Téa Baum

The door to the house is shut. There are three separate locks: the first a rusting mahogany bolt, the second a corkscrew textured black, the third a thick bronze chain latched securely on the wall. She installed the second and third locks one month ago. Not by herself. It was a ruggedly handsome TaskRabbit handyman with a brown leather toolkit, the first name to pop up on the TaskRabbit search engine. She can’t remember his name, names fly in and out of consciousness quickly these days. Too much energy spent remembering her own.

The woman is of indistinguishable age, she could be an old twenty-eight or a young forty-two. She could be an English teacher, a secretary, or a nurse. She could be all of these things, but it doesn’t matter now. Now, she sits with her eyes closed, fluttering, not awake but not asleep. Baby wrinkles crease the corners of her eyelids, faint lines doused in thick anti-aging cream. Her hair is thin and stringy, an unmemorable brown, knotty and indented along the ottoman’s edges. A thin white robe drapes aimlessly across her cold body, plenty of bare skin left exposed to the dry winter air.

There are brief moments of peace that border on nothingness, where her vision blurs and the space between feels gelatinous and heavy. In these moments she likes to imagine she has fooled God, escaping the bounds of the living and passing over to some weightless territory devoid of any thought, action, or purpose.

These moments only last a second, they are always met with interruption. Interruptions can come in many forms— a memory, a self-critical thought, an outwardly critical thought, a bodily sensation, bodily awareness, a worry, a song lyric, husband coming home.

Husband is walking home from the grocery store.

Husband has been walking home from the grocery store for a week now.

He’s just up the street,

He’s just around the corner.

He will be here any minute.

Sharp heat rushes to her chest, electricity dancing across a wire. Her body is shocked into convulsion, knees pressed against her chest, jaw locked, shaking. She presses her eyelids tightly together now, squeezing until she can feel the round sphericity of her eyeballs resting in their sockets and the veins holding them into place. She wills Husband away with the force of her entire being, conjures up his image in her mind and speaks to it. If only he could just give her thirty more minutes, even fifteen more minutes, just a second, if he could stop by the pharmacy down the road to get some pills, or an orange, or a tangerine, hell, she would even settle for a kumquat.

He would do this for her. He would do anything for her. Husband has a kind, passive, puppy-dog face, with small brown eyes that crinkle upwards when he smiles. Husband is thin and small, cherubic. Pubescent. His skin is soft to the touch, melting under her lips. At night she twirls his curls between her fingers, sings him to sleep til he snores lightly in her lap. Husband does not walk, he bounces, radiating aliveness, always in the present moment, noticing small details on shop signs, pointing out animals in the bushes. He is not an intimidating man, he is a nice one.

Husband believes she really wants a kumquat, he doesn’t understand sharpness or time or bad feelings in your body. When he fills her he believes he is filling her with good feelings, only good ones, he doesn’t see her pleasure laced with terror or the conflict in her cries. All this to say, he takes a detour, he goes to buy the kumquat, no questions asked.

Fifteen minutes pass inside the grocery store, five more months seem to pass inside the house. 

♱ ♱ ♱

Time didn’t always bend in this way. She used to be a working woman in advertising, a wife, a contributing member of society. It wasn’t until last month that time began to slip.

The morning of the first interruption, she wakes up hungry, covered in dread, images of the day’s responsibilities sprawled across her bedroom ceiling in terrifying color. She must wake up, brush teeth, wash face, dry face, strip naked, dress, hair, makeup, cup of coffee, balanced breakfast, to-go lunch, pack the bag, drive to work, park the car, walk inside, ‘how was your weekend’, ‘good!’, ‘good, me too!’, make a spreadsheet, cry in the bathroom, make another spreadsheet– the list is suffocating.

She snoozes her alarm one time, two times, four times, until she is one hour, two hours, four hours late. Eventually either her hunger or her bladder wins out, and she falls out of bed and onto the toilet. On the toilet she scrolls until everything feels meaningless and dull, or empty and dull, or meaningless and empty. Cats in bags, tequila, teletherapy, homemade tomato sauce, woman drinking green juice and entering savasana in a perfectly lit New York apartment, clips from Modern Family. It’s on a clip of Phil Dunphy holding a screwdriver that her eyes accidentally wander to the upper right hand corner of her screen, she catches a glimpse of the time and chokes on her own saliva.


Her boss is going to fire her.

But first, she is going to look her in the eyes and tell her she is disappointed and

Absolutely ashamed by her utter lack of concern for others and

Disgusted by her apathy to the world and

She’s a fucking disappointment lacking the internal resources necessary to contribute to the working world, or

Any part of the world for that matter, and

She isn’t going anywhere.

Her palms grip the cold steel of the steering wheel, tightening until the blood jumps to her fingers, tapping restlessly. She pushes past the speed limit, numb to her own life force. At the stoplight she applies a chalky brown lipstick in the rearview mirror, it only accentuates her chapped lips. She wipes it off using the inside of her wrist, peeling off dead skin in frantic clusters. Green light. She pulls into the parking lot, slams the car door behind her and walks lifelessly inside the office, where CEO sits smiling atop a rolling chair, platinum blonde bob cut bouncing, sipping an iced caramel macchiato, the clock on the desk reading 8:00. She is on time.

Unblinking, she stares at CEO in disbelief. I’m on time, she says.

CEO smiles to herself, bulging her eyes ever so slightly, fiddling with the green plastic straw in her coffee cup.

Sputtering, she repeats herself: I’m on time

You’re on time, CEO replies, deadpan.

CEO is a cunt. Her voice is nasally and cheery in a forced way that makes you want to spit out your gum and stick it on her desk.

Did you change the clocks?

Did I change the clocks?

Yeah, because—

No, I did not change the clocks. What are you doing?


I have a meeting now.

Ok. The woman still hasn’t blinked.


Yes, right, I am so, so sorry. I’ll go. I’m going.

She turns and makes a beeline for the restroom. She hates CEO. She hates that CEO can say anything, and she must oblige. She hates CEO’s lipstick, a dark matte bronze that leaves her lips dry and creased, exposing glaringly defined wrinkles that beg and moan for moisture. She feels CEO’s insecurity, dripping off her body like sweat or pheromones, manifesting in a purposefully cold, passive aggressive exterior designed to intimidate. She hates her pretty little power, how she sits on her pretty little rolling chair. She knows her hatred is misogynistic, but she doesn’t care.

Seething in dislike, she locks herself inside her favorite go-to comfort stall, the second stall to the right. Favorite is relative, the office bathroom is gross and metal and reeks of vinegar. She slams the toilet seat down and squats in chair pose to call Husband. He picks up almost immediately.

I hate her, she spits.


Michele? He asks, knowingly.

Fucking bitch.

Her thighs burn. She is no longer in good enough shape to pee no-contact, she stopped going to spin class on the weekends. She stands and begins frantically ripping up strips of toilet paper to assemble a makeshift seat cover, cursing and muttering all the while. She hears him suppress laughter on the other line, he must find her irritation amusing. Probably makes him feel better about himself.

She snaps: Stop laughing.

I wasn’t—

It’s not funny.

Finally satisfied with her work, she sits. A strip of toilet paper slips out from beneath her bum, falling in the hole. Her bare ass feels terrible against the metal, she wants to cry, she needs to shower, strip naked, cleanse, be reborn, anything but germ infested metal on her bare ass.

Fuck, she exhales, near tears.

Slow down—

No, I will not slow down, don’t tell me what to do. You don’t know what the fuck is going on right now, but something is really wrong, and I don’t know what’s going on, or what to do and—

You’re talking too fast. I can’t help you if I don’t understand what you’re saying, Husband explains in a voice that is calm, rational, void of emotion.

Oookaaayyy isss thiiis bettter for yoouu?


So I slept in till noon today, right,

Did you try doing a sun salutation? Husband asks, concerned. Condescending.

No, I didn’t do a sun salutation.

Husband makes her feel like a small, fragile pug with breathing issues. She can feel his paternal disappointment, swimming around like semen.

Did you try taking a shower?

She hangs up the phone. Husband is useless.

Eventually, she stops going to work altogether. Work is easy to avoid, unequivocally bad. Husband is harder. Husband wants her time, needs her time, like a desperate puppy-dog he crawls and scrapes and begs for it. Husband is a decent man. She knows he loves her, very, very much. Still, he’s the one who drags her out of bed. He’s the one forcing her to live a life she never consented to living in the first place.

And so, she hatched a plan.

 One week ago, she sent Husband to the grocery store, locked the doors, and settled down for what she hoped would be a peaceful, lifelong slumber culminating in a peaceful, painless death. Unfortunately, time does not bend well to peace. Time feeds on vigilance. If she indulges too long inside the pleasures of an empty head, Husband might come home.

She bought some time with the kumquat, yet her limbs are still tight with discomfort. She blinks forcibly, three times, in an attempt to ground herself. She is sitting on an ottoman. The ottoman is blue. Not blue, turquoise. Velvety turquoise, dusty lint covered turquoise. It feels smooth under her palm. This color blue feels dangerous, blue will always remind her of the one before her husband.

♱ ♱ ♱

They met in college, a small liberal arts school on the East Coast where the leaves turn colors and everyone wears a sweater vest. She wasn’t so sure what she was doing there, her parents are idealists, they told her “college is a bohemian exploration, a meeting of minds.” He was studying to be a political reporter. He was practical, in a refreshingly honest way. She felt he knew a lot more than her, about the world and global affairs and the importance of informing the public and preventing misinformation. 

She had interests, for sure. She liked to read, sometimes, when her mind was clear enough. She liked to write, usually in fits of desperation on her notes app. She worked at a summer camp once for girls, she enjoyed that. She’s always liked children.

Interests wax and wane. The only constant was a gnawing discomfort, growing steadily in the small of her chest, a deep and unresolvable loneliness. Her need always ran deeper than ambition. He wanted to change the world, she needed to fall in love and stay in it. 

Most of all, she loved him because he made her laugh. Late at night, around midnight, you could hear her laughter echo all the way across campus. They walked miles of pavement in the dark, past bushes and street lamps and quads of drunk men shouting with no restraint, couples holding hands in silence as they marched back home to fuck. The other dorm residents wished they’d break up already. He was dry and quick, but also goofy, in a way that reminded her of childhood.

On the night of her 21st birthday, he got tickets to see her favorite band play at the local dive bar. At 8 o’clock they are sprinting to catch the Peter Pan bus in cold winter air, the heels of her leather boots clacking loudly on the pavement, his gloved hands rubbing her bare ones to keep warm. In the bar they are greeted by a hug of warmth flushing their frozen cheeks, they quickly strip off their layers and toss them in a booth. They’re early, the bar is almost empty. The jukebox plays some hunky dory tune, probably the Beach Boys. She’s normally shy outside of a crowd, wary of the visibility. With him there is no need for embarrassment. He takes her hands, and under soft red lights they spin together in the center of the dance floor, arms outstretched, twirling like two children at play. They spin faster and faster until her field of vision begins to narrow, and suddenly the bar and its patrons and the red lights and her parents and her heaviness travel far away, and all she sees are a pair of two blue eyes that love her. For the first time in her life, she feels unguarded, naked but safe at the same time. 

The dizziness rushes to their heads and they collapse in a fit of adolescent laughter, lying unbothered on the sweaty linoleum. She drapes her body over his in exhaustion, secretly in hunger. She hopes he knows. Tentatively, her gaze drifts upward, and there are his eyes, blue, getting closer, even closer now, they are closing. Her eyes close, lips part.

Past relationships always felt like parallel lines. Separate, never crossing. With him, there was an ease, the kind that comes only when two people exist on the same line. Of course, two people cannot exist on the same line forever. Back then, she did not understand or accept the fact of separateness. She could not conceive that he was not bound to her as she felt bound to him. She was too busy fighting the natural currents of time and distance, clinging to romantic notions of the infinite and unbreakable. Breakable. How does a person break? Are some people breakable, and others indestructible?

Let’s get out of here, he says.

The band is about to start, but she can’t say no now, even if she wanted to. He grabs her hand and pulls her to the alley, it is cold again, she stuffs her hands in her pockets and clenches tight. When they arrive he pulls her hands from their pockets and presses them against the brick wall, it feels rough under her skin, turning blue. He pulls her waist and his eyes look rabid now, clear and empty. His hands are on her shirt, pressing against her bare skin, traveling, lifting her skirt, his hands are so big and she is so small. In the distance, she hears the sound of a guitar.

♱ ♱ ♱

She knows one thing. A person who does not exist cannot break. She needs to remain faceless, in the liminal. The kumquat is tangible. Gross. Vulgar. If her husband returns with kumquat in hand, the saturation of its skin could jolt her into the physical realm.

There is a knock at the door.

It’s not her husband. Husband is in her mind at the store, he’s sorting through kumquats and picking the most ideal shape.

It’s not Friend. Friend moved to the city a year ago, they’ve lost touch.

It could be Friend.

The thought of this crawls her skin. She has not showered in one year or changed clothing in one year and she is wearing a gray robe and gray slippers and she does not remember what her face looks like or how it would be perceived. Friend is alive and awake and fresh faced and rouges her lips with the latest cosmetics. Friend knew her before she collapsed on top herself, before she hired a TaskRabbit to lock the house with three separate locks.

She feels anger at their separation. Or is it guilt masquerading as anger? It’s hard to tell. She never texted or called, but then again, Friend didn’t either.

She often dreams of an alternate pathway, one where she moved with Friend to the city all those years ago, and the two of them built separate, individual lives that they discuss each night over fancy sugar-rimmed cocktails, before parting ways to confidently flirt with men at the bar, fucking ravenously in separate rooms in their shared apartment, then laughing about it all over morning coffee and a bagel.

Instead the two of them met separate, individual men and settled down in separate, individual homes across the country. On paper, Friend has a hotter, richer, more powerful man, and a more glamorous, laid-back, care-free life. Although she remembers Friend as sad. In school, the two of them would lie awake in the dark listening to the saddest music, admitting their most perverse thoughts and sharing terrible stories of childhood.

She likes to imagine Friend is still sad. At night she pictures the two of them sitting sadly in their respective beds, backs to their snoring husbands, tears dancing from their eyes to their cheeks to their bedspreads. From all the way across the country, she feels connected in this shared sadness. Then she remembers this is an act of imagining, and Friend might be perfectly fulfilled now. She might be all alone.

There is another knock at the door. She winces.

Then a shout, Anyone home?

A man’s voice, deep and gritty, one she does not immediately recognize. Relief sets in. Script in hand, she prepares herself for an unremarkable, transactional conversation.

Yes, she says, opening the door, staring at the gray fuzz of her slippers before glancing up to meet the man’s gaze. It’s the sexy TaskRabbit.

Hi, uh, I’m here to confirm payment. I was here earlier, with the locks. It didn’t go through. Your card I mean, on the app. We’ve been trying to contact you.

She stares blankly at his beard, her attention lost in the individual hair follicles, layering together to create an auburn jungle. After a few seconds, she comes to, forcing an expression of concern: Oh shoot. Let me, um. Do you need my card information?

Your card doesn’t work.

Oh. Right. I could write you a check?

That works.

Alright. Come in, I’ve got to find my checkbook.

The niceness of his physical presence in the house surprises her. She feels at ease in service interactions– they don’t know her, she doesn’t know them, they don’t expect to know her, she doesn’t expect to know them. In the absence of expectation, anything can happen.

As she scrawls the check, she feels their meeting coming to a close. She slows the pace of her writing, crafting an elaborately ornate signature and stealing glances at TaskRabbit. He leans against her kitchen island, feet crossed, sipping the glass of water she offered him as a formality. She watches as he swirls the ice cubes in the glass, making a pleasant clinking noise.

She wonders what he is thinking.

Is he impressed by her apartment? Impressed by the subtlety of her taste, the way she keeps a home, the creamy yellows and the ballerina pinks and the chestnut honey wooden floors? Does he wonder about the man in the photographs, the man with curly hair and nice looking eyes, is he jealous? Jealous of their camping trips and beach vacations and glasses of wine? Does he long for a perfect marriage, a perfect wife, one just like her?

She thinks about how he is someone’s son. He owns a couch. It might be mustard, or burgundy, or just plain gray. He must grapple with the prospect of death, too. He might feel terrified. He might listen to Radiohead in his car and scream with the windows rolled up, wishing he could somehow prevent all the bad things from happening, knowing they are going to come, but never knowing when. And so, she imagines, he never feels quite prepared.

She wants to know the color of his couch.

When did you become a TaskRabbit? she asks, handing him the check.

Oh. Uh, must’ve been four, five months ago.

She catches his eyes. They’re blue, like the one before her husband.

Well you’re good at it.

The air is thick now, swarming in what ifs. She takes note of every inch that stands between them, and longs to close the gap.

He steps forward, as if asking permission. She couldn’t say no now, even if she wanted to.

Before she can take a breath, his mouth is on her neck. It feels like a fish, suctioning and un-suctioning, an octopus’s suckers. His lips are fat pillows melting under her skin, his trimmed auburn beard tickling her neck sharply. She feels frozen, stuck like a doll, wearing buttons that say “Squeeze me!” “Touch me!” “Hug me!”. In this animalistic state, TaskRabbit’s mystery is solved. It doesn’t matter what color his couch is. He’s horny.

When it’s over, he is breathing heavily, smiling to himself. He asks, how was it for her, to which she replies, great. She asks, what’s your favorite song? He says, I don’t know, whatever’s on really. He sees himself out.

The ottoman is blue. Her naked body feels wrong on top this blue, shallow on top this blue, she needs clothes. Where are the clothes? Stumble to the dresser. Open the dresser, everything feels tight, constricting, wrong against her skin. She throws everything on the floor, collapses into the pile of fabric, and weeps. She weeps until her guts sting and her clothes are covered in snot and she can no longer concentrate on all the things that are wrong, until everything feels fuzzy and it feels as though she could sleep for decades.

♱ ♱ ♱

In her sleep she dreams of childhood. In the beginning, her face is unstretched, open to life. She wears a bright paisley dress painted every color of the rainbow, hair tied up in messy brown pigtails, two hair elastics with the big fake flowers– her mom must have chosen. She smiles a big tooth gapped smile, running barefoot through a field of tall yellow grass up to her waist. Trampling grass under her feet, dirt trapped beneath her toenails, she chases a pale yellow butterfly. She is so light, she doesn’t weigh a thing. Her skin is tan from the sun’s warmth, her body is translucent, floating in the companionship of those who loved her.

It’s hard to imagine a body so small could feel pain so large. She doesn’t remember how pain manifests itself in the body of a child, the thought of it aches her to the core. Her child self feels like a separate object, innocent, worthy of sympathy, undeserving of suffering. Does she deserve to suffer now?

Her teeth fall out and grow back in place, together now, no more gap. She is in her middle school bathroom. The light is painfully fluorescent, the walls a terrible dark maroon. She stares in the foggy mirror, pressing her hands against her cheeks til they materialize. Her hair is straight, doused in oil, burnt flyaways stand straight up at the root. She hates her face. It feels so large, disproportionate to the rest of her body, long limbs hanging awkwardly like dried spaghetti. She imagines the perfect faces of others, big blue eyes, long curved lashes, small noses that sound like windchimes. As a little kid, she didn’t know or particularly care to know the intricacies of her forehead, the arch of her nose. At this stage they seemed to represent her entire being, more tangibly than her insides ever could.

It is possible that at this stage, she disconnected from her insides entirely. Her dad remembers her as ‘angry.’ Maybe she’s always been angry.

The girls in the stall behind her are whispering, she can’t quite make the words out. Something along the lines of, she’s definitely wearing a push up bra. She’s such a slut. She has no boobs. There’s something off about her, off-putting. Weird looking. Definitely not best-friend material. Too strange. Too fake. Unlikeable. Unloveable.

Sometimes she would stare inside the eyes of others and begin imagining her own. Almond shaped, hazel, reptilian. She began to worry that her eyes, in all their biological coldness, could not possibly convey the fullest extent of her feelings. Suddenly she felt heavy and separate, weighed down by her own flesh, no longer dancing easily and unperceived among the crowd. The little girl in the field who everybody loved feels so far away, she is old now and love must be begged for.

♱ ♱ ♱

In the morning, the woman is no longer of indistinguishable age. She is incontestably old. Warm light spills in through the window in buckets, dripping on the blue ottoman, blanketing her body. She squints, blinded by light, blinking until her surroundings become clear. There’s a pillow beneath her head, soft linen on her body. The snotty fabric on the floor has been picked up and placed back in the dresser. The house is tidy. A vase of flowers, white roses with green tips, sit pretty on the coffee table. She inhales the smell of a freshly lit candle, pine trees and cinnamon.

Her hands pat around, reaching for a surface, anything to feel the ground beneath her. They circle around a spherical object, jarringly cold and solid, textured with pores like human skin. She grips the body and brings it to her sight-line. Orange. It’s a kumquat.

In a surge of deeply human thirst, she sinks her teeth into the kumquat’s bare skin, spraying black seeds across the floor. Blood orange juice dribbles down her collarbone, mixing with her sweat to create a pungent, sticky substance. The kumquat tastes acidic and sweet, euphoric and triumphant all at the same time, bountiful.

For the first time in a month, she is awake.

Téa Baum is a senior studying Human Development and Context with a minor in Psychology. In her free time she loves being a part of musicals on campus, making ceramic art, and playing with her cat!