Published: May 13th, 2021
Publisher: Sandstone Press
Genre: General Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
As part of the Squadpod’s Sandtember, I’m featuring an extract from The Disassembly of Doreen Durant on the blog today. Thank you to Sandstone for the extract and proof.
From her apartment window, Doreen Durand witnesses a horrific accident.
The police want to know what she saw. Doreen doesn’t want to tell them – or anyone. But when she runs away it’s straight into the fantastic world of the wealthy and mysterious Violet Cascade. With one rogue police officer in pursuit, and life becoming more bizarre by the day, Doreen is caught up in a surreal game of cat and mouse.
The first weekend after Whitney left, a man showed up at the apartment unannounced. He knocked on the door too many times in a row, then rang the doorbell. Doreen ignored it at first – slightly scared, but also sleepily negligent – but when he drilled one more ungodly time on the doorbell, she pushed her hair around into something not haphazard, slipped on a pair of sweatpants, and answered it.
‘Whitney, right?’ said an older, grizzled man. He wore a stained t-shirt that wrapped too-tight around his globe of a gut and extended a callused hand in greeting. ‘I’m Jack.’
‘Sorry, no,’ said Doreen, not saying her name and not taking his hand.
‘I’m here for the couch.’
‘The couch? What?’
‘You must be the roommate. Whitney gave me the address. I’m here for the couch you girls were selling.’
Doreen looked over her shoulder at the sofa in the living room, one of the few things Whitney had left. There was the sofa, a coffee table, an empty TV stand, and not much else. ‘I didn’t know she was selling it,’ Doreen said to the sofa. Jack craned his neck to try to see around her.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to cause a fuss,’ he said. ‘She posted an ad for the couch the other day. I said I was interested and we made a deal over email. I already sent her a hundred bucks – pretty good deal for a couch that nice. She said this morning would be a good time to pick it up. She said you might be the only one here, but it was fine to stop by.’
‘Right,’ said Doreen. She picked at nothing behind her ear and squinted at the man. ‘I guess, yeah, you have to take it. Sure.’
Jack called down to a younger man who had been waiting in a pickup truck in the parking lot and the two of them came inside, thudding across the living room carpet in heavy, dusty boots, Saturday-sweaty. They lifted the long sofa, but struggled to shimmy it out the front door. The apartment was built in the seventies – Whitney said she had had to sign a waiver about lead paint or something – and its age showed whenever furniture was moved around like this. The floor creaked, the walls were too easily scuffed. The wood around the doorframe might as well have been made of fabric and seemed to stretch around the sofa squeezing through.
‘That’s it. There we go,’ said Jack. They marched it down to the pickup and threw it in the back. After they had it secured, Jack turned and nodded a mannish goodbye up at Doreen on the balcony, who shrugged and went back inside.
A brighter rectangle of carpet remained where the couch had been. Whitney had bought it, so she had sold it. That was it. Logic, running its course around Doreen like a river running dry.
What else had she bought? Doreen paced around and took inventory of all the things in her life that were not her own and could also vanish without warning. It was true, she hadn’t bought any of the furniture in the apartment – Whitney had been living there for almost a year before she came along – but the sudden removal was still jarring. For a minute, it felt like her life was being uprooted without her, but that was followed quickly by the realization that these roots were never hers to begin with.
This scene repeated itself all weekend and the following weekend as well. With no warning, strangers showed up at the apartment asking for Whitney, explaining the transaction they had made and requesting entry. One after the other, the coffee table, the TV stand, the kitchen table and chairs, the decorative poufs, a mirror – all disappeared, taken away by strangers – men and women of varying ages and degrees of inclination towards small talk, like ants touring the shell of some dead animal, taking what they needed.
After the second weekend of this, Doreen still hadn’t communicated with Whitney. An aggressive-aggressive text message would have been more than appropriate to send by now, but she didn’t.
It wasn’t that she was actively refusing to communicate – the idea of reaching out, of snidely asking if anyone else would be coming by, just wasn’t there to be had. She sat on the carpet in the empty living room alone and did nothing while the dwelling around her disappeared. The trappings of life flew away. Sounds reverberated differently in the emptiness. She had no idea what to do with herself.
She started letting things go. Nothing extraordinary, but little things like letting the few dishes that were left pile up in the sink, leaving wrappers and pop cans on the floor, letting the long black tails of chargers for different electronics dangle out across the living room. It wasn’t depression, she thought, it was simply a letting go. A closing. She felt a valve in her mind turn off, and another turn on, leading somewhere else, with some other function entirely. There was a miraculousness to it. She felt weightless. She had read once, in some quasi-self-help, tip-ridden pop-up article, about the importance of letting go – a more dressed-up version of spring cleaning, sponsored by a cleaning company – and how it could clean the mind, reformat the authenticity of life. Doreen wasn’t sure this was what was happening to her, but whatever was happening she allowed it.
She lost track of time. She started to forget things, like turning the lights off in the kitchen or in the living room before bed, leaving them on all night. Other times, she’d spend a whole day forgetting to turn them on, dwelling in the dark. She would run the air conditioner at arctic levels or not at all. She started sleeping at odd times throughout the day, napping all the time. She went to work, then came home and disrobed right in the living room, leaving her clothes on the floor. She dragged Whitney’s bare mattress into the living room and fashioned it into a couch, which became a multi-purpose nest as the clutter gathered, until another stranger came and took that away, so then she dragged her own mattress out and never slept in her bedroom again.
After nearly two months of this, like an amoeba left to morph and transform (some might say break down), new household problems cropped up. That strange smell from the laundry machine – maybe it wasn’t mold, maybe there was a dead rat behind it, Doreen wondered but did nothing about it – then the rust forming in the tub. The toilet and the kitchen sink continually clogging. These combined dangerously with her new listlessness – outliers that threatened to taint the overall image of her well-being as not one of letting go and living lightly, but one of neglect and mental illness. Objectively speaking, anyone stepping foot in that apartment would see more than a few reasons for concern, but after the strangers stopped coming to take her things away, she was left alone.
The only person who saw the inside of Doreen’s apartment now was a delivery boy named Tyler, who caught glimpses of the chaos behind her when she opened the door for her dinner. She had stopped grocery shopping entirely and had taken to ordering in expensive meals every night when she came home from work. Money was another thing she felt herself letting go and she let it fly, ordering the best meals from the best places.
‘Sorry, I know it’s probably not my place to ask, but are you OK?’ Tyler finally asked one evening. He had just dropped off a platter of sushi.
‘What do you mean?’ said Doreen. She leaned out. Her long hair draped like a privacy curtain between him and the scene behind her. He craned his neck to see past her. He shrugged.
‘You’re ordering food every night, tipping me way too much money, and – I don’t want to be rude – but your apartment looks kind of messed up.’
‘Messed up?’ Doreen adjusted her jacket. She was still wearing her work clothes on this occasion. She looked professional, with a blue blouse with a high collar, a dark skirt, and a freshly dry-cleaned white jacket. Behind her though, was a nest of blankets, empty take-out boxes covered in crumbs, unopened mail, cords for electronics, silverware, mugs. Also, all of the lights were off and the blinds were closed. Doreen and Tyler were standing in almost total darkness.
‘Not messed up,’ said Tyler. ‘It’s just that it doesn’t seem healthy to still have your take-out boxes from yesterday and the day before all thrown around back there. It looks like you’ve just let the trash stay there. And the lights are always off. Did they cut your power or something? Do you have any furniture?’
‘How would I have charged my phone and used it to order dinner if I didn’t have power?’ said Doreen without missing a beat.
Tyler fumbled over himself.
‘I’m sorry, I was just saying—’
Doreen leaned back into the living room and turned on the light, the mess behind her lit up in all its glory, then she stepped outside and stood next to Tyler, closing the door behind her. The two of them faced each other, illuminated by the orange glow through the window. Shadows cut across Doreen’s diamond-shaped face.
‘Is that better?’ she asked. ‘Now that you can’t see it?
‘I just wanted to make sure everything was OK,’ said Tyler. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.’
‘No, you shouldn’t have.’
The next evening, when Tyler came back with a bacon cheeseburger, two orders of sweet potato fries, and a strawberry shake from a hip new gastropub, Doreen was standing outside the front door already, waiting for him. The porch light was on this time and the door was closed behind her. She accepted the food, thanked Tyler and stayed standing there until he left. He got on his motorcycle, consulted his phone for his next delivery, and drove off. Once he was out of the complex and Doreen could no longer hear his motorcycle bumbling off into the night, she finally went inside and closed the door. Nothing had appeared out of the ordinary this time except for a small pile of dead grass, dirt, and a bottle cap on the ground, and the porch light itself, which had been twisted upside down.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Collett is a writer, knitter, and animator. He grew up in Oregon and now lives in London where he works as an editor. He also runs a popular YouTube…
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