“Apartment 312” by Von Rupert
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A woman searches for her roots behind a shiny doorknob.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Apartment 312” by Von Rupert
There is no question that I was wrong. Run-down apartment building, east side of town, two blocks from the chicken factory. Elevator broken—did it ever work? The stairwell reeks of cigarette smoke and seven days without a shower. Why am I here? This is not the right address.
Everyone told me I was making a mistake: my parents, my brother, my husband. The thing is, they don’t understand how it feels to be me, a stray seed on the greenhouse floor that could belong anywhere. I’m tired of wondering.
But this building cannot be the right tree. I was not born into this. Drug dealers live here. And old hookers.
Third floor. It reeks worse than the stairwell, like urine and skin rot. The red carpet is stained…everywhere. Gray smudges run along the walls like chair molding. I imagine the dirty hands that must have traveled there, reluctant to go home. Is that what I am? Reluctant to go home?
Three twelve is at the end of the hall. End of the road, Sam. My lips twitch; a giggle clogs my throat. Nerves. I always giggle when I’m nervous. And the air inside my chest ripples with the effort of compressing it. Is my mother a nervous giggler, too?
Three twelve. I pretend the carpet is cleaner in front of this door, and the doorknob is shinier. Somehow this door looks cared for. Cared about.
Should I knock? Or ring the bell? Should I run? Should I come back later? Should I never come back?
Bell ringing is for company; knocking is for family.
I knock. Nothing. Not even a scuffle of surprise from inside. I press my ear against the door and imagine lemon oil was caressed into the wood. She does care. Something else smells good. Maybe pancakes bubbling on the griddle for a reluctant school morning.
No! I’m not a schoolgirl. I’m twenty-nine years old, and I don’t need pancakes. I need medical records and family trees. I need to see my picture and serial number in a seed catalog.
I ring the bell. Silence. Not even a footstep inside.
I ring the doorbell again. And again. I bang on the door again and again. I call, “Miss. Thompson! Are you home?” again and again. The ripples press against my chest, but without the giggle this time.
The door next to this one opens a crack. I pull out my cell phone, hold it to my ear. I have pepper spray in my pocket. I grasp it in my fist, narrow my eyes. I’ll show this—the door opens wide–old woman that I’m no victim.
“Stop that damn banging and yelling. Some of us work nights. Ain’t no one home at that apartment.” Curlers are stacked like miniature toilet paper rolls all over her head. The giggle returns. Women still wear curlers? I take a step toward her. This time, she fires the suspicious eye into me.
I stand still, and the fire cools to a smolder. “Are you sure no one’s home?”
The old woman steps out of her doorway, squints at my face, then my hair. “You Dolly’s kin? You look like her kin. Your hair…” Her gaze drops to my blue wool coat, then lowers slowly to my feet before meeting my gaze again. “You don’t dress like her kin.”
I glance down at my Italian boots, then meet her eyes again, defiant. There’s nothing wrong with splurging once in a while. I step closer. She steps back. “Are you sure no one’s home?” I repeat.
“Dolly died two weeks ago. They found her dead in the gutter down on 9th street.”
“Dead?” The ripple in my chest dies. I press my lips together, try to catch my weeping thoughts before they fall. Dead. The old woman watches me. “Did anyone else live here? What about her mementos? Her pictures?”
She shakes her head. “Her type don’t keep no pictures. What was there to photograph? You go ahead downstairs and ask the manager about her things. He’s lazy, ain’t cleaned her apartment yet.” She backs into her own, almost shuts the door, then pushes her head out again. “You sure you ain’t her kin? ‘Cause if you are, I got something of hers.”
I study the old woman’s cartoon hair, finger the pepper spray in my pocket. My cell phone is still in my hand. What do I have to lose? “Let me see.”
She nods, disappears, doesn’t close the door. A few minutes later, she emerges with a struggling cat in her arms. “This here’s Clancy. Dolly rescued him last November during the blizzard.” The old woman strokes the cat’s puffed fur. “She did love her cat.” She offers the words like a wrinkled condolence card. “You want him?”
I study the cat, and he studies me. He’s ugly. Patches of brown, black and white fur, big and small. No rhyme, just a hodgepodge. Around his neck, a red and gold collar screams he belonged to someone. Clancy jumps down, rushes at me, rubs his chin against my boots. Delores would hate him, would voice her angriest meow, and stomp away to pout. I reach down, stroke him once anyway.
“There now. I knew that cat was waiting for someone, never took to me.” Clancy is twining his body around my legs. Maybe he’ll grow on Delores.
I finger a strand of hair. “Can I ask you a question?” She scowls and nods. The best invitation I’ll probably get. “Was Dolly’s hair red and frizzy, too?”
The old woman smiles for the first time. “Copper, just as bright as yours and bitched about it every day of her life.” We laugh softly, and then she closes the door.
I look at three twelve one more time. It really is cleaner than the rest. And the knob is shinier. I scoop the cat into my arms. He settles immediately, purrs. The old woman is right—Clancy was waiting for me.
Von Rupert is a wife, mother, writer, and podcast producer. She’s a mentor at Writer’s Village University and an active member of the writing community, “Write 1 Sub 1“. Read her musings on her website, “Where the Shadows Meet The Light.”
Tags: metro fiction, short stories, von rupert