I Used to Live on the Tenth Floor: A Short Story

Shannon Waite
8 min readMay 24, 2024

PREFACE: If this is your first trip to my blog, I write a lot of transgressive fiction and my blog posts are resources for other transgressive writers. I offer book reviews, transgressive topics for inspiration, research on social change, and creative writing techniques. The writing below is a short story I wrote. In the following weeks, I will post an article about stalking and then an article about this story’s form. Welcome!

I Used to Live on the Tenth Floor

I used to live on the tenth floor. It isn’t the highest floor of the Watterson Towers because the building is actually twenty-eight stories high, but it’s still pretty high. High enough. It overlooks a lot of campus, but I didn’t realize how important that was until recently when I lost everything.

The first time I saw you was the first day of class, Intro to Psych. You had a terrific laugh. You had slick hair, round glasses, and a suit coat that fit you like it was a tailored Armani. Man, do I like tailored suits.

You said to us that psychology was important, even if we never became doctors, because it explained people, and why people do the things they do. People are interesting. You paced the floors, talked with your hands.

I sat in the fifth row of the lecture hall and that was the last time I sat that far back.

You talked about words. We each speak thousands of words a day and many of us slip. Our words spill, they bend, they are messy. We say things we don’t mean. We grab words, and we have to do it so quickly that sometimes we grab the words right next to the correct one. We say things we think. We say things we don’t mean to say. One experiment showed that people who had first read the phrase “damp rifle” later said “wet gun” instead of “get one.”

I watched your shoulders slump, your throat sigh. I watched the corners of your lips reach up.

I wanted to see you again.

My roommate stole my book last week. She stole it once before, but I found it. Underneath clothes of mine that she also took and threw on her closet floor. She thought she could take them since I’d flagged them as a soon-to-be thrift store donation. So she took them. The book though, there was no excuse, and then she took it a second time. I know this because it wasn’t sitting on my desk where I left it.

I asked her for it back.

“You’re only acting this way because your mom died.”

Seriously, she said that.

Then she said that I could try being a little friendlier, she didn’t mean anything by taking my stuff. She thought I didn’t want it. Was this because my boyfriend broke up with me right after my mom died.

I told her I just wanted my book.

And when she left the room she told me that I misunderstimate, which doesn’t even make any sense but it made me think about your lecture on slips.

I still had no book. I sat down at my desk and I, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I guess I want you to know that I cried.

I come from a poor family, and we were always getting sick. We got sick, sick like dogs, sick like those on welfare, sick like people with broken hearts. The sickness hurts, but what are you going to do? So I left. I started college, I moved East and left mom in Nevada. She loved me like her daughter, but I left her like a son. I went to school and she knew nothing about school and I started dating Spencer who definitely wasn’t dating me for my looks, but then she died. And he left.

I lived in that room for the last four years and by the time she was done stealing my stuff I didn’t have much left besides my bed, desk, and some of my books. My desk sat in front of a window that faces West which mostly matters because I used to live on the tenth floor.

It was the last day of class. Mom would never get to see it, me walking, the whole thing, but I would be graduating. I tapped my pencil. I tapped my pencil once, twice, three times, and then I tapped it to a four-four time signature. You came over to me and tap tap tapped my desk with your soft finger. You whispered to me to shh. We were taking finals and I was a distraction. Spencer told me I wasn’t pretty, that’s not why he was with me. He told me I could be charming when I tried to be. I should cheer up a little more often. I’ve never been a distraction.

In-between drawing bubbles in the shape of a whirlpool with my number two pencil, I watched you pace the front of the room. The soles of your Beckett Simonon dress shoes made a clicking noise as they met the ground. Look who’s the distraction now? Your eyes scanned the room, your palm reached inside your hip pocket. I would miss you.

Later that night, I should have been packing up, I’d need to leave the dorm in two days. I sat down, logged onto my laptop, and the thief threw my book at me. It hit my desk leg and page ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifty-two all bent. She didn’t say anything. Nothing. I carefully unfolded the pages, trying to decrease them, and she left.

My hair is long like a cobweb stretched straight across the corner of a room and I’m thinking about this because it tickled a little, wisped along my shoulders, which made me feel even more nervous when I sent you that email. You scanned in my final exam result that afternoon, quicker than any of my other professors, and I passed.

Part of me wishes I hadn’t passed my test, because then I’d have gotten to spend more time with you next year. Send.

I want to see you again.

Spencer rubbed my back when he told me he was breaking up with me. He worded it more like “I think this will be best for us” but he doesn’t know what’s best for me. Cups of coffee, half smiles from other people, and fitted suits are what’s best for me. Spencer knew my mom had just died, but we were both graduating. We were in my room. His eyes slanted forward when he tried not to look me straight on. He wasn’t wearing a shirt underneath his Chicago Bulls hoodie, but he never wore a shirt under his hoodies. He hadn’t washed his hair in a week. After the breakup, his friend Jeremy told me it was best. Spencer’d been kissing girls in bars, big sloppy wet ones after he drank too many Old Fashions, with lipstick tire tracks smeared on his chin. There was a blond he kept taking home on the weekends he wasn’t with me.

I need you to know that I didn’t really love him that much.

DeGarmo Hall is small, you know. Square, with brick foundation and translucent windows. Each wall of the building is made almost entirely of windows. I could see it across campus, barely, but I could see it. It’s the building that your office is in, and I could see it out my window when I would sit at my desk.

I used to live on the tenth floor.

You never answered my email that night. I told myself it was because you were grading other final exams. You were packing for vacation. You were cooking an old Italian, secret-family-recipe for dinner. I told myself it could have been a lot of reasons, but I didn’t believe any of them.

No. You were avoiding me. You were embarrassed of me. Or maybe you wanted what you sent back to sound perfect and it would take you time.

I spent all night with the taste of my own snot and spit as I cried, on my back, staring at the cottage cheese ceiling in the dim light of my floor lamp. I still hadn’t packed.

In the morning I sent another email. Just want to make sure you got my email. By the afternoon I sent you two more. Throughout the night I sent three. Why aren’t you answering?

It isn’t hard, the internet, to find things. I typed in your name on Facebook to find your city, I typed in your name and city into the search engine to find your phone number. And your home address. And then I stared at the two numbers in front of me like they were a diagnosis. I typed and my heart raced and my typing sounded like the four-four time signature of my pencil tapping and, just like before, I’m never a distraction.

I called. My skin wet with sweat went numb like when you burn it on the stove, and my breath shallowed like the simmering water above the flame. I typed your number into my phone and each heartless ring left me. Left me. I needed to hear your voice to fall asleep but you never answered. Your voicemail message was just the phone number said by a bot. I left you a voicemail, asking you to call me back. Telling you I missed you.

I told your voicemail good night, like a soft kiss, each night for seven days and I didn’t sleep for a week.

I wanted to see you again.

Now I’m in my car next to DeGarmo Hall on campus. It’s easier to see it this way. It’s West, and my window faced West, but it’s far from up there. From here, I see the grain of the bricks, burgundy sand weathered by years. I see my face reflected in the translucent windows but I can’t see in.

From the outside, it’s not easy to tell that everything I own is in my trunk and back seat with me.

I went to your house first. Five, six miles away. No, maybe twelve. I drove until I needed to turn left in your neighborhood, right down the dirt road, and another right until the end of the block. Your house is quaint. Yellow siding, white shutters, and a grey roof with a patch that’s starting to sag. A picture window in the front would have made it easy to see inside if your curtains weren’t closed. What were you doing in there? You should let me see. I threw a rock at your window, a small split zippered down the center, but you didn’t answer your door.

It doesn’t matter that you weren’t home. I’m eating some potato chips out of a bag I picked up at the gas station because I can’t eat in the cafeteria now that the dorms are shut down. Also, I’ve graduated. If mom was still around, she would have begged me to come back. I try not to think about how Spencer would have reacted to us graduating.

Crumbs fall on my seats, I suck grease off my fingers, as I wait in the parking lot of your office. I don’t mind waiting though because waiting isn’t an email or a voicemail. You’ll see me, and I’m hoping to lick you up after work.

Hah. Lick you up. You have to admit that’s kind of funny. Just a slip of my tongue.

I used to live on the tenth floor.

I want to see you again.

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Shannon Waite

Shannon Waite is an author focused on transgression and social change and, largely, how to combine the two. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com