I pace off the perimeter of the studio as the leasing agent looks on, glances at her watch, sighs deeply, then stifles a yawn as if I’m unaware that she’s doing so – all of which I can see and hear, of course.
The apartment is small. Too small.
The view is better than the last, which offered a narrow albeit tall window in the tiny bedroom and something similar in the living room, glass sliding open horizontally and locked in place by metal brackets of a sort, further secured by a bar slipped inside the frame. It was an expansive window all things considered, facing a sooty red brick wall, giving one the sense of being housed in a correctional institution.
This place is a step up, by a hair.
“What else?” I ask, skeptical about the fit of a futon and dinette, much less three bookcases and their contents, which is the point of it all – this move, these particulars – a room for reading, a life for reading.
And for the pen.
Having seen both options in the building, not to mention three others in this neighborhood with access to the Red Line as I requested, she makes no attempt to conceal her annoyance; no doubt she is sorry she agreed to this favor, extending a service for a small fee at the coaxing of a mutual friend.
I have been unsuccessful in my own forays into three affordable areas; I am desperate to feel resettled, to act on the dream at last, to plant myself and my few possessions along with the truest source of my wealth: Proust, Zola, Rimbaud; Colette and Dumas; Miller in the worn paperback I have taken to bed for more than a decade; Dostoevsky and Gogol; my mother’s red leather volumes of Shakespeare’s plays; my father’s “Leaves of Grass,” which is all that I have of him since his tragic passing.
“There’s one more possibility. Near Kendall. It’s in an old house, a bit rundown. A longer walk to the T, but closer to the Charles. And there’s more space in the living area.”
“Fine. Any permit parking?”
“You know better than that,” she says. “I told you. This building has parking underground. The house? Unlikely you get anything but circling for a half hour and a tight squeeze somewhere, if you’re lucky.”
If not for the commute on 128, I would sell the damn car.
“Right,” I say, as we take the elevator down to her BMW which is old but deliciously retro, and reminds me of Robbie Harmon and his wife, Steffi. We are aware of our good fortune in this unconventional choice of house parents – he is the new econ professor we call by first name; she is the free-spirited spouse we all admire. He is tolerant and she is glamorous: we emulate her effusive manner and her Bohemian style; we consider her car with its Texas plates both foreign and exotic; her carefree declarations that she drops with the definitive weight of a woman ten years our senior are the stuff of gossip, and also, Gospel.
When Steffi offers the occasional ride into Cambridge we always say yes, hanging onto her accounting of lovers and travels and theater years misspent in New York. Her lifestyle is perceived as the ultimate mix of exciting past and pleasurable present when one is 18 or 19 and everything is possible, though still beyond reach and surely beyond reason.
We maneuver through traffic past Central and toward the river, to a street littered with trash, with a few parking meters down the block that swallow their quarters and spit back the illusion of time enough, gray clapboard facades of New England homes that must have seen better days, though there is nothing grand in these three-story structures. They show their years, and more so the severity of killing cold and brief but flaring months of summer.
We take the stairs to Apartment 4 and immediately I know this one is viable. The kitchen is small, little more than a kitchenette but sufficient for my needs, and the bedroom is generous at 10 x 13. Only the bookcases pose a challenge, but the living area is ideal with its bay window looking onto the street, and pacing off the room I estimate 14 x 20 with one continuous wall.
The hardwood floor will require a sizable carpet with good padding, and while my mother moaned for years about the hardwoods in her chilly Victorian and claims to prefer wall-to-wall, I know she adores their honeyed hue and marred surfaces, covering them of necessity in winter with small, scratchy braided rugs, and one overly elaborate pseudo-Persian, purchased at Jordan Marsh in the 70s.
“And the rent?” I ask, already arranging furniture in my head, already occupying this space I have longed for, already fancying myself sprawled on the floor surrounded by books; settling into this retreat at the end of the work day, this repose for my stacks too long in storage, my disorderly and familiar friends so comforting between my hands, their steadfast presence never a disappointment, no promises of love or adventure that cannot be fulfilled and more gloriously than Steffi’s tenuous tall tales.
All that is missing is a carpet adequate in dimension to the expanse of floor, heavy enough so I may stretch out into the words through the night, and mornings on the weekends, and she repeats the amount and I say “it’s good,” planning, at last, for a reading room and rug shopping.
Flash fiction is a very short story of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words. This is a quick writing exercise, in this case, “flash in fifty” with books as the inspiration.