Looking back, I was very ok with that.
But that all changed the day I found hair in my shower.
Allow me to explain.
For some people, finding hair in their shower is a normal occurrence. Maybe it’s their own, from their chest, legs, scalp, or places less mentionable. Or maybe it was their girlfriend’s- from past experience, I know that they can shed more than the golden retriever that grew up in my childhood home.
That would be normal, if my hairless twenty three year old body looked like puberty had even crossed my mind, or if I had gotten laid more than once in the past six months since I had moved into my new apartment. But it didn’t, and I hadn’t.
My apartment had only one bedroom, one kitchen, one bathroom, one unused living area, and one refrigerator filled with much more than one bottles of liquor. I worked long hours at my job, a low level accountant crunching numbers delivered to my desk by an endless conveyor belt of business transactions, so it was rare that I saw my neighbors.
Sometimes, though, as I ascended the three stories of wooden steps in tune with the moon rising into the deep night sky, I caught a flourish of black hair whipping into room 312, just across the hall from me in 311. I also caught myself wishing she never left so fast, and maybe invited me out for a drink in the hallway between our rooms. I could see the drops splattered from her nightcap drink on the concrete outside, and sometimes even casually wondered if she was a beer or liquor person.
Most likely beer, I thought, looks like she could go for a corona. With a lime wedge.
I don’t really know what made me think she would like a corona, but it made sense to me. Just kind of felt right.
Then the one day I climbed the stairs a little quieter than normal, and I caught her before she could disappear.
“Hey there,” I said, putting on my best smile and waving my hand.
She was sitting on the bench outside her room, staring at my doorway in front of her. Her face was in her hands, and I realized that the drops on the concrete might not be from condensation on her night cap drink. She started, glancing up towards me and wiping her eyes, the water droplets causing dark stains to bloom on her crimson dress as she spoke.
“I’m sorry, I should be going. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
“No, it’s ok. Here, what’s your name? I’m Michael.” I held out my hand, but she didn’t take it, so I sat next to her instead, and continued talking, “Nice place, this complex. Don’t you think?”
“I hate it.”
“I’m sorry then. There’s other places you know, other places around here you could go to.”
“I can’t leave here. I just can’t.” She said, and tears welled into her eyes again.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, -”
“Maria.” She said, and offered me a faint smile.
“Maria. It’s too beautiful a night to be sad. Would you like something to drink?”
She hesitated, glancing over me, and I could almost feel her gauging my creep factor.
“I would like that, Michael.”
“Good. Let me guess- Corona and Lime?”
As soon as I spoke, the flickers of smile that I had kindled across her mouth were extinguished. She stiffened, her eyebrows knitting together.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be going now.”
“Wait, I-” Before I could finish speaking, the door slammed and, as if to add an insult, the lock clicked with indignation a second later. I left a note below her door the next morning, vaguely apologizing for an unknown crime, but I never caught more than the tips of her hair each time I ascended the stairs.
She apologized the next week, when I caught her outside my door again.
“I’m sorry, Michael.” She said from the bench, “Times have been rough lately, and I acted rashly. I promise you that’s not what I’m like. I don’t get out much now.”
“It’s ok, Maria.” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t pull away, and for a moment we were silent, until I heard another pair of footsteps coming up the stairs. She receded into her own apartment then, and I was left only with daydreams of her until the next time I saw her.
And when I did see her, those dreams were fulfilled.
I had been at the bars, and I don’t know if I could qualify for a drinking problem at the age of twenty three, but that night I was heavy with the symptoms. The stairs seemed to slant at a sixty degree angle instead of up as I climbed them, and I don’t even remember unlocking my door.
But I do remember walking into my living area, and seeing Maria on my couch. And I remember her finger rising to cover my lips as she pulled me down on top of her. It felt like we had been dating for years when we made love, and her intimacy was unrivaled by any other girl I have met.
It was after that night, as her presence touched my thoughts more often than I would be able to tell her without blushing, that the hair started. The hair was too dark for me, longer than my own, and a perfect match with hers. Sometimes I would neglect it, and it clogged the shower drain, begging to be acknowledged before I attended to it.
The time I slept with Maria was the first month of being at my apartment complex. Now it was month six, and she had not entered my apartment since.
At least, not to my knowledge. And most definitely, not because I did not want her to.
“Would you like to step in? Maybe have a drink?” I asked the next time I saw her in the hallway after I slept with her, and several times after that.
“I’m sorry Michael, I’m busy tonight.” She would say. Or she would make up another excuse, that she had work, or was not feeling well.
Maybe, like me, the sex was only average too.
Even though she never came back in, I felt like I was getting to know Maria. I imagined our lives together, and sometimes the details came vividly. I could imagine going to the local baseball games with her- already, I thought she would be a fan of the Sparrows, our team. The honda she drove didn’t seem to suit her, and I thought about surprising her on Christmas in five years with something more sporty. I pushed these thoughts from my head, but there was one constant reminder of her presence.
The hair kept coming.
At first I thought that maybe this was her thing, like some sort of fetish. My old girlfriend had liked wearing my shirts because of the way I smelled. Maybe Maria liked using my shower to use my shampoo. Weird, but I could dig it.
After a month of refusals, I decided that was not the case. I measured my shampoo usage like my parents used to mark liquor bottles in high school to make sure I was not raiding their stock, and none had gone missing.
Then, four months in, there were things I didn’t remember buying. I’m not partial Corona, though I had bought her a six pack in case she ever came over, and the bottles turned up in the back of my fridge long after I thought I had drank them. The lime by there side, cut in half, was always fresh.
I almost never saw her in the hallway, and when I did, she always left before I could confront her.
And now, at six months, the notes started, in loopy practiced hand writing. Above her i’s she drew hearts, shading them in with ink.
They didn’t always make sense. Sometimes, they were as simple as grocery lists that I thought she had forgotten. Other times, they would be more suggestive.
Eggs, Milk, Corona, Chicken -M.
I’m in the bedroom, naked, waiting for you to get home. Don’t even knock. Make it special. -M.
But she never was there. The notes were proof she was entering my apartment, and after a week I found the courage, spurred by resentment, to knock at her door.
“Yes?” Maria said, opening it a crack so her dark eyes could stare out.
“How come you never come over when I’m home?” I asked.
“Michael, that’s, that’s very forward, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve only been nice to you, and you have no right to do this to me.”
“I don’t understand. But Michael, I can’t ever come over to your room. Not ever.” She said. Seeing the confusion on my face, she undid the chain latch at the top of the door, and let me inside.
“Michael, there’s something I should have told you a while ago. But I didn’t think it was necessary. I do think you’re cute, I really do.” She paused, then continued, “But I can’t ever be with you. Don’t think I wouldn’t want to, it’s be a year since I’ve been with a man.”
“Ah, don’t give me that ‘but you’re so beautiful’ line to get in my pants. It won’t work. Come here.”
She took a picture from on top of her counter, where it had been laying face down in the frame. Her face turned somber, and her voice cracked.
“This is the last picture I my sister, Morgan, gave me before she died last year.” She said, her hand shaking, “She was in love with her boyfriend, and he left her after three years for some bitch at his work. She cried so hard on the way back she didn’t see the semi truck coming, crashed her brand new mustang straight into it.”
I looked at the picture, and a shiver ran up my forearms.
The two women in the picture were nearly identical, so much so that they could have been twins. After a moment of squinting, I could see that Maria was on the right, and her sister wearing a Sparrows jersey on the left, in front of a sports stadium.
In Morgan’s hand there was a Corona with a lime.
Written in loopy handwriting, with a little filled in heart above the “i”, was the message i love you, Maria -M.
Now Maria could no longer hold back the tears.
“I can’t leave here for the same reason I can’t be with you, Michael. I can’t let go. Your apartment is where she lived.”