First Apartment

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A young couple had been looking for months for an apartment. After month four and still no place to call home, they had reached their breaking point and decided to take the next place that came along, provided there were no obvious signs of cockroach infestation. But at that point, even that was not a deal-breaker. While walking through the old, tree-lined neighborhood on their way to view a potential apartment, they came upon a Victorian mansion with beautiful stained-glass windows. While admiring the house, they noticed an older couple struggling to unload planks from the bed of their pick-up truck, and they offered their help. They struck up a conversation and as it turned out, the older couple owned the Victorian, which had been converted into five apartments, and they were remodeling one of them before renting it out. To keep rent-control policies in check, the young couple offered to do the remodeling for a discount on their rent. The older couple did not need much time to deliberate; they both considered all the work they were unfit to do, and they agreed. They signed the lease that day, at a Greek restaurant down the block. It was the first time the young couple had eaten grape leaves.

The house was constructed from red brick, with blue and white trim, reminiscent of the Greek flag; fitting, since the neighborhood was known as Greek town. Gaudy yellow embellishments adorned the window arches, which also had a Greek feel to them. The smells of gyro joints and the strange aromas of a nearby hole-in-the-wall establishment serving Ethiopian cuisine carried into the apartment, along with the draft that was ever-present, even when the air outside was still and the windows shut tight. The crooked walkway leading up to the house’s main entry was probably a safety hazard, but it blended in with all the rest of the deteriorating walkways of the neighborhood, so it remained untouched and almost authentic.

At the top of a flight of shaky wooden steps, lined with a railing that could not be counted on for support, was the front and only entrance to Apartment D, on the second story of the house. The door of the apartment was made of glass and opened up to a small living room with no windows, not counting the glass door. The floors were hardwood, and the walls were white and somewhat yellowed from time, or a past tenant who smoked, or perhaps both. It was furnished with an oversized loveseat covered in a blue palm tree pattern, and an overstuffed purple chair resembling a throne. A small glass table with a brass frame joined them together. Built into the wall was a shelved alcove that held dusty knick-knacks and other random items placed there and forgotten. Next to the alcove was a door leading into the adjoining apartment, but it was permanently locked. It still had the original doorknob, complete with the keyhole you can peek through, but they plugged it with balled up bits of paper. Except for the front door, all doors in the apartment were able to be locked and unlocked with a skeleton key, but it was long lost, so all doors remained unlocked. The room was small, but the floor plan of the apartment was open, so the living room spilled into the kitchen, making it seem bigger. Although they tried, the desired effects of staging a home were lost to the smoke-tinged ambiance and overall mustiness of the apartment.

The kitchen and dining area was spacious but offered very little cabinet or counter space. There was a single porcelain sink, chipped, and tiny gas stove with an oven barely big enough to roast a chicken. The off-white paint, yellowed like the living room, was roughly applied, with dried paint drips. There were no knobs on the cabinets, and they tended to stick when closed tightly, so they had to sometimes be pried open with a butter knife or other handy utensil. The liner in the drawers and cabinet shelving was a seventies inspired neon flower print. Natural light poured in through a full-length window, which more than made up for some of the other kitchen inconveniences, however, the window was swollen shut and could never be opened. The so-called dining area was a table in the corner, though it was never once used for dining. A gift from a friend who had no room for it, it functioned more as a catch-all. It would have been beautiful if put to use in the right setting; the tabletop was bronze, and the frame made of wrought iron.

One of the remodeling projects was the bathroom. Before they started remodeling, the walls and ceiling were a soft lavender color, drips of which were found scattered across the black and white checkered linoleum. Whoever had painted the bathroom had done it in a hurry. The porcelain pedestal sink might have matched the Victorian house, but it was clearly new and felt out of place next to the cast iron bathtub with claw feet, which was original. The sash window did not stay open by itself; they had to prop it open with a dowel they found in the bathroom, probably left by the previous tenants for that very reason. The bathroom door was slightly off its hinges and no longer clicked shut, so it had to be closed from the inside with a slide lock. During the remodel of the bathroom, they tore down a wall partition and discovered at least eight different layers of wall coverings. Some paint, some wallpaper, some other unidentifiable wall treatments, one of which looked like cement. The first layer was a faintly colored flowery wallpaper, though it could have once been bright, a hundred years before. There were a couple layers of paint after that; white, and then a creamy butter yellow. Somewhere around layer six was a muted green linoleum, with a brick pattern. That was the most intriguing layer; who would put that on their walls? They passed the time while they worked, imagining past tenants and the lives they lived based on their wall coverings.

The bedroom was large, with an impressive bay window, with all original window frames. The view, however, faced straight into the bedroom window of the next-door neighbors, which felt like a waste of a perfectly good bay window. There were no window coverings, and no fixtures to hang curtains. Putting up a curtain rod was always on the to-do list, but it never got done in the year they lived there. Their solution to the problem of the uncomfortable view of the neighbors was to spend most of their time outside the bedroom and keep the lights off when they were in there at night. A single closet was built out from the wall and just above head-height but was more like a large locker than a proper closet. The one nice thing about it was that it functioned as a ledge for flowerpots and spider plants. The bed was comfortable, with an elaborate wrought-iron bed frame picked up for way too much money at an antique shop, but every time they sat down on it, or tossed and turned too violently during sleep, it slid an inch or two on the hardwood floors, and it had to be repositioned every few days.

The best room of all was the sunroom. It was the only carpeted room in the apartment, and being a sunroom, naturally had the best lighting. Half-finished canvases hung on the easels and every available spot on the walls, and art supplies littered the several tables and chairs, and on some days, the floor. The windows opened out, and the sheer curtains blowing in the breeze had a freeing effect. In the corner sat a tattered peach-colored chaise lounge, where several people had been convinced to pose nude in the beautiful natural light.

The young couple lived there happily for a year until life pulled them in a different direction. They sometimes thought about the tenants after them, and whether or not they questioned their decorating sense, or wondered how they could have possibly gotten along with so little cabinet space, or a closet better fit for a large dollhouse. Despite its peccadillos, it was a quirky apartment that anyone would have been lucky to have as their first, though when they contacted the owners’ years later for a rental reference and asked about their remodeling progress, it seemed a shame that they opted to tear up the hardwood floors and put in Pergo.