IN THE KITCHEN
That weekend I went back to my apartment. I had some things I needed to collect. Or perhaps I didn’t need them but I wanted them. Anyway I had to check the mail.
There was that book I wanted, a cookbook, too, some clothes that better fit the weather, oven mitts, a full bear of honey. There were other things that I don’t remember now and I didn’t remember then either. Within one minute of entering my apartment I used my list to kill a cockroach and tossed it away.
To be honest I don’t remember leaving the place such a wreck. Vegetables rotting in the garbage, recycling piled by the door, tea leaves molding in the pot, dirty sheets on the bed. The whole place had marinated in a foul sort of warm sour smell and on top of that I had left all the windows shut.
After running around a while and not accomplishing anything I decided I should strip the bed. I stripped and stripped all the way down to the mattress pad, reminding myself of the moment when I took too much allergy medicine and drank too much wine and didn’t eat dinner and peed the bed. The pinkish yellow stain laughing at me in a large misshapen O.
I rummaged around the bedroom grabbing shorts and tank tops and dresses now that the weather was warm. I grabbed all my cash and my grandmother’s ring, a four leaf clover of jade and gold. I grabbed my pearl necklace.
After stuffing the dirty sheets, mattress pad, towels into a fat green laundry bag I stopped. I smelled oil cooking in a pan. I figured it must be my neighbors. My neighbors directly below me always cooked with their front door wide open and I could smell all kinds of things all the time. One time the apartment building smelled of rotting fish for a whole week. But then I remembered my neighbors below me had left, too. I wasn’t sure who was left in the building.
I carried the heavy bag into the living room and there, in the kitchen, was a middle aged woman with graying hair at the roots and a young girl, maybe 8. They had the apartment next door, but in the 3 months they had lived there I had never spoken to them. Well then again I had barely been there in that time.
“Hi… What are you doing?”
The woman was hunched over a pan frying something. I could see the thick oil spitting out of the pan onto my stove and the side of my refrigerator. The daughter was cutting up some onions on my cutting board with my knife. I don’t eat onions. Neither of them looked up. The frying was loud I guess.
“Hi.. What are you doing in my kitchen?”
I remembered two months ago, when I was still here, seeing odd items in the garbage. Vegetables I had never bought. Cheese I didn’t like. The garbage was filling up faster than it ever had, but I just started to bring it downstairs more and more.
The woman didn’t look up. She shifted things around with a spatula in the hot oil. “Well, yours came renovated much nicer than ours and has better appliances.”
“You’re not here much anyway.”
The daughter stopped cutting and looked at me with glassy eyes.
“I know,” I said. “But it’s still my kitchen...”
The daughter kept her eyes on me. The knife in her hand. She was as still as wood.
“Look,” I said. “I’ll let you keep using my kitchen for right now. But you have to pitch in with the cleaning. It’s not enough for you to just clean your own dishes.”
“We aren’t much trouble.”
“Yes but you must clean the stove.”
“And the countertop.”
“And the oven.”
“I don’t touch the oven.”
“Fine, not the oven. But you must clean any bits and bobs that fall to the floor and occasionally clean out the sink.”
She kept on frying and her girl began cutting again. I grabbed the grocery bag with the mail, that book I wanted, a cookbook, some clothes that better fit the weather, oven mitts, honey. I squeezed the bag of recycling into the same hand and lumped the green laundry bag over the other shoulder.
Before I left I said, “Everything you need is under the sink.”
And as I opened the door, “Don’t forget the garbage.”