FIRST 8 PAGES
Sharleen Hetherman had always lived with fear. Not in fear, but with it. She’d only lived away from home once before at college.
The large woman in a gray suit handed her a small square envelope tiny enough to fit in her hand. She dumped out a set of keys in her palm. “We all set now Sharleen?”
The Property Manager raised her eyebrows and twisted her mouth so that the words came out “Weallsetnow Sharleeeeennnnn.”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean thanks for the keys.” Her voice came out small and timid. She wasn’t as large in the middle as Mrs. Duncan, the owner and manager of the Sherwood Apartments, but she was just as tall. Both women towered over the majority of the tenants that breezed past stopping at their mail boxes or hitting the elevator.
“You can stop the elevator by using the hold button. It’s old with the accordion door but my renters love it because it can be held open without setting off any alarms and it can have the door slide open and stay too. Very handy when it comes to moving in large pieces of furniture.” She looked down at her clip board and flipped a few pages. Satisfied she looked back up and said “When will your moving truck arrive? I can schedule it in and make sure the front isn’t blocked or anything.”
Sharleen stared down at the floor. In the same small voice even tinier she said “Don’t have any furniture just yet. Just what you see here.” She pointed to a few boxes stacked on top of one another. They leaned against one of the two beige couches that constituted the building’s entrance and lobby.
Mrs. Duncan guffawed. “Oh, honey. We all had to get a start somewhere. See here, I have renters who leave all the time for various reasons if you get my drift and so I might find an old futon or single bed vacated down in storage. Take me a few days to check it out and get it out but if I find something you’re welcome to it. Don’t have storage here except what’s in the basement and that’s shared. No private lockers. I try to accommodate.
“Oh thanks, Mrs. Duncan. I mean if you have anything.”
“Sure thing. Sure thing.” The woman stood straight. “Laundry’s down across from the basement. Needs quarters. Change machine inside if you need it. Washers. Dryers. Sunday mornings seem to be the busiest and Saturday nights. During the week especially the mornings, it’s not so busy.”
Sharleen hooked her thumbs in her jeans. “Guess I better get started moving these boxes and stuff.”
“Of course.” Mrs. Duncan marched over to the elevator and banged the open button. She pressed a red button inside. A buzz sounded for five seconds then stopped. “There you go. It’s open. You load up your boxes and head on up to–.” She looked down at her clipboard. “Floor five. Let me know if you need anything. Thanks again and welcome.”
She held out a wide hand with thick fingers. Her arms were covered in long sleeves. Her legs hidden by a flared skirt with the hem down to the ankles.
Sharleen shook her hand and shrugged her shoulders.
The first thing Sharleen hung on the wall was the needlepoint her Grandmother had made her when she first went to college. She wasn’t quite sure what it meant but it was a conversation starter and a nice addition to the bare walls. The needlepoint had a lime green background with the words stitched in yellow. It said “Just get the meat on the plate. You can always change the vegetable later.”
She was the only one in the family that wasn’t much of a meat eater. Part of her dietary restraints came from having only one kidney. She was born that way. It was discovered only because of an x-ray. She’d been on a soccer team in high school, had an injury to the knee or ankle or something and they’d done some x-rays. The doctor told her it must be hereditary and that someone else in her lineage must’ve only had one kidney at some point too. She wondered if that meant someone else in the lineage had ended up with three kidneys instead of one.
Her belongings were like her kidney, few. She took less than two hours to unpack her sleeper fold up sofa, two chairs and a table, a TV and cart and assorted equipment that went with it, a small stereo and a bicycle. The apartment had a built in wardrobe and a walk in closet that led to the bathroom. The kitchen was only large enough for her to stand in and cook or open the fridge or cabinets. Not much to the place, but she didn’t need much space.
The space was old but cheap. She was on her own for the first time. Her own place. Her own rent. Power and water were included with the rent. Her job, her day job until she got the job she wanted in journalism, was a few blocks down the street. No subway fare. No taxi fares. No car to park or gas to buy. She just had to maintain her shoes and walk in all kinds of weather.
She picked out a fresh pair of sneakers her Mom had given her as a welcome to your new apartment move. She placed them on the floor beside the wardrobe. She sighed and tossed a blanket on the couch bed. It was the kind of bed that folded out onto the floor not like a sleeper sofa or futon. She smiled, grinned, and moved to the kitchen.
She poured herself a glass of wine and threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave. The moon shone through the tall glass window that took up the outer wall of the tiny kitchen. She looked up at it and then at the neighbors in windows across the alleys. She was surrounded but still alone.
The moon was gone replaced by the sun with just faint buzzes of traffic and voices that carried from the alley below. Sharleen showered and dressed in a black skirt with a white blouse. She pulled on footie socks and then her sneakers. The elevator was stuck or slow. She wasn’t sure yet which it was so she hoofed it down the five flights of stairs to the lobby. She nodded to Mrs. Duncan and pushed the glass doors as hard as she could to make sure her purse and briefcase didn’t get caught in the door.
The traffic was light but heavier than what she was used to in the small town where she’d gone to college. She waited for the light to change then hit the street running in the new sneakers her toes uncomfortably close to the edge.
After a four block jaunt she stopped took a deep breath and smoothed strands of dark hair behind her ears. She read the door and smiled. Day one of her first real big city job as her Mom had put it. She was going to be an assistant ad director in one of the largest advertising firms in the country.
She skipped the elevator in the giant glass building that housed the advertising firm and several other businesses. She took the stairs two stairs at a time at first then one at a time. She pushed the door with a giant 5 and slipped around the corner. She stopped at the water fountain. The water was ice cold and she stayed at it longer than her mom would probably tell her she should since it might not look lady like and then there was always the worry of cleanliness and germs. The ladies room was by the water fountain. It was as small as the one in her apartment except there was no shower; instead there were two stalls, a sink and counter, a hand dryer and a small window with opaque glass. She sat on the toilet and pulled off her socks and sneakers. She jammed her dress shoes on her feet and her sneakers in her briefcase. She peered inside the pale green satchel bag that had come from a thrift store downtown. In one pocket of the bag were her shoes, the other held her lunch. The front pockets contained pens, pencils, paper and a notepad. She was ready to go.
Sharleen spent the better part of six months collecting color swatches, tile textures, and cutting out pictures from home improvement magazines. She would ride the subway out to the suburbs and then take a taxi or walk to a box home improvement store every Saturday morning. Whatever free improvement class was offered, she would take. She started carrying a briefcase to the classes so she could collect more samples: carpet, tile, wallpaper, paint, anything that was offered as a free sample she’d put in her case. Soon the sample briefcase would make the trek to the office building, the hallway bathroom and then in the office itself underneath the desk in her cubicle. She knew so much that her co-workers (and there were many considering the size of the office, three rented floors in the seven story glass dome building dubbed ‘The Glass Building’ by the locals) asked her opinion on decorating, upgrades, suggestions on sprucing up rooms or dull apartments. She started doing side jobs at night and on Sundays. She wouldn’t take any Saturday jobs or work on Saturdays so she’d be free to take more free home improvement classes.
Her own apartment began to morph almost as fast as her bulging briefcase. The briefcase was a pale green and that was the inspiration for the wall paint. It was accessorized with a light brown handle and leather like brown latches to keep it closed. Those became the inspiration for the new floor, a brownish laminate – the peel and stick kind. The kitchen got accessorized too. Pale green curtains. Brown curtain rods. The curtain rods were originally white, but she painted them and the brown wood curves nailed to the wall to hold the curtain rods brown. She replaced her futon too. It was brown with pale green throw pillows. The last thing she decorated in the apartment, this time with the landlord’s actual permission, was the walls. Pale green on the smaller walls with a light beige on the others. She told others when she showed them the pictures that it felt nice and soothing to her and it made the apartment feel more like a home.