She walked into the house one day like she had always lived here. Which I suppose was true.
“Um, hello?” I said to her as she busied herself making coffee.
“Hey,” she said, flashing me a brilliant smile and then turning back to the manual grinder.
“Uhh, who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
When I looked at her again, I realised I did. She had been visiting me every day for more than a year, and regularly before that. It was just that today she had taken a more corporeal form.
“Hey, I don’t think you need that,” I said, but she was already pouring herself a double strength coffee. She gave me that smile again and took a sip, blithely ignoring my suggestion. Just like she always had.
Physically, she was shorter than me, and slighter. She had a short-cropped haircut – of course. She didn’t seem to wear very noticeable or fancy clothes – usually just a t-shirt and shorts – but somehow she still always looked very beautiful. Sometimes when I was talking to her I would get the impression that her ears pointed at the top, but whenever I looked closely they just seemed normal.
“What are you doing here?”
“You know why I’m here,” she said, sitting on the couch and sipping her coffee. I sat down near her, nervous in anticipation.
She waited until her coffee was finished, left it on the coffee table (I soon realised that basic housekeeping was beneath her), and then she started on me. “What about self-compassion,” she said. “Being your own boss or being your own employee.”
The words might not have made sense to many people, but they meant a lot to me. I got up and went into the study and started writing. Twenty minutes later I had written 1000 words about how to use self-compassion to motivate yourself when you are doing freelance work. The piece wasn’t finished, but it was further along than it had been since I first thought of it months earlier.
I came back out to the lounge room where she was sitting idly. I collapsed on the couch, tired from the effort of pouring forth so many words in a short period of time. I looked over at her. She was smiling in a satisfied way.
She let me relax for a few hours after that.
When Jack got home, she was sitting on his spot on the couch in front of the TV. I was at the table writing on my laptop.
“Why are you watching Stargate?” he asked me, after kissing me hello.
“I’m not,” I said.
He looked between me and the TV, confused. Then he shrugged and sat in my couch spot and watched the show.
I walked over and sat on one of the visitor couch spots. “Why aren’t you sitting where you usually sit?” I asked Jack.
He looked over at his spot and back at me. “I don’t always sit there,” he said.
I didn’t want to argue, or point out that he actually hadn’t answered the question. I just wanted to find out whether he could see her there, without asking directly.
Judging my non-sequitor to be over, Jack turned back to the TV. I stared out the window and wondered if maybe I tackle some more of those weeds.
Suddenly, she leapt up off the couch, bustled past Jack, and sat next to my laptop, shouting so loud I was worried the neighbours would hear. She was shouting the next sentence.
Like a well-trained dog, I too leapt up off the couch and raced back to the laptop, frantically getting the words down. Satisfied, she stopped shouting and meandered back to the couch and joined Jack, who hadn’t been interrupted at all.
She never slept. Not as far as I knew. Maybe she was like a new Mum, ‘sleeping when the baby sleeps’; ready for action at any other time. Or maybe she didn’t need to sleep. (I didn’t ask her. I gave up asking questions early on, when I realised that she would always turn the question back on me, or evade it somehow.) She had times when she was leisurely and languorous, lolling on the couch binge-watching Netflix – always sci-fi or true crime, anything that would make me either leave the room or ignore the TV.
Sometimes she would let me sleep until my alarm, and get ready for work according to my own routine. Other times, she would sneak into the bedroom over to my side of the bed and whisper into my ear until I got out of bed and made my way to the computer, bleary but excited, while Jack slept soundly.
Or I would be settled in bed at night, feeling cozy and ready to tuck down, and she would strut in and start talking. If I was reading she would ignore the book. If Jack was talking to me she would talk over him. “Hang on Jack,” I would say, “Hang on,” and pull the scrap paper from my bedside drawer and scribble notes like Nina goes to party. Sam ignores her until she wandered out, satisfied. Jack didn’t seem to notice anything different. He had got used to my quirks.
Two weeks after she moved in, I had a folder on my computer full of unfinished documents and my notes app was full of scribbled ideas, not to mention the box where I threw handwritten notes, or the assorted half-filled notebooks scattered around the house.
One day, I opened up my “writing” folder and was overwhelmed by the files in it.
“What is the point of this?” I shouted from the study. Jack was at work and she was lying on the couch finishing off the ice-cream. She didn’t respond. I walked out, and confronted her face to face.
“What is the point of a million ideas and half-finished stories, half-finished articles? I haven’t submitted anything in years. I’ve got two unedited manuscripts and three more ideas for books that I’m never going to get to. I haven’t even published a blog post in over six months. Why can’t you give me something I can use? WHAT IS THE POINT?”
She looked up at me and her big silvery eyes filled with tears. Her bottom lip quivered. Shot through with remorse, I sank into a couch and dropped my head in my hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.”
When I looked up, she was gone.