by Julia Saunders

A woman lives in the crown molding around my ceiling. On the first night in my apartment, she whispers against the background din of the city until I shuffle over with my walker and stand on the armchair in the corner, pressing my cheek to the white sculpted wood.

“I can help you,” she says.

“I don’t know you, yet.”

“They don’t like you,” she says.

I chew on the inside of my cheek. “Who doesn’t like me?”

“The man at your job.”

I climb down. “I’m calling an exterminator.”

“Never mind. I’ll be quiet. I’m here to listen, if you want.” She pauses. “I like the curve of your nails and the limp in your gait. It reminds me of home.”

I nod.

She tells me stories about myself as I drift to sleep. She says I’m smart. She says I’m well-informed and honest and quick on my toes. She tells me I’m respectable.

At work, I brush my thumb around the indentations on the rubber stamps and think of the texture of the wood. I tell myself that I’m smart and well-informed and quick on my toes. “I’m respectable,” I say to the envelopes.

My boss fires me the next day. Something about mismatched numbers and fingers dipped in honey.

“We’ll mail you your check,” he says.

I cry on the soggy mat in my bathroom. I heave and gasp and ball up wads of toilet paper until the roll is gone.

“I saw it in their lips. They were wrong,” the woman says. Her voice echoes in the tileless shower.

“The numbers fell away to honor you. The honey from your fingers is sweeter than any sugar cane. You are sharp and honest and respectable.”

“You were right.”

“It’s a curse of mine.”

The next day, I get a job at the front desk of the library.

“Do you have any references?” they ask.

“I’m well-informed and quick on my toes.”

“Yes, but do you have any references?”

I give them a number that rings to the disconnected landline in my kitchen.

They sit me on a spinning cloth stool and give me a new username for the computer, discarding my walker by the printer. I send patrons emails about loan fines. I update the card catalogue. Before closing, I reshelve discarded books and straighten chairs. Someone left an ornamental butterfly clip and a ring with a lion’s head by the James Patterson section, and I slip them into my pocket before heading home.

The apartment is quiet when I get back. The torn caps on the bottom of my walker scratch the kitchen linoleum, leaving silver lines trailing behind me.

“I missed you,” I tell the woman from my spot on the chair.

“Your work is important.”

“I get paid minimum wage.”

“Edward is staring at me,” the woman says.

I dig out a sharpie half-buried in the Monstera pot to black out Edward Cullen’s golden eyes, turning the cutout towards the corner.

“I missed you too.”

This morning, I raided the damaged bin behind the front desk and stored a small collection of water-damaged poetry in my Wonder Woman lunchbox.

“I have spoons today,” I say.

I pull out a copy of Sappho and stand on the chair to whisper lines to her until my knees wobble. I don’t understand Greek mythology, but the words taste like cold plums on a spring evening.

“I love you,” I tell her as I drift to sleep. I’m not sure if it’s true.

She hums. “You’re family.”

The library is busy in the mornings. I help a teenager renew a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary before school. At 9:42, a man waltzes in wearing a pinstriped suit and a squirrel balloon hat. He checks out a new season of Sesame Street. The day is a haze of twisted faces and sticky books.

During my break, I watch the young adult librarian eat grapes on the checkout scanner.

On my rounds through the mystery section, a woman buckled into a hiking backpack rocks a cat stroller back and forth.

“Reshelve these,” the man in the back says, pointing to a full cart.

“I don’t have knees.”

“Reshelve these or go home.”

“There’s a woman in my molding, and I’m out of spoons.”

The man sighs and pulls the cart towards him. “Don’t forget your walker.”

I cry on the bath mat that night, forehead pressed against the metal legs of my walker and thumb twisting the lion ring around my finger. The ornamental butterfly wings sag against the toilet brush bristles I’ve clipped them to.

“They’re illegal. They hate your curves and your honey and the softness of your stomach,” the woman says. The texture of the wood splinters in chunks and cracks into vertical panels. “They’re spiteful, jealous cowards.”

“No one wants a walker. I can’t find anyone.”

The wood bows. “You are sweet like the honey from your fingers. The words from your lips are salve after a campfire. I love you.”

“I don’t want to ever leave.”

“Stay, then.”

I sleep on the bathroom counter that night, head propped against my smashed hair dryer, resolving to wallow in my sorrow.

On the fourth night in my room, the woman makes me an offer.

“But that’s giving up,” I say, rubbing my heels against the red-stained bedroom carpet. My knees can’t stand on the chair anymore.

“Not if it’s what you want,” she says.

On the seventh night, I agree.

I stumble over to the chair, knees bent and shaking, and climb up to touch the molding.

“I am smart and well-informed and worthy of love,” I say.

I stretch one hand up, the other clutching the back of the chair.

The grain of the wood is rough under my touch.

“You are respectable,” she says, gripping my fingers and pulling me through the chips in the paint.

We are quiet and content and lost in the background details of our empty bedroom.

Julia Saunders is a queer, disabled fiction writer. She dabbles in Korok collection, furby modification, and amateur baking as a love language.
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