Liza wasn’t sure when things began to change. One day it was the bed: made when she wasn’t one for making something you were going to unmake hours later. Another time, it was the walk, swept, and the dead bird that had kamikazeed in the front window weeks earlier, vanished. Then, the kitchen sink looked cleaner. Years of grease scoured, the drain as shiny as a new dime. It seemed as though someone had even taken a toothbrush to the spigot and the handles for the hot and cold. The heaped-up recycling: vamoosed, too. Even she couldn’t ignore a clean sink. She called her boyfriend Lloyd to see if this was his doing while he waited to plunge his coffee. Every Monday morning, he left at the crack of dawn to drive back to Phoenix where he worked at a big accounting firm. They spent weekends together. This arrangement, going on fifteen years, was fine with her. Liza liked a little elbow room.

“No, nope,” Lloyd said, “it wasn’t me.”

“Strange,” she said. “I washed the dishes, that’s all.”

“I seem to recall martinis,” he said.

“They make me want to do handstands,” she said. “Cartwheels and whatnot. They don’t make me want to clean.”

“You never know,” he suggested; but she did.

She went into the Arizona Room—nothing in its place there—back through the kitchen and into the living room where everything was as she remembered. Her computer was open on a stool, her coffee cup on a poetry volume—Small Animal Diagnosis—that she’d wound up using for the past decade as a coaster. Someone had lent it to her, though she could no longer remember whom. For most of her adult life—she’d be fifty-seven at the beginning of April—she hadn’t believed in things like coasters or soap dishes, or even bath mats for that matter. They seemed too specialized. Why buy a soap dish, when you could use the edge of the sink? Or a large oyster shell? Or even the lid from a pickle jar? She pulled aside the thick quilt that she’d hung at the entrance to the hallway and went halfway down and into her office. Her breath bloomed. In January, it dipped into the blessed teens at night, and these houses built with little insulation and shit-for-nothing furnaces got so cold you had to get resourceful. Before he left, Lloyd flipped on the mobile radiator in the living room. Then Liza pulled it behind her like a dog, heating only her immediate vicinity.

She was looking for something, but what suddenly escaped her. This was where she kept books, boxes of decorative papers for book making, paste, the computer modem, a busted printer, climbing gear, her mother’s old Singer. Was she looking for a book? Her eyes inched across the uneven spines, mostly poetry, most of it from a period of her life where she’d had the patience for caesura, compression, broken lines. It was weird, now that she thought of it, but she’d stopped reading poetry completely after getting stuck in a box canyon in southern Utah. She couldn’t concentrate. That was nine months ago. To say she’d almost been stuck wasn’t quite accurate. She’d been stuck. She was leading the way on a canyoneering trip through the Middle Fork of the Leprechaun. She knew the canyon would be tight; the night before, several of the bigger men in the group had decided to detour. But Liza was tall and lean and way under 180 pounds which the canyoneering guide warned was the upper limit for safe passage. The rocks scraped her shoulders in several spots, and she had to climb off the canyon floor and scoot, with her back pressed against one wall and her feet against the other, to pass. She was feeling good, making good time, not that time was relevant in these tight spaces. It swept by. You could come to a technical spot—a spot where you might test dozens of different hand holds, make thousands of miniscule adjustments to the angle of hips and shoulders—and an hour whooshed by. Then, without her really noticing, the canyon was suddenly so narrow above her that the space tunneled. Dropping to her hands and knees, she crawled until she ran out of room for crawling and had to lower her belly to the rock. She squirmed, tucked her chin, lowered her head, squirmed some more, tried to relax her shoulders. Her hands, straight out in front of her, frantically felt around for a nub or crack so that she could pull herself forward. She kicked with her legs. She was stuck. She couldn’t move forward, and she couldn’t move backward. “I’m stuck,” she yelled, hoping someone coming right behind her—her friend Carl, or another guy named Jim—could grab her by ankles and ease her out.

That’s right. She was looking for sunglasses. She was sure she had an extra pair with her climbing gear. She’d misplaced her everyday ones. They were probably in the car, but she hadn’t been able to find them, though she also hadn’t looked very carefully. In the closet, among her mess of backpacks, carabiners, chalk bags and climbing shoes, her ropes hung coiled from a hook. She never hung up her ropes. She slid the closet door back in place. In the living room, she opened the novel she was reading, had a sip of coffee. It was cooler than she liked, but she couldn’t risk going back into kitchen and noticing something else amiss. Best to stay put.

 

From the very beginning seventeen years ago, she’d disliked the house. She’d bought it because she was sick of the landlord she had back then. Sometimes he showed up in the middle of the night, too high to remember that he no longer lived there. Sometimes he came by to fix something and his dogs, two Dobermans, broke something else. The last time, the dogs were barking at the foot of her bed, and her landlord was yelling, “Goldilocks! Goldilocks!” when she woke up. Her mother gave her $17,500, and within a month she was out. The house was located in what was at the time a new development west of the city, the streets named after women (Shannon, Jennie, Sheryl) and famous racehorses (No Le Hace, Riva Ridge, Flying Fox). This was long before the resort and golf course went in. She could walk five minutes to the end of W. San Juan Drive, which was an exception to the names rule, and be in desert. This was the only thing she liked.

The house itself was a nondescript desert ranch with three bedrooms and one and a half baths. It had a carport and a paved driveway. In the front yard stood a saguaro and a blue agave that eventually shot up a twenty-foot high flower and died. This seemed ominous. A screened-in porch ran along the back. The poured concrete floors were covered in linoleum, except in the master bedroom, which was carpeted, the ceilings were popcorned, the windows rattled in their metal frames when the front door was opened. The builder had spared no expense, installing a cheap electric stove, hollow core doors, ugly fake wood kitchen cabinets, laminate counters, and a plastic bathtub. The rooms were small and claustrophobic; the flat roof was covered in black tar. Even the exterior bricks were fake—just a scrim of stone applied over sheetrock.

She valued her house so little that she couldn’t imagine anyone else buying it. This, along with other idiosyncratic habits of thought, was how she wound up staying for so long and letting so many things go. She rarely vacuumed, and she never scoured the whole tub, only the inside because she did enjoy a good long soak. She didn’t dust. She didn’t wash the windows, didn’t wash the sliding glass door between the kitchen and the screened-in porch, she neglected the grout around the kitchen sink. Water dripped into one of the closets, but she never fixed the crack in the plaster. When it rained, which wasn’t too often, she just moved a garbage can into the closet and tried to ignore the irregular ticking. Her mother would have pitched a fit; she was the kind of woman who dusted her light bulbs and cleaned the refrigerator once a week. But her mother only came to visit once, and that was long before the kitchen linoleum grew brown and sticky and her utensil drawers became so chaotic it could take ten minutes to find a garlic press.

 

She had coffee with her friend, Jan, at a coffee shop that had changed hands several times. The French country loaf and baguettes were good but the carrot cake and other desserts had gone downhill. That was the problem with living in a place for a long time. You saw that change almost never truly represented progress, just tradeoffs.

“I think my house is haunted,” Liza said.

“Yeah?” Jan said, sounding not especially surprised. She tipped a straw of sugar into her cappuccino, but did not stir. She liked her foam to have crunch. She and Jan had been having coffee for decades, and there was almost nothing they hadn’t talked about. They’d met at the university swimming pool where each dutifully swum seventy-two laps every morning. Jan sometimes wore two suits to create more drag, which impressed Liza, even though she would have preferred to do her workout naked.

“Little things are weird,” Liza said. “Someone took out the recycling and scrubbed the sink.”

Jan snorted. “You have a ghost that cleans? Where do I get one?”

“You can laugh,” Liza said, “but I’m seriously freaking out. What if it’s the same one that…” It was the first time she’d made the connection. Something mysterious had happened in Leprechaun Canyon. She preferred not to dwell on it.

“Your guardian angel is back?” Jan said.

“More like meddling angel,” she said. “I like my house the way it is.”

“You like your house? That’s the first positive thing I’ve heard you say about it in years.” Jan suddenly smiled and waved to someone over Liza’s shoulder.

“Who was that?” Liza asked.

“Bill,” Jan said, her face resuming its natural state.

“Oh jeez. Is he coming over?”

“I don’t think so,” Jan said, “but so what if he does? He doesn’t bite.”

“He owes me money,” Liza said.

“What?”

“I didn’t tell you I leant him $2,300?”

“When was this?”

“Months ago. He needed to rent a truck that he could drive across the border. He was picking something up in Oaxaca.”

“For $2,300?” Jan asked.

“What’s he doing now?”

“Talking to a woman. The new girl who works behind the counter.”

“The old new girl? Or the new new girl?”

Jan laughed. “The one with the snake tattooed…Oh god.”

“What?”

“He just kissed her.”

Liza still hadn’t turned around. “Bill’s been a horn dog since the beginning of time.”

“He’s probably got thirty years on her.”

“Go Bill, go!” Liza said. “Get it up!”

Jan groaned.

“What do you care?” Liza asked. “You’re a lesbian.”

“It’s just such a cliché: the old guy and the girl. And the girl’s thinking, this is no cliché, we’re different than everyone else. But they’re not. Her guy is just like every other old guy—he wants to stick his pecker in some yummy, preferably hairless, pussy.”

“Woah,” Liza said. She thought she knew Jan, and then Jan would come out with something so totally surprising. This was another reason they’d remained friends for as long as they had. “I dated an older man once but I wasn’t particularly young. Does that count?”

“It’s all relative,” Jan said. “When I was thirty-one, I dated a guy who was forty-eight. You know what he told me? He said, ‘You’re the oldest woman I’ve ever been with.’ Then he stuck a pencil under my breast to prove they were already sagging.”

“You dated men?” Liza said. “I thought you’d always been a lesbian.”

“Basically, yeah. Except for a couple years in my early thirties when I decided that women were such head cases. But it turned out to be a grass-is-always-greener kind of thing because men are head cases, too. And they’re assholes. And their stuff is bigger and takes up all the room in the dresser. And they have penises.”

“I think it’s peni.”

“Seriously?”

Liza giggled. “No, not really. I made that up.”

“The only thing that men have on women is that they’re better at fixing stuff.”

“I wish Lloyd were more like that.” Lloyd was handy enough, but he preferred sorting out people’s problems with money.

“But now your ghost or guardian angel has followed you back to Tucson,” Jan said.

“Don’t laugh,” Liza said. “The whole thing is unnerving.”

“Maybe you’ve been cleaning things in your sleep.”

“Are you kidding?” Liza couldn’t believe how upset she was, even though Lloyd had suggested as much. “I hate cleaning.”

 

Liza was reluctant to go home. A handful of other times things had spooked her, and she’d wished she wasn’t mostly on her own. A fire at the house diagonal to hers had killed the old man who lived there. For weeks afterwards, if she wanted to go for a walk, she went out her back door and took the long way to the path that led out into the desert, but there was no detour when she was driving, and it required serious discipline not to stare at the charred lazyboy and cowboy boots that remained in the driveway. Another time, a white pit bull found its way into her fenced yard—she never could figure out how—and killed her cat, Stelley. She told people that she’d had to stand by and watch the whole sickening thing. But the truth was that after she called 911, she crouched in the closet.

The most unsettling was also totally mundane: those times, especially over the past year, when she’d wake with no idea where she was. Nothing looked familiar—not the French wardrobe that she’d inherited from her mother, not the red stool that she used as a bedside table, nor the room itself with windows on one side and a mirrored closet on the other. She’d look at a shape in the wall, wondering what it was. It might be dark or light, depending upon a number of factors. When sense trickled back and showed her that the rectangular shape was a door, she’d puzzle over where it might lead, whether someone might come through it. It was terrifying to feel so disoriented, so in the wrong place. She blamed the house; it had never been quite right.

To kill time, she went to Whole Foods, a store she loved to hate, but as soon as she stepped under the buzzing fluorescent lights and heard “Purple Rain” playing in the background she couldn’t think of a thing she needed. She was surprised management hadn’t done a study that showed that playing Prince so soon after his death was a bummer and dampened middle-aged women’s desire to buy $14 pieces of blue cheese. Was she even middle-aged? She didn’t want to think about it. At the front of the store, a man was giving away free samples of mint-flavored water. It was dumb to use plastic cups the size of thimbles, but Liza grabbed one anyway, took a sip, and promptly spit it out.

“You don’t like it?” sample man said. He had a John Deere cap and one of those big bushy beards that was favored by hipsters. The Sunday funnies were tattooed on his arms.

“What’s the point?”

“Refreshment,” the man said. “Enjoyment.”

It was hard to read his tone: ironic? sincere? “It tastes like cheap gum.”

His beard bobbed up and down as he frowned. “Look, lady, I’m just the messenger.”

“When did plain water stop being refreshing?”

“Consumers’ taste buds have evolved.”

“Boy, you drank the Kool-Aid,” she said.

He looked blankly at her.

“Never mind,” she said, handing him back the cup. “You’re too young. Be sure to upcycle that.”

She left the store with two apples that she hoped would be crisp, a handful of firm red grapes that she knew were good because she’d sampled them, a small block of really sharp cheddar, and walnuts.

 

When Liza arrived home, she was thinking about how irritated the checkout people at Whole Foods became when they saw that she had not bagged her fruit. They also despised her for using paper bags for bulk and not writing down the bin numbers. (They had to make themselves useful in some way.) But plastic bags were overrated and ecologically hazardous, and what was the point when she could stash the grapes in her crisper or even a bowl with a plate for a lid. Or leave them on the counter because the more she read about refrigeration, the more she was beginning to think it was overrated, too. After she put away the groceries, she poured herself a glass of water (it was filtered water, okay, she wasn’t perfect) and threw herself down on the couch. By midafternoon, she was better off dealing with fictional characters who were more interesting and less predictable that actual people. She couldn’t remember the name of the novel she’d been reading that morning—that happened a lot, it was annoying, she had to write things down—but it was about a man who believed that his wife was poisoning him. They’d had a long and happy marriage, though lately the man, who’d quit working earlier than most (just like she had) and had started building exquisite little wooden boxes in his many spare hours, suspected his wife of having an affair. When she went to the grocery store, she wore a dress. When she came in with the mail, she was smiling. Most damning, she told the man day and night that she loved him. He had no real proof she was poisoning him, only that she’d started serving him soft things like chocolate mousse and lemon pudding for dessert, and his mind often felt fuzzy. It wasn’t Liza’s usual kind of book, but it was entertaining. She had a hunch the wife wasn’t having an affair, and the husband was losing his mind. But that also seemed too obvious, especially since she was only midway through. There had to be a twist. She sometimes worried that Lloyd had a lady on the side. She didn’t really know how he filled his free time up in Phoenix. But then she thought about how much they loved each other, and the idea seemed ludicrous. As she’d grown older, she’d gotten better at wriggling out of the grip of her fears. She sat up to get her novel, but it wasn’t there (on the side table, on one of the three stools she used as ad hoc coffee tables, anywhere where she would have normally left it). Now that she looked around, she saw that all her books were gone. Her novel. The other books stacked in a precarious pile. Vanished. They were library books, damn it. They were overdue, yes, but she’d worked out a deal with the circulation librarian where she brought Mexican wedding cakes, when she remembered, and her fines disappeared. Now what would she do? Tell the librarian they’d been carried off by a mysterious intruder? She called Lloyd.

“It’s back.”

“The orange-breasted hummingbird?”

“No.”

“What?” he asked.

She was silent.

“I can’t hear you,” Lloyd said.

“It’s the ghost,” she said. “Why would I call you about the hummingbird?”

“Because you would,” he said, “and you have. It’s a cool bird.”

“I have a ghost, and you want to talk about a hummingbird.”

“Calm down,” he said. “Open a beer.”

“At 3 p.m.? Do you not know me?”

“You’ve been known to drink a beer at lunch. Or after hiking.”

They kept arguing, first about Liza’s drinking habits and second about Lloyd’s desire to solve everything until Liza began to cry. She rarely cried. The last time had been Leprechaun Canyon. Lloyd immediately offered to drive down after work, even though it was a Wednesday, because Liza would be too afraid to go to sleep. What if she heard something in the middle of the night? She didn’t believe in anything, except that luck was blind, and when you were dead, you were dead.

“I’ll be fine,” she told Lloyd, blowing her nose into a paper towel. “No need to burn a boatload of fossil fuel just because the house is getting cleaner.”

“I have a Prius, sweetie. Remember?”

“Oh, right,” she said. “I forgot. That’s weird.”

“You sure?”

“Are you fucking with me?”

“No, I meant are you sure you’re okay.”

“Of course, I’m okay,” she said. “I’m so okay, I’m spiffy.”

 

That time she’d been stuck in the Leprechaun, after an hour or two had passed, she thought that maybe this was it for her. End of the line. There were plenty of places where the canyon divided. She was certain she’d been going the right way, but being right wouldn’t matter if Carl or Jim had headed down another branch. Maybe their way would peter out and they’d turn around. Maybe it wouldn’t. She tried to distract herself by singing but could only remember marching songs, and it was too depressing to sing about moving when you were stuck. What if it started to rain and the canyon flooded? Then, her mind swung around, and she wondered how long she could survive without water. Her mouth got dry. She thought about how Native Americans danced for three days straight without food or drink. Jan had done some ritual like that once. That was the thing they tiptoed around—spiritual shit. Jan, for all her pluck, was a believer. Maybe Liza could last six days if she wasn’t moving or sweating much. It was lucky she wasn’t claustrophobic, or she’d probably perish from fear. What if something came along and attacked her? A mountain lion. A bear. A snake. Bees. It wouldn’t matter if she survived then. She’d lose it, go out of her mind. Could she literally be stung to death? What if nothing happened? No one came, and nobody found her.

“Hello, Nobody,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nobody, this is No One,” she said, “No one, this is Nobody.”

The ground was starting to get cold, and her left leg tingled with sleep. Her arms ached from being stretched out in front of her. She tried to shimmy forward for the hundredth time but her shoulders were too broad. Then she tried to push herself backwards but she couldn’t lift her arms high enough to get any leverage.

She screamed and tried to struggle, but there was not enough room. Her hip stung as though she’d scraped it. Maybe she was bleeding. That was not good. Fresh blood would draw animals. Even bugs. If she felt something crawling on her, she would seriously freak out.

“Stay calm, Liza,” she said and hummed a bit. Her voice, vibrating at the back of her neck, was friendly and soothing. Stay calm. Calm, Liza. Calm. Stay calm. If she lost her nerve, that would be the end of her. She thought about making decorative boxes, one of her hobbies. Measuring the cardboard. Cutting it. Measuring the paper. Covering the cardboard with a thin layer of paste, applying the paper. She put the pieces between wax paper and placed them under tall stacks of heavy books. She constructed little hinges. When the boxes were finished, she lined them up on her bookshelf, each one empty, each one waiting to be filled. This was one of the few things, besides climbing and canyoneering, for which she had the patience to be precise.

“Help,” she cried. “Help.”

She called out for five minutes and then rested. She had enough sense to preserve her voice.

It grew colder and then dark. She had no idea how much time had passed. Night came much earlier in the canyon. It could still be hot and bright up above. It could be cocktail hour. Maybe Carl and Jim were mixing camp margaritas. Lloyd loved tequila. Liza loved Lloyd. The only reason he wasn’t on this trip was because some bigwig was being audited. The other guys would be opening their Nalgenes of scotch. She licked her lips, pretending she was sucking the salt from the rim of a margarita glass. She was so thirsty. Her whole body was sore, her left calf was cramping. She flexed her toes as much as was possible in her boots. Would it get cold enough that hypothermia was a risk? The instant she thought about trying to stay awake, her eyes were closing.

 

The things that kept happening, inexplicable and also mundane. A cocktail shaker appeared. (She and Lloyd found that a mason jar and a fine sieve were adequate.) A six-pack of beer vanished. The silverware drawer seemed more organized. The toilet looked cleaner. When a new packet of wheat biscuits went missing, she went to Whole Foods the next day, clutching her receipt for the wrong date and accused them of sloppy bagging. When she couldn’t find something, she wasn’t sure whether to blame herself or the ghost. Then something would show up that she hadn’t seen for years: a photograph of her grandmother in a halter top; a small bowl carved from black walnut; her mother’s engagement ring. She’d suffered intensely when she’d lost that ring. She was wearing it, and then she wasn’t. She was impulsive. Unappreciative. Crap at taking care of things. Lloyd took apart the kitchen sink plumbing just in case it had slipped down the drain, but all they recovered was a slimy wishbone. And now some seven years later, it turned up in her top dresser drawer inside the case meant for her mouthguard, except she had lost that on a backpacking trip years ago.

“Are you sure someone’s not sneaking into your house?” Jan asked several weeks later over tacos and horchata at the one taqueria that was authentic, but not too authentic for white people. Liza had never seen the point of eating cactus. “Isn’t the side door always unlocked?” “Why would anyone sneak into my house?”

“Why wouldn’t they?” Jan said.

“I would never sneak into my house.”

Jan said nothing.

“What?” Liza said.

Jan sighed dramatically, “Never mind.”

 

When she woke up, and she didn’t remember where she was, and she tried to move, and she couldn’t, and she tried and she couldn’t, and she tried and she couldn’t, she really lost her shit. She was stuck in a canyon somewhere in southern Utah. She screamed, and because she could not move she dug her fingernails into her palms until the skin broke. It was pitch dark, and she couldn’t move, and no one had come for her, and maybe no one ever would. She struggled to stay awake, but sleep pulled her back into oblivion again and again.

Finally, conscious as light sifted down into the canyon, she heard the hopeful crackle of twigs and pine needles catching fire and then tumbling rocks that gradually morphed into the sound of footsteps. “Hey,” she cried. “Hey, here I am. I’m here.” The sound seemed to come from in front of her. Though her neck was stiff, she lifted her head and in the distances saw a pair of boots and red-socked ankles coming towards her. “Thank God,” she said. “I’ve been here all night. I’m stuck.” She rested her head for a second and when she lifted it again, the boots were gone. “Where did you go?” she screamed. “I’m here. I’m right here. I’m stuck. Please help. Somebody, please help me!”

Before she realized what was happening, someone had grabbed her ankles and was pulling her out. “Take it easy,” she cried again as her body scraped against the rocks. “Thank you, but take it easy. There’s no rush, right?” And then she was freed, except that it was like she was still stuck because her body wasn’t working. She lay there for who knows how long, trying to move her limbs. Her breath suddenly sounded very loud, and she realized she was panting. “Carl?” she said, but no one answered. Turning over to her left side, curled like a shrimp, she tentatively bent one leg, then the other. When she got back to civilization, she was going to have a chocolate milkshake. And a large order of fries covered in ketchup and mayo. She heard someone talking about sweet potato fries. Onion rings. “My god, I’m happy you came along,” she said. “Dinner’s on me.” When she finally managed to sit up, she was alone, the smooth canyon walls rising on both sides, the pale blue sky slashed above her. Someone had dragged her from her rocky tomb. She didn’t think about everything she would do differently. She wept, and while she was weeping, she popped a stone into her mouth, a trick she’d learned for making more saliva, and started the long limp back, still crying until her body stopped producing tears.

 

Here she is in the Arizona Room, lying on a red couch that belonged to her mother and used to be nice until the cat scratched it up good. The room seems less cluttered in some way that Liza can’t quite put her finger on. Are the screens cleaner? Are there fewer cobwebs hammocking the corners? Where has all the dust gone? She thinks back to Leprechaun Canyon. Maybe if she stayed, the ghost wouldn’t be here. Does the yard look different? Is the air cleaner? Someone bangs on the side door and then it is opening. The windows chatter in response.

“Scram!” she yells. “Amscray!”

Grabbing a brass candlestick that she’s been using for a doorstop and a broom that is collecting dust, she steps into the house to confront her intruder, to fell him, to tell him to leave her the hell alone. Stop your meddling. She likes her house just the way it is, thank you very much. She winds up to swing the candlestick, but the man, dressed in a plaid shirt and khakis, is busy pulling a carton of half and half from a plastic bag. Plastic bag! She hates plastic! Why didn’t he bring his own bag, or at least get paper! And how does he know her half and half went sour that morning so that she has been drinking her coffee bitter and black all day.

“Shit, are you trying to kill me?” The man takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

“Lloyd?” Of course it’s Lloyd.

“I told you I was coming,” Lloyd says.

“You did?” she asks.

“I think I should move in.” He reaches and pulls her into a big Lloyd hug. “It’s about time.”

“You want to move here,” she says, “into this haunted shithole. You think it’s going to improve, but it’s not. It’s all going to fall apart.”

“Funny,” he says, except that it’s not funny, not for now at least. The house is changing so much, she barely recognizes herself.

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