Fiction: Apartment 1C
By Alexis Watson
I always try to forget that low-income building that was filled with some of the bourgeoisie’s of “The Ghetto”. That building where our two-bedroom apartment housed three babies, two teenagers and one addict. Our apartment sheltered us during the early years of our childhoods. It groaned from the demands of the infants, moaned from the exhaustion of the teens and creaked from the needs of the addict.
We were on the first floor of a six story walkup and as the addict crept throughout the night - leaving doors unlocked and ajar - we were afraid of someone breaking in and stealing the little we had. And we did have break-ins - a lot. The rats would break in to escape the cold, roaches would sneak in and hide in the dishes and the bed bugs would snuggle in the softness of the mattresses, couch cushions and clothes. As children, we would break out in screams at the sight of a rat. We would run as the roaches fled each fearful of the other and our skin would be veiled with bites as we wore long sleeves in summer.
Eventually, the rats, the roaches and the bed bugs would seize and live in everything - even our only loveseat. Or maybe it was sold - either way, they stayed. One day, the television snuck out in the middle of the night leaving nothing behind, but a few late notices from the cable company and some chewed up wires. Before that, I found our computer screen, motherboard and chair on display in the pawn shop down the block. We were told they were in the dumpster because the screen cracked, the motherboard was fried and the chair was just too old. The walls in our living room were decorated with framed memories. Those frames captured moments of inside jokes, school achievements and the largeness of our family. Eventually, those framed memories became frameless photos taped to the living room wall.
Our marble dining room table was the centerpiece in the living room. Sometimes we would lay quiet in the night until we heard the soft footsteps of the addict going towards the door. We would wait until we heard the faint click of the lock before we would climb out of our bed. Our table came with four tall metal chairs in which we often assembled them around the table, threw a sheet over it and created a tent. We took turns as we told stories about monsters, rainbows and our wishes. We told our stories late into the night until the rats and roaches kicked us out or until we fell asleep. Soon those four metal chairs became three, then one, then none - all of them left including our table.
Our apartment couldn't fit six beds and so we settled for two - one for each bedroom. Two full sized mattresses worn out from working three full time jobs as our study room, our new table and finally our beds. We crammed our five bodies on our one mattress in our room. We were never allowed in the other room as the door was always locked. Sometimes we would have to bang on the door for hours before the addict would respond.
Eventually, the rats moved out. There wasn’t enough food. Breakfast was often dry cereal. Milk was expensive so it was one or the other and dry cereal and water worked fine. Fried bologna and cheese sandwiches were a favorite for lunch. But we quickly adapted to one buttered slice of white bread. We’d usually fold it in half and pretend it was two slices. Our apartment was often filled with a symphony of slurps at dinner. Oodles and Noodles were a delicacy. The noodles were either fried or boiled and topped with government cheese and drowned in hot sauce. If there were cans of vegetables, we would mix them in. “Vegetable lo-mein” was a real favorite. Our glass plates were replaced with the empty tupperwares of Country Crock butter; our glasses were old Ragu sauce jars and our forks and spoons were often our hands. Our fingers learned to tolerate the heat from the food as our apartment was cold in the winter.
Winter always crept in and overstayed its welcome. It swept across the hardwood floor, into our bedroom and underneath our sheet - penetrating our skin and harboring itself into our bones. We would often cuddle and tuck the sheet underneath our bodies to trap the heat in. Early mornings were filled with us taking turns sprinting to the bathroom barefoot to relieve ourselves and dashing back into bed to the heat underneath the sheet. Sometimes the addict would dart into the kitchen, turn on the oven and dash back into their bedroom - heating the apartment with carbon monoxide for hours.
I often think back to that final day in our apartment. The addict snuck out in the middle of the night and was gone most of the day. On that day my jacket was missing, my brother's boots were gone, my sister's glove and scarf was lost. We laid in our cocoon until we heard banging at the door. We laid still. Quiet. We heard footsteps and muffled voices. They barged in wearing windbreakers with the letters C.P.S across their back. Our breaths’ held. They scanned the taped photos, saw the missing furniture, noticed the lack of food, smelled the rodent’s, and felt winter’s presence. They gasped when they saw us. We laid, huddled and exposed, on the mattress on the floor. The addict returned. Silence then chaos. One of them restrained the addict as the others gave us socks, boots, coats, scarves and hats. They rushed us outside. We piled in the van. The addict screamed. We stared at her through the window. The van roared to life. The addict clawed to open the van doors. We sat silently. The van sped down the block. Eventually, the addict was gone and so were we.
Alexis Watson is a fiction short story and flash writer. She is a native Virginian living in Brooklyn. She likes creating new cooking recipes and traveling to different countries.