Dan moved out of the world and into his nice, new apartment. Then he went out with friends to celebrate. He smiled to feel sociable. He felt like his smile sent a message to the world that said, I have a nice, new apartment, and I’m a clean, comfortable guy.
But then as Dan sat there in the chattering horde, the feeling crumbled. He didn’t feel clean and comfortable. He couldn’t remember if his apartment was nice and new. An inner twilight left him feeling snuffed. Dan’s smile seemed childish and sad. He felt like his smile sent a message to the world that said, I’m a shivering homunculus, alone in the raging dark.
At first Dan thought he needed to find a new apartment, one that was even smaller, cleaner, and more comfortable.
But no, he thought.
No, Dan, he said to himself. I can make this work, because I’m a clean, comfortable guy.
He decided he would move into one half of his apartment. It would restrict him to a smaller space and force him to be even cleaner and neater, more comfortable. All he needed to do was move deeper into his own apartment. It was so simple. Just the bedroom and kitchen.
He would become the Dan he hoped he could be.
Dan had to throw out a blue chair. He had to throw out several boxes of wires for televisions and computers he couldn’t remember owning in order to move deeper into his apartment. It seemed like a loss to him, even if he had never owned the televisions and computers.
But he moved deeper into his own apartment.
He even had a little party—a half-housewarming, he called it.
His remaining friends and even a few coworkers came, and some of them hugged him when they arrived or left.
Nobody realized that the closed door to the office concealed a void where Dan had chosen no longer to live.
No one wants to live in a terrifying void, Dan thought, with only one’s Dan-ness for company.
The next day, after the party, Dan received a phone call from his mother.
“Hello, Dan,” she said, and suddenly Dan remembered all the things his mother expected: his success and happiness. He realized it was too much. He couldn’t be responsible for everything. He was going to die alone like everyone else.
“Hi, Mom,” he said as he imagined dying alone.
It was at that moment—talking with his mother—that Dan identified one of his essential problems: a telephone is a room you live in.
So Dan moved out of his phone. Using his shoe, he shattered the phone and threw it away.
“Hello?” Dan’s mother said to the static-y sounds of the phone breaking apart.
But soon Dan’s new arrangement stopped working. His apartment was still too big. There was too much void, leaving him with only his Dan-ness for company. He was reminded of how cramped it felt to share a mirror with his own reflection.
So Dan decided he would move entirely into his bedroom. Any fool could hoard food and keep a door closed, but he would live in the bedroom. No void, just Dan.
First Dan emptied the kitchen. He threw away more furniture, and moved everything he could into his bedroom. He packed up utensils. Then he made a concession. Sometimes, he decided, he would still use the bathroom.
The living room was done, the kitchen was done, and the housewarming parties were done. The hugs were over.
Dan stayed in the bedroom, not even hugging himself.
It was still not enough. Everywhere Dan moved, deeper and deeper into his apartment, he found little bits of void. In his bed at night there was void. Up near the ceiling there was void. There was void in the silence and void in the songs Dan sang to himself. Even in his bedroom, with the door closed, Dan found void.
So Dan moved under his bed.
He dragged what he could under the bed with him, but it wasn’t much. It was just enough to tuck him out of sight, though there was no one there to look.
Resting under the bed, Dan felt satisfied.
I’ve moved even deeper into my apartment, he thought.
The rest of the apartment was bare and empty. There were no visitors. Dan heard no steps in the hallway or knocks on the wooden door.
In his sleep, though, Dan felt large empty spaces moving around him. Even sleep was a room he lived in. There were voids in sleep, too. When Dan woke he felt the confines of his hiding place as an acute exposure. Even under the bed Dan could dream of huge empty places, with just himself and the void.
He asked himself where he could go in order to escape.
It was then that Dan saw the panel.
It was a lip or a line.
On the wall across from his bed, there was a lip or a line. Dan had never noticed it before. It was painted over. He crawled out from under the bed and knocked gently on the panel’s surface. Dan could hear and feel the void behind the panel.
Here, Dan thought, here in this concealed crawlspace I can move deeper into my apartment and fill the final remaining void.
Then Dan paused. He held up a finger to his mouth.
“Shhh,” Dan said to his thoughts.
Dan imagined he would be comfortable. He removed the panel and slowly cleared out some dust with his hand. Then, slowly and carefully, he worked himself into the void. Once inside, he pulled the panel closed behind him. He could feel it slide or slip into its accustomed place. He wondered if the lip or line was visible now.
Soon this won’t be personal at all, he thought.
MH Rowe's fiction has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Juked, Spork, DIAGRAM, Necessary Fiction, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.