It had been a pleasant building. When it had been build, maybe in the 20s or 30s, chances are it had been the tallest building for blocks. A stone sentinel for the neighborhood. Now its art deco charm sat below modern steel and glass behemoths.
It was a cold Summer day, at least by that Summer’s standards. The sun cast hard light down and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for shade. Even so, you could still feel the Autumn on the air.
I’m told it was first a hotel. A popular spot given the location, near plenty of restaurants and hang outs. Who knows what this neighborhood had been like in the 20s though? It was fun to imagine what sort of artists and aristocrats might have stayed there. Before the depression set in.
It generally wasn’t their practice, but the realtor had been kind enough to give me the key for the time being. I’d cosigned the lease, after all.
The lobby was sparse, and not in the “Scandinavian Minimalist” sort of way. Four artificial leather chairs sat around a glass coffee table, everything covered in a nearly imperceptible layer of dust. I have always thought lobbies were something of a sham. Who is impersonal enough you won’t meet in your room, but too familiar to meet at a coffee shop? As it turns out, nobody.
It didn’t occur to me as I was walking through the green and beige halls, but I didn’t see another soul when I was there. I didn’t see a single person enter or exit a room, in the elevator, or by the entrance. The place was completely empty. I didn’t so much as hear anyone else.
I slid the key into the lock and turned the tumblers. They came to rest with a metallic thud. The door was not so easy. The handle turned but the door itself seemed to be stuck to the frame. I thought about kicking it open, but I’ve never been violent enough to do something like that. And to be honest, I’m not sure I’d have been able to anyways.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at entering, the door worked. As if nothing had been wrong in the first place. The door swung open and I stepped inside.
The room was even colder than the outside air. This made sense, given the heat hadn’t been on in months, but you come to expect all apartments to be warm. I couldn't quite see around the place with the blinds down. The sunlight crept through like the moonlight in a noir film, but not quite as menacing. These shadows harbored no secrets. It snuck its way into the apartment — a trespasser as much as I — and gave me enough light to see the dust and spores that cycled through the air like water.
I pulled the chain on a nearby lamp and the bulb burst. I cursed and covered my face, but I had never been in any danger. I hit the switch next to me and the overhead light turned on with the fan. The room became real.
The carpet was an odd salmon color. There were a few records left out, most of which had been mine to begin with. There were piles of books on every surface, which ranged from Tolstoy to Plato to Gibbons. The few plants had died. The place was clean.
I began to pack the relevant items into the duffle bag I had brought. This was only my first visit in, and I wanted to just grab the essentials. I started to pack up clothes, a few books, some small knick-knacks. I opened his closet to grab a coat. That’s when I saw it.
In the back of the closet, on the floor, underneath coats and a a few empty suitcases was a small brown shoebox. I set the bag I’d been holding down and crouched to grab it. It demanded my immediate attention.
I took the box into the living room and placed it on the small wooden coffee table. I slumped down onto the futon and found it lower than I’d been expecting. I pushed myself free from the backrest and sat near the edge.
With both hands, I pulled the box closer, and gently lifted the lid. For all the dust there had been in the room, the contents had avoided this fate.
One by one I picked up each item and examined it. There were a few polaroids from high school. There were drawings from kindergarten. There were old family photos. At the bottom, there were two, sealed letters. One addressed to me, and one to Linda. I lifted them out and placed them in the interior pocket on my jacked.
The final item was under the letters. I raised it, careful not to break it. It was a small red peony, dried in the sun and pressed between the pages of a book. The tears came easily now and I hadn’t noticed I’d begun to cry. The flower looked so frail in my hands, so red in the light. One of the petals was almost translucent. I placed a hand to my mouth and felt the stubble on my lip.
I placed the flower blossom in my breast pocket with the utmost care. I put the rest of the items back into the shoebox and closed it up.
I finished packing the items I needed, and threw the duffle on my shoulder. I put the shoebox under my arm. As quiet as I had entered, I turned the lights off and locked the door behind me.
I got out to my car and put the duffle in the trunk. I then crawled back into the driver’s seat and put the shoebox on the passenger seat. I almost buckled the seatbelt over it, but decided against it. I buckled my own seatbelt and turned on the radio. Peggy Lee was playing. It was “Johnny Guitar”.
I drove the car and there was no sound aside from the radio. A few clouds had moved in, but it didn’t mar the day.
We got to the river and I pulled the car off to the side. Pulling the parking break, I unbuckled myself and opened the door. I turned to the car after straightening my back, and grabbed the box from the seat. I didn’t bother to turn the car off.
I found a nice spot where the river reached the road. There were three ducks playing further down the stream. Two of them were grey, and the largest was a deep brown color, the color of dirt. One of the smaller ones splashed.
I placed the box in the river and gave it a gentle push. It slid silently away and, having been caught by the current, slipped further and further from me. I found a soft place to rest. I put my hands on the ground behind me and sat back. Peggy Lee sang softly. The box drifted, and then it was gone.