Lucas Yao is a queer writer based in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been published in his university’s art and literary journal, Prism, and his fiction is available online in the form of his undergraduate honors thesis, Under the Skin: a Collection of Short Stories. Lucas holds a Bachelor of Science in Biohealth Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. He hopes to one day become a doctor.


by Lucas Yao


My new roommate is sitting on the couch, staring at the TV when I arrive home from work in the evening. The TV isn’t on.

I take my shoes off and hang my coat on the hooks behind the door, sweaty and tired. I am not sure when she moved in, nor do I remember being present when she signed the lease. That’s not too abnormal, though, because I don’t think about details. The last place I lived in had roommates cycling through every few months, and I couldn’t say when they came or went, or if they were even on the lease. As long as they Venmo’d me the rent on time so I could forward it to the landlord, I just didn’t care.

She doesn’t acknowledge me as I walk past the TV. I don’t acknowledge her as I enter the bedroom and close the door behind me. That’s also not abnormal. The last place I lived in, I didn’t acknowledge anyone who didn’t acknowledge me first. If they weren’t interested in making friends, I wasn’t really interested either. As long as they didn’t harass or insult me, I didn’t care. So as long as she doesn’t harass or insult me, I don’t care.

She doesn’t do much, my new roommate. She sits on the couch most of the time in a tank top and sweatpants with a book in hand, or on her phone, or staring at the TV. It seems to be the same thing for every roommate.

I never even saw some roommates in the last place I lived, only suggestions there was another person living there—trash in the garbage that didn’t belong to anyone else, dishes in the sink that should’ve gone in the washer, music playing from a room with the door perpetually closed.

I need to clean the bedroom. It’s a mess in here, clothes and books strewn everywhere and paper bin overflowing. Midterm season just passed; I let myself go. I’ll have to clean this all up soon.

Maybe I could ask my roommate to clean the apartment during the week. She doesn’t seem to do much to keep the place clean and livable. I’ve never seen any signs that she does anything besides sit on the couch. The dishwasher is never started when full, the bathroom is never cleaned when dirty, the floor is never vacuumed when dusty.

But then again, I’ve never seen any suggestions that any of the mess is hers. There’s never any trash in the garbage that doesn’t belong to me, never any dishes in the sink that should’ve gone in the washer, never any music playing in a room I’m not in. So maybe it’s fair that I do all the dishes, I take out all the trash, I clean the bathroom and vacuum the floor and dust the bookshelves. Maybe if she doesn’t dirty anything, she shouldn’t clean anything. But also, it would be a load off me if she did clean something. Maybe she could do something small, like clean the bedroom.

I don’t know if that’s fair. It’s not her bedroom, after all. She doesn’t use the bedroom. But then again, it’s not like she has her own bedroom to clean. Maybe I can organize the space a bit and she can vacuum or something.

I set my backpack down and pick up some clothes, or rather shreds of denim and cotton, and toss them in the laundry basket in the corner. It’s a shame; I liked those jeans. The deal seems fair though. She can vacuum the apartment as a whole, and it won’t feel like I’m making her do work that isn’t hers to do because I’ll do everything else. With the clothes off the floor, the space already feels less messy. I’ll go ask if she has time to vacuum later in the week.

She’s sitting on the couch, staring at the TV. The TV isn’t on. It occurs to me that I don’t know her name. I should introduce myself.

“Hey,” I say, making a small waved circle with my hand. She doesn’t respond, continues staring at the dark TV screen. “So, um…” I pause, waiting for some sort of a response. She remains quiet and continues to stare at the dark TV screen. “I don’t think we’ve officially met. My name’s Emily.”

She doesn’t respond and continues staring at the dark TV screen.

It occurs to me that maybe she’s deaf. I don’t see any hearing aids in her ears, but that’s not too abnormal, I don’t think. The last place I lived I had a roommate who was hard of hearing but hated wearing her hearing aids. I don’t remember how I got her attention, or if I ever needed to. I don’t remember if we ever interacted.

Maybe I should tap her on my new roommate’s shoulder to get her attention.

I walk over to the couch, lean over, and lightly tap on her shoulder. It caves in a bit, leaving a dent, like on the lid of a soda cup. Slowly she turns her head to stare at me. The skin of her neck crackles like a plastic bottle.

“Hi.” I wave my hand in a small circle. “I just wanted to introduce myself. I don’t think we’ve officially met yet. My name’s Emily. What’s yours?”

I wait in silence for several seconds, expecting a response. She doesn’t respond; just stares at me.

“Well, um. It’s nice to meet you. I was wondering, if you have the time…if you could maybe vacuum the house at some point? I can do the rest. I’ll organize and clean things—but if you could just vacuum, that would be super helpful.”

I wait in silence for several seconds, expecting a response. She doesn’t respond, just stares at me. “Okay, well…let me know if you can’t. I suppose.” I straighten up. “Oh, and if you could vacuum my bedroom, that would be great. I know that doesn’t sound fair ‘cause you don’t really use my room, but you don’t have a room and I feel like if I clean the rest of the house that makes it a bit more fair. Okay?” I wait in silence. She doesn’t respond. “Okay cool. It’s…it’s nice to meet you. I guess.”

I turn and walk into the kitchen. I can feel her gaze follow me, neck crinkling further as she turns her head over her shoulder, chin resting on her shoulder blade. I was gonna shower first, but since I’m in the kitchen, I might as well grab dinner.

As soon as I’m out of sight, I roll my eyes. Some people can be so rude. But that’s not too abnormal. The last place I lived, one of my roommates went out of their way to make sure I knew they were ignoring me. I don’t even know why; I think she thought I was the one her boyfriend cheated with. I didn’t even know her name, let alone her boyfriend. Hopefully that isn’t the case here. I don’t want to have to deal with that again. I grab some leftovers from the fridge and heat them up in the microwave.

She is staring at the TV again when I walk back through the living room, plate in hand. There are creases on her neck like crumpled paper. Her shoulder is still dented. I stare at her as I walk past into my room.

The dent in her shoulder slowly shrinks before popping back up with a little snap, leaving a moderately circular line. She really doesn’t do anything but stare at the screen, does she? I hope she actually listened and heard me, and will vacuum the apartment later in the week like I asked.

I eat dinner on my bed and place the empty plate on my nightstand. The plan is shower, then bed. It’s always the days I have to stay late that the bus seems to arrive on time, and sprinting to catch the bus after six hours of working line and fry station leaves me sweaty, sticky, and smelling like oil. Maybe that’s why my roommate didn’t talk to me.

I chuckle to myself as I lock the bathroom door behind me and strip down. Guess it’s easy to be judgmental when you do nothing but watch TV all day. I run the water and, while I’m waiting for it to heat up, I stare at myself in the mirror.

There’s a bump on the tip of my nose. I lean in to examine it. It looks like a pimple, some sort of cyst or nodule. Lovely. Just what I want.

I place it between my index fingers and push at it, try to see if I can pop it or something. It looks too deeply embedded to pop. The surrounding skin is turning red. As I mess with it, the bump appears to grow and shift, moving off my left nostril and onto my cheek.

Maybe this is a good thing. If I keep pushing it, maybe I can move it somewhere less noticeable. I gently nudge it across my cheek to the side of my face. It doesn’t seem to want to move faster by pushing, but it does continue to grow. The bottom bit flattens out, and the top forms a sloping ridge like a rudimentary pyramid. Maybe the pushing is making it bigger. Maybe I should stop.

I stand up straight and watch as the bump grows and spreads; two horizontal lumps are forming underneath. Now that I’m standing a bit away from the mirror, I can see I’ve got cysts on my chest as well, five in a sort of circle like keloid scars. I can feel a pressure on my back, and I assume I must have them there as well.

It’s odd that I’m getting acne; my period ended a few days ago, so I should be on the downswing of breakouts. The cysts on my face expands and protrudes, skin suctioning to the form and defining it as a nose, lips, cheekbones and a brow ridge. It’s screaming, mouth gaping open silently, jaw on my jaw and teeth on my temple. At least, I imagine if it had vocal chords it would be screaming. I’m rather glad it’s not; I’ve had a long day and I’m much too tired for that kind of energy.

On my chest a hand has formed, and I feel its pair on my back clawing about. Slowly they become arms, reaching out in an attempt to grab something sturdy enough to pull on.

Something brushes against my leg and I look down to see feet planting themselves onto the floor and pushing, one skidding on the bath mat while the other grips the tile. It’s become hard to see what the face is doing as its jaw is pulling on my eyelids and its growing hair covers my eyes, but it is still clearly contorted, twisted in some sort of burning rage that must require so much energy. Honestly, it’s all so dramatic.

The cyst stumbles as it pinches off and separates, catching itself on the towel rack. Its skin roils, ripples, pulls tight and loosens. Slowly it straightens up and turns around to face me.

She’s my height, weight, and stature. She stares at me I stare at her, and her face shifts, adjusting so the eyelids occupy the correct percentage of eye, so the teeth occupy the correct percentage of mouth, so the cheeks occupy the correct percentage of face. Then she smiles ear to ear. Too wide. She shrinks it down. Too small. Stretches it right. She stares at me. I stare at her. She looks familiar…where have I seen her before?

I’m fully naked. She’s fully naked too.

I snatch the towel and cover myself. “Dude, have you heard of knocking? You need to shower too, I get it, but I was here first and you can wait fifteen minutes.” I open the bathroom door and push her out. My hand sinks into her chest like breaking through a wasp’s nest, a dry rustle as she stumbles backwards, chest caved nearly through the other side with puff-pastry layers of skin flaking off into the air. I slam the door behind her. One roommate that doesn’t do anything, another that barges in on me naked…this is why I live alone.

I step into the shower, which has already gone cold.

It’s unfortunate that I have a new roommate. I am not sure when she moved in, nor do I remember being present when she signed the lease.

But that’s not too abnormal, though, I don’t think.