You need to read this. Really. You do.
My neighbor’s daughter had just moved in from New York.
My neighbor’s daughter had just moved in from New York. I saw the car pull in just now as she was moving her things in. I live alone in what some might describe as a larger than necessary house for one. When I’m not doing the housework, I spend the afternoons in the front yard because it doesn’t feel as empty from the outside.
I live next to an elderly Asian couple in a quiet corner of Kansas. Since my wife left, it’s not hard to imagine that I noticed myself passing more time over at their place. The husband came to the States from China years ago, and told everyone around to call him Alfred. I’ve never met his wife. Her health has been poor for perhaps almost as long as they’ve been in the neighborhood, and she spends her time cooped up in her room, according to Alfred. He tends not to talk about her either, preferring to steer conversations toward their daughter, whom he was always proud of for moving to New York to pursue a career in drama. I think her name was…
“Melissa. Nice to meet you. You must be the one my father always tells me keeps him company in his days here.”
That was what she said to me when I greeted her at the driveway. Although she had said it with rigid tone, her voice alone created a soothing air of a refined woman. She was an Asian lady with shoulder length black hair, her eyes were wide and within them shone a pair of sky-blue irises.
“So, you’re Alfred’s daughter. I’ve heard a lot about you and your acting career from him. He’s very proud of you.”
She smiled. It was a smile you’d expect to see from an experienced actress. At the same time, it was subtle. It was as if her lips moved, but her cheeks did not. She blinked at me. I didn’t understand what it was that I felt at the time, but I felt it.
“Yes, unfortunately it seems like all that is on hold at the moment. Father has been getting on in age recently and needs help taking care of mother. I certainly couldn’t leave them alone.”
“Of course… they must be glad to have you back.”
Alfred had indeed been getting more forgetful lately. More than once he had knocked on my door in the middle of the night asking if he had left something over at my place despite not having been over. Often, he would recognize me as someone else, or call me by a different name. Senility isn’t an uncommon thing in gents of his age, but it was still heartbreaking to see nonetheless.
“Thank you for the welcome, now I must be going. I have to unpack all my things and have dinner ready by nightfall. Why don’t you come over for a bite too? There will be plenty of food.” She smiled again at me as she opened the front door and disappeared into the house.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It’s been a while since my neighbor’s daughter moved in from New York. I hadn’t spoken to Alfred in perhaps just over a week. He had been keeping more to himself recently because of a sudden mistrust of strangers, no doubt due to his age. Once when I tried to check up on him, he called the police on me because he thought I was a burglar. I don’t want to go into that at the moment. I supposed I should drop by to see him that evening, especially since I was specifically invited again. I don’t like going over, but that’s just the product of being a social recluse for years. It would be rude to refuse.
I got dressed and headed over to Alfred’s at some time before dusk. At his front door, I checked my sleeves again and performed a cursory straightening of my shirt, and rang the doorbell—
And the door opened instantly.
“Hi, come in, come in, do make yourself at home once again. Oh, but please avoid the second door on the left, mother does need her rest.” I was greeted by Melissa as usual and walked in with a word of thanks. Her eyes as usual widened and shone brightly at the sight of a visitor, though I’m not sure if they get any other than me.
“The same for dinner today then?” I asked.
“Why yes, of course, it’s the best thing for nutrition and a hometown specialty. It’d be an oversight to serve up anything else.”
The dish she spoke of was braised chicken claws. Apparently, a delicacy in some parts of China. Personally? I hate it. Not to be rude, but I found it unpalatable the first time she made it, and every other time since. I don’t even know where she gets the damn things. Well, from chickens, clearly, but you know what I mean. It’s not a large town, and I haven’t seen a grocer here sell anything like that as far as I can remember.
When it comes down to the dinner table, I still find it in me to eat some of it. I sat down at the dining table, which had a good view of the television. Alfred was here today too, seated across me in his wheelchair that he had to begin relying on recently. Nowadays, he just sits around and watches the TV.
“Honey, when’s dinner? I’m starving over here! I want chicken claws!”
“Now, now, father, it will be ready in a minute. Be patient. You had chicken claws yesterday too.”
“Yesterday?” I asked. “You don’t just have it when you have people over?”
“Why of course not. It’s the best thing for nutrition and a hometown specialty. There’s nothing else father wants to eat more.”
Well personally I couldn’t imagine liking it as much as Alfred seems to, but to each their own.
“Vanessa, your chicken feet stews are the best! No one makes it like you do, not even back home.”
“Yes, yes. Father, for the last time, its Melissa. Here, have another bite.”
Since Melissa moved in, she’s been helping Alfred with most of his daily activities. At first, he used to be able to eat on his own, but now, she even has to feed him his dinner on account of his frailty.
I also took a bite out of one of the claws. Any more procrastinating and the gig would be up. I dislike the texture, most of all. The way the slimy, gelatinized skin slides enthusiastically off the bone, leaving little dog-bones behind which must be spat or picked out, building a small pile of remains on the plate to remind me that what I had just ingested was the chicken equivalent of a foot. In the mouth, the contents may be slimy but there would still be a crunch. I’d have to bite through to defeat the tendons within, and when I swallow it would be uncomfortably smooth.
“Tastes great, as usual. Love it.” I lied as naturally as I breathed. “It’s always great coming over to keep you and Alfred company. How have you two been recently?”
“It’s boring here now.” Alfred spoke up first. “Vanessa takes good care of me but I miss watching the birds with my wife. Katrina never does anything with me anymore. She was such a daddy’s girl when she was just a kid, I’ll have you know! Used to call me Papa up ‘til she left for New York!”
Her mouth turned into a smile even though it seemed like she made no movement at all. I watched her, almost mesmerized, and all of a sudden, I was snapped back to reality again.
“Come now, that was ages ago, and it’s embarrassing to speak of it. You go on and on nowadays about the inanest things.” She recollected herself. Or did she? Was she fazed? Was it my imagination? As expected of an actress, she hid it well.
Alfred turned to me. “Oi, why don’t you come live with us! You’re single at the moment, right? Vanessa here would make a wonderful wife, I’m sure! oh, especially her eyes, those gorgeous eyes! I’ve never met another beauty such as her, except maybe my own wife, of course! Ho, ho, ho!”
Taken aback by the sudden development in the ramblings of this senile old man, I hastened to decline in as polite a way as possible. “I’m sure any man would be lucky to have her Alfred, but unfortunately I’m still devoted to my ex-wife, even if she left. Oh, but, of course, Melissa, your eyes do look stunning, if you don’t excuse me saying so.”
“Ah, thank you, yes, of course.”
Was she flustered?
“I get them from my mother. My eyes I mean. It’s something I get asked all the time. She’s actually from the States.”
That was the first I had heard of this. Well, that was the first I heard anything about Alfred’s wife in a long time, to be fair. I suppose it would explain a lot, but it’s a shame that she’s too bedridden to spend time with the family anymore. I voiced this sentiment.
“Exactly! That’s what I always say! But Vanessa says it can’t be helped, because she’s too sick to even step a foot out of the bedroom! Why, Vanessa doesn’t even let me—”
Everything froze in suspension. Melissa wore her regular smile on her face, but it was more rigid this time. After a beat, she cleared her throat.
“I mean, papa. For the last time, it’s Melissa.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It’s been almost 3 years since my neighbor’s daughter moved in from New York. It’s smack in the middle of summer, and the weather’s killing me. Alfred didn’t spend his summertime outside watching the birds like he used to. I guess his age really caught up to him in the end. I went over in the afternoon to deliver some fruit I got at the farmer’s market at a special deal. It was too much for me to finish anyway, refreshing as it may be in this heat. She was out in the front yard watering the plants in a midi dress, sunglasses and hat.
“Hey, I’ve brought some fruits!” I called from over the fence. She noticed my greeting and stopped her activity. She strode over and received the bag I was carrying.
“Thank you. Why don’t you come in for a bit? We could share this. Oh, but please avoid the second door on the left, mother does need her rest.”
The living area in the house was exactly the same as it has been for the past few years. The only thing different at the moment was how airy it is. The windows and doors were all open, no doubt in wake of the summer heat, except for one. Looking in from the entrance, the dining and living area were one large room. In the dining area on the left was a large wooden table with comfortable looking chairs. Just beyond it was the kitchen. The living area on the right had a large TV mounted on the wall in full view right when you enter, with a long couch facing it. Between the two areas right across from the entrance was a hallway leading in.
Melissa took off her sunhat and disappeared into the kitchen. From within, something could be heard simmering. I sat next to Alfred and tried calling out to him. He turned to look at me, eyes glazed over. Alfred’s been chair-bound for a while, and mostly non-communicative. Poor guy. He used to be so vibrant and lively. Nowadays he stares blankly into the ceiling, daydreaming about who knows what, and looking around aimlessly when he needs something to eat or drink. His dentures weren’t fitted today, and his lips caved slightly into his mouth as he left it ajar, revealing two remaining teeth. He muttered something.
“F… g. … ao…”
I tried listening closer.
I was interrupted by Melissa, who was seated next to me on the couch, across from Alfred, with a plate of cut fruits in her hands. When did she even get there? Was I that engrossed in what Alfred was saying? Her sunglasses were still on.
“Ah, yeah, okay.”
We ate the melons in silence. I tried offering a slice to Alfred. He turned his head away and my efforts and closed and opened his mouth repeatedly.
“Fe… g… Zh…”
“What’s he saying?” I inquired.
“He won’t eat that. Don’t worry about it. Papa’s quite picky with his food nowadays.”
A foul smell filled the room.
“Dinner is boiling over. Excuse me.” Melissa got up and hurriedly entered the kitchen.
I got up to go to the bathroom. Alfred’s gaze mindlessly followed my movement as he continued to mouth nonsense. I looked down at him, almost in pity, and then strode towards the hallway. The foul smell got worse as I went on, and Melissa didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. I wondered if it was a plumbing issue. The bathroom was all the way down the hallway and to the right. But I found myself frozen in place halfway there.
I heard a groan from the left.
It was an incomprehensible sound. It was like that of a wild animal in distress, but it was gurgling and raspy. Inexplicably, I felt that it bore meaning, like an unknown language not reproducible by any living thing. Anyone who heard it would instinctively be unnerved.
“Hey Melissa! I think your mot—”
I called out but then stopped myself. There were sizzling sounds from deep within the kitchen. The groan came again and then a thud.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Then another unearthly groan. A sudden morbid curiosity welled up within me. Was Alfred’s wife in there? Was she even a real person? What was making that incredible noise? One would think that all these questions would be the impetus for my curiosity, but yet, it was none of that. It was merely a compulsion. In that moment, there was no desire to have my questions answered. I simply reached out because I felt more than anything else that I had to.
I had to —
“Please avoid the second door on the left, mother does need her rest.”
No sooner did my fingertip feel the coolness of the metal doorknob than I heard Melissa’s voice behind me. I froze again. I did not sense her approaching at all. The sizzling sounds from the kitchen had not stopped. I did not turn around. Her voice was cold.
“Please avoid the second door on the left, mother does need her rest.” She smiled. “Have a seat and dinner will be served shortly. It’s the usual again tonight. You’ll have some, won’t you?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It’s been as long as I can remember since my neighbor’s daughter moved in from New York. I’d stopped going over to Alfred’s place since that time. There haven’t been any more invitations from Melissa either. I wonder if she was upset at me for almost disturbing her mother. I don’t remember why it was that I almost did something so inconsiderate, but I hope it isn’t a sign that my memory is going the same way as Alfred’s. So, it’s not like I wasn’t alright spending time by myself at home, rather than over at theirs, since my own health hasn’t been doing too well in the recent months. I’d hardly left the house since last fall. My appetite has gotten worse, I can barely stomach anything more than half a meal a day, and my arms and legs had grown frail as a result. Everything just tastes so bad. Because of all the weight I’d lost, I reckon even my ex-wife would barely be able to recognize me as I am.
I’d been losing sleep as well. Inexplicably, on some nights I’d wake up in the middle of the night with hunger pangs, no doubt due to how little I was eating in the day. These would disappear as soon as I went downstairs and opened the fridge to see how unappetizing everything was. I’d tried everything. Burgers, pizzas, ice creams and pies, cupboards and kitchens stacked to the brim with all the most decadent comfort foods, but none of them seem to appeal to me anymore. I’d sullenly walk back upstairs each time, defeated by my own senses, and try to fall asleep again. On those nights, I’d occasionally hear a faint thumping noise. It was almost imperceptible, and anyone else could even mistake it for the beating of their own heart. But I knew it was something else. It gave me a sense of horrid déjà vu, like that sense of dread when you’re at work and you don’t remember if you left the stove on, or the bathwater running. It was mundane enough for me to get back into bed night, but it was sinister enough to keep me up thinking about it. On the rare nights I manage to fall back asleep after hearing that noise, I get strange nightmares.
Tonight, I woke up again. The hunger pangs this time were worse than usual. It was an extreme, almost painful, craving, as if my very life hinged on getting something to eat. I clutched my belly and hobbled downstairs to the kitchen. Plates and other utensils were strewn about the countertop, since I’d been growing too weak to properly do that housework. Dust was also collecting on several surfaces. I frantically switched the lights on and with my free hand I slammed open the fridge door and…
Ugh. The stench. I hadn’t eaten anything in here for maybe the past two weeks. I’d chosen to sustain myself mainly on plain biscuits and water, since I could no longer stomach anything too flavorsome. As a result, most of the fresh food in my fridge had long since gone off. The smell wafted everywhere and my hunger worsened.
In that moment, another aroma caught my senses. It came drifting in from the outside. It was a familiar scent but I couldn’t place it, all I knew in that moment was that it smelled god damn delicious. My reaction to it was almost shameful. My head perked up above the fridge door, my heart started racing and my mouth flooded with saliva. Without even closing the fridge door I began to follow the scent.
The hunt for the source of the aroma brought me outside to the front yard. It must have been three or four in the morning, but yet these legs that had failed to leave the house in ages were now carrying me out into the open in the dead of night as if it was daylight. I felt the grass under my bare feet as I stood by my front gate and beheld a view I hadn’t seen in a while. The neighborhood was calm as always, the only lights to cut through the dimness were the streetlamps and the moon, and the only sounds to be heard were the crickets and the beating of my own heart.
Or so I had thought.
There was another dim, flickering light coming from the house adjacent to mine. It came from a window on the first floor, a room I didn’t recognize from the outside despite having visited the house umpteen times since they’d moved in to the neighborhood. The second window on the left. A gust came and blew air into my face, forcing that tantalizing aroma into my nostrils. Something was in that room, and it was unmistakably the source of that smell, as well as the solution to my hunger. I had to go. I had to. It was as if my survival instincts kicked in and my mind narrowed down to a single objective. I’m sure Melissa would forgive me afterwards if I explained the situation. I climbed over the neighboring fence.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I was sure that my neighbor’s daughter had moved in from New York. But when I went up to the front door of Alfred’s house and rang the doorbell, no one answered. To be fair, it was the middle of the night. I rang again. Still no reply. My hunger was growing by the minute and each pang came with a sharp, unbearable sensation. I pushed lightly on the door, and it yielded to my force easily. It was neither locked nor even fastened in place. I had not noticed it before, but it was already slightly ajar when I stepped onto the porch. It gave way to reveal nothing but darkness. No other lights were on in the house, and there were no signs of any movement within. It did not occur to me at the time that what I was doing could be construed as trespassing or burglary. It felt as if there was nothing out of place, as if everything was the way it was supposed to be, and things were simply happening as they were meant to. Following the smell, I entered.
Where was Alfred? Was he sleeping in another room tonight? He would usually be in the living room, even at this time. Since he became wheelchair bound, he would spend all of this time on the first floor, considering that Melissa declined to have anyone come in to install a stair lift. He would sleep on the couch because Melissa said it was the easiest place to transfer him to from his wheelchair, and there were no other guestrooms or bedrooms on the first floor.
He wasn’t here tonigh—
While crouched down to follow the scent, I jumped as I collided into something in the darkness which made a loud creak and clank. My heart leapt and I felt it thumping violently within my chest. I quickly regained my composure to assess what I had knocked into. It was Alfred’s wheelchair. It was in the middle of the room, away from its usual position next to the couch facing the TV. That really startled me. What would his wheelchair be doing here, if he was sleeping somewhere else?
I couldn’t finish the thought. Another draft came in through from within the house and carried with it my original objective.
From within the house?
The kitchen was adjacent to where I was, but yet the strong scent of food came from further down the hallway. In the first place, there’s no way Melissa would be cooking something in the kitchen at this time of night, naturally it wouldn’t come from the kitchen. I turned to face the right direction and continued on, following that singular hunger.
Walking down the hallway, I perked my head up. Here. I had stopped at the exact location where my body simply knew the scent was at its peak. I do not say “nose” because it was no longer simply a matter of a single sense. It was as if every part of my body was able to know in unison that the cure to my ravenous hunger lay just beyond the door to my left, and every single cell in me was in unanimous agreement as to what I had to do next.
My heart began beating much more vigorously than usual. Some contradiction was arising within me.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
An unbearable tightness grew in my chest, causing my heart to race even faster, as if trying to escape. Although I knew what I had to do, something – or someone – in my memories was telling me that to open that door was to venture into something inescapable.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
As I pushed open the second door on the left…
P̸̳̈́l̷̟̔e̸͎͂a̵͂ͅs̵̞̋e̴̥͗ ̴̮̃a̶̞̕v̵̱͌o̵̼͘i̶̠̓d̷̺͘ ̸̲̉t̸͇̾h̸̺̀ẽ̶͇ ̸̼͆s̷̢̄e̴͓̍ć̷̳o̸̤̊n̶͈̿d̷̢͌ ̵͓́d̶͈̈́o̵̖͆ő̸͔r̸̠̕ ̷̡̉ö̷̜́n̸͍̄ ̵͖͝t̷̙́h̷̙̊e̷̳̒ ̷̥͘l̸͈͂e̶̲̿f̴͍̏t̸̛̝,̵̬̾ ̴̞̋m̷̀͜ō̶̯t̵̻̽h̵̳͐e̶̺͋ř̸͍ ̸̬́d̵̖̋o̶͓̊ê̸̪š̸̟ ̸͉͐n̴͕̅e̶̥͆e̴͔͌d̷͎̉ ̴̨͂h̴͔͌e̸̗̋ṙ̵̺ ̶̯̚ŕ̴̭ȩ̴͘s̶̪͋t̷͕́.̶̤̓
A shadowy thing was hunched on the floor in an unfurnished room, facing away.
It had the vague shape of a human, but if that’s what it used to be, it had been long since bastardized beyond recognition.
It looked like it was naked below the long, frizzled, white threads which draped over its entire figure.
The skin on its back was bloody and saggy, and spines and bones were forming visible ridges on its body. It was breathing heavily and laboriously, which made an awful raking noise.
It was raising its fist into the air repeatedly, something clasped within it, and bringing it down in swift, deft, motions. Each time, it let out a tortured, inhuman groan.
Strewn about the floor were small, maggot like creatures, each one still wriggling, leaving a trail of ooze in their paths.
But worst of all, the room was flooded in an incredibly delicious scent.
It brought down its fist for the final time. It pivoted its torso in reaction to the light streaming in from the open door. What little light fell on its face allowed me to make out the ash-colored countenance of what long ago used to be an old lady. Its jaw was completely detached on one side, hanging only by the other. It glared at me with sunken eyes, their whites shot with red. Its irises were a pitch, dark, black.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw clearly what was in its hand: a rusty meat cleaver. After an agonizing few seconds, the thing seemed to register my presence, but hunched down in front of me, and raised its arm again—
I watched in horror as it brought the cleaver down upon its own wrinkled hand, cleanly slicing off all four of its long, spindly, digits in a single chop.
But that wasn’t what shocked me the most. After the hunched thing brought the cleaver into the air again, from the stumps of the fingers something began to blister and ooze. No sooner had the thing raised its cleaver fully into the air, completely new crooked fingers had grown back in their original places.
It was insanity. This decomposed, gremlin-like thing was endlessly repeating the same process over and over and over again. It may have been my imagination, but each time it saw its fingers grow back, its face contorted into what I could only comprehend as fear, and it made a noise like a startled scream. Completely ignoring me, it was frantically ridding itself of its very own fingers, as if afraid of what might occur if they were left to be.
Frankly, what was even more insane was myself. Rather than flee in fear like what I imagined most others may have done, I stood paralyzed. I was fighting something within myself. I refused to believe my very own eyes and body because…
My hunger only grew.
Even though overcome by a deep visceral instinct, even though my stomach felt like it was turning in on itself and my mouth was leaking with saliva, I refused to acknowledge that this disgusting thing was what my body had been craving for all along, that my appetite was to be satiated by something so monstrous.
I looked around for an answer, an explanation, or maybe even a distraction. Then, I realized it. All the tiny wriggling things strewn about weren’t maggots at all. They were its fingers. Although each of them came clean off of their bases, they continued to writhe in pain even while detached from the body, spurting blood from their roots. The source of the aroma was not the creature, but its fingers. And worst of all, it was uncomfortably familiar.
“Just what have I been—”
I turned around with the intention of getting as far away from this scene as possible.
“P l e a s e d o n o t d i s t u r b m o t h e r , s h e d o e s n e e d h e r r e s t . “
What? How? Why was Melissa here? Now, in the doorway? I didn’t hear her footsteps. I didn’t see her silhouette. But she was here, now, in her nightgown, and she stood fast between me and the exit. She wore that damned expressionless smile as always and blinked at me, as if expecting some sort of response.
I shuddered. A wave of a familiar emotion swept over me in an instant. I’d felt this same feeling once before, when I met her for the very first time. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I could place it properly now. It was unease. And the reason for it was at once apparent: this was only the second time I’d ever seen her blink. I didn’t notice it in the beginning, but she did not blink as a human should. Rather than the upper eyelid lowering to cover her eye, both her upper and lower eyelids moved in unison to meet in the middle, like a strange reptile, or fish.
The unease rapidly evolved into a sense of impending danger. The thumping from behind me did not stop, and they echoed violently in my ears and melded together with the drumming of my heart until I could no longer distinguish which was which. I did not find it within me to even scream. I shoved Meli-, no, I shoved whatever that was outward through the doorway to make my escape. The being I thought to be Melissa collapsed onto the wall like a limp ragdoll, and I heard a loud crack which sounded like bone. I did not stop to inspect the damage I caused. I was now fixated on sprinting towards the front door as quickly as possible, but even then, I still felt the stab of her gaze on my back. I made it to the front door in no more than a few seconds, but even from there I could still hear the thumping as loudly as it was when I was in the second room on the left. I turned to ensure that Melissa wasn’t pursuing me, but what I saw may have been even worse. Her black hair was untidily thrown over her face, half of which was smashed into a hole in the wall which was no doubt my creation. I thought she was unconscious and almost doubled back to check if she was ok, in case I had made some sort of morbid mistake.
Then she smiled. With her whole face this time. I could not describe it, but her face contorted in a way that no human face could. Her grin widened to reveal what looked like innumerable front teeth. Her gums were exposed to an uncomfortable degree, and her cheeks wrinkled and everted like they were being pulled apart.
I almost could not muster the courage to turn my back to flee from whatever it was I saw before my eyes. Even when limp and wedged into a wall, this being emanated an aura of a terrifying, unknown danger. I cursed myself for ever doubting my instincts. Just as I turned my back again, I heard her say something. I did not pause to listen properly, and I could not gather the courage to look back again. Even so, what she said next was clear as day, and even though she spoke from the hallway, her voice was soft and calm and felt like it came from just beside my ear.
“Won’t you stay for dinner? We have a whole chicken tonight.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I woke up in the hospital bed on that morning. I was taken to the ER because someone found me passed out on the side of the road in nothing more than my pajamas, almost a mile away from my address. I only remember running out of the house in the dead of night, for what reason I do not know. I ran until my legs gave way and body gave in. Given my recent health, I didn’t even expect to be able to walk over to the neighboring street. Something must have given me extraordinary strength.
My ex-wife came to visit me in the hospital from the next town over. Apparently, she was still listed as my next-of-kin in my medical records because it slipped both of our minds to update it. Well, I suppose that’s fine, since I have no other family besides her anyway. The doctor diagnosed me with an acute episode of delirium due to low sugar levels from not eating anything but stale biscuits for days on end. That was supposed to explain why I suddenly left the house and wandered around all on my own, and why I can’t remember any of the details from the night before. They put me on a drip in the ER, and I didn’t get my hunger pangs there.
When they were going to discharge me home, I remember vehemently not wanting to return there. I could not explain it either but it was simply an intense rejection, not associated with any particular emotion. Perhaps if I had to place it, it may be a mix of fear, disgust, or even survival instinct. It might be similar to what a bullied middle schooler might feel when made to go to school.
I wasn’t bothered by it anymore, though. I had sold away the old place, and I didn’t have to think about going back. I had to let it go for cheap because apparently a few days after I left the house, an old couple somewhere in the neighborhood had been discovered to be missing. The police found no leads at all to find them, no friends, no family, or anything. Their only daughter had passed away years ago in a traffic accident in New York. They came to the hospital to question me, but I didn’t even know the couple at all. Not many people want a life in a neighborhood near that kind of news, me included. My ex-wife agreed to let me move in to her apartment, out of pity at first, I’m sure, but we’d been working through some old stuff and things were going well, so we were looking at a fresh start.
“Breakfast is ready! Come on, let me see you get out of bed now or I know you never will, you slob.”
Meghan called to me from the doorway, and flickered the lights on and off childishly to ensure my sleep came to an abrupt end.
“Hng, come off it, its barely sunrise, and it’s Saturday. Why are you even up so early?”
“I’ve made you a sumptuous meal and you’re not allowed to let it go cold!”
“I’m not hungry though… I want sleep more than food at the moment, so…” I began to cover my face with my blanket.
And so, I got hit over the head with a pillow.
* * *
I looked down at my plate of freshly made hotcakes, with syrup dripping over the edges and a large knob of butter on the top. It did look delicious, but I simply didn’t have the stomach for it at the moment.
“Honey, thank you so much for the food, but you should probably know that I won’t be able to eat much of this.” I felt bad being frank with her after all she went through to put this together.
“The doctor said you have to make sure that your food intake remains at. An. Acceptable. Level. And because you’re too useless to make sure of it yourself, this tiresome job falls to me now, apparently.” She made it sound like she was complaining, but I could tell that she was concerned about me. She had dropped what she was doing to come down to see me immediately too, when I was in the ER. I smiled with appreciation.
“Alright then, I’ll do my best.”
“Aaaand, don’t forget, our little girl’s finally coming home from abroad today! I’ve missed her so much, and, oh, I’m sure she misses you too. I texted her to say I had to stay home to look after you, and since you’re too sick to go to see her, she’s coming from the airport by herself. Now, you at least make sure you’re presentable when she comes through that door!”
I was stunned for a moment. Oh yeah, that was a thing that was happening today. I wonder why it slipped my mind. Damn, it’s too early to be going senile.
Meghan raised an eyebrow. “Ohh? Ohhhhhh? Don’t tell me you forgot,” she said as she poked the back of my hand with her fork handle.
“Ow, ow, ow, okay, okay, I’ll get dressed.”
* * *
We were doing the breakfast dishes when the doorbell came. Thankfully, Meghan had made me dress up before we finished breakfast. My fiancé was the first to rush to the door.
“Oh honeybuns, darling, dear, you’re finally back! How was the flight! Oh, I do hope you aren’t too tired, did you get any sleep on the plane? I hope the bus ride wasn’t a pain. Come in, sit down, what are you even still doing in the doorway like that!” Meghan was already all over her it seems, looks like there’s no need for me to do much more welcoming.
I wonder if I’m a bad father for not remembering the last time I saw my daughter. The last time I saw her must have been when Meghan and I split up. Back then, she should have been just a little girl. Now, she’s a university graduate. How time flies. Meghan told me that she went over to Hong Kong to study finance. It must have been hard for someone who doesn’t speak the language there.
“Oh, come now, honeybuns, leave all your thing just there for now, we still have some hotcakes for you, although, oh dear, they’re probably cold by now…” Meghan was frantically helping her daughter take off her coat and hat, and carrying several bags on one arm. I made a movement to get up to help, but I received a fierce “you rest right there” kind of stare from her.
“Thank you, but it’s quite alright, I’ve got some food of my own anyway. We could share it.”
An amazing smell permeated the room from one of the plastic bags Meghan was holding.
“When I got on the plane, I found myself missing the cuisine there almost right away, so when I got back, I found the most authentic takeout I could and got us all a small feast.”
It was a dizzying aroma, and even though I could barely stomach a few bites of hotcake just now, I found myself working up an appetite almost instantly. I hope Meghan doesn’t get offended.
Meghan set down the plastic bags on the breakfast table. “Oh honeybuns, you shouldn’t have, but, oh! It smells wondrous. Come, let’s all eat together as a family then. What kind of food did you get for us then?”
“You both are sure to enjoy it, you see it all the time in Hong Kong. It’s the best thing for nutrition and a specialty there.” She smiled at us quietly with her wide, sky-blue eyes.
“And mother, for the last time, it’s Melissa.”
Is this fabulous or what?
I was like, Wow, this rocks!