On Friday morning I took not-Margaret home, back to the apartment I’d shared with Margaret. I held her hand as we got on the train and she leaned against me. We jounced and jostled in the hard plastic seats and the curve of her forehead bumped closer into the crook of my neck with each toss of the train. It should have been familiar, but it sent tension arching in my bones and curling my fingers. When the train slowed at the first stop, I shifted a bit to put my arm around her. She started to withdraw as I moved, but settled back against me. People shuffled in and out, squeezing past each other and muttering. The slap of footsteps and murmur of voices registered blurrily, at the edges of my mind. For that twenty-minute train ride, for every jerk and rattle that shivered us together and apart again, it seemed that my whole being was concentrated in my arm braced around her shoulders and her warmth nestled against the indent of my shoulder.
When the name of our stop sounded, I stirred, and nodded at not-Margaret. She nodded back, her face pale and her lips pinched. I should have told her which stop we were. We squirmed through the press of people and climbed out of the station. She looked around, wondering, as we walked down the street. It was very strange to me that she didn’t recognize the coffee place on the corner, the grocery store where we always got fresh fruit, the old man who always sat on the stoop and glared at us through his wrinkles. I’d gotten used to her not being Margaret in the hospital, where Margaret never was. On our street it was new and frightening again.
I pointed when we reached our block, and nudged her to point out our door. I let her in and she walked slowly, head turning and eyes wide. She looked at the grimy edges of the mailboxes and the blue-and-gray linoleum. She watched me press the elevator button as though she’d never seen one before. I suppose it’s possible she hadn’t. She huddled against me again, and we walked close together into our home.
Everything looked different now that she was here. The kitchen was small and dim, the sofa was nubbly, and our bedroom was a hasty mess of sheets and laundry. The sun was sneaking away and left dingy light scattered across the floor. I made a pot of pasta for dinner, and while I stood and stirred, not-Margaret wandered the apartment. She sat on the nubbly sofa, and opened the drawers and cabinets. She rearranged the laundry in the bedroom and she sat on the bed, cross-legged and patient. I waved her into the kitchen when the pasta was done, and we were quiet while we ate. Our eyes met over mouthfuls of spaghetti. It was somehow comfortable. We finished and talked for a while. She told me stories about her brothers and her friends. I laughed, and the bright loud sound surprised me.
Soon it was late, and the windows were black screens with bright pinpricks. I found old pajamas of Margaret’s. We brushed our teeth next to one another, our eyes darting in the mirror. We spat into the sink at the same time and both laughed a little. She got into the bed without hesitation. I slid under the blanket and arranged myself with care, trying not to bump into her. She shifted closer, laying an arm around my waist and fitting her head in the curve my neck again. I debated, and then pressed a kiss into her hair and felt her smile against my chest. I lay awake listening to her breathing slow and steady, feeling the warm comfort of Margaret’s body against mine and the strange thrill of not-Margaret curling her fingers over my ribs. The tension held me stiff for a long time, and then it drained away and I relaxed into sleep.
When I woke up Margaret was smiling in her sleep, her head on my shoulder. I eased her away and sat up, nudging her a bit. She blinked awake and I froze. Something was different, some new hardness in her eyes or a cautiousness to her waking expression. I panicked, thinking she had awoken in a strange place with me, a near-stranger, and was suddenly afraid. Her eyes lingered on mine and then she smiled. It was different, and I watched her for a moment, unsure. She said my name, and her voice didn’t lilt. I opened my mouth, but had no words. She drew in a deep shaking breath, and then she closed her eyes for a moment. She opened them and looked at me with a steady, new, familiar gaze.
I found my voice, and spoke over the ringing in my ears and the desperate gasp suppressed in my lungs. “Margaret?”