As soon as she heard that her grandmother was dead, Felicity knew she was going to throw a party. Her parents broke the news to her when she got home from school, speaking to her slowly, as if she was a child. Grandma Bonnie had passed away, they said. She had died suddenly in her apartment from a health complication. She was old, and it was inevitable, and there was nothing the paramedics could do, sometimes elderly people just die, it was all part of the heavenly father’s will, take all the time you need to process this, you can talk to your mother and I about anything, etcetera.
Her grandmother dying suddenly meant that there was an estate to be settled. Paperwork to be done, always paperwork to be done. There was a funeral to arrange. All of these things, she knew, were to be done by her mother, who in her devotion to the paradigm of family would exert a great deal of emotion and effort onto the situation. Her mother was to be supported by her father, who would faithfully stand by her side throughout the whole ordeal, perhaps even shedding a tear. And her grandmother – or, rather, her grandmother’s body – was in Worchester, so they would have to go out to Worchester, which was not a day trip but rather an overnight and perhaps even multiple day trip. There would, logically, be a night in which Felicity had the house to herself.
It wasn’t until later that evening when she heard her father speaking on the phone in a slow and tentative voice that she learned the exact circumstances of her grandmother’s death. Grandma Bonnie had been dead for about a week, the coroner said. They found her on her carpet, the oriental one she kept in the dining room that had cat hair permanently embedded in it and the design that looked like coiled snakes. A neighbor hadn’t seen her take out her trash and was concerned – apparently, previously unknown to Felicity, her grandmother had been the type of person to take out the trash every week at the same time. To Felicity, and and other young people, an elderly person is not quite relatable enough to be seen as a real human with sentience; someone with routines like taking out the trash or hobbies like collecting antique rugs. An old woman, coming from a seemingly ancient time, is merely a character existing in the life of a young person, fading away into blank space of a script when they are unneeded.
There were many closed doors in the house, and many private conversations that Felicity listened in on and kept to herself. A week before the announcement of her grandmother’s death, she overheard her parents arguing from their bedroom. Like always, Felicity carefully stepped her flat feet across the carpet and pressed an attentive ear to the large wooden door.
“How can you be so certain?” her father was asking, his voice raising with fear and ferocity. “How can you say that about our little girl?”
Her mother was crying already. Her mother was always crying, in a perpetual state of anguish – or perhaps there was simply always something present for her to be crying about. Felicity could never be quite sure. “I’m no fool, Warren,” she wailed. “Neither are you. Something is off, something is wrong. She has the traits. I’ve read the book and I’m telling you, we have to find someone for her to start seeing.”
The book her mother was referring to, Understanding the Psychopathic Mind: Lack of Conscience, Violence, and Other Puzzles by J.E Holmes, had been found by Felicity during a routine investigation of her parents’ room two weeks prior to this particular argument and was an object of interest for her. Her mother was always reading some sort of non-reputable piece of pseudoscience one way or the other, but this particular one had been precariously ridden with dog ears and highlighted passages.
“Fuck you and your books,” her father was saying. “Just because you can’t connect with your own daughter doesn’t make her a psychopath. All you do is blame the world for your own problems.”
“Fuck you!” She was shouting now despite the late hour. Felicity wondered how they assumed she slept through every one of their fights, how they never bothered to apologize to her in the mornings for potentially disturbing her sleep.
“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” her mother was screaming, no longer crying but instead laughing. Felicity did not move when she heard the slap of her father’s hand against her mother’s cheek, nor did she return to her room when she heard the following struggle. Like they had many times before, they fought and wrestled until they ended up having sex, at which time Felicity departed. They went through this routine like an organized late night symphony. The next morning, nobody would speak of the evening before – it was like it had never happened, like they were part of an orderly museum exhibit of the American dream that only came to life at night.
Felicity had returned to her room after hearing the fight and laid back down in her bed. Many of her parents’ fights were about her – something she had said at dinner they didn’t like (and never proceeded to confront her about), an email from her English teacher expressing concern over her creative writing entry (concerns of which none of them, teacher included, ever addressed to her personally). This conversation, however, had stirred something deeper within her that she dwelled on in that moment while she lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. It isn’t every day your own mother accuses you of psychopathy, and it isn’t every day you wonder if she may have had a point. Felicity tried to roll her eyes back into her skull, to look around at her own brain and see if she could somewhere find the answer in all the synapses firing, but she couldn’t. And just like that, the moment passed, and the topic was no longer interesting to her.
She was not sure what to think, so she did not think much of it. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.
In any event, Grandma Bonnie had been found dead in her apartment, her corpse already decomposing onto the carpet. Felicity wasn’t sure, but she had heard somewhere that if you die alone with your cat, the cat would eat you postmortem. Her grandmother had owned a large white Persian cat that hissed anytime a stranger entered its general vicinity, and Felicity closed her eyes to helplessly imagine the scenario – her grandmother, dead for seven full days. The housecat, feelings of instinctive predation entering its body, gnawing on a weathered leg. Blood staining the long white hair and small, sharp fangs. Felicity wondered briefly how an animal so adored and domesticated could possibly do something like consume a corpse, but already knew the answer to her question. Instinct. Nature. Natural chaos.
The next day, her parents took an afternoon flight into Boston Logan that night and left Felicity to herself after a heartfelt talk about death and the plans God had for all of us. After the large framed door closed behind them, the lock clicking and the sound of their footsteps growing further into the nothing, she paused with one hand on the stairway banister overlooking the house. Something stirred in her that had been present for a long time.
She knew that this feeling was more than the rush of disobedience, more than the excitement of teenage rampage. In fact, she could not think of a reason as to why she wanted so badly to host a party other than the fact that she simply wanted to watch the calamity of people’s lives as they bumbled through her ready-made trap of a home. The drunken sobbing girls in the bathroom, the vomit that would line her rosebushes and taint them with an acidic stench, the wrestling football players that would surely knock over her mother’s fine China. Her parents’ angry, twisted faces when they came home.
Felicity called her friend Mona. She picked up on the first ring.
“What’s up, Felicity?”
“I’m throwing a party.”
There was a pause. “Really?”
“Yeah. Want to come over and help me get ready?” As soon as she said it, Felicity regretted it. She wanted to bask in her momentary privacy a while longer.
“Sure. I’ll spread the word.” Mona was docile and amicable. She and Felicity rarely argued because neither went out of their comfort zone together, nor discussed anything with a depth worthy of argument. For this reason, Felicity considered Mona to be her closest friend.
Mona arrived forty-five minutes later with grocery bags and full makeup, marking the beginning of the night. She was not a cheerleader but rather a dancer, a more modest type of popular, pretty with large eyes. People at their school noticed her, wanted to be around her like she harbored some kind of secret into the beauty of adulthood. If Felicity were the type of person to notice these things, she would have too.
“It’s weird, because before you even called I kind of had the feeling something was going to happen tonight,” Mona said. “The moon is in Leo.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” The question was rhetorical. Felicity knew what she was talking about. Mona was a firm believer in astrology and often provided Felicity with astrological foresight. Whenever she did, Felicity would nod and stare off at the space just above Mona’s shoulder, nodding slightly as if she was listening.
“It’s a big deal. And Mercury’s retrograde is over now, too.” Mona began unwrapping packaged red solo cups. “I invited Josh, and he’s bringing the baseball guys. Christie will probably bring all of her friends, too, except for Leila because they got in a fight. Rafael said he’d bring the football guys, plus probably his brother and his brother’s friends. You’re cool with that, right?”
“Yeah,” Felicity said absently. Truthfully, she did not see any of these people as anything more than cannon fodder for her party. Whether or not she liked them personally had nothing to do with whether she wanted them in her home.
Mona left the kitchen and glanced around the dining and living rooms. “We should probably roll up the rugs and hide all the expensive stuff.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“Really? Won’t your mom get mad?”
Felicity shrugged. Mona shrugged in return. “Alright, suit yourself.” She haphazardly pulled handles of glass alcohol bottles out of a giant tote bag. They clinked together and one fell on its side, the vodka spilling onto the carpet. “Shit, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Felicity said. Neither one of them made any attempt to pick it up. It was clear and thin, and sunk into the fabric, drying quickly until the spot was indistinguishable from the rest of the gray material. Felicity closed her eyes briefly and imagined her grandmother sinking into the oriental rug in her apartment, her wrinkles and body fading into the spiraling byzantine pattern. Nobody had made any attempt to pick her up, either, and so there she stayed.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Felicity said. “I have a headache.”
“You should drink, then.” Mona poured clear cold grain liquor into the base of a red solo cup, measuring out a shot from the indented lines in the plastic. She gave one to Felicity and held one for herself. “Tonight will be fun.”
Felicity took the shot in one swift movement, feeling the burning sensation in her chest for a moment. She poured herself another immediately after. Mona coughed and gagged after hers, wiped her mouth, and smiled.
“Yeah, it should be,” Felicity said. “The moon being in Leo, and all.”
People began to arrive about hour and a half later, once the neighborhood parents had retired to their bedrooms and the teenagers could hear the snoring and could cross step across creaky floorboards out the back door. Felicity greeted each of them by the doorway, hugging friends she did not recall the last name of. She knew the jokes to tell, the manner to speak to specific guests in, the smile to give certain boys. Quickly, she was a part of the vibrant air around her, as if a switch had turned on and she was able to make the transition from solitude to surrounded with ease.
In a small suburb like the one she lived in, a house party was a social event worthy of conversation for up to a subsequent month. The single text message with her home address was shared, and then shared again, and then shared again, blooming in exponential growth until the entire town was inside Felicity’s house. It was a chaotic mob with benevolent yet selfish intentions.
She spent the majority of the party walking around aimlessly, stopping to converse with people from her classes. Two girls from US History squealed when they saw her, already so drunk they stumbled despite having arrived a mere forty-five minutes prior. They hugged her, made jokes with her that they would have never found so funny or necessary if they weren’t intoxicated. Felicity felt invisible strings tug her mouth into a smile that the inner person within her did not want to make. Upon their insistence, she took a shot with the girls before moving on to the next group and repeating the process over.
Eventually she found Mona, who was in a corner of the kitchen, aggressively kissing someone from the basketball team Felicity identified from her Spanish class. Mona saw her out of the corner of her eye and waved her closer.
“Trevor is looking for you,” she said, grinning cheek to cheek.
Both Mona and the boy she was with laughed, as if Felicity had made a joke. She hadn’t. It took her a few seconds to match the name to the face of her homecoming date that year. “He’s outside,” Mona said. “He asked me about you.”
The party spilled throughout the house and to outdoors. She became suddenly very aware of how muddy the floors were getting. Despite the spring heat that begged everyone to sit on the backyard deck, the air was moist and so was the earth. She stepped outside down the wooden steps to the garden, smelling marijuana.
Trevor saw her before she saw him. She felt his arm on her shoulder and, after flinching at first, turned to face him and give a faint smile. He was not tall or bulky in stature, but what he lacked in height he made up for in soft features and perfectly placed dimples. Holding a beer and giving her an excited look, he reminded her of someone she’d seen in a film or television show. The boy next door, the one you’re supposed to root for throughout the movie.
“Hey,” he said, and she immediately regretted finding him.
He was sweet to her. He always had been. When they had gone to homecoming, he had made sure that his tie perfectly matched the blue of her dress. He had borrowed his father’s car to drive them, carried her when her heels ached her feet, told her she looked beautiful. She accepted these gestures, allowing him to hoist her into his arms without asking, putting her hands around his neck while they danced, fighting the urge to pull away.
Felicity wanted so badly to be present that night of homecoming – to feel something when they kissed, feel something other than apathy, but she could not. The disconnect that was present between her and the rest of the world still applied, even in a romantic sense. A blackness still hung around her that she could not dispel. No matter how much she liked him, no matter how good it felt to be held, there was a part of her inside that would cower. That would not open. And what was worse, no matter how sweet he was to her, she knew – and could not escape knowing – that there was a part of him that would have left her grandmother on the floor. That wouldn’t have noticed she had not taken out her laundry that week. That would have attributed the rotting corpse, sinking into the carpet, gnawed off leg chunks, bloody-furred cat, spiral pattern to God’s will.
She brought herself back to the party. “Hey!”
“It’s been a little bit. How have you been?”
“Good,” Felicity said. “I’m throwing this party, so things are going pretty well.” She gestured around her, as if the hordes of people ruining the perfectly manicured grass was something she was proud of.
“Mona told me your grandma passed away. Are you okay?” Trevor cocked his head a little bit to the side, took another sip of beer.
“Yeah, of course. She was old. I didn’t know her that well.” This was a lie, and she should not have said it, because all at once she saw the back of her vision five-year-old her playing cat’s cradle with her grandmother. Pushing it away, she continued speaking. “Sometimes old people just die. You know?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He studied her. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay. Do you want any help cleaning up after the party?”
“No, that’s okay. I don’t think I’m going to clean up much, anyway.”
“Won’t your parents be mad?”
“No,” Felicity said. She realized she had not made eye contact with him throughout their entire conversation and forced herself to look into his face for five seconds. After the seconds were over, she focused her attention at the black space just above his ear.
“I was kind of surprised you were having a party,” Trevor was saying. “But I was hoping I could ask you on another date now that I’ve finally caught you here.”
Felicity remembered homecoming, how kind and gentle his touch was, his soft innocent smile looking at her as if she was deserving of it. She remembered the hollow feeling in her, surrounded by tentative comfort. She remembered the blackness that came from inside surrounding her, spilling all over him and staining his nice suit, and how oblivious he was.
“Are you going to finish that?” She gestured to his beer can.
He looked confused; furrowed his brown like a puppy dog wondering where it’s ball went. “No. You can have some.”
“Thanks.” There was a silence. Felicity wondered why she had asked for it. She didn’t even like beer.
She became aware of Trevor’s eyes on her and felt herself squirm under his gaze. He was the type of person to stare meaningfully at someone, and if Felicity had been a different type of girl, she may have found it meaningful. But she was not, and so rather than sharing a romantic look, he was instead studying her as if she were an insect suffocating in a jar.
“I can never figure you out,” he said.
He meant it in a frustrated yet adoring way, but she could tell he was hurt. The loud chatter and night noises around her seemed to fall away into silence.
“The moon is in Leo.”
“What the are you talking about?”
“I have to go.”
Stepping through the wet grass and earth quickly, as if she had a place to be, she escaped him and the smoky outdoor air. Inside the house, everything seemed to be spinning. People sat on every surface. The rugs were stained. Felicity felt herself stumbling, and through her clouded vision she could see that she no longer knew everyone who was in her home, no longer recognized each voice and face but rather every third or fourth face.
Her clammy hands and the bile rising in her throat told her she needed to find somewhere private and she began pushing through crowds of strangers, making her way to the bathroom. It was locked and occupied, and a makeshift line of people waited around the door, yelling at her once she began to attempt to enter.
Felicity briefly felt rage stir inside her and swallowed it. Instead, she gave the waiting crowd the finger and walked away, making a quick left to reach her parents’ master bedroom and the connected bathroom within it.
The door to her parents’ bedroom was closed, but it didn’t have a lock. It crossed her mind that when she entered, she might find a drunken teenage couple fornicating in the queen bed where her parents had the night before. Pushing the thought away, she opened the door quickly and slammed it shut behind her. She then pushed her mother’s heavy laundry basket against the door to avoid someone else entering.
The effort of closing the door and blocking it had occupied her for a few seconds. She sighed with relief, pleased to find solitude away from the sea of empty faces and pulsating music, but when she turned to face the silent room she had assumed was empty, she found herself meeting eyes with someone.
A boy stood frozen next to the dresser, wide-eyed like a cat. In his hands, he held her mother’s jewelry clumsily, the gold chains tangled, precious stones scratching. Upon her notice of him, his left hand shook and he stumbled, knocking over the books on her mother’s adjacent nightstand, and the pearl necklaces cascaded to the floor. Neither he nor Felicity looked at them or made any attempt at movement. The boy did nothing for a moment but stare at her in fear. They stood, vacant frightened eyes locked, each waiting for the other to act, stuck in the moment. They were bugs trapped in anger.
Finally, Felicity felt the blood rush in her ears and some force pushed her feet to step forward towards him. She walked over to the dresser and knelt on the carpet beside him, picking up the weathered copy of the book and the necklace of pearls. They had fallen unbroken on the rug, the fall softened by the fabric landing. Once she stood, she was next to him, and held out the pearls in an outstretched hand for him to take.
He stared her from behind black eyes and cautiously accepted them. Felicity did not recognize him from school, and from his dark complexion, she could tell that he was not from the neighborhood. Still, she did not feel anger at his attempt to steal from her home, nor did she feel sympathy for him. She felt nothing but acknowledgement and a peculiar kind of understanding.
“Here.” She knew that her mother’s diamonds and finer jewelry were kept in a jewelry box in the nightstand drawer. She took out the box and opened it, pulling out a ring and a necklace, and handed them to him. “These are worth more.”
He took the shining jewelry and said nothing, but looked at her strangely and slowly began to back away. She watched him cautiously and he watched her in return, as if they were two wild animals, tentatively existing in the same space for fear of attack. Finally, he reached the door, his large pockets full of Felicity’s mother’s jewelry. He easily pushed the hamper aside, gave her a glance and a funny kind of nod. Then he was gone.
Felicity went into her parent’s bathroom and splashed water on her face but made great effort not to look into the mirror. She instead stared at her hands and watched the water run through them. The noise from outside her isolation had died down in the late hour of the night; people were going home. She remembered how muddy the floors had been, and wondered if she should get the carpets cleaned tomorrow.
She placed the book, Understanding the Psychopathic Mind, back down on the nightstand, but left it on the opposite end. Perhaps her mother would notice it had been moved. But then again, maybe not.
KAYLIE SAIDIN is an English literature and Spanish student at Loyola University New Orleans. Her poetry has been published in Critical & Creative Arts Publication. When not reading or writing, she loves surfing, skateboarding, and water polo. www.kesaidin.wordpress.com