By Tom Harrington
The rental agent called just as I poured myself off the Stair-Master.
“Hey! You can get a second look at that apartment on 42nd street that you wanted.”
I skipped the cool down after my workout, walked the three blocks, picked up the key from the doorman, and rode the elevator to the eleventh floor, apartment 1198. In numerology: a one. New beginnings, if you believe in that scheme. I’d reached for all the help I could get. Even the Feng Shui books said this place was perfect for me, and a stunning surprise promotion made it possible.
I stopped shaking, got the key in the lock, and opened the door, excited to check out my launch pad for a new life without anyone around.
For years I’d been carrying enough old baggage up and down Manhattan to need a freight forwarder. There were so many spice jars in my kitchen that I could make a United Nations buffet diverse enough to seduce picky gourmands or pacifist vegans. I always thought a new dinner recipe might change my life, as in, attract a cosmopolitan mate. This time, every lingering attachment to the past, from boxes of self help guides to locks of hair from Matheus in Rio and Randy in Alaska and lesser keepsakes from a handful of other guys, had already met with dumpster death. I felt light enough to float.
I pushed the door open expecting a beautiful empty space filled with only the light and the interior details that had convinced me to offer twice the rent I was paying now. But the previous tenant’s furniture was still there, along with dusty reminders of where some things used to be. I panicked at the thought of a shattered dream. Gasping and thumping sounds came from around the corner leading to the bedroom.
I took three steps closer. “Oh my god”—there was a short, ragged guy in a disheveled magician’s outfit with his eyes bulged out, hanging from a basketball hoop bolted to the door frame. His hands tugged at the scarf around his neck to keep from choking—barely. His eyes rolled toward me and his feet didn’t stop kicking. I grabbed his legs and lifted him up just enough to loosen him, but not enough to unhook him. I stood there with my face in a stranger’s crotch in the apartment where I had imagined a quiet, splendid home, a new leaf, alone.
With a lot of squirming he managed to loosen his noose. By then my nose was rubbed raw on his zipper from his thrashing about. He slid down as I leaned against the wall to slow his descent and he ended up with his face mashed into my sweaty, bare, Pilates-tight belly. I spun away.
My magical friend crumbled against the wall gurgling but alive enough to be giving me the look. I shrugged it off, put my purse on the couch, and walked over to the tall South facing windows that had mesmerized me from the start.
Sunlight in New York City was like gold. I loved the twelve-foot ceilings, crown molding, oak floors, and eight-foot doors. The furniture I’d chosen would be perfect. Everything could be sublime, even if one of the carved door frames had a basketball hoop. Maybe that was regulation for short people ball.
“Not that I live here yet, but how did you end up hanging on my wall like performance art?”
“Brenda did it. She’s been threatening, but today she went too far and decided to do it because she was so pissed off that the manager saw me going in and out. She tied my hands and put me on the stool to keep me here until she got back. I knocked the bar stool over when your key in the door startled me.”
“Sorry, it’s not the kind of thing I normally watch out for.”
“It’s OK. You got here quick.”
“So who is Brenda?”
“She is, or was, my fiancé. When they found out we were living here without nuptials, the manager threatened to bounce her out of rent control. She wouldn’t be able to afford the place anymore. She said if I had stayed indoors like she insisted, everything would have been fine, so she put me here to stay while she went to beg for a reprieve of her eviction. I’m not sure what vengeance she intended to extract from me if it didn’t go well.”
He had recovered enough to sit on the couch.
“How long have you been a—if you don’t mind me asking?”
“House-mate? Not so long, only since I lost my job on Times Square.”
“Where were you working?” I hoped that intelligent questions might lead to a less bizarre story.
“I was an associate lifter.”
“You mean like weights?” Fresh from the gym, I imagined something familiar.
“No, my partner and I took turns attracting crowds with card tricks and stupid shenanigans while the other picked their pockets.”
“My partner got busted. The undercover cops believed me when I claimed to be a separate act.”
“I hate to end this exciting rendezvous, but I’ve got to go home and get ready for a real job. You got a place to go,—what’s your name?”
“Eddie. Yeah, I got friends.”
“That bag all you got?”
“Yeah, I was already in transition.”
“Well Eddie, I don’t know what to say, except, see you around.”
“Right, I’m sure of that.”
I grabbed my purse from the couch and followed Eddie out the door, turned around for another look at my dream, and locked up behind me.
He was gone in a second before I even had a chance to decide whether or not to get in the same elevator. As soon as I landed in the lobby, I had the rental agent on the phone.
“What’s up, I thought the place was empty.”
“The movers and cleaners come later today.”
“What’s up with the abandoned fiancé?”
“Oh yeah, Eddie. I forgot to tell you. He forced us to file eviction papers which takes time.”
“No worries, he’s gone.”
“How did you get rid of him?”
“We’ll talk. When do I sign the lease?”
“How about right now?”
“Perfect. If we can make it quick.” I hung up and checked in my purse to make sure I had my wallet and credit cards.
NO, NO. “Eddie! THIS is your thanks for me saving your life?” I steadied myself against the elevator wall before flinging myself after him.
Tom lives Morro Bay, California, with his partner Susan, and the ghost of Ginger his dog, his first great audience. He reincarnated his dream of writing. Tom’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in If and When, Solo Novo, Askew, Gravel, Front Porch Review, First Literary Review East, and Drabble. Tom’s chapbook, Tornado Man, was published in 2019. Some of his favorite writers are Ellen Bass, Natasha Trethaway, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ada Limon, Glenna Luschei, Tomas Morin, Ted Kooser, Jim Harrison, Billy Collins and WS Merwin. The Cambria Writer’s Workshop nourishes Tom and his writing.