Emerging Writers. The Apartment.
A New Short Story by Angela Rieck
Amy’s pale gray eyes surveyed the off-white, unadorned walls in the small windowless office. An overweight middle-aged woman worked through stacks of multi-colored papers and folders on her L-shaped desk. The woman had short curly brown hair flecked with white hairs, and a fleshy pink, nondescript face broken up by reading glasses attached to a chain around her neck. Amy had tried twice to ingratiate herself in hopes of gaining favor, but the woman eschewed all conversation. So Amy sat down in the chair across from the only door. She zipped up her down coat, it was barely warmer in the office than it was outside, her pale skin had grown even paler over the long winter.
Amy sighed, how did she end up in this cold, messy office, waiting and hoping for a cheap, one-bedroom apartment. She was next in the line, the woman told her, if the first renter didn’t come by 7 p.m., Amy could have the apartment. The woman told Amy that she was lucky, the previous occupants vacated in the night and Amy was one of the few applicants who could move in right away. The normal waiting list was one year. Amy came 45 minutes early to show her eagerness and dependability, it was not appreciated.
Amy’s mind wandered to that punch mark, the 6-inch hole in the wall above their bed. It wasn’t a complete hole, only part of the drywall was dented. Jared put his fist through the wall the night that Amy told him she was leaving. Amy didn’t believe that Jared would hit her, it was probably frustration or intimidation or both.
Amy had announced she was leaving before finding out that inexpensive apartments were in scarce supply. For the past 6 weeks they lived in a permanent state of tension, she, sleeping on the sofa, he, in the bed. Each night he alternately pleaded, cajoled, yelled, screamed, begged her not to leave, promised that he would change…but Amy’s love had worn out. Funny, because she had never imagined she would not love Jared.
He had picked her! He picked her! Jared Sawyer, the Big Man on Campus, president of all fraternities, the handsome, well-liked athlete. He picked her! As a sophomore, Amy had helped Jared with Chemistry, it never occurred to Amy that he even liked her. Like all the women on campus, she was secretly in love with him. And then, he picked her!
A new world immediately opened to her, the best seats for college games, the best parties, the popular people, even the professors knew that she was Jared’s girlfriend. When she was with him, she was popular, the pretty blonde sorority girls that Jared had gone through even talked to her. When Jared left, they left, but Amy didn’t care, she had her own friends.
Amy’s first and only roommate was Teniesha and they quickly became best friends. Teniesha was all energy, her skin was a deep black color, she was a little plump, always wearing her trademark red lipstick smile and swaying her head from side to side when she talked. Amy loved the light clicking sounds made by the beads in her braids. Amy had asked Teniesha if she could get braids, but Teniesha laughed, “You would look ridiculous, you folks take everything from us, but you can’t take this.” Teniesha was right, Amy remembered those sorority girls returning from island vacations with cornrows, their fine wayward hairs refusing to remain contained in the braids. The braids were usually removed within a day.
But Teniesha didn’t particularly like Jared. She didn’t understand what Amy saw in him; she didn’t think that they had much in common. Teniesha wasn’t impressed by how nice he was to her, how he elevated her status on the large university campus. She just called him “colorless.”
He picked her! Jared Sawyer picked her!
After he proposed, she and Teniesha drifted apart. Teniesha was a bridesmaid, but they talked less, especially after Amy and Jared graduated and moved away. There were few jobs for a summa cum laude Art History Major and a “C” average business major. But eventually, they found jobs, Jared working for a beer distributor and Amy working as a receptionist in a law firm. “Whoever said that if you find a job that you love, you never work a day in your life; was not an Art History Major,” Amy would joke to Jared.
He married her! Moving to a new city was a breeze for Jared. He quickly found another group of guys to hang with, but Amy was a shy, over-educated receptionist in a Midwest law firm and found few friends. Their ordinary, one room apartment was decorated with cheap furniture and inexpensive prints from her favorite artists. They had agreed to save up for a house, something that Amy could decorate, but they ended up blowing their savings on Las Vegas vacations. Gradually she got tired of being the waitress on poker nights and the lonely curfew enforcer most other nights.
Amy never told him she was unhappy, she wanted him to know, but he didn’t. Now it was too late, Amy was already imagining a new life. Maybe it was the cute young lawyer who leaned over the reception desk and smiled a lot or maybe she just realized that Teniesha had been right.
Amy looked up at the clock, only 10 minutes left, then she would be able to get an apartment, and the incessant pleading and begging and guilt and anger would be over. She had decided to go to law school, she was going to start living her own life…she would call Teniesha when she got this apartment, Teniesha would fly in, she would help Amy rebuild.
Amy heard the stomping of boots outside of the door and her heart sank. A pretty, well-dressed woman with a sharp black pageboy wig opened the door. She was not as dark as Teniesha, a honey color really, and well dressed, too well-dressed for a lawyer, she was probably someone climbing up the corporate ladder.
“Hi, I am Diane Brown, I am here for the apartment,” she had a broad, confident, warm smile, yes definitely a corporate type. Amy began to pack up her stuff.
“The pudgy faced woman looked up from her paperwork, then quickly looked down. “It’s taken.”
“But, you said if I came before 7…”
“It’s taken,” and the squat woman in the too tight pants, got up, commanded the door and ushered her out.
After closing the door, the woman turned to Amy, and with an even, knowing stare, brusquely stated. “The apartment’s yours.”
“But I thought,” Amy stammered, genuinely confused. In seconds, Amy realized what was happening. Amy had believed that Teniesha exaggerated about discrimination, but, but, but.
“Do you want it or not?” Asked the woman with an even tone, her blue eyes hadn’t left Amy’s. Then she turned toward the desk. “Because if you don’t, I have a long list of people who do.”
Amy knew what she had to do. She and Teniesha had campaigned tirelessly for a Black dorm. She and Teniesha had talked about ending racism…it was Amy’s turn to take a stand.
“Yes or no,” asked the woman testily.
Amy’s mind raced to Teniesha’s face, then the face of Diane Brown. Then, the image of the punch mark and their drab, sad apartment. Amy looked down and murmured. “How much is the deposit?”