With dogged steps, Catherine Cryer let herself into her small, second-story apartment. Juggling the long, thin strap of her leather purse and three paper bags of groceries against her hip, she just managed to wiggle through the doorway. Without bothering to kick off her shoes, she strode purposefully down the long narrow hallway, her feet turning when it veered abruptly to the left—at the end of which was her kitchenette.
Dropping the bags unceremoniously on one of the counters, she just bit back exhaustion. It wasn’t quite five o’clock on Friday evening, and she was definitely in need of the looming weekend.
Pulling out a carton of milk and stalk of celery, she opened her refrigerator door. “I’m going to slip into a pair of fleece pajamas, order in pizza and binge watch TV straight through to Sunday evening,” she vowed, depositing the food items quickly before reaching back into one of the bags and pulling out a couple cans of soup and tomato paste.
Padding over to a cupboard door, she nodded firmly. “It’s going to be absolutely delicious. I don’t want to set eyes on another human being until Monday morning.”
Slamming the door shut, she smiled thinly.
“No more people will suit me just fine.” Moving robotically, she emptied out the last of her groceries.
“No more, ‘Umm, excuse me, Miss Cryer,’” she muttered, replaying an unfortunate encounter she’d dealt with earlier that afternoon at work, her voice a caricature of a long-suffering client. “But, I think there’s a bit of discrepancy with your interest calculation…”
That had come from the one and only, Mrs. Agnes Barnes.
Having looked up from her admittedly outdated computer system at the voice of a frail older woman standing—unannounced—in the doorway of her office, Cat had barely suppressed a sigh.
From three years of experience at the Fireside Credit Union, Cat was well aware that if Agnes looked frail, her particular style of speaking was anything but.
“That’s Mrs. Barnes when I’m at the bank.”
“The credit union.”
Agnes had flipped one wrist dismissively in the air.
“Fair enough. Mrs. Barnes—”
“I got this statement in the mail.” Without waiting for polite conversation, Mrs. Barnes galloped quickly into the reason for her visit. “And, as I’m sure you’ll see, it’s wrong.”
Nodding, hoping the quick action would disguise the impatience marring her forehead, Cat had reached across the desk to grab the offending item from Mrs. Barnes outstretched hand. Warily, she’d done as requested.
It’s not that Mrs. Barnes didn’t have a right to question her loan (of course she did!); it wasn’t the fact that long before Cat even had a chance read through the invoice she’d known that there was no accounting error; it wasn’t even the fact she had to have this conversation at least twice a week with harried overworked and underpaid community members who couldn’t afford the price of their car payment anymore…
Or, at least, Cat didn’t think it was any of those reasons. She wasn’t entirely sure what it was but…she’d suddenly experienced a sharp, searing discontent steal over her person. An irrational, underserved, but all the same, very real weariness settle upon her chest.
This was all the more unsettling because it wasn’t the first time she’d felt this feeling of late—this overwhelming, aggravating sort of fatigue. It’d been haunting her the past few weeks. A sort of merry-go-round of the same boring old routine.
And it wasn’t just work. Hell, if it were just work…well, she could have easily found a solution to that.
“Is that so?” she mocked herself, carefully folding up the empty grocery bags now and placing them on a shelf in her pantry. “And just what would you do? Find a new job. Hah. How many times have I heard that before.”
Opening the refrigerator door again, she brought out a can of sparkling water.
“Whatever,” she mumbled, popping the top off the citrus-flavored drink. Shuffling out of the kitchen, she crossed the narrow hallway into her living room. The bank of windows against two of the four walls flooded the room in the early evening light. Normally, she would have found the pinkish glow warm and cozy. Today, it only seemed to highlight her staid existence—the large oval lamp, a relic of the nineties, the bulky coffee table her parents had given her when she’d first moved out, the oatmeal colored carpet…
Sinking down into her bamboo-framed couch—the cushions a magnificent splash of lime green and white geometric designs—she sighed. Setting her drink down, she scooped up the remote. With a push of the power button, the TV flickered to life.
What she needed was a distraction.
“Here’s to the beginning of a weekend spent doing absolutely nothing…”
Three hours later, in the midst of one of those home renovation shows the networks seemingly aired on repeat, Cat felt her mind wandering. The television show buzzed on in the background as the hosts discussed the best, cheapest way to tear out the bathroom—
It started with a twitch of her finger against the wooden armrest, and then her foot was tap-tapping impatiently in its slippered stocking—and pretty soon Catherine could feel her thoughts taking over…
For Christ’s sake it’s Friday night and what are you doing? Good God… are you eighty? You should be out, partying, having a few cocktails with friends, not sitting at home, alone—again.
With a snap, Cat leaned forward to grab her silent phone off the coffee table. Automatically, her fingers scrolled through her contacts, stopping when they landed on Ashley. With a tap of her finger, she dialed.
“Hello, you’ve reached Ashley Meredith’s voicemail. I’m not availabl—”
Frowning, Cat disconnected. Staring dejected at her phone, she was startled when, seconds later, it dinged with a text notification.
Opening the message, Cat’s frowned deepened. It was Ashley
Hey girl. Sorry, can’t talk. Out with some coworkers.
“Of course you are,” Cat fumed, staring down at her phone. “You’ve still got friends. New friends. New friends to go with your new city life.”
With lithe movements, she replied: No worries. Just thought I’d check in. Miss you!
Three seconds went by when she received another message: Me too. It’s been absolutely ages—I want to hear all about that new promotion at work. How about Sunday evening? Girl chat….
Cat swallowed her disappointment. Sunday seemed a long time away. Still, being desperate and sounding desperate were two very different things.
Sure! Sunday works for me.
Chucking her phone on the empty seat beside her, Cat knew the conversation, short as it was, was now over. Ashley would read it with relief before getting back to her friends from work. At the thought, Cat wondered what that would be like: if she went out with her coworkers. Not that she’d ever had the opportunity. She hadn’t exactly built close bonds at the credit union. Most of the other employees were either fifteen years her senior or college kids just picking up part-time hours as tellers, while she sat alone in her office down the corridor.
She’d never minded that before; she’d certainly never intended to make friends there. The job had been temporary, or so she’d thought. While Hannah and Ashley had left to go to colleges out of the state, she’d stayed home, gone to the local university. It had been the safe choice. She’d lived with her parents, saved some money. And besides, she hadn’t been the only one. Mary hadn’t left either nor had Carly. Well, not at first. Then Mary’s husband had been transferred to Ohio, and Carly’s band had moved to Minneapolis….
Cat had never meant to stay, except, well, there’d been no reason to leave. She’d gotten a couple of promotions at work, enough to afford this apartment, had received a generous benefits package and all the trimmings of a safe and secure future. And while she’d been doing that, she’d let herself get left behind. Her friends had gone out and explored, and she’d—
Cat’s eyes roamed desperately around the peach-painted walls of her living room, her sight catching on the leafy peace lily by the window, the slightly ajar door leading to her bathroom, the television set….
At the scrutiny, she felt the newly familiar dragging weight claw at her stomach, the nausea that lately accompanied such self-analysis. Pressing her hands against her sides, Cat focused on her breathing: In, one, two, three…Out, one, two, three…
The television screen flickered in front of her as a contracting crew knocked down a shower stall, one guy succinctly chipping away at yellowed tiling lining the walls.
Scrambling to her feet, Cat took herself into the kitchen. Her weekend of relaxation was turning out to be anything but—and she was only four hours into it! “It’s fine. You’re fine. Your life is fine,” she assured herself along the way. “Probably, you’re just hungry. Get something to eat and…”
Entering the dimly lit kitchen, she took herself to the cupboard reserved for snack food. Opening the door carefully, for it hung loosely and crookedly, ready to fall off its half-secured hinge at any moment, she peered inside. Reaching up, she grabbed down a packet of popcorn but she knew almost as quickly as she retrieved it that she didn’t want it. Tossing it down on the counter, she went to shut the cupboard door, her fingers guiding its handle cautiously as she pressed it closed against the magnetic latch on the frame. Letting go, she watched the door sink a little with the weight of gravity.
“Stupid damn door.” She’d only asked her landlord to fix it about five times now. She squinted. It only needed a screw on the lower half of the hinge and it would be good as new.
“It’s not like it’s difficult,” she muttered. “Even I could do that…”
Which is exactly how she found herself walking into the local hardware store some twenty minutes later. Cat was done letting her life slowly fall apart.