“Do you ever feel like you’re losing it?” she asks. We just finished dinner—shrimp fajitas from La Cocina—and Chloe glares at me across the table. She’s smiling the smile that, in a former time, I might have perceived as an opening, but by now has already changed into something else.
“What do you mean?” I say. I’m leaning in too close, I know, my elbows hunched over the table. I’d insisted on keeping the sitting table, which I bought at an estate sale when Chloe and I moved in together. The rest we split fifty-fifty. It must have looked ridiculous the day I came home with it: a table in the living room and not a single other thing to my name.
“I wake up in the morning and I can’t find what I left out the night before,” Chloe says, pressing a napkin to her unmade lips.
“Where all have you looked?” She hasn’t asked me over to her new apartment yet, but I can picture what’s inside.
“Everywhere,” she says, taking in the whole of the room. The shoji screens are drawn in from the walls and there are candles flickering on the table. It’s a trick I learned from a video a friend posted about how to make plain spaces more intimate. It feels now like we’re floating in a cloud, a refuge of gray and white entirely our own.
“I swear I think my new place is haunted,” Chloe says. “Like someone is moving my stuff in the night.”
I stifle a laugh. “Like your clothes are sprouting ears and hopping like a rabbit?”
“Jun,” she says, rolling her eyes, “I’m serious. Nothing is ever where I left it.”
I remember when I first moved to San Francisco. Friends lectured me all about soaring rent prices, homelessness, summer nights that made you curse not bringing an extra jacket. But they’d neglected to mention the most basic warning of all.
“I think I’m the wrong person to ask,” I say, taking a sip from my glass. “My things have a history of disappearing.”
I’d been driving through Petaluma when it happened. Chloe and I had been doing long-distance for a couple years, flying to see each other every month, when we finally decided to bite the bullet and move in. I packed up everything I owned and took off down the coast. It was just after noon when I stopped for lunch. The sun was radiating its amber glow, and I didn’t think for a minute about leaving my car out in the parking lot. But by the time I’d finished my meal and walked back out, there were shards of blue glass encircling the car. The window had been smashed clean through with a hammer. I lost everything I’d had inside.
Chloe pours a glass from the growler she brought. Kombucha—she insisted—because she’s driving, though I suspect it’s because she doesn’t want to be tempted, however remote, to spend the night.
“I’m sorry I mentioned it,” Chloe says, bringing a hand to her face. “I can’t believe I forgot.”
“Don’t be,” I say. I firm up my gaze, but I’ve never been good at masking my emotions. “Water under the bridge.”
For months after the incident, I didn’t drive. I never left a bag unattended. I even carried the table back from the estate sale on the BART. It was the first impression I had of California, this feeling that I had to always remain vigilant. Get too comfortable and you could lose everything.
“Well, I didn’t forget about the way you keep a place,” I say, forcing a chuckle. I admit I even adopted some of Chloe’s messiness after we broke up: wineglasses in the sink, rice cooker left out overnight. It felt weird to remind her to take her shoes off when she came in. “It might be lurking somewhere else.”
The truth is that it didn’t matter to lose it. The computer, the clothes, the whole car full of things. I would have given that up and more. I was just so glad to be living with Chloe that everything else—new friends, new job, starting over in California—seemed bearable.
Chloe looks at me, but her eyes have grown dim, the spark extinguished. “Jun, we’ve been over this,” she says.
“I know,” I say, holding both hands up. “I want this to work, I really do. I don’t want you to think—”
A breeze wafts through the window, the smell of skunk and wet grass.
“Do you think maybe an animal got to it?” I ask. “Maybe snatched it through a window?” I’m reaching now, imagining us in some mid-century ranch in Chattanooga, a pie cooling on the back sill.
But she’s stopped listening anyway. Her head drops down and her hands navigate to the phone in her lap. She smiles, and I resist the urge to ask who she’s texting. I’m glad she’s good, that things for her are going well. When her head surfaces, I already know what she’s going to say.
“I should probably get going,” she says, her legs sliding up from under her seat. “It’s getting late.”
I nod, finishing the rest of my glass before capping the growler and handing it to her.
“Why don’t you hold onto it?” she asks, waving me back. “At this rate, I’m not sure I’d be able to find it again.”
“You’ll find it,” I tell her, with more conviction than I’d tried months ago to convince her to stay.
Chloe shoots me a puzzled look: “Why do you sound so sure?”
When I got to San Francisco, I filed a police report, submitted photos of the damage. But nothing ever came of it. I don’t buy anything valuable now because I fear, one way or another, that it’ll eventually be taken. Still, I know what she’s been feeling. When I’m happy, I go searching for all the stupid things I haven’t lost yet too.
Daniel Tam-Claiborne is the author of What Never Leaves and a contributor to the literary anthology, While We’re Here. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Lit Hub, The Huffington Post, Kitchen Work, The Shanghai Literary Review, and elsewhere. He has received honors and scholarships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, Kundiman, and the Yiddish Book Center. He holds an M.F.A. from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and serves on the editorial staff of the Raleigh Review. A Fulbright Research Scholar based in Taiwan, Daniel is currently writing a novel about identity, migration, and belonging, set against the backdrop of contemporary U.S.-China relations.