“Don’t move in there,” warns the rail thin homeless man collecting cans and bottles from the garbage pail in front of the Jones Street apartment. “He’s a pervert.” Mika and Eugene exchange a glance while carrying a dusty bookshelf into the musty lobby. It is heavy, they are sweating, and the man tries to untangle a dirty shoestring from a cracked Evian bottle. They can see him again through the second floor window when they make it upstairs to their apartment, the bookshelf left by a closet door and away from the newly painted walls. “He’s a pervert, he’s a pervert,” the man shouts, clutching the Evian bottle while holding two sparely filled garbage bags, his greasy hair loose on his cheeks and neck as he walks towards West Fourth Street.
“Okay,” Eugene says, laughing. He stretches his muscular arms and says, “Goddamn, I’m sore. “That thing was heavy.” He is tall and has dark sideburns, the same hue as the wild chestnut hair on his head.
“Wuss,” Mika says, her shorter and marathon fit body in gray sweatpants, the outline of her narrow hips distinct. “Man, that guy was crazy,” she says. “I was gonna offer him a few bucks to can it, but we need to pay the Fresh Direct guy in a bit.” He nods, drinking juice from a container. They look around the apartment where the New York Times photographer would come to photograph them for “The Hunt,” the weekly Real Estate section of the paper. They’d already read the column draft about all of the areas they decided against before choosing Jones Street; Soho where there was excessive shopping activity, the Chelsea co-op that had a leaky ceiling, the Perry Street townhouse with steep rent. Here, with two rooms, a closet and a modest size bathroom, they decided, was enough for two people who spent more time in their respective offices than at home, her a literary agent and him in Real Estate. There is a knock on the door and their eyes meet. They are not expecting anyone. He puts the juice container on an antique table and opens the door while she picks up a pile of mail to sort.
“Welcome,” says Harry, the super who they met several times. He is holding a bottle of wine with an attached card.
“How lovely,” Mika says, setting the mail aside. “You didn’t have to.” She looks at him, his long, skinny legs, clean shaven face and yellowing white sneakers, the rubber faded. His hazel eyes are kind.
“Just a little something I do for all of the newcomers,” he says.
“Thanks, dude,” Eugene says, smiling warmly and watching Mika open the card with a butter knife, the silver color bright against her polished fingernails. Inside is a Target gift card in the amount of fifty dollars.
“I’d invite you in for a glass of this,” she says, holding up the wine bottle, “but we don’t even have our glasses unpacked yet.”
“It’s fine,” Harry says. “I have work to do. Can’t be falling down on the job.” He takes off his red canvas hat, waving the dented brim at them. He has matted brown hair.
Weeks pass. The apartment is filled with their old furniture and extraneous items from Pier One Imports and Crate and Barrel. Mika and Eugene go to work where they make profitable deals, eat expensive lunches and toast about signed contracts. At home they shower, shave, have sex, prepare meals and watch television. Friends come for housewarming parties and then just parties. There are celebrations for the launch of Mika’s client Regina Oswald’s latest novel about a Charlie Sheen type downfall in Los Angeles, Eugene’s successful placement of an investment firm in a downtown building and this weekend is the party they were throwing because of the Times article that depicted them as successful thirty-somethings who hold their own in a city others only dream about thriving in. Mika comes home with forty copies of the paper she picked up from various Manhattan newsstands on the Saturday the piece is published, only to find that Eugene has a pile of mailing envelopes and twenty copies of the Real Estate Section strewn out on the living room floor, the other parts of the paper messily piled in the alcove where they had shoved what they deemed tacky housewarming gifts for the apartment; an embroidered pillow with an orange sunburst in the middle, cheap plastic wine glasses, a fur lined picture frame she refused to use after learning it was from a store that promoted animal testing, a set of kitchen knives that didn’t match the ones they already owned. He wavers between laughing and gaping at her new look, blonde highlights in her once mousy brown hair and eyelash extensions both of which she had done at a West Village salon that morning for a photo shoot she had later for the agency’s new website.
“Not such an original idea after all,” she says, holding up the papers and flipping her hair like she is in a Vidal Sassoon commercial. He smiles as she puts the papers on the kitchen counter and pours herself a glass of water.
“You look beautiful,” he says.
“Who are you mailing articles to?” she asks. “I bought some to hand out at the party.” She studies him critically; he has yet to comb his hair and shave today, his mane messy and cheeks stubbly. Her face relaxes into an easy smile when he begins to speak with the confident voice of the man she is proud to call her partner.
“My mother, sister and some extended family. Maybe some investors just to make contact.” They discuss how he decided to order extra cheese for the party and before she goes in the bedroom to change she holds up the article, and points to their photograph, how they sit on the very couch a few feet away from them with theatrical ease, her three hundred and fifty dollar print sweater from Anthropologie hanging off of her shoulders, expression one of cat-like contentment and his pale blue button down shirt wrinkled strategically.
“We look hot don’t we?” she says and he agrees mildly, stuffing envelopes. Hours later they are returning home from picking up paper goods for the party and bump into Harry, who is wearing all black and walking up the staircase inside of the apartment as they are descending. Eugene abruptly stops laughing at Mika’s concern about the windy weather affecting her haircut.
“Oh, hello,” Mika says, and Harry smiles, a look of near constipation as Eugene tells her they need to head back to the apartment to get things ready. “Bye,” she says gaily as Eugene firmly puts a hand on her shoulder. Inside the apartment they put the bags on the counter and check the answering machine messages. “Should we ask him over for the party?” she asks, checking her hair in the hallway mirror. “I feel sorry for him. He’s like a lost puppy sometimes.” Eugene disagrees with the idea and tells her so. He would never fit in with their friends and may be uncomfortable. She agrees that blue collar and white never mix and the idea is promptly forgotten. The next evening, the party comes and goes, becoming merely another memory of their uphill climb.
When Harry knocks on the door that Thursday night, it is late. Mika lets him inside, her black shirt tucked inside of her jeans and smile tolerant. He is there to fix the broken light in the alcove. Eugene had intended to be home to supervise before getting stuck at work and Mika, despite his protests that she would not notice if he made errors, thought it silly to cancel. Harry’s green shirt is damp with sweat and has dirt down the front. He is holding a toolbox and a ladder. He smells like chemicals.
“Hello, Mika,” he says cheerily, carrying his things to the alcove and putting them on the floor space that had been freed up for the party. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine,” she says, locking the deadbolt. “How’s it going?”
“I’m tired,” he says, opening the ladder and getting on the third step, elevating his body and tan construction boots. “Just came from the Jenkins’s.” She knits her eyebrows. “They took the Murray’s old apartment on three,” he says and she nods. “Kitchen sink was clogged. I was up to my elbows in Drano. With three screaming children running around.” She cracks a smile and offers him a glass of water but he declines and begins work. “Hey, is Eugene here?” he asks casually while she goes in the kitchen to read the latest issue of Marie Claire magazine. She catches him ogling the scantily dressed model on the glossy cover with greedy eyes and frowns. Oblivious to her observation, he keeps staring at the photograph, only stopping once he must use his tools on an intricate section of the fixture.
“Not yet. He went out with his broker to discuss some things.” She turns a magazine page but warily glances back at him when he says, “That man works hard,” and repeats himself with heavy emphasis on the word hard, the corners of his mouth turned up and a smutty leer beginning to take shape
“Yeah,” she agrees uncomfortably, her eyes returning to the fashion section of the magazine where photographs of colorful clothing are paired with equally bright sultry summer scents. With shaky hands, she sends Eugene a text message to see if he will be home soon and waits for his response. An ambulance siren fills the air, then passes. While Harry works, she varies between perusing the magazine pages, checking her Blackberry for Eugene’s response, reading a manuscript her intern selected from the slush pile, and answering both work and personal calls, keeping each conversation to a minimum, while drinking an Island margarita and sporadically staring at her inbox empty of texts. When the fixture is replaced and proves working, twenty minutes have passed. Harry is perspiring heavily as he climbs down the rickety ladder, the broken fixture lying on the floor by the tools strewn around his feet.
“Mind if I use the john?” he asks, the ladder squeaking as he folds it up and puts his tools away.
“Of course not,” she says quickly without looking at him while washing out the blender with warm water and soap. She is drying it off with a dish towel when he flushes the toilet; the pipes making elephant herd sounds. The bathroom door opens and she glimpses him wandering into her bedroom. She hesitates but joins him there, remaining idle in the doorway.
“Lost?” she asks plaintively as he looms close to the bookcase she and Eugene set up adjacent from the full length mirror built into the wall.
“Just seeing if I could hear those pipes rattling in here, which I do,” he says. With a glint in his eye he asks, “Are they loud, or is it just me?” She shrugs stiffly.
“I think the neighbors across the village have filed noise complaints.” His laughter in response is hearty but does not mask the sound of the persistently vibrating pipes.
“And here,” he says, the tiniest bit of drool catching between his front teeth and upper lip, “I thought as a super I was special because,” and he glances at her bed where the blankets are in disarray, the imprint of hers and Eugene’s bodies still there from morning, and back to her serious face with a sinister grin, “I hear everything.” Her face drains of color when he winks. Smirking, he returns to the alcove, picks up his toolbox and the broken fixture and easily strides out of the apartment. She is gulping a third margarita in the kitchen when Eugene arrives home forty minutes later.
“I thought you’d be home hours ago,” she says, frowning.
“You’re drinking?” he asks abruptly, avoiding her strong gaze. “At midnight?” His suit is wrinkled and he has gray circles under his eyes. She nods.
“Long day,” she explains, slightly slurring and her hand trembling while she empties the drink remainder in the sink over soiled plates and cups.
“I can fix that,” he says confidently. He leans in to kiss her and caresses her breasts but she pushes him off of her like an unwanted advance in a crowded subway car.
“What?” he says. “You’re mad that I didn’t answer your text? I told you not to text me while I’m at these things. It’s just going to keep me out longer.” She shakes her head.
“No, sadly, I’m used to you that way,” she says, remaining distant from him, her feet planted to the floor.
“Well then what’s your problem?” he asks, raising his voice. “Anything happen with Harry?” The skin on his face tightens as she adjusts her crooked bra cups and says yes.
“He sort of, said something to me that I was not expecting.” Coldly, she looks at him and folds her arms across her chest to hide that she is nervous. He gasps and at the same time she begins explaining about Harry’s dirty insinuations, he begins apologizing for fucking his co-worker Mariana, both of them stopping when the stories fail to line up.
“Harry didn’t tell you?” he asks her, mouth open as she is cursing and crying and throws the blender against the wall, water from inside soiling the manuscripts nearby. He apologizes again and after the storm passes, they make a pot of coffee and stay up for hours talking about how Harry once caught him here with Mariana which is why he thought he outed him. He listens to her story about the uncomfortable evening, cringing in all the right places. He expects that she will leave him, the distance between them enormous and his betrayal shown in her face puffy from crying but still he rolls up his sleeves to make things right in the one way he can — by sending some harm Harry’s way. No sleazy little shit can treat his wife wrongly. She is protesting and reaches out for him, the end result being a quick kitchen floor romp that she immediately regrets once he walks out the door.
— Kathryn Buckley is an Adjunct English Instructor and holds an MFA in Fiction from The New School. Her previous work can be found in From the “Heart of Brooklyn Volume 2,” “Toad Journal” and Ebibliotekos.com.