[The last two installments described Ella’s decision to uproot herself from friends and move into a calm city neighborhood]
At the start of week two, settled with a mug of herbal tea into my cozy armchair now in the living-dining room, I was relaxing with a book of short stories. Scratching sounds distracted me from a slow-moving tale about a ghost in a church. I groaned at the possibility of rats and felt my lawyer’s warning about signing a two-year lease nag at my conscience. A persistent scrick-scrick was coming from the kitchen, behind the wall I shared with the other condo. I put the book down and opened one cabinet after another. No rats, no bugs. Everything looked clean. The scratching sound stopped as I slammed the last cabinet door. Maybe they have a curious cat, I thought. Our old tomcat used to scratch endlessly on our bedroom door.
The next evening, I heard a faint howling sound, like coyote calls echoing across the Sonora Desert when we vacationed at an Arizona dude ranch long ago. I decided to check the street and when I approached the window leading to my balcony, I thought something flew by—damned pigeons, I thought. Bane of urban balconies. I looked outside and scanned the street. No varmints were trotting down the sidewalk. Nobody was walking a dog.
I toured the apartment and realized the noise came from somewhere inside the building. When I brought my tea mug back to the kitchen sink, I heard it more clearly. It was coming from the apartment next door. A dog, not a cat, I thought. Poor pooch probably misses his fur-parent.
“There, there, boy. They’ll be home soon,” I said up against the bit of kitchen wall not lined with a counter. The howling stopped. Good old Ella, there’s your good deed for the day.
On Saturday. I thought my neighbors would be home, so I decided to introduce myself. My house keys in hand, I crossed the landing with a small plate of caramel-chocolate-chip bars and I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again and called out, “Hello?”
As if in response, I heard the sound of something scraping across a floor, coming toward the door.
“Hello,” I said again. “It’s your neighbor, Ella.”
No person answered. No one opened the door. Then I heard a whimper, a dog’s whimper.
Assuming the dog was alone while his owners were out to brunch or something, I went back to my place and ate one of the bars myself. Then I tackled the last annoying bits of unpacking I’d put off.
Once I’d sorted through the mover’s boxes and felt organized, I decided enough already with carry-out and convenience store food. I grabbed my Trolley shopping cart and headed to the supermarket. I loved that little cart, with its vinyl cover and wheels that glided up stairs. Marino’s was just a block and a half away and on that warm, sunny day, I felt a wave of happiness wash over me. I had a lovely new home, a neighborhood full of conveniences, and plenty of time to enjoy myself.
I liked the way Marino’s was laid out: produce section as you came in, then gourmet cheeses, nuts, and condiments—all the foods I really liked to eat, foods my family used to treat with contempt. With the Trolley full of ingredients for tasty, future meals, I walked back to my building. Ahead of me was a man with a dog, a fluffy, knee-high pooch who kept looking up at him, whether in adoration or puzzlement, I couldn’t guess. They turned into my building’s walkway, and soon I joined them in the vestibule.
The man looked nice: tightly curled, graying hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, café au lait skin. He was fumbling for his keys.
“Hi, don’t bother. I have mine out.”
He looked up at me as if surprised to find me there. “Oh, well, yes, thanks.”
“I’m, Ella. I’ve just moved in. I’m in 2B. Are you my neighbor across the landing?”
“No, I live just below, in 1A. Name’s Dave Straybill.” He held out his hand and shook my free one holding the key. “Ouch, sorry, didn’t mean to squeeze. You okay?”
“Of, course. I just thought you might be in 2A because of the dog.”
“Yes, I’ve heard a dog in that unit, right through my kitchen wall.”
“That’s odd, I’m the only resident here with a dog…unless you have one, too?”
I couldn’t answer Dave right then. My mind was racing. I knew I heard a dog in 2A. I told him so.
“Well…Ella…well, I can tell you I’ve never met any other dog in this building, your neighbors neither. Kinda quiet, they’re kinda quiet.” He looked down at his dog pawing his knee. “Okay, King, we’re going up. He’s hungry, you see.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. Go on. I didn’t mean to keep you. ‘Bye, King.”
The dog gave me a quick, friendly bark, licked my outstretched hand, and scooted up the stairs as soon as Dave dropped the leash. As I passed them on the way up to my floor, I waved. Dave wasn’t looking in my direction. No matter. The moment I stepped into my unit, I felt calm, relaxed, and thoroughly at home. Cute dog, I thought. Hope I bump into them again.
I slipped off my flats and, dragging the Trolley behind me, I walked across the cool floor to the kitchen. So much easier to pull my purchases straight out of the cart rather than haul paper bags that ripped or plastic bags that sagged and were a nuisance to deal with. I shopped with a clear conscience.
After unpacking the mover boxes, I hadn’t gotten around to sanitizing a couple of the lower cabinets. I thought I’d store onions, potatoes, and the like in one of them and had left it for later. So, now, I sudsed up a sponge and started to wash the base, but I couldn’t see into the cabinet’s corners. Using the flashlight I kept handy by the phone, I lit up the back wall; it looked like someone had recently patched it but forgotten to paint. It felt bumpy when I patted it and not quite set. That was odd. Everything else in the condo was in great condition.
I happened to have a roll of marble-grained contact paper. I’d used only a foot or two in my last place to cover the top of an old side table. Glad to have tossed that one when I moved. I eyeballed the area and cut a piece of contact paper to match. It covered the defects perfectly. I sat back on my heels, satisfied with my success, then stored a bag of onions and a small net sack of garlic inside. My son would have been surprised at how well I was handling all this.
I sighed. I couldn’t put off doing a task I dreaded. Shopping was a great distraction, but I had to give Lonnie my new contact information. Not only had I changed my address but also my IP. I opened my laptop and started an email: “Dear Lonnie, hope all is well in London. Please don’t be upset. I’ve moved again…”
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