Clementine Wimberly’s best friend in the entire world is Moriarty.
No contest, really. Moriarty is always there for her, and he always has been. His face is the first to greet her in the morning and the last to solemnly bid her pleasant dreams. If she is to have a rough day, or if she just needs to escape the rest of the universe, she knows deep down that Moriarty will still be at home waiting for her, ready to hear her vent about her day, or type away on her keyboard down the hall, or cry over nothing. Even if she never immediately notices him, Moriarty lays in wait for Clementine under sunbeams that make her curtains glitter with hope.
Perhaps the most convenient thing about Moriarty, however, is the fact that he only has to be watered once a month.
Moriarty’s pot is too small for him. It is a hedgehog made of hollowed porcelain, and the fact that Moriarty is both plump and prickly is what makes the novelty worth the $12.99, plus $3.99 shipping. The hedgehog’s nose points out towards the expanse of the parking lot of Clementine’s apartment. Never does he, nor his home, face the bother of dust.
To his left resides a coil clay saucer Clementine made in fourth grade that holds her growing stash of spare change. To his right, Leslie the goldfish used to swim the perimeter of his bowl and only pause to look at the purple flower budding on top of Moriarty’s head. After two weeks of that, what remained was a grimy glass bowl.
Despite the loneliness the cactus has endured since he has lived in this apartment these past five months, Moriarty has thrived on his codependency for Clementine. While he got sporadic drops of water and an impulse buy to grow out of, Clementine would have something that would never, ever leave her. Moriarty is as content with his situation as any cactus could be.
In ten minutes, that would change.
Trish always has something to say about everything. It’s something her younger sister, Clementine, has faced her entire life. The elder always knows exactly what to do, when to act, and more than anything, how to make the underling feel like pure shit.
It’s so obvious that even a cactus can sense it.
Trish passes the gift on to her sister with the “$4.00” sticker still clinging to the bottom of the plastic pot the thing came in. After Trish explains how not even Clementine could screw this up while drizzling tap water over the cactus, the sisters quickly shuffle towards the door. According to Trish, Clementine can’t pick her feet up the ground. And she’s right.
The next time Clementine comes through the doorway, she is without Trish. A to-go box slams into the trash-can, making the brand new bin already smell like curry and raw garlic. The whole apartment starts smelling like it, and that surely doesn’t alleviate her crying.
Clementine, in heaves, stares at the cactus on the counter. It’s now in her hands, hovering over the bin. The quaking of her palms causes the pot to shed its dry topsoil.
After one tight squeeze around the flimsy plastic, Clementine ultimately puts the plant right back where Trish left it and retires from the kitchen.
Her tan arms are up, as if in surrender.
Trish’s gift turned scornful reminder of her baneful existence continues to hold real estate on the kitchen counter. If her water bottle is in her hands, and if such a thing crosses her mind, Clementine will gently shake out a few droplets for the squatter while mumbling to herself that her sister is right, yet again; her tone is indistinguishable between bewilderment and grimacing.
Clementine has to face the painful realities of community college first thing in the morning, five days a week. The first thing Clementine does when she gets home from class is break something by swinging her backpack against it. The second thing she does is explain her actions to the cactus. Nothing breaks for the rest of the evening after she has her confessional.
A month after the therapist’s occupancy on the counter, Clementine comes home and exclaims that her cactus shall now have a name. The girl that sits next to her in Bio that the boy in the back won’t stop staring at has a cactus that she named Sherlock.
She pulls white nail polish out from one of her boxes and paints “MORIARTY” on the side of the pot. The phone rings, but no one answers.
That same evening, Clementine decides to move him closer to her monitor in the living room. It’s only fifty feet from where he was before, but this is an entirely different universe now. She hopes that Moriarty physically being with her would somehow send good fortune into her reports for her classes.
Clementine can’t explain why she thinks this will work, but she believes, and that’s enough reasoning for her. Sometimes, she finds her calloused fingers leaving the keyboard and pricking at Moriarty’s spines. It’s intentional every time. Doing so makes her smile.
Nothing else in this apartment does.
A different boy in the back in Bio, Wayne Cuong, has begun developing eyes for Clementine. After Wayne and Clementine exchanged numbers, it’s Wayne’s voice over speaker that floods the air, combatting the loud buzzing of dead-end calls.
The classmates always listen to each other’s voices attentively and laugh even when there was nothing to laugh about. Wayne continues this personal information ping-pong match with Clementine for days. He asks what her major is, she says Horticulture. She asks what he likes to do, he says swimming and this.
Moriarty never feels the warmth of the computer screen’s glow, save for when Clementine sends her favorite text logs to herself and prints them for her scrapbook. What there is for her to remember is what thrills Clementine more than anything.
One night, Wayne asks Clementine what she’s wearing. She says nothing.
She asks him with one hand what he wants to do to her.
He says everything.
They arrange to meet the following night.
Moriarty’s going places.
After three months of counter and computer patrol, Moriarty is now sitting pretty in a rooster-shaped coffee mug. It’s absolutely too big for him. His warmth is supplied by Clementine’s bedside lamp burning directly above him. Clementine rehearses aloud some quip to say to Wayne about how cozy Moriarty looks in his new digs.
Christmas lights drape across the ceiling to show off just how much Clementine vacuumed the hardwood floor. Posters from bands Clementine has never listened to line the walls. There are at least two lit candles in each corner of the room, applicably used both for scent and sensuality.
Moriarty is still what brightens up the room the most.
Wayne comes through the bedroom door after Clementine wearing a grey sweatshirt with a bright purple seahorse on it, gym shorts, and velcro sandals over tube socks. Once he enters this room, he takes off his sweatshirt that ruffles his black hair to reveal what six years of swim and two months of nothing but egg shakes does to a person. Clementine is quick to reach under his tee shirt and trace these chiseled edges of him with her nails. With her other hand, she caresses the prickles along his jawline. Wayne twiddles with a strand of her hair, also black, also coarse.
Again, she smiles. No quips leave her mouth. The phone rings, but no one answers.
Soon enough, the lights are unplugged and the entire room is shaking. Declarations of Clementine’s love eternal for Wayne are all but stifled by the weight of his body. The box spring is rocking so vigorously that Moriarty’s rooster shell begins sliding further and further towards the edge of the side table.
Then, a crash against the hardwood floor totals the rooster. Moriarty loses a bulb, a flower unrealized.
Neither party notices.
Moriarty spent the night on the ground. Wayne had already left. Clementine only yawns in response.
Clementine hoists herself out of bed, only for her right foot to meet Moriarty’s unbruised side. Her strained voice only allows for a yelp. Moriarty’s fragile body is quickly plopped into a new mug that still has coffee grinds in it. This mug is just a plain, white one. However, it’s the perfect size.
Clementine pushes her curtains open to let the sunbeams wrap around Moriarty. These sunbeams hold him like how anyone would want to be held, and he drinks this bliss through his pores.
Tan hands cup her elbows as she faces the parking lot. Dead air hugs her like a lover through the mail. Clementine eventually cleans to kill time while waiting for Wayne to reply to her messages. She makes messes so she can clean them, and she replaces the soil in Moriarty’s mug four times.
Morning becomes evening.
Clementine finds herself at the window again. Suddenly, she steps back, asking the cactus if he also saw the a golden Kia Soul with a dent in the front that just pulled in.
Then, she wonders aloud if Wayne forgot something. A frantic search begins, and she ends up finding a treasure along the way to keep safe from the rest of the world. It’s nothing that belongs to Wayne anymore, however.
Clementine’s phone snaps in half against the wall before it can finish ringing and no one can proceed to answer it.
The golden Kia Soul with the dent in the front has parked. Two loud chirps echo as the same boy in the same gym shorts and same hoodie from his swim team disappears into her building.
Time passes before Clementine realizes that Wayne has not come to see her. The wrought iron bars creaking upstairs make popcorn rain from her ceiling.
Time has frozen before the window. The only audible creature in the room is silencing her sobs with her knees. The only light in the room is the flickering lamp.
With white-knuckled fingers, Clementine grips at loose dirt and plaster and smears it against the window. She watches Wayne’s car leave the parking lot. Tears drip down the glass, highlighted by Wayne’s headlights. Moriarty would have benefited from being there to catch them as they fell. Her heart is breaking.
Her faith, however, is still very much intact.
Someone is bursting through Moriarty’s chambers, and it’s not its most frequent visitor.
Trish storms in with a roll of trash bags and a broom. She bemoans while tying up her hair that if her sister wasn’t going to pick up the phone after weeks and weeks of trying, she was going to have to take matters into her own hands. As Trish scopes out the mess, she gives Moriarty a sip of her water as an offering, all while sympathy over another living creature having to live in this squalor. She asks the air where all this dirt and broken porcelain she keeps sweeping up is coming from.
Mountains of laundry surround Clementine’s bed. An old keyboard is set propped up against her closet. Trish moves the keyboard aside so this laundry could find a home once fresh and folded, but the second she opens the closet door, she slams it shut.
All she can stare at is the hardwood. Then, with a dry heave, Trish opens the door again.
Seventy-four Wayne Cuongs stare back at Moriarty and Trish. Small Waynes, big Waynes, Waynes mid-butterfly rep on the front page of the school paper, Waynes leaving their golden Kia Souls with dents in the fronts to go to Philosophy lecture 2:00-3:15 MW, or swim practice 4:30-7:00 MTRF, or home, or “Stacey’s,” written in harsh, red marker across some of the photographs. Every photo with this caption looked just like Clementine’s own front door. Several of the Waynes poke out of dried-out flowers before candlelight. In between the two candles that supply this light is a box.
Trish holds this box—small, inoffensive, white— in sweaty palms. It clicks open, and the second her eyes meet the velvet lining, Trish bolts out the door. The box clacks to the floor, and the single used condom once locked inside of it lands on top of Moriarty.
Clementine comes home a long while later in blinding rage once she sees her defiled space, but she is quick to calm herself, reminding herself that no guy as cool as Wayne would ever like her acting all crazy.
On Clementine’s calendar, she has written that she will drive to the gas station first thing in the morning, as Wayne likes to stop in sometimes on Thursdays to get a small coffee with two spoonfuls of sugar and either two hazelnut creams or three. Clementine promises again to be there bright and early the Thursday after that, and the Thursday after that, hoping Moriarty believes her. No one would ever call her again, but that doesn’t matter.
Faith is all she needs now.
Boy meets girl. Boy fucks girl and finds another. Girl finds a new game out of it all.
He would change his location, she would find him. Clementine calls it cat-and-mouse, describing the stares he gives her as he shuffles to his car as ravishing. She has to change her strategy, her accidental run-ins with him all the time. Sticky notes around the room remind the two living souls who inhabited the space that this is all a test of passion. A labor of love.
This is all worth it.
Wayne will be YOURS.
Clementine still makes it a point to send Wayne a message once a day, once an hour, ten times every thirty minutes. She sends him a picture of Moriarty’s new pot shaped like a hedgehog on the day that it arrives, praying that he would say anything about it.
He doesn’t because he’s blocked her.
Gags ring out from the bathroom. The toilet creates reverb out of Clementine’s despair. She stumbles out of the bathroom and falls onto her bed. Coughing, sobbing, falling still.
Everything falls still for a while. There’s creaking upstairs.
Clementine pulls her coarse hair back and wipes away her tears. She looks up at the ceiling like she’s looking at God, Satan, and Trish.
Then, she leaves with her monstrous backpack. The door slams shut behind her.
She can’t pick her feet up from the ground.
The creaking stops. So does the snowfall from the ceiling.
She can’t pick any of her feet up from the ground.
Clementine is now staring out at the parking lot again, her best friend in the entire world at her side.
Someone outside is grilling steaks, but that doesn’t stop her. Once she threw out Wayne and Stacey’s bodies from Stacey’s window, she was on a roll. She tells Moriarty how easy it all was while tearing the lights and the posters from the walls and letting them land on top of her comforter, her laundry, folded or no, on the sidewalk below. She hates that it was easy, how sad, how sad, how sad it is that he made me do this.
There is one more thing to throw, and it’s in her hands.
Moriarty kisses the air of the room one last time.
He plunges down and down and down until the hedgehog’s snout meets the pavement. Pieces scatter along the entryway of the building. Moriarty’s prickles get stuck on the threads of Wayne’s shirt.
Clementine finds one final thing to throw out, and it lands directly on top of Moriarty. The flower Moriarty has spent so long growing back is smashed by the weight of Clementine’s spine.
The air smells like raw garlic.
More people from the apartment gather to lift up the pieces. They are gentle, and still, they panic. Once paramedics arrive and begin lifting Clementine off of Wayne’s body, Clementine murmurs her misfortunes to Moriarty between sputters. She looks at Wayne and the cactus with glazed eyes and a broken everything and asks them why.
Moriarty is fortunate, for he does not know.