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Lori McClain

 

 

A Room of Her Own

by Lori McClain

It was the worst time to move to a new apartment. The dead of winter. And it was the worst time in our relationship to move. The dead of winter.

As we drove to look at what promised to be a great apartment, Tim explained that he’d spoken with a very nice woman who had listed her apartment in the paper. She was in a bad predicament with her landlord and her job, and wanted to move to Florida right away.

"Then do we really want to get involved in a sticky situation, Tim?" I wondered if he noticed my reluctance was not just in looking at this particular apartment, but in moving together again.

We drove through a questionable neighborhood and parked in front of a beautiful building on a cul-de-sac street. It was set back from the street like an oasis in the snow. Stained glass windows, polished wood doors with brass fixtures.

The wind was biting as we got out of the car. We were buzzed in and climbed a large staircase. I was sore from working out that day. My glutes really hurt. Working out all the time was my punishment. God was laughing at my pain. He was kicking my ass, and I deserved it. I was crying all the time these days. Trying to figure out why I was acting like such a fool. Being so cruel to Tim and he didn’t even know it. Or maybe he did.

A granola-type blonde answered the door. She could have been a social worker or someone you’d see at a health food store. "You want some hand cream? I took too much out of the bottle," she said to me while rubbing her juicy arms and hands.

Before I could answer, she grabbed my hands and started rubbing the perfumed lotion in. She was sweet and outgoing. Her name was Paula.

"Come on in. I’m a little freaked out." She spoke so freely. She seemed preoccupied, but so comfortable in her own skin. Soft skin.

The apartment was really homey. Candles and music. Pier One furniture. She introduced us to her cat.

"That’s Chopin."

I said, "I’m sorry I can’t pet you, Chopin. I’m allergic." Cats love that.

There was a nice little balcony and a stair-climbing machine in the corner. Yoga tapes. I imagined she had a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves on the shelf and raspberry tea in the pot. She held the lease under her arm and although Tim hadn’t told me all of the details, I suspected that her landlord was going to make it very difficult for her to leave.

We took a full tour and Paula never stopped chatting. Tim was not his usual reserved self. He was extroverted and not-too-depressed-looking for once. It seemed like Tim and Paula knew quite a bit about each other already. It was my first twinge of suspicion.

I could tell that Tim was impressed with the place, as was I. There were so many closets and two full bathrooms. I could take or leave the brown wall-to-wall carpet, but this was cozy. I could picture myself living there comfortably with Tim. I was always so comfortable with him. But so fulfilled by The Other.

"Now look at this lease," she said to Tim. He cozied up to look over her shoulder. This was not like him at all – he was downright energized. Maybe he was just anxious to try to fix things between us and he thought this great apartment would do the trick.

"I was in tears – you could probably tell when we were on the phone, Tim. Oh, let’s go in the living room, you guys. Take off your coats."

I was already wheezing and rattling from Chopin. I could be in a room with a cat for just a few minutes and I’d feel like I was drowning.

"This jack-ass won’t let me break the lease, but it clearly states that if I give him 30 days notice and find new tenants, I won’t be held liable." The words she spoke were very strong, but her voice was shaky. It made me think she might often play the victim.

She told the story that Tim already knew. She was a teacher and had been assaulted by a student months before, and was on Workman’s Comp. Some sixth grader hit her in the head with a stick. She felt well enough to go back to work, but failed a drug test and wasn’t allowed back until she could pass another drug test three months later. She went to the school board to see if they’d let her take her own drug test, but no luck. She was out of work the entire three months but never took that second test because in her time off she’d decided to move to Florida.

She laughed, "Gee, after I decided I was moving to Florida, I realized I could have been smoking that whole time!" and looked at Tim for some kind of Amen Corner.

He laughed knowingly.

So now he was a major pot smoker? Really you two, at your ages, you should at least be respectable alcoholics. I found myself staring at Tim, wondering if he really was my boyfriend, or just some guy I had lived with for the past nine years. Was I an unwitting part of some conspiracy? Was he some undercover agent? What did I really know about Tim, anyway?

After their laughter died, she turned to me and said, "So you’re an actress?"

"Yeah," I said, thinking that the term "actress" always sounds like a euphemism for "hooker" or "bored housewife." "That’s right. I’m an actor," I said, politely correcting her, hoping not to sound too condescending.

"Well, I have a lot of friends in theatre," she said. "In fact, my best friend – he’s the reason I’m moving to Florida -- is Ian Ryan, the director."

"Oh, I’ve heard of him. He’s got a great reputation," I said.

"Yes. He’s a doll. My best friend."

"Oh, wonderful," I say. Uh-huh. A pot-smoking-fag-hag.

Paula said she "might as well get it over with" and called the landlord, but there was no answer. I was really wishing we weren’t there any more. What was the point of even looking at this place? Maybe Paula was going to try to get the landlord to change his mind after meeting us. Such a nice couple.

After more small talk, the doorbell rang. Paula asked who it was.

"It’s Andrew."

She buzzed him in without saying anything. Tim had gotten on the floor to look at a broken tape deck that Paula had sitting out. Apparently it was another conversation they had that I didn’t know about. He must’ve offered to fix it for her after she found out he that worked with electronics. Paula stayed out of the room for a while but finally came in and introduced us to Andrew.

A tall Black man entered the room and said, "How you doing?"

There was a very noticeable liquor smell that followed him in. It took me a minute to figure out that this was not her landlord. This guy was, however, pretty drunk and it seemed that Paula was very uncomfortable with his visit.

Tim said, "Hey" to Andrew and kept working on the tape deck while I sat on the couch. Paula glided next to Tim on the floor, avoiding all the intricate pieces, and Drunk-Black-Guy-Andrew came in to the living room where I was wheezing and trying not to look too anxious to leave.

Andrew slinked over to me and grinned, "So what’s your story?"

"We’re just looking at the apartment – it’s gorgeous," I said.

Oh my God, this was not just a simple apartment showing. These people were Swingers and had lured us into their den of sin. Tim didn’t tell me because he wanted to find out if I was trustworthy. This was a test.

Andrew said, "Yeah." Long pause. Long eye contact. "Well, I’m going out here to smoke," he said as he stumbled onto Paula’s balcony. I finally took a breath.

The doorbell rang again, and Paula disappeared to get it. This time it was obviously the landlord and he was speaking very loudly in the doorway. Soon the vortex of a very agitated little man took over the room. He was so hostile – so much so that I almost laughed out loud. I couldn’t imagine how the situation warranted such a reaction out of this guy. He was completely incensed.

Tim cautiously said, "Hello, sir."

Sir? Was this Tim talking? Tim was never polite to authority figures. He didn’t get a reaction from the landlord. He tried again.

"I know Paula told you about us, and that our landlord is…"

"I know all about your present landlord, and that they want you two to leave so they can convert your building into condos. I did some checking on you! I certainly don’t want somebody jumping out of a lease and moving in here just like that!"

Let’s go – please, please, please let’s just leave.

Tim was pathetically trying to please this guy, like I’d never seen him try to please anybody. "We really, really want to stay somewhere a long time and we think your place is just beautiful. You’ve done a really good job, sir."

I chimed in with, "Yeah, it’s a lovely place."

The tiny man wouldn’t even acknowledge me. Maybe I just thought I said it out loud. This guy gestured with lightening speed and was dressed-up wearing too much cologne. He was reminiscent of Joel Gray in "Cabaret" but he wasn’t effeminate. He just acted like a poodle.

He looked at Tim to respond to my comment and said, "A lot of people tell me that about my places! You think I haven’t heard that before? I’ve heard that before, all right. I want four months rent, up front!"

Yip. Yip. Yip.

Andrew stumbled in from the balcony, and said, "Hey, it’s shiny red-faced boy!"

Oh, God. Blood is going to be shed tonight. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are going to burst in here at any moment and shoot someone. Shiny-red-faced landlord didn’t acknowledge Drunk-tall-Black-man. I get it: He only talks to other white men.

"She should know that I want four months’ RENT right now. That’s what the lease says. You should look at it."

Tim said, "Paula did show me the lease, but if we paid $800 right now, you’d still be way ahead."

"I’m not interested in ‘that little’ ahead. She should be in here discussing this with you and me."

The landlord wouldn’t even look at me, Tim was acting like a person I’d never seen before, this drunk guy was obnoxious and horny, and Paula, the whole reason we were there, wasn’t even in the room.

Tim said to shiny-red-faced-boy, "Aren’t you coming out ahead here? I know this is between you and Paula, but if we take over the lease and give you one month’s rent, plus a security deposit, how will that affect you in such a bad way?"

I said, "Yeah, you and Paula really need to get this squared away. But say we did want to take this place, what’s included?"

Again, he looked at Tim to respond to my question. "You pay rent! You pay heat! I pay water! You pay to heat the water!"

I thought, "You fuck yourself. You pay to fuck yourself. You pay for the water to fuck yourself." Instead I said, "And the parking is $25 extra?"

He looked at Tim and said, "For you, no parking!"

Chopin started hissing at him.

At this point, Paula spun in there like a whirlwind and said, "You told me your wife wants to use the parking space in May. But I’ve paid for it up until May! They should get the spot. It’s already rented out!"

"For them, no parking."

Tim tried to appeal to whatever humanity he might have and said, "Look, I travel a lot. I want to make sure she’s safe. She needs a parking space in this neighborhood."

"NO!"

I was just irritated enough with these insane people and my allergies to say, "Oh, then forget this shi…" and stood up.

Tim quieted me.

I said, "I don’t want to live above someone who’s so hostile! Forget it!"

Shiny-boy said, "Miss, I’m not hostile! I’m actually quite a nice person!" Oh, my fault. I must’ve completely misunderstood your assholishness.

Then Tim stood up and blurted out, "Sir, good luck to you and yours" and tried to shake the guy’s hand. What? When did he start speaking in Irish blessings?

Without saying anything, The Little Prince of Darkness stormed out, and it was just the four of us again. Andrew said to Paula, "I feel so sorry for you, girl." He looked at us and said, "Now, I’ll take care of my girl. I’m not her man or anything, but if we can get this squared away, what would it take to get you in here?"

Tim was just sitting there defeated, looking at random electronic parts on the floor.

I said, "I don’t want to live here, and I’m sure he doesn’t want us here after that shit."

Drunk-guy said, "I’m not in shiny-red-faced-boy’s camp or anything, but what would it take to get you in here?"

What’s it to him? I said, "Look, it’s a great place, but I don’t think I can put up with that guy. What do you think, Tim?"

"No. I mean, I’d have to really think about it." It was quiet. No one was speaking. Please, God, please. Let there be another hurricane.

To break the silence I said, "So, do you two work together?"

"You could say that," Andrew said with a shit-eating grin.

You prick. You probably screwed her over a few years ago and you’re here for a last tango before she leaves town. Andrew said, "Do either of you smoke weed? Do you mind if I light up? Who wants some weed?"

Why were we still sitting there?

"No," Tim said.

I said, "No thanks."

Andrew lit up a joint and Chopin was very interested in it. Andrew said, "I used to have a cat who kept stealing my pot. His name was Thai Stick. It was his destiny to be named that." While exhaling his hit, he said, "So what are the incentives for you to move in here?" He was a regular Donald Trump.

I looked right at Andrew and said, "Tim, I can’t take this cat much longer," hoping someone would get the joke.

Tim said, "Yeah, just a couple of minutes. I’m trying to fix this tape deck. This part is fried, Paula."

Andrew said, "See, girl. I knew he couldn’t fix it" and looked at me as if I’d think that was funny somehow.

I said, "That’s what he does for a living. He can fix anything if it’s fixable."

He can fix anything if it’s fixable.

I said, "Paula, do you even think that landlord would want us in here, anyway?"

She said sadly, "I don’t think so. Not after that. I don’t know what I’m going to do."

Andrew, back to leading the real estate band wagon said, "Okay, but if I take care of my girl, what would it take to get you to move in here?"

I said, "I don’t want to give money to that guy, okay? Do you understand that?"

He said, "Whoa! Okay, I respect that, but this is just business. Nothing personal. Nice and mean don’t have anything to do with it."

Paula knew it was pointless to discuss the details of breaking the lease any more, and said to me, "So what plays are you performing in now?"

I was thinking that right at that very moment I was performing in the worst dramatic series on television.

I told her I was in a play about Sigmund Freud and the Dadaist movement that was opening soon. "It’s very experimental and a really good script."

I just wanted to leave. I couldn’t even look at Tim. I felt like I didn’t know him and never did. That night, he’d completely taken me by surprise. I didn’t trust him, and I knew he couldn’t trust me either. I didn’t even trust me any more.

Maybe he was hoping to get us in a nice place because it might make me happier with him. It made me sad to see him so desperate. All I could think was that he had no idea how I’d changed -- who I was, or how exhilarated I felt being loved by someone else. Someone else occupied the space in my heart. I was a different person.

We left with no fanfare. No Swinging couples in hot tubs. No bloodshed. I waved at Andrew from a distance and shook Paula’s hand. I prayed that Paula wouldn’t let that asshole back into her bed again.

I said, "Good luck, Paula. I hope it all works out for you."

Tim said, "Good luck to you and yours," to both of them. More Irish blessings.

I had to tell him I couldn’t move in with him again. I had to lift this burden of suspicion. I could not go on living with someone that I was lying to.

"Keep in touch, Tim," Paula said.

"I will," Tim smiled.

A big part of me really hoped he would.

 

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