I tried therapy once when I was in college. I was referred to Dr. Andrew C. Lesh, a stout, perpetually flustered man who wore loose slacks and scratched himself several times during our session.
I never went back.
Before my parent’s divorce, I’d arrive home at around four from whatever club I’d attended.
I was the president of several: Model U.N., Peer Helpers, and one other I can’t remember at the moment.
Then I’d take our stumpy terrier for a walk.
By the time we’d pass Henry’s favorite hydrant at the end of our street, I’d see dad pull into our driveway.
Mom would trail twenty minutes behind.
They’d fight at dinner from about seven-thirty to seven-forty.
Mom would leave and go visit a friend.
Dad would watch Jeopardy with a frosty mug of Pabst until he’d fall asleep.
My older brother Geoffrey, who almost never was home, would sneak in between eight and nine.
Then one night things changed.
After the divorce, Dad moved to an apartment on the other side of the city. I’d have to take the MetroPlus downtown to visit him after school on Tuesdays and Fridays.
We’d get take-out and watch game shows together.
Mom started spending more time with Leon.
He turned out to be a great stepdad.
When Geoffrey went off to USC, I was allowed to switch rooms and got access to our cable.
I’d never leave my room.
I’d do homework, study, eat frozen dinners, and watch copious amounts of television. I watched so much tv in fact that I began to rank the commercials I liked.
The families looked the happiest in the breakfast food commercials.
I received a full ride to Ohio State in the Fall of 2006 and, following a few semesters where I floundered, landed on communication as my major.
After waiting tables and interning at a small agency in Columbus, I got hired full time at a much larger company in Indianapolis.
I worked my ass off there and even made it onto the 30 under 30 list of 2014.
Unbeknownst to me, I was recommended for a vacancy at their parent company. After several strenuous interviews with the Board of Directors, I was hired as one of the youngest CSOs they’ve ever had at their HQ in the Windy City.
None of my accolades matter anymore, though.
I think I’ve killed somebody.
I need to go home.
My week started like all weeks before.
My digital clock went off at five-thirty to WFMT 98.7-FM. They were playing a 1988 Boston Symphony performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major.
Dad’s favorite baroque composition.
I stretched on my floral yoga mat for ten minutes. Then did light strength training with my brightly colored dumbbells and went on my thirty minute run around the park next to my apartment.
When I got back, I took a shower and put on the ensemble I picked out the night before: a pair of dark grey gauchos made of a comfortable cotton-polyester blend, a cream colored button up, and a pair of dark leather penny loafers.
I looked good.
My breakfast consisted of two eggs over easy, a small bowl of raspberry Greek yogurt with granola mixed in, and whole grain buttered toast.
The breadbox I received as a housewarming gift from my mom sat along the wall on my countertop. My late grandmother bought
it from a Sears catalogue back in the late fifties and gave it to her as a housewarming present when she married dad.
I pulled its stainless steel door down, exposing its elbow-like hinges, and grabbed two slices.
It always had the most pleasant smell.
I left my apartment at eight and caught the blue line downtown at eight fifteen. I was at my desk no later than eight forty-five.
The rest of the day was predictably uneventful. I finished a report and ran a meeting.
I picked up beef chow-mein at Li’s around the corner for dinner and made it back just in time for Jeopardy.
It began on Tuesday.
I woke up and did my exercises.
I whipped up my eggs, scooped out several spoonfuls of blueberry Greek yogurt and mixed in my granola chunks.
When I went to make toast, I wasn’t able to open the box’s door. I shook it lightly to dislodge whatever was stuck, but still was unable to get it open.
Then I tried something that never occurred to me to do before.
I lifted up from the bottom, the way it was originally designed to.
The door swung open without resistance.
I was stunned.
After a few seconds I reasoned that maybe a latch had broken off.
When dad tried to fix it after knocking it to the floor one time he put the hinges in backwards. The door went from opening bottom up to top down.
When I checked, everything seemed bolted tight to its walls.
“Ok,” I remember thinking, “maybe it’s a prank.”
I opened our group chat and asked if anyone had rearranged anything at the dinner party I held that weekend.
I waited, seeing them all view my message, but not respond.
Then I remembered it had opened just fine the day before.
I quickly left my apartment and made it to the station down the street from me in record time.
Not much happened at work. Sascha and I had lunch at our favorite deli a block from our building from about twelve-twenty to one.
Then I just kept my nose to the grindstone until it was time to leave.
When I got home I ate a frozen health bowl, watched an episode of Friends, and got ready for bed.
While brushing my teeth I sauntered into my kitchen.
I spat in the sink, rinsed, and wiped the corners of my mouth with a napkin, all the while concentrating on the breadbox.
A peculiar jolt went through my shoulder blades, fanning outward.
I woke up the next morning not at five-thirty, but at five thirty-two.
I’ve never changed my alarm. Not on the weekends or on holidays.
This meant that I had to scale something back.
I chose not to make toast.
I banged out the rest of my report and had a meeting with Melinda, my boss. She was tying up a few loose ends for our
summer conference in Cincinnati she was to attend later in the week.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I thought maybe it was the Tikka Masala I picked up at Shalimar.
I woke up groggy and not well. My alarm clock must have gotten unplugged in the night because its face was completely blank.
I skipped my exercises, threw on whatever clothes I could quickly grab, scarfed down a yogurt cup, and ran out the door.
While on the train, I caught a whiff of something unpleasant. I was relieved after sniffing myself that it wasn’t me. I knew, though, that if I wore them again I’d be in some trouble.
“Still up for Alejandro’s,” I asked Sascha excitedly.
“Not today,” she replied, dragging a logo across the screen. “Melinda needs this changed before she goes to New York.”
I must have given her a sour look because she followed that up with, “She leaves tonight.”
“Don’t you mean Cincinatti,” I asked, trying to mask my obvious confusion.
She smiled, probably thinking I was being intentionally daft. “You feelin’ alright, Daks?”
I went to Alejandro’s alone and got my usual, two carnitas tacos and one shrimp. I ate them on the ledge of a garden in the park.
When I got back, I had a few memos left on my desk. They were all rather standard except for the spacing. The lines appeared to be slightly further apart than they should.
I walked over to the interns and politely inquired as to who wrote them.
“Something wrong,” Josh spoke up.
He’s the only one I recommended for hire.
“Next time, make sure it’s single spaced,” I said with friendly directness. “This is fine, since it’s inhouse, but if it’d been sent out it’d make us look bad.”
He took the page, printed on our letterhead, squinted, then turned to his computer.
“It says it’s single spaced.”
I knelt down and saw that he was correct. I held the paper to the screen and cross referenced them, just to make sure.
Yep, they were identical, minus the flaws in the paper itself.
I produced a closed lipped smile.
“You know, it’s funny. I think I’m having one of those days.”
“Hump day,” he replied gaily.
I stayed late and saw Melinda off. Her driver waited patiently by the curb outside to take her to O’Hare.
“Everything’s all set,” she reassured, “You should go home, Dakotah.”
I rocked my head back and forth and felt several loud cracks and pops.
My train was delayed, but luckily Li’s was still open when I got off at Damen Station.
“The usual,” Luli asked with a tattered paperback of The Namesake in front of her.
“You know it,” I answered back, feeling hunger pangs come on.
I missed Jeopardy, but was able to catch Shark Tank. Two siblings from Ohio pitched their unbreakable china set.
When I opened my box, I was happily greeted with the beefy smell of my favorite dish.
I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and got into my pajamas.
I tried to watch another episode of Friends on my tablet in bed, but felt the mattress dig into my lower back. I switched positions several times, but finally gave up.
I grabbed a pillow and drifted over to my living room. I threw everything onto my couch and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
The breadbox sat still, eyeing me with its decorative ribbing from its corner.
I walked over and tried its door, just for the hell of it.
A foul, ammonia-like odor spewed out. I slammed it shut and ran to my room.
I dry swallowed the sleeping pills and did a few breathing exercises. I must have passed out not long after.
I don’t know what time I woke up this morning.
I stayed in bed and stared up at the ceiling. A spider made a web in the crook of the light fixture and was moving about.
After my shower, which admittedly was generous, I got dressed and tried to make some breakfast.
I cautiously entered the kitchen.
The smell was gone at least.
The scrambled eggs I made tasted funny so I threw a yogurt cup into my bag and hurried out of my apartment once my Uber was outside.
There was a file on my desk the thickness of five of our magazines stacked on top of each other. A lump formed in my throat.
My name is Dakota: D.A.K.O.T.A. Like the state my parents honeymooned in.
The name on the file was spelled: D.A.K.O.T.A.H.
This pissed me off. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
I ripped open my top drawer to find the Panic Pete I got as a gag gift for Christmas when I was seventeen. He was safely tucked between my pencil case and cherry red stapler.
Just before lunch, I conducted a briefing that went smoothly. We’re trying to target Generation Z pop drinkers in the Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor metropolitan area for a new client.
Sascha and I went to the vegan cafe that just opened up. We shared a delicious bowl of gazpacho, a broccoli rabe salad with cashews and raisins mixed in, and two spring rolls.
When we got back to the office, I sent a few emails and organized my inbox.
The food wasn’t sitting well in my stomach, so I reached into my drawer for my nearly empty container of Tums.
I reclined in my chair and closed my eyes briefly to let my stomach settle.
“Hey Daks,” a cheerful baritone asked from my doorway, “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
I recognized the voice immediately. My eyes widened and my heart raced faster.
It was Geoffrey.
I fumbled for the right words. I eventually said something along the lines of, “have a seat.”
We glared at each other awkwardly.
“How are you doing,” I asked stunned. I hadn’t seen him in over three years.
I haven’t seen any of them in over three years.
“Well, me and the team are having trouble with the color palette,” he said, sitting down in my cheap, faux-ergonomic stool in front of me. “It’s too, I don’t know, purple.”
I looked past him to Sascha typing away at her cubicle through my open door then back to him.
“I think the colors imply a more citrusy flavor than what Zam Cola actually tastes like.”
I stared at his freckled hands that he kept wringing on his lap.
Geoffrey didn’t have freckles. Nobody in my family does.
At least not that I can remember.
“Why didn’t you mention this at the meeting?” I asked sternly.
His expression changed to surprise. “What meeting?”
“We had a meeting to discuss this kind of thing before lunch,” I tried in my best deadpan to scare him off.
I really wanted him to leave once I realized it was Kevin Spengler, our head graphics designer.
He cocked his head and frowned. “I’m really sorry, I must’ve not gotten the-”
I cut him off, feeling a wave of nausea come on. I covered my mouth and dropped my head.
“You alright,” he asked with genuine concern.
I nodded, still with my hand over my mouth.
After a few moments, I composed myself somewhat. “Don’t worry about it. Since we switched over to Outlook we’ve been getting complaints about stuff being sent to spam.”
He glared at me and I at him.
“Oh God,” I thought, “he even does Geoffrey’s weird eyebrow thing.”
“Why don’t you send me a mockup of the ‘purple’ version and another one with a palette you think is better.”
I really didn’t care what he thought. I just wanted him out of my office.
He shot me a tense smile, thanked me, and finally got up and left.
I stared blankly through the door.
Toward closing time, I found myself engrossed in an article about the potential for another recession.
I was also zoning out.
Sascha knocked on my door. “Kevin said you seemed a little sick.”
“Yeah,” I replied, keeping my gaze on my screen. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
My screen dimmer kept oscillating between luminosities. I decided to call it a night once my eyes got too fuzzy to differentiate between periods and commas.
There was a stench on the train. I think it could have been spoiled produce.
I had to walk the entire length of the empty platform. I wasn’t thinking and sat on one of the last cars of the train.
The smell lingered.
It was in the air outside as well. I caught a strong whiff of it as I passed Li’s. I could see Luli reading through the window.
Leon, my downstairs neighbor who likes to smoke on our stoop, nodded along to something playing from his earbuds. We exchanged a glance.
I ascended the three flights of stairs slower than usual. I was winded by the time I got to my floor.
That smell. Jesus Christ.
I walked the corridor to my two bedroom at the other end of the hall and put my nose to the crack of the door.
My breath shallowed.
I slid my key into the lock slowly, feeling each pin lift into its chamber. With a flick, I heard the dead bolt retract into its slot.
It opened with ease and I stepped inside.
My entire apartment reeked. It was awful. I had to put my sleeve to my nose and mouth.
The second thing I noticed was that my sleek LG 60 inch Smart TV was replaced with the clunky matte black 13 inch Philips VCR combo I had on my dresser growing up. It even had a tape hanging from its slot.
I knelt down to read its title: Bend It Like Beckham.
The corners of my mouth tightened.
I got up and saw that my couch had mutated into the one my father liked to pass out in after work. It’s aged mossy corduroy, with years worth of indentation, flooded back a series of painful memories.
I wanted to cry, but was able to fight back the urge.
I ran my hand across its backboard as I crossed over to my kitchen.
The smell got stronger as I approached.
The lights were not my high efficiency CFLs, but were instead the deep incandescent bulbs mom would buy at the Walgreens down the street from us.
I recognized the barely audible buzz that used to drive me nuts when I’d do homework.
My dining room table, once a minimalist eggshell white Ikea fold up, had been replaced with our poorly leveled wooden hand-me-down. Its tattered and stained red and white gingham hung off its sides.
I used to pick at its frayed fibers when they’d fight.
The General Electric economy fridge we owned, that could barely keep our stuff frozen in the summers, had taken the place of my stainless steel Kenmore with French doors, an ice dispenser, and a touch screen.
I could feel the acid in my stomach rise like mercury in an old thermometer.
My apartment had somehow morphed into the claustrophobic single family brick home I grew up in on Darnell Avenue.
The one I simultaneously loved and despised. The one now owned by a nice elderly couple. The one that was just supposed to be my parent’s starter home back in the early 80s.
My countertops were of cheap laminate and the wireframe shelving I installed over my sink had become the lopsided cupboards with doors that didn’t fully close.
I finally threw up onto the floor.
I washed my mouth out with tap water that tasted earthy and poorly filtered. We used to joke that it was the flavor of Cincinnati.
When I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, I peered over to the breadbox.
Its embossed BREAD label across its face glistened.
I shuffled over to it and with an almost mechanical fluidity lifted up its door.
Thunderous shouts of arguments long past ruptured from inside. I could hear dad call mom all sorts of names. She’d lob them right back with equal cruelty and malice.
There was a low whimper beneath them. At first I thought it was the whine of air escaping.
I locked in on it and slowly realized it was fourteen year old me whimpering into my dinner. There was scraping of stainless steel cutlery on our good china.
I remember that night all too well.
The smell grew stronger and it wasn’t until I heard the shattering of a plate against a wall that I realized what it was.
Broccoli rabe with bits of garlic mixed in. Mom liked to make whatever was left in the fridge before she’d go shopping the next day.
I went to close it, but couldn’t.
It wouldn’t let me.
I recoiled, inching further and further away until I bumped into the table behind.
Dad’s shouts mixed with mom’s. I could hear the clink of a Zippo being flicked.
My whimpers grew louder until they fully crescendoed into howls and broken breathing.
I fell to the floor and did as my younger self had done seventeen years earlier. My body convulsed and my chest cavity felt like it was going to give.
I wanted it to stop.
I crawled to the counter on my hands and knees and grappled with its lip to stand.
Once I was up, I shot towards it with rabid, unrestrained force.
Its stainless steel surface tension buckled under my tight, trembling arms. I could barely make out the sticker Grandma had written a note to mom and dad on through my tear-fogged vision: May Love Triumph Always, Melinda & Joshua, 1983.
I ran with it to my window overlooking the street and threw it as hard as I could.
I’m on the top floor of my building.
Time slowed as it shattered the pane. The individual shards blew out and twinkled like the dream dust one sees while waking from a nightmare.
Time started up again once they began to hit the floor in much the same way water falls from a tap.
Everything became very still for a few moments. I walked carefully over to the now obliterated window, with a jagged hole where the box went through.
The crunch of glass under my feet reverberated.
I was able to see across the street, but not to the sidewalk directly below. I don’t think I wanted to.
When the screams came I ran to my bathroom and locked the door.
I fell into my tub and sobbed.
The sirens in the distance are getting louder.
Go home, Dakotah.
Angelo Catalano is a short story writer from Albany, NY. When he isn’t writing, he likes to play the guitar, hike in the Adirondacks, and go on long car rides late at night listening to Coast to Coast AM.