“Are you okay?” Goth Boy asked again. Illy noticed that his eyes were so grey they looked almost purple,like the chalky skin of plums. Something like recognition or affection slipped past her defenses, but was immediately bowled over by the immediate need to avoid embarrassment. And danger.
“Sorry.” Illy lowered her hands. “I just saw that you were hesitating at the door and thought maybe someone inside was scaring you or something, like maybe the Crazy Killer Man from upstairs, and well…I was just backing you up.” She paused, then added with a shrug, “I know a little kickboxing.” Even while she was saying the words, Illy knew this was rapidly becoming one of her most embarrassing first impressions. June had been reprimanding her for years for making completely false claims about herself that she then was obligated to sustain for entire relationships. June insisted it was deceitful and unethical on top of stressful, but Illy maintained that she wasn’t morally responsible for things said under social duress. The kickboxing claim would be a tricky one though.
“Thanks. We’re fine. I’ve just managed to get my key stuck in the lock, so we’re waiting for the landlord.”
“Would you like a banana?” Goth Girl reached into the Safeway bag and smiled at Illy with a surprising level of sincerity for someone wearing an old Morrissey shirt and combat boots. Illy considered accepting the banana, but then remembered who she was dealing with. She couldn’t let her guard down.
“No thanks, bananas sort of make me sluggish, affect my agility you know.” Illy cringed. She really needed to move past the kickboxing references.
By this point, the Goth Couple seemed wary of her, shaking her conviction that she was a woman of dignity and honour. They had sat down on the step to eat their bananas and were looking blankly down the road, willing the landlord to appear. Illy couldn’t help thinking they looked sort of cute sitting there with their bananas and matching hair. Maybe she really could use them as characters in her novel. They were probably just the sort of liberal activists she was looking for, she just hadn’t considered them before because they weren’t wearing gauzy skirts or Birkenstocks. But this was probably the new look of cutting edge, downtown hippies. She took a deep breath, inhaling the potential of this literary moment. It was crucial that she made the most of her time; the landlord might show up any second and her character research would be over.
Illy was afraid that sitting beside the couple on the step might make them uncomfortable, so she crouched down and leaned against the door, trying to look nonchalant and praying that the jammed lock would prevent anyone from pushing the door open from the inside. It always amazed her that other people seemed to move through the world with such ease, transitioning from one location to another with so little concentration, while she was continually finding herself regretting her choice of position. She tottered against the menacing door for a moment before making an attempt at casual conversation.
“Sorry about the whole boxing thing,” she made a few quick jabs in the air. “I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
The girl looked over with a weak smile. “No problem.”
“So I was wondering…um… do you two go to rallies and stuff?” Oh no. That was too forward. She should have first asked about their work or something.
“Rallies? Like car rallies?” The guy tried to suppress a smile. He made knowing eye contact with the girl that nearly shouted Is this weirdo for real?
Illy took offense, but didn’t want to lose this opportunity. She could always make them mean, awful hippies in the book. “No, like peace rallies. Or rallies for whales or hummingbirds or whatever. You know, just regular old rallies.”
“Nope, sorry. Can’t say that we-”
The girl interrupted, “Not that we don’t like hummingbirds or anything. We’re just pretty busy with work and grad school.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of work do you do?” Illy crossed her metaphoric fingers, hoping for something involving organic grains or folk festivals.
“I’m in digital marketing. Mostly contract work right now, you know how it is these days.”
Illy had absolutely no idea how it was these days. She didn’t even know what digital marketing was, but was pretty sure it didn’t involve organic grains. “Yeah, seriously.” She nodded with what she hoped appeared to be either sympathy or congratulations, depending on how marketing contract work in super techie world was going.
“What kind of work do you do?”
Illy sighed. This conversation had lost its literary appeal at the word marketing. Now she just wanted the landlord to materialize as soon as possible. “I’m a writer. And I kickbox when I have the time.” Shoot. Totally wrong time for a kickboxing reference. Now it sounded like she did it for a career.
“Cool. Simon’s a writer too.” She nudged Goth Boy, who shrugged and continued eating his banana. “What sort of stuff do you write?”
“Novels mostly.” Illy was getting annoyed at the girl’s nosiness. She regretted initiating any conversation.
“Hey, Simon just finished this super rad novel about time traveling valkyries. Maybe you two could swap novels, and you know, give each other feedback or something.”
Simon looked mildly interested in this prospect. He raised his eyebrows at Illy, inviting her to a secret author alliance.
Illy was horrified. Not only did she have less than four pages of actual text written, there was no way she was going to share it with some creepy science fiction writer. What were valkyries anyway – some sort of bird robots?
“Oh, sorry, no. I mean that sounds great and all, but I don’t really like showing my work to anyone while it’s in process. You know, the old isolated hermit writer, that’s me.”She laughed, trying to lighten her rejection. “Thanks, though. Your book sounds really…cutting edge.”
Simon reached for another banana. He didn’t seem too disappointed. He probably thought her novel would be boring and shallow. Maybe she should swap novels after all and prove to Mr. Trendy Writer that even though her book wasn’t spacey and weird, it was just as thought provoking as his. Probably more. Plus it really would be good to have an actual author look at her work. He’d definitely be more helpful than her mother, who usually just drew smiley faces in the margins.
“Oh good, there’s the landlord.” The girl stood up, Safeway bag in hand, a helpful reminder that Illy needed to relocate. She scooted away from the door and sat on the step that the girl had just vacated. “Let us know if you change your mind. It could be like an apartment writers club. I’m not much of a writer but if you’d let me join, I could probably piece together a few poems, and who knows? Maybe there are more writers in the building.”
The landlord, with the confused blinking stare of someone who has just been woken from a very deep sleep, grunted a greeting, stuck some sort of tool in the lock, and jiggled the door loose in less than five seconds. Illy wondered at the obscure skill set that led you to a career of jiggling doors and fixing leaky radiators. Or diligently not fixing them.
Illy was still sitting on the step after the landlord and Goth Couple entered the building. An Apartment Writers Club. Now that was a great idea.
Continue Reading: Chapter Ten