By Lea Baker
Apartment 5A lost hope of ever housing a permanent family the day Jeremy Jenkins moved. In the proceeding decades 5A came to feel more and more under appreciated as it fell into disrepair. It had once housed playing children, concerned parents who drew blinds at night, mistresses who left seductive smelling perfume wafting through vents, and Jeremy Jenkins. Now apartment 5A was occupied, much to its disgust, by David and Anne.
David and Anne used to be a couple, but now they despised one another. On the night they moved in they opened a bottle of cheap champagne, spilled half its contents on the floor, then began to drunkenly fight over where to put things. They broke up three months later after much screaming, but were still living together in 5A, waiting one another out. They were unaware that their hatred for each other was mirrored by the apartment’s deep dislike of them.
Jeremy Jenkins had been the perfect tenant. He polished the wood floors, wiped down the window sills, and swept under the kitchen cupboards every week. In the evenings he dusted the chandelier and lit lavender smelling candles.
What 5A loved most about Jeremy Jenkins was that he talked of the future. As he dusted he would list his plans, “Tomorrow we’ll get those pictures hung and next month I’m going to paint the spare bedroom that light blue.”
Jeremy Jenkins had moved out a half-century ago and had been missed ever since. 5A was now at its sockets’ end with David and Anne.
In its heyday 5A was the most sought after apartment in Clinton Courts because of its view of the clock tower and new appliances. 5A used to have polished wood floors throughout its two bedrooms, living room, and dining room. Shining linoleum had been laid in the bathroom and kitchen. Someone had selected a clawfoot bathtub and a five-light chandelier to adorn its rooms. 5A had gossiped about its prospects to its neighbors, 5B and 5C, while that clawfoot tub was being installed.
Now, 5A’s butler cupboard, where suits were once placed to be picked up and dry cleaned, had a single packet of packaged popcorn laying intact next to mouse feces. The cupboard’s outfacing door, which could be opened from the hallways, hadn’t been used for a long time. The other apartments in Clinton Courts were in similar conditions, but none took it as personally as 5A.
Clinton Courts had structural damage and now hosted students, rather than professors, from the local college. The building’s once proud elevator was misused — the crafted wrought iron gate was often yelled at for losing its grip and trapping people, who cared little for its own wellbeing. The building’s elevator, boiler room, and electrical wires were once all praised commodities, but eight decades later they were now cursed at and insulted.
After Jeremy Jenkins moved out, a depressed artist moved in. The artist threw fruit at 5A’s ceiling because he was inspired by splattered berries. It only got worse from there.
A tenant had covered 5A’s shining linoleum with paisley patterned carpets without considering the stains and burns that they would receive in the kitchen. New furniture was dragged in, scuffing the wood floor and denting the ornate radiator. The once happily humming radiator barely had any flakes of its original white paint left on its frame and, instead of steadily heating, it groaned, clanked, and hissed at all hours of the night, disturbing sleeping tenants. Worst of all, since David and Anne had moved in, an uncomfortable pocket of water, due to multiple leaks in Clinton Courts’ roof, was threatening to burst over 5A’ s kitchen.
Neither David nor Anne had maintained the apartment’s communal spaces for almost a month. Their individual rooms were tidy: shoes tucked away, laundry in hampers, waste baskets emptied weekly, but this was little consolation to the apartment. The living room, dining area, and kitchen were scattered with dirty dishes, discarded wrappers, unclean socks, muddy hiking shoes, a tandem bicycle, unclaimed mail advertisements, a dead fish floating in a fish bowl, scattered boardgames with missing pieces, stuffing from a torn pillow, and ceramic shards from a broken nativity set. David and Anne claimed that these items were not their responsibility, which meant that the burden rested on 5A’s worn surfaces.
For months 5A had grown wearier and wearier of its occupants. Each morning Anne plugged her hair straightener in and left it on the floor, scorching the wood. In the evenings David watched porn on his laptop and threw a ball over and over again against his bedroom walls so that black scuff marks and rounded indentations pocked the paint. Both David and Anne showered without clearing the bathroom windowsill, so it had become moldy and wrinkled. It made the apartment choke up to think of what was growing under the kitchen appliances.
The apartment desperately wanted Clinton Court management to clean the grout between the counter tiles, recaulk the windowpanes, replace the smoke detector’s batteries, fix various leaks, relieve 5A of the uncomfortable pocket of water in the kitchen ceiling, and fine the tenants for neglect. Its requests went unanswered.
On the morning the pocket of water became a pustule ready to burst, David and Anne were talking to one another (although 5A would not have called it a conversation). Some mornings they slammed cupboards without speaking, which made the apartment jealous and frustrated since it had many things it would have said if it had vocal cords. On this day though, they were uttering words:
“Slept with Ashley yesterday.”
“I have a test today.”
“That’s why I wasn’t here.”
“It’s a really important test.”
“Thought you might have wondered.”
“Been studying all week.”
“Don’t touch the coffee.”
“Many fail it.”
“I want to save some for later.”
“It’s why you couldn’t go pre-med.”
“Need it because I’m seeing her later.”
“Couldn’t pass any test like this.”
“I said don’t touch.”
The apartment listened to each statement, disgusted that David and Anne showed no interest in the overflowing kitchen trashcan or the fact that the chandelier had only one working light bulb. Jeremy Jenkins had talked about laying backsplash and installing shelves, not these two.
“I said don’t take my coffee.”
“I need it.”
Jeremy Jenkins used to bring a dark haired girl with soft hands to sit in the living room on Sunday afternoons. He’d fill vases with flowers, read love poems, and play soulful music. Now this:
“No, fuck you.”
5A’s anger grew.
“I’m going to be late.”
“I need the coffee.”
“It’ll be your fault.”
The apartment creaked its floor boards, but David and Anne didn’t pay attention. Out of frustration 5A sucked in its breath, causing the microwave to turn on, two window panes to fall out, and the curtains to rustle.
“Did you notice that?”
“Notice what, you taking my coffee?”
Outside wind from a lingering storm system the TV had mentioned earlier, gusted in through 5A’s absent window panes, and rain clouds began to leak.
“This place is falling apart.”
“You should move out then.”
“It’d be better if you moved out.”
Rain trickled down from the roof-in-need-of-repair, through Clinton Court’s attic, past soaked insulation, over termite bitten beams, down dilapidated plumbing lines, and into 5A’s ceiling.
Outside Clinton Courts, birds took cover in trees, raccoons fought with cats for food in trashcans, and students hurried to campus with the hoods from their secondhand sweatshirts pulled over their heads.
The pustule of water in the apartment’s kitchen ceiling became unbearably heavy; 5A lost its grip and let the kitchen ceiling burst open. Moldy water, paint flecks, and soaked plaster crashed over Anne and David.
“Is this one of your pranks?”
“I have a test today!”
“I’m not cleaning this up!”
“I have to change and go!”
5A shook with anger. They weren’t considering how uncomfortable it was to have a hole in its ceiling. The chandelier trembled, the radiator screeched, and the bathtub tried to lift its heavy feet to run away.
Rain began to fall heavily outside 5A’s windows, inside water pipes began to crack in the walls.
A mouse chewed through electrical wiring the first week Jeremy Jenkins moved in. It had been 5A’s first experience with pain. Jeremy Jenkins noticed right away, called management, and requested repairmen come “immediately.” Deft hands had knocked on 5A’s door that afternoon to fix the frayed wires and seal around the windows to prevent future mice coming in. That same evening Jeremy Jenkins laid mouse traps. This was the standard by which 5A held its tenants.
5A let its internal workings fall to pieces. The water pipe over the kitchen burst, further soaking Anne and David.
“We need to get out of here!”
The apartment’s chandelier crashed to the floor in the dining room.
“I have a test today!”
“This can’t be happening!”
The chandelier’s exposed socket shot sparks. Water began to seep from the apartment’s walls as more pipes burst.
Still no thought of the apartment’s feelings.
“This is all your fault!”
David and Anne rushed to the front door but couldn’t pull it open: 5A was holding it shut.
Water filled 5A from the burst pipes and the storm outside. David and Anne ran, then waded, then swam towards their rooms. 5A was shaking, crying, and watching. David did the breast stroke, Anne performed the crawl.
David and Anne swam furiously as a current threatened to suck them under the heavy furniture. By the time they were swimming down the hall, accompanied by various articles from around the apartment including the dead fish, the water level was well above the few pictures they had hung.
5A tore the gutters hanging from its fascia so that they broke, angled into the bedroom windows, and added to the rising water level.
The elevator yelled to 5A: What is the commotion?
5A bellowed back: I’m handling it!
5B and 5C began to complain of getting wet. The apartments on the fourth floor assumed the roof had finally flown off, which it had been threatening to do for two years.
Before the water reached the ceiling, 5A forced open its butler cupboard to stop David and Anne’s crying (both were yelling murder).
Water began to drain through the cupboard carrying all the unclaimed items, including the broken nativity set, board game pieces, and unpaired socks, into the fifth floor hallway.
David and Anne were both sucked through the butler cupboard at the same time as the dead fish.
Down the hall, down the cracked marble staircase, down the foyer.
The elevator watched as 5A’s tenants were washed out of the building and onto the street, its grate gaping.
5A laughed, shook, laughed, and shook until everything but the large furniture, kitchen appliances, and clawfoot bathtub left though the butler cupboard.
The water in the apartment was now clean and clear, much like the wedding ring Jeremy Jenkins had held out to his girl. Jeremy Jenkins had promised her that they would be together always. He had spoken of turning the room facing the clock tower into a nursery and had called a local appliance store to have the kitchen redone. But then Jeremy Jenkins lost his job, his girl returned the ring, and he moved out after three eviction notices that 5A had hidden under its floorboards.
The water drained slowly, leaving 5A’s floors clear and dull, still scuffed and worn. The baseboards, electrical wiring, and walls were soaked. 5A knew permanent scars were forming from the flood.
5A felt itself grow heavy. It closed its eyes to its ruined walls, no longer wanting to look.
From the corner of its memory 5A listened over and over again as Jeremy Jenkins whispered the words, “I promise. I promise. I promise.”
About the Author:
Lea Baker is an educator and writer currently residing in San Diego, California. This is her first publication.