So many emotions rattled around Leslie’s brain—disappointment, irritation, and rejection—it was impossible to sleep. The problem was not a strange bed. Her sister had lived in the apartment for years and Leslie had visited and stayed the night—albeit reluctantly—more than once.
However, on other occasions Leslie hadn’t been ripped out of her midnight musings by the neighbor’s arguments. As the old building was soundproof, she was surprised to hear at least seven voices—old, young, some with northern European accents and others who were barely articulate—bickering.
“She’s left us.”
“Maybe it’s just a holiday.”
“So why take boxes of stuff? Holidays require two suitcases at most.”
Leslie crawled out of bed, and fumbled her way to the light switch. The moment her feet hit the ground, the voices hushed as if they knew she planned to shout at them to shut up. She opened the door to the hall and peered out. All was silent.
Who had left them? They didn’t sound like children so it was improbable that a mother had walked out on her little ones. And if they were children, some father or guardian would be on hand to take things in hand. She poured herself a glass of water, topped it up with ice cubes, and headed for the cramped living room.
It wasn’t a comfortable space; crammed as it was with mismatched furniture that her sister had collected over the years. Each find had been paraded before Leslie with detailed commentary on why it was of particular merit: no nails so it was a genuine antique, a free castoff found on the street which could be repainted, but never was.
“Only 56 dollars and all it needs is a bit of sanding and stain.”
Another find was presented with a flourish. “They don’t make these anymore.”
Of course not, Leslie had thought, it was a pre-modern-plumbing washstand hidden under layers of paint.
Leslie sunk into the low, spongy orange sofa and gazed around. She remembered the small coffee table as nearer the door but she had been so tired from helping her sister pack her things to move to her new condo she had hardly made it to bed. Now that Carrie was in the money, these beloved finds were to be abandoned. The U-Haul would arrive the day after next to drag them off to a better place. Her job was to let the buyers and the U-Haul men in.
She had hoped to be joining her sister in her new commodious apartment. But that was not to be. Although Leslie’s basement apartment was cramped and cold, her sister had not invited her to share her recently rented three-bedroom suite.
“You’d hate it, too modern for you,” Carrie had insisted. “You’re more a furry, rug and duvets sort of person.”
She shouldn’t have been surprised to be left behind. For years, colleagues had warned Leslie that her sister was a fair weather friend who would drop her when she was no longer needed. But she had listened to her mother who thought Carrie was most likely to succeed, “We should support her,” her mother had advised. “When Carrie’s a star, we’ll be rich.”
Her mother had not lived long enough to see Carrie get her big break. And now that it had happened, Leslie had been left at the starting gate cleaning up her sister’s debris and soon would return to her grungy basement apartment to follow her sister’s career on Twitter.
Leslie blamed her rejection on her sister’s new guru—a young hotshot designer who Carrie had met at a party. Seeing money to be made, he’d taken her under his thin wing and promised to make her condo worthy of her new status. When he dropped by her apartment, her mishmash of old furniture had appalled him. After a cursory review, he concluded, “Everything must go. In your new place the furniture must be modern and flow from room to room.” Leslie had envisioned an engorged river with chairs and tables being swept along—just like the time the Clive creek near their childhood home had overflown.
Always one to give in to her sister’s demands, Leslie had agreed to be at her sister’s old apartment first thing in the morning to let the new tenants measure windows for curtains and then help move the last things out the following day. Carrie was already camping out in her new condo.
“Is this stuff all going to the dump?” Leslie had asked when she discovered that most, if not all, of her sister’s furniture was being left behind. (There might have been one or two pieces Leslie would have taken if she had somewhere to take them to.)
“You bet,” Carrie had chirped, “
But some of it’s good. Why not send it to the Thrift store? Make some money for charity?”
“Too much trouble to divvy it up. I asked the U-Haul guy about that but it would be two trips. I’m sure he’ll take anything worth selling and Fredrick insists we start clean.”
“But you’re rolling in money now.”
“Exactly but when that happens people suddenly spend more than they have and end up poor again.”
So now Leslie and the furniture were soul mates not fancy enough to fit in with Carrie’s new life. But what did it matter if that old coffee table went to the dump? Maybe someone would retrieve it. When she and her sister were children, her grandfather used to take them to the junkyard and find treasures. Of course, those days were gone. Now a sturdy steel fence at their local landfill prevented such recycling.
Without admitting to eavesdropping on her neighbors, which it hardly was, the following day after the new tenants had done their measuring and left, Leslie called her sister to ask her how long the people in the next apartment had lived in the building.
“Oh decades but they’re gone now. So there were two places for rent on the same floor which made mine hard to get rid of.”
“What about on the other side,” Leslie said before she remembered the other side was the corner. “I mean across the hall.”
“It’s an old guy who never leaves his bed. Only time you ever hear from that apartment is when the social worker comes.”
“It’s a cement building. You won’t hear anything unless something drops. You might think elves live up there. Why so curious?”
“Well, someone is unhappy.”
“You, I imagine. I thought you would like to get out of your basement apartment, see the sun, and enjoy a few days of luxury.” Leslie had sniggered at that. Luxury it was not.
Having taken the morning off Leslie decided to go back to bed for a top up sleep. She dozed off immediately but was woken again by her complaining neighbors.
“You do what you can, do your best, but you’re rejected.”
“I hadn’t expected it to end like this.”
“If I could get out the door, I’d be gone.”
“That could be dangerous.”
“What’s the worst that could happen? Some student would pick me up and take me home. Treat me like royalty, not expect me to do much, learn a little Spanish…”
“But maybe the police would see you, send for a truck to pick you up.”
“If only we could reach the lock, we could slip out of here.”
Leslie had frozen at the words ‘escape’ and ‘dangerous’ and the phrase ‘reach the lock’. It was unusual but the door was always locked from the inside and the lock was very high to prevent kids from getting out, Carrie had said.
The words reminded Leslie of the women who had been imprisoned for years in a man’s cellar, unable to escape even though they lived near people who should have heard their pleas. When she’d read the story, she’d wondered how he had kept them captive: why didn’t they cry out or unlock their doors from the inside?
She wouldn’t let something like that happen on her watch: she’d unlock the front door. Then she decided to take it one step farther and opened the door, leaving a note to the upstairs neighbor that Carrie was moving things out but that she was keeping an eye that no one came in. She announced to whoever was listening, “I’m leaving the door open this afternoon.”
Curious to see whom she’d catch sneaking by Leslie left her apartment door ajar. Not that she intended to confront anyone; she would just watch, pleased that she had helped them escape. But although she was vigilant, when nothing happened for the rest of the day she chastised herself for her stupidity. They would hardly leave in the daylight.
That night she decided to stay up past her usual bedtime to observe. It was summer, so no worry about cold breezes. From the hall, you could see into the kitchen and living room, best not to station herself there. She went into the bathroom, which overlooked the street, brought in the small stepladder and sat like a sentry.
As she tired, she slumped back against the windowsill and waited. Suddenly she jumped awake. She heard a scrapping sound and a “Keep a lid on.” And then, “Quiet you bozo.”
Things were moving along. She craned her head to see out the window, nothing on the street except a few old pieces of furniture hardly visible in the dark. Maybe it was one of the days that neighbors could leave out junk. Perhaps the city—mad for recycling—had initiated the practice, particularly popular with hard-up students willing to take anything to furnish their small rooms.
Leslie moved to the bathroom door to see if she could hear anything but there was only a soft scraping sound from the trees swirling in the wind. Luckily she had jammed the front door ajar. She moved back to her stool.
Finally she heard a door slam and hampered by a sleeping foot hobbled out to the front hall. The wind had slammed the door closed but she was confident they had left. She had missed seeing them; she would never know their story unless she read about it on-line. That is if they reported their escape to the police. If they did, she hoped they would note that a Good Samaritan had left the door open for them.
Remembering the half bottle of wine in the fridge, Leslie decided to celebrate. At least I know what I did, she thought. The telephone was blinking. A message from her sister, “Don’t forget to be there when they come tomorrow or they’ll charge me twice.” (So rich now and yet so stingy.)
Leslie rummaged in the bottom drawer retrieving some forgotten chocolate, and with it and the wine in hand, headed for the living room.
It was bare. Not a stick of furniture, except a small table with one broken leg that had been hidden behind the sofa.
Had the U-Haul guy come in when she dozed off and taken everything except the bed? That was cheap help for you. Hearing a clatter over the wind outside she rushed to the front door. But there was no van, nothing but some bulky objects bumping down the road from the gale—nature as one! Knocked on the knees from behind, Leslie grabbed the door to avoid being thrust out unto the street. She turned to witness the spindly little table hurl by and roll down the street. A thin voice cried, “Wait for me,” but was quickly drowned in the howling wind.
Leslie pulled her nightgown around her shoulders, ran into the street and shouted, “What about me?”
Originally published at Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Spring 2017.