I must remind myself that I am a stalker, not a private I, and that real private Is don’t handle personal cases, the way barbers don’t cut their own hair. Real PIs must get a license to operate, and it’s cheaper to be a stalker.
I made a list on the back of a Duane Reade receipt of all the reasons I sit outside his apartment one morning a month, usually Saturdays and only if it’s sunny. I update the list regularly, scrawled reasons like: Nice way to explore new neighborhood, enjoy weather, people watch.
He moved to New York six days before we broke up, and I have been inside his apartment only once, to meet his mother, who had sat in the passenger seat of the rented U-Haul he used to cart his belongings from North Carolina to New York, chattering about herbal remedies and his sister, Sarah, who’s applying for college right now and still calls me if she’s lonely.
I broke up with him days after he moved to be near me. We were at dinner, a fancy Italian restaurant in Soho where I ordered us both toast with ricotta and honey. I knelt to pick up my fallen napkin and smacked my head table. He reached out immediately to cradle my head, eyes wide with alarm, and got honey in my hair on accident.
I sit outside his apartment to make sure he’s doing well. That’s #1 on the original list. I like to make sure he looks happy when he leaves the apartment on Saturday mornings. He almost always steps out by 9:30, and twice he’s exited with a woman. The first time, it took me fifteen minutes to recognize her as Sarah. The second time, the woman was small with dyed-blonde hair and a party dress, tight green silk. Her toes were dirty, like she’d walked home without shoes on. I can’t imagine how wild that must have drove him, those dirty feet on his clean kitchen tiles. He walked her to the subway station and gave her a hug with only half his body. His eyes were tight behind his smile and he was starting to show crow’s feet and gray hair.
I haven’t seen him yet this morning and I can feel the familiar squeezing sensation in my lungs, around my heart, that starts on morning I sit outside his home and never see him. Just as I think that, he walks out, alone, holding his dog’s leash lazily in one hand and a peeled orange in the other. He’s meticulously removed the white pith and I know it’s because he hates the bitter taste, hates how it gathers under his tongue and between his teeth. He walks by without seeing me, humming tunelessly, and my chest loosens so I can draw air. That’s exactly what I want: to be an effective PI, to be invisible. I want him to miss me.
Maddie Woda is an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City, studying English. She is a member of the Columbia Review and has work or forthcoming work in Flash Fiction Magazine, Concourse Magazine, Midway Journal, and others.