Aaron M. Hellem


I know there are days when you wonder if I’m really here, if I really exist, if my existence matters, when you look right through me at the calendar, counting the months until the lease is up. I talk to my echo and the neighbors downstairs. Even the cat doesn’t listen, a willing participant of your mutiny. You negate my existence by erasing my outline from the bed, my clothes from the closet, my shadow from the corner of the room. Undo all of the things that did me in.

You don’t like my feet, and hate that I wear hats. They’ll make you bald before your time, you said to me when you were still saying things to me, when you recognized a me to whom you could say things. Hated that I never carry an umbrella or wear sunglasses. You fell in love with me once, my charm, my pyramid scheme. Loved that I had a parole officer. You always liked bad boys, still do, and liked me because I was a bad boy until you found out it wasn’t for anything good like aggravated assault or armed robbery, but that it was for fraud and passing bad checks. Any weasel can write a rubber check, you said, and you were right.

The only thing I learned in prison was how to get cable for free, which my cellmate, Jimmy Squish, taught me to do. How to split it from your neighbors and feed it into the back of the television.

In the morning, I wake up before you. Sit up and watch you breathe, pushing it hard out of your nose so that it whistles as you exhale. I get up and make coffee. Pour you a cup when I hear you stir. I know exactly how you take it: two sugars and enough cream to turn it golden. I leave it for you on the counter, hoping if there’s enough little things like that, you’ll let me start using the bathroom again. You come out into the kitchen, your eyes half-closed, your robe half-undone. I watch you ignore the cup of coffee already there for you, already made, steaming and waiting. Watch you open the cupboard and retrieve another cup. Watch you pour your own coffee, fix it yourself: two sugars and enough cream to turn it golden. You leave the other cup on the counter where it cools, colder, and finally cold.

If you do this long enough I will disappear from the apartment and my name will be left off the new lease. The cat will forget me, and you won’t be able to smell me on the furniture anymore. We used to talk about things, current events and our strange dreams and the things we were feeling. Until: we talked less. You stopped telling me your dreams and I assumed it was because you dreamt of another man, one who could build a bookshelf, ride a bull, catch a fish. I kept dreaming the same thing: that I was in a circular room and couldn’t find the way out. Couldn’t find a window to open.


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