Rosemary

By Maxine Kaplan

 

 

Rosemary couldn’t sleep. Her eyes were wide open. It was three am and the candle still hadn’t burned out. The room was glowing with the mixture of the candle’s murky rose and the paling blue from outside the window.

 

The ceiling had three cracks in it, crossing paths to the right of the light fixture. Trees and various unknown quantities from outside the window stole into the room and intertwined with the shadows that were already there. Rosemary felt as though she was caught in a net of shapes, a web. She reached under her bed, groping for her camera. She settled onto her back and aimed at a corner of the web, putting both eyes to the viewfinder. The carrying strap fell across her mouth.

 

Rosemary shifted her camera from left to right, zooming in occasionally, but the shadows wouldn’t stay still. They wouldn’t let her focus on them. The landscape kept changing on her, the light kept flickering. Mauve-tinted hills rolled over silvery spikes. Rosemary’s eyes, through the medium of her camera, jetted back and forth across the room as she became desperate to find a way to capture the web on film. (Rosemary took pictures of the things that unnerved her, so she could later have evidence that they were there and they were scary.)

 

Rosemary felt herself develop a rhythm, zooming in and out, moving her face up and down, side to side. She began to relax into the rhythm, to internalize it. She began to picture the web as emanating from inside her. That calmed her. She was the only one seeing it so it was all hers. She didn’t understand it but it was, after all, darkness and could be expected to communicate in a foreign set of signs and symbols. She kept moving her head around, hoping the weight on her forehead and the shifting lines would lull her, finally, to sleep.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, a low billowing shape stole across the wall, obscuring the more specific shapes of the web. It was from outside, and it was only because the light was getting brighter, more uniform. Rosemary knew this and ignored it, but kept the camera over her eyes. If it couldn’t see her, she thought, then it couldn’t hurt her.

 

***

 

When she woke up that morning the very first thing she did was spit out the acrid strap that had slipped fully into her mouth over the night, the camera cuddled into the hollow between her chin and shoulder blade. It was morning in New York and her roommate Patrick was yelling at her to wake up.

 

Twenty minutes later Rosemary was standing in front of her apartment door. Her hand was on the knob, her canvas messenger back on her shoulder. She didn’t open the door. Her hand on the knob was trembling.

 

Rosemary had always felt a slight tremor when she left the apartment but lately it had gotten worse. She was finding it hard to breathe.

 

Patrick walked out of his bedroom, yawning and not fully-dressed. Patrick didn’t have a job outside of college and so his Saturdays were Saturdays.

 

“What are you doing, Rosy?” he asked, stretching his arms over his head. “Don’t you have to go?”

 

“Yeah,” she said, turning to face him but keeping her hand on the door. “I’m going in a minute.”

 

“Okay,” Patrick said, staring at her tightly clenched fist. “Can I get you anything?”

 

Outside the window, an erratic but solid sound of drumming started. Rosemary felt her muscles relax and she loosened her grip of the door handle.

 

“God, this guy,” said Patrick, walking towards the window. “Have you seen this guy? He’s not one for precision but you’ve got to give him credit for enthusiasm.”

 

Rosemary had seen the guy. Her window looked into his and she liked watching him, thin and old with a waxy curling moustache, banging happily on the drums, creating his own beat. Rosemary’s heartbeat slowed, she took a deep breath and, holding the image of the man in her mind, she left the apartment.

           

***

 

Rosemary met Patrick at a party during freshman orientation of their arts school. That was the summer of the New York blackout.

 

When everything went dark, Rosemary felt oppressed. She didn’t want to move and start rubbing up against strange people. But then everybody started rubbing up against everybody else. People were laughing.

 

Somebody got out a drum and started playing. People yelled “yeah” and started dancing with each other, grinding to the music. Somebody wrapped their arm around Rosemary’s waist and started rubbing himself on her. She tried to push his hand away. He put both on her. Whenever she tried to squirm away, he just moved one higher and one lower. She tried to scream, but she couldn’t hear herself above everyone else’s noise.

 

A lighter flickered in front of her eyes and she could see a boy’s face –Patrick. He had a pleasant, round face and a half grown-out black buzz cut. He smiled at Rosemary and then looked past her, to the guy behind her.

 

“Not cool, dude,” said Patrick, smile still in place.

 

Rosemary felt the hands leave her body. She never saw who they belonged to.

 

Patrick dug into his pocket and produced another lighter.

 

“Want it?” he asked. “The dark’s kind of scary.”

 

***

 

Rosemary made it onto the subway platform just as the downtown 6 pulled up. She swiftly darted into a seat by the door and leaned her head back, planning to nap until her stop.

 

But Rosemary couldn’t sleep because, through her nearly-shut eyes, a face was attracting her. It belonged to a young guy with a long, moody face and long, moody hair. He was wearing a tweed jacket with suede patches on the sleeve and he was pouting.

 

Something about the face looked familiar to Rosemary. She tried to look at him while keeping her eyelids lowered, but her view was watery and vague. She dropped the pretense of sleeping, opened her eyes all the way and stared at the guy as subtly as she could.

 

There was an icy plastic-like sheen to his irises that made his bored glare look mechanized. But then, Rosemary noticed, there were his hands. There were red spots on the pads of his palm and fingers. They hung limp but still fidgeting with the edge of his jacket. His index finger moved to his upper thigh and tapped up and down, as if waiting. Rosemary thought it looked human and that she had seen someone fidget in the exact same rhythm somewhere before. She looked up from his hands and those blankly cold eyes were focused on her.

 

Rosemary fought the instinct to look away and returned his stare as the train slowed to a screeching stop. The guy stood up and walked towards her. He stood over her for a second, as the doors opened and people flooded against each other.

 

“What were you looking at?” he asked her quietly, so no one else could hear, with a sliver of menace in his voice. He exited the train.

 

Rosemary took out her camera-phone and turned towards the window, but the guy was gone. He had melted into the crowd and she couldn’t find him. There would be no picture.

 

She leaned back and attempted to mentally erase the whole episode. Five minutes later, the train stopped at Bleecker Street and she got out.

 

***

 

One day, when Rosemary was five years old, she refused to leave her parents’ brownstone in Brooklyn. She acted normally all morning. She got dressed. She brushed her teeth. She ate her cheerios. She pulled the Velcro tight on her shoes.

 

Rosemary walked up to the open door, put one foot outside the threshold and screamed. She hopped frantically back into the house in one leg and collapsed in the foyer howling. She pulled off her shoe and her sock and cradled her foot in her hands, tears rolling down her cheeks.

 

“It burned me,” she yelled.

 

“What?” asked her mom, kneeling beside her, glancing worriedly at her husband. “What burned you, Rosy?”

 

Rosemary pointed out the door. “It,” she shouted. “Out there. It burned me.”

 

Her parents tried to reason with her. They told her there was nothing to be scared of out there. That going outside was perfectly safe.

 

How did they not see what was out there? Because when Rosemary looked out the open door, swinging slightly in the wind, she saw shadows buzzing erratically in all directions. They were vibrating together so fast, Rosemary could almost smell smoke. And when Rosemary put her ankle out the door, the buzz burned her.

 

Her parents walked in and out of the door to show Rosemary that it was safe. That’s when Rosemary knew that the shadows were after her. Rosemary age twenty-one sometimes still marveled at what Rosemary age five thought then.

 

She thought, “Of course. I knew that.”

 

Rosemary age five refused to leave the house for a month.

 

***

 

Rosemary walked into the creperie, put down her bag and put on her apron. She loved her job. She worked in a pretty pastel room with a mural of Paris on the wall. The mural was poorly executed, blockish and imprecise, and therefore adorable. Rosemary was a waitress there.

 

Rosemary felt herself sweetening throughout the day –becoming coated in the scent of lemon juice and sugar. But, halfway through her shift it started to rain and the restaurant became quiet. Rosemary became bored. Her mind reluctantly turned back to the guy on the subway, who she could still see and had been seeing all day in the back of her retinas.

 

She tried to place the face and suddenly the name Maurice impressed itself on her. Rosemary rolled her eyes, laughing at herself for coming up with a name like Maurice while staring at a mural of Paris.

 

The rain got harder and Rosemary became antsy. Her ankles began to itch and she was still thinking of the name Maurice.

 

She dug her cell-phone out of her purse and called her parents’ house in Brooklyn. Her father picked up.

 

“Hi, Daddy, I have kind of a dumb question,” said Rosemary, feeling very dumb. “Do I now or have I ever known some one named Maurice? Was there somebody in pre-school, maybe?”

 

Her dad was quiet for a couple of seconds and then started laughing. She pictured him pinching the bridge of his nose and his mouth forming concentric circle smiles.

 

“Hello?” Rosemary said.

 

“Sorry, Rosy,” said her dad, with a bit of a smirk in his voice. “You did have one friend I remember named Maurice. Not a nice kid, actually. He used to scare you. He told you scary stories, made you afraid of things.”

 

“Oh, weird,” said Rosemary. “I’m pretty sure I saw him on the subway today.”

 

Her dad paused. “I really doubt it, sweetie,” he said. “He was imaginary.”

 

After a moment, Rosemary started fiercely laughing, balling up her fists and stomach. Rosemary wanted it to be funny.

 

***

 

That night, Rosemary went directly to her room, packed a bowl and got stoned. An hour later, the front door slammed shut and a likewise lit Patrick poked his head into her room.

 

“Rosy, what’s shaking?” said Patrick, throwing himself on the rug. “What are you doing with that?”

 

Rosemary was holding a twenty dollar bill taut between her fingers. Next to her were a stack of four more twenties, an iron pot and a box of matches.

 

“Are you stoned?” she asked, suspiciously.

 

“Shut up,” he answered. “What are you doing with that?”

 

Rosemary smiled wide. “I’m going to destroy money,” she said brightly. “You want to help?” She put the twenty in the pot and drew the matchbox closer to her.

 

“I all of a sudden just felt possessed to do it,” Rosemary said, drumming the fingers of her left hand on the floor and gesticulating with the outward palm of her right. She jerkily flipped her palm out to be parallel with her chin. “I can’t explain the urge. It’s like how in school I always wanted so badly to pull the fire alarm. But I never did it.”

 

“Hey, guess what?” said Patrick. “My friend, Will, thinks you’re hot.”

 

Rosemary pictured cute Will: shaggy reddish hair, brown eyes, sloppily endearing smile. But then she thought about the way he must have snuck looks at her. She realized that he must have looked at her without her knowing it. She shivered slightly.

 

Patrick noticed the shiver, frowned slightly and changed the subject. “But anyway,” he said, “You’re going to burn a hundred dollars.”

 

Rosemary looked wistfully at the neat little pile. She had been giddy and determined, but now Rosemary remembered that she was bad at matches.

 

“Well no, probably not,” she said looking a little downcast, feeling disappointed in herself. She had wanted to do something crazy, but now that she was here she couldn’t do it. There was a dull throbbing in her hands, but she wasn’t paying attention to it.

 

“Actually, Patrick, I changed my mind.” The throb intensified into a buzz and her fingers began to twitch but Rosemary was preoccupied with justifying herself and being stoned. Unknowingly, she picked up a twenty and dropped it into the iron pot as she spoke.

 

“I don’t feel like it anymore,” she continued, tossing the twenties into the pot one by one, looking straight ahead. “It was a dumb idea.” All the twenties were in and she was fingering the matchbox.

 

“I wanted to go to the movies tomorrow anyway,” said Rosemary, striking a match. “So, I would have regretted it.” She threw in the match and the fire started eating the paper, sending up a twister of smoke.

 

Her hands exploded into red-hot sensation. Rosemary gasped and grabbed her reddening index finger. She stared at it, seeing it as though for the first time. It suddenly seemed like a separate entity. She almost wanted to take a picture of it but something held her back.

 

“Rosemary, what happened?” asked Patrick, crawling over to her and examining her finger. “I thought you weren’t going to do it. Did you burn yourself?” He hesitated and then stuck the tip of her finger in his mouth and kissed it.

 

Rosemary’s eyes cleared. “I’m fine, Patrick,” she said, pulling her finger away. “Thanks though.”

 

“Whoa, the fire,” said Patrick, grabbing a bottle of water off of her dresser and throwing its contents into the pot.

 

Rosemary was staring at her hands. “I guess my mouth and my hands just weren’t on the same page,” she said and thought that her voice sounded far away. “That doesn’t happen much, does it?”

 

“Yeah, all the time,” said Patrick, grinning. Rosemary and Patrick looked at each other for a while, grinning, still both stoned.

 

“Rosy,” said Patrick, his grin slowing down. “You’d tell me if there was something bothering you, right?”

 

Rosemary saw that he was looking at her and trying to look deep. She reflexively looked away.

 

“Yeah,” she said, pretty sure she was lying. “Of course I would. What kind of question is that?”

 

“No kind,” he said quickly. “I just…this morning it seemed like there was weirdness. But, I was half-asleep.”

 

“I didn’t sleep well,” said Rosemary, glad she was telling the truth.

 

“Yeah,” said Patrick, hesitantly. “I’ve sort of noticed –just in the past couple of weeks –that you haven’t been turning your light out at night. Have you been sleeping, Rosy?”

 

Rosemary, with nausea creeping into her skin, wondered why Patrick had been watching her. Rosemary wanted Patrick to look away now and Patrick quickly nodded his head as if she had vocalized that wish.

 

“Never mind,” he said, replacing the grin.

 

Patrick reached out and messed up Rosemary’s hair. He playfully grabbed her bag of pot, she gratefully grabbed it back. There was a brief wrestling match, which Patrick let her win. Then he left the room.

 

Rosemary touched all the spots of her skin he had touched, wondering why bruises weren’t already forming. 

           

***

 

Rosemary climbed into bed and drifted into a restful wakefulness. On nights like this, Rosemary didn’t sleep through the night. She drifted in and out of various dreams, all of which went on without her. She’d find herself returning to one and having to catch up as to what was going on.

 

Rosemary heard voices on nights like this. Tonight, like many nights, the voices were close by. There were people in bed with her –literally, shape-shifting people telling each other to move over they were kicking. They were debating something, shimmying down Rosemary’s spine to talk to those congregated on her tailbone. The voices would come up with systems: lists, job assignments, invisible blueprints. Rosemary was never entirely sure what the systems were for, but occasionally she would try to participate anyway, silently, telepathically. They didn’t solicit her opinion, but they didn’t ignore her either, acknowledging that it was her thigh they were curled around.

 

Rosemary listened contentedly. She was glad to not be alone. 

 

***

 

When Rosemary woke up the next morning there was a squirrel perched on her window-sill, staring at her. Rosemary turned to get a better look. Rosemary inched her way towards the bed, expecting the squirrel to jump away. It didn’t. It simply cocked its head to one side and surveyed her.

 

The squirrel –an ordinary-looking brown squirrel –moved forward across the windowsill and onto the foot of Rosemary’s bed, its eyes were deliberately focused on her. Rosemary contemplated calling for help. That’s what male roommates were for –to take care of it when nature invaded your bedroom. But Rosemary couldn’t open her mouth. She couldn’t do anything but blankly stare.

 

The two dots of beady blackness contained a chilly detachment –it pumped adrenaline into Rosemary, making her chest ache and the blood audibly pound in her neck. It advanced on Rosemary with small, patient steps.

 

She crumpled into a ball, pulling her knees to her chest and shut her eyes. Her retinas still contained the residue of the squirrel’s shape, now vague and blurry. The shape began to sharpen and enlarge. Rosemary didn’t want to see the blackness from the squirrel’s shape get bigger. She opened her eyes. The squirrel was hopping back through the windowsill and out of sight.

 

 

Later, Rosemary was washing her hair when she heard a muffled squeaking sound. She turned towards the door but the shower curtain was opaque and the noise had stopped. A couple of seconds later there was a softer, more prolonged squeak and Rosemary stopped moving. All she could hear was the stream of water hitting her skin, but somehow the vibrations in the room had changed and she strained he ears to get at the source.

 

A sliver of shadow fell on the curtain just behind her neck. A coil of sensation spun in the small of her back and then up her spine. She slowly raised her arm, rotated it backwards and brushed the shape behind the shadow.

 

“Sorry, Rosy,” said Patrick. “I’m just brushing my teeth.” He quickly moved away from the shower and turned on the sink.

 

Rosemary still wasn’t moving. “Patrick, why didn’t you knock?”

 

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice garbled with toothpaste. “I just didn’t.” Rosemary heard him spit into the sink.

 

“By the way,” he said. “I’m having a few friends over tonight. Rick and Will and those guys. Is that okay?”

 

“Yeah,” said Rosemary, willing her muscles to unclench.

 

“Cool,” Patrick said. He slammed the door behind him. Rosemary began to move again.

 

***

 

It was very dark and she could barely hear the party happening outside the room. What she could hear was Will’s mouth on her neck: it was wet and making unattractive sounds. But no one could hear him except for her, so it didn’t bother her exactly. It was more of an aesthetic distraction. Rosemary knew she couldn’t let it distract her.

 

She bent her head and pulled on his hair to signal that she wanted him up. Once his face was there she kissed him, sucking his bottom lip into her mouth. He pushed down hard on her chest with one hand and pulled down her underwear with the other. He had only removed his shirt, while Rosemary’s skin had already started to prickle with sweat and being cold.

 

The door opened and shut. The bed sank a little further as more weight was added. Rosemary felt a hand tracing its way up her calf. It was dark so she couldn’t see face, but she felt like she knew that hand. It reached the crease where her thigh met her pubic bone, but didn’t go beyond. It tapped a hot, rough fingertip up and down as if waiting.

 

Rosemary sat up and pushed away Will’s face. She felt the tap again –up and down –and moved towards it, wanting to touch where it as coming from. She wanted it to like her. But she couldn’t find any part of the guy to touch except for that hand still tapping her upper thigh in that familiar rhythm. She picked up the new guy’s finger and put it in her mouth. Suddenly Will’s hands were all over her breasts and the new boy was kissing her neck. Then he bit her.

 

Rosemary gasped and spat out the finger.

 

“Sorry, guys, no,” she choked out. “I’m just not…”

 

She got up and moved towards the door, avoiding looking at the bed.

 

“Rosy, what’s going on?” asked Will.

 

Rosemary walked out of her room, apartment and building, still naked. It was raining.

 

Rosemary stood on the asphalt and held out her arms, watching them accumulate water. Her skin was illuminated by ambient light. She skipped in front of the building, feeling it every time her feet hit the pavement –feeling it all the way up to her scalp.

 

She was about to start dancing when she heard a siren. She stiffened, feeling suddenly cold and ducked back inside. Rosemary stood shaking in the vestry for a few minutes before she forced herself up the stairs, covering what she could of her skin with her hands and hair.

 

***

 

Rosemary walked through the party, clinging to the wall, trying to stay in the dark so no one would see her nakedness. She felt them looking at her, though –all those boy eyes boring in on her, trying to bore through her. Rosemary inched slowly across the floor, fighting the urge to run, wanting badly not to seem scared. Patrick made a move towards her and she looked up, saw all of them. She tried to find the boy who had joined her and Will, looking at all their hands. She sensed that that boy wasn’t actually there anymore.

 

“Rosy,” said Patrick, quietly looking serious. “It’s okay.”

 

He was standing right in front of her and she somehow couldn’t step around him. Rosemary looked at Patrick, saw he was blocking her and tried to picture every photograph she had ever taken of him. But she couldn’t find them in her memory.

 

Patrick repeated, “It’s okay.” Rosemary didn’t want to look at him and startled when he touched her. She dashed past him into the bathroom and had slammed the door and locked it before she realized that he had only draped a long bath towel over her shoulders.

 

She was shivering, damp and clammy. She turned on the hot water tap in the tub and the stood in front of the mirror. She looked at her face, pale and dripping, and felt suddenly weak. Splotches of black crept like spider-webs across the image of her face, obscuring parts of her and making what she could still see lose meaning.

 

When Rosemary came to, her forehead was resting against the mirror and the tub was overflowing. Steam filled the room. She turned off the tap and got in. The excess disturbed water cascaded over the side, flooding the linoleum.

 

Rosemary closed her eyes and dipped her head backwards to wet her hair. She tried to conjure up Maurice. Instead, she saw a pitch-black, rapidly mutating mass of shapes. She couldn’t recognize it, didn’t know what it was. The mass opened its eyes and stared at her.

 

Rosemary quickly opened her eyes but the mass was still there. Its cold, uncaring eyes warned her not to look away with its vague hint of menace. Rosemary felt it scrutinizing her, dissecting her into shapes. Rosemary strained to hear voices, wanted to hold on to something firmly inside her.

 

The hot, rough finger tapped her pelvis again and moved inward. Heedless of the warning, Rosemary screamed, squeezed her eyes shut and stood up in the bath, splashing more water onto the floor.

 

She could hear male voices from the other side of the door but didn’t try to understand them. She blindly reached out and tried to grab the mass of shapes, praying for it to be tangible, destroyable. She clasped air.

 

Rosemary opened her eyes and the mass was still there. She swallowed and stared at it eye to eye. She heard her heartbeat and concentrated, hard, on its rhythm.

 

She tuned out everything. She tuned out the boys on the other side of the door. She tuned out the water dripping off her body. Slowly, Rosemary tuned out the room and light.

 

Rosemary kept her eyes wide open. They filled with tears and eyestrain started blacking out her vision. In a trivial corner of her mind, Rosemary remembered being thirteen and anemic. She would stand up after sitting down for a long time and a fuzzy blackness would roll over her eyes for a second.

 

The darkness rolled over and the mass’s mutations gradually slowed and evened out. Soon, it matched her heartbeat. Then her heartbeat engulfed its sound, embraced it. Rosemary listened to the rhythm and blinked.

 

When Rosemary opened her eyes the mass was gone.

 

She suddenly realized how cold she was and looked at herself in the mirror to see if she was shivering. She was and she wanted very badly to cry out of cautious relief. Rosemary was pretty sure that she hadn’t trapped it forever. It would still be after her.

 

She wrapped the towel around her and opened the door, knocking the boys out of the way. She ran to her room and picked up her camera.

 

“Patrick,” she called, her voice breaking and frantic. “I need your help.”

 

He walked over and stood in the doorway, shifting from one foot to the other, a cell phone clutched in his hand.

 

Rosemary handed him the camera. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.

 

Rosemary undid her towel and let it drop to the floor.

 

“Take a picture of me.” 

 

 

 

 

Maxine Kaplan graduated from Oberlin College in 2007. There she studied fiction writing, playwriting, and edited the news section of The Oberlin Review. She now works in publishing and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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Published on January 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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