by Ryan T. Jenkins
Mick has never napped on the kitchen linoleum before, but he’s surprised to find out how relaxing it is: the tiles are cool, and the humming of the refrigerator provides a nice even-keel white noise. The green-and-white color scheme of the kitchen is soothing to the eye, and Mick’s imagination can’t help but conjure up long-ago smells of roasted turkey and freshly baked sweet potato pies. If only he had a pillow, he would be in hog heaven!
As he’s lying there on the kitchen floor, he begins to reflect on all the places in the house he’s napped over the years.
The living room couch has always been a reliable go-to. There’s also the upstairs hallway where a draft from the stairs creates a wind tunnel. The bathtub in the master bathroom is another one of his personal favorites. And so is underneath Jodi’s bed, which is almost as cozy as napping in the bed itself.
There’s also a comfortable little spot in the garage beside the trash cans that has an appealing cave-like quality. The same goes for the attic, too: a wonderfully serene spot to let yourself drift off seamlessly.
But always his most favorite place to nap is in the study, right against the bookshelves lining the walls. There’s something about being surrounded by books that grants him a reverent sense of peace and relaxation. Maybe it’s that scent of old mildew-ridden pages, or the fact that there’s something immortal about those books—like the authors’ lives carry on even after they are gone.
But I’ve never napped in the kitchen until this moment, he thought. Not even once.
And then he feels that familiar sensation of drifting—when his body untethers from the material world and he soon dissolves into a fine, floating mist that evaporates into the atmosphere.
Darkness always follows.
Mick is sitting with Jodi in the living room, watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey—like they do every night. Mick always sits in the corner behind a pot of hydrangeas. He hasn’t a clue on why he sits there, but he does. Perhaps it’s the way the walls form a corner that makes him feel secure.
As usual, Jodi, splayed out on the couch and adorned in silk PJs, drinks her red wine from a coffee mug with a turtle on it and stares at the TV as if she were staring at some raving idiot on a street corner spouting nonsense. She clearly doesn’t care what is happening on the TV, but she keeps watching.
So does, Mick. He doesn’t know any of the housewives’ names, but he certainly has strong feelings about the each of them.
Suddenly Jodi sits up, like she has a realization, and her eyes are darting back and forth. Mick watches through the hydrangeas, mystified by this uncharacteristic expression of bewilderment on her face.
Mick would ask her what the hell she is thinking about, but he learned long ago that his words don’t matter. He could ask a thousand questions a thousand times over, but Jodi refuses to respond, or even to acknowledge that he’s sitting in the room behind the hydrangeas.
Most of the time, Mick is okay with the quiet. He doesn’t particularly enjoy talking anyway, but there are occasionally moments like this, when Mick wishes she would respond. He’s always been a sucker for a good bit of juicy gossip, no matter how trifling or mundane it is—and when somebody doesn’t tell him something, he finds himself in a desperate state of mind to squeeze this information out.
He leans his head around the flowers, hoping Jodi will decide to state her mind.
But she doesn’t.
She eventually lays back down on the couch, and drinks more red wine, a new episode of Housewives starting up.
After two more episodes, Mick faces the reality that he isn’t going to learn what caused her to sit up in that peculiar way—almost as if she were awaking from a nightmare—and so, he rests his head against the wall and allows the drift to take him away.
Mick is lying down on the kitchen floor again.
He stares at the green-and-white cabinets and listens to the house, suddenly realizing how empty and silent the house has become recently.
Jodi is rarely home anymore, almost as if she were avoiding the house altogether. She doesn’t get home to 11 p.m. on most weeknights and sometimes disappears for days at a time.
And there are certainly no visitors anymore. Not the Kublowskis. Not her friend Lolo. Not her parents, or Mick’s parents (no surprise there). Or any of the siblings, or her nieces and nephews. The house is quite literally vacant, almost abandoned, an empty vacuum that gives Mick plenty of time to seek out new places to nap.
He discovers the chimney’s a snug little place to wedge into, but he’s not lying down, so not exactly a great place to catch a few winks.
He explores the basement some more, and decides to give the space behind the water heater a chance, figuring the heat will provide a subtle womb-like feel but he keeps tossing and turning, discovering the boiler is not as warm as he hoped.
He goes back upstairs and stares out the window by the front door. Raindrops slip down the panes, and he wonders why Jodi hasn’t returned home. It’s been more than a few days, possibly a few weeks.
The more Jodi’s gone, details about the house, things he hadn’t noticed before, start to materialize, like realizing how filthy the house has become. The hydrangeas have wilted, and dust covers nearly everything, the TV and the coffee tables and the mirrors. Even bunched-up little balls float in the corners.
And there’s an unidentifiable stench that Mick has never noticed before, filling the house slowly day by day. At first, the smell is a mere annoyance, but the more time passes and the scent assaults Mick’s nostrils, he finds himself trying to avoid it, until he realizes the only place to eschew it all together is the kitchen.
And so that’s where he lies, day in and day out, the drift intensifying and ebbing, the house’s creaks and moans his only companions.
Jodi eventually returns. Mick gasps when she enters through the front door—her hair has been cut and dyed blond, and her new look is accompanied with a noticeable tan and a slimmer waist.
The first thing she says as she walks through the door, out loud: “Why does this place smell like death?”
And Mick, sitting on the floor behind the couch, claps his hands for her powers of observation, as he, too, agrees the smell can only be that of death. He’s also thrilled to have her back.
But then he hears another voice, a woman’s voice from outside. “Coming!” the voice calls, and Mick retreats to the top of the stairs in anxious excitement, ready to witness the first visitor, in as long as he can remember.
The front door opens, and in comes Lolo, her hair also blond, her skin also tan, and her waist the same as it always has been.
Mick’s lip curls in disappointing disgust; deep down inside, he has been hoping that Lolo would never come over. He doesn’t exactly hate Lolo—she’s fine. Jodi’s best friend. Whatever. She’s just nosy and drinking most of the time, and Mick knows she has a lot of internal opinions about what she really thinks of Mick. Let’s just say she’s not a fan, and he isn’t a fan of her either, mainly because Lolo finds thinking and intellectualism a waste of time.
And that’s when it dawns on Mick that if Lolo had a richer husband and lived in a more glamorous city, she could easily land a role in any of the Housewives seasons.
“Oh my god, Jodi! This place is like a morgue!” Lolo squeals.
“I know, sorry—I was going to have somebody clean it, and then I forgot to book it.”
“Whew-wee. It’s nasty.”
You’re nasty, is what Mick wants to say, but he just sits at the top of the stairs, gazing down at her as she drops her faux Coach bag by the front door.
They eventually disappear into the living room, leaving their luggage behind, their voices wafting up the stairs.
“You got any vodka?” Lolo asks.
“Always for you, Lo. Check cabinet by the fridge,” Jodi responds.
Mick hears the cabinets banging open and closed. “I knew I could count on you babe. You want one?”
Mick gasps again. Jodi never drinks hard liquor.
“Have you heard from you-know-who yet?” Lolo yells from the kitchen.
“Ugh, Lo—stop it please.”
“You keep asking me.”
Mick moves quietly down the stairs and sits against the front door, now able to peer into the living room where Lolo has reentered with Jodi’s turtle mug, handing it to her.
She drinks and almost spits it out. “What is this?”
“It’s vodka,” Lolo says. “What’s the problem?”
“That’s it? Straight vodka?”
“Come on, girl. You know how it is now. You’re new and improved. You told me that we were doing this Lolo-style from here on out.”
“Okay,” Jodi says, taking another sip and her face contorting in disgust again.
“Hey, you should text him and tell him to visit,” Lolo says, slurping down her vodka like water.
“I’m not doing that.”
“Why not! And I could invite that rich Burt Reynolds guy, and we could make it a double-date.”
“Come on, you know what I was saying— I’m not inviting— Listen, there’s stuff I gotta do around the house to . . . prepare for that.”
At this point, Mick is back behind the wilted hydrangeas, his head resting against the wall.
“Fine,” Lolo says. “I get it. You’re not ready. But if I were you, I wouldn’t be wasting any more time . . .”
“Lo—you are the most impatient person on the planet. You don’t waste your time with anything.”
They drink some more—and Mick has never seen Jodi so plastered before; she stumbles every time she gets up, and her voice gets higher pitched. She laughs at everything Lolo is saying, but Mick thinks nothing Lolo ever says is funny, unless you are fourteen years old.
They turn on Housewives at around midnight, and Mick still hasn’t moved from his corner spot, even after they both conk out and Housewives keeps running in the background.
At around 3 a.m., Mick finally stands up and paces around the living room. As he does so, Jodi starts to stir and mumble in her sleep, but the words are not coherent enough for Mick to follow.
Then she pops up to a sitting position on the couch, like she did that other night many nights ago, running her hand through her hair.
Mick freezes. He is standing in the middle of the living room directly in her line of vision, but Jodi is looking straight through him, her eyes like glass, as they do when she’s deep in thought.
She lies back down, and her snoring resumes while he continues to pace, until he grows bored and returns to the kitchen where he lies on the floor in his usual spot.
And he waits, and he waits, but the drift never comes.
A housecleaner shows up a few days later while Jodi is away at work. Mick watches the middle-aged woman dash from room to room with impressive alacrity, wiping down surfaces with cleaners, sweeping, dusting, mopping, scrubbing, and tidying up.
The strong-armed woman at one point picks up the entire pot of hydrangeas in the living room and dumps it into a black trash bag with one flick of the wrist. She even goes to the study and dusts the rows of books, strutting back and forth with a duster.
It only takes one day, and the house is clean and presentable again. Jodi comes home and squeals in delight. “It’s magnificent,” she says, and the housecleaner shrugs her shoulders.
“I just do my job,” she says.
It’s after the house has been swept clean, that Jodi starts exhibiting unusual behavior to Mick’s surprise: she gardens outside and inside, filling the house and porch with pots of various flowers and ferns.
In the garage, she works through old boxes of junk, mostly stuff of hers, memorabilia and scrapbooks and old photos, some of which she keeps but most of which she puts in her car, the items never returning, Mick notices.
She also dumps a jigsaw puzzle of a sea turtle onto the living room coffee table and whittles away at it from time to time, the border formed and the green-blue interior still an unrecognizable jumble.
She talks more on the phone, too, mainly with Lolo, but also with her family and occasionally to a man known as Teddy. They speak of foolishly stupid things, Mick thinks, like the weather and politics and the best food to eat in France, and all the while Mick wishes his own words could be heard, that he could ask Jodi questions about this Teddy, maybe call this Teddy guy up and get the scoop on why he’s talking to Jodi so much.
With all of Jodi’s new preoccupations, there’s no more Housewives anymore, to Mick’s slight disappointment, and so he roams the house, looking for the right place to lay down and nap. He checks all of his usual spots over and over again. While the kitchen floor has recently been a reliable spot, the drift seems to no longer reside there.
And the more Mick searches for the drift, the more he is starting to believe it is nowhere to be found—not in the kitchen, not underneath Jodi’s bed or in his study, not anywhere in the house.
The drift has vanished.
Unlike the old days with Mick where Jodi never left the house during the weekends, she’s now going to farmers markets and museums and antique-hunting.
By herself? With Teddy? Mick hasn’t been able to figure this out as he could only hear snippets of her phone conversations.
In the living room, the turtle puzzle still rests on the coffee table, nearly finished, only fifty or so pieces left to put together. He hovers over it and stares at the blank expression on the sea turtle’s face, wondering why Jodi allowed so many of her friends and family to buy her turtle gifts.
“I don’t even care about them,” she’d said to Mick once, and yet here she is, putting together a five-thousand-piece puzzle of a sea turtle swimming in the ocean.
Mick reaches down and takes a piece in his hand and palms it. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with it, but he holds on to it and goes back to the kitchen where he lies down on the floor.
A couple hours later, Jodi arrives homes and trailing behind her are two out-of-shape men in jeans and black T-shirts. Jodi leads them upstairs to the study and not soon after, Mick hears the spine-tingling rip of moving tape reverberating throughout the house while Jodi sits at her puzzle and tries different pieces, talking to Lolo on the phone.
“So, I, uh . . . finally did it,” Jodi says at one point.
Mick can hear Lolo on the other end whooping with joy, and then blabbering on.
“Tonight? Lolo, I’m not ready. I just can’t—”
More blabbering happens, and then Jodi throws up her hands.
“Fine, Lo. Let’s just get this over with. But you’re buying dinner.”
After some time, the men descend the stairs with boxes and Jodi stands up to help them.
“No, no, Mrs. Lippard,” the younger man says, “we can handle this.”
“Oh, you sure? And it’s Miss Lippard.”
The younger man stops and a twinkle goes to his eye. “Oops, sorry about that. Miss Lippard. Don’t you worry. We will have these books out of here in no time.”
It isn’t long after all the books have been removed from the house that Lolo shows up, wearing a red-and-white cocktail dress as if she’s ready to go clubbing.
She also comes bearing more vodka and bourbon.
Lolo embraces Jodi and squeezes her tight, not letting go—an unusual silence passing between them. It was rare for Lolo to not be speaking words, but somehow Lolo knows she shouldn’t in this moment, and like a nurturing mother, she pats Jodi on the back.
As soon as the embrace ends, Lolo asks, “Is he coming?”
And Jodi nods. “He’ll be here at seven.”
“Perfect. Harry will be here at six thirty. Are you nervous?”
Jodi nods again.
A beaming smile crosses Lolo’s face. “It’s going to be great. Trust me. You can trust me, right? It’s going to be great. Teddy is a reasonable guy. He’s down to earth. That’s what you need, Jodi. You need somebody down to earth.”
“I know, I know . . . I just . . .” Her voice tapers off and she sheepishly glances around the living room.
Mick at this point is back in the corner he usually shelters in, a fresh pot of hydrangeas now resting right in front of his face.
He leans his head back against the wall like he normally does when he wants the drift to take him away, and he can actually feel it—faraway, in the distance, hovering close by and ready to strike at any moment.
“Come here,” Mick whispers. “Please come here.”
“So, I thought we could—”
“Shh,” Jodi cuts Lolo off.
“Shh,” Jodi hushes again, the house silent as Jodi looks around her, waiting. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Lolo says, knitting her brow.
“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.”
“No, no, no, no. You’re not doing this. Not tonight. No more anxiety pits, or reflecting on the past. Tonight is a new night, a new you, a new beginning.”
Lolo twists open the handle of vodka, pouring a little bit into the empty turtle mug sitting by the nearly finished sea turtle puzzle.
“Now, drink. It’s just a shot,” Lolo says, shoving the mug into Jodi’s hand.
Jodi takes it reluctantly, and the mug shakes as she raises it to her mouth.
Just as she’s about to take a sip, she glances over to where Mick is peering around the hydrangeas, and they both lock eyes for the splitest of seconds, but long enough that the drift roils in Mick’s head.
He can feel it coming, like a dam about to burst, knowing that when the drift arrives this time, he’s not sure how it will pass through him.
His sweaty hand grips the puzzle piece in his pocket, and he braces for what will happen next.
Jodi sets the dining room table with fancy sterling silver cutleries, the ones her and Mick used to use on the rarest of occasions. She also lays out white cloth napkins, with gold embroidery, the kind you could find at any fine-dining restaurant. Lolo, already tipsy, dances in circles in the middle of the kitchen to Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” and even at one point twerks against Jodi’s leg, shouting, “That’s right! Show me what I’m working with!”
At around six thirty, a deliveryman shows up with a full seafood feast, including raw oysters, lobster, scallops, and shrimp risotto, all of which Jodi lays out on the kitchen counter. Lolo bites down on a cocktail shrimp just as the doorbell rings, and she makes a beeline for the front door, opening it to Harry, a bald man with a noticeably Burt Reynolds–like mustache and decked out in a business suit.
Before he even steps through the door, Lolo plants an extended kiss on his lips.
“Well, hello there, beautiful,” Harry says, winking at her.
Lolo giggles and then kisses him again, and leads him to the dining room, where they both feast on the oysters and sip on cocktails.
Meanwhile, Jodi nervously moves about the house, straightening up the pillows on the couch and even going to the master bedroom, where she takes the comforter off and then puts it right back on, smoothing down even the smallest of wrinkles.
Mick hovers right outside the bedroom door and watches as she takes a long look at herself in the mirror. She exhales a deep breath, and then another, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Here you go, Jodi,” she says to herself in the mirror. “You got this.”
She re-applies her mascara, and then turns around to give herself one last look-over in her lovely green-and-white dress, the same dress she wore with Mick to a friend’s wedding many years ago.
It’s then that the doorbell rings again, and Jodi takes one final deep breath, moving down the stairs. Mick sits at the top of the stairs, as he usually does, when Jodi opens the door and a tall, dark-haired, muscular man in a collared shirt and khakis fills the doorway.
“Hello,” the man known as Teddy says.
“Bastard,” Mick mutters in frustration.
Teddy’s everything Mick expects him to be: a nice graying beard plastered over a chiseled jaw; thick, black, hipster-sleek glasses; a booming, deep voice; and, worst of all, a black guitar case strapped to his back.
“Oh, hi, Teddy. Please come in.”
He gives Jodi a peck on each cheek.
“Of course, you would think you’re French,” Mick mutters again, rubbing his face, sensing the drift inching closer.
Mick doesn’t move from the top of the stairs, though, even after they proceed to the dining room to begin eating.
The dinner talk sickens Mick—they speak about the best beaches in the world, and how great their vacation in the Bahamas was. They talk about what each of them does for a living. Harry is in real estate while Teddy works at some kind of marketing company—and they go into a long, pointless talk about how fantastic the lobster is, but probably is not Maine lobster. Maine lobster is special.
Any time there is even a momentary silence, Harry manages to bring up how many properties he owns all over the world.
“You should visit Miami sometime. I got a fantastic beachfront condo down there.”
“I have a luxurious cabin at Prince Edward Island.”
“Has anybody here been to Iceland?”
While Lolo sneaks in from time to time how awful her ex-husbands were. “I don’t know why I always fell for boys. I like men. Like you, Harry and Teddy,” she says.
For the most part, Teddy is silent, though, and eventually Jodi says to him, “I saw you brought a guitar. Were you planning on playing it?”
Lolo cheers. “Play us a song, big man! We want to hear it!”
With cocktails in hand, they all migrate to the living room, and Teddy takes out his all-black acoustic guitar and starts strumming. “What do you want to hear?” he asks.
“Surprise us!” Lolo says.
And then he flows fluidly into a nice romantic ballad by Damien Rice, his singing voice perfectly smooth and melodic, his guitar-playing impeccable. Lolo moans in pleasure throughout the song while Jodi just smiles.
Mick at this point is back behind the hydrangeas, sweaty—his head pounding. The drift has still not arrived but as it gets closer, he’s never felt it so strong before. He fears its power will be too much to handle, that it will arrive like a tsunami, crashing through him with a force he’s never felt before.
Just as Teddy goes into an Ed Sheeran song, and Lolo and Harry start tonguing on the floor, the drift pushes through the front door, causing it to swing backwards with such velocity it slams hard against the wall.
Everyone freezes and looks around in confusion.
“What the fuck?” Lolo slurs.
“It must have been the wind,” Harry says, and stands up to inspect the scene.
Mick knows it’s finally here, and yet, he can’t get a read on where it’s at and what it’s doing. He just feels its heavy weight pushing, a surge of energy that he feels could split him in half.
Harry stands at the front door and peers through it into the outside world; he shoves the door back closed. “See? Nothing.” And he returns to Lolo where they resume their make-out session. Teddy restarts his song.
But only thirty seconds into the song, Jodi suddenly bursts into tears. It takes Teddy several seconds to realize this is happening—it’s just as he is going into a loud chorus—but Lolo jumps up and waves her hands to stop him. She wraps her arms around Jodi.
“Now, now,” Lolo says, petting her on the head. “Let’s go to the bathroom upstairs. Come on.”
“No, I can’t do it. I’ve tried to—”
“Shh, babe,” Lolo says, petting Jodi on the head. “Here, come with me upstairs and—”
“No—I just can’t— I need you to leave—I need everyone to leave. Get out . . . everyone out!” Jodi says.
“Wow, okay then,” Harry says, his eyebrows raised.
“Don’t do this, Jodi. Just come upst—”
“GET OUT!” she roars.
Lolo, Teddy, and Harry glance awkwardly at one another.
“Please,” Jodi pleads, dissolving into more fits of crying. “That means you, too, Lolo.”
It doesn’t take them long to gather their belongings but while they do, Mick can hear their whispers.
“We can’t just leave her here like this, can we?” Teddy says.
“I don’t care,” Lolo whispers back. “I’m sick of this shit. Come on, Harry. Let’s go.”
And in a matter of ten minutes, the house is void of any visitors, and Mick, in the corner, is waiting to be torn asunder—ripped in half and feasted upon, by the drift.
He clutches his throbbing head and peers up to see Jodi crying over the coffee table.
Mick stands up and sees the sea turtle puzzle before her is all but complete, except for one single piece missing.
Jodi moves methodically about the house, just as the housecleaner did several weeks ago, shutting off all the lights, unplugging appliances, and closing the curtains on the windows. For assurance, she also goes to the fuse box and flips all the switches, throwing the house in deafening silence.
Mick feels like he is being ripped apart in a thousand different directions. He hates to think what will happen when the drift finally does take him.
He remains in the same spot in the corner, waiting like a scared child—at the mercy of the drift’s erratic behavior. He hears Jodi moving around upstairs, but then a whole new silence takes over when he doesn’t hear her anymore, and he wonders if she’s gone, disappeared.
Did the drift take her away?
Then a match blazes the room with blinding light, and she lights a candle, holding the candle close to her face, her red-rimmed eyes squinting with intensity right at Mick.
“I know you’re here, Mick,” she says through clenched teeth, and her gaze makes him feel ashamed. He jumps up and scuttles upstairs like a frightened mouse, two stairs at a time, until he gets to the study, devoid of its books, and cowers in the corner.
“You can’t run from me, Mick,” she says, the stairs now creaking underneath her feet as she takes each step slowly.
She eventually appears in the doorway, and then blows the candle out with a single puff, casting the study into darkness.
“You can’t be here anymore, Mick. You understand? I don’t want you here.”
And even though the room has no light, Mick can see the drift behind her filling up the room, its contrails slithering behind it.
“I have nowhere else to go,” Mick manages to sputter out in a whisper.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jodi responds sternly. “You are no longer welcome here. You no longer belong here.” She takes a step forward and stands over the whimpering Mick. “You must leave…now.”
Mick cowers even more at the authority in her voice, as the drift floats closer to him.
“Good-bye, Mick,” Jodi says, and Mick sees the drift curl around him, ready to consume what last breath he has.
Jodi lights the candle again, and he watches as she stands up and walks out of the study.
And with her absence he feels that familiar sensation of untethering from the material world, the drift coursing through him and pouring into him, and as he dissolves into a fine, floating mist, he puts his hand in his pocket to feel the puzzle piece.