It’s gorgeous — if the size of a shoebox. Weak yellow floor in the kitchen. We set up a dented card table with rusted legs in the living room. It’s not quite level, but it’ll support the weight of a bottle of Arbor Mist. Snaggy carpet in the bedroom, what little you can see from around the bed. Stained tile in the bathroom. It’s like peeing in a phone booth.
We have no use for chores, and soon the floors are a swirling sea of dirty clothes and dishes. Stripping down wherever. Eating in every available space.
Cleaning up takes me and my mom hours. Still don’t get the deposit back.
I find the walls garishly girly, Easter egg colors, speckled with frail flowers. Even for wallflowers, these are wallflowers. When the heat climbs, the walls sweat nicotine. It’s a miracle. I find the Virgin Mary in chipped paint on the enormous window seat in the bedroom but don’t tell Ex-Husband because he’ll laugh at me. You can hear the river flowing and the train whistle blowing at night. That summer I dream of wet trains, spirits, flying, and men. Our water burns my throat. I think the pipes are rusty.
The landlord frowns on us for leaving in October. Now he has to heat the place.
Every building is the same, but there’s a fastidiousness to the symmetry. Even a dirty place looks cleaner under these conditions. This place has 2 floors. Our neighbors fight night and day. Strange men show up at our door at 8:30 in the morning looking for the woman who lives next door. Everyone’s got to make a living.
The office manager thanks me profusely for cleaning the oven.
We pack up the old lady’s stuff box by box and throw our own stuff in a back room. In every window, she has crammed as many glass roosters as will fit. Their little eyes seem to follow me as I move across the room.
In the master bathroom, there is a tub so big it could eat you if it only had teeth.
I set up my home office in a room the size of a walk-in closet, draw the shades, and settle in for a long tour of duty
It’s a cookie cutter 3-bedroom unit, designed to be Taj Mahal to 4+ college students. In reality, it barely houses Ex-Husband and me and our skittish little cat, who seems wary at the volatile energy between us, skulking on the fringe, eyeing us both suspiciously. We leave on bad terms, with the landlords and with each other. There are burn holes in the rug where a coal from the hookah was knocked from its platform by a nubile collegiate foot.
Winter is cold and dark and brutal. The studio apartment is cute and would be ideal if it only had windows and I could live there alone. As it is, I’m trapped in a basement with someone who can only stand me in small doses. He spends his waking hours in front of lit screens, won’t eat what I cook, subsists off gas station food. I spend most of my time wondering what I’m doing wrong, how I’ve driven him away. I wonder if the people upstairs can hear us fighting. I lower my head and continue paying the bills.
There is something off about this house. The décor is lazy, unstylish. The green rug on the stairs reminds me of dirty sweatpants. Even the room I’m staying in is unfinished, the bones of the walls poking out unapologetically. I feel like I’m sleeping in a ribcage, in the remains of something that never was. I live there 6 weeks.
Thronged by black cats, I descend the stairs. We are the kings of our domain, a pack of alphas, the cats, the birds, the human. What furnishings I’ve kept with me over the years match the walls perfectly. The arms that hold me are different, and yet those, too, match what I’ve kept with me perfectly. One by one, the days convince me I am finally safe, finally loved. Finally home.