Muddy shoes stepped into the apartment, leaving an imprint on the greenish-brown rug. Droplets of rain decorated skin and keys dropped into a brown ceramic bowl on a stand near the door. A coat slipped off, causing more water to splash across the wooden floor and the door shut, the coat draped over the arm of a couch. A manila folder was tossed on the couch, a piece of paper drifted down to the floor but was quickly snatched up and returned.
“Garrett?” A muffled voice from a room nearby.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Garrett shook his hands, dropping more rain to the floor and wiped his face with his sleeve. “Do you hear something buzzing?” He surveyed the living room but couldn’t locate the sound. “What is that?”
“I think it’s my cell phone.” She did not exit the room. “I couldn’t find my plug, so I’m using the old one. It shouldn’t be buzzing. Can you check it, please?”
“Nothing like almost starting a fire.” He zeroed in on the cell phone but then looked over at the small kitchen area nearby. He remembered how she used to love to cook and how the kitchen would be bright and smell so good. Now, it was dark and the dishes piled up in the sink. “Guess we’re having takeout again,” he said.
“Are you coming out of the room?” but she didn’t answer him. “Lately, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
He moved toward the cell phone, passing by the couch and stopped near the window. He could smell the rain from outside, still feel its dampness on his skin, but it was warm in the apartment. Lately, she was either hot or cold, so she would leave the window open and turn up the heat. But then she would lock herself in the room.
“Are you coming out?” Still, no answer.
On a table near the window was her cell phone with the old cord plugged into an outlet next to it. The buzzing grew louder, and the phone felt hot in his hand. Little white sparks popped into the air and landed on the floor. Shit, he thought and quickly grabbed the cord from the outlet, forgetting his still wet skin, and a large spark popped on his hand, a shock raced through his body. He fell back, feeling a strange sensation of slipping through the floor and falling, just falling, further and further away.
“Garrett? Garrett?” Her voice brought him back. “You okay?” She still didn’t come out of the room. “Garrett, answer me. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He felt strange as he sat up, resting a hand on the couch. “Give me a minute.” He pushed against the floor with his other hand, making sure that it was solid. It was. But the room blurred around him, his body hummed, his fingers and toes twitched. He struggled to his feet and looked for the cell phone and cord. The phone was still on the table and the damn cord was in the outlet. He ripped it out of the wall and received another shock. “Damn it!” He dropped the cord to the floor.
“Are you coming out?” He shook his head. “Forget it.” Her cell phone rang and he reached for it. But when he held it, that strange sensation returned and he felt himself fall.
A bubbling sound snapped him out of it. He looked toward the kitchen. It was bright. There were hardly any dishes in the sink but what was next to them? He held the phone and approached the sink. It looked like a bottle. A baby bottle? The bubbling grew louder; the phone buzzed.
The strange vibration returned and the kitchen darkened. The dishes were piled up in the sink again and there was no bottle with them. And no pot bubbling.
She slipped out of her room and walked toward the bathroom. “Hey, you okay?”
“Fine.” He scratched his head. “I know I saw it.”
“Saw what?” She didn’t wait for an answer, closing the bathroom door behind her.
The phone rang again, chased by that strange vibration, and the kitchen brightened with more bubbling sounds. Crying filled the apartment. Was that a baby?
The phone rang again. “Come on.” The kitchen turned dark. “What the fuck is going on? Am I losing my mind?”
“What’s your problem?” She opened the bathroom door a crack.
“Did you hear a baby crying?”
“A baby. Did you hear a baby crying?”
“No.” Her voice shook a little. “Why would there be a baby crying in here?”
“I don’t know. What about the pasta? I thought you were making us dinner.”
“Dinner? When was the last time that I cooked us dinner?”
He couldn’t remember, but there was a pot that was just boiling over. And there was a bottle, a baby bottle in the sink. A baby was crying but she was right. Why would there be a baby crying in here?
The phone rang again, and she said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Tell Florida to stop calling me with their damn robo calls.”
“This isn’t Florida calling.” He recognized the voice, but it was impossible. It was his voice. “Hello?”
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Where are you?” He flinched at the man’s tone, and the call ended.
The kitchen was bright and there she was, wearing blue jeans and a white flowered top. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, her light brown arms moving almost rhythmically as she stirred the pot. She smiled and he hadn’t seen that smile in a very long time.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like… I don’t know. Like I’m someone else.” She turned off the stove.
“I don’t know.” He glanced at the phone in his hand. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. What are you wearing?” She laughed. How he had missed that sound!
“Wait. What do you mean by what I’m wearing?” He glanced at the couch and the manila folder was gone. “I’m wearing my work clothes and they’re wet from the rain outside.”
“Rain? They didn’t predict rain today.”
He touched his coat that was still draped over the arm of the couch. It was dry. He glanced over at the apartment door. No muddy footprints. No droplets of rain on the wooden floor and the carpet by the door was a different color, brownish red.
A baby cried.
“Can you watch the pasta? It’s ready. I have to check on Anna.” She hurried away from him. “Garrett? Earth to Garrett?”
“Anna? Who’s Anna?” The phone in his hand rang again. “Come on,” he muttered.
“Don’t hang up on me.” He was back on the other end of the phone. “We need to talk.”
“I don’t know who you are.”
“Don’t you, Garrett?”
The kitchen was dark and muddy footprints stained the greenish-brown rug. Droplets of water rested against the floor. He touched his coat. It was soaked. But there was no pasta ready to be served, there was no baby, no Anna.
“What happened? Why do I keep switching… realities?”
“I don’t know,” he said and the call ended.
“I’m still in the bathroom,” she answered. “Who were you talking to?”
“Jen, I need to talk to you.” He approached the bathroom. “Please, open the door. Jen, please.” He could hear her sigh on the other side. “I have to ask you something but not through the door.”
The bathroom door opened and Jen stepped toward him. She was wearing a pair of gray jogging pants and a black T-shirt. Her hair was down, hugging her shoulders, and her light brown arms folded in front of her chest. She seemed thin compared to her other self and her face was wet like she had been crying.
The color drained from her face. “How do you know that name?”
He stared at her and it hit him. She had been crying a lot lately but she never said why. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” She laughed and it was not that beautiful sound that he had heard a few moments before. This laugh was bitter. “Am I okay? No, Garrett, I’m not okay. Now, how the fuck do you know that name?”
“You spoke her name.”
“No, I never did. Never to you.”
“You said that she was…” The pain in her eyes pierced through him. “Never mind.” He stepped back. “Forget it. Just forget it.”
“She was what?” Her voice was a whisper, and tears slipped down her face.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I’m sorry, Jen. I’m just confused right now.”
“You’re always so lost in your own shit.” She slammed the bathroom door shut.
The phone rang again and it was him. “Help me,” he said. “I don’t know where I am.”
“You’re in the apartment but which one?”
“No, not anymore. I think I fell through the floor this time and I’m still falling.” Those words chilled him to the bone. “I need to get back. How do I get back home?”
The phone went dead. “Hello? Hello?”
“Another robo call? I swear that they don’t stop calling me from Texas.”
He looked at Jen, who smiled back at him, setting the table.
“So, why are you wearing those clothes again? You’re dressing like you did when you worked at your old job.”
He looked over at the couch. No manila folder. “I left that job? Why would I do that?”
“Because of your supervisor, silly. You couldn’t stand working for her and it was too much stress for you. So you left, and now you have a better, higher-paying job. You can wear casual work clothes. Oh, can you get Anna, please? I changed her diaper and she just needs to be carried into the kitchen.”
“You want me to hold her?”
“I thought we got past that. Never mind. I’ll get her. You just take a seat, and I’ll be right out.”
The phone rang again. “I have a daughter?”
“Don’t you care that I’m falling somewhere God knows where?” He flinched at the man’s tone. “Yes, you have a daughter. At least, I do. What happened to yours?” No answer. “I don’t think I’m falling anymore but I’m not back at the apartment. At least, I don’t think so. Where are you?”
“Your place.” He sat at the table and looked over at Jen but she didn’t have the baby. She was his Jen and she was staring at him like he was crazy. “My place,” and the call ended.
“Seriously, who are you talking to?” She asked.
“No one. Just myself.” He smiled at that, but Jen did not look amused.
“Were you going to place an order for dinner or are we just skipping that tonight?” She looked at the phone in his hand. “That’s my phone. Why are you using it?” She reached for it but he moved away from her.
“I was going to place an order. I’m sorry I’m using your phone. What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t care. Where’s your cell phone? Why don’t you use it instead of mine?”
“Where is my phone? Shit.” He searched his pockets. Nothing. He checked his coat. Still nothing. He checked the manila folder. “Thank God,” he sighed, but his phone was dead. “I have to charge it.”
“Fine. Use my phone. I don’t care.” She moved away from the table. “I’m not hungry anyway. I don’t know why I even came out of the bathroom.”
“Jen.” She looked at him. “What did I do to you?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it matters. For almost a year, it’s been like living with a stranger. We barely sleep in the same room anymore.”
“So what? You miss the sex? Is that it? Is that the only thing that you miss?”
“No. Yes.” He stepped closer and reached for her but she pulled away from him. “I miss us, Jen. What we were once.”
“We were a fucking mess, Garrett. We still are.” She stormed away from him.
“I know about Anna.” She froze mid-step but refused to look at him. “I know about our daughter,” and the painful look in her eyes broke his heart. “Why isn’t she here with us?”
“Who told you?” Her voice filled with venom. “Who told you?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I want to know! Now,” she screamed, and he flinched.
“You. You told me, Jen.”
“Me? I don’t know what kind of sick game you’re playing tonight, but it’s not funny, Garrett. I’m not laughing.” No, she was crying.
Jen covered her mouth and hurried into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her. Her sobs still escaped the room.
“Jen? Jen, please talk to me.” He hurried over to the bathroom. “Please,” but she didn’t answer him.
The phone rang in his hand. A baby giggled.
“Something wrong with dinner?” Jen asked.
“What?” He looked down at the plate in front of him. The pasta looked good, but his stomach turned. He felt cold, sick. Maybe, the human body was not meant to slip in-between worlds, if that was what he was doing. “No, dinner looks good.”
“You okay? You’re pale. And why are you holding my phone? Where’s yours?”
“It needs to be charged.” He looked at Anna.
“She was cranky today.” Jen bounced the baby on her lap and gave her a little piece of pasta. “We kept ourselves busy though.”
He continued to stare at Anna. “She’s beautiful.”
“Why are you looking at Anna like you’ve never seen her before?”
“Jen, can I ask you something?” He looked at her.
“Sure.” She ate some pasta.
“Was there a moment where you might not have had Anna?” He watched Jen’s fork crash into her plate and she almost choked on her food.
She covered Anna’s ears. “Why the fuck would you ask me that?”
“You’re sorry? You have no right to ask me that.”
“But I’m asking, Jen and I need to know. Please. Please, Jen.”
She looked at Anna, who played with a rattle in her hands. “Yes, there was a moment,” she said.
“Why? Why would you do that?”
She laughed. It was that bitter laugh. “Why? Because we weren’t in a good place, Garrett. I didn’t think we were going to make it and I didn’t want to bring her into that. It wouldn’t be fair to her and I didn’t want you to stay with me because of her.”
“So, you were going to decide not to have her?”
“You have no idea, Garrett. No fucking idea.” She flinched. She forgot to cover Anna’s ears. “She’s too young to remember anyway and you know what, Garrett? If I had made that decision, it would have been my choice.”
“What about me?”
“What about you? You were lost in your own shit all the time. You forgot about me.”
“I never forgot about you. I’m sorry if it seemed that way.”
Anna started to cry. Jen quickly hugged her. “Why are we even talking about this? I decided and now we have Anna. And we are doing much better together. All of us. Aren’t we?”
He flinched at her question, thinking about his own Jen. “Yes, we’re doing much better now.”
“And if I had made that decision, it would have torn me apart.” She looked at him, tears pouring down her face. Now, she seemed like his Jen. “It would have ended us.”
The phone rang and he felt as if the floor gave way. He fell through the wooden surface and into nothing and he couldn’t stop falling. Would his other self be able to save him?
Somehow, he pressed the phone to his ear. Please, he thought. Please, save me. “Are you there?”
He said, “I think I’m returning home now. Are you?”
“I’m falling and I can’t stop falling.” The phone beeped in his hand. One bar left. “Help me.”
“What’s wrong with Jen? Your Jen.”
“Leave her alone.” The darkness closed in. The phone beeped. “I need to get back to her.”
“I’m home now.” His voice sounded distant. “You should be too. Good-bye.”
“Wait! Please don’t hang up on me!”
He felt himself fall, hitting against a hard surface. It was the wooden floor of his apartment. He was lying in front of the bathroom door and Jen was stepping out of the bedroom with her coat on and a suitcase in her hand.
“Oh my God, Garrett. Are you okay? And why are you still holding my phone?”
“I’m okay.” He struggled to sit up on the floor. “Where are you going?”
Jen looked at the suitcase. “I think you know the answer to that. Now, are you okay?”
“Not if you’re about to leave me.”
“I have to.” She moved past him. “I should’ve left a long time ago. I don’t know why I didn’t.” She opened the apartment door.
“Jen, please, please don’t go.”
The phone rang again. The last bar fading as if warning this would be the last time but maybe, it would be better, if he was there. He wanted to see Jen smile at him like she did before. He wanted to see Anna but the phone just rang again.
“Don’t let her leave,” he said. “She needs you and you need her.” His voice faded away.
“Jen, I know it was a hard decision that you made.”
“Do you?” She glared at him. “You don’t know anything.”
“Yes, I do.” He stood up and moved over to her. “I know, Jen.”
“Yeah. What do you know?”
“That you didn’t think we were going to make it and you didn’t want to bring her into that. You didn’t want me to stay with you because of her.”
She stepped back, shaking her head. “Those are my thoughts, not yours.” She looked at him. “How do you know what I was thinking? You couldn’t know. Maybe I talked in my sleep. Did that person on the phone tell you? Who were you talking to?”
“I saw her. I saw our daughter, Jen, and she was beautiful.”
Jen slapped him across the face. “I’m sorry, Garrett. I don’t know why I did that.”
“I deserve it. I should never have made you feel so forgotten.” That word made her mouth fall open in surprise and he took her hand in his. “We weren’t in a good place and you were right to think that we weren’t going to make it. I didn’t think we were going to make it either.”
“How do you know all this? How could you possibly know any of this?”
“Because I do know, Jen. I know. I know how hard that decision was for you and that I wasn’t there when you needed me. I was lost in my own shit and I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Jen.”
“It’s too late, Garrett. It’s just too late.” She pulled her hand away and wiped some tears off her face. “We’re still a mess and nothing’s going to change that.” She walked into the hallway.
“You’re right.” She paused at his words. “You said that if you made that decision, it would have torn you apart.” She looked at him. “You were right about it ending us because here we are at the end.”
“I never said any of that.”
The phone buzzed in his hand. The last bar faded away.
“Could I say one last thing before you go?” He brushed a tear aside.
“Okay. One last thing, Garrett, and then I’m leaving.”
“You would have loved her.”
“Our daughter, Anna. For the few minutes that I had with her, she was amazing, beautiful. She had my eyes but your face. And she giggled, Jen. I didn’t get a chance to hold her and I wish I did now. But I saw her and you would have loved her.”
Jen burst into tears. He hurried over to her, hugging her tight. “Did you see her,” she whispered into his ear. “Did you really see her, our daughter?”
“I did. Do you believe me?”
“I don’t know why.” Her eyes met his. “I do but why now? Why today?”
“I don’t know.” He took the suitcase from Jen and led her back to the apartment. Their feet rested next to the muddy footprints. “It must mean something.”
“Maybe it does. Maybe we will see her again?”
He touched her face. “Maybe we will,” and she smiled at him with that smile.
“Oh, one thing,” Jen said.
“Can I have my phone back?” He laughed, closing the apartment door behind them.