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Vertical 8

July 7, 2010

There are five light switches between our kitchen and the washer and dryer in the basement. The first is in the back hall where I put the litter box, and it is a long cord that hangs down from the ceiling.  The second is right after you go through the back door, turning the dial on the deadbolt and sliding the hasp up and across.

The rug our new landlord gave us is rolled up right outside that back door. Its Florida flip flops turned in on themselves, the sun having bleached out the color in spots before someone donated it to Goodwill.  I know she bought it there because the other day I walked in to the store down the street and saw the real flip flops she’d bought us to go along with it hanging on the end caps: blue men’s size 11, pink women’s 7-8, and army green little boy’s size 8-9 with a racing stripe and a giant number 10 right down the center.

In her reply to the email where I told her we’d be taking the apartment, she said, “Looking forward to your tenancy.”  In the card that accompanied the welcome gifts, she wrote a message like a Latin mother. I think it said, “Here’s a little something to make you feel at home and to dampen the noise and protect the hardwood floors.” I can’t be sure, since I’ve thrown it away.

My sandals – my own, not the ones she provided – echo noisily as I clomp down the first set of stairs. Our dirty clothes are sorted and stuffed into a tall kitchen garbage bag that is tearing slowly as I hold it by the yellow drawstrings. I reach for the next switch.

It clicks loudly when I move it to the on position, and a light comes on somewhere beneath me near the rear entrance to the first floor apartment.  They still haven’t come up to say hello, though we hear strains of their children coming up through the open windows. When I came to look at the apartment the second time and told her we have a three-year-old, the landlady told me they’d had to move from the second floor, our apartment, to the first because the downstairs neighbors had complained about the noise.

I told her I could make no assurances. “He’s three,” I said, as if that were an explanation.

Still, in the lease there showed up this paragraph about how we’d be in violation of the lease and kicked out immediately  if there were noise complaints. My husband wrote in an amendment giving us seven days to correct the situation, as if there is anything we’d be able to do.  I’d seen the faces of the two children downstairs when I’d rung the wrong doorbell the first time I checked out the place, its seven rooms so seductive.  They were a girl about six and a boy around four, making me wonder if the parents would be more or less sympathetic to the inevitable bouncing, stomping, and running we’d be subjecting them to if this became our new home.

I am sure they can hear me with all the noise I’m making descending the stairs, and I reach for the next light, looking out the door to see three garbage cans in a row. One of them is turned the wrong direction, and I resist the urge to stop, set down my trash bag full of laundry, open the door, step outside and turn it around.

This light is on the right, and Eduardo warned me to read the switch to make sure I didn’t shut off the emergency light for the first or second floor by mistake.  I’m attentive, reaching for the one I need to illuminate this last, dark turn toward the basement.  I find that if  I walk on my toes the sandals make less noise, so I try this as I descend the next flight of stairs.

Finally, I can see the poured concrete floor of the basement in front of me, and I reach for the last switch so I’ll have more light than the feeble rays that pour in through the windows near the ceiling.   The basement is relatively free of the debris I expect. There are a few bikes and the accompanying helmets, some furniture up against the walls.

It smells of what I suppose must be heating oil mixed with dryer sheets, and I have the conscious thought that this isn’t my idea of a basement.  I think of the damp earth smell of my mom’s laundry room, where Rascal snuck in and birthed a litter of kittens. I think of the remnants of my dad’s years as a mechanic in red metal toolboxes accessible only by a narrow path through boxes of fabric and upended junk furniture.

Ahead of me is the washer, the dryer, and the left pocket of my pink skirt is rattling with quarters. I toss the garbage bag on the dusty floor and pull out the clothes we’d worn as we made our way north the last few days, among them my favorite jeans, Elisio’s New England pullover. In they go with a swirl of whatever laundry detergent is already sitting in the vast collection on the dry sink that spans the distance to the dryer.

I slot the quarters in the vertical 8 and listen as the cool Connecticut water washes over them. I close the lid and wait for the machine to begin to hum.

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