“Alone, in Good Company,” by Hall Jameson

Apr 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Melissa’s guaranteed quick fix for depression wasn’t exercise, drugs, or food; it was George Clooney. On a bad day, she could close her eyes and summon him, and they would stroll in the park, go snorkeling in Key West, or sit in front of the fire and talk. His presence in her life, though imaginary rather than tangible, was essential.

George was happiness.

Unfortunately, the George-trick wasn’t working lately, not since her boyfriend Kyle moved out. The absence of both men left her heartbroken and numb, and to make matters worse, she now had peculiar new visitors.

She called them The Interlopers.

She had no control over The Interlopers; they just appeared, uninvited—in the shower, at the grocery store, while she was pumping gas, in the women’s locker room at the gym. They had driven George away—the gatecrashers: Vincent Van Gogh, Tiny Tim, and Lou Albano.

Vincent Van Gogh, brilliant, 19th century, Dutch Painter–her mother had kept a book of his self-portraits on their coffee table that Melissa had devoured as a child, seeing something familiar in his sad eyes, pale skin, and the swirling brushstrokes of his strawberry hair.

Tiny Tim—the musician (not the fictional Dickens’ character)—was another of her mother’s curious darlings. An autographed picture of him had hung in their kitchen for years. A hulking man with a disturbingly tremulous voice and wicked tresses, he had watched Melissa whenever she poured a glass of orange juice or milk, and had frequented her nightmares.

Lou Albano, the professional wrestler, turned manager, with odd rubber band facial piercings and a scraggly beard, had been a favorite character, not of her mother, but of her younger brother, Andy. Lou had been bold, cantankerous, and eccentric—the opposite of Andy. Her dear brother was quiet, intellectual, and brimming with anger. That last part he shared with Lou.

Of the three, Vincent was the most morose, while Tiny was quirky and askew, and Lou consistently conjured the dramatic out of the banal. The latter visited when she was agitated, encouraging the anger, devouring it. After the anger, Vincent appeared, miserably dismal and tragically doting. He would stare, wearing his familiar, fixed, self-portrait gaze. Woe is me. Woe is you, dear Melissa.

Today, she was at Macy’s, because now that George was no longer a remedy for her depression, she shopped.

She sorted aggressively through the clearance racks, seeking the perfect top, or pair of jeans, something to make her feel intact. Vincent stood to her right, pawing through the neighboring racks.

“How about something in black?” he asked, presenting a solemn turtleneck. He held it up to Melissa’s chest, frowning.

“Hmmm. Maybe something in gray or brown would suit you better; this merely highlights your sallow pallor, and brings out the dark circles under your eyes. Those of us cursed with a redhead’s complexion need to take special care with the palette of our wardrobe.”

Melissa shoved the garment aside and turned toward the mirror, holding up a scarlet sweater. Lou peered over her shoulder. “Red is good, it’s bold, it’s aggressive, it lets people know you’re in charge!”

Ignoring him, she gathered a collection of tops in bright colors and headed for the fitting room. She locked the door and leaned against it, screwing her eyes shut, trying to picture George—the strong jaw, the soft dark eyes, the perfect, movie-star hair—but there were only starbursts and spirals, strange one-eyed animals, and wobbly-hooved creatures. Was she losing her mind?

A giggle interrupted her. Tiny Tim had joined her in the fitting room.

“Tim, would you please just leave me alone?” she whimpered.

“I don’t think you should be alone right now, do you, Lissa?” he tittered. “Talk to me. You’ll feel better. Maybe we could sing.” A huge man, he towered over her, his face a pasty plate, a blue-bruise smudge under each eye. His auburn hair toppled in waves from his center part, frizzy and wild.

“I don’t want to sing,” she groaned. She glanced at her own reflection in the fitting room mirror. Her hair was dull; her skin pale and scattered with pimples; her eyes hollow.

“You are absolutely hideous!” Tiny sneered. He began to hum in exaggerated tremolo; a familiar tune, shifting to something peculiar, as if the familiar weren’t peculiar enough.

“I think you should try this one on first.” He held up an ugly polyester blouse. She glanced at the other garments on the hangers: a filmy halter-top; a purple bra with tassels; a tie-dye shawl, and lastly, the black turtleneck that Vincent had picked out—these were not the items she had selected.

She hurled the clothes at Tiny and stormed out of the fitting room, skirting past Lou Albano, accidently bumping a mannequin as she rounded the corner of the aisle. The mannequin teetered, prompting Lou to charge and knock it over. He shouted triumphantly when it fell with a crash, then bowed to the lingerie section.

“We’re the perfect tag-team, you and I!” he yelled after her, his billy-goat beard quivering.

Melissa began to cry as she ran out the front entrance of the store, Vincent at her side as they jogged across the parking lot. She suddenly wanted to get home and hide.

“Get away from me!” she yelled, shaking a fist at Vincent, stopping when she realized she clenched something in her fist. It was the black turtleneck. She stared at it dumbly.

Bells rang from the interior of the store—accusing bells! A man in a red polo shirt and khaki pants shot through the front doors and grabbed her by the arm. She did not resist. She handed him the turtleneck guiltily and allowed him to lead her back into the store. Vincent linked arms with her, shaking his head sadly, Tiny skipped next to her, giggling, and Lou stood on the hood of her Outback, applauding—a standing ovation for a tainted performance.


Kurt Cobain shook his head. “Make some music. Keep to yourself. Have a secret, creative day,” was his suggestion. Princess Di sat in the rocking chair near the bow window, she smiled tenderly. Melissa was so happy to see them—these cool intruders. The usual interlopers were not there.

Please God, let them be gone!

Diana held out her hand to Melissa. Come with me, she whispered. She was lovely.

I will! Melissa breathed. I’ll go anywhere with you, Princess Di!

Kurt began to strum Melissa’s acoustic guitar, and a plucky version of “Tiptoe through the Tulips” drifted through the room.

Wait! That’s not right. Melissa reached for the guitar. Stop that Kurt! We have to go. We have to go with Diana. Her fingers closed around the neck of the guitar, which grew soft in her grip, no longer a guitar at all, but a black turtleneck.

“No!” Melissa yelled and rolled off the couch, hitting the floor hard. She felt dazed. Vincent lay next to her on the floor, rubbing his head. It was morning. She had fallen asleep on the couch. The events of yesterday came back in a rush: she was a shoplifter, a criminal—that’s what the store detective had called her.

She sat up and looked for Kurt, but he was no longer there. Tiny sat in the rocker cradling his ukulele, Princess Diana was gone. Melissa closed her eyes and moaned. She had wanted so badly to go with Diana.

Vincent began stroking her hair, pausing to run his fingers along the outline of her ear. “So perfect. So perfect for Kyle, if you want him back…”

“Stop that!” she yelled.

“Yeah! Knock that the fuck off!” Lou shouted, emerging from the bedroom, flexing his biceps menacingly at Vincent.

Melissa eased into the lone kitchen chair by the window. Charcoal clouds swathed the sky as she sipped cold coffee from yesterday’s mug, longing for the rain, which did not fall. The sky remained urgent, close to bursting, the way she felt. She turned to her nearly blank living room; her naked kitchen—the easy chairs, the braided rug, the kitchen table, and the antique coat tree—all had left with Kyle. The emptiness reminded her of him, the way he made her feel. She began to cry, surrendering to Vincent’s embrace, and when Tiny began to sing “Smells like Teen Spirit,” she sang along in an unabashed, quaking vibrato.


Saturday night. Melissa’s heels clicked on the sidewalk—a crisp, reassuring sound, almost real. Her girlfriend, Tamara, had invited her to an opening at the A-Line Gallery. Tamara, a good friend, knew Melissa was struggling since her breakup with Kyle.

The sequins on the collar of her little black dress sparkled as she entered the gallery. She checked her reflection in the glass: her hair shone, her eyes were bright, and the dress flattered her figure. It felt good to be out of her apartment. Besides Macy’s, this was her first outing in weeks, and what made it particularly special was that she was alone; interloper-free. In fact, she had not seen them for two days, not since the prolonged bout of crying and singing. She almost missed them.

Melissa jumped when she felt a hand squeeze her arm.

No! I take it back! I don’t miss them at all!

“Melissa! I’m so happy you came!” a friendly voice sang. It was Tamara, beautiful Tamara!

“Hi, Tamara. I’m so glad it’s you,” she squeaked.

“I have someone fabulous I want you to meet,” Tamara said, linking arms with Melissa, guiding her to an installation of wire and wood, and a tall man with toffee skin and dark, wavy hair. “This is Paul. He’s the creator of all this amazing work.”

Paul was intelligent, sharp, and witty, and the conversation was surprisingly easy. They chatted for an hour and Melissa felt almost normal. Then she saw Kyle, and her optimism ground to a halt.

He stood by a huge red painting against the opposite wall, dressed in a white shirt and indigo jeans, a beret perched jauntily on his head.

The beret’s a little much, Melissa thought.

A tall Blonde sauntered up and kissed Kyle on the mouth. Melissa felt numb. Seconds later, Vincent emerged from behind the pillar next to Kyle, and walked to Melissa, his head hung low. The string quartet began to play Mozart’s, Air on the G-String, and Tiny stepped out from behind the cello player, shaking his rear obscenely to the elegant music. To his left a small bar served champagne and Perrier. Lou was perched on his toes in the center of the bar in a red unitard, ready to spring. They had been here all along, in hiding, waiting for her imminent return to the truth.

Paul whispered something to her, but she did not hear it. She nodded and laughed politely, feeling false and mechanical. Vincent leaned his head on her shoulder and sniveled as they watched Kyle and his new girlfriend work the room, slowly heading in her direction. Tiny danced behind them, all frantic hair and magic fingers.

“I have to go,” she whispered to Paul, but he caught her arm gently.

“Do you have to?” he sounded disappointed.

“Yes,” she said hoarsely, pulling away quickly, and walking directly into one of the massive wooden and wire sculptures. It collapsed with her snagged in its wire center. There were gasps, as the other patrons turned to look. She tried to free herself, but the wire caught her skirt and pulled her down. She lurched upward desperately, feeling her dress tear. Off balance, she stumbled for the front entrance, but Lou struck her from the side in a full body slam. “Where are you going?” He hissed, as Melissa fell to the hardwood floor. “You can’t leave us!” he threatened.

Paul helped her to her feet. “Melissa, are you okay?” he mouthed, but she couldn’t hear the words over Vincent’s sobbing, Lou’s shouting, and Tiny’s singing. Kyle watched her from the edge of the crowd, smirking, pretending not to know her.

“That beret is fucking ridiculous!” she shrieked, as she left the gallery, allowing Vincent to slide out with her. She turned and pressed the door shut with her palms, looking back through the glass at Tiny and Lou.

“Don’t follow me! I don’t need you anymore…” she said to them, and to Kyle, and it was the truth.


Melissa held hands with Vincent as she walked toward the bridge. They climbed up on the edge together and gingerly stepped over the rail. Vincent squeezed her hand, and then he was gone, disappearing into the dark air. The sadness left her, and she stood alone on the rail, alone for the first time in a long while. That was how it would end, how it ended for everyone.

As requested, Tiny Tim had not followed her. There was no madness here. Everything was perfectly clear. Finally.

Lou was also not there. There was no anger left; she was scrubbed clean by the breeze.

She breathed in the crisp night air and smiled. She stretched and posed, readying herself for the move she and Lou had practiced many times in her empty apartment, a diving elbow drop from the ropes, or perhaps a Moonsault; both special moves for the ring.

The billboard at the far edge of the bridge glowed softly, catching the sequins of her dress. The amber light illuminated a movie poster—a new release. The face on the poster was in profile, but she immediately recognized the square jaw; the dark eyes; the perfectly cropped, movie-star hair. Everyone else had left her, but he was back.

George had found her. She had found George.

She climbed down from the rail and walked back to her apartment, alone, in good company.


Melissa scanned the produce section of the grocery store, looking for pomegranates. She loved this part of the store with its vibrant colors, smooth shapes, and promise of sweetness.

She heard a familiar laugh and noticed Kyle by the avocados. She hadn’t seen him since that night at the gallery, three months ago. He seemed dim against the bright backdrop of fresh fruit and veggies, his gray fedora and its teal feather, a prop. He was with a different woman today, a Brunette, skinny, another prop.

Their presence did not disturb her. Things had been going well: it had rained; she had new furniture; and she was dating Paul, the artist from the A-Line Gallery who had shown up at her apartment the day after the incident to check on her, wanting to know more about the mysterious woman who had trashed his show.

She saw Vincent stationed by the onions nervously stroking his beard, watching with watery eyes. “Do you need me?” he mouthed. She shook her head and he looked disappointed, but only briefly. A smile flickered across his mouth, so quick that Melissa wasn’t sure she had seen it. Then he disappeared through the swinging doors that lead into the store’s stockroom.

She caught Kyle’s eye. He nodded to her cautiously. She cocked her head at him. Between them, Tiny juggled oranges and pears. “Do you want to sing?” he mouthed and she shook her head. Tiny winked at her and followed Vincent through the stockroom doors.

Almost to Kyle, Lou stepped in front of her. “Do you want me to put him in a headlock? A chicken wing? A neck crank? Anything?”

“No, Lou, nothing like that,” she said. Disappointed, Lou bumped the display of cantaloupes with his hip, nearly starting a melon avalanche, but Melissa caught the slide before any fell to the ground. Lou grumbled and walked past her, punching through the swinging doors.

She was in front of Kyle now. He stepped back, flinching slightly, as she reached behind him.

“Excuse me,” she said, picking out a perfect pomegranate. “My boyfriend loves these,” she said, smiling brightly at the twiggy Brunette. “Bye, guys.”

“Take care, Melissa,” Kyle said quietly.

“You too, Kyle,” she said, not looking back. “Nice hat.”

Walking back to her apartment, she felt light. A man sat at a café table in front of the coffee shop near her apartment. The other tables were empty.

“Cappuccino, please,” he said to the barista. His voice was familiar and she felt strangely disoriented. What was that voice doing here in this space? She stopped next to the man and immediately recognized the strong jaw, the dark eyes, the perfectly cropped, movie-star hair.


She reached out, and gently poked him in the shoulder with her index finger.

He was real. He did not seem surprised or alarmed, only mildly intrigued, as if strange women poked him in the arm all the time. Perhaps they did.

She nodded to him. He nodded back.

Melissa was happiness.


Hall Jameson is a writer and fine art photographer who lives in Helena, Montana. Her writing and artwork has recently appeared, or is forthcoming in, Up the Staircase, Blue Earth Review, Redivider, and Fractured West. When she’s not writing or snapping photos, Hall enjoys hiking, playing the piano, and cat wrangling.

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