So it's Sunday and you're hanging around the house. You decide to take a bath, since you really have nothing better to do and it sounds like a luxurious thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, so you draw the tub, and wave to you roommate, who's heading out to the library. She gathers up her library materials and keys and tells you she'll be back late, and you tell her goodbye and close the bathroom door and step into the bath.
Ten minutes later, you sit up with a headfull of shampoo, and think you hear something on the other side of the bathroom door, in the living room. You jiggle water from your ear with your pinkie, and listen again. Yup, she's definitely back.
No answer, more shuffling. Maybe it's coming from the hall. So you lean forward and strain to hear, but, no - it's definitely noise, and it's coming from your living room. There are unlocked windows overlooking a lower story's rooftop which lead into your living room. The rooftop has a fire escape leading down to a back alley which, feasibly, could be accessed in reverse of how a fire escape is intended to be traveled.
But it's got to be her, so you shake off the image of the unlocked windows and yell, loud this time, "Hey, Kimmy!"
But still no answer. Someone is in your apartment. Oh fuck. Your blood goes cold despite the steaming hot water, and you step in a flash from the bath and throw the latch on the door and grab a towel.
When I first moved to Boston a year ago, I stayed with Julia for a month in her apartment in Jamaica Plain. It was a loft above a grocery store, with twenty foot ceilings, makeshift wiring, bedrooms the size of small condos with large sleeping lofts, and a long, long hallway between Julia's room and the empty room that was alloted to me. I found it dark and often very cold, both in temperature and spirit.
Someone had broken a picture frame while moving out of that room, and although I'd swept it into a pile in the middle of the floor, I hadn't been able to find a dustpan so it had been sitting there for almost a week, forcing me to step around it. I was a little depressed then.
Well... one night, I heard noises below the loft, where I was sleeping. I figured it was probably just the cat, even though I'd closed the door to my room, so I waited for the noises to take cat-like shape. But they sounded weightier, more jolted, so I stuck a leg out of the bed and stomped loudly on the floor.
There was a flurry of motion below, and then icy silence. A cat would have scampered away, right? If I didn't hear anything leave the room, then it was still there, right? I froze with fear, then reached for my only weapon - my cellphone - and called Julia in her room, which was far enough down the cavernous hallway that I couldn't hear it ring. She answered drowsily and I requested with a mixture of embarrassment and terror that she and Jeremy make a visit down to my end of the apartment and make sure that there was no deranged killer poised below my loft.
There wasn't (thank god - I'd have either been dead, or had to live with the guilt of having sent them into the path of a murderer, or at the very least a pile of broken glass), and the lack of one appeared to suggest that it was only the spooky cat that had pushed open my door and caused the ruckus. Julia made me tea, and Jeremy shook his head and padded back to bed. I felt pretty stupid. But I was struck with the scarcity of the emotion, fear, and how specific and rare it tasted.
It's the very same feeling that finds you as you stand there dripping in your towel, listening to someone move things in your apartment. Having somewhat noisily latched the door, you throw open the bathroom window (which does not quite provide access to a rooftop, just a three-story drop) thinking maybe you could shout for help, too scared to open the bathroom door and face the intruder; scared, too, to make too much noise and call attention to yourself in such a completely defenseless state. It's the clearest feeling; you're in a lot of danger. You could get hurt. This is very, very bad. The timespan between each second, and between each heartpound in your ears, offers frantic escape plans and terrible scenarios.
One last time, maybe just to scare the person, you yell her name as loudly as you can, and this time she responds, "Yeah?"
Only sixty seconds, most, have passed, and another sixty in the time it takes for reality to shift, to wipe clean the board and depict your backpacked roommate in her white earbuds, the culprit of the misleading nonresponse, and in that sixty you sit weakly on the tub and hold out your hands to show how they're shaking like a Parkinson's patient's, for her to melt with apology and hug you, getting soap and water all over her jacket. "I should have told you I hadn't left yet! I put my music on, but then I forgot about some things I needed to get together! Oh, my god, I'm so sorry!"
And later, what a novelty of a memory, what fear felt like! Like getting to simulate the sensation of falling, from the safely of a themepark-issued harness on a wild ride, only this time you were convinced, really convinced, that the danger was real, not just physiologically, but mentally, too, with utmost, runaway certainty. It's like those incredibly sour, salt-covered licoraces Sanden brought back from Sweden in college: disgusting, shocking, thoroughly revolting, but radical and somehow just a little bit seductively foreign to suck on for a while.