The Apartment – chapter one

“If you don’t let me move out, I’ll burn your fucking jewellery box.”

 It had been the first time that Esme had sworn at her mother, and she’d gotten a slap around the cheek in return for it. Yet on the eve of realising her dream of living alone, all she could think about was the home she’d left behind. She had spent the last 19 years pining to move out, get her own apartment and get lost in a city somewhere. Now she was finally here, sitting on an old black leather sofa in what was to be her new living room; uneven wooden floorboards, magnolia and grime coloured walls, a light bulb dangling from the ceiling with no light shade. Esme looked around at how the light illuminated parts of the room, casting huge shadows that looked like people or animals depending on how you looked at them. 

“Where’s the rest of your stuff?” asked Chloe from the kitchen, her back to Esme as she washed the last of the dishes. 

“This is it,” Esme replied with a smile. “What you see is what I have. Oh except for my cello. I couldn’t carry everything in one go.” 

“Wow. You were desperate to move, huh?”

“This place is everything I’ve dreamed of. Some privacy at last. Seclusion away from the family. Time away from my mother. I’m just thankful that it’s got some furniture that I can use.” Esme sipped on the tea that Chloe has made for them both.  

“You think this apartment is right for you?” asked Chloe as she walked towards the bedroom with a handful of things to pack.

“They say that, don’t they? You know that you’ve found your new home as soon as you walk through the door. Apparently, it’s the same if you were to meet a long-lost family member for the first time.” She waved her hand around as if she were conducting an orchestra, pointing to certain areas of the room and imagining her ideal furniture that she could not yet afford. Always the dreamer.  

“Do you think you could live here forever then?” quipped Chloe from the bedroom. 

Esme put her hand back down on her lap. “Absolutely.”

“Say ‘Yes’,” said Chloe abruptly, appearing at the door. 

Esme’s smile disappeared from her face and her eyes opened wide. “What?”

“Tell the apartment that you want to live here, and it will accept you.” Chloe had crossed her arms and had an over-sized smile on her face.  

“Yes, oh YES!” Esme jumped up from the sofa in excitement. She looked towards Chloe. 

“Good.” Chloe looked down at the floor, then quickly checked her watch. “I think you’re gonna fit in here just fine.”

“What are the neighbours like?”

“You mean Sally?” Chloe’s face looked like a child who’d just been caught stealing a biscuit.  

“Yes, I think. I mean, who’s Sally?”

“She’s your neighbour on the right side. The other side’s empty as far as I know, but Sally will keep an eye on you for sure.”

“Why don’t you come and sit down with me and tell me about her? You haven’t touched your tea yet.”

Chloe walked back into the kitchen and put her rucksack down as she packed the last of her things into a cardboard box. 

“I’m going to have to make a move soon,” said Chloe. “So a few things you need to know before I go.” Esme frowned at being rebuffed, but understood Chloe’s time was short. “I’ve left you a few things for the kitchen as I’m not going to need them in my new place. We said that we’d talk about the contract later and, oh yes, the air con unit.”

“That white thing that sounds like a Sasquatch snoring?” Esme pointed to the wardrobe-sized unit that was standing in the corner of the kitchen. 

“You could say that. Just try and ignore it. Get used to the noise. The buzzing might even help you sleep. They won’t fix it, so don’t ask. I tried calling so many times I lost count.”

“Won’t? You mean can’t?” Esme looked up at Chloe, but she had her back to her again. She stood up and walked towards the air con unit with the intention of putting her hand on it to feel the vibration through her arm. As she got closer, she began to feel a tingle throughout the front part of her body as if she were laid in the sun without sunscreen.  

“I really have to go now if I’m going to catch my train,” said Chloe. 

“So soon? We’ve hardly had chance to have a catch up. So much has happened in the last few years.” 

“I just need to get out of here. Bad memories.” Esme’s frown returned at Chloe’s comment. “Not from the apartment,” Chloe continued, “I was very happy here and I’m sure you will be too.” Esme nodded her head and softened her face as she listened. Chloe used to say that Esme would nod at anything. As Chloe told a loose story about a boy she had been dating, Esme thought about their days at school together. They’d been friends for years, but had lost touch. Esme had been pleasantly surprised when she picked up the phone to hear Chloe’s voice, a rekindled friendship and an apartment in the same call – surely that was enough evidence that she been forgiven over that business with Craig from the basketball team, wasn’t it? Chloe picked up her rucksack and the cardboard box, hugged Esme with one arm as brief as the press of a button, then left. 

As the door slowly closed, Esme’s eyes widened. The latch clicked into place and as the metal snap echoed around the room, Esme raised her hands in the air as the swill of independence washed over her. A short-lived moment when she realised that Chloe hadn’t left her any keys. She gasped for air and shouted Chloe’s name and ran to the door, calling down the corridor, but Chloe had gone. She immediately tried to call on her mobile, but there was no signal. Esme’s shoulders dropped and her frown stiffened. 

“Well, I got my dream. Alone at last.” Esme looked around the apartment to check she was indeed alone, smiled, threw herself on the sofa, drained the tea from her cup and started to read her book. 

Photo by Sean Mungur on Unsplash

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