Weekly feature by: Susan Monaghan
The temperature of Charlotte’s bedroom averaged in the high 90s on most days. It was an add-on, disconnected from the protective reach of the house’s heater and air conditioner. Giant windows wrapped two of its four walls, giving it a sense of intimacy with the vulnerable desert outside, and the mountains beyond that. Her grandparents had called it the sunroom.
A long-defunct hot tub, crowded by house plants of all sizes, filled the window side of the room. The other side was carpeted in vivid turquoise, its purity of color owed to the fact that it hadn’t been thoroughly lived on since it was fitted. Charlotte had five fans running at all times, but the room’s lack of insulation prevented them from doing much more than generate a dull roar. At night, the stars had been unobscured by clouds for a long time, and Charlotte could imagine that she was on top of one of those mountains just beyond her backyard, listening to the roar of freezing high-altitude wind.
The bedroom connected directly to the house by way of a sliding-glass door. Before the add-on, it had been the door to the backyard, and therefore did not lock from the inside. Charlotte was at least grateful she had a curtain, but it did little to dissuade anyone from entering at will.
“Charlotte, remember to water those plants, they’re sitting right in the sun. Honey how can you stand it in here, I’m already sweating.”
“Come into the living room, it’s cool in here. Bring Hera.”
“She hates it in there. The dogs make her nervous.”
Charlotte watched her cat creep across the carpet from her couch, the only mildly cool thing in the room. Hera was a sleek, golden animal, but lately she was looking a little too slim. Charlotte noticed that when she walked, the tips of her hip bones jutted softly against her skin. She rolled off the couch and crawled across the carpet to inspect the cat’s wet food, wondering if the heat had spoiled it. Without her contacts in, Charlotte could not see the problem until she’d picked up the infected dish: the food was swarming with ants.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get into Berkeley. But Willow actually isn’t that bad, you know? And now you won’t have to take out any student loans.”
Charlotte’s friend Marissa lie on the couch with one foot planted on the carpet. From her vantage point on the ground, Charlotte watched a bead of sweat drop from the back of Marissa’s knee to her ankle. Finally she answered:
“It’s fine, I’m pretty much over it.”
Marissa exhaled in response and stretched her legs out further, bending her head back until she could see the hot tub across the room.
“Does that work?”
“I have a weird thing I’ve been meaning to try. Or at least, I think you should try it. It’s called sensory deprivation.”
“Do you have a pool thermometer?”
“I haven’t seen one.”
“Nevermind, I’ll be right back.”
Charlotte watched Marissa gut and pour fifteen bags of epsom salt into the lukewarm water in the tub, awkwardly stirring in the clumps with a puny wooden ladle. Charlotte stuck the thermometer in the water to gage its temperature as instructed, and read the numbers aloud: 99 degrees. The sun was halfway set.
“That’s close enough I think.” Marissa threw aside the last dripping bag and stirred in wide, fast circles. “Are you nervous at all?”
“No, I mean I don’t think I will be. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in that tight of space.”
“I’ll keep talking to you until you’re used to it.”
Charlotte lowered herself into the tub one leg at a time, sitting upright as Marissa walked around the side to get a hold of the tub cover. Marissa lifted one half over the side Marissa sat adjacent to, bracing the other half to be flipped closed.
“When you’re ready, just start floating. Is there enough salt?”
Charlotte had to bend her legs at the knees to avoid touching the staggered floor of the tub, but found that her head and back were easily supported.
“I’ll stop when it’s a few inches from closing.”
Marissa swung the cover over the rest of the tub, until Charlotte could only see a sliver of Marissa’s face and the orange light of the sunset flooding through the windows. Something about the contrast between the sliver and the surrounding darkness felt Biblical.
“Are you ok?”
“Alright.” Marissa dropped the cover.
Marissa heard a great splashing sound, followed by a thud on the inside of the cover so forceful it was almost dislodged, and another deep thud from the bottom of the tub.
Charlotte’s mother laid her back on her bed and carefully untangled the strands of her hair that were twisted into her emergency room bracelet, drawing a throw blanket over her despite the formidable late night heat.
Charlotte was not, as usual, woken by the temperature spike in the late morning, or the unencumbered light of the sunrise streaming directly through the big windows. Over all other stimuli came the tingling in the atmosphere, and the dancing of bizarre lights just beyond her closed eyelids, and the adrenaline-induced anticipation of experiencing something that she had never experienced before. Her eyes opened. Six ovular patches of rainbow, big and small, hovered in the air, shimmering with a texture made of finely-woven crossing lines, and Charlotte was struck with the sick suspicion that no one in the house, nor anyone else that she knew, would be able to see them at all.
Charlotte observed with awe the largest of the ghosts, hanging in the air mere feet from her bed. Standing on shaking legs, she took one step towards the finely-textured prism, lifting her arm half the way towards making contact. She could hear someone walking through the living room, no doubt coming towards the sliding-glass door, where the curtain inside had accidentally been left open just enough for Charlotte to be seen with her arm half-bent towards the empty center of the room. In one fluid snap, she extended her arm to its full length, and for the first time Charlotte felt something meaningful.