During a power outage in our apartment building, my neighbor Crane confesses that she’d once been exorcised.
“I was a little girl,” she says. “Not quite ten.”
We sit in her apartment—because it’s cleaner than mine—the flicker of candles shadows our faces. We drink Grey Goose martinis and wait for the power to return.
I ask her what it felt like.
“What?” she slurs.
Her eyelids hover over those deep brown eyes. She moved from Argentina fifteen years ago. We live next to each other.
I am the only reliable person to watch her dog Pepe whenever she has to go fight fires. She is a local firefighter, and, sometimes, she has to work strange hours, but she raised Pepe from a pup and can’t get rid of him.
I never go out or go anywhere besides work, the grocery store, and the library. I teach English at a local community college and spend my evenings grading and reading. I’m thankful for the opportunity to socialize.
Pepe is a Chihuahua mix with only one eye—a rescue dog. He likes French Fries and ice cream. He and I get along well.
Crane’s long, black hair shines in the candlelight. She wears a black boy-beater and has three hoop earrings in each ear. A small stud twinkles atop her left nostril.
“So?” I ask.
“How did it feel to be possessed?” I sip more of Crane’s special martini she made. She drinks nothing but the finest. I usually drink chai and can already feel the swirl of dizziness after three sips. It feels exciting and a little dangerous.
She sets down her glass and sighs. I’m not sure if my question is rude or not.
Just as I start to form an apology, she touches a finger to my lips, the blood red nail captivating.
“I’ll tell you,” she says.
She pauses, allows her finger to drop from my lips down to my neck to caress my silver Tiffany’s cross. I was raised Catholic, too.
I feel a hot blush at her intimacy with me. I don’t date. Nobody has ever seemed interested in me, a bookworm. I’m the quintessential English professor—even as an adjunct. I dye my hair copper red, wear green rimmed glasses and buy my clothes from the local thrift store. Yes, I wear plaids and stripes together. I feel it represents my resistance to pattern and conformity. I am 34, not married, no children, and prefer Chaucer to the noise of any television show. When people ask me who I’m dating, I tell them that my relationship with Mr. Darcy is rocking 22 years and ain’t slowing down. I despise such questions.
Crane focuses her wide pupils into mine. I look away.
“How did it feel to be possessed?” She smiles and stands. She extends a hand to where I sit on the couch. “It felt a little like dancing.”
Her white teeth glow in the dim light. There is no music playing because our electricity is still out.
“I’ll show you,” she says.
I laugh—it’s a nervous laugh. Crane is gorgeous, like a model. Everyone thinks so, especially all of the (mostly) women who come and go from this apartment at all hours of the day and night.
I’m slow to stand. Crane has always made me uncomfortable, sweaty. It’s so hard to look her in the eyes sometimes. I’ve never been able to figure out why exactly.
“You know,” Crane says, her hand tempting me to accept. “My mother died shortly before my exorcism. I was told she suffered a brain hemorrhage a week after she simply vanished. My father said nothing.” She clears her throat. “I never said good-bye to her.”
This makes me accept her open hand more readily.
“I sat around after she died. In a stupor, mostly.” Crane wraps an arm around my waist, our shoulders rub, breasts gently bump.
“So,” I say, my voice faltering. “Were you ever really possessed?”
Our fingers intertwine. My breath comes harder. I try to steady it, which only makes the halting sound more noticeable.
She holds me closely, our bodies pressed so tightly I feel our hearts beating against each other. I smell the smoke from the fires she fought last night in her hair as the strands tickle my nose. The heat from her and the heat from me make the candle flame feel like a blaze. My skin burns against her skin.
“Did the exorcism hurt?” my voice crackles. I’m unsure my voice even sounded.
She leans into me. “I never got to say good-bye,” she says.
And, with that, I am consumed.