Shifted image

a flash story by Lana Spendl

ELIZA OPENED HER office door on Monday morning and noticed that her yoga mat had been pulled from her closet and spread across the floor. Her pillow, which had rested against the back of her chair, lay at the head of the mat. The book On Death and Dying had been pulled from the top shelf and set in front of her monitor. On it, a scribble: “I read enough of this now. Don’t mind, ritual is fine.” The students she had met had written life goals on pieces of construction paper and hung them on her walls, and the notes were now annotated in black pen. She squinted as she read them. “Become a male role model” was check marked. “Survive” was crossed out.

As she stood there among plants and picture frames in morning light, she felt stunned. She felt as if her insides had been gone through by unknown hands. And the strange thing was that the impact of it all did not feel sudden. Rather, the structure of things deep inside her felt altered, and everything it held in place was now just a millimeter or two off. It was as if the shift had happened sometime in the past and she was only now becoming aware of it. And this scared her most of all, this awareness that something fundamental had happened that she had not even perceived. The computer monitor looked different now, and the bookshelves. They were not hers anymore. The monitor looked smaller somehow. The wood bookshelf was more scratched and worn than she remembered.

Coworkers gathered around the office and speculated. Who could have gotten in? The hallway leading to the office was locked at night. The building itself was locked. That’s two sets of locks. Eliza pulled her duffel bag of clothes from her closet and looked through it. Her sweatshirt was missing and so was her scarf. “But my underwear is here,” she said in a joking tone and blushed. She didn’t typically mention her underwear to coworkers. “You’d think if a stalker was to take anything it would be underwear.” Everyone was silent. Everyone was concerned. A woman patted her back.

Eliza phoned the university police department, and a policewoman came and opened her little plastic suitcase and took pictures of the space with her camera. She took notes. Then she realized that she had misplaced her camera, and everyone looked for it. She found it tucked into her jacket. She shared with the crowd that a naked male student had been arrested in the area earlier in the morning. Perhaps he had been the one to sneak in. Eliza nodded.

When the policewoman left, Eliza told her coworkers that two weeks before someone had written “I love you” on the side of her house. Carved in wood. They raised their eyebrows. She had noticed the note while unlocking her door. And she had assumed that it had been a neighbor or a passerby who had enjoyed the music she played inside the house. Those rhythms that drifted in morning sun as she stretched her limbs in the living room. The smooth woman’s voice that streamed Eliza’s body and opened visions of smoky bars in cities where male bodies with no features moved alive.

Lana Spendl’s chapbook of flash fiction, We Cradled Each Other in the Air, was published by Blue Lyra Press in 2017. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in The Cortland Review, Zone 3, The Greensboro Review, Hobart, Cider Press Review, Bayou, Watershed Review, storySouth, Quarter After Eight, and other magazines. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Spanish literature from Indiana University, where she served as the nonfiction editor to Indiana Review.