Roommate Wanted: Non-Smoker

by a contributor

a brief encounter by Erin Entrada Kelly

“You remind me of someone,” she says. The advertisement rests in front of her, its corner stained by her cup of coffee. I printed this out as a reference point, she said, when she first came in the coffee shop.

“I get that a lot,” I say, which is true. I have one of those faces. I remind people of other people, but I am largely forgettable. I focus on the coffee stain because she eyes me and it makes me nervous. The coffee shop buzzes around us. She glances down at the advertisement, so I look up and study her. Her eyelids are heavy with liner. The liner sweeps up at the ends, like cat eyes.

“You don’t have many requirements,” she says. “Most people say things like, ‘professional only’ or give some kind of age range. Most people have preferences, like they only want female roommates or males.” She lifts her eyes as a question and brushes a lock of hair away from her eyes. Her bracelets jingle.

“I know.”

“Well?” She licks her red lips and smirks. “What do you have to say for yourself, then?”

“I guess I’m not most people.”

She leans back in her chair. “Me neither.”

There’s a lag of silence. My life is filled with lags of silences, yet they still make me nervous. Lots of things do. Like the fact that she paid for a large coffee, but has barely taken a sip; the fallen grape on the tile near the soda cooler, which could cause someone to slip; the untied shoelaces on the kid three tables down; and the fact that she is waiting for me to speak.

“I have a confession,” she says. She reaches into her bag. It’s a large bag, heavy with things. I wonder what kinds of things are in there. I catch sight of a paperback novel and wish I knew which one it was. If I were a different person, I’d ask.

She pulls out a pack of cigarettes. “Do you mind?” she asks, because that was my only requirement. ROOMMATE WANTED. NON-SMOKER. That’s what the advertisement in front of her says, the one being stained by the coffee she’s not drinking.

I look into her cat-swiped eyes. I see the corners of her mouth turn up.

She reminds me of someone, too. Someone and no one. A person I’ve never met and a person I’ve met a thousand times.

“No,” I say. “I don’t mind.”

Erin Entrada Kelly’s fiction has been published widely in journals like Keyhole, Monkeybicycle and Kyoto Journal. Her debut novel is forthcoming in 2013 from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books. She lives and writes in suburban Philadelphia and is staff editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles.