Here is the apartment she lived in, long ago and far away. Please, come on in. No need to take off your shoes; this is before she thought about such things. Yes, it is quite a small living room. In fact, this is the living room, the dining room, and the bedroom, all in one.
No, behind that door is not the rest of the apartment. Behind that door is a triangular blue-tiled bathroom, complete with a triangular blue-tiled shower. It’s a good thing you’re thin; otherwise you might not be very clean, if it were you who had lived in this apartment.
But you didn’t live here. She did. This was the first apartment she looked at, and she signed a year lease – her first lease of any kind. She was charmed by the woodburning fireplace. She was charmed by the miniature refrigerator and the two-burner stove and the tiny sink. She was charmed by the wardrobe, and the black and white tiled floor, and the big window that looked out on the street. She liked the fact that it was one block from the subway, and three blocks from the garden, and three blocks from the river.
She imagined sitting in front of that window typing the student papers that would pay the rent. She imagined her friends walking by her window on their way to the garden, or 7-11, or the ice cream store, and she imagined them tapping on her window – it was street level – and calling in to see if she was there. She imagined that if she wasn’t too busy, she would put on her shoes and run out and go with them wherever they were going. She imagined that on hot summer nights, if she couldn’t sleep, she would go out in the dark and walk to the river and lie on the grass to feel the breeze.
All this came true.
At night, in front of the fireplace, she unrolled the camping pad she had found on garbage night. If it was a cool night she walked to the 7-11 and bought a Duraflame log and lit it and lay before it watching the blue and yellow and orange Duraflames. She slept in her clothes because she was in a phase where she liked to get up and be instantly ready for the day. No muss, no fuss. One night she woke to find that her white shirt was slowly burning up. But she was wearing a tee-shirt underneath. Phew. No harm done.
In the morning she got up, put away her camping pad, and made coffee in the tiny percolator that her grandmother had given her. While the coffee was burbling and splashing in the little see-through percolator top, she walked to the market and bought a day-old pumpkin raisin muffin for breakfast. When she came back she poured herself a mug of coffee and sat on the fake Oriental rug she had found on garbage night and drank her coffee and ate her muffin.
Sometimes it rained, and her friends would take shelter in her apartment. They would sit on the floor with her and laugh.
Her best friend worked at the restaurant down the street, and every night she came by the apartment to sit on the one chair – a folding chair she had found on garbage night – to have her hair French-braided. Sometimes she would French braid her best friend’s hair down the back of her head in a single braid, other times two French braids on either side, and sometimes a single braid that wound around her head and looked both graceful and as if it had taken hours to do. It hadn’t. French braiding came easy to her.
Late, late at night, after her best friend’s shift was over, her best friend would sometimes knock softly on her window if she saw the light still on. Then they would sit on the floor and count up all her best friend’s tip money – ones and fives and quarters – and if they were in the mood, they would cross the street to the neighborhood bar for a drink. She would stare at the bartender, who reminded her of someone she knew and missed.
Time passed – a year- and she moved out of the apartment. A single year. And yet, of all the places she has lived since, it is that one tiny room that always comes shimmering up.