There had to be an explanation for this. Shards of broken glass lay strewn across the linoleum floor – the flooring itself was standard apartment building issue; the glassware however, was special. Pink floral pattern and white china, a vase from her grandmother; and the shattered remains now lay in pieces on the floor.
It must be stress, Erin thought. I’ve been too busy, with unpacking and all. Forgot to take care of myself. It’s probably a migraine – an aura, likely brought on by dehydration.
Carefully, with both hands cradling a glass of water, Erin brought it to her lips. She must have knocked the vase off the counter when she was unpacking. Twists of newspaper and a cardboard box sat on the chipped countertop while shreds of packing tape were scattered in the mix. And there were still more glasses to put away.
It was messy, and crowded in the tiny kitchen. She probably just bumped the vase, but –
Sipping water, Erin surveyed the damage and replayed the scene. One minute she was reaching into the cupboard to put away coffee cups, staring at the company logo embossed in the back. Fine cabinetry makers since 1943. The next, she could see – no, imagined – something – only it was stronger than imagined, more vivid. Real. She heard faint whispers of the baseball game broadcast on the radio. Blue Jays vs. White Sox. Hiss of static, warm tones of the announcer. A brown leather recliner, cracked arm rests and trail of cigarette smoke rose before her; the choking smell of Player’s Light.
And now nothing.
Erin shook her head. Sunlight shone through the living room window; catching dust particles and transforming them into complex constellations. She saw it, she knew she did – something to do with sheer curtains. Or nylon stockings, hanging up in the bathroom to dry. Heat, humidity. And now she can’t remember any of it, like a dream, when you think too hard.
Coming home from work that evening, Erin resolved to ask the superintendent about the apartment; although unsure about what to say – overhearing a radio sports announcer’s voice and imagining nylon stockings hanging to dry were hardly building maintenance issues.
The Super barely looked at her. A bald fat guy in a grimy tank top sat behind a big desk; Erin guessed his tank top might have been white, once. Now, like the building, it faded into a dirty beige.
He sat smoking a cigar while a TV flickered in the corner.
“I’ve been hearing strange things in my apartment,” Erin began, not sure how to describe seeing nylon stockings hanging to dry; if that is what she saw. Maybe it was nothing, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of place – it was different location, not quite there, in her apartment – but most definitely was all the same. A sort of timelessness.
The Super shrugged. “It’s an old building, might be the plumbing. Overdue for repairs.”
“But it sounded like voices.”
He shrugged again, keeping his eye on the TV. “Dunno. Your neighbours work during the day. Maybe somebody’s cat or something.”
“Maybe.” Erin turned away, shouldering her workbag and headed for the elevator. Still unsure.
Cooking dinner that night, her bag lay resting by the front door, waiting for tomorrow. Erin bent over the stove, pan frying steak; a salad already sat on the table. Tiny apartment indeed, she glanced out the living room window as she cooked. The view was spectacular, greenbelt to the north, the lake to the south, office towers exclamation points on the skyline. A small balcony with rusting rails and cracked concrete completed the view, but a few potted plants would brighten it up.
Erin knew she was lucky to get an apartment in this market. Close to all amenities, like the ad said. Sure it was an old building, but beggars can’t be choosers. And the price was right.
A silver streak glistened in the distance, the expressway stretched across her living room window, and commuter trains rumbled by at regular hours; railroad tracks were hidden in greenery below. Easy access to the downtown core.
The sun was setting outside the window by the time Erin carried her steak to the table. Admiring the gold-tinged sky, she sat watching cars tracking along on distant highways as she heaped salad on her plate.
Golden lighting caught the window, striking brilliance, and time and place dissolved around her.
It was an office, something about pencils. In metal cups, stacked upright and all sharpened. Hum of electricity and air conditioning in the air. Stacks of paper, typed words. She reached out, and her hand riffled through them, dragging metal paper clips into place. Sharp sting on her thumb. Big black keyboard buttons; numbers floated in blackness, green glowing rectangles, like on an old calculator.
And then it was gone.
It was the paperclips that got her. They felt too real. She glanced down at her fingertips, and stared at the tiny red slice opening on her thumb. Paper cut.
No freaking way.
Erin leaped up and stood staring at the table; then raced across the living room and fumbled for the TV remote; her hands shaking so hard the buttons slid beneath her fingers. She’s been working too hard. It must be stress, there’s no way –
Turning on the TV, the voices of news anchors became instant company. This was what was real. Television. The news. Not, well, whatever that is.
Remote control still in hand, Erin turned back to the table, and tried to finish eating; but instead pushed salad around her plate. Fried steak tasted like sawdust.
She wrapped a paper napkin around her thumb, and told herself she must of cut it while cooking. Or something.
After dinner Erin kept the TV on while washing up; craning her neck into the living room so she could see it while she scrubbed at the sink and counters, pushing aside imaginary dirt while the evening news turned into sitcoms. Tinny laugh track floated through the apartment. Maybe she’d keep the TV on for the night, it wouldn’t cost anything, her utilities were included in the rent. She told herself it was reasonable, for a young woman living alone to keep some sort of background noise on, so any potential intruders would think she wasn’t by herself. It was safer that way, really.
Leftovers and dishes cleared away; Erin glanced at her watch – far too early for bed; maybe a bath would help relax her. She tried some strong self-talk. It’s completely normal to feel on edge in a new place. Strange smells, probably some kind of unusual acoustical properties. Those sounds just outside of human hearing – what were they called?
It’s only stress, she’s just sensitive; making stuff up, an overactive imagination. First a hot bath, then call her sister and chat for a while.
Forget about all this.
Switching on the bathroom light; cheap fluorescent flickered, and then caught; blinding light bounced off white tiles. Erin blinked. Beige tub and sink stared at her, standard bathroom fare; ancient plumbing, metal knobs from decades before imprinted with names from companies long gone. Straining, Erin forced the bathtub taps to turn; yellowed water poured into the tub. It’d be a moment for it to clear, she told herself.
Suddenly the water darkened, turning a dirty red, chunks of rusty metal tumbled out. She held her breath, and stared. Slowly, the water cleared, becoming transparent, swirls of red still floated through.
She’d have to tell the Super about it.
But he knows, the voice floated inside her head. Scratchy voice like old straw, a flash, and then gone.
Like it never happened.
No – panic threatened to take over; her chest tightened, Erin glanced in the mirror, and then looked away quickly; fully expecting a face to appear. Something not her own.
Nothing. But memories of late night movies filled her mind; thin twister of blood spiralling down the drain. Reaching over, Erin shut off the water and yanked out the drain plug. Laughed at herself. And ran out of the bathroom.
Alone in the bedroom, Erin was overcome by a strange modesty. Undressing, she covered her chest with her shirt, quickly buttoning up a pyjama top. Full flannel bottoms. Hiding from, well, nothing. She wondered if some creepo planted webcams in the apartment, and climbed on top of the bed, checking light fixtures. Tapped light switch covers and electrical outlets.
And then climbed into bed, pulling the blankets up high on her neck.
The scent of violets filled the air, a perfume, mingled with something else. Image of a men’s shaving brush, topped with frothy foam filled her mind. Scent of aftershave. Erin shook her head.
She was freaking herself out, she was sure of it.
The sounds of the TV drifted in from the living room. She didn’t know whether to shut her bedroom door or keep it open. Closing it, she was afraid of it closed, yet, strangely terrified to open it. Prickles of fear rose, lest she find something there.
She had to pee. She’d wait ‘til morning.
Lying in bed that night, with a stack of books piled beside her, Erin kept the table lamp on and kept reading. Didn’t want to admit she didn’t want to turn it off. Falling asleep with a book across her chest and the light on, she vowed to stock up on lightbulbs the next day.
In the weeks that followed, Erin found herself turning on the radio, or leaving the TV on. For company, she’d say. It’s quite a normal thing to do for a girl who lived alone.
Stuff would go missing, only to turn up in odd places. Her keys found under the sofa, her wallet in the bathroom. Not too unusual, she’s probably just tired and forgetful. Or something.
Night times were the worst. She jumped at shadows, ran past dark corners. Seriously considered getting a cat.
Not that there was anything tangible. Moments of quiet would be openings to something else. Something she was never quite sure of.
Image of a crisp dress shirt, folded cuffs. Cufflinks resting in a bowl on top of a tall boy dresser, sliver gleaming in afternoon sunlight. Some kind of military insignia. Stubbled jowls.
Erin found herself humming big band music, Glenn Millar. The Andrews sisters. Or the radio would mysteriously change stations on its own.
Barbed wired stretched across clear blue sky. Crumpled bundle of letters, blurred black ink, tight cursive. Floral notes of perfume.
Feeling of overwhelming longing, sorrow. Her chest ached, she gasped in surprise as tears erupted, deep, gut wrenching sobs. Erin stood, crying over something lost. Anguish, reaching out toward something beyond herself –
And then nothing.
At work people started to notice. Co-workers asked questions, was she ill? How was the new place?
Erin couldn’t explain that she wasn’t sleeping. At night, lights on, she’d lie in bed, heart racing, body rigid. Waiting.
She didn’t know what for.
Or when she did sleep, it was fitfully. Strange dreams, dark shadows flitted past her face, wispy forms that melted into a mist whenever she tried to look at them. Voices filled her head with gibberish.
Erin Googled sleep paralysis. Infrasound. Symptoms of black mold. And made an appointment with her doctor.
While putting away folded laundry into her dresser, she saw a long clothesline stretching out through an apple orchard. White sheets blowing. Lush green grass, thick foliage, apples just a hint of red in late summer sunlight. She could hear bees buzzing drowsily, gabble of poultry, smell fresh cut grass.
Erin thought about moving in with her sister, maybe making some excuse about roaches. But that would only work for a couple weeks. And then what?
One evening after work, she dropped into the superintendent’s office. “What can you tell about the previous tenants?”
“Dunno. Been a few of them, it’s a small unit, hard to fill. Most folks move on sooner or later.”
“What about the last one?”
“Young thing, like you. Left without giving notice, broke her lease. Probably in trouble with the law or something.” He waved his cigar at the TV. “Didn’t say where she was going. Left all her stuff behind, I just chucked it.”
Erin stared at him.
“What – It’s my right, landlord act ‘n all.”
“But what about before that?”
He shrugged. “Some old retired couple, been here since long before my time. Weird enough. Kept to themselves. Lady did all the talking; ol’ fella never said nothing to anybody.”
Liz McAdams has lived in far too many apartments with strange views. Her work appears in the usual places, including Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, scattered around Twisted Sister and will be up soon on Shotgun Honey. Check Liz out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/