Monday, January 23, 2012

The Green Apartment - Part One

The apartment was on the third floor surveying the corner of 15th Street and Iris Avenue, upstairs from the used bookstore that was forever closing- the Clearance Sale sign never came down, the books were always half price. Pleasantly convenient to the Sea Dragon Noodle Shop, the apartment gazed down on the red Chinese lanterns who swayed quietly and hardly noticed by people hurrying from the train station on rainy nights - here, the train came over the river on a bridge of intricate iron work, far too elegant for this part of the city, as though it's engineer believed that one day this neighborhood would be frequented by bon vivants and duchesses down on their luck.
The apartment, unlike the lanterns, rarely went unnoticed by passersby. It stopped some people so suddenly that those following found it difficult not to step on their heels. A child declared to her mother while waiting for the crosswalk to change, "Mama, a sky terrarium . . . " and indeed the child was closest to the truth. Others would let their chopsticks fall from their fingers and look up through the calligraphy decorated windows of the noodle shop and wonder, "Is there a botanical museum up there?" No one was left untouched by the sight of the apartment from the street, and evening made the apartment a real celebrity, a solarium glowing like a lovely woman by the candlelight of a table in her favorite French cafe . . . what lover could resist a thing lit from within?
The windows of the apartment were numerous - two on the front side over the busted neon sign which should have read Used Books, but only sputtered U Boo, then three windows on the southern end of the yellow brick walk-up, and finally another three windows on the east side, facing the river and the train trestle. This vantage offered the plants abundant natural light. They filled the windows and pressed and reached their large leaves against and seemingly through the glass. There were times of day, depending on the light, that they cast shadows on to the street below, and this transformed the pavement into something other than the cold grey thing that it was, as though leopards and parrots would appear suddenly, perhaps, wave down a taxi. The windows seemed like leaves themselves - the glass was chlorophyll stained, no green of the sullen trees struggling to stand in the bricked walkways below could compete with this verdant light above -- it was as though the apartment was possessed by emeralds.

Muriel subletted the apartment through a friend at work. She had been working in the city library, the little branch, near the Unitarian Church, the one with the stained glass windows designed Frank Lloyd Wright, or was it the pews? It was the pews and the windows, and sometimes Muriel liked to sit in the little courtyard to eat a sandwich at lunchtime, and she wouldn't open the book she had brought with her to read, because the light through Mr. Wright's windows was far more captivating than anything some old writer could say to her. But she found herself nearly living on the street, because the woman she rented a room from died and the family was very greedy and rude, and they gave Muriel three days to vacate. She told Estelle in the Circulation Department of her circumstance and Estelle, who always had an answer for everyone, because, really, that is what a natural born librarian has, the ability to find almost any solution, said, "Oh, you must take Dr. Fattoria's apartment!"
"Who is Dr. Fattoria?" asked Muriel, suspicious that Dr. Fattoria might want more than she could possibly give.
"He's a botanist, and he's going to the Amazon to look for an orchid that nobody has ever seen before and he says he will be there just months and months. He wants someone quiet and sensitive to take his apartment while he is away. He'll practically pay you to live their sweetie."
"Why sensitive?"
"Because of his plants . . . "
"Plants?"
"Yes, you will need to water the plants."
"I can water plants." Said Muriel recalling the dead Christmas cactus she had to throw out only a week before.
Estelle called Dr. Fattoria and after some back in forth in Italian, "he speaks English, but prefers to speak Italian," made arrangements for Muriel, who spoke no Italian, to meet him that very afternoon. Muriel was to take the Purple Line all the way to it's last stop, Iris Avenue, and Fattoria would meet her in front of the noodle shop, but she wasn't to ask him to dine in the noodle shop, he deplored the Chinese and anything that they might eat, especially noodles.
Muriel had never been to that part of the city, and she felt like a pioneer as the train crossed the river, that roiled under falling snow. She marvelled as the snow fell and disintegrated when it hit the waves. She saw the apartment from the train, and she knew it was Fattoria's, because Estelle said "Look for the Green Apartment Muriel," - it was only a moment of green, but unmistakable behind the veil of snow. She disembarked the train and followed the few commuters down the black stairs covered in rock salt to the street. She continued straight on Iris Avenue until the Chinese lanterns came into view, and there, under the lanterns, stood a man in greenish tweed, he was bent against the wind, and he seemed to be embarrassed.
"Dr. Fattoria?"
"Muriel?"
"Yes, I am Muriel."
"Oh good, come with me. Your train was late and Chang kept opening the door and asking me to come in and have some ramen. Vile stuff, you know, don't ever touch it."
"Chang?"
"He and his wife own most of the block. I pay him rent don't you know? But I'll be damned if I ever eat his noodles."
Fattoria led Muriel across the street and into an alcove, "Here you'll find the post boxes, and this door has a buzzer for visitors. Are you familiar with these buzzers?"
"Yes, we have one in our apartment, well the apartment I am leaving."
"Estelle educated me of your situation. Deplorable, really. Well, I had my buzzer disconnected, if you want it reconnected . . . "
"No, it's not necessary, I rarely have visitors."
"Estelle told me you were reclusive Muriel. The plants will like that about you."

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