Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: DULL (05/12/17)
By Jan Ackerson
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The woman said, in an odd monotone, “Good morning, Stacy. I don’t think so. I think I’ll just stay for a while. Let’s go have breakfast. Those leftovers that have been sitting in your fridge for two weeks will do just fine.”
Stacy peeked out from her pillow and regarded the woman. She looked very much like Stacy—just a bit…subdued. Her hair was limp, her clothing shapeless and gray. Even the woman’s skin seemed colorless, and as she turned and headed unerringly toward the kitchen, she moved with a lassitude that seemed to flow backward to Stacy, covering her like a shroud. Here we go, then, she thought.
And thus began Stacy’s life with her new roommate, who stubbornly ignored all suggestions that it might be time for her to move along. Such suggestions were met with reactions ranging from bland incomprehension to the digging in of heels, arms braced on either side of the door jamb. The visitor was going nowhere.
Her presence changed everything.
Stacy was in the habit of a morning walk—not really for exercise, but because she enjoyed the vibrancy of colors newly awakened by the sun. But now as she walked, she was annoyed by the thin gray scarf that fluttered out from around her constant companion’s throat. It clung to Stacy’s face, resisting all efforts to dislodge it, and muting the colors of nature around her. Grayish blue. Grayish green. Grayish red, yellow, purple.
The visitor largely took over the kitchen duties, too—preparing bland and textureless dishes that left Stacy with little appetite. She wasn’t sure exactly what gruel was, but she felt as if all food now had the properties of gruel, which she imagined as a tasteless glop. But she ate great quantities, nevertheless, with the irrational thought that maybe the next spoonful would taste good. A pudginess formed around Stacy’s middle that had never been there before.
The intruder hid all of Stacy’s remotes, so that her televisions were stuck on The Weather Channel and a local cable channel that played grainy videos of housewives knitting and crocheting. She couldn’t find the energy to search for the remotes, so she watched television or she didn’t, without noticing one way or the other.
All of Stacy’s soaps and lotions and shampoos were gradually replaced by those of her new roommate. These were all odorless and a bit greasy, and had the odd effect of making Stacy’s skin feel slightly numb. As a consequence, everything she touched felt as if it were covered in a layer of flannel.
And Stacy gave up on music altogether. After loaning her cell phone to the interloper, everything now sounded muffled and flat, the lyrics indistinguishable.
Really, Stacy didn’t much care. There was an peculiar sort of comfortableness in this way of life: no pressure, no sparks. She didn’t feel much—but she felt safe.
A few weeks after the gray guest had settled in, Michelle sat down with her friend. “Dang, Stacy,” she said. “You don’t have to let her stay, you know.”
Stacy looked over at her silent roommate, who shook her head. “I…I can’t get rid of her.” The woman in gray moved closer, draping a possessive arm around Stacy’s shoulders. She smelled of dust.
“But I know how you can ditch her,” said Michelle, and she leaned forward and whispered something so surprising in Stacy’s ear that she laughed, a short unfamiliar bark that hurt her throat.
Not caring now if the visitor heard, Michelle said, “Just wait until she’s asleep sometime, or has stepped out for a minute. Then…” Stacy’s friend grinned. “You know what to do. It worked for me, when I had…one of those.” And giving Stacy a hug, she flitted out of the house, humming.
Stacy sat in silence, thinking. The arm around her shoulders tightened, but she shrugged it away. Michelle had had a roommate—no, an intruder—like hers? It was hard for Stacy to believe; beauty and joy formed around Michelle like dew on grass. And her friend’s suggestion had been both preposterous and crazily easy. She looked up; Michelle’s lovely scent glimmered in the air between the sofa and the door. It was roses, Stacy thought. And lilies.
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