By Chelsea Stickle
For the first month she believed Jake would walk in the door any minute reeking of sweat and smirking, demanding to know how much she’d missed him and just which parts of her did the missing. He’d say he’d been hunting at someone’s cabin. Of course it wasn’t his hunting season, they didn’t know anyone with a cabin and no one would be naïve enough to leave anything of value in Jake’s unsteady hands. He had to have disappeared when four percent of the population vanished. Over 300 million. Poof. It was the most logical conclusion. But she couldn’t let herself believe he was gone. Because if he was still out there, the letdown would kill her.
His truck had been found locked and parked outside the liquor store. Keys still inside. The employees hadn’t seen him that day. If he’d departed from the bar—a pint glass smashing to the sticky peanut shell-strewn floor—someone would’ve noticed. Part of her had always wondered if one day he’d exit past the garbage and keep walking, bored by everything he left behind. But that would’ve been a mercy to her. He didn’t do mercy. At night she could almost feel him slipping into bed, booze-soaked and desperate for attention, pressing his fist into her back when, unconscious, she didn’t immediately kiss him. Her body tensed until she trailed her hand across the cold side of the bed.
Afraid of the rage he’d slip into if he came back, she kept the apartment the way he liked it. She cleaned and kept the fridge stocked with corned beef and potatoes slow cooked in Coors for ten hours until the meat separated into thin pink-brown tubes. The apartment always reeked of dead flesh, and when she grew tired of leftovers, she brought them next door to the Thompsons. They had four teenage sons who made her dinners disappear and returned the cleaned containers with sheepish pleasure. She stopped when she couldn’t afford to.
When the June 4th Disappearance Database popped up, she added his photo and information. After all, some were found on beaches or in Vegas. Users told her to keep hope alive. Have faith. Every notification was like when Jake stopped pressing his fist into her back and started punching. She felt like the worst person in the world for not mourning the right way. For not posting inspirational quotes superimposed over nature scenes and sunsets. Everyone else knew what to do. Why didn’t she?
After four months without Jake’s meager income, Shana sold his truck to a sixteen year-old from the next county and didn’t tell the kid that Jake probably disappeared from there. One by one she sold or gave away all of Jake’s things. The apartment started to smell different. Fresh, clean, untarnished. She hung art she’d stashed in storage. Her favorite was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which Jake had forbidden for being too girly. For dinner she boiled handfuls of pasta and didn’t care how her stomach bloated. She applied to nursing school and considered freezing her eggs until she got her act together. She made friends and went to Wednesday trivia nights where she woo-ed her lungs out and dreamed up clever team names on scraps of paper with hideous pens from the local bail bondsmen. Hit Me with Your Best Toss-Up. We Are Never Ever Getting Last Place Again. Though they frequently came in last. In the spirit of competition, they sent pink shots to the leading team—hoping to dull their recall—all the while knowing nothing is ever erased, only momentarily forgotten.
Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, Okay Donkey, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Read more stories at chelseastickle.com or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.