by Sean Griffin
It was the end of July when I moved into a railroad style apartment in Red Hook. The summer had come in the form of a clinging humidity that seemed to pull the sweat out of my pores. In the past half dozen years or so, I had moved around a lot. I mainly bounced around the boroughs. Living one year lease at a time, rent went up, I moved out. There was, however, a brief stint in Orlando, but it didn’t take. I had moved back to New York and got a job teaching English at a private school in Brooklyn. It was my first year back in New York, and after living a rather nomadic life, I wanted to settle some, make connections, and have what I imagined to be the ideal life of artistic pursuit of my writing.
I was determined to move without enlisting anyone’s help. This determination stemmed from my continual Catholic guilt, even though I had been clean for many years at this point, because if anyone helped me it would have been my parents. I wouldn’t have survived them helping, and every call with my mother after would be her casually mentioning that her shoulder was sore or that dad slept in because his back was bothering him all night. My dad would be far less subtle saying things like, remember how your poor mother and I moved you into your apartment, and proceed telling it as a tragic tale where I’d feel obligated to thank them again. I know this because they helped me move out and I still haven’t heard the end of it. Worse yet, I was afraid to ask friends for fear they wouldn’t show up. Especially given that they had missed a couple of my birthdays and tended towards cancelling last minute.
To move my queen-size knock-off memory foam mattress, I put it in a mattress bag, sealing it up with the exception of one corner, and in that small opening used a vacuum to pull the air out, flattening my bed until it looked like shriveled pastry dough. After sealing the corner of the bag, I rolled it up tight and tied it in three places to keep it from undoing.
With my mattress in its jelly roll shape, I was able to fit it into my hatchback with a couple gallons of paint, some paint rollers, all of my clothes in a duffel bag, and a couple boxes of books I hadn’t read yet. With the car packed, I drove down the BQE towards Red Hook. During the drive I could hear a hiss, not like a flat tire, but from inside the car. There either was a puncture or the mattress bag wasn’t airtight, and before I had gone ten minutes on the road the mattress had swollen significantly. Though it was still rolled up, it now took up the entire car.
I picked up my set of keys at the realtor’s office and drove over to the apartment on Nelson Street. The building was easy to spot since it was the only one with a mint green door. I could spot it from the highway across the street. It was mid-morning and I found a spot half a block from the building. When I opened the car door the sound of the BQE just overhead, the baritone honks of trucks, continuous sound of tires coasting on asphalt in their pale imitation of ocean waves, the occasional wheel going straight into a pothole with an alarming thud, rushed into the driver’s seat with me. On the corner was a repair yard that had piles of scrap anywhere they could stack it with a chain link fence going around it all. There was a pitbull behind the fence, his white fur so dirty probably from the emissions of the highway that he appeared gray. He stood with his muscular legs firm and just stared at me as I crossed the street. There was broken glass on the stoop that looked like ice in the summer. With several kicks from my rubber soles, I swept it aside.
The hallway was narrow with an apartment on the left and right sides. The stairs were slim too and the same mint color as the outside door. I’m built like a skyscraper, I just go straight up with no width, but my shoulders took up from the banister to the wall. Second floor and in my new apartment, the walls a fresh yellowish cream still had the thick dusty smell of paint without ventilation. I walked to the end of the apartment and forced open the windows, level with the raised highway across the street, letting in the noise. It took a couple trips, about a liter of sweat, and pushing the mattress length-wise up the stairs before the car was empty and the apartment was less so. I sent a message to an acquaintance who lived in Park Slope, Hey, I just moved to Red Hook.
I stood staring at the walls I intended to paint in an effort to pull the soil around me and plant my roots. My declaration of permanence. Granted, painting is always seen as a bad idea from a renter’s perspective because you have to paint the walls back to white, but I thought I knew better. I thought I would be in that apartment for years. This was also the first time I had a place completely to myself. In the past, I had always had roommates. Even growing up, I shared a room with my brother, and the opportunity to make a place mine was certainly a motivation. It was letting the past make decisions for me.
It was past dark when I finished the second coat and my t-shirt was a shade darker from another liter of sweat lost. I left all the supplies out, grabbed a book from one of the boxes, and walked out to let the apartment air. There was a crunch when I stepped out onto the stoop, and from the light inside I could see there was fresh broken glass. I pushed it over to the pile I swept aside earlier.
I walked past the place on the corner with the chain-link fence and dusty pitbull (saying, hi to him as I went), past the check cash place, tried to make the crosswalk under the highway, but got stuck on the concrete island between. Eventually, I made it over to Court St. in Carroll Gardens and found a bar that served food. The place was called Abilene, and it had found furniture hipster aesthetic. Chairs were mismatched or in need of repair, tables were made of reclaimed wood or were procured from the curb. One was an oak dining room table that looked like it at one point was the centerpiece for family meals in one of the brownstones in this neighborhood. Over in one corner was a stack of board games. Johnnie B. Goode was playing loud enough where chit chat fought to be louder. The people in the bar seemed to be kith either in style or in relation. Groups were seated or standing in human circles. Putting my hands together like I was either in prayer or about to dive, I pushed through the long beards, tattoos of obscure images that are sure to be conversation pieces anywhere else, but largely ignored, gauged ears and septum piercings, flannel and skinny jeans, high waisted shorts and tops tied behind necks, until I got to the bar.
Behind the bar was a woman with a rawboned face and a small turned up nose. She had full hair in tight ringlet curls and leaned over the bar waiting for me to order. A sandwich and a glass of Malbec. Standing upright, she wrote on a pad, tore off the page, and placed it on the end of the counter. As she moved from one side of the bar to the other the color of her ringlets changed from blonde to red to blue like her hair was kaleidoscopic. She returned with my glass of wine and was gone before I could say anything else. I dove back through the crowd and found a place to sit with a small table and my back against a wall. I sipped my wine and felt the acidic tart slide down to hit my empty stomach. The wine in the glass almost seemed black as it trembled on the table because I was jogging my right leg so hard. For some reason I thought I’d read and eat, something I usually do when I eat alone, but I couldn’t get past the first page. Something would distract me long enough, that any information I soaked in had evaporated. At one point, a woman in a casual black spaghetti strap dress came in and started her greeting of an elongated, “hey!” as she crossed the room to a group of people. She was talking as if she had trouble hearing her own voice. As if she too, was trying to prove she existed.
My phone buzzed with a reply, Cool. That neighborhood has great seafood. I left the phone on the table and stared at it. No offer to hang out or to meet up. It would have been simple to call someone, but at that moment what I wanted was for someone to reach out and show me they cared. I thought about trying to talk to someone around me, but all were involved with their own. Instead, my sandwich was brought out from the kitchen.
The next morning there would be cop cars driving up and down the block. The street intersecting mine, cordoned off. On my walk my dad would call.
“You know four people were shot on your corner?”
“Yeah, it was on the news. Don’t tell your mother.”
But that night, I had two more glasses of wine and chicken sandwich. I walked to my new apartment with my book tucked under my arm. No pitbull in the yard, he must have been asleep tucked away somewhere. The stoop sparkled in the street light from a new batch of glass and the door’s green seemed luminescent. Stepping through the glass, I wiped my feet on the front doormat and continued up the stairs.
I unwrapped the mattress and laid it in the middle of the floor. With effort and most my weight, I was able to close the windows and dull the sounds from the highway to a hum. Lying on the bed in the glow from the lights outside, I tried out several times the feeling that I was home.
Sean Griffin is an MFA student at Manhattanville College. He's an editor of the Manhattanville Review and Inkwell Magazine. He lives in New York with his three dogs. Sean has not previously been published.