On my last day of work I said to work, Today is my last day. The boss just laughed and said, It’s best to get off a sinking ship. I immediately took on the unemployment and cashed the checks the credit card sent. I went home and took some headache pills. I laid in the bed for a good long while.
I endured opening and closing of drawers, frequent sucking of teeth, stomping of feet, sighing and so on. This woman stood in the doorway waiting for me to stir, except I had no way to say I just wanted to lay still for awhile until I felt better. I thought it might go without saying. Could I not go on forever, this thing ignorant to hearts, without saying? I could not and eventually a quiet closing of the front door.
It was only a few short laps around the apartment when I stirred. I was a hinge swinging out of one empty space into another. I’d have a chair in my hand and set it against an opposite wall. I’d pick up the empty chair and then set it back against the wall where I first removed it. This behavior advanced. I began moving all of a room’s furniture clockwise until in four moves the furniture ended up against the wall where it began. Soon the entire apartment moved in circles. Each room became the next room and then the next room until I became this thing moving furniture clockwise through rooms, turning clockwise in the apartment. If for no other reason than to sweep up this woman’s black hair after the moving of furniture and rooms.
It became difficult to tell if it was evening at all. Sometimes it was just morning being dark. There was a radiator hiss or spit in every room of the apartment. The radiator in the living room missing a steam release valve when not present let steam and water shoot across the room. The radiator in the kitchen that did not work but only panged. The radiator in the bathroom without a steam release valve that shot water out but also panged. The radiator in the office with all working parts but dripped continuously into a bread pan. The radiator in the bedroom that worked too well but made a percolating sound on top of the hissing and spitting and banging and knocking. Why this was allowed to go on or why these radiators continued to act this way I do not know. I did not bother the landlord. The landlord had said, and I believed, You’re an ideal tenant.
Who also heard the landlord say, You’re an ideal tenant, was the super in the building. He was an old man always coughing and hacking. He smoked cigarettes on the fire escape or in the front yard sitting in a folding chair I watched him pull from the garbage. He always made remarks regarding the weather: warm today, dang hot today, supposed to be dang hot tomorrow, supposed to cool down they say, might rain, they say it’s gonna rain. There was nothing other to the super than the weather. This old coughing barometer that smoked and watched passers by.
I lived on the third floor. The name sometimes called out to a barking German Shepherd was Rocky. I kept a lantern burning in the room adjacent to the office. Not having any windows, it was the darkest room. Reluctant to call it the dining room, it was without dining room furniture. What else was sometimes I stayed on my back too long and endured indigestion. Mostly it was difficult work keeping the German Shepherd quiet.
My condition improved. Shadows of leaves whipped in the window glass. The window shades rocked out and back against the sill. A rectangular piece of glass went missing from the stained-glass window above the bed, and the stack of books over the missing glass did little to block out the sounds of pigeons or salt trucks rumbling past to put down their medicine.
I made short trips in the car. I drove to the grocery store across the street. I drove to the bank around the block. I drove to the park. The park wasn’t as close as the grocer or the bank, but it was not far. Or it may have been just as far in a different direction. A different part of town. What I liked to do in the park was park next to the baseball field and put a leg out of the car window. I’d roll my pant leg up. There was never a game going.
I met most of the tenants in my building. The hairdresser who cut hair in the city and brought me egg rolls from a deep freezer in the back of her shop. Another tenant who owned the barking German Shepherd and repaired dog tag machines at pet stores around the city. Another a lady who cut off the stamps from controversial letters of historical value and believed the stamps to be worth some money. Another a lady who had a bird that shit all over everything in the house and on her shoulders and in her hair and had a dog she often dyed purple to match the color of her favorite sweaters. Another a lady downstairs who was never home and had the same last name on her mailbox as a famous car dealer in the city. Another a young lady who woke up early sometimes screaming for everyone to wake up. Another a young boy who screamed over and over that he didn’t want to watch a movie. Another a man that threw dynamite off his balcony. Another a lady with two small dogs that shit in the front and back yard. Another a lady who worked at the museum and had two ferocious dogs she regretted having according to a certain look she gave when they went to barking. Another a man with one ferocious dog that always said he couldn’t wait to get out of the city. Another the super who often told me about the horrible accidents in the intersection in front of the apartment building when not describing the weather.
In the evenings there was a tavern across the street where patrons screamed like dying when their team was either winning or losing on the TV. The men seemed to me the kind that come out of sleep at times entirely beaten in cities that sound like Tuscaloosa or Decatur. The women all seemed to me the kind that painted rooms before ever having lived in them. I often thought to attend. I imagined stepping out long enough to wake up in the morning to two piles of clothes. I imagined sitting at the end or the bar, after having slept with all the willing women, saying to myself, I could have been something.
The hairdresser would sometimes leave for me her hair dryer.
At the end of summer I took a phone call from the credit cards. I asked the credit card lady, Are you from Alabama? and she said, No, Pennsylvania. She didn’t sound it, or she may have been funning, but she sounded like this woman. I immediately took some headache pills for a nap. I took more pills in order to nap. This is all I could think to do for three days, and after three days of this carrying on I passed away.
I woke up to the sound of jackhammers.
Two young boys jackhammering away at the fire escapes and balconies behind the apartment building. They had crowbars and iron poles. They pried and struck the concrete and twisted the steel frame of the escape. I watched them kick out the concrete using the heels of their boots or with broken pieces of other concrete. Is what you are about to do safe, I said. Too late, he said and showed me his arm. It was scraped up good and his shirtsleeve had a rip at the hem. Already fell, he said.
The boys never returned with their jackhammer, and I’ve considered that the boy with the scraped up arm and I are not so wildly different. Except the older I am the worse it is and feels, and nobody ever promises you your life is going to be important. You’ll never be as good as anyone expects. You may be strong, but you aren’t that strong. I should have bent their ears. Let them have it. Let me tell you something. I have observed so much pattern of movement over time.
Andrew Richmond lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction has appeared in Post Road, New Orleans Review, The Collagist, Sleepingfish and Fence. He is a collector of buttons and avid dog walker. Moves furniture constantly and updates knifepower.net.
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