It must have been short for something, but what that was, she had no idea. That was how she would have introduced herself, if there had been any way for her to do so. It was all that remained of her former life. That, and a habitual motion of tying her hair back into a ponytail.
If someone were to ask her who she was or where she came from, Soph would have had no answer to give them. She knew that this house wasn’t hers, or not the one that she had once lived in, anyway. This knowledge was, perhaps, the most tangible part of her existence. She knew it because of the carpet that, even after the thousands of years she dwelt in the house, was still foreign and repulsive to her. (Actually, it was only the upstairs that was carpeted, but Soph had never been downstairs, and so had no idea.) There were other parts of the house she had failed to explore. After all, it was a large house, built at a time when families were bigger and lumber less expensive. There wasn’t a stick of furniture within, and this made it feel even larger. To Soph, it was as infinite and mysterious as the sea. Within this vast space there was only one place that she felt comfortable, a small nook, attached to the landing at the top of the stairs.
It was an odd and uncertain space. At some point in the house’s history, the attic had been converted into a second-story living space, divided into a bathroom, bedroom, and master bedroom. Soph’s nook was the space that had been left over. The owners couldn’t bare to let any space go to waste and so it had been finished and carpeted like the rest of the house. It was too small to be a room and too open to be a closet. The only thing that seemed to fit there was Soph.
As I’ve already said, it was a large house. Soph knew that it was three thousand square feet and that there were three bathrooms (one of these was attached to the master bedroom, where Soph had never been. For some reason, the idea of it filled her with dread, even though the door leading to the master bedroom was visible from her nook.) The house had been “lovingly remodeled.” Soph had learned all of this from the Realtor who, every few hundred years, brought people to visit.
These people were always different. They were sometimes young and sometimes old. But they always came in twos. When they entered, they filled the house with a feeling of possibility that was palpable even to Soph. When they left, it was as if they took something with them, and the house was more empty than before.
One day, after several centuries, a couple came who, at first, seemed very dissatisfied with the house. Most often, the couples were silent. But this pair inspected and criticized everything. They complained about the color of the walls, the stains on the carpet, the grease on the banister. Soph couldn’t make out what they said once they entered the Master bedroom but she thought she heard laughing. When they came back, the realtor’s hand rested on the woman’s upper arm. Soph, a being who had lived apart from humanity for thousands of years, instantly understood the significance of this gesture and felt embarrassed for the house.
The feeling lingered even after the couple left and Soph was sure she would never see them again. But, only two days later, they returned. This time they were even worse and Soph climbed deep into her nook, hoping they would not notice it and point out how small and useless it was. Luckily, they were so occupied by the cracked tiles in the bathroom that they didn’t look her way. They scrutinized every inch of the house with an insight that Soph could not help but admire. Until then, she thought that she was the only one who looked so closely at these things. They saw the world as she did and she no longer felt alone.
When they left, Soph might have mourned over their loss, had she been composed in such a way that allowed her to do so. But she couldn’t sustain emotions very long. How can we expect a being that can’t even remember its own name to remember a pair of strangers? When they came back, she was filled with such overwhelming joy that it was obvious she was in love.
There was something different about them this time, something missing, something very important. It was the Realtor. Without her, it was as if the couple had shed their skin and become entirely different people. No longer were they dissatisfied and disappointed. They were still as interested and focussed as before, but now it was loving attention that they gave to the house. As they walked through the rooms, the couple talked about how lovely everything was. They breathed deeply, as if they could not get enough of the house’s musty odor. Their hands stroked the banisters as they climbed the stairs. Soph followed close behind in a state of ecstasy that only things like her can achieve. She was so attached to them that she even followed them into the Master Bedroom, a place that always terrified her.
There was a mattress on the floor and a lamp with a hooked head. It filled the room with a dim pink light and Soph thought that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The two people lay upon the mattress, beneath a heavy wool blanket (it had belonged to the woman’s mother; a housewarming present) The moon peaked around a corner of the window.
“I can’t believe this is our house,” the man said.
“Neither can I,” the woman replied
If the couple had looked behind them, they would have seen a pale glowing ball of light hovering in the doorway, like a child of the moon. It sat there, watching them long after they had fallen asleep, before finally bobbing across the landing and into her nook.
The days took on a new shape that was bewildering yet somehow familiar. Time seemed to be passing incredibly slow; each day was filled with a million little events that stopped time and separated the days from one another. At first Soph was disoriented by the change and was even in danger of resenting the presence of her new family. After all, more now happened in one day than had in several hundred years. But Soph found herself adapting to the change with amazing rapidity. She fell into this chaotic and uncertain life as if she had always lived this way.
By the time Soph realized what was happening, it was too late. She was only able to live in their world by giving up some part of herself; relinquishing her own sense of time, which was infinite and vast, for one that was small and focussed. Soph felt as if she were water being poured into a bottle, taking on its shape.
As time went on, Soph was able to return to her nook less and less often. It was like they had ripped her out of the fabric of space and carried her about with them. Soon she found that it was impossible to be away from them, as she quickly became lost when out of their presence.
One day, with great effort, she was able to tear herself away. She wanted to return to the nook, but couldn’t find it. Consumed by rage and sadness, Soph thundered down the stairs, knocking pictures from the wall and shaking the chandelier. She blew out the pilot light, defrosted the freezer, and deposited several precious things into crevices where they would never be found.
All of this went unnoticed to the couple, who wandered about the house in a kind of daze as if, by sucking the life out of Soph, they were slowly entering into her realm. And she was being drawn into theirs. It now dawned on Soph that perhaps this had been their intention all along, to trade places with her. How foolish she had been, to give up her existence as a timeless, infinite being, for this life that was so petty and small.
Her luminous world darkened until she was all but blinded by darkness. She wandered about the house, feeling her way down the stairs. Everything was familiar, but now felt so hard and close that she was in danger of being snuffed out, light a candle. By some miracle, she found her way back into the nook. She buried her face in the carpet, curling up into a ball, shrinking down into something that resembled a lizard. And then, for the first time, she remembered what it had been like to die.
She had been betrayed by those she loved and now Soph was dying again. She could hear their voices, indistinct, hovering around her nook, prodding, poking, searching for her. She knew that soon she would have to leave, to surrender herself to them completely.
Sadly, she reached back and tied up her pony tail for the last time. She forgot that she had once been called Soph, all that was left of her name. It didn’t matter, they would soon give her a new one.