Breathe in, breathe out. He closed the oven and looked around his new apartment, hardwood floors and a full view of the middle class suburbs. It would be different now. He would wake up in the morning and spend the day awake, fully awake. He’d spend all evening devouring textbooks because this time, he’d made the right choice. On the counter, he had a mosaic of spilled egg yolk and poorly cut vegetables, but he’d deal with those later, he figured. It was just stir fry, right? He could already smell a sure success.


 Before, he was but a shadow of his true self, a façade trying to mirror the him of other people, but this time, his mother would walk in the door and exclaim at how put-together he’d become. how mature. How all her worries were unfounded because he’d really grown up and found himself after all.


 Now the shelf, the finishing touch–every self-respecting person has a shelf. Drill in hand, he stared uncertainly at the wall. Was this even allowed? At times like this, he wished someone would shriek that he was a stupid good-for-nothing and yank everything out of his hands. “Oh well, too late.” He was sure he’d soon get complaints from next door, where .


The drilling was really getting to their heads. Antsy anecdotes floated around in the living room. Her fingers hopscotched around the freshly microwaved rim. Saggy green beans safely steaming on the table, her mind wandered around the room, bright smiles and fake laughter masking the emptiness as she lost herself in a jungle of inside jokes and enthusiastic gibberish. They followed him into another room, little snakes drawn to the ever dynamic charmer, leaving her sitting there with discarded joints and empty glasses like an abandoned balloon when a party has ended, scouring the past day in an effort to find the moment things started going downhill (it must have been before the tense smile and poorly disguised passive aggressive comment, and there was that slightly too loud squeak of the chair and slightly too quiet stare out the window, so it must have been hours ago…). It was funny how little she’d fled from the dusty corner of her childhood closet. As she toed the marks on the floor, she wondered if .


Downstairs, an exasperated poke dismissed a volume warning. Yes, she would like to drown out the screeching furniture and slamming doors. Jesus, what were her neighbours even doing? Three hours of shitty music and now this. At least she had the sense to mute her instrument. Her instrument…she glanced over to where it lay, case open on the floor. There was already a thin layer of dust collecting on the felt, but maybe that was just the apartment. Once upon a time, her eyes closed as she let out sensual solos, carefree amidst the simultaneously smooth and dirty notes that made her a school legend. It was the environment, surely.


 She opened the window for some fresh air. Gosh, she couldn’t wait for those two to break up. It was a curse. She leaned back and tried to remember where she went wrong, how she ended up with a $500 mute, wheezing out the most soulless melodies…


Maybe it was just the empty lock screen, but overplayed 80s music has never sounded so comforting. It didn’t matter really, it was only the fifth time the minutes ticked past and the most recent message sat there mockingly, like there was some secret meaning behind “call at 8:00” only true friends would understand. They forgot and fell asleep, or they had work to do, or they went out for a walk and got lost and were racing back home, or suddenly they were roped into a family event, or they got hit by a basketball and was currently unconscious. Or talking to her was a strenuous burden (they didn’t know how to get out of it, they were a nice person) and they were having an endless (how could two people share so many interests? Their sides hurt from laughing so much) conversation with a real (if only they had the same classes, group work at school was such a pain) friend (they’d never clicked so much with someone before). 


She typed out 5 question marks and rested her finger on the enter key, waiting for 8:30 to appear in the top right corner. 30 and 15 minutes ago, it was 2 and 3 question marks, she was going with prime numbers this time. At what point do two people become strangers more than friends? When does it become better to cut one’s losses and move on? Her phone started buzzing, and she grabbed it, jumping out of the chair. The fire alarm had gone off.


Two kids in Spiderman costumes raced each other down the stairs as their grandfather called out after them to be careful. A group of lululemon-wearing middle aged women with asymmetric bobs and blonde highlights muttered, “that’s the third time this week.” A jogger swiftly did a 180 degree turn and extended their run. All the way across the street, you could still hear the ghostly cacophony.



Photo generated with the assistance of AI.