Her apartment always smelled like orange, not the fruit but the color. I think it was the spray she used. She said she made it, but I doubt it. Every time I opened her door I would be surprised by the smell because right in the middle of her living room was a box overflowing with trash. She affectionately (creatively) called it her trash box. I always felt bad throwing in my empty beer bottles and mac and cheese bowls, because they’d still be there the next time I visited. Every time I made an item into the box she would scream ‘GOAL!’ Her place should have smelt like a college dorm room; rot and shame.
I met Leah through a friend of mine from college. I had just moved to Portland so she invited me to a night on the town. When I got to her apartment to pregame, her roommate, Leah, opened the door. She was slightly shorter than me and was wearing a onesie. It looked good on her. Instead of going out she and I stayed in and smoked American Spirits on her balcony and made up life stories for the people walking below.
“That guy was raised by a single father… And is a struggling bass player and a part time student. His band just kicked him out, but they will soon realize he was the glue that held their group together all along and beg for him back," Leah said about a young man with purple shorts.
“And his dad is requiring him to finish college. He thinks it’s because his dad doesn’t believe he can make it as a musician, but it’s actually just because his dad knows it’s the right thing to do.” Leah looked excited with my addition.
“And he will find out his girlfriend is with child TONIGHT!” I added. Leah didn’t agree with the child part because she later added that he was “obviously gay.”
She told me about her brother who was in jail, and still is, and I told her about my dad. He lives in an assisted living home in Philadelphia. I told her how he calls me whenever he’s lucid. She told me her favorite beer was Red Stripe and how she liked it because it wasn’t the masses popular choice.
“Are you going to come in or let all the AC out?” she said without a smile.
“Oh shit sorry,” Of course I’m coming in.
“So what did you bring me today?”
“Okay…” I said opening my shoulder bag “We have Iron man, the new Willy Wonka, or the Two Towers lord of the rings one. What will you eliminate first?”
We had a movie choosing system. She still didn’t have an xbox and despised Netflix, so I always had to scavenge to find new dvd’s. Our system was, I would bring three movies and she would eliminate one leaving me with the deciding choice. I would pick one without telling her and pop it in. And she would provide the weed.
“Okay, what do you think?” She said as she proudly shoved a beautifully rolled joint in my face.
“It’s pretty good, but the one you rolled for Mama Mia was better.” It actually was.
“Fuck you. This is gorgeous…oh nice, I was hoping you were going to put in Iron man. Robert Downey Jr is my soul mate, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said curling up on the couch. Leah lit the joint and smoked the beginning of it like a cigarette, forgetting to share.
“Hey, share the love.” I did the same just to piss her off.
“I could totally live in a cave and make something cool like that…” She said putting her arm out toward the tv.
“I don’t think so. Do you think they were given warm socks? No.”
“No,” She said, lowering her hand.
Just like me, comfort was a necessity at all times. Leah was obsessed with socks. She would go through phases of patterns and lengths. The current craze was mid calf argyle. At the moment she was wearing fuzzy socks with traction dots on the bottom, feet propped up on the coffee table. The coffee table used to be at my apartment. I bought it with my mom at a yard sale in Philly; we got a pretty good price. I wasn’t that good at bargaining, so my mom was the one to haggle the price down to $25.
“Oh shit,” I said looking down at my phone. It was my dad. His lucid moments were becoming rare.
“I have to answer, I think I have to…” I said. Leah nodded, not really paying attention. I walked over to her room so she could fully enjoy the movie.
“Claire, how are ya doing?”
“I’m doing pretty well, how are you?”
“Well, I’m in Philly. Still in this place. Is this a good time to talk?”
“Dad anytime is a good time to talk. Is everything good over there?”
“Everything here is fine. I have been watching this show with vampires that live in a town and go to high school, I don’t know. I can’t work this remote.”
“Ha, dad you can ask your nurse to help you with that!”
“No, I don’t want to do that.”
“Come on, I’m sure they know-”
“No, I don’t want to have to!”
“I’m sorry. This is just frustrating.” He sounded defeated.
“Yeah, I know.”
“God where is Maria, she usually is good with these things.”
“Dad… Mom isn’t going to help you with that,” I said, hoping to trigger his memory.
“Why not? Let me call her to see where she’s gone. I’ll call you right back.”
“No, don’t call her-” My phone went back to the home screen, he hung up. The phone was cold and slippery in my hand. My hand kind of smelt like cheese. Why did it smell like cheese? I walked to the back of the couch, only looking at the phone.
“Hey! Did he ask about your mom again?” Leah yelled, not knowing my proximity.
“Yeah. He said he’s going to call her then call me back,” I replied with similar volume.
“Do you think I should text her to give her a heads up? Or what?” I asked as I slumped back on the couch.
“No, she can go fuck herself,” Leah said. She scooted back, avoiding my slap.
“Yeah.” At that moment Robert Downey Jr’s Iron man mask made a dramatic clink sound, bringing us back into the movie.
Leah and I were smoking cigarettes after Iron Man and coming up with what our lives would be like if we were in a polyandrous relationship with Robert Downey Jr. We would all share one large house and each have our own tree house. It all seemed doable. She and I had tried following through on our ideas for a relationship in the past. We had contacted Pierce Brosnan once, but got no reply. Leah and I tried fooling around by ourselves a few months ago. We decided it wasn’t fun without a third. There was a guy at a Starbucks I was working at, but I didn’t want to share him, then.
Leah’s balcony had two wire chairs and a small table. We kept an ashtray on the table at all times. I always had American Spirits, but she had ventured to Parliaments because they were the “underdog of cigarettes,” which is total bullshit.
“Whoa, Claire… Your mom is calling you,” She said, handing me my phone.
“What is she doing? Fuck no.” I put the phone down a little too hard and it bounced off the table onto the ground. It wasn’t a hard fall, but it sounded bad. I picked it up and the whole right corner was cracked. Leah made a sharp sipping sound. I didn’t care that much. My dad wasn’t going to call me back anyway, so I didn’t need to use it.
“Have you met David? I don’t remember,” I asked after a long pause.
“They came to Portland like one time, but I avoided them with you,” Leah said while tapping her cigarette ash off with her nail.
“Yeah, that was weird. She’s only visited me a few times since I moved here,” I said, trying to elicit some reaction out of Leah. Pity, maybe.
My mom had visited Portland since I moved there, but didn’t always tell me when she was coming. Last year she ran into me and Leah at a Starbucks I was working at. I wrote her name wrong on the cup. She told me she was in town to visit a doctor, that was while she was still with my dad. She never apologized to me when she left my dad. She apologized to him for a while and then gave up. She told me to remind him, when I felt like it. A few months later she was with David. I bet she was with David then too. Fucking David. My mom had met him at the grocery store, apparently. She and David live in my old house in Philly now. I don’t know what they use my room for.
“I like your mom better with him though. When she was with your dad she was such a bitch to you.” Leah added, taking me out of my thoughts. She had no intonation in her voice.
“Knock Knock!” Holy shit. My mom is here. And why she likes to narrate what she’s doing, I will never understand. Leah’s red eyes and red mouth widened.
“This is the second time she has done this. Do you think David is here too?” I asked as I sat up, then back down.
“Yeah I don’t know, just stay quiet and pretend we aren’t home,” Leah whispered. My phone rang. It was my mom. She heard the ring through the door.
“She’s a tricksy woman,” Leah said, slightly admiringly.
“Hey Maria!” I said as I opened the door. I stood with my shoulders square in the door frame.
“Hello monkey!” My mom said, embracing me with one arm and the side of her body.
“So I actually am about to go to dinner, so this is just the worst timing. I really wish you had called before,” I said. I couldn’t help it, but my mouth curved up on the right with a smile. Dupers Delight.
“Well I tried to, but it doesn’t matter,” She matched my grin with her own.
“Yeah. Next time you’re in town though we’ll plan something.”
“Mmm, we should. Who are you going to dinner with?”
“Anyone else, just you two?”
“Yeah, I think we might meet some friends. You could come, but I don’t know how many the reservation is for,” I said, edging her out of my breathing space.
“That’s great! You all will have a good time. David is waiting for me downstairs in the car, he’s keeping the AC on.” Well done David. Well done.
“I actually just came to drop this off,” My mother said, handing me a small bag.
“Thanks, you didn’t have to do that,” I said, meaning it.
“I know. It’s just something fun. Now I have to make a dinner reservation with David.”
“Oh, great. Where are you guys going?” She didn’t ask where I was going.
“We are going to this place called ‘Le Pigeon,’ it’s supposed to be good. Anyway, sorry to run, but we are already late! Love you so much!” My mother yelled as she rounded the hallway toward the elevator. Le Pigeon was my dream restaurant, I had wanted to eat there since its opening. She will love it. And I will tell her I loved my night.
I didn’t pause as I dropped the gift onto the coffee table and headed back for the balcony. I opened it later; it was filled with trinkets from my bedside table drawer back in Philly. She even included my favorite childhood bandana. It was orange, but had turned chalky over years of use. It used to double as a sweatband and an emergency tourniquet in my childhood playground battles. I had left it behind when I came to Portland as a reminder of my time in that house. But now that it was in Portland, it held less appeal. I think Leah still has it in her costume box.
“So what is the situation with your mom’s hair?” Leah asked as I folded myself back into the wire chair.
“Yeah. Actually I don’t need to think about this right now. Do you have another joint?” I asked, knowing she did.
“Yup, you want to start it?”
“Yeah,” I said, taking a lighter out of my pocket. I lit the joint and smoked the entire thing like a cigarette. Leah didn’t say anything about it and we watched the people walking below and gave them all fucked up life stories.
“She was a porn star, back when she was pretty,” I started about a middle-aged woman with a low cut top.
“Then she did a line of coke off some guy’s dick during a video and was fired.” That line made me smile.
“In her late 20’s she had a kid, doesn’t know where he is now. She doesn’t have his number in her phone,” I added.
“Yeah, and right now she’s thinking about which guy it was in that Motel way back when that knocked her up. It doesn’t matter to her, but she still tries to guess,” Leah said, finishing her story. I could hear the click of the woman’s heels for minutes after.