Au Revoir, Gopher

Bill Murray won’t leave the apartment. Get off the couch, I say. Bill Murray gives me his hangdog look. It’s not as attractive in real life as it is in the movies. I don’t feel moved when you look at me that way, I say. That’s what they always say, Bill Murray says. Bill Murray puts a cushion over his head as if that resolves it. I stamp my feet and point to the door. Leave, I say. From under the cushion comes a snore. I know you can hear me, I say. Outside, birds are waking. Inside, Bill Murray is fake sleeping. I’m warning you, I say. But Grace will miss me, Bill Murray says, voice muffled. Grace is asleep in her crib. Grace won’t even notice, I say, but I hesitate as always and Bill Murray stays. 

When I opened the apartment door and found Bill Murray on the welcome mat, I said, What do you want? Bill Murray shrugged and looked a little sheepish. This is just what I do now, Bill Murray said. I’m here to help. You’re a week late, I said. My husband was the fan of yours. Bill Murray smiled like he’d found his opening and said, Actually, I’m the fan of your husband. You should’ve come to the funeral then, I said. I tried to slam the door but Bill Murray stuck his soft shoe into the jam and said, I can change diapers. Grace was crying because I’d slept past the end of her afternoon nap. Her sobs echoed down the hallway. Until dinner then, I said.

What’s for breakfast? Bill Murray says from beneath his cushion. Bill Murray won’t go to Safeway. Bill Murray won’t replace the toilet paper or scrape hair from the shower. Bill Murray doesn’t make coffee because I “do it so much better.” Nothing for you, I say. Bill Murray’s shoulders slump and his mouth quivers like I’ve told him one day he won’t matter. Peanut butter on bread, I say. Grace makes small yearning noises and Bill Murray lumps himself off the couch and shuffles over to her crib. Hello sunshine, Bill Murray says, and she smiles up at him. 

We eat breakfast at the table. It’s littered with pastel cards and flowers. Bill Murray airplanes toast into Grace’s mouth and Grace waves a spoon at Bill Murray. Bill Murray airplanes toast into his own mouth and Grace drops her spoon on the floor. My mother calls. I’m great, I say, and hang up after a few minutes. When she calls back Bill Murray answers. Heather, Bill Murray says, I understand you’re worried, but what your daughter really needs right now is peace.

Bill Murray hangs up for me and winks. Mothers love me, Bill Murray says, and smirk-shrugs as if to say it’s not his fault his charm is one of the universe’s only guarantees. When my mother texts, We don’t have to talk I just want to know you and Grace are okay, I hold my phone to him. You’re not helping, I say. Bill Murray flaps a hand at me and waves the phone away. I’m not making things worse, says Bill Murray.

The day is bright so we head for the playground. When the neighbor across the hall stops Grace and me to dole out another round of sympathy Bill Murray intervenes. Sorry bud, we don’t have time to chat today, Bill Murray says, and keeps us moving. Once we’ve left the building and Grace is running down the sidewalk Bill Murray looks at me as if he expects a thank you. You leave tomorrow, I say. Bill Murray rolls his eyes as if that’s a legitimate rebuttal. You have no respect for boundaries, I say.

Bill Murray leaves his socks in the sink. Bill Murray buys a new toothbrush almost every day but doesn’t throw the old ones away. I forgot I bought one already, Bill Murray says when I confront him. But they’re barely used, Bill Murray complains when I toss them. Bill Murray’s vodka balloons the freezer. Bill Murray’s ho-ho cake wrappers maroon the couch. If I didn’t know better I’d believe Grace and I were squatting in Bill Murray’s apartment. I don’t want a new roommate, I say, and I don’t want to see you everyday, but Bill Murray is chasing Grace across the park as if it doesn’t matter what I say. 

By the swings Grace claps her hands and looks at me expectantly. I hoist her into the saddle and give the swing a little rattle and Grace giggles. I push the chains and she cackles. Great job, kiddo, Bill Murray says. It’s unclear if he’s talking to Grace or me. Bill Murray tips an invisible hat and saunters away to mingle with a bench of strollers and ladies. Grace is too caught up in swinging to notice this abandonment. She lives entirely in the moment. She’s shocked every time her diapers are changed. Every time she cries it’s for the very first time. She doesn’t miss her dad. She isn’t old enough to even talk. Daddy, daddy, daddy, my husband used to say. Babble, babble, babble, Grace would say. Yes, exactly, my husband would say, because he used to pretend she was perfect and everything would be okay. 

Babble babble babble. Bill Murray is leaning over the mothers and smiling. Even from this distance it’s obvious Bill Murray’s talking about Bill Murray. You know I don’t ever check my mail? You know I’ve never owned a phone? Bill Murray isn’t worried about missed opportunities. If Bill Murray’s meant to star in the next record-breaking romantic comedy the universe will see it through. You know I don’t know how to type? You know I don’t have an ID? You know I don’t even know the name of this city? No, don’t tell me. Bill Murray isn’t afraid. Bill Murray is confident the universe unfolds with meaning. 

From the swings Grace and I go to the slide. From the slide we go to the sandpit. From the sandpit we go to the shade. From the shade I wave to Bill Murray, but Bill Murray is busy with the ladies. I bundle Grace into her stroller and leave the park with the feeling that maybe we’re finally free. But Bill Murray tips his invisible hat to his audience. Wait! Bill Murray shouts. Bill Murray jogs after us. I don’t wait. Slow down! Bill Murray calls. I don’t slow down. Bill Murray stumbles and clutches his heart. I don’t turn around. Bill Murray will do anything for attention.

The apartment is hot. Grace is cranky. Bill Murray is sweaty. I hustle Grace through lunch and tuck her into bed. I lie down on the mattress I’ve squished beside her crib. Bill Murray cracks ice and sloshes liquid in the kitchen. Drinking at one o’clock, I hiss when Bill Murray sulks into the living room. Don’t throw stones unless you want to be hit by them, Bill Murray says. You’re drinking at one o’clock, I repeat. Bill Murray ignores me and says, Turn on the Great British Bake-Off. Grace is sleeping, I say. I’ll watch in the bedroom then, Bill Murray says. Drop it, I say. Your attitude is becoming tedious, says Bill Murray. 

The first night in the apartment Bill Murray asked where he was supposed to sleep and opened the bedroom door as if it was a possibility. I’m not going to sleep with you, I said. Bill Murray looked offended. I hope not, he said. This room is off-limits, I said. Oh-kay, Bill Murray said, and backed away. So Bill Murray sleeps on the couch and I sleep on the air-mattress and Grace sleeps in her crib and the bedroom stays as it has always been.

If you don’t like my attitude you can leave, I say. Bill Murray puts his drink against his temple. Just come watch the bake-off, Bill Murray says, and brushes wrappers from a cushion. We watch one episode and then another. Bill Murray drinks one mule and then another. None of the contestants I like ever win but Bill Murray claims his favorites are always the champions. During our third episode Bill Murray says, I have something to tell you. What, I say. I’m not sure you’re ready for this, Bill Murray says. Bill Murray slurps his drink, wipes his mouth, and then lets me in on his secret. I’m actually Jesus, Bill Murray says.

I roll my eyes. You’re not Jesus, I say. How would you know? asks Bill Murray, and raises his eyebrows as if this question will shake my very foundations. Jesus wasn’t a mooch, I say. I disagree, says Bill Murray. The conversation is interrupted. My mother texts: Check out this article. OK, I write back. On the Great British Bake-Off, a woman’s cake has collapsed. Bill Murray says, It’s not my job to convince you. It’s your job to believe. Bill Murray sips his drink as if he’s transcended humanity. I don’t have the heart for this, I say. Bill Murray rests his booze on his belly and gives me his sad-man stare as if I’m the fool in the building. You’re just a drunk, I say. I stand up and stalk off but before I go I pause the Great British Bake-Off. Good luck figuring out how to get it to play, I say. 

There’s nowhere in the apartment where Bill Murray cannot talk at me except the toilet or the tub. I choose the tub. Faith is never easy! drones Bill Murray down the hallway. I close the bathroom door and sink into the porcelain. I don’t do quiet anymore so I hit the link my mother sent. I close the article almost as soon as it opens but not fast enough to miss In Times of Grief: Seek and Accept Support. You cannot travel this path alone.

I turn on the faucet and water splashes my toes. I search for a podcast on my phone. There are no voices I want to hear except the one I can’t, so it’s back to the Great British Bake-Off again. The woman’s cake is still collapsed. She’s covering it with a mirror glaze. She prays the judges won’t notice and it will taste the same. I watch the rest of the episode but when the boy who doesn’t make it to the semifinals starts to cry I slam my phone against the tub. The screen doesn’t even crack. I try again but my strength is nothing to the glass. God damnit, I say, and am about to shove my phone beneath the faucet when the bathroom door creaks. 

What now, I ask. Bill Murray pushes his head into the crack. Everything okay in here? Bill Murray asks. How long have you been out there? I say. Bill Murray takes this as an invitation. Bill Murray’s cheeks are puffy and his eyes are bleary and he’s wearing my husband’s sweater. Where did you get that? I ask. Bill Murray looks at the sweater as if he’s never seen it before. I jump out of the tub and grab the hem. Bill Murray goes limp so I have to wrestle him. Take it off, I say. I need it, says Bill Murray. Bill Murray says Grace spit up on him.

Bill Murray says stained suits depress him. Bill Murray says my husband’s sweater is the only thing that can help him. You’re an ass, I say. Bill Murray acknowledges this with the half-nod half-shrug of acceptance that made him famous. I let go of my husband’s sweater and Bill Murray sags against the door. Whatever, I mutter. Thank you, says Bill Murray. By the way, Grace is awake, Bill Murray says, and rubs his face. 

Dinner is delivery. I cut up bits of mushu while Bill Murray diverts Grace with stand-up comedy. My mother calls at six o’clock on the dot. I say yes, no, yes, to her attempts at conversation. Grace claps yes, no, yes, to Bill Murray’s attempts at entertainment. My mother tells me she thinks she should come stay for a couple days. Bill Murray tells Grace he thinks his movies should be watched chronologically.

To get the full picture you have to start at the beginning, says Bill Murray. Bill Murray’s hair’s askew but he’s otherwise recovered from his afternoon booze. Grace stabs her fork into her mushu. Bill Murray chugs his glass of milk. My mother says, I can’t hear you. Bill Murray launches into reenactments of his favorite movies, all of which star Bill Murray: “I get it. You’re here to show me my past, and I’m supposed to get all dull-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it pal, you’ve got the wrong guy!” Bill Murray has milk on his chin and Grace giggles at him.

I say goodbye to my mother. Bill Murray says Goodbye, Heather. Grace says, Wuh-bye. I hang up and gape at Grace. She continues: Wuh-bye! Wuh-bye! Wuh-bye! Her smile shines around the room. Now you can talk? I say. I start to cry and Grace follows my lead. Bill Murray glares at me. Your first word! Bill Murray croons. You’re such a smart girl. Your dad would be proud of you. Bill Murray dances Grace around the table until she’s calm again. On his way to her crib, Bill Murray mouths words at me. Don’t be selfish, says Bill Murray. 

I stuff the paper plates in the trash. I put the mushu in the fridge. My husband smiles at me from a photo on the door. In the picture he isn’t sick and Grace doesn’t exist. I hate you, I whisper. I tear the photo from the fridge. I want to rip it into shreds but instead I press it against my forehead. From the living-room Bill Murray bleats. No, I say. Enough. I set the picture on the counter and make my hands into fists. I’m going to annihilate Bill Murray. I stomp to the living room to send Bill Murray to hell. But once there I see Grace, wrapped in her fuzzy blanket, almost asleep, eyelashes kissing her cheeks. Bill Murray is rocking her crib with his soft shoe and telling her a bedtime story. In the immortal words of Jean-Paul Sartre, Bill Murray whispers, Au Revoir, Gopher. 

I brush Grace’s forehead. I’m sorry I didn’t celebrate the big step you took today, I say. I try to add, I wish your father could have seen it, but I can’t finish the sentence. I turn and face Bill Murray. You, I say. You leave in the morning. Bill Murray looks at me as if I’m beyond saving. If you insist, says Bill Murray. Bill Murray lies down on the couch and folds his arms across his chest. That’s settled then, I say. I curl up on the mattress besides Grace’s crib. I don’t think I’ll fall sleep but eventually it happens. 

In the middle of the night I’m woken by singing. I search for Grace and Bill Murray. Neither is in their proper place. I stumble out of bed. Grace! I shout. Grace! The apartment is dark and I can’t see where I’m going. Grace is not in the kitchen or the bathroom or the hall. Grace! I shriek. I’m about to fly out of the apartment when I see the bedroom door is open. I don’t want to go in there but I do. Bill Murray is on my husband’s side of the bed. Grace is asleep beside him. 

What are you doing, I shout. You’re going to wake Grace, Bill Murray whispers. You’re on the bed, I shout-whisper. You needed sleep and Grace was crying, Bill Murray says. You can’t come in here, I say. I can, Bill Murray says. I slide to the floor. Don’t do this, I say. The room smells like my husband. If we linger there’ll be nothing left. Please, I say, but I know Bill Murray won’t listen. Bill Murray is the king of comedy. Bill Murray is the queen of tragedy. Bill Murray survives to spite himself and nothing stops Bill Murray. You’re not our guardian angel, I whisper. You’re not our friend. Bill Murray looks at me as if I’m daft and says, very slowly: Of course I’m not. I’m Bill Murray. 

About the author

Claire Dodd's work has been published in The Rumpus and awarded an honorable mention in Glimmer Train's 2019 Short Story Award for New Writers contest. She received a Bachelors in English from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She currently lives in San Francisco with her partner.

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