Empty Chambers

For Rent: Two chambers of the heart belonging to a 31-y-o woman, available for lease or sublet, mostly furnished, very clean and spacious. Please contact Meredith Elton, 839-2983 or email meredith.love@hotmail.com.

There were often long stretches when nobody answered the ad. Meredith got busy during those times. She reorganized the kitchen and swept clean the tiled floor. She wiped down the counters and table and she did loads upon loads of laundry. She sat in front of her computer and hit “refresh” while the same page disappeared and returned, still with no answers. Usually it was a while before she heard anything, but usually too there was an inquiry from someone before she started to seriously worry. Only once did the waiting go on long enough that she had no laundry left to do and no reconfiguration of cabinets to try. It had been so long that Meredith was probably less careful than she should have been. When a new email finally slipped into her inbox, her pulse stuttered. She flew up and sat herself back down. Her fingers twitched and hurried over the keyboard.

They set up a time to meet for an interview the following week. When she walked into the café, she recognized her new tenant at once. It was a man this time, a lanky bearded man with blue eyes and dark hair. He smiled when he saw her. She sat across from him and they had a pleasant conversation. The words shivered and dropped into the air between them like coins into water, shimmering to some distance away and then resting at the bottom. The words didn’t matter so much. Meredith had already decided that this would work.

The man moved in at the start of the next month. She helped him. It was difficult at first, between the heavy furniture and the boxes filled with the miscellany of his life, but it all seemed to fit, more or less. She was sure that even the oddities would find a home on a shelf somewhere. He seemed very glad at first to be there. He looked into her with a smile she knew would grow familiar, and she trusted him. She gave him the keys and a brief lecture on things he shouldn’t do, though she told him she was sure she didn’t need to say these things. They rested their tired shoulders against the bare wall and watched the light filter in through the windows.

She was often wary about people staying in the chambers of her heart. After they left, the lease done with and ripped up and the keys returned, there was work to do. She had to scrub the traces of them from the rooms they had just left. She had to pick up the litter they left crumpled in the corners. She had to decide what to do with the movie posters, the folk music CDs and the canned black beans left hiding around corners like thieves. Then she had to get used to her empty heart again. She walked through the rooms that echoed with each footfall and paused in the hall, knowing that nobody could see her there with her hand caught in half a caress of the doorframe and her fingers fitted to the bumps in the molding.

With this new man Meredith was not wary. She didn’t worry about the scuff marks of his shoes on the floors or the scrapes he might leave on the counters. He settled himself into her heart and she let him without reservations. He looked like he belonged there. She thought the color of the carpet in the bedroom was just the same shade as his eyes. The windows were the right height for him to look from and his bookshelves fit across the living room wall as though made for them. He walked into her heart and belonged there like nobody else had done.

When he left it was a surprise. They were halfway through the lease. She knocked one day and nobody answered. When she went back for her spare keys and let herself in, worried, there was nobody there. She found a note taped to the refrigerator with too few words on it. She let herself sink in sadness against its cold smooth surface. She’d thought this one might stay. He’d taken most of his things. She walked through the rooms, forcing herself to step through each doorway and look at the neatly made bed, the swept floors, the empty bookcases he must have decided to leave. He hadn’t left her anything to do. It was all clean, without even a whisper of him. Her heart was left empty.

Meredith had to be busy, so she did her own laundry. She cleaned her kitchen and she swept her floors. She stayed out of the chambers of her heart. She had nothing to do there. She spent her time crinkling her forehead at stains and resting her aching back. She hasn’t decided yet whether she will let out her heart to someone else again.

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2 thoughts on “Empty Chambers

  1. Very touching story. But I wish I knew why the tenant upped and left like that with nary a good bye.
    But it happens all the time doesn’t it?

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