“You are not doing this!”
Ah, roommates. Someone to miss you when you go.
“It’ll only be a few weeks.”
“You barely pay rent now.”
Ah, roommates. Someone to miss your rent when unpaid.
“Where did you say you’re going?”
“I didn’t.” She wasn’t listening anyway. She hugs my shoulders before rushing to her master’s classes.
I fold one month’s rent, both mine and hers, into an envelope. No letter. Our relationship isn’t really a letter-writing kind. My heart flutters as I reach for the doorknob.
I never backpacked across Europe or even sun bathed in Cancun. This, today, begins my grand adventure. I set off in search of a story.
Not Sad Boy. Not yet. My efforts to locate him yield nothing.
No, today’s search is for a new target of Internet bloodthirst: Psycho Chick. How this poor woman came to fame pricks the conscience. What has happened since fame descended, that blisters the soul.
Her face is caught mid-rage by someone’s camera. The source of her rage: unknown. What is known is the woman’s name, home address, and social media accounts. Her family has denied interviews to the highest-paid reporters in the country. That’s why I’m going.
I’m not a reporter. I have no monetary interest in the woman’s fate. I only want to tell her story. Not for sale. Not for notoriety. For the story itself.
Every story deserves to be told.
I leave the dark ruin of my apartment and glint into the harsh, sobering sunlight.
Wait. Wrong manuscript. Nothing about my bus ride to the airport, my flight to middle America, or my hotel room is harsh or sobering. Or even sunny.
Harsh and sobering come hours later after I rap on Psycho Chick’s door.
“No reporters! No statements!”
“I’m not a reporter.”
“Police?” The voice behind the door creaks with age.
“No, ma’am. I want to talk to you, actually. You are Helen Stoops, aren’t you?”
“Nobody wants to talk to me!”
“I won’t speak about no danged ol’ computer stuff!”
“That’s fine with me.” If she didn’t want to talk, she would have abandoned the door by now.
“I’ll come to the porch. That’s it. You drink sweet tea?”
“Sure,” I say, though I’m pretty sure she’s talking iced tea, a language foreign to me.
I settle into an ancient upholstered rocking chair. My feet don’t reach the faux-turf rug. I take out my notebook and pencil. Then I put it away. The woman inside might be scared off by note taking.
Nearly ten minutes pass before I honestly think she may not be coming. Her kicks against the door bring me to her aid. She carries an old tin tray with chipped green paint and fading flowers. A cut-glass pitcher of iced tea and two tall glasses rattle precariously. I motion to take the tray but she clucks me away. Returning to my chair, I watch her clink glass to glass while pouring tea. She is older and frailer and somehow tougher than I had imagined.
“She’s not here,” the woman says after handing me a tea glass. I sip around old-fashioned ice cubes and greet a taste both sickly sweet and charmingly comfortable.
“Okay,” I say. Letting her take the lead feels vital to this conversation.
“Missed her by three days.”