Emily lay on her bed in underwear and a tank top, her body balanced precariously on the edge of the mattress and her hand suspended above the dusty wooden floor. The room was dark, and the floor was littered with clothes and trash.
Emily’s chest felt fragile—her skin like glass, her papier-mâché ribcage shaking with each breath. She turned her head to look at the calendar once more. The date had been circled with a fat red marker almost half a year ago with the words “Frank’s birthday!” written in the small box.
She reached for her phone, caught herself, and dropped her hand again. She rolled over and turned her face into her duvet. The excess material made it hard to breathe, giving her the impression of being caught in a place somewhere with horribly muggy weather.
Emily smiled at the idea of being somewhere else. Getting away from Boulder City. That sounded nice. Maybe she could go somewhere with a beach. She’d always loved the ocean. Emily pictured herself lying on the warm sand, waves caressing her skin and sunlight flooding her senses. What if she quit her job, packed her bags, and left? California was right next-door, and besides, she had had worse ideas. It was two hours to the Nevada-California state border. Long Beach was only eight hours away. She didn’t really care how long the drive was as long as she was on a beach by the end of it.
Emily’s phone buzzed on her nightstand, and her breathing stilled. Her chest suddenly felt full. She seemed a little more solid. Frank?
Her hand shot out so fast that she knocked her cellphone to the floor where it continued to buzz face down on the hardwood. When she picked it up the phone felt heavy in her hand. The rectangular shape didn’t fit comfortably in her palm like it used to.
The screen read, Missed Call: Mom, and her chest felt hollow again. Pressure built at the back of her eyes, and her head dropped onto the bed. The fabric bunched around her, shutting out the rest of the room. She pressed the material into her face, imagining it enveloping her and snuffing out her life.
The sound of curtains sliding along a metal rod alerted Emily to the light breaking through her darkness. She pushed herself off the bed and turned. The window was open, sunlight streaming in through the glass, caressing her skin.
“What the—” Emily slid off her bed and walked to her window. Her heart beat heavily against her ribs and her legs felt weak. She drew the curtains together again, making sure the fabric met in the middle.
Emily studied the pattered curtain, still grasped tightly in her hands. Had they caught on something? Had she opened them unknowingly? She backed away from the window, acutely aware of her small underdressed frame.
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t close those, thank you. It’s too dark in here. I can’t see.”
Emily screamed and turned around. Her room was still, darkness surrounding her.
She was aware of every breath that expanded and contracted her papery lungs, the sound many times louder than usual in her ears. Her eyes darted around the room, never settling on a single object for long. She moved to her bed and fell onto her mattress, legs shaking slightly.
She placed a hand against her forehead. “No, maybe I’m just sick.” She gave a small laugh. “Yeah, that’s it. I probably never even closed the blinds, I just thought I did.” Speaking her thoughts gave her some comfort but her heart fluttered weakly in her chest.
“Oh, you’re sick now? I wouldn’t be surprised. I passed by your kitchen on the way to your room and it’s a mess. You probably got food poisoning or something.”
Emily caught her breath and her blood hitched in its circulation. The room felt strangely silent, pressing into Emily’s skull and chest. Each breath felt grossly unsatisfying, as if she was breathing in tar.
“Frank?” She called, her voice dry and cracking. “Frank, if that’s you, it isn’t funny, damn it.” She tried to laugh but it came out sounding like a deflated balloon.
She inched towards her bedside table and wrapped her fingers around her lamp, slowly lifting it into the air. Although the lamp wasn’t overly heavy, her arm still shook under its weight.
“Frank?” She called again.
Her curtains flew open once more, and light fell upon a small figure at the base of the window. Standing at about three feet, the figure had two short legs, two short arms, a very little neck and an oblong head. It was gray and hairless, with no distinguishable facial features. In fact, it didn’t even have a face. Emily thought she was looking at the back of it until she realized it was probably looking up at her.
Emily’s scream was raw and sudden. It welled up from somewhere deep within her, starting as a whimper and escalating to a piercing screech.
“Oh my God!” Emily tried to throw the lamp but it caught on the outlet and fell short of the Gray Blob.
The Gray Blob scurried out of the way, holding up its short arms, its mitten-shaped hands held up in way of apology. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Emily threw a pillow but it bounced off the window and onto the floor.
The Gray Blob ran forward. “Please stop throwing things! I can explain.”
Weapon, weapon, weapon, Emily thought, the words becoming a desperate chant in her mind. She groped around her and found a used fork on her side table. She lifted it above her head and clenched her jaw.
“Wait, stop!” The Gray Blob touched her knee and Emily gasped.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her feat dangling just above the clean hardwood floor. Light filled the room and soft jazz played from the speakers on the desk.
Frank danced into the room, jeans hanging low on his hips and a towel tossed over his head. He did the grapevine past her, snapping to the beat of the song. Emily’s chest filled with warmth watching him, and the warmth spread to her extremities.
Frank stopped at the desk and frowned. He pulled out the chair, looked under the desk, and stood up again.
“Honey, have you seen my shirt? I had it here before I went into the shower.”
“Oh, I thought you’d left it lying around so I put it away for you.”
Frank’s shoulders sagged and he sighed. “Of course you did. That’s what I get for taking up house with a neat freak.” He smiled at her. “Come here.” He placed his large hands on her knees to brace himself, his fingers spreading out over her legs like rays of sun, warming everything they touched. He leaned in.
Emily gasped and she was back in her room, the Gray Blob still touching her knee.
“What—” Emily’s words fell from her lips and her voice died in her throat. She looked around the room, half expecting to see Frank with the easy going smile still on his face. The vision had been so real, so vivid. She could still feel the warmth from Frank’s hands on her knees.
Her raised arm fell onto the bed, the fork clattering to the floor, and she began to knead the duvet with her fingers. She touched everything within her immediate range of motion making sure they were solid
The Gray Blob removed its hand from Emily’s knee and took a step back. “I’m sorry. That must have surprised you.”
Emily turned her head, her realm of consciousness expanding to include the little figure. “What are you?” The words barely left her mouth in a rush of air. After a beat of silence, in which the Gray Blob wrung its hands together, Emily spoke again, impatient for answers. “Where did you come from? How did you get in?” Her voice came a little stronger now.
The Gray Blob began to shuffle its shapeless feet. “I came in through the front door, I’m surprised you didn’t hear me. I came from you.”
“Me?” Emily grabbed her stomach.
The Gray Blob began shaking its head. “No, not like that. You’ve been steeped in your emotions for so long, brooding and remembering and re-remembering your past that you eventually created me. Unconsciously. I’m a compilation of all of your strongest memories and emotions.”
It took an incredible amount of effort for Emily to shake her head . “That doesn’t make any sense. How could I just create you?”
Gray Blob shrugged its shoulders. “I’ve sort of been copied and pasted into reality from your memories. For the past month I’ve been suspended between reality and consciousness. I didn’t become something solid until a moment ago when you,” Gray Blob left the sentence unfinished and Emily looked away, her hair swinging down to hide her face.
“Does this normally happen to people?” Emily pulled her knees into her chest.
“I don’t really know much beyond your realm of consciousness, so I wouldn’t know. But I don’t see why not, since it happened to me.”
Emily wrapped her arms around her legs. “What happened a moment ago, when you touched my knee?”
The Gray Blob looked—or Emily could only assume it looked, as it had no eyes—at its hand. “Probably a memory from your past. That’s what I’m made up of, after all.”
“A memory? About Frank?” Emily released her legs and sat up straight.
“Well, you haven’t been thinking of much else recently.”
“So, if I touch you here—”
“No, I wouldn’t do that if I were—“
Emily placed her hand on the Gray Blob’s arm and was thrust into another memory.
Frank was at the stove making dinner, humming to himself as he stirred the contents of the pan.
Emily walked up and leaned over the stove. “Smells good. If only you could make something other than stir fry.”
“Whatever. You love my stir fry.” He nudged her with his elbow. “Hey, Em, watch this.” He began to tilt the pan, sliding the meat away from him, a small smile tugging at his lips.
Emily grabbed his bicep. “Careful, master chef. If you flip it and the meat falls into the stove, it could cause a grease fire.”
Frank let out a sigh that carried something unspoken with it. “Okay, Mom. I’m not completely incapable.” When Emily loosened her grip on his arm, Frank turned to her and smiled softly. “I’m joking. Thanks, Em.”
Emily jolted and removed her hand from the Gray Blob’s arm. She wiggled her fingers, the feel of Frank’s bicep still etched into their tips. Why did that memory seem sadder than she remembered? Had Frank’s sigh always been so heavy? Was his tone always so short?
Emily extended her arm, “What other memories do you have?”
The Gray Blob took a big step back, stopping just outside of Emily’s reach. “You probably shouldn’t do that anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Emily felt something in her chest tighten. “They’re my memories. Who are you to keep them from me?”
“It’s not going to be healthy for you in the long run,” the Gray Blob said, wringing its hands again . “You’ve been re-playing these memories in your head for weeks and look where it has left you.” The Gray Blob motioned with its arm to the rest of the room.
“No, thinking about them and re-living them are different. If I can just re-live those memories one more time I can make sense of everything.” Emily stretched her hand forward once more, straining her fingertips to brush the Gray Blob.
But the Gray Blob took another large step back. “You’ll just get sucked deeper into this hole that you’ve dug yourself. Frank left you two months ago. I think it’s time for you to face the facts.”
The Gray Blob’s words resonated in Emily’s core. And she sat up straight, folding her hands into her lap and staring at her duvet.
The next morning Emily found herself across from the Gray Blob at her dining room table.
Emily scooped cereal into her mouth. “So what’s the deal with you. Are you, like a girl, a boy, both?”
The Gray Blob turned a page in the newspaper. “I’m not really certain myself.” Gray Blob shook its head. “Forest fires are getting pretty bad out in California.”
Emily spooned more cereal into her mouth. “Okay.”
“And you still wanna move there?” Gray Blob asked, turning a page.
Emily stirred her spoon in the bowl. “My cornflakes are soggy.”
“Hm?” Gray Blob lowered the newspaper.
“My cornflakes are soggy,” Emily repeated. “I can’t stand it when they’re like this.” She got up and dumped them in the sink, running the garbage disposal.
Gray Blob lifted the newspaper again. “You still could have eaten them you know.”
“No, I honestly can’t stand soggy cornflakes.”
“Then how can you stand to live in your apartment right now?” Gray Blob let the newspaper fall slightly.
Emily let her eyes travel over the mess that had accumulated over the past month. Her eyes picked out every piece of trash and speck of dirt.
Has it always been like this? She asked herself, turning in a circle. Emily’s hands itched to pick up the discarded wrapper on the floor next to her, but she knew that if she started cleaning now she would never stop.
“I think you should leave,” Gray Blob said.
Emily turned to it. “Leave? And go where? California?”
Gray Blob shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”
“It’s too expensive.”
“Good thing you have a lot of money in your savings account.”
Something in Emily’s chest constricted. Gray Blob made it sound so easy. “Where would I work?”
Gray Blob turned a page in the paper. “You have time to find a job.”
Emily crossed her arms, her fingers leaving red blotches on her skin. Gray Blob insisted it knew what was best for her, yet it made her problems seem trivial, like they were all in her head. Then again, Emily supposed most problems were in her head.
Gray Blob folded the paper and set it aside. “Look, Nevada isn’t the place for you anymore. You’re smothering yourself up here in this apartment. I It’s too full of Frank. You’re twenty-seven and still have plenty of life to live, but you’re acting like an old widow.”
Emily’s lips pressed together, a knot forming between her shoulder blades, and she turned to face her kitchen sink.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Gray Blob extend a hand. “I understand it’s hard. Four years is a long time to spend with someone, but you have so many more years. You can’t just waste them on this apartment.”
Emily rubbed the back of her neck, her nails digging into her skin. Her lungs felt constrained by something tight and heavy, making it hard to breath.
Gray Blob lowered its hand. “Sorry. I’m giving you a lot to think about. Here, we’ll start small. Let’s clean up the kitchen.”
Emily once again became aware of the mess surrounding her. “You call that a small step?”
“I’ll make a deal with you.” Gray Blob scooted its chair out. “I’ll help you with the kitchen, and when you finish I’ll let you see a memory.”
The muscles in Emily’s shoulders began to unclench. “You’d let me do that?”
Gray Blob sighed, “Yes, I don’t like it, but if it helps you clean this place up then I’m willing to compromise.” Gray Blob jumped from the chair and made its way into the kitchen.
“Wait,” Emily called after it. “Why are you doing this?”
Gray Blob turned to her. Emily stared at the smooth gray surface of its face, feeling like part of her was chipping away with each passing second. Gray Blob shrugged. “I’m also made up of you’re deepest wants and desires. In fact, I’m probably being pretty selfish right now.” Gray Blob didn’t say anymore, just motioned to the kitchen. “Now come on, we have work to do.”
The next few weeks Gray Blob helped Emily clean her apartment. As the piles of clothes and trash disappeared, fear began to settle in Emily’s core. The more she returned her apartment to its previous condition, the less she felt Frank’s presence.
Gray Blob did not follow through on its promise to let Emily re-live a memory. She was forced to remember on her own, relying on her own recounts, which she no longer trusted. Every time she found something that reminded her of Frank, she wondered if the memory and the emotions it held were real. She could not touch or feel them in that moment. She could only rely on what was already gone.
She began to try and catch Gray Blob off guard. If it was leaving a room or folding laundry, Emily would strain her arm and hope to brush it with a finger. Aware of her actions or not, the Gray Blob always avoided contact.
The day they finished cleaning her living room, Emily decided she couldn’t handle any more. Rain smacked against the windowpane as she and Gray Blob sat on the couch and watched television. Gray Blob flipped through channels, its blank face did not seem to register the images that passed on the screen.
“I want a memory,” Emily said.
“No, you don’t.” Gray Blob continued to punch the buttons on the remote.
“I want a memory,” Emily repeated, her voice strong.
“Trust me, you don’t.”
Emily pulled herself up off the side of the couch. “Who are you to say what I want and don’t want?”
The Gray Blob stopped channel-surfing and looked at Emily. “I’m just saying it won’t make things better.”
“Who says I want things to be better? I just want things to make sense.” The more Emily spoke the more each breath rattled her small frame and threatened to rip her seams.
“But they won’t make sense. Can’t you see that?” Gray Blob tossed the remote onto the table and turned to face Emily fully.
“I need to know the facts.” Emily’s breath came faster now, her heart fluttering feebly.
Gray Blob leapt to its feet so it was eye to eye with Emily. “You want the facts? Frank left because you were you. That’s it, end of story, done.”
Each raindrop that hit the window sounded like a gunshot. The water soaked Emily’s skin, leaving water-stained trails on her face. Something heavy settled in her stomach like a stone, a stone she knew would never fully go away.
Gray Blob sat back down and grabbed the remote. Emily remained still, trying to remember how to feel solid.
A month and a half later, Emily sat on the stoop of her apartment. The buds were just beginning to break on the trees, the sun’s rays caressing their soft green curves, nurturing their growth. A breeze floated past Emily, and she tugged her sweatshirt tighter around her.
“Are you still out here? We’ve put off packing long enough. We need to start today.”
Emily turned and saw Gray Blob in the doorway.
She placed her chin in her hand. “I was just thinking about something. What happens to you when I leave?”
Gray Blob hesitated on the threshold of the apartment building. It tapped its foot a few times and swung its arms. Finally, it stepped onto the stoop and sat down next to Emily.
“I’ve been thinking about that too, and I suppose I disappear.”
The wind blew past Emily a little more forcefully. “You—”
“Disappear, yes,” Gray Blob finished.
Gray Blob tapped its foot on the ground, its knee bouncing up and down. “Because I belong here, in this part of your life, just like the memories and feelings I am made of.”
“But, don’t people say this stuff stays with you forever?”
Emily furrowed her brow.
“Yes, and in that sense I will stay with you forever. I’ll be in the memories you carry with you. But when you leave this apartment, when you leave Nevada, you will leave behind your baggage.”
Emily’s stomach twisted. “I don’t think I like thinking of you as baggage.”
“But in the end, that’s all I am.” Gray Blob’s knee stilled.
Something in Emily’s core twisted uncomfortably. “But it feels like you’re more than that. Sometimes it feels…I don’t know.” Her shoulders sagged and her limbs felt heavy suddenly.
An ice cream truck rolled slowly by her apartment complex. A group of children chased after it, their screams and laughter piercing the air. Emily flinched.
“I still don’t feel like I’m solid,” Emily confessed. She wasn’t sure why, but she needed Gray Blob to know.
“But of course you are. You always were.”
Gray Blob’s words didn’t completely comfort Emily, but she turned to it and said, “Thanks for sticking with me. I couldn’t have made some of these changes without you.”
Despite its featureless face, Emily could practically see Gray Blob smile. “Ah, but you could have. All this time you wanted to get on with your life, but you just were too scared to start.”
Emily put her chin on her knee. “So then you’re really just in my head.”
Gray Blob shrugged, its line of vision focused somewhere on the ground. “I’m as real as you believe me to be.”
Emily turned to rest her cheek on her knees. “I think you’re very real.”
“Good,” Gray Blob said, looking up at her. “I like that.” Gray Blob stood. “Now come on, you move out in a few months, and we haven’t started packing all your useless junk.” Gray Blob entered the building. Emily listened to the soft sound of its feet padding up the stairs.
She sat still, relishing a moment that would soon become a memory. She soaked up the sinking sun and the feeling of her fingertips brushing the concrete beneath her. The air smelled fresh with the promise of hope. This too, she thought, would become a memory. .
Emily promised not to forget this one. It seemed really important that she not forget it, though she couldn’t say why.
The breeze blew once more through the trees, and Emily stood and entered her apartment building after Gray Blob.
Outside, the buds on the trees unfolded in the afternoon light.
Kristin Manker has lived in the St. Louis area for most of her life. She attends Principia College, studying Creative Writing and Asian Studies with a focus in Japanese studies. Though not sure how yet, she hopes one day to aid others with her writing.