That Thing I Lost by Tara Van De Mark

I wake up to forced air blowing my hair across my face. His bed is four mattresses piled under the window AC unit. Eyes closed, I reach for my phone. My fingers crawl along the sheets, over to the cardboard box turned bedside table, and down onto the crusty floor. My phone, in its pink faux crocodile case, isn’t there. Without my phone I don’t know what time it is.

Last night we went out for pitchers and free pizza. The free pizza is a new thing the owner is trying out after Isabel passed out in the bathroom and Sam crashed his car into a lamp post. The free pizza keeps us sober enough to not involve the cops. I still drank too much, lying to myself that I would stop after two beers. Chad had spotted some girl and said, “Wow, you guys could be twins! Except you have a solid ten pounds on her.”

I said, “You’re an asshole!”

He recanted with a smirk saying, “No, Leah, no. Look, I love your body.” He grabbed my arm for emphasis.

Feeling trapped I pushed him away and went to the bathroom, where the two beers made it easier to puke my way to an escape. He is right though; she is skinnier than me. Since my two beers were now in the toilet, I drank more.

Focusing, I lift my foot up above the AC unit and my toes shift the slatted blinds. Beams of sunlight cascade in, so bright, it has to be noon. I sit up. Chad’s wallet and keys, usually hanging by the door, are gone. His leather jacket remains. At college Chad had looked in my closet and said, “Wow, five jackets! Must be nice to be rich.” I was indignant. My parents were teachers, we weren’t rich. But we were richer than him. I gave him the leather jacket for Christmas that year, and it was the only time he owned two jackets at once. Even now, with our own jobs and our own money, he only has one jacket. He teaches enough days to pay rent and eat. When the school offered him a full-time job, he said no. 

I extract last night’s shorts from the pile of clothes on the futon and pat them down. No phone. Without my phone, I can’t call Chad and ask him where the hell he is at noon on Saturday. Losing my phone is not new to me. Last week I downed a bottle of wine and tried to hide the empty bottle before Chad came home. He found it in the trash under some junk mail and joked that I was becoming a sneaky drunk. He was right though – I drink too much and hate the clink of all those bottles on recycling day. I drank a second bottle, to make a point, and passed out on the futon. In the morning my phone wasn’t next to me. I silently inspected every square foot, all 250 of them, but had to wake up Chad, borrow money for the subway and was without my phone all day. When I got back to Chad’s, the phone was on the bathroom floor. Chad said I’m clueless. He’s right though, I completely missed my phone lying there.

On my knees, I reach behind the toilet, but my phone isn’t there. I crawl to the mattresses and reach into the space between bed and wall, finding only used tissues, hairbands and dust. I shake out the sheets and toss the pillows. Nothing. I dig through the clothes on the futon until I reach the dirty red slipcover. Still no phone, not even a handful of coins for a payphone. Without my phone I have no money, even my subway card is tucked into the pink case. 

The hangover descends so I go to the kitchen for water and Tylenol. I open the fridge and microwave, just to make sure. The phone is not in the apartment. The front door clicks open and there is a rustle of plastic bags. 

“Hey, come help! There are a bunch more bags downstairs!” he yells, before even seeing me, assuming I’m here. He is right though; I never think to leave.

He peeks around the corner. “Why are you still standing there? Give me a hand!”

I follow him down to the lobby, where grocery bags are scattered across the floor. He winks at me as he races up the stairs with another handful. I pick up bags full of fresh blueberries, brie and orange juice, the kind of food Chad buys for my birthday because he thinks fancy restaurants are a rip-off. He is right though, they really markup the booze. But today isn’t special and, plus, Chad said he had run out of money last night. He passes me again going down the stairs and, as I near the apartment door, I can hear him sprinting back up. I turn around as he bounds by.

“What’s going on?” I ask, confused, and he slows.

“Are you picking a fight? I just got some groceries, trying to do something nice for you!” he says, heading into his apartment.

I follow him in. Across the room, I see pink. It’s my phone, half hidden beneath the top sheet. I put down the groceries and walk to the bed.

Chad starts yelling, “What are you doing? You slept while I bought us groceries and now you aren’t helping? You’re such a fucking princess!”

But his voice is distant as I pick up my phone. It’s still warm. This time, he is not right though, I’ve been so busy searching and it was him the whole time.

About The Author

Tara Van De Mark is a recovering attorney based in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Cerasus Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Tiny Molecules, CP Quarterly, On The Seawall, and The Mark Literary Review.

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