Apartment from Hell
by Paul Prochnow


 

  .... I took the rent reduction, because, heck, I was hardly disabled and chores were a snap for a man like me. Roofing was a problem, but the landlord said if it leaks on them get out the damn gutter seal and underlayment, we get a real roofer later.
  .... I was supposed to rehab the interior of the old cottage attached with a common wall of the grand duplex that they slammed
  a couple of kitchenettes into as the old duplexes had front and back stairs. So now it's a four family. I got a real old fashioned walk-in pantry in my
  apartment, the kitchen had a nice pretty arch way to the big dining room that was now my living room. The babies room just fit
  a double bed without pounding the walls when I arose. Closets are, you kidding, people did not have closets back then.
  ....First look-aroung I met most of the tennants with the bosses feild marshall with the nasty-van full of copper and teflon tape and pipe wrenches and snakes, usualish up -keep junk slumlords need to keep the heat up and water flowing and toilets flushing.
  I hated the chores, but a couple bills off the rent, Y'know? So he takes me around explaining the duties. He told me the old lady had been going the last ten years, but the family could not get her in a home. We talked with a nice couple, I promised to do better than the bum that was being evicted did for them. I'd be in in a couple of weeks tops. The old on - grounds landlord had his papers already.
  ....So the old lady walks up as we speak and starts croaking god-knows-what, and how we should help her get on the crapper
  so she doesn't have to call EMS to go to the Emergency Room for the enema, and cackles off to her little cottage, and then trips on a concrete crack, spins and falls full length on the drive-way-patio next to the old duplex. We all help her up,
  I sort of back off, being unfamiliar with the routine the nice people had in helping her, and they secret her in the little attached cottage.
  ....When I move in I ask the tennants what happened to the old witch and they said she could do for herself even after the fall
  and couldn't mount the toilet with a bruised leg no more so finally her family came up from Florida to force her out of the cottage she held all these many years. The children were maybe her grandchildren, they did not know, but they called her gramma
  said the tennants as it took them some time to clean out the trinkets and clothing she needed. The family took about a dozen items to the cleaners, she never washed her clothes, just splashed more cologne on so the neighbors and the store clerks would not turn her in to the health department. They said she weighed sixty pounds or so. The old witch was still bitching about how the last on-site super never got her toilet to flush, or popped her on the darn thing as she was taken away. Her family members who picked her stuff up were quite elderly, the other tennants told me.
   I'm a basement first guy and figured I'd do her basement the first and see what the property was like. I could not believe that they still had dirt floors anywhere in the basements in the
  year 2000, y'know code and all. I figure this place was pre-Gas Light, pre-electricity, maybe an original settlers cottage that was once considered suburban over a hindred years ago. As I opened the door in the side well it was to more than the dirt floor that caught my eye, it was the
  intense staleness of the basements odor that caught my nostril. I did not have an oxygen meter of course, not in a house, but I thought man, this basement needs some air before I go in.
  ....So I get in with the flashlight and bump my head on the floor joists, they must have been midgets back then! I swing the flashlight around the walls, and what a bellied in and out mess I see. The joists where refixed dozen of times, mortised any old way. The walls were absolutely rural in construction, field stone and also bricks and cobble stones, I saw the duct through the wall to feed of the duplex's central heat.Over in the corner was a wet spot. I went to see and found a crude sump that might have been pumped out in the distant past. There was tons of detritis and god-knows-what in it. I reached down to pick an orange, white spotted peice of fungus, since I'm a mushroom hunter. I get my fingers on the mushroom and it is fragile as dust and disappears
  at my touch. I bonk my head again on the joists and hope the species grows back. It was the size of a busted three-quarters inch carriage bolt. Most odd species!
  .... That was enough for today, what a freakin' mess. I had confidence in the old Kawanee cast boiler and i liked the old radiator the super left in my apartment, the old rascal teed it into the renovation from the fifties when they put in the forced air, I guess to heat the old cottage, which must have had a wood and coal stove.The other tenants said the heat went out occassionally, but I saw it was a wiring error and a old temp switch that tripped her out. I showed the landlord's field marshall and he and I set it straight. I'd have me a nice toasty
  place this winter.
  ...I puzzeled over the old cottage. I only popped my head in the living quarters. I was glad I dropped the Lysol in the old sump in the basement. I needed more Lysol to attack the piss smelling apartment. I did not know if paint would cover the old witch's odor. It wasn't strong and gaggy but intolerably pervasive, and not totally pissy. I seen an old ladies mojo jar once and when I cleaned her place it was the same smell. The smell was like a pile of stale pork chop bones, and empty old chicken bucket. it was ...the utter staleness...a thin smell, but one that, after a while clings to your cerebral cortex.
  ....As I laid in the bed the first night I tried to imagine what that old woman was. The tennants said she was a music teacher that's all they knew. I saw the guy downstairs frying pork chops as I said hello, but I wondered why the smell was lingering at two A.M. when I got up to take a leak. Since I was on grave yards
  I decided to , what the heck, stay with the sleep patern on my days off. The tilt of that old cottage, as I eyed the structure seemed a off rubbery curvey, I had a great concern for the integrity of the structure.
  ....I was still groggy from the nice nap and sensed a feeling of vertigo as I descended the stairs, the plaster needed patched, paint was ten years old or more. The landlord will pay for painting. I did not notice the creaking in the stairs to my place so much when I went up earlier, nor when I moved in.I heard a TV or stereo playing somewhere, no, obviously a drama, I could here a dialogue, a indiscriminate bitching dialogue and cackling sort of thing a soliloquy going on and on as I descended the stairs.
  ...As I headed for the cottage it sounded as if the TV sound was growing louder, so it must be the guy below my place who I did not meet yet. I lit a smoke to revive a bit more. That show my neighbor was watching could be heard outside as I got to the
  door of the attached cottage, pervasive, he must have surround sound.The cackles of the dialogue were almost discernable and filled me with a sort of dread as I pulled on the buttski in the cold night air.
  .....OK, lets see, this key should be hers. I open the door and flip on the lights. Odd the family did not take that curious table lamp with when they cleaned up. "Christ this place is nasty ",is all that I could think, looking in the light of the old lamp. Old sheet music, dust, a couple of old picture frames with the images time-gone and indiscernable. A pissed on sofa and chair, the family should have burned this garbage. As I looked at this life's residue I decided to pick up a sheet of music. It had a foreign language of some sort for the title, and as I looked at the notes I imagined a tinny shreaking violin concerto as I saw "for violin" on the sheet, the date was 1818, I do not know if the language was Romanian or not, something middle-European.
  It was if I could hear the madness of the violin strain. The floor creaked and I noticed a small gap in the far wall open ever so slightly with the creak. That was enough for me. I went out the door and put my feet on terra firma, I left the light on.
  ....I wanted that damn lamp though, but I felt that I should not go in that apartment without letting someone know I was in there.
  It was odd how that violin passage permeated my consciousness as if I had heard it before. My neighbors drama plot kept droning on and on, that croaking witch's soliloquy has been going on and on for ten minutes now. I am enrapt by the situation and the ebbing and swelling vertigo I experienced on the way from my place intensified. I saw the antique lamp flicker in the middle of the apartment, it could still be mine. Someone could pick it up easily in a break in, I'll bet I can get $100.00 for that!
  ....The weird enrapturing vertigo seemed to mix with a sharper dread, as I decided that the soliloquy I heard was coming from the attached cottage. My thighs tingled with adrenaline, the stale pork chop odor almost oozed from the door I left stand open. I can't let that heat escape all night! I want that lamp!
  ......The light would get me in, then I needed to leave within the dark, only maybe fifteen feet, I lit a second buttski, and told myself,"F..k it. I goin' in."
   .....My legs felt like I was ready for a hundred yard dash. I was positively buzzed with fright, my carotids pulsed like I was pumping iron. I could do it. Snag the lamp and slam the door.
  I had the violin sheet in my pocket, hope it doesn't rip from age, it seemed like high-cotton paper. I tell my self again, "Oh yeah, F..ck it."
  ......In I go and grab the lamp. The soliloquy I heard since I left the apartment is now almost as deafening as the violin music
  that almost conquered my consciousness. Turning to head for the door, I feel a timeless inexplicable paralysis almost freeze my legs as my legs
  overdose on adrenaline. That crack in the joists justs
  cries out as if slowly collapsing the floor, I feel a slight
  tilt to the floor as I look at the door.
  .....I leap as I never have before with a flash of the 23rd Psalm
  ripping through my mind backed by the screaming violin passage and the sharper than ever witch's cackling.
  I find myself on the landing before the door, and roll down the steps with the old electric lamp in hand that I managed not to
  smash. I arise to my knee and look at the structure sag and creak, collapsing in a strange slowness of motion.
  
  .....I search my pocket for the sheet music and find it is gone, and the musical mental image the sheet gave to me stops playing in my mind.. The solioquy ends, and the light goes out in my neighbor's apartment. As the cottage goes down the end of the floor that cracked falls all the way to the ground in the basement. Now only the roof and trusses
  lay askew on the foundation, the floor half-cocked up to where I lept from the door.
  .....The old electric lamp looks fine as I turn the flaslight on it. I see it is covered with an orange dust, the color of the little mushroom I tried to pick the last afternoon.
  
  
  
  

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