The stink that emanated from Don’s apartment occasionally ebbed enough for Steve to overcome his aversion and knock on the door.
“Who is it?” came Don’s sandpaper voice.
“Who else would darken your door?” said Steve.
“Yeah, I sort of figured, but you never know.” A disheveled, obese man in his fifties opened the door in just a dirty t-shirt, his boxers and mismatched socks. The waft of rank air that hit Steve was a combination of dirty laundry, stale beer and burned toast.
Steve blinked a few times and switched to breathing through his mouth. “Here, I got you this.” He extended the newspaper.
“Today’s? I got it somewhere.” He looked back at the piles of papers, old mail and pizza boxes.
“Not the paper, the ad.”
Don took the paper and read the ad circled with a sharpie.
NEW CUSTOMER SPECIAL
FREE HOUSE CLEANING
Don shook his head. “Not very subtle. But I don’t need the help. It’s just my knees.”
“I already called them. They’re on the way over.”
“No way. It’s not happening.”
“You don’t have a choice,” said Steve. “You agreed to let people help. This is help.”
“I told you, we don’t want to evict you. I’m just doing my job as superintendent.”
“I pay my rent on time, in full, for what, five years now?”
Steve waved his hands. “It’s not the money. If it were, you’d already be gone and this would be much easier for me.”
“You’re saying this is hard for you? You’re not the one having strangers go through your stuff.”
“They’re pros, Don. I told them your situation. They’ve said they run into it all the time. They can box up anything you want to keep. They’re just going to sanitize.”
“They do this for free?”
“Yeah, go figure. They said repeat customers is how they stay in business. You decide afterward if they’re worth it. It’s normally $150 a visit. You do that every month or so, and I’ll keep the owners from raising your rent. They’ll be here in 30 minutes.”
About 45 minutes later, a frustrated Don knocked on his super’s door. Steve opened it.
“You could have put some pants on, Don.”
Don shrugged. “We’re both guys. It’s too crazy up there. Can I read my paper here with you while they clean?”
Steve sighed. “Sure, come in.” He stepped aside.
Don had never been in Steve’s apartment before. It was immaculate. There was no clutter, no dust, no familiar smells and just the simplest of decorations. Don settled in on the couch.
Steve handed Don an afghan. “Your boxers. They gap.”
“Oh, sorry.” Don snapped his legs together and plopped the afghan over them.
“I can make some coffee…”
“Sounds good. I got danishes.” From under the newspaper Don produced some glazed marvels. One flipped off his paper plate on to the afghan. “Sorry about that.” Don picked it up, retrieving most of the lemon gel before stuffing it into his mouth.
Steve bit his lip and retreated to the kitchenette to make coffee. When he returned, there were two stacks of boxes inside his apartment that weren’t there before.
“Sorry, Steve. I should have warned you. The cleaners needed a place to store the boxes while they cleaned my floor. Said they were going to clean the carpet too, no charge! Could be about a day for the carpet to dry.”
“I guess you couldn’t put them in the hall?”
“And block it up? That would violate my lease and create a fire hazard.”
Steve rubbed his face then gestured to his bedroom. “Will you need a place to sleep as well?”
Don didn’t read the sarcasm. “No, the couch is fine.”
The cleaning crew came in with hand-trucks and another two stacks of boxes.
Steve retreated back to the kitchen to check on the coffee. When he returned with two full mugs, Don had stretched out on the couch. His stuff now occupied half the room, and there was more coming by the sound of it. Some of the boxes were open and the unpleasant odor usually limited to Don’s apartment and the hall beyond were now emanating into Steve’s living room. Something brown leaked from one of the boxes.
“That crew really works hard,” said Don. “But they threw everything together. I am going to have to go through it before I move it back up there. Might take a few days.”
Steve handed Don a mug, but he fumbled it. Half the coffee dumped on the white carpet. The other half mostly got absorbed by the couch.
“Oh, geez. I’m sorry,” said Don.
“It’s okay,” said Steve. He sat down and ignored the mess he’d invited into his apartment. “I’ll have the crew come back when they’re finished with your apartment.”
Aspiring author and veteran game developer, T C Ryan has bounced around the U.S. of A. and now calls Georgia his home. On most mornings he can be found typing away at a cafe before heading into his day job as a video game producer. He has completed 2 novels, The Illusion Game and Tin Hearted Man. His short stories run the gambit from sci fi to horror to humor.