“Man Sold Separately” by Danielle Keiko Eyer

It was one of those houses that had been dumped on the side of the street, meticulously equidistant from the houses on either side. It was one of those houses where the hot water never ran out in the winter and the air conditioner never broke down in the summer. The neighbours in the similarly-shaped houses shared gossip and borrowed cups of flour and pretended to like each other until the door closed and the lock clicked and their sincere thoughts came to light. It was a neighbourhood with the level of superficiality typically found in the suburbs.

I was drawn right in.

I was drawn to the idea of having a comfortable little life. A pleasant life, where I would be surrounded by people and never be lonely. I was well-acquainted with loneliness, back then. But it was impossible to feel lonely in a house as warm and welcoming as this one. Besides, I didn’t plan on being alone for very long.

The house was a symbol. It was a promise that after a home in the suburbs, the faithful husband, stable job, and laughing children would follow. This was the first step.

I carried in the boxes myself and dumped their contents into their corresponding rooms. I lined up trinkets and blank picture frames on shelves that somehow continued to feel empty. I struggled to put together the bed and to set up the TV. Soon enough the neighbours arrived with their casseroles to fill my sparkling new fridge. They asked me prying questions, which I answered awkwardly. I pretended not to notice how hard I was trying to like them. When the door closed and the lock clicked my smile collapsed into an exhausted sigh. I tried not to read into it too much. I went back to work the next morning.

Life goes on in the suburbs. In the evenings, when I got home from work, I took hot showers that lasted so long I couldn’t tell a minute from an hour. On weekends I attended my neighbours’ dinner parties and backyard barbecues. I made new friends, smiles etched so deeply into my face that I had to massage my jaw afterward.

The nights were the worst. In a bed too large for me, I sat up all night and wondered when my husband would arrive. Anyone would do. I was in desperate need of a close friend. A husband would be the sign that I had made the right decision in moving here. That all this nonsense would be worth it, in the end. It was a sign that my dream life, the one that ended in a cottage on the edge of the sea knitting hats and slippers, was possible and approaching.

So, I waited.

But you can’t sit and wait for your future to begin.

One morning at 2:54 I finally realized that no one was coming. I threw on some shoes, grabbed my coat, and drove into the city. The blinding lights were a wake up call for me. I basked in the neon signs as I drove. They lit up like a trail daring me to follow.

I’d always preferred superficial light to superficial people.

Sitting on a park bench, I ate sushi out of a box until sunrise. When I stepped back into the car, shivering, it was 6:32.

My excursions into the city grew frequent as I rediscovered old haunts. I spent most of my time alone, admiring the differences between this skyscraper jungle and the suburbs I called home. I began to wonder if it was better to feel lonely among strangers or among people I knew.

I wandered through the night, strolling down streets, exploring unknown areas, until finally, I saw it.

It was nothing like I had ever known. Tall, dark, looming over me. Balconies hung from it like words from lips. I thought to myself, “That’s the one.”

An apartment building, framed by a bakery, a thrift store, and a Chinese restaurant. A man opened the door.

Hurrying up to him, I asked, “I’m sorry, but do you know if there are any apartments for rent in this building?”

“I don’t think so,” was his reply. “You should call the landlord.”

I did. He told me a lady on the top floor was moving out in the next few months. That he was still looking for a tenant.

Packing up my boxes once again, I left the empty house with the empty shelves looking even emptier than they had before. I took my bed apart and unplugged the TV. The neighbours threw me a half-hearted goodbye party. They promised to keep in touch and suggested I come over some time for dinner. I agreed, polite, then promptly lost their numbers and changed my email address. I gave them back the casserole dishes I had never returned and thanked them for the send-off. When the door closed and the lock clicked, I smiled. All I left behind was the fridge and the ghost of my old self.

It was one of those apartments that always felt too small, no matter which way you arranged the furniture. The hot water always ran out. The washing machine in the basement was always in use. Everything broke at the slightest provocation, which meant that I quickly made friends with the landlord. The neighbourhood flourished during the day, the streets filled with people dropping in and out of little shops. At night the streetlamps were dim, the sidewalks in shadow, ominous—but I didn’t mind. I no longer yearned for a safe life of doilies and knitted slippers.

I know that one day, while I’m window shopping or browsing a bookstore, I’ll find him. Tall, dark, looming over me. I’ll look up, and I’ll think to myself,

“He’s the one.”

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Danielle Keiko Eyer is an author, playwright, and stage manager based in Montréal, Canada. She has had writing published in anthologies by the Poetry Institute of Canada, Monnath Books, and Dreamspinner Press, as well as having been published in local journals such as Montréal Writes Literary Magazine and The Void Magazine. Her work as a theatre artist has been produced at festivals in Ottawa, ON and Montréal, QC.

Roman Payne said that “all forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.” Luckily, Danielle benefits from every one of these.

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