I’d forgotten what it’s like to look for your first apartment. It’s been a week of living in borrowed spaces. Days pounding the pavement, exploring possible neighborhoods. Nights poring over internet ads, contacting landlords, hopes raised and dashed over and over. But finally, she’s found the right place. And today is moving day.
Four flights of stairs lead to the door. Each landing progressively smaller. The air in this space smells of wood and polish and dust – taking me back to my attic in Goshen. A lot of lives have passed through this space, climbing these same stairs. Now it’s her turn.
She turns the key in her new door, and we gasp, in spite of ourselves. There is so little room in this apartment. It’s tiny. Just a single room, with the bathroom and shower down the hall. I bet it wasn’t even designed as an apartment – it feels more like a converted walk-in closet.
It is long and thin – a brick-walled tunnel. But it has a certain charm. At the far end of the tunnel is a tall window with a broken-down venetian blind. Light slants awkwardly onto the dark hardwood floor. Below us stretches out the shared back alley space between the houses of this street and its neighbor. Trash cans, low roofs, a smattering of greenery. Across the way we see a number of unmasked windows, all of them having the same heavy red drapes at one side, like the back side of an old hotel or hostel.
Beside the window is a small stainless steel sink, set in a countertop that has exactly one foot of dish draining space. Above the sink hangs a tall cupboard with shelves that stretch so high we will need a stool to get to the top levels. And to the right of this stands an absurdly large off-white fridge. There is no stove, just a single outlet at floor level for a microwave. Perhaps the message is that the occupant of this room should stick to frozen foods, raw veggies and the occasional cold beverage.
Above the door is a loft for a bed. Access to this space is via a steep wooden ladder propped along the left-hand wall. Each rung of the ladder creaks wearily as we climb up to assess. It’s a tight fit for sure. With a mattress, there can’t be more than a couple feet of headroom. No way of sitting up in bed without sustaining a concussion. It appears that getting in and out of bed will require a degree of flexibility only afforded the young. I retreat gratefully.
We go to the local junk shop. An hour raiding its ample and bizarre stock and we return with a delightfully mis-matched array of house-warming gifts. I lead the way, brandishing a tall floor lamp, complete with five-foot-tall paper lampshade. Also in our train, mugs, a teapot (we are a sort-of English family after all), two fluffy pink floor pillows, a clothes rack, various hangers, hooks and nails, a set of allen wrenches, a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape.
But wait – on the street we also find two Ikea dining room chairs and a small bookcase, put out to pasture by some other over-crowded apartment dweller. These, too, we schlep up to the room.
And then there’s the “couch” - really a small fold-out memory-foam mattress that converts into a triple-stacked cushion. At first blush it is wonderfully welcoming – a soft landing spot for a weary guest. But invariably, after five minutes of sitting, the chair has subsided to the left, before eventually unceremoniously dumping its occupant in a heap on the floor. This provides considerable entertainment as we take turns. Then it’s back to work.
Three hours go by, of earnest hanging, screwing, wrenching, sweeping, scrubbing, sneezing, heaving, and sweating. We carry five trash bags down to the curb and go for another hour. Eventually, as the dust settles and the sun dips behind the rooftops opposite, we stop to admire. The room is finally quiet. She turns on the floor lamp, and it gently lights the brick wall. A warmth fills the space. It’s tight in there. Really only room for one person. We take turns sitting on the two chairs, sharing snacks from the local grocery store.
She looks scared, but happy. That’s about right for a first night in a new home.
Music: "The Apple Stretching" by Grace Jones