I manage to reach the mail room without encountering a living soul. It’s a relief when the locker’s largest compartment swings open, and the smile on the Amazon box greets me. I guide it into my arms. It’s bigger than I expect. Out of the corner of my eye, someone appears out of nowhere like an apparition. My delivery slips onto the floor.
“Hi Mrs. B.,” Genna says, beaming like she’s drunk five cups of coffee while cramming for a midterm. Picking up my packages is the only time I see my neighbor from down the hall. Most of the time, I manage to avoid all the other residents who follow the unspoken rule to mind their own business, but Genna’s the exception.
“Do you need any help?” she asks, hands fidgeting with her tablet.
It’s Ms. B. as of two years and five months, but I don’t correct her. I avoid her eyes. Her sepia hair and irises resemble Kayla’s.
“It’s no trouble, I was taking a break from reading about theories of grief, it’s pretty depressing.” Her tablet’s screen flashes a page of ModCloth blouses before she shoves it into her purse, setting off an itch for me to browse once I get upstairs.
“I’m doing my self-care, I’ve got to if I’m going to be a therapist,” her hands gravitate towards the box before I can object. I lift it with her, nudging most of the weight on my side, though she pulls me into the hall.
“What did you buy this time?” It’s her favorite question. She drags me along and plays a guessing game. With all the orders in my queue, I don’t bother to keep track, except for today’s purchase — the one I plan to remember.
We reach the elevator, and Genna keeps spitting ideas. While we wait, she starts interrogating me about my weekend plans, and since I have none, I ask her about school instead. I manage to get her talking about the paper she’s writing on insecure attachment and mental health. Then she’s off on a tangent about her decision to major in psychology because of her family troubles. She mentioned her parents in past conversations, and how she moved away to save herself from a dark place. But now she’s telling me about her mother shutting everyone out after her father died from cancer.
The elevator dings, offering me a reprieve, and we squeeze ourselves and the box inside like an ill-fitting puzzle piece.
After a minute she says, “I tried calling her on her birthday, and guess what? She picked up.”
“What did she say?” I find myself asking.
“I could hear her on the other end for a couple seconds, listening,” Genna says. “I’d like to think she said my name.”
For once she falls quiet. We reach the third floor and I take the lead, pulling the package towards my apartment, Genna in tow. She picks at layers of tape once we reach my door and we set down the box. Genna’s face, her eyes glowing with concern, morphs into Kayla’s, and makes me wish my own daughter would call and tell me about her first two years of college.
“Need help unpacking?” Genna asks.
I press the key into the lock, “I have to clean up, dear.”
“A bunch of my friends moved the last couple months, so I’m all warmed up if you need my services,” she stretches her arms.
I nod, straining for the tumblers to click.
“Even though I can visit them on the weekends, I wish they stayed. I’m like, why are you leaving me here?”
Why? I try not to ask questions anymore. After Kayla left, I couldn’t bear sitting in our house with lonely ghosts.
“Mrs. B.? Are you okay?”
I half open the door. “I think I need some rest.”
“At least let me help you get it inside. Maybe we could have tea.”
Towers of shadows stare back at me from my living room. I muster a smile and withhold my invitation from the day I moved in, “I’m sorry, maybe next time.”
“Let me know if you change your mind, Mrs. B.,” her chest deflates, and a frown etches onto her face, carving into a scar of disappointment.
I double lock my door the moment she waves goodbye. Then I push the box past my stacks of shoes and piles of recipes — all my treasures protected in containers. Kayla’s papier-mâché masks, A+ report cards, and childhood scrapbooks sit on the couch of my special space. I pull out my cutter and drag the blade into the package, stripping its skin to reveal the guest I’ve been waiting for.
I remove the lid. Her sepia eyes stare back at me. I curl my limbs into a hug, and press my head into her plastic arms.
Justin Hoo is a writer from Seattle, Washington who spends too much time on Goodreads while studying psychology and mental health.