Andrew James Weatherhead ~ Shipping and Handling

Charlotte doesn’t speak Spanish. She took two years of French in high school and, because she thought it would be fun­ny, a year of Latvian in col­lege to sat­is­fy a lan­guage require­ment, but it wasn’t fun­ny and she got a C. The pro­fes­sor looked at her with wild eyes. At the end of the semes­ter, he held her hand and said some lan­guages aren’t for every­body. So when her room­mate, Set, makes tele­phone calls to his native Spain every Monday through Friday in the apartment’s com­mon room she under­stands lit­tle more than hel­lo and good­bye, ciao… ciao…

These are busi­ness calls, he explained a year and a half ear­li­er when she moved in to his Red Hook duplex, and if they were ever too loud she shouldn’t hes­i­tate to let him know. But they nev­er were. Her room was at the end of a nar­row hall­way, beyond the kitchen and past her own pri­vate bath­room, and the nois­es from the rest of the apart­ment bare­ly reached her room, even with the door open. The only sound that both­ered her – though she was com­ing to terms with it – was the sound of a neigh­bor­hood kid throw­ing knives at a wood­en post in his back­yard. The knives rarely stuck in their tar­get as intend­ed, instead clat­ter­ing on the pave­ment below, the sound of some­one drop­ping sil­ver­ware over and over again.

When Charlotte asked Set, a few days after she moved in, if the knife throw­ing both­ered him as well, Set said it was “annoy­ing as shit,” but he warned Charlotte from approach­ing the kid, his fam­i­ly, or any of the oth­er reg­u­lars on the cor­ner out­side the bode­ga. “They’re fuck­ing crazy,” he said and shook his head almost wist­ful­ly, recall­ing some­thing that may nev­er have hap­pened.

It was sum­mer then, which turned to fall, then win­ter, before spring came back and the knife throw­ing resumed. The only thing that seemed to remain con­stant dur­ing that time was the apart­ment itself. The car­pet, the chair, the couch – all of which were Set’s – were stead­fast. Central heat­ing kept the tem­per­a­ture at a balmy 75-degrees. None of the light bulbs burned out. Nothing got clogged. Set cleaned the liv­ing room, which dou­bled as his office and ful­fill­ment cen­ter, and Charlotte took care of the kitchen. This was some­thing they nev­er dis­cussed or planned. It just worked out.

When they did talk, they talked about things that exist­ed out­side of the apart­ment: the weath­er, the stray cats on their block, the best bike routes. The neighborhood’s small plea­sures. Occasionally they’d share a glass of wine togeth­er and one time she thought she found him hand­some in a scruffy, boy­ish sort of way, but that was a long time ago and noth­ing hap­pened then and noth­ing had hap­pened since.

Besides that first week, the top­ic of Set’s busi­ness nev­er came up. He had described it as “a small design firm” and beyond that Charlotte knew noth­ing except the exis­tence of his phone calls, the bub­ble wrap and box­es in the liv­ing room, and Rob, the FedEx guy, who came once a week to pick up and drop off Set’s end­less pack­ages.

Like Set, Charlotte also works from home – in her room, at her desk, with head­phones on – as Digital Publicity Manager for a small, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion work­ing to raise aware­ness of ani­mal rights in the Greater Boston area. The orga­ni­za­tion is called the Boston Animal Rights Coalition (BARC) and her respon­si­bil­i­ties include man­age­ment of BARC’s blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts – all of which she cre­at­ed when she was hired. The posi­tion is gen­er­ous giv­en Charlotte’s lack of expe­ri­ence, though it’s a posi­tion through which she has dis­cov­ered pro­found mean­ing­less­ness in her­self and the world around her. The posts, tweets, and sta­tus updates she can write as well as any­one with a pass­ing knowl­edge of social media, but she feels no con­nec­tion to the con­tent or the cause itself, no rea­son why ani­mal rights aware­ness needs to be raised in the Greater Boston area, no rea­son why any­thing she does mat­ters.

This affects her every day. Since she lives in Brooklyn instead of Boston and works remote­ly, no one at the orga­ni­za­tion is able to offer much guid­ance or coun­sel. Everything she does is won­der­ful to them; the sim­ple fact that she can cre­ate a Facebook page where there hadn’t been one before and pop­u­late it with words and images has ele­vat­ed her to wiz­ard-like sta­tus in the eyes of the organization’s Board of Directors that approved her hir­ing.

The Digital Publicity Manager posi­tion hadn’t exist­ed until it was cre­at­ed for Charlotte by Charlotte under the guid­ance of the organization’s pres­i­dent, a fam­i­ly friend named Clare who took pity on Charlotte’s post­grad­u­ate des­per­a­tion. Clare con­vinced the Board of Directors that BARC des­per­ate­ly need­ed to update its image for the 21st cen­tu­ry and Charlotte was the per­fect per­son for the job. They approved a slight­ly low­er salary than Clare had pro­posed, and Charlotte got to work. There were no ben­e­fits.

At first, she took to her new respon­si­bil­i­ties with enthu­si­asm. What she told Clare, and what she her­self believed at the time, was that she would blog about ani­mal rights in a way that was broad and acces­si­ble – from a layman’s per­spec­tive, because that’s what she was. She would chron­i­cle her self-edu­ca­tion in the field, form­ing opin­ions and cre­at­ing expe­ri­ences along the way. However, she soon began to feel frus­trat­ed by the var­i­ous philo­soph­i­cal argu­ments and found the com­pet­ing inter­ests in the field to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. She thought the more rad­i­cal views – Jainism, Abolitionism – were imprac­ti­cal and elit­ist. She thought the mer­ce­nary actions of the Animal Liberation Front were imma­ture. Even PETA annoyed her on her more cyn­i­cal days. Of course, she nev­er men­tioned these reser­va­tions to any­one in her pro­fes­sion­al capac­i­ty; most­ly, her thoughts con­fused her and she tried to ignore them.

Regardless of where her beliefs lay, or the amount of work she put in, the blog and social media accounts sput­tered. She watched the pageviews climb mod­est­ly over the first six months before lev­el­ing off and now show­ing a slight decline over the last month and a half. The met­rics on Facebook and Twitter reflect­ed sim­i­lar trends. The con­tent she worked hard­est at – the thor­ough­ly researched, detailed his­to­ries of rel­e­vant ani­mal rights issues – were always the most under­per­form­ing. Consistently, it was pic­tures of baby ani­mals that drove 85% of the traf­fic. They were the kind of pic­tures you could find any­where, and Charlotte exploit­ed them as much as she could jus­ti­fy.

She tried every­thing to buck the down­ward trend. She post­ed more often, she band­wag­oned on trend­ing ani­mals rights issues, she shame­less­ly asked for fol­low­backs from promi­nent ani­mal rights fig­ures, and she spammed The Humane Society’s Facebook wall with links to BARC’s blog. These efforts moved the nee­dle slight­ly, but it was clear the effort wasn’t sus­tain­able.

She began to think the prob­lem was not sole­ly with the blog but also with her­self. What if she were a more seduc­tive writer? What if she could approach the con­tent in a more com­pelling way? She spent one week­end anx­ious­ly perus­ing and fol­low­ing the advice of self-help blogs. That Saturday, she forced her­self to take a long walk out­side, one of the most com­mon pre­scrip­tions for cre­ative fatigue. She walked as far North in South Brooklyn as she could go, between the two bridges, near the water, and worked up a light sweat by the time she got back home. She show­ered and spent the rest of the evening draw­ing in a sketch­book she had start­ed in col­lege. On Sunday, she made her­self a healthy sal­ad and read a book on the pier.

These things brought her tem­po­rary enjoy­ment but no respite from her­self or her sit­u­a­tion. If any­thing they made the com­ing week hard­er to face. She was the same, her prob­lems were the same. Time seemed to move away from her, both for­ward and back­ward, pulling apart the present in the process. She stared at her phone, full of long­ing. Five straight days of sun­ny, 84-degree weath­er dragged her with them towards a future that seemed to already have passed her by.

*

When she got the idea to move, she knew intu­itive­ly it was only a mat­ter of time before it became a real­i­ty. She would have to move even­tu­al­ly, why not now? The advan­tages were obvi­ous and unavoid­able in her head. Every oth­er neigh­bor­hood in the city offered nor­mal urban ameni­ties like easy access to pub­lic trans­porta­tion, cof­fee shops, late-night din­ing, and yoga stu­dios. Red Hook, remote and inscrutable in its own lit­tle cor­ner of Brooklyn, had none of these things. She had essen­tial­ly become a shut-in because of this. She want­ed to be a part of the city again, to expe­ri­ence its dai­ly trans­ac­tions, the way it had been when she was in school in Manhattan or in the tiny Williamsburg apart­ment before Red Hook. She began lin­ing the top of her brows­er with Craigslist tabs. She nar­rowed her search to three neigh­bor­hoods. She hadn’t felt this moti­vat­ed in months.

*

She decid­ed to inform Set of her deci­sion to leave the morn­ing of July 31st. As per her sub­let agree­ment, Charlotte had to give Set 30 days’ notice before leav­ing. She hadn’t found a place yet, but she had sched­uled vis­its to see sev­er­al promis­ing rooms that week.

She moved slow­ly down the hall to kitchen, where Set was eat­ing lunch. “Um hey,” she said.

What’s up?” he said.

Um noth­ing. Can we talk about some­thing?” They were sep­a­rat­ed by the Formica counter.

What’s up?” he said.

Charlotte stam­mered her way through an expla­na­tion of her deci­sion before aban­don­ing it and just say­ing she had real­ly enjoyed liv­ing in Red Hook and she real­ly liked him as a room­mate, but she would be mov­ing out by September 1.

Set’s eye­brows moved up his fore­head. “You can’t move,” he said, “not now.”

Charlotte didn’t know what to say. She said, “What?”

My busi­ness is uh… grow­ing.” He said, “I just made sev­er­al… expens­es. Better prod­ucts. Shipping. I am apply­ing for dif­fer­ent…” He cleared his throat. “Loans.” Charlotte looked at the box­es of min­i­mal­ist soap dish­es in the liv­ing room. Set explained that two banks had denied his loan appli­ca­tion, but this was not uncom­mon, and he was wait­ing to hear about a few oth­ers and had leads on pri­vate investors. He said he need­ed her to stay two months, maybe three, until he had his finances in order. The des­per­a­tion in his voice was sur­pris­ing. She said she would think about it, low­ered her eyes, and returned to her room.

She sat at her desk, vac­il­lat­ing. Objectively, she under­stood that his finan­cial con­cerns trumped her exis­ten­tial ones, but he couldn’t just keep her here. She had every right to leave if she want­ed to, even if it would be self-serv­ing on her part. But Charlotte found her­self think­ing about Clare and the sym­pa­thy she had extend­ed to her dur­ing a tough time in her life. What kind of per­son would Charlotte be if she so cal­lous­ly turned her back on Set?

She could fight it, but she knew it was just a mat­ter of time before she relent­ed and told Set that she was going to stay. Her life wouldn’t change; any hap­pi­ness brought about by mov­ing would be tem­po­rary any­way. Outside, a cruise ship blew its horn. The neigh­bor­hood kid picked up a knife and threw it against his piece of wood.

~

Andrew James Weatherhead holds a degree in Neuroscience from NYU, an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, and is an Eagle Scout. His first book, Cats and Dogs, was pub­lished by Scrambler Books in 2014. He is cur­rent­ly an Editor-in-Chief for LIT Magazine.