Rivi insists on helping me to unpack, although I try telling her that it isn’t necessary. “Shut up,” she says cheerfully, and starts taking my books from the banker boxes in the living room. “Go do something in the kitchen,” she says. “Make yourself useful.”
It’s a change, this apartment, but it’s temporary and necessary: one bedroom, kitchen, bath, living room. Space enough for living and for writing, which is all that I am in need of just now. The plan is to stock up on unhealthy boxed meals and caffeinated beverages, adopt a flexible bathing schedule, and to put one word after another until typing “The End” at the last page of… something.
Temporary, as I say, although the definition of the word is fluid in this case. It will be as long as it needs to be.
The kitchen is small, but so are all the rooms here. I only have two sets of dishes, one for me and one for Rivi (although she doesn’t live with me, she has a habit of appearing unannounced and not leaving for days at a time, so it’s best to be prepared), and I have brought nothing edible with me from my old place other than a half-empty bag of coffee and a small cardboard box of low-sodium chicken stock.
Adequate nutrition isn’t on my to-do list as of yet.
“These would be easier to unpack,” Rivi shouts from the living room, “if you had some bookshelves to put them on.”
“Furniture is for the weak,” I call back.
“A couch would be good too.”
“Couches are for the weak and the sick.”
“I’m only thinking of your well-being,” she says, walking into the kitchen with me. “Where are you going to sleep when I come stay the night? The floor isn’t good for your back.”
“We’ll think of something,” I say. “Like maybe letting you sleep in the tub.”
“You’re not as funny as you think you are, you know.” She looks through the bars of the kitchen window, which reveals the parking lot of the building next to mine. “Quite a view. I think I can see the site of a future stabbing from here.”
“I pay extra for that. You don’t get that sort of front row carnage without greasing a few palms.”
“You might have saved a few dollars and just rented the dumpster in the parking lot, you know. More money for stitches and reconstructive facial surgeries then.”
“Envy doesn’t become you, Rivi,” I say. From the empty cardboard box on the counter, I remove a single refrigerator magnet and place it on the fridge: India Cuisine and Kabob, with the phone number for delivery.
“You’d better have a washer and dryer here,” she says. “I’m not going to take my clothes to some laundromat, like a barbarian.”
“In the basement,” I say.
“There’s a basement? Does it look like a nineteen-seventies rec room? Beige carpet and wood paneling?”
“Actually it’s sort of like an abandoned apartment from the seventies. The super used to live there, but there was some problem with it not having a fire exit, so now it’s where everything gets tossed when people move out and leave stuff behind. The only light fixture that works is the one where the washer and dryer are, and you have to go through a room full of old coffee tables and console televisions to get to it.”
“You’re not actually kidding,” she says.
“The old bedroom next to the washer has a baby’s crib in it. There’s something underneath the blanket there, but I haven’t had the nerve to lift it up to see what it is.”
“You’re just trying to scare me out of using your washer,” Rivi says. “It’s not going to work.”
I shrug. “Just saying what’s down there.”
“Just means you’re going to have to go down there and do my laundry for me,” she says.
“Could mean that you have to do your laundry at the laundromat, like a barbarian.”
She studies me a moment, and then turns and takes the bars on the window between her hands and gives them a rattle. “I bet these aren’t really all that sturdy. Odds are you’ll probably be murdered within the first couple of days.”
“At least I’ll die with clean underwear on.”
“Odds are you won’t,” she says. “You’ll just have to trust me on that one.”