Catherine Young Lives Here
By Sarah Lachmansingh
Linda, my therapist, was stalking me. It was the third time in a week that I’d seen her lacquered hatchback zip past my house. Or thought I’d seen her lacquered hatchback zip past my house.
I’d quit therapy not long before. That day in her office, while I’d debated how I would tell her I no longer wanted to see her, I stared at her hair. She always styled it in a low bun. I thought it looked like a dinner roll. Probably because she’d once told me kneading bread was her preferred method of anxiety relief. While staring at my hands, I’d said, “Linda, I’m quitting therapy. Also, your hair looks like a dinner roll.”
Linda knew everything about me. I’d started seeing her two months after Rick, my fiancé, had moved in with another woman. According to his Facebook, he’d purchased a townhouse and a yippy little dog, while I, still living in the bungalow we shared, tried to be pleased by my newly oversized bed and the empty dining chair I now used as storage
I had never lived on my own before and wasn’t used to the creaks the house made on its own. Some evenings, I felt watched and wondered if the headlights strobing across my ceiling were from cars studying my home. It wasn’t long before I thought intruders were waiting to split my windows open and enter. I was so worried about this that my sleep began to fritz like a television searching for a stable connection. So, I’d gone to see Linda. Her face seemed the most welcoming from the Google searches I made for therapists. She had large eyelids, a long, soft jaw, and lips posed into a gentle smile. I liked her enough at first until I realized we weren’t getting anywhere.
After three months of seeing her, I still hid from my neighbours. I didn’t want them to know I lived in that bungalow alone. Instead, I relied on their assumption that the moving truck that had hauled all of Rick’s stuff to his new home had also hauled me away with it too. My daily life became consumed with pretending I wasn’t myself, and Linda knew all this.
Naturally, when I first saw what looked like her car drive by my house, I suspected she was coming for revenge because who would find dinner rolls flattering? She could use everything I told her against me—the fear of the midnight break-ins, the fear of someone eating slices from my bread loaves. I couldn’t explain why I knew it was Linda, but I could feel it when the backs of my knees buckled at odd times, when I’d sweat even though I wasn’t hot. I imagined her outside my house, in my yard as I snipped the one hedge that hadn’t died over the winter, at the florists as I pretended to have occasions I needed flowers for. She’d probably be there when I died too, whatever I’d be doing when it would happen. Grocery shopping or caramelizing onions or blotting the sweat from my own face.
After the second time I’d seen the car, I decided to email her to apologize for quitting and for comparing her hair to bread. I decided I’d specify that I liked the way her hair resembled a dinner roll. I’d say, Linda, there are many stunning things about dinner rolls. The lustre. The shape. The even shade of bronze. Please don’t follow me home. I’m sure your hair tastes delicious.
One morning, while I buttered my toast, I wondered if Linda would enter quietly or jam herself inside my home. Which would be worse, I couldn’t decide. I’d told her everything she’d need to know to sidestep my precautions for intruders—how for weeks I considered lining up all the furniture I owned in front of the door to block anyone from entering, how I even thought laying out sticky mouse traps like tiles would deter an intruder. She’d known it all, how desperate I was to be unknown in my neighbourhood. How I’d leave my home stealthily, keys in hand, a hat shadowing my face. How, if I saw anyone watering their lawn or weeding their gardens, I’d glance back at the house and pretend to wave at an imaginary homeowner, pretend to be their guest.
The day Linda’s car passed for the third time, I decided to set up camp in my living room. It had the closest window to the main road, where I could wait for her plump car to roll in.
I stuffed the ends of two blankets under the cushions of my couch and draped their other halves over my dining table. I hadn’t made a fort since I was a child. Most people my age hadn’t made forts since they were children. Though the height of my makeshift tent was low, it was better that way since I could crawl under the window and lift my eyes just high enough to look outside.
I shovelled my laptop, a knife, and a bowl of salted pretzels under the cover of the blankets. Being so close to the floor, I realized the carpet needed vacuuming. Fluffs from my scarf and flakes of chipped nail polish mixed with the fibre. I was so embarrassed. If Linda broke in, she’d notice how untidy I was, how I hadn’t even vacuumed the fluff from my scarf and the remnant chips of my nail polish.
While I waited for Linda, I streamed the first movie my cursor hovered over. I couldn’t handle the decision fatigue, so I often let my cursor decide for me. The film was some kind of drama. I focused mostly on the chunky salt gloving each pretzel rather than the strings of dialogue, the lingering shots of crowded beaches. I knocked each grit of salt off with my teeth, scraped them against the shiny coating. The evening went on like that, my teeth knocking together over the sound of the actors bickering. The star couple’s argument over purchasing the wrong grade of dark chocolate resonated most with me. Mostly because I wished I had something as stupid to worry about as dark chocolate. I used to. I remembered how annoyed I felt when Rick didn’t price match and I saw the same oranges for sale at another store except a dollar cheaper. Once, I snapped one single tooth on my comb and sobbed about it for hours.
I propped myself up and glanced out the window again. Linda’s car wasn’t in sight. But the sensation of thin, very thin air hadn’t left my body, my constricted throat.
I lay my head on the dirty carpet, next to the scarf fuzzies and chipped nail polish. Above me, I observed the snowflake design on my sheets. Would I ever return to being annoyed about not-price-matched oranges? I wondered if snapping a tooth from my comb could make me sob again. If I could accept that the worst thing happening to me was purchasing the wrong grade of dark chocolate.
The next morning, my body ached. Stress poked at my ribs, tightening and tightening. Ironically, I recalled what Linda had told me about the bread dough. How she’d squeeze it under her fingers and feel everything collapse into the ball. I decided while brushing the crumbs from the previous night’s pretzels, that I’d welcome her intrusion, so it really wouldn’t be an intrusion at all. I’d let her be my very first guest since Rick’s departure. I plucked a jar of flour from the pantry and stepped back into my kitchen. If Linda was offended by my dinner roll comment, she must have never seen a beautiful one. How pristine they could be.
I got started in the kitchen, rolled my sleeves delicately. I lined up my ingredients, twisted the cans of salt and baking soda so their labels faced me and poured the flour into its own separate bowl.
After combining the ingredients into a sticky dough, I poked it a few times. I scooped the contents out of the bowl and onto the counter, and with the base of my palms, I began to knead. I tried to feel what Linda felt. The stress moving out of me and into the dough. I kept going when I realized if the stress was in the dough, Linda would be eating it all up, every last scrap of anxiety. I pressed my palms against the belly of the dough, the overspill bubbling between my fingers. I kneaded rabidly, kneaded until I cried.
I took the dinner rolls to the porch where I sat cross legged on the wood. The sun slit across my eyes, and in response, I shielded the dinner rolls. I needed them to stay pristine, to prove to Linda I liked dinner rolls.
I craned my neck for any sight of Linda’s car trotting along the road ahead. I didn’t know why she was taking so long. If she wanted to create suspense.
I sat with the tray of rolls on my lap and waited for her car to nose itself onto my driveway, headlights gleaming on my face like a spotlight. I would be the whole show, I decided. I didn’t know how long it would take, how long I would be there without my hat. The neighbours would see me. Already, a man was out, plunging around in his garden. An older woman walked along the sidewalk, her dog, a Westie, tugging her along. There was so much noise on my porch. The bustle of lawnmowers and a leaf blower that another neighbour walked around with. It was strapped to his back, a large tube pulled over his shoulder. I wondered how he’d get away if someone came up to rob him. With that thing on, he’d be so slow. I felt like I should have told him something, should have said, sir, have you thought about how you’d defend yourself if someone came up to rob you?
I cradled the tray of dinner rolls and eventually took a bite of one. Even as someone passed me, a younger woman, headphones cuffed around her skull, I stuffed the whole thing in my mouth. I chewed, and when we made eye contact, my cheeks were still full. She smiled at me, which meant she saw me, which meant she knew I lived there. She kept walking and I watched her cross the street, up the sidewalk, and into a house with a large lion statue out front. I reached for another bun. Between bites I said, “I live here.” Bite. “I live here.” Bite. “I live here.”
I turned back to the main neighbourhood and smiled. Red cars passed across the main road in the distance. I watched them roll along like loose beads.
Sarah Lachmansingh is a Guyanese-Canadian writer from Toronto. She is currently studying creative writing and is a fiction intern at The Malahat Review. In 2021, she was selected as a mentee for BIPOC Writers Connect. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Homology Lit, filling Station, Augur Magazine, EVENT, and elsewhere.