The nails started popping out of the ceiling like rain. Just pop, pop, pop, all in a row. Some shoddy construction that was, if the nails could come out like that. The floorboard creaked above her, pop, pop, pop.
It was probably a ghost or something. She’d seen that stuff on television, those ghost hunting shows. The most they ever found were some noises, maybe a glimmer of light or an unexplained movement, but the mundane nature of it made it more real. If they were going to fake it, they could fake it good, like all those shows about rich housewives.
But pop, pop, pop, it just kept raining and she went into her son’s room where he was sleeping.
“What’s going on, Mama?” She turned the light on and moved his desk chair so she could open the hatch to the attic.
“Just a raccoon or something, go back to sleep.”
She walked up the flimsy stairs that descended down from the ceiling and pulled the cord to turn on the light. There was a bundle of something on the floor, but she couldn’t quite make out was it was, a bunch of winter coats wrapped around each other. Some animals must’ve made a nest or something. She went to lift up the coats when they started moving.
“Oh Jesus,” she said.
It was a man, the kind that used to be hers. The smell of feces floated past her nose, he didn’t smell so different from an animal.
She stood between him and the stairs, but when he approached her, she backed away. She wasn’t yet convinced that he wasn’t a poltergeist, some sort of ghost of her past sort of shit.
“George!” she shrieked, “Go into your sister’s room!”
His footsteps on the stairs were real like the sound of pop, pop, pop.
She could hear him running and she went after him, but he was already outside of the house and on the street. He turned back and smiled. He always had been a smiley man.
“Adam, what were you doing in my house?” she yelled. “Adam!” And she thought he might’ve been an apparition after all, by the way that he disappeared into the night.
She stood on the street not moving because what’s a woman to do when the past shows up in the attic like that.
Her daughter came running out of the house, “Mama, what’s wrong, what happened?”
“Adam was in the attic,” she said and it must’ve made no sense or something because her daughter asked her, what, say it again, and she had to repeat herself over and over again until they went inside and called nine-one-one.
They met when she was twenty and finishing her second year of community college and about to get her associates degree in business. He was working in a gas station and boy did he gas her up. She went in there to buy some cheetos and one of those big drinks that only cost seventy-five cents.
“It’s free today,” he said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Just take it,” he said. “Don’t you know when somebody tells you to take something, you should just go.”
And she took that big bag of cheetos and ate the whole thing and licked her cheesy fingers and went back the next day to buy another bag.
She got real fat for a little while like that. He gave her donuts too, those glazed ones with the sprinkles on top. They didn’t count those, he said. At the end of the day, they just had to throw away whatever was leftover and if he could put it in her sweet mouth instead, that was all right with him.
And she liked how he called her mouth sweet and the way she could feel his eyes on her ass even though he couldn’t make manager at that shitty gas station because he skipped too many of his shifts.
“But I’ll stop skipping for you, baby,” he said.
She let him take her out on their first date a month later. She held out for so long because she wasn’t needy like that and she had to do a lot of school work anyway, those classes the last semester of community college weren’t easy and she was working a full time job too and it was hard to find a night to take off, but she had one Friday free and he had one Friday scheduled, so he picked her up from her studio apartment in a car so beat up that the door didn’t lock and she couldn’t find the seatbelt and he said, “It’s buried somewhere in the seat.”
He drove to a fast-food restaurant and parked outside.
“Do you want to go in or get it to go?” he asked.
They got their food to go and had sex in the backseat of the car. There were French fries and ketchup everywhere and afterwards, as he dipped his squished hamburger into the ketchup lake of her belly button he said, “Girl, I’ve been wanting to do that to you since the first day we met.”
“I don’t know why I let you put your hands on me, when I know you’re not going anywhere,” she said, sipping the rest of her soda.
“Girl, I’ll take you places,” he said.
“We both know that’s not true.”
He brought her cheetos instead of flowers whenever he came to pick her up, his car creaking. When she graduated, he met her parents and while he was in the bathroom of the all-you-can-eat buffet place they went to, they said, “Well, you’re going to dump him now that you’re a college graduate,” and she nodded and was embarrassed by all the jello on his plate.
She got a job as a bank teller and he said, “Baby, what are you going to buy me now that you’re making all that money?”
“Nothing, baby,” she said.
She got her nails done every week because she liked the way that they sounded on the keyboard as she typed in the numbers, click, click, click. The girls who had been there for a long time were faster at it than she was and she studied their technique, click, click, click. Everything about them always felt polished and she invested in some expensive-looking scarves to wrap around her neck and experimented with hairdos that inevitably fell out by the end of the day.
“Woo, baby, you’re looking too good for me these days. It’s making me worried, I don’t know how to keep up with your fancy clothes.”
He had been fired from the gas station for not showing up too many times and spent his days on his cousin’s couch playing video games. She met his cousin one day when she went to pick him up to go through their favorite drive through.
“I want one of those milkshakes,” he said. “I like to dip my fries in it.”
His cousin sat on the couch with him, wearing a button up shirt. The cousin was not playing video games, but appeared a momentary spectator wearing shiny shoes. As far as she had seen, none of Adam’s clothing had buttons at all. There was a lot of elastic, some zippers. Everything hung loose on him, like a shroud.
“This is my girlfriend, “Adam said.
She couldn’t remember when she agreed to be his girlfriend. They had never talked about it, he said love you babe, and she said, I need something to eat.
“Nice to meet you,” Adam’s cousin said.
She knew he was wondering what sort of woman would let this man’s penis inside of her, feel the warmth of his gas-station hot-dog sperm. Fast-food French fry kiss. He was not wrong to wonder this and she could not judge him for it.
“Hold on, baby, I just need to finish a level.”
She sat on the edge of a lazy-boy chair, watching his video game avatar fight other graphically designed creatures and listening to Adam yell as though he were actually killing them.
“I got you,” he said. “I beat the shit out of you. Nothing you can do to stop it.”
When they went for food, he paid, and she didn’t question where he got the money or if he was going to put a condom on, she just let herself feel that, all the fast-food come and the liquid felt sort of painful, even though it felt good, the way blood feels when you’ve first cut yourself. She got a urinary tract infection after that night, everything hot and itchy. Her pee like rotten eggs and she called him and asked, what have you done to me.
He gave her a ring after that, not one of those proposal rings, but the sort of ring a person gives when they want a promise based off nothing. When he gave it to her she said, “Boy, I don’t want to know what’s in that box” and he said, “But your fingers do,” and he put that ring on her finger and she trotted around the bank like the married ladies with houses and dogs and babies.
He presented her with matching earrings the next week and she turned those down saying, “I don’t have any holes in my head.” She did, but he never looked. She started to get suspicious of where these things were coming from when she watched that diamond sparkle, glittering like a real diamond and not the way the ones from drug stores glowed until they turned the finger green. She wasn’t the sort of girl that boys gave diamonds to, but the sort of girl who got cheetos for free.
“Where are you getting those sparkly things?” she asked him.
“Don’t worry about it.”
When he called from jail she was surprised only in that he called her, but not about where he was calling her from. He was the sort of person who never had the same number, the sort that could never be saved, but this was the first time he had called from behind bars. He wanted to be bailed out and she said no, those smooth ladies at the bank would never do something like this and she hung up the phone, intent on forgetting about him, and went back to work, click, click, click, that shiny ring still on her finger.
She started getting messages in her email, an address she didn’t even know he had. Adaminjail5948 said, hey baby, I miss you. Prisoneradam25 said, if only I could see you naked one more time. Dontdropthesoapadam42443 said, oh please, honey, baby, just show me those titties. She didn’t respond, not at first. She would start typing, click, click, click. Ask him when he was getting out, what he was in there for, and no, she was not going to show him her titties, but she couldn’t even call them titties or boobies. She had to call them breasts, they were her breasts. As soon as she typed it, before she even reached the period, she would delete it, click, click, click and then block his messages.
She didn’t delete his messages completely, but let them pile up in her inbox, one after the other. It was Adam, Adam, Adam, all in a row, all dying for the chance to see her boobs. It turned her on in a way she had never been turned on before and she would sit at the computer and touch herself, her hands outside of her underwear but still wet.
She took her phone, the brand new one she had purchased with a two-year contract. It had a camera on the back and she stripped down naked, held the phone away from her body and snapped pictures of her breasts. She held onto them, squeezing them together. The skin was surprisingly soft and she understood why he enjoyed touching her here, in this way. She looked at the pictures, expecting that she somehow would’ve been transformed into a porn star, skinny and entirely sexual, but there she was, naked, holding her breasts. She took one last one, sticking her fingers between her legs.
She sent it to all of the addresses from which she had received a message from him. It made her feel so warm and good, imagining him touching himself while looking at her, maybe in front of the other prisoners and the guards. She had never been to a jail, she didn’t know what it was like inside, but she could only guess. She wondered if he’d had sex with men. She heard that sort of thing happened in prisons, but couldn’t imagine him bent over like that.
As soon as she went to work in the morning and before she went to bed at night, she checked her email to see if he had responded, but he never did. At first she told herself that it was just the prison schedule, he hadn’t been allowed to use the computer. After all, it wouldn’t be incarceration if they were allowed to do whatever they pleased all the time. She considered that he had gotten in trouble for looking at those pictures of her naked body and this idea pleased her, but finally she just had to concede that he was never going to write back.
She got her own office at the bank, was moved into a manager position. She started going to the gym downstairs to which they got a free membership and lost weight. She learned to do a headstand, picking up her entire body with only the strength of her abdominal muscles. She married a man she found lifting weights and he groaned in the bedroom the same way that he groaned in the gym. They had three children together and bought a house. It was white, Cape Cod style.
When she was pregnant she got heavy Cheeto cravings. Cheetos dipped in peanut butter, Cheetos smashed and used as breadcrumbs. Cheetos as biscuits with gravy. Cheetos sucked and licked so clean that they were white. Her husband brought her Cheetos, but not without judgment.
“Are you sure this is what you want to go into our child’s body?” he asked. “What if they come out orange?”
When they got divorced after fifteen years of marriage, the only thing she mourned was the flat screen television that he took with him in the custody agreement.
She was forty when she heard from him again. She was sipping coffee when she got the message. Coffee upset her stomach, but the bank had a constant supply for customers and over the years she had developed a dependence and either had to choose between a headache and stomach irritation. She was sipping coffee from a mug that one of her sons had decorated for her when he was younger, the scribbles he painted so meaningless and yet so uniquely him. People are so good at being relentlessly themselves. Her email dinged to let her know that she had a new message and she typed click, click, click with her shiny, freshly manicured nails. It was from adamoutsoon355535, hey baby, I’m getting out soon. Let’s get together. Hot pics. She deleted that message completely, sent it to a place where it could never come back. She barely remembered who this man was and had only a slight recollection of that body that she showed him all those years ago. She had spent months of her life anticipating this message and when it finally came she kept unprepared and her stomach growled in protest of the caffeine and a newly risen hunger.
When she returned home she locked the doors of her little white house, would’ve tucked her children into bed if they were still at the age where she did such things for them. Wished that her big man was his big groans was still around to protect her. She considered purchasing a gun.
It was suspicious when her doorbell rang one day. Stopping by was a thing that nobody did anymore unless they were selling something and she had earned everything that she had; she had nothing to give. She answered that door though. She was responsible for her actions.
He had gained weight. Prison had given him a paunch that hung over the edge of his pants. He looked down, the way a dog’s tail looks down.
She let him come inside. She had some doors that needing fixing and she didn’t want to do it herself. She watched as he sanded that wood down, handled it gently in his hands.
“I think we should get back together, baby.”
“But honey, we were never together to begin with.”
He started to cry and she couldn’t really blame him for that. After all, how many tears had she shed staining all of her pillow covers mascara black after he never responded to her messages? This was her deserved vengeance: she was a bank manager.
“Don’t come here again, Adam.”
It was a crumbling motion if she’d ever seen one. He walked slowly down the street and she figured at the very least he could stay with that cousin of his, the one with the button down shirt. She didn’t know if his cousin still lived in town, or was even still alive. The weird sort of disconnect that occurred when thinking about people from the past. But she didn’t want to over think it. Her doors were fixed and she locked them, listening for the reassuring click.
After she found Adam in the attic, she called the police who told them not to touch the crime scene and asked if anyone was hurt and she said no, even though she felt hurt. The police went up into that attic crawl space where Adam had been living and carried down reeking buckets of what they later explained was human waste. They kept asking her if she had ever let Adam inside, how much communication they’d had while he was in jail.
“He came over once after he got out,” she said. “It was months ago. I didn’t give him my address. I don’t know how he knew where I lived.”
They examined the nails on her floor that had rained down, pop, pop, pop, and said that there was a hole in the attic that Adam had used to look down on her. She thought about all the times she had been naked, her body in front of the mirror. She danced when she was alone, danced just while she was getting undressed and there was no music on, and he had seen all these things. Her naked dancing in front of the mirror.
“Let me see your titties one more time, baby.”
It hadn’t mattered about the pictures, he had found her anyway, naked. Found a perch where he could watch her for always. Took shits above her as she lay in bed, touched himself just seeing her naked body. The police estimated he had been up there for about two weeks, wrapped in her down jacket, feathers starting to poke through the seams.
“Be careful to lock your doors at night,” they said, though she couldn’t articulate how meaningless that motion was to her now, that click, something supposed to be indicative of safety.