You sit in your car for ten minutes staring at the apartment house before you dare go in and ring the caretaker’s bell. It’s a sixplex the color of circus peanuts, your least favorite Halloween candy. But there are no broken windows. How bad could it be?
You walk in and ring Apartment 2. A table sits in the hallway, overflowing with Pizza Hut coupons. “Party house” is what you think and imagine a swarm of tenants under thirty. You have been out of college for twenty-five years. Your house fits neatly into the category “Victorian mansion for two.”
The caretaker appears. His stomach pouts over his jeans; strands of gray highlight his ponytail. Aging hipster? Failed rock star? Or, maybe he’s more of a “looks old but he’s really young” guy. “The word “Faith” is tattooed in flames on his right arm. He’s probably an A.A. alum. No problem. You just want to find a place to disappear into. You are a file without a folder, category: unknown.
The caretaker leads you up a steep flight of white shag-carpeted stairs, filthy with footprints. At the third floor, he unlocks a door. Old cigarette odor hits your nostrils. A dining-living-kitchen area the size of your current bathroom is crowded with empty beer bottles and balled up clothes; dishes fill the sink. Rent here is so cheap, and you are jobless. If you get the library assistant job you just applied for — the only position you could find in your field — half your salary will go to this apartment.
“He promised to clean everything by the first,” says the caretaker. He scratches his fleshy neck.
A deflated air mattress lies on the bedroom carpet. This apartment screams “failure,” “loneliness,” “disaster.” This apartment is your punishment. There is a mirror on the bedroom wall. Your figure is not bad; didn’t Mike label your ass “bodacious?” “Regular” is an apt word for your features, which are now knitted into an expression of alarm. You imagine dying with that same look on your face.
Three times in twenty years, you tried to have affairs: two alcoholics, Mike the married man. Each time, they ended it. Only your husband continues to want to be with you, or rather, next to you. He breaks into a sweat whenever you touch him. Haphophobia: fear of touch. Drugs relax his jitters; they tamp his libido, too. But he says he loves you.
“There’s a terrace,” says the caretaker, who opens the bedroom door to a little porch lined with beer bottles. A robin warbles on the overgrown birch in the next yard. You pick up a beer bottle. Sticking out of it, like a tongue, is a rolled up piece of paper. “I’m mad for you,” it says. You begin to cry.
“What does it say?”
You cry big, choking sobs.
“I’m sorry,” the caretaker says. “You want some tea or something?”
“I’ll take it.”
“Lipton’s regular or mint?”
Juror comments: Novelist David Oppegaard selected Morse’s short story for the 2009 cycle of mnLIT. About the piece, he says, “The Apartment effectively portrays the sadness of not only being forced to move into a crappy apartment, but of moving from a brighter station in life to a darker one.”
About the author: Alison Morse‘s poetry and prose has been published in Natural Bridge, Water~Stone, Rhino, Opium Magazine, The Potomac, and a bunch of other journals. She is currently spit-polishing a novel, The Beethoven Frieze, about animators during Yugoslavia’s collapse. For twenty years she animated everything from cigarettes and glass shards to Barbie doing aerobics on the beach in Cancun and taught at MCAD and the U of M, among other places. Her animated films have been screened at festivals throughout the country and on public TV. She also designed animation for dance and theater performances. Now, she runs TalkingImageConnection, an organization that brings together writers, contemporary visual artists and new audiences. Check out the TIC calendar at www.talkimage.org.
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