Catherine Fuller and Sam Pearson had been together for two years, and they were happy most of the time, so the couple decided that it made sense to finally move in together. They each enjoyed their work—Catherine worked for a software company, training new clients; Sam had recently been promoted to manage the front-of-house at the restaurant where he had waited tables for the past three years. However, often each felt as though something were missing. Maybe from work. Or perhaps their personal lives. And while they didn’t discuss it with each other, they each sometimes feared that they had lost the possibility of a certain life. But these feelings came up rarely and usually only passed briefly through their minds, so they each did their best to ignore it.
They found their new apartment in the summer, August, and the heat was overwhelming, the heavy, humid air making everything seem like just too much. The new lease overlapped with each of their existing leases, so they each stayed in their own apartments at night. There was no air conditioning in the new apartment. During that time, they changed addresses over, bought a bed online, decorated their apartment while sweat ran beneath their clothes and in between their legs, rubbing their thighs raw. They were non-confrontational and methodical in how they decided their house chores: She would grocery shop, do the sweeping; he would do dishes and laundry; they would share cooking and general tidying up. When they were finished moving in, and ready to spend their first night in the new apartment, Catherine, flushed with sweat collecting around the edges of her forehead, went to get the mail while Sam opened a beer and sat on the couch, his shirt sticking to his body.
He watched her drop the pile of mail on the table in the kitchen, mostly magazines, mostly addressed to Tenant but a few for Catherine. It wasn’t until later that night, while taking the junk mail to the recycling bin outside, that she noticed she had received two donation requests, each addressed to a different Catherine. One for her and the other addressed to a Catherine Robinson. She normally would have thought more of something like this, but, worn out as she was, she wiped her forehead with her slick forearm and threw the stack of mail in the recycling bin.
That night they didn’t make love. It was just too hot.
The days after brought more mail, some for her, none for him, most for Tenant, a piece for a Wesley Matthews, and another one for Catherine Robinson—this one a personal letter. Catherine put the letter on the table and told herself that she would forward it. Then she left for work while Sam slept. He managed the closing shift, and their schedules were such that she would arrive home an hour after he left for work. She worked long days, long weeks, many more hours than him. Her company was well-regarded in the city, though she told herself she would be quitting soon, that she didn’t move to the city to spend her life in an office.
She arrived at her desk at eight-thirty. Her first training was scheduled for ten. She sat and typed Catherine Robinson into the search engine while having breakfast, coffee, a cold bagel. The results: Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, a wedding notice, IMDB credits, and many more pages. Erased the name, typed Wesley Matthews: many websites with information about a basketball player as well as a movie review website. When she searched the names together, she found the same wedding notice she had seen previously. Click. Open page. Catherine read the notice and found that the two had been married for a month, were married in South Africa where each had spent significant time volunteering. The other Catherine worked for an art gallery and had created a website called Healthy Curations. Wesley Matthews was a film critic for New York Magazine and the couple had met at an independent film festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Catherine had never been to South Africa. She and Sam had met online. No, not even online, really. Tinder—one of those apps most use for casual sex. Catherine clicked on other links. Read about the studio where the other Catherine worked. Read movie reviews by Wesley. He reviewed mostly independent dramas on his site, liked the movies she liked, harshly criticized the ones she didn’t. She was writing down a list of movies she would have to watch, ones he recommended, when her five-minute warning blinked in the bottom corner of her screen, giving her time only for a quick trip to the bathroom before the training.
Sam left for work before Catherine arrived home. He wore shorts, a tank-top, and flip-flops on his way to work, carrying a pair of black jeans, a black button-down, black sneakers in a backpack. When he stepped outside, he was already sweating, starting on his back, underneath the heavy backpack, but soon the dark, wet stain on his tank top spread under his arms and appeared in splotches on his chest. It was a twenty-minute walk to the restaurant. When he entered the restaurant, he said hi to John, a man his age whom he had worked with on the floor before the promotion. Once, John had said, “You better be careful, Sam, or else this is going to turn into a career for you.” Whenever Sam saw John, he thought of that. While changing, in the office, when everything was quiet, Sam forced a laugh to himself about what the server had said that time, but the statement didn’t leave his thoughts, not for the rest of the evening.
Catherine got home at seven. She opened the mailbox and rifled through the mail, keeping everything but the pieces addressed to Tenant. She went up to the apartment and, alone, set the mail next to the laptop. She opened the computer, went to Wesley’s website.
When she was hungry, she decided to order Chinese food online and didn’t leave her computer until her buzzer rang.
When she looked at the time again, she saw that it was twelve-thirty. Sam would be home soon, and for the first time in a while, she felt nervously excited to see him—that type of excitement of meeting someone for the first time, when he is sill perfect, before you get to know him. She went to their room, took off her clothes, climbed under the covers. She wiggled her legs, held her arms to her chest. She had a small, tight smile, and her eyes were wide, looking up at the ceiling. When he got home, he found her laying under the covers. She tilted her head, looked at him, pulled off her covers, showing him her naked body. He climbed on top of her, and they made love before he was able to completely undress.
They next morning, they had sex again, and she was late for work. He sipped coffee and ate some of her Chinese leftovers after she left. He sat by the computer, thumbed through the stack of mail just quickly enough to see that none was addressed to him. He opened the laptop, and the top of the browser was full of open tabs—nineteen of them. He clicked through the first few, scanning the webpages: LinkedIn profile for a Catherine Robinson; Facebook page for a Catherine Robinson; Healthy Curations: Healthy Living with a New York Work Life, a blog by Catherine Robinson; another Facebook page, this one for a Wesley Matthews; a New York Times Magazine film review; Google image search results for “Wesley Matthews, Movie Critic”; Google image results for “Catherine Robinson, curator, Bowery”. Sam looked back to the stack of mail, to where he recognized these names. Then to the Healthy Curations’ tab. He ate more of the leftover Chinese food and read some of this healthy living website. He learned about quick, at-home workouts and easy recipes. He continued reading from the website archives, blog posts written a year-and-a-half ago, until he heard the lock turn and the door open. He closed the computer. It was two o’clock.
“I told them I was sick,” she said. “What are you looking at?” she said, worried.
“I—I just saw that you had the mail from the last person who lived here. She has the same name as you.”
Catherine said, “I know,” and sat next to him, her body rigid, all right angles. Neither said anything, maybe trying to make sense of the situation, but after they were quiet for a while, he opened the computer, reopened the browser, and showed her what he was looking at. They sat there, together, and continued.
Together, they talked—talked about Wesley and Catherine, about movies they would need to see and some recipes they would try. They moved to the couch, and with the laptop on a little table pulled in front of them, they searched through Matthews’ Movies and Healthy Curations, sitting together, their arms and hips pressed against each other. They ordered in again, pizza, and after they ate, they made love; then they ate a little more, staying up late, talking about movies and life changes they would make. They were excited for this, and that night, they laughed and laughed.
After she woke, Catherine texted in sick, put on coffee, and returned to the computer. When Sam woke up and entered the kitchen, she minimized the browser.
He said, “What is it?”
“I…I found the address.”
He paused for a moment, and he realized how attractive Catherine looked lately. “Of what?” he said.
“The art studio.”
They showered together, nervous, giddy, as if seeing each other completely for the first time. His soapy hands slid over her body, hot water splashing his back while she stood in front of him. He turned around and she ran the bar of soap across his shoulders, kissed the back of his head. When they were both clean, he got out of the shower first, tossed a towel to Catherine and grabbed another for himself. They both toweled off, moved to the bedroom. They dressed. They walked to the subway station, moving automatically, as if they did not control their legs.
On the train, they still said nothing to each other. After two stops, the train emerged from the ground and began to ride the bridge over the river. The buildings rushed by, disappearing behind them. Catherine turned her head, looked ahead, to the water that moved below them, to the people walking along the bridge, flashing briefly through the subway windows before each image zipped behind them. The train was very loud. They flew past the water, past the people, and very soon, without realizing it was coming up, Catherine found herself again underground, on the other side of the bridge, no longer with anything to look at.
They left the subway, went through Chinatown, to a bench in a park across the street from the studio. Catherine checked her phone to make sure they were in the right place. Online, they had seen enough pictures to know what she would look like. They waited. And when the other Catherine came out of the studio, around two, they saw her, and Sam reached over and held Catherine’s hand, squeezing it tight. They watched her walk around the corner. When she left, they kissed passionately, in public, something they always criticized others for. After a while, before they saw the other Catherine return, they went back to the subway. Sam needed to be at work. She said she would walk him there from the subway stop, and they held hands the entire train ride to the restaurant, where they kissed goodbye.
He went into the restaurant, and that night was unable to focus the scraps of thoughts that moved around his mind. But in a different way than usual. He moved through the evening, assigning side work and helping the bartender during the rush. His mind wasn’t occupied by the same doubts he usually felt during work; it was an unclear optimism that clouded his mind. It was as if there were a change coming.
After Catherine watched him enter the restaurant, she thought of returning home, but only for a moment. She quickly decided to return to the art studio.
She sat on the bench, across from the studio, the sun descending behind her. The air was chilled. When the other Catherine exited with a coworker—cheek-kissing her coworker before turning the other direction and leaving; god, she was classy—Catherine started to follow from across the street: down the block, to the right, up the avenue, two-and-a-half blocks, and the other Catherine ascended wide, stone steps to her apartment.
Catherine was outside a restaurant. She sat outside; she was the only one outside and a little cold. The waiter came out, she ordered a wine, and she waited, looking across the street. When she was finished, she ordered another glass and asked for the check. As soon as she paid, and had just started her second glass, she saw him: Wesley jogged up the steps, into the apartment. She hadn’t seen him approach, and she felt she had missed out. But after another fifteen minutes, each in new clothes, the couple left the apartment, and Catherine left her half-empty glass of wine on the table.
Only a block away, they ended up at a fancy place, craft cocktails and oysters. The other Catherine and Wesley sat at a table; Catherine sat at the bar, nursing a drink. She looked at the couple, and then looked at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, behind the liquor bottles. She worked on her hair and then decided there was nothing she could do with it before turning back again.
She sipped her drink. She couldn’t hear the conversation, not over the noise of the restaurant, but kept watching, waiting for something. Midway through their entrées, the other Catherine wiped her mouth and walked to the bathroom. Catherine grabbed her purse, her jacket, and followed her, entering the restroom to find the other Catherine at the sink, wiping her eyes with a paper towel. They smiled at each other as Catherine Fuller entered.
She desperately wanted to say something; she just did not know what. She thought she would feel different, though didn’t know what she had been expecting. She went to the toilet, sat, and had the feeling that something had left her, as if a disappointing secret had been revealed. She heard the door to the stall next to hers close, saw the heels turn around, heard the light sound of the other Catherine’s backside settling onto the toilet seat. The toilet paper roll spun.
Outside the stall, drying her hands, Catherine looked down, and underneath the other Catherine’s stall door, she saw the black, little purse with gold buckles and leather straps—classy but subtle: a way she wanted to be. Catherine looked to the door, and suddenly felt the excitement again. She quickly bent at the knees, reached down, grabbed the purse. She heard the other Catherine call out as she struggled in the stall, but then the bathroom door slammed shut behind her and Catherine was through the restaurant, out the front door, and running down the sidewalk, the black, little purse bouncing back and forth on her elbow.
Catherine sat at home, a little drunk, in the middle room. The overhead light off, the room was lighted by a lamp to her left. She held the purse in her lap. She was afraid to open it, to reveal what was inside. She went into the bedroom, tucked the purse under the side of the bed, and waited for her boyfriend.
After he got home, she lay there while he thrust into her passionately. He asked her what was wrong. She went to the bathroom, cried a little, told herself to stop it, and then came back to the bedroom to see Sam, lying on his back, his upper body propped up by a pillow, holding the purse in his naked lap.
“Is this yours?” he said.
She shook her head.
“It isn’t—” he said.
She nodded and wept completely, her body shaking. He placed the purse on the floor, and went to her, holding her as she crumpled into him.
“It’ll be okay,” he said, as he rubbed her head, her back. “We can’t keep doing this.”
She nodded, her head against his chest, and he held her there—held her until she was worn out, and he walked her to the bed where she curled underneath the covers and pushed her face into her pillow. He went through the apartment. He brushed his teeth, took his allergy medicine. He shut off all of the lights as he walked back to the bedroom. He lay down on his back, his eyes open, looking up into the dark of the room.
It was maybe an hour before he decided to push the covers off himself. He stepped lightly around the bed. He picked up the purse, took it into the middle room. Sam turned on the lamp, and there he began to pick through the items of the other Catherine’s life.
Christopher Covey grew up just north of Boston. He has worked as a construction manager, a bartender, and a teacher, as well as many other jobs. His work has appeared in The Smoking Poet, Prick of the Spindle, and some other places as well. He currently lives in Brooklyn.