Monica’s latest boyfriend thinks she lives alone. He has no idea there’s someone living in her closet, not a roommate, really, but a woman Monica thinks of as a fellow sufferer on the road of life. “Chandra,” Monica whispers, feeling the syllables slide off her tongue. Surely nobody’s parents could come up with such a name, but Chandra says hers did.
“It’s Sanskrit, for daughter higher than the moon and stars,” she says in the bored tones of someone who has been repeating this information all her life—but Monica is still impressed.
“I love the way it sounds like Sandra, but not so ordinary,” she says.
The first time Monica saw Chandra was through the peephole on her front door, a view that pushed Chandra’s beautiful face forward, her curls framing her head like a dark halo. Monica had no idea who this bell-ringer was, so she opened the door cautiously, leaving the chain hooked. It was like looking into a mirror that reflected an image of what she wanted to be—a slender girl wearing nothing but a silky tank top and matching jogging shorts, her hair pulled on top of her head in a scrunchy, bouncing on her toes to cool down from her run.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly. “You’re Monica, right? You don’t know me, but a mutual friend told me where you live. We have a lot of the same connections in D.C. I’m Chandra.”
Monica took the chain off and opened the door a bit wider. Of course she knew that name from the newspapers, from television, from radio, and knew the hell of having everyone know all about what you once thought was your private life.
Chandra stopped moving and pulled the scrunchy off her head, shaking her curls.
“I read you’d been missing for three weeks, but you don’t look like you spent all that time running from Washington to New York,” Monica said.
“Of course not. I’ve been traveling, staying with people I meet along the way. I’m no long-distance marathon runner, but since I’m running away, I thought I’d actually run the last couple of blocks.”
“I’m starting a new life here, too,” said Monica, pushing on the door. “I’m letting D.C. go. That’s something I’ve learned in therapy. I’m sure I don’t know whoever it is who told you where I am.”
Chandra put out her hand to hold the door open. “I met your guy Bill once,” she said. “We’ve got more in common than you think.”
Caught off guard, Monica relaxed her hold on the door enough to let Chandra into her living room, where all the windows were open to the sun.
“You didn’t…” she began, but Chandra immediately laughed and shook her head.
“I have my own man, I don’t need yours.” Chandra blinked, as though used to dark rooms.
In the bright light, Monica could see that her well-made-up eyes were slightly red around the rims, with white cover-up no doubt hiding dark circles underneath. Monica knew the signs.
“So, Gary told you to take a hike?” she asked.
“No, I just took off. Obviously. I’d had about enough.” She sank to the couch and held her head in her hands while she sobbed. Monica didn’t need to hear the story, which she knew by heart from her own life.
“So where’s your luggage?” asked Monica.
With a dismissive wave of her hand, Chandra answered, “I left everything behind me, except these keys.” She threw her key ring onto the coffee table with a clank. “The last thing I wanted to keep,” she said. “I’m not going back. I don’t need any of that old stuff.”
But Chandra did need a place to hide, some place where even her best friends wouldn’t find her, so Monica gave up her closet, the one the size of a small room that was in fact being used as a baby’s bedroom when she’d first looked at the apartment. There was a smaller closet in her bedroom across the hall so it was no trouble to make room for Chandra by removing coats, and boxes of stuff she hadn’t unpacked yet. She even bought a futon, something she’d been meaning to get for guests, and curtains for the small window. She took out the clothes bars, except for one so Chandra could hang a few things, and put in a four-drawer dresser and an extra bedside table she had. Until the room was ready, Chandra slept on Monica’s couch; Monica let no one in, telling even her boyfriend that she’d gone to Miami for a couple of weeks.
Lying on the futon in her new room, Chandra begins to spill her secrets, most of which are common knowledge by now, but Monica notices how Chandra avoids watching the news or reading the papers, and knows how rude it would be to tell her that everyone’s already heard what she’s telling. Monica lies beside her, like girls do at a slumber party.
“He shaved his whole body,” says Chandra, clutching a pink flowered pillow she carried in from Monica’s couch. “We had this ritual before sex—we’d have a bath together and shave each other all over. He even shaved my crotch, and I shaved his. He had a thing about hair, hated it anywhere but on his head. He’d had hair transplants and I used to tease him that he should use his pubic hair there, and his underarm hair, but he really didn’t think that was funny. Actually, he didn’t think much of anything was funny.
“You know, all that smooth skin, it was like making love to a snake.” Chandra shudders. “I should have known. Especially after he talked me into getting a Brazilian bikini wax where they even do your pubes and your butt, yanking every last hair so it won’t grow back for months. The only really nasty thing he ever said to me was that Jews are just too hairy down there. But even then he was apologetic, like it was his fault.”
Monica sighs. “Yeah, both of us should have known, especially when they pretended to be so nice. Excessive politeness is always a bad sign.”
“Right. That’s why I came to you. Who else would understand? I mean, everyone knows what you went through with…”
“Yeah, but I’m so over him now.” Monica takes a deep, meditative breath. “There was a time I thought—well, you know what I thought—that the big creep would leave his wife, quit his job, abdicate just for love of me. Me!” She laughs, but Chandra, who isn’t ready to laugh yet, can only manage a weak smile when she whispers, “My guy still might, if I tell him.”
“Tell him what?” Monica is caught short.
“That I’m pregnant with his child,” Chandra whispers.
“No!” says Monica. “Now you’re really trapped.”
“Don’t say that!” shouts Chandra.
Monica shushes her because someone might hear and call the police since she’s still supposed to be on vacation in Miami.
“I’m happy,” Chandra says with a shiver as she cradles Monica’s pillow in her arms. “I’m so happy, but you’re the only one I can tell. I was going to tell my aunt, but she can’t keep her mouth shut. I mean, I love her, she’s like my best friend, but I couldn’t let her tell my parents. They might want me to have an abortion, so I have to wait until it’s born. I can’t kill his child. If I can’t have him, I want his baby!”
“Don’t be stupid,” says Monica. “What are you going to do with it?”
Chandra sits up, shaking her silky curls. “I always told him I wanted a child, I wanted us to be together as a family, but he said he already had a family and wasn’t interested in starting another one.”
Monica puts an arm around Chandra’s slender shoulders. “I guess both our guys already had what we wanted—real lives, with homes and kids. We were just love drive-bys for them. They shot us through the heart, and sped off. The big creep and the little creep, that’s what they are.”
“What’s left for us, then?” Chandra pounds the pillow with balled fists, raising a cloud of dust. Because of the hours she spent decorating the closet, Monica hasn’t kept up with the housework.