It had been a month since any of us had heard from Melanie. Her sister was ill, cancer at 42, but she had been dying all year, and we were sure nothing had changed. We knew she was struggling at work, but then she always was. Melanie disappeared a lot, and so it was difficult to parse out when she was in real serious trouble or the everyday muck of her life. Sometimes she wouldn’t reply to a message for weeks, and finally, she would with a non-sequitur or she’d just ask if we wanted to go drink or do a crushed up yellowy pill she found in one of her jewelry boxes. We always took what she offered, whatever it was, as if her sporadic offerings were what we were craving all along, and not the deep down shine to her.
We reminded each other it was a quirk of her personality, an uncontrollable, immutable fact, and it had always been this way, regardless of her life circumstances. But It was tiresome honestly and we were all already tired from our own miserable lives.
Perhaps she wanted us to forget her for a while, to let her simple be, but we couldn’t forget her. It ate at us, her self-imposed isolation.
On the fifth of December we rapped on her window. There had been a deep freeze the night before and little ice crystals fused on the glass in delicate little patterns. We wanted to remind her that the rent was past due. We reminded her on the fifth of every month so she wouldn’t be evicted. Sometimes we’d take her check, put it in an envelope, and walk it over to the landlord’s house down the street just to make sure. Sometimes we’d help her into her wool socks and galoshes and parka, and give her a nip from our flask, and tell her it would do the dog good to go out for a walk. We’d brought the flask on this day in particular. We rapped again, thinking she was probably in the bathroom dying her hair raspberry or lying on the floor in her dark room with a migraine. It was customary for her to not hear us the first time.
It was strange that the dog didn’t bark. The dog always barked. He barked so much and so loudly it made us think we would never want a dog if that’s all a dog would do. One of us, Susan I think, slipped the spare key from around her neck into the lock, wiggled it just so, and pushed on the handle as she turned. It was a finicky door to a finicky apartment—once a bank with a large vault between the bedroom and kitchen. She had never been inside the vault, only her landlord had the key. We all wanted to see what was in there, but whenever we asked, she demurred. She said whatever was in there was of no use to her.
Once inside the apartment, we were met by a jungle of her plants. Hundreds more than she’d had in November, huge tropical ones with paper-thin feathery leaves and burly trees with heavy, drooping leaves and ferns jutting from every corner and philodendrons raining from the ceiling. We pushed our way through the forest inside of her flat, where the greenery had taken over every surface. We called for her, using her special nickname and then her regular name and finally, we called for the dog, picking up a bag of biscuits and shaking vigorously but nothing stirred. We had been there an hour and had watched the sky tinge dark purple. It was getting late, it was time for supper, time to feed the cats. Time to settle in. So we propped the envelope for her landlord in the arms of a cactus and left the flask by her kitchen sink and hoped, like always, that it would be enough.