By Michael J. Coene

Cigarette smoke wafted in. I couldn’t see it but I could smell it. The densely acrid odor was wafting its way in. I was in the corner. In my apartment, I was sitting in the corner, on the floor. I was scratching my own head. I had a lot of hair for a guy my age. It wasn’t long hair, but it was poofy and thick. I ran my fingers through my hair over and over again. I got lost in repetition. Strands fell out. Flakes fell, too. On my lap, a thin pile was accumulating — a pile of my flakes and strands. Smoke came in. My privacy was compromised.

Trying not to blink often leads to blinking…

My apartment had three total doors — one for the entrance, one for the bathroom, and one for the closet. I kept nothing in the closet. My stuff was all over the floor. The door that I could see from my position in the corner was the door that was the entrance. I could see the closet door, too, but I wasn’t looking at the closet door. My fingers raked my scalp. I watched the pile of me grow.

I stared at the light beneath the door that was the entrance. Shadows were out there. Two shadows in the hall, two black bars in the kind of yellow light. The shadows were the same size, spaced evenly apart. The shadows didn’t move. I stared. My fingers didn’t stop. The smoke was still wafting in.

I decided that the shadows were one pair of feet. Some kind of person was standing out there. It was not the first time a person had stood there smoking. I wondered if the person could hear my fingers rake my head. I refused to stop raking. I didn’t want the person to think that anyone could stop me from being who I am.

Trying not to blink often leads to blinking, just like trying not to move often leads to moving. Sometimes I blinked, and sometimes the shadows shifted. It was a classic showdown. I wondered what the person wanted. The shadows held their breath. Carefully, slowly, I crawled to the door that was the entrance to my apartment. The door was in the kitchen. As I crawled across the kitchen floor, my sweaty palms kind of clung to the linoleum. I didn’t know for sure if the tiles were linoleum, but I assumed they were linoleum, because that is what I assume with all kitchens that have tiles.

My hands made wet, gripping sounds as I crawled toward the door. I winced. I did what I could to make my sucky hands less audible. I wiped my hands on my pants. I blew silently on my palms. Nothing really helped. I crawled through the sounds. The shadows didn’t move.

I stopped crawling when I got to the door because I physically could not go forward anymore. I made myself as flat as I could be. I felt like a slug. Three days prior I had watched a video on the Internet of slugs having sex — it is the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Remembering the beauty of the slug sex made me start to cry. I covered my mouth to stop the sob from slipping out too loudly. The shadows reacted. The shadows stepped back. My eyes were flush to the light beneath the door, but the shadows had stepped back, and I couldn’t see, exactly, what the shadows looked like anymore.

I was trying not to breathe and I was trying not to cry — it was a lot to handle. I couldn’t manage the workload. I breathed in, deeply. The air that went in me carried other things with it. Things burrowed in my nostrils. Debris flew down a tube, I think, beyond my nasal parts. I choked, hacked, coughed, and spat. A blob of snot shot out, landing with a splat on the linoleum. The blob looked like a slug, which reminded me of just how beautiful the slug sex was. I started sobbing all over again. This time I didn’t hold it back. Because I couldn’t.

When I checked under the door again, the two shadows had vanished. I was sad, or disheartened. I turned my back on the whole situation, propped my back against the door. I started to feel more sad, or more disheartened, so I raked my head with my fingers. I watched my flakes and strands build a new nest on my lap. On the floor my snot lay still. I took a good look at the snot, noticed little flecks of ash were swimming in the globule.

I grinned what was probably a big and goofy grin. I became excited. There it was — in the snot — proof that the cigarette had actually existed! Really, truly, there had been a person standing outside my door, and the person had been smoking while my fingers raked my head. I had evidence, now. I had Exhibit A.

It felt so good to know that I was not insane, felt so good that I started weeping in a way that also made me laugh, eventually allowing the laughter to be dominant. I was not insane. “I am not insane,” I announced to my apartment. I smiled. It felt so good. I let my fingers rake my head more quickly than before. Soon it would be morning, and that would be another day — a day in which I’d know for sure that I am not insane.

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About Michael J. Coene

Michael J. Coene's short stories have been published by Barrelhouse Magazine, The Canary Press, Your Impossible Voice, Bridge Eight, Adelaide Magazine, and more. He lives with a blind dog above a duck-pin bowling alley in Baltimore. He doesn't sleep much.

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