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.