Alone At Last
There’s a strange clamminess that sits on my tongue in this apartment. Sure, it’s a basement, but it won’t burn a hole in my wallet every month like my sister’s place. I get a vibe that no one’s been living here for a while, but that’s okay.
I don’t mind as much as Mum might. I can hear her already, as I move newspapers about the floor, telling me it’s grubby and that I should’ve picked somewhere in a higher price bracket.
Chief meows at me. Maybe he’s silently judging me, or maybe he’s telling me not to worry so much about what people might say.
I laugh at how silly that sounds. He’s a cat. These are just nerves. Nerves borne from the excitement of finally living alone. Truly alone. Not in some shared student house where we all sit in our rooms pretending socialising doesn’t exist.
Thinking about it gives me shivers, or maybe the draft I’m getting from the single-paned window. I’ll never know. What I do know is that Chief is probably going to piss in every corner of this room before he decides to use the litter box, just to protest this sudden move.
He’s spent the last ten minutes giving the narrow gap in the window a good probing, desperately demanding to get out. While it pains me to see him so distressed, I can’t just let him out and lose him forever. He could find his way back home, if it comes to it. Or he could wind up as road kill. That’s a chance I don’t fancy playing with.
There’s nothing lavish about living in a studio flat, right down to the ugly beige carpet and the old 80s wallpaper. Yet, there’s something a little charming about it. It doesn’t have to stay this way; in fact the landlord said I can do whatever I like with it. Within reason.
Sitting in the bay window, watching the foot traffic wander by without a care in the world, I can see what I could do to make this place a much more comfortable place for Chief and I to live. Sure, he’s always been an indoor cat, but if I put up a mesh barrier at the window so I can have it open during hot summer days, and he can have a bigger cat tree so he won’t feel so small living in the basement.
At the other side of the room is my childishly small single bed. The bed sheets aren’t even on yet and I’m already picturing throwing it all away. I’m an adult now, and that means a double bed. With it I’ll pretend I share it with potential partners, and not Chief. Not to mention a Japanese-style partition to offer a bit of privacy in the mornings.
The last thing I want is to feel like I’m in a goldfish bowl.
Opening up my laptop, I put on some music and start the long, annoying task of unpacking my belongings. Everything I could bring with me anyway. It’d be a lot quicker, and a lot more interesting, if my friends hadn’t been working today. I’d order a pizza as a thank you, and they’d mock me for owning leg warmers.
I can hear it now, Rhys saying something about an old music video, and then Sarah joining in.
My heart sinks a little. There’s a slight chill and, even with the music on, this apartment sounds quiet. And empty. And lonely. I hadn’t thought about how them not being here would affect the mood, or how much I wanted to share this moment with someone other than Chief.
At least I still have Chief.
He’s navigating the room like a soldier in enemy territory. It must be a strange feeling to him, being in a new environment, yet surrounded by things that smell so familiar.
Chief spends some time pawing at the window again, and I sit nearby. Sometimes I stroke him, but after a while I realize I’m just watching him. No longer unpacking my life into this basement apartment, and no longer listening to music with any sort of enthusiasm. I don’t even remember putting on this band, so it’s probably been a little while.
Instead of wasting the rest of my day mustering up motivation to unpack, I decide to slide my boxes to the side and sprinkle down some Shake ‘n’ Vac. It helps rid the room of that musty bite, and I feel a little bit more accomplished in my failed goals.
I make my bed, and then sit with Chief by the window with my laptop and a pot noodle, the kind that Mum will never know about. I don’t want her to know my crappy eating habits started on day one.
With no internet, I stick on a film and silently relish in the fact that I now have a bay window. It really was a selling point for this little studio flat. There’s a character in the film I’m watching who enjoys sitting in her bay window, admiring the rain and writing letters.
It sounds so silly, thinking about it, but where I live is the kind of town that makes me feel claustrophobic. And I’m too poor to move away. Not for long. I stroke Chief until he relaxes on my lap and my ten-year plan starts to unfold. I’ll save enough money to move away, get a place where the gardens are big and there are swings hanging from trees. Chief purrs. He won’t like a lake very much, but he also loves fish. It’ll be a fun experiment. Prickles of his claws as Chief readjusts his position on my leg, and I give my apartment a good look.
It is small, and this town is a rat bag. It’ll be worth it.
I sigh and lean my head up against the wall. The only way out of this dump would be if I won the lottery, and that isn’t going to happen because I need every penny I have for savings. I’m not gambling my hopes and dreams away on a ‘what if’ scenario.
The light is starting to dwindle now, the room becoming ever more vermillion from the old hanging bulb, and suddenly it all looks strange. There’s a greyish hue to the shadows, and what looked like a reasonable apartment during the day is starting to look like a very unfamiliar box room.
I squeeze Chief closer to my chest and we spend the rest of the film as a curled up ball. It’ll pass. Night does this to everything, turning the familiar into the surreal and then some. This apartment might be mine, but it isn’t my home yet. I’ll get over it eventually.
Twilight teases the night, but as soon as my head is turned there is darkness. It takes a few moments to adjust, so I focus on the screen. I don’t want to be reminded that I’ve got a sinking feeling in my stomach and a longing for my old room.
By the time the film has finished my eyes are struggling to stay open. Chief has moved to another part of the room and I sit for a moment under the milky light of the streetlamp outside.
Scratching. The kind of scratching Chief makes right before he does a protest outside his litter box. I jump so fast I think it startles him. He’s in the bathroom before either of us have time to think twice. He can shit all over the lino in there, but not on this carpet. He tries bolting straight out, but I shut the door on his face before he can.
I press my head against the wood and groan. He can’t sleep with me tonight if he’s going to go out of his way to turn this place into his giant litter box. I mean, the vet said he’s a big cat, but this is too much.
Can’t have him ruin my deposit already, and as much as it breaks my heart, he has to stay in there. So I slide in some wet food, and then say good night.
I give the old curtains a pull, but they don’t budge. In fact, they hang loose and ready to fall, so I don’t try my luck again. Now I need them, I’m wondering how I didn’t notice this in the first place. All I can do is pull over the bottom corners and hope they stay in place during the night.
Then it’s lights out and complete silence.
It’s taking forever. The room has a new chill to it and the light from the street lamp outside animates the darkness. I try mentally prepping a to-do list for tomorrow, and somehow that spirals into worrying about work, about Chief. There’s a tonne of paperwork on my desk, I can see it already. No one else is going to help me with it, and the only reason I get lumped with it is because I’m not a smoker. If I don’t think about it, I can enjoy my weekend. Tomorrow I’ll trek into town and get some decent curtains, probably look up a few deals for broadband. I’ll get Chief some catnip to help him adjust a bit better.
Looking out at the street lamp, I try to differentiate the streaks of light. There’s a rainbow in there, and if I concentrate hard enough I can see it.
Someone cuts through the light, and disappears down the street. It feels a little late to be walking around. I’m no judge, though. There’s a faint thudding noise, and a gate slamming. Must be a neighbour or something.
But then again, I swear those same feet are coming down the stairs outside. My heart races, and I sit up right. Must be wrong. Could be next door’s stairs. My heart keeps going, bringing chills down my spine as it does. I shouldn’t hear the neighbour from here.
Keys jangle. That is right outside my door. My whole body is being flushed with hot and cold sweats. My stomach knots and my heart just won’t quiet. I need time to think. It could be a drunk. Might be confused and think he lives here. That’s rude, actually, assuming it’s a he. But he could.
They’re trying to unlock my door.
My throat is squeezing itself closed. It’s so tight I swear I can feel the muscles in my neck tearing. I can’t even move. I’m just watching the door, seeing the figure of the drunk and second-guessing everything. He’s going to give up soon, but then he could get violent. If he thinks this is his home, then he could start banging.
He could break in.
The door opens.
My body runs fiery hot. The figure steps in. I try to speak but my dry mouth doesn’t make a sound. Not even a squeak. They close the door. My heart is in my ears.
They lock the door.
There’s pain in my gut, but I’m up on my bed, waving, clapping my sweaty hands, grabbing at my now damp nightgown and fighting back tears. This is horrible. This is so horrible.
The light bulb flicks on and I’m in tears.
My heart stops for a beat.
I’m stone-cold looking at him as he looks at me. There must be some kind of mistake, but, my heart races, he knows I’m moving in today. Instead of saying anything, he stands there looking at me. Not inebriated, and definitely not confused. I try to speak but my voice fails me again.
© 2016 Lannah Marshall
Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.