A Stencil in Spacetime

This snap fiction story (what’s that?) was inspired by trash, liter­ally. On one of my walks with the dog, I spotted a bright red sofa out on the curb, loaded with other para­pher­nalia, waiting for the garbage collector.

Here’s the snap I took and the story that I recy­cled from these “wasteful” ingre­di­ents. Enjoy!

A Stencil in Spacetime

Edda hadn’t thought about what happened since—well, since it didn’t happen. It’s funny, she mused, how some missed oppor­tu­ni­ties stay with you, coasting on the wake of your life like a promise unful­filled. And then there are those that dry up, crumble and are swept away with the rest of the everyday minu­tiae.

That awkward tangle on the sofa with Brent—just after she’d moved in, as she recalled—had fallen into the latter cate­gory. Crumbs all the way. And now here she was, moving out again, jetti­soning the jetsam of a handful of fallow years she had passed through by osmosis rather than propul­sion, finding that single crumb that had escaped the broom of oblivion.

Brent. My god, Brent, she thought.

One last time, Edda surveyed the room she’d called home since she last saw him. It’s odd, she pondered. Remove an object from a room, and a person familiar with the space will struggle to iden­tify it. They may have a itchy sense that some­thing is off, but rarely can they pinpoint what disori­ents them. But when you remove every­thing from a room, as she had, the entire space becomes a stencil in space­time: a hollow outline into which you can only reimagine all the foibles, flukes and assorted happen­stances that you called “life” and that have now become unmoored, volatile, ready for spring cleaning.

This vacant apart­ment, she real­ized, was like a framed child­hood photo­graph that has almost completely faded to white. A few ill-defined wisps of color remain, but in your mind’s eye you can still reassemble the portrait it once was—and even recog­nize your­self in it. But Edda knew that these pock­marked stucco walls, this glue-streaked floor, these bulb­less ceiling fixtures were just a blank canvas for someone else to begin sketching their days and nights onto.

As she locked the door behind her, sealed up the key into the desig­nated enve­lope and pushed it back through the mail slot, Edda smiled and let herself wonder what Brent was doing now. His reap­pear­ance in her thoughts, she knew, was more of a third-episode cameo than a season finale reveal. In the inter­vening years, she was sure, he must have shed a few red sofas himself, sprin­kled with memo­ries of Edda-ish tangles of his own.

Their friend­ship had been depend­able, sustaining. Nonessential, but also non-trivial. The kind of rapport that could or could not have mutated from “just friends” into that ambigu­ously delin­eated “some­thing more”. To this day, Edda didn’t know what had made what didn’t happen happen. They hadn’t been drunk. They hadn’t been horny. They hadn’t been mad or sad or needy. They had simply skated out onto the frozen surface of Lake Attraction and found that the ice wasn’t strong enough to support their combined weight.

In the end, it had just been a clumsy couch ballet. But the nothing that had happened was some­thing enough to make their bond unsure, septic. You cannot undo what wasn’t done, and it hadn’t taken them long to grow into growing apart.

Edda took one last look at the sofa—that red sofa—and turned the corner. The last crumb was gone.

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