I watched a man with striped blue and red socks pedal by on a bicycle. A girl in a black hoodie and tennis shoes walked by holding a cell phone to her ear. There was a strong scent of something like Lysol. I noticed large stains on the linoleum floor, possibly from water damage. The room was furnished with two folding metal chairs and buffeted along its perimeter with wooden shelves; in the back, the aforementioned hot plate, and several packets of powdered milk and sugar substitutes. A calendar hung on the wall with a layout of pumpkins. I also noticed a bathroom that I wasn’t ready to investigate, but hoped anyway for toilet paper.
I decided to release a single cup from its Styrofoam tower and waited for an aluminum pan to heat up with water. I searched for a plastic spoon and found one. Stirred the water in the powder and went back outside to begin sorting through boxes.
I loved junk, part of a childhood preoccupation with going through my aunt’s attic while everyone downstairs talked and drank. Just the fact that something was boxed away and wrapped in tissue paper made it special. Photograph albums with black pages and blurry faces. An assortment of silver spoons, each with a different pattern. Moldy dolls in serious need of plastic surgeons. Dresses and fur coats that retained a smell of perfume. I could lose myself in my aunt’s attic until my mother called me to come downstairs to say good-bye, which happened a long time ago before every year marked the death of someone whom I loved and black became my favorite color.
Now I loved all kinds of color and began digging around inside the cartons to see what I could find. A milk pitcher in the shape of a white cow. More pottery, glass, cutlery, a few electrical appliances. This was the perfect job. I began to arrange stuff along different shelves. One place for each kind of thing huddled next to each other for warmth. It was getting cold. I had a thin jacket pulled over a t-shirt. A half-finished cup of cold coffee sat on the ledge. No help there. I looked outside and realized it was dark and whateverhernamewas hadn’t returned from her storage unit.
For sure I’d gotten myself involved in another stupid mess. I was a floater with a knack for landing in ridiculous situations, a dandelion seed in the brambles. But I also reminded myself that I had managed to find a semi-decent new apartment and had left behind a boyfriend who only knew how to extend his grubby hands. An energy vampire. But what a body! Beautifully shaped muscles, a strong neck, an abdomen shaped by the hands of Greek Gods.
Right then the door was propped open by a large carton.
“Hey, can you come outside and help me?”
She was sorry she’d been away so long. Oh, her name was Vivette. She’d just sent in her check for this month’s rent to the storage people, and had to hassle with them for at least a half an hour before they were able to find her check in a stack of mail. Not one of those losers had logged it into their computer. She hated computers. Of course, the things were useful in their own way, looking up addresses and recipes. She’d gotten a great recipe for scotch scones. She’d bake me a bunch sometime. I seriously looked like I could use some fattening up. When’s the last time I ate?
Anyhow, by the time she’d finally squared things away with the people at the front desk, then she had to begin loading the stuff into her flatbed, up and down the elevator. Up and down. She really should’ve gotten a unit on the ground floor, but they were too expensive. Still were. Those people charge an arm and a leg but they were the cheapest around. Do you think they cared that she was starting up a new business and striking out for herself after years of running a daycare? She loved kids, but she couldn’t do it anymore, didn’t have the energy to keep up with three-year olds. Did I like children? A friend had showed her this place and it had been bingo! She always spent her weekends at flea markets. The place was a decent square footage and she could buy stuff cheap and sell it at a slight mark-up. All the Moms and Pops she knew were looking for a bargain. These days it was rough on families. Anyhow, she’d made it back and she was sorry again she was late. The phone was going to be installed next week. Everything was about red tape, red time.
She took a breath and looked around. “You did a great job,” she said and smiled at me. I helped her to unload the rest of the cartons from her white Toyota and we stacked them on the side of the room. After we had unloaded the last one, she placed two crisp twenties in my hand. “Ten dollars an hour, okay?” I nodded. “Come back Monday,” she said and disappeared toward the bathroom. “Ten o’clock.”
"Is this a job?" I asked.
"What do I know?" she said.