“Taedium Vitae” by Jacqui Goetz

The days have started to blend together. Before, before all of this, there were lists. There were plans. There was something to do. Now, four walls. Now, unlimited streaming. Now, the inescapable couch and its friend, the fleece blanket.

The same snack. The same time of day. A new episode of the same show. 

Resistance is futile. 

What’s the point? There is no time. There is only a change in lighting. There are no days. There is only this house. 

I reach for my phone. My thumb presses the button and my brain numbs. I’m not sure where I should go first. Should I see what memes have been posted on various social media? Should I look for funny t-shirts I have no intention of buying? So many options for mindlessness in one contraption. 

Ouch!

I snatch my feet off the floor to see a red mark on my ankle. Not punctured, but indented. Whatever I had struck my foot on hadn’t meant serious harm, just a shock. I give the spot a rub and lower my feet back to the rug. 

The phone had locked. In a different world, it wouldn’t have phased me. It was an inconvenience of the highest annoyance. Thumb to button. App opened, scroll, scroll, scroll. 

Damn! That hurt! 

I yank my feet onto the couch again. A twin mark has appeared on my other ankle. One drop of blood has me leaning closer, twisting my foot for a better angle of inspection. A bite mark? 

I don’t have a pet.

Cautious, I stick my feet into the crease of the cushion and lean down. It came as no surprise, but I am happy to report there were no monsters under the couch. 

Sure, why not? I’ll just go crazy, I have the time. 

I get up from the couch to venture into the kitchen. I had left the cookie container open. I wasn’t hungry, but, well, cookies. My hand reaches for the container and – OUCH! 

I leap onto the counter. A blur darts under the pantry shelf. I grab up a wooden spoon and cautiously climb down. I lead with the spoon, sweeping it under the shelf to flush out the ankle biter. I located a missing container of hand sanitizer and a stale piece of cereal.

For the rest of the evening, there are no more bites. I work on a quilt, read a book, make pasta for dinner. I call my mom. I text my best friend, a nurse, to ask if I need to do anything for the bites. They are already fading; anyway, she thinks I incurred the injuries from being clumsy, not an unknown ankle-biting assailant.

I go to bed that night only after checking under all the furniture. I don’t even bother with my usual scrolling or filling my Amazon cart with items that I don’t need. I’m hoping I don’t wake up in the morning still crazy. The marks have disappeared entirely from my ankles. Maybe I dreamt it. Maybe it’s the guilt of neglecting my thesis, my general lack of motivation. Maybe I feel like I should be better than my habits had become. I drop off to sleep with my phone screen dark and my thoughts self-pitying.

I don’t have an alarm. Alarms are for mornings with somewhere to go and I haven’t had one of those in a few weeks. I wake up when the sun breaks through the crack in my eyelids. 

The first step of the morning is to yawn. Then reach for my phone and begin to check emails, my calendar. Slowly, I open and close apps until I reach the news. This starts out productive, it always does, but then comes the celebrity stories, followed by “10 facts you didn’t know about 90’s movies”, and so on until I have fallen down the hole of mindlessness. 

The attack comes swiftly. Teeth clamp down into my forearm. I drop my phone and snatch the attacker up, the big-eared, bug-eyed – chihuahua? I hold it eye level. My tired brain clicks awake. 

There is nothing between my hands.

I throw off the blanket and search. I throw aside the comforter and pillows. I find nothing. I leap from the bed and drop to the floor. The door is closed; there was only one place the dog – the dog I didn’t own –  could hide. I search beneath the bed, but all I find is forgotten debris. I sit up and stare at the teeth marks on my arm. They are there, punctures welling blood. I grab my phone and take a photo, just to prove to myself that I am awake and that this was real. Was this real? My arm hurt and they always said you don’t feel pain in dreams. Should I be scared? Should I call animal control? 

And tell them what? The dog I don’t own and have never let into the house turned invisible and ran away? Is there a special sensor for imaginary animals? 

It would be the most human interaction I would have all week. 

 I take one last look under the bed. How long have those yoga pants been there? I gather up the dirty clothes migrants and trudge down the hall to do laundry. 

The rest of the day fades as I lay traps to prove I hadn’t hallucinated. Still, no apparition dog with my blood on its teeth. I had the wounds to justify my increasingly desperate search. I found my extra car key and considered that a win.

I drop to sleep fairly easily for someone being strategically tortured. The next day I repeat my traps. On a whim, I sit down at my computer to search for similar incidents. This takes me down the Reddit hole. 

Snap!

Teeth graze my ankle, but it seems to know I’m onto it and it takes off before it does any damage. I sprint after it into the kitchen. A cereal box falls from the pantry. All is quiet. There is nowhere for it to hide. It has simply vanished. 

It’s been two weeks since the morning I caught it. I have been feeding it less of my blood. Once I was almost caught staring blankly at the TV screen, but I spotted it from the corner of my eye and it hightailed back into the kitchen to disappear. My ankles have scabbed over and, so far, have avoided scarring. I haven’t seen it in a few days. Not even out of the corner of an eye. Maybe it has moved on.

The house is clean. Meals are prepped. I just finished a solid hour of thesis specific reading followed by a good hour of outlining my main ideas. I give a quick scroll through the ‘gram to catch up on friends and family, but no bite. Seems like my missing attacker cares more about intention than action. 

I shrug, click off my phone, open my computer, and begin to type.


Jacqui is a creative professional in Baltimore who rekindled her love of writing during toddler nap times.