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The Apartments

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I’m not even sure what I’m talking about, and maybe it makes no sense, but there’s no music playing. You know what I mean, how in movies there’s always some sort of symphony going on in the background, playing up the critical moments in the scene. That can be pretty annoying, just when you’re getting into a great movie and they start on you with some over-dramatic horn music, spelling it out in flashing neon lights that something important is about to happen. I guess, though, it could be kind of nice, to have a professional orchestra guiding your life along. If the song ever got too sad, you could turn it all around before anything awful had a chance to happen. You’d never be alone with that music playing, there’d always be that one violinist, letting you know if life would turn out okay or not. Anyway, that’s not how it is with me. My world is silent, awkward. The symphony’s on a permanent vacation, leaving me to figure things out myself, no hints to help me or anything.


The first person I met here was Allegra. She’s a lunatic, I’m not kidding. I’d been walking by myself, trying to explore the place, when she suddenly just jumped out of her room, grabbed me, and pulled me in. I could have sworn I was being kidnapped or something. She threw me forcefully into her apartment, slammed the door, and enthusiastically shouted “Welcome to La Casa de Allegra! Who are you, dear?”


I stared at this crazy, gray-haired lady in shock, my eyes wide and taking in the surroundings I’d just been dragged into. Everything around was some shade of blue or black, even the small piano tucked away in a corner.


You could tell Allegra was a spiritual woman, I mean spiritual in the sense of tarot cards and crystal balls, because there were a bunch of the scattered on bookshelves and tables all over the room. Fabrics were draped wall to wall, candles littered every free surface. I glanced at the ceiling and saw a painted night sky complete with a grinning full moon and handlebar mustache.


Allegra noticed me staring. “Like that?” she asked. “It keeps me in check, so I can’t ever get too serious around here.” That really set her off for some reason, laughing uncontrollably, slapping her knees and everything. Her laugh started out quiet, a nice chuckle, but seemed to grow into a full-blown attack as she kept laughing even longer.


I kind of smiled in response and put my hands in my pockets, unsure of what to do with myself when she had finally stopped laughing. This was one of those times that that orchestra might have been useful.


“Young man,” Allegra wheezed, still trying to stifle her laughing fit. “I recall asking you your name.” Her voice had a spacey quality to it. She sounded wise but also sort of out there, like she’d gone off somewhere once and had never fully come back.


“Leo,” I stammered, clearing my throat. “It’s Leo Grey.”


Allegra nodded to herself, making a mental note, which I later found out was a big habit of hers. “Well, Leo Grey, I’ll make some tea and we can have a little chat, all right?”


She motioned for me to sit down on one of the many blue chairs as she ran off into the kitchen to boil water for the tea. I don’t like tea. It’s really deceiving. Tea’s got a great smell and all, giving you this hope that it’ll taste so good and force the cold out of your insides. When I first actually drank tea, I realized that smell was just one big aroma of a lie. It left a weird feeling behind after I’d swallowed, a strange dryness and sort of bland aftertaste. I’d really been disappointed, since it’d built up my hopes so high and everything. That tea made me so mad, I poured it all out over the newspaper I’d been reading.


I looked around Allegra’s apartment again and my eyes returned to the four black bookshelves. Dozens of leather bound books, the kind that make a little crisp noise when they’re opened, lined the shelves. I stood from my puffy blue chair and walked toward them, my eye on a particular green book with some gold leaf writing on the spine. Taking it off the shelf, I saw from the title that the book was an encyclopedia of palm reading. The cover had a picture of a wrinkled old man hand, supposedly showing the “roadmap to his life.”


I jumped when the clinking sound of glass came through the kitchen doorway. Allegra set down her tea tray and noticed the book in my hands.


“Borrow anything you like, dear,” she said, smiling. “Allegra’s library is yours for the browsing!” She laughed again, her curly gray hair bouncing with every giggle. She did not go on for so long this time, though, thank God.


I shoved the ancient volume back onto the bookshelf. “No thanks. I don’t want it.” That came out kind of less-nice than I had planned, but who really cares? It’s not like I wanted to be hanging around with some insane old lady all the time.


“All right, but my offer stands,” Allegra replied, pouring the tea.


Hastily, I made for the door. “Really, I can’t stay. Thanks for, well, everything.” I grasped the doorknob, hoping for a quick getaway.


“Oh dear, won’t you sit with me a while? We haven’t got to talking yet.” Allegra’s tone was understanding and still annoyingly persistent.


I felt sort of bad, really, I did, but there was no way I would sit around swapping war stories with this crazy woman all afternoon. “No, sorry. I hate tea.” I can be as blunt as a dull knife, or something.


Allegra nodded, a strange knowing look in her eyes. “I see. Well Leo, you know, my door’s never locked. Knock if you want to come and have coffee sometime instead.”
She grinned, all pleased with her odd sense of humor. I was worried she might start laughing again and then I’d really be trapped. She didn’t, though, and I raced out the door, waving a little in goodbye as I left.


Strolling down the fifth floor hallway, away from Allegra’s apartment, I heard the distant rumblings of opera music. I wondered if whoever was listening to that had any idea that I’d moved in earlier that day. Maybe they’d never know, maybe they were just those kind of people that never leave their rooms like recluses. Maybe I’d never exist to them, I’d just walk by their room every day, listening to their blaring music, picturing blonde women in Viking hats, dancing on worn-out couches. I bet they’d never even been to the opera, they just ordered the recordings rather than go out to the store and risk the dangers of the real world. I decided people shouldn’t live like that, and I had an urge to knock violently on their room and demand they abandon their solitude, when the apartment door opened and a man in a ragged green bathrobe emerged. He bent down to pick up a newspaper and saw me staring as he stood up. “Hello, son,” he said, nodding in my direction and smiling as he reentered his room. I hurried past the door, invisibly embarrassed even though he couldn’t have known what I’d been thinking.


After that, I walked around the complex for what seemed like hours. I almost regretted leaving Allegra’s; being alone with a deranged old lady sounded a lot better than being alone with just myself. I almost turned around and went back, thinking that maybe I did feel like drinking coffee. I kept walking instead, kind of feeling like I was winning or something by not returning.


I bet Allegra’s music always plays. She seemed so unnaturally happy that there must have been something leading her away from the sad parts in life. To be that much of a lunatic, there just had to be some sort of little tune going on, encouraging Allegra in her crazy daily routines.


I should have gone back. I started thinking about that old lady, sitting by herself all surrounded by black and blue, drinking that good smelling tea all alone. We were both alone, me walking aimlessly around the apartment building and Allegra in her eccentric little room. I should have gone back. Maybe if I had, some of her music would’ve rubbed off on me, seeing a kid in need. Even some overdone horn music might have been nice. I just get really tired of silence after a while.


Sitting on a seventh story balcony, my legs dangled and felt relieved to be weightless after carrying me around for miles. I was relieved, too, I’d found a spot where my only view was the road in front of the apartment building. I stared ahead, watching cars go by, red ones, green cars, blue, black, even a few purple ones. Speeding like mad down the street, not paying attention to how fast they were going. What if a little kid had wandered out into the road, chasing after some kickball or whatever? It makes me so angry when people don’t watch the speed limit. If it’d been their kid, they’d take the driver to court for going over by as little as five. Sighing, I pulled my tired legs up and once again resumed my walking. This time, I had an aim.


As I got nearer to my new apartment, I saw a huge pile of boxes just sitting outside the door. In plain daylight. Taped shut. All anyone needs to get at our stuff is a kitchen knife and there you go, everything we own. I was so sick of seeing those boxes, though, that I might not have minded if someone had stolen them. Those boxes contained my entire life, everything up to this moment, sealed away and hidden. I kicked one of the boxes as I stormed through the open apartment door. What is wrong with my family? Can’t they at least try to keep anything safe? How hard is it to lock a door?


Anyway, I went inside and saw that the place was a mess, probably the biggest mess I'd ever seen. All our furniture was pushed up against the wall with more of those soul-sucking boxes piled high on top. My mother was flying all over the place; it looked like she was really busy but after a while of watching her, I realized she wasn't doing anything at all. She just moved around a lot, trying to act like she could take care of everything and that everything would be under control. Sometimes people need to be like that. Nothing gets done, no work is finished or anything, but at least it keeps their mind away from the problems.


“Leo, darling, where have you been?” Eva asked. I’ve called my mother by her first name since I turned four-years-old, when my mother’s best friend decided to never have children and Eva started feeling like she’d let go of her youth too soon. She insisted I call her Eva, everyone else did anyway. That was her reasoning. Lunacy, if you ask me.


“You forgot to close the door, you know. And there’s a mountain of boxes outside.” I sat down on the dirty green carpet, seeing as the couch was taken up already.


“I’m not making dinner tonight,” Eva replied, mindlessly checking the names on a few of the cardboard boxes. She hardly hears what I say, but I don’t mind anymore. It can actually be pretty entertaining trying to have a conversation with her.


Watching my mother pretend to work gave me a guilty feeling and I had an itch to actually start putting things away. I grabbed a box labeled “Leo,” and headed for my designated room. Standing in the doorway, I saw that the space was completely empty and realized that now I was responsible for filling the entire thing up. I knew that no one would help me, Eva’s organizing attempt was enough to give me a clue.


I set the box I’d been carrying next to the door and walked into the room, as an intense alone feeling, stronger than after I’d left Allegra’s, overwhelmed me slowly. Sitting again on the floor, I positioned myself in the center of my bedroom, back to the closet and facing the two windows on the opposite wall. I needed to be outside, but I was trapped in that fourth-story room. The sun was just setting on my long day as I laid back on the floor, thinking I might try and get some shut-eye. My bed was trapped in the living room so I made myself comfortable on the shag carpet covered ground, using my arms as a pillow and learning what it felt like to be as empty as a white-walled apartment room.





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