Self Tribulation

“Jordan! Where’s my AirPod case?”

Susan’s honking, nasal cries of distress, like the battle cry of an attacking goose, cut through the floor of the condo.

Time passes.

There is a wound upon Susan’s heart. Make that two. One was visible, but only if you cut her open, cracked her rib cage, and turned the organ over to see the puckered line where a surface vessel suffered an infection when she was four, causing a six week malaise that was never diagnosed, shrugged off as one of those things, relief speeding its forgetting.

Time passes.

“Ask Sarah!” came the operatic reply from downstairs, the sotto voce “bitch” riding its tail delivered to a front row comprised of a plate of steaming assorted hot pockets and an iPad, propped up against a fruit bowl, playing The Last Dance.

Time passes.

The other wound is invisible, undetectable if you examined her exposed heart minutely, even if you dissected it, minced it into pie filling, baked it into a pie, set it before a king. No blackbirds would sing, no royal tastebud would discern Susan’s wound was the absence of unconditional love and only occasional exposure to the conditional kind.


The answer was a screeching “How would I know?”, the sound of patience snapping, the recoil tightening Sarah’s vocal cords and increasing her blood pressure enough to make her round face redden and her ears ring.

Time passes.

“We need to get rid of her,” whispered Sarah later, upon the couch, while the hum of the microwave in the kitchen made it difficult for Susan to overhear this conspiratorial blossom being presented to Jordan. Her friend Hailey was tired of where she was living and was ready to move in.

“But we can’t kick her out during lockdown. Where would she go?”

The beeping of the microwave cut the conversation short. Susan walked into the living room chewing, carrying a mound of hot pockets on a platter.

“What ark—ark,” she choked, coughed, and spluttered saliva-sodden pastry over the platter. “What are we watching?” She pushed her bony posterior, clad in sweatpants, like a fleece wedge between her roommates on the couch. “By the way we’re all out of hot pockets, so if you want one grab one.”

“Ew,” said Sarah, moving up against the arm of the couch.

“Nah,” said Jordan, going a step further and shifting to lounge atop the arm on his side.

Susan was mystified. She’d seen Jordan eating hot pockets earlier when she came down to the kitchen and found the white lozenge of her AirPod case in the fruit bowl under the bananas. And Sarah ate anything anytime. She’d tell you that herself.

“Basketball?” she said, looking up at the tv. “God. No.”

She picked up the remote and jumped back to the home screen.

“It wasn’t a game. It’s a documentary about Magic Johnson,” said Jordan.

“This is the third time I’ve watched Tiger King,” said Susan, picking up a hot pocket and stuffing it in her mouth. “Mmmf erph grrng furf!”

Jordan looked over Susan’s head at Sarah and mouthed the word “bitch”.

“So harsh!” Sarah said aloud.

“That’s not harsh. He loves those tigers,” said Susan around a mouthful of pastry and meat that was vaguely fajita flavoured and vaguely meat, eyes never leaving the screen.

Time passes.

A small snowstorm had passed through the kitchen and thrown up in the sink.

“What is this mess?” sang Jordan, projecting the words into the furthest corners of the house.

“I was going to bake some bread,” yelled Susan from the living room, “but I gave up.”

“Are you going to clean it?”

Sarah screamed from upstairs, “I’m trying to sleep!”

“After I finish watching this,” yelled Susan, as Netflix transitioned fluidly into episode four of season three of The Office.

Time passes.

The condensation dripping off of the bathroom ceiling was a portent of disaster. Still, Sarah undressed in the steam of the bathroom, kicked Susan’s damp towel across the tile floor so it wrapped itself around the base of the toilet, and squeezed through the door of the shower. The water sprayed warm and firm against her scalp, but only for a few seconds before it began to cool then dropped in an instant to cold.

Time passes.

Unable to bear any more of The Office, Jordan had retreated to his bed to zombie-out to YouTube. He rolled over and groped around underneath the bed. There was nothing there. He dragged himself over the edge, the top of his head on the carpet, and used the shifting light of the iPad as a flashlight. There really was nothing there.

He stomped to the entrance of the living room. Sarah looked up at him hopefully from a side chair. Susan ignored him from the couch.

“Where are my protein bars?”

He was too angry to sing. Susan looked first at Sarah, who glared at her, then at Jordan, and she smiled.

“I ate a couple, sorry.”

“Where are the rest?”

Susan shrugged and grimaced. “Gone?”

“I had two full boxes.”

“I was hungry?”

“Under my bed, in my room.”

“The door was open?”

Time passes.

The condo was quiet. Sarah couldn’t sleep. She opened the bottom drawer of her nightstand, rummaged around under the t-shirts and grabbed the slender barrel of the wand. It felt light. When it failed to start she unscrewed the base. The batteries were missing. She threw it against the common wall between her and Susan’s rooms. It was answered by a faint lowing, like a happy calf in a distant field might make. Sarah scrambled to find her headphones.

Time passes.

“We’re kicking her out,” said Sarah to Jordan, after closing the door to his bedroom and putting her back to it. “Today.”

“Why?” said Jordan from his bed. “What happened?”

Sarah stared at him for a long moment then said “Everything.”

“Well, that’s one reason.”

“It’s every reason.”

Time passes.

“You want me to move out?” said Susan. “After all I’ve done for you?”

“For all you’ve done to us,” corrected Sarah.

“What have you done for us?” said Jordan.

“I got Netflix.”

“That’s my Netflix running on the tv,” said Sarah.

“Well, I nearly made you bread,” said Susan.

“That was a week ago and you still haven’t cleaned up the mess,” said Jordan. “I think the lump in the sink qualifies as sourdough now.”

“Really? How exciting!” said Susan. She ran to the kitchen.

Time passes.

It’s hard to convince a person that they are unwelcome and should leave when unwelcome is the water they, an unsympathetic fish, swam in. After half a dozen attempts, Sarah and Jordan settled on giving her the coveted toilet paper mission. She would get to drive Sarah’s Outlander and would also get to choose the hot pockets.

When she left they carried her belongings out of her room and into the hall. Hailey arrived soon after and moved her stuff into the empty room.

The three of them were on the couch when Susan returned.

“Hailey’s taken your room,” said Sarah. “You need to just go.”

Susan leaned against the edge of the entranceway, plastic shopping bags dangling from rubber-gloved hands, a surgical mask hanging from one ear, and studied Hailey.

“Do you like Tiger King?”

“Your stuff is in the hall. You have to move it,” said Jordan.

“I’m on my fourth viewing,” said Hailey.

Jordan’s head snapped around to look at Sarah, who blinked like she had dust in her eye.

“The Office?”

“Both,” said Hailey, pulling down the collar of her t-shirt. Above her left breast was a tattoo of Ricky Gervais, above her right was Steve Carrell.

“It’s a fire and safety hazard!” sang Jordan.