farther north into the suburbs. It carried her all the way home. She floated down to the earth, landing softly in her parents' front yard. Her mother's car was in the driveway. Her father's wasn't.

            The house vibrated with the piercing thrum of the vacuum. She found her mother in the living room. The older Patricia got, the more alike they looked. Both much too short, hair much too dark, face far too serious.

            "Mama," she said. Of course her mother didn't turn around. She unplugged the vacuum and returned it to the closet. She fell to the couch and turned on the TV. A soap opera. She slumped down, practically lying down, looking abject too. Patricia sat beside her. She tried to stroke her cheek but her hand fell right through her mother's skin.

            Maybe she wasn't the real Patricia after all. Maybe the Other Patricia was. Maybe she was the one who'd consumed the Other Patricia her whole life, overtaking her, up until now.

            This Patricia, whoever she was, curled up on the couch, her head floating millimeters above her mother's lap, imagining she was resting in it, and allowed herself to be swept up in the soap opera. She continued to lie there after her mother got up and finished her chores, and all through the night, and the next day, and the day after that, until she'd grown so light, so faint, she could no longer see herself.


Melissa Brooks is a Chicago-based writer with an MFA in Fiction from the University of San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Arcturus, Memoir Mixtapes, Chicago Literati, The Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere.