My roommate was surprised to see me. She screamed as I opened the door, dropping her mug of tea. We stood there for a couple moments looking at each other: me with my travel bag slung over my shoulder, her with hands on hips, trying to figure out who I was. 

Finally she said she thought I didn’t live there anymore. She told me every time she passed my room it seemed empty. At first it felt normal because I was usually so quiet, but eventually she realized something was amiss. As weeks passed and there was still no sign of me, she had gotten into the habit, or so she said, of telling people she had the place to herself. She had even thrown a party in my absence, neglecting to leave a note.         

It was only when the guests went into my room to have sex, or she said, that she realized I was gone. She went into my room and found that all the furniture was missing, my books and television taken off the shelves. There wasn’t even any bed! She had no clue, she said, what her guests planned to have sex on there. She was going to call the police when she found an envelope on the floor, one of those plain white ones you can get in bulk at Walgreens. There was some money in it, and my name was signed on a small piece of paper. 

I had no clue what to say. As far as I was concerned, I still very much lived in this apartment. I paid rent each month, I took out the trash, I even made sure to clean the lint rack in the laundry machine!              

Other things: I never made too much noise coming home every day after work. I waited until my roommate finished cooking to eat my own. I made sure to turn on the ceiling fan while I showered, so there wouldn’t be any mold. As I went to sleep at night, I put on my sleep apnea mask to regulate my snoring. My father and brothers snored, and the sound drove my mother insane. Literally—she killed herself soon after I left for college. I didn’t want my roommate to kill herself, but as she never mentioned anything the next morning, I convinced myself things were fine.                        

Sure, I didn’t have many things—everything else in the apartment was hers—yet it was impossible not to have noticed me. Who else sat beside her at the kitchen counter every morning eating breakfast before work? Who else came home each night and drank the whiskey hidden in the furthest kitchen cabinet, so that he’d only have one? Who else left notes for her tacked on the fridge, saying things like “I’m going to be going away for a few days”? 

Even if I made myself small, the better to avoid trouble, I was still there!               

I didn’t tell her any of this though. I just stood in the doorway and watched as her spilled tea made its way across the floor, bright and shiny. 

My roommate asked again, “Why are you here?” I laughed and said, “I live here.”

“Not anymore.”


“I said: you don’t live here anymore. You don’t have any stuff.” 

I stormed past her toward my bedroom. As I put my hand around the door handle I expected her to say that this was all a joke. And then my friends, hiding behind the couch, would jump out and scream, “Surprise!”            

Yet when I opened my door, I saw she wasn’t kidding. Instead of being empty, however, the entire room had been completely rearranged! Gone were my books, table, and bed—and in their place? Different books, different table, different bed! 

Lying on that bed was a young man about my age. He sat with one leg crossed over the other, cradling a book. He had the same long, monkey feet as mine; he even wriggled his toes in exactly the same manner. In fact, almost everything about him was the same—save his face, which was hidden behind the book.                        

My roommate and I stood in the doorway for a little while, neither of us knowing what to do. Taking my hand like a mother with a frightened child, she tried pulling me back into the other room. But, summoning all the courage I had, I stuck my hand out in the direction of the stranger (whose face was still covered by the book). 

“How do you do?”

“And also with you,” came the reply.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only had this person taken my room—with the knowledge that I was bound to return, no less—he couldn’t even be bothered to greet me!

I set my bag on the floor; my hands balled into fists. Without waiting for either to say something, I stormed over and yanked the book from him. The book bounced off the floor with a loud CLANG and then slid under the new occupant’s desk. 

Silence. Outside, an ice cream truck made its way down the block, as it did every day at the same time. 

Ring around the rosy—

Pockets full of posy—

Ashes, ashes—

We all fall— 

“Now that wasn’t very nice.”       

The new occupant trained his gaze on me. For a second I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. It was like when you have an upset stomach and finally vomit: the feeling is horrible, and yet all these endorphins rush through your body. You’re glad to have finally seen or experienced the terrible thing.

A young man with a cougar’s head stared at me. Immediately I knew he was real, and not a dream. Fur sloped down his neck; his skull seemed proportional to the rest of his body. His beady eyes gleamed like amber orbs. His nose and mouth wriggled, half-human, half-beast. A sly smile caused his whiskers to bounce. He didn’t appear angry—in fact, he looked bored, like animals do when you place your face up against the glass at the zoo.                     

“I was going to tell you,” my roommate said, sounding like a cheating wife.        

“She really was,” said the cougar. He slid his legs—human legs—onto the floor and stood. “She’s been trying to tell you for some time.”                    

“Tell me what?” 

The cougar looked at my roommate. It was a familiar look, a look between two friends—no, lovers!— as if to say “Can you believe this sap?”               

Suddenly, though the room was still legally mine, I knew I should leave. 

The cougar opened his mouth to speak (what big fangs he had!) but I raised my hand to stop him. 

“No!” I cried. “ I understand what’s happening here.” My roommate put a consoling hand on my shoulder. “Thank you.” 

The cougar seemed nice enough, yet despite the kind way he spoke to me, I could see a hard glint in his eye. I knew that despite his apparent geniality he was really a wild animal—person— animal...person. 

I felt a strong urge to grab my roommate and run. We could find a hotel for the evening, maybe a bed and breakfast. We could run from the cougar and restart our lives. She would teach children foreign languages and I’d work in a car garage. It would be a tough life, hand to mouth in a small rented house, but we’d be happy. 

Yet that was silly. I was not in love with my roommate—I hated her, to be honest—and she was in love with the cougar! How else to explain the chic black blouse she was wearing, the cherry colored slacks? Or the way she pulled her hair back—she never pulled her hair back!—revealing a face that was angular, beautiful. 

Regret pierced my abdomen. If only I had paid more attention! Now I stood in between two sleek, beautiful creatures in my stained and paltry clothes, smelling like shame and Penn Station (really one and the same). My dilapidated travel bag on the floor, containing everything I now owned: a book by Georges Perec, some cheap cologne.    

I picked up these belongings and cradled them close. The Cougar and my now ex-roommate led me toward the door. As we made our way through the apartment, I noticed how everything else had suddenly changed: the living room where the kitchen once was; the kitchen moved to the living room. Our big bay windows that looked out on the street were covered with black duct tape. There was an herbal scent, perhaps incense, causing me to gag.                   

“Get him out of here,” said the cougar. “Before he gets sick!”                    

My roommate opened the front door and nudged me into the hallway. Would it surprise you to know the hallway had changed too? How it changed does not matter—just know I stumbled out into a completely new building. By now though it was all par for the course. I stood there, trying to collect myself, vomit rising in my throat.                        

“Don’t worry,” said my roommate, “You’ll land on your feet.”

Except I was on my feet already, and I did worry.

They didn’t care, though. With a final nod, they shut the door. Almost immediately they started laughing, wildly, and their laughter followed me out of the building. 

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