The Apartment

 

At first glance, they looked just like babies. Frozen, lifeless newborns still curled up as if they had never left the warm insides of their mothers. But once I got a little closer, I saw what they really were—suckling pigs. I couldn’t believe my luck.

When I’d first told my boyfriend about the job interview at the prestigious media company downtown, he’d seemed more interested in the neighborhood where I’d be visiting than the position I’d be vying for. When I asked him why, he’d said, “Chinatown...that’s piglet country.” He was practically salivating, his gaze a million miles away.


I reminded him that we lived in New York City, that nobody here had a yard, never mind a place to legally roast a whole pig. 


Until that moment, I didn’t think he’d had any interest in cooking at all. Our evenings together usually consisted of takeout on the couch and Netflix. But he explained that when he was a kid, his grandpa had showed him how to spit roast a pig on the lawn of their family farm. Spit-roasting, he explained, was a man’s job. And he’d grown up to be the greatest barbecue man his family had ever produced.

I reminded him that we lived in New York City, that nobody here had a yard, never mind a place to legally roast a whole pig. But that’s when he told me about the piglets. “They’re no bigger than turkeys,” he’d explained. “And so tender and flavorful, eating one makes you feel like royalty.”

He said whole piglets were hard to come by in our part of town. “Actually, in any part of town,” he admitted. But he’d urged me to keep my eyes open for them while I was in Chinatown. And now here they were, fresh off the truck. I got closer to the pile of bodies on the street hoping to catch a glimpse of what store they were being loaded into so I could return after my interview. As I edged closer, however, I realized that the truck was the store, and guys in dirty aprons and bundled up Chinese housewives were bunched up near the truck’s cab waiting for their signal to start paying and grabbing.

Courtesy: Ashley Sophia Clark

Before I had a chance to even decide what to do, the waiting customers surged forward, thrusting bills in the face of the driver who was now standing guard over the shipment on the ground. I knew it was now or never, so I reached into my wallet, pulled out almost everything inside, and pushed my way to the front, hoping what I had was enough.


My appointment was in ten minutes, and while I thought I’d been keeping close tabs on where I was in relation to where I was going, the streets now all seemed identically unfamiliar.


Clearly my cash was sufficient. Calloused fingers wrenched the bills from my hand, and replaced them with the slippery end of a clear plastic recycling bag. The sack was surprisingly heavy, and once I’d managed to weave my way through the crowd back onto the sidewalk, I could see why. Peering through the condensation building up on the inside of the bag were four sets of sightless eyes, staring in different directions. Four pigs in a plastic bag in exchange for almost all the contents of my wallet. Maybe they weren’t such precious commodities after all.

Once the thrill of the unexpected purchase had subsided, I realized that I now had to find a way to hide the pigs during my job interview. I asked in every store I passed for a large opaque bag, and eventually, I was able to buy a flimsy wheelie suitcase from a street vendor that just barely contained the bodies if I packed them in tight. Then I noticed the time. My appointment was in ten minutes, and while I thought I’d been keeping close tabs on where I was in relation to where I was going, the streets now all seemed identically unfamiliar.

I stood there for a moment on the corner, not sure which direction to head in, when an annoyed woman shoved me out of my motionless panic. Though visually she fit in with all the other Asian merchants and shoppers that frequented the area around Canal Street, when she got up in my face to yell at me for not moving, the stream of invective that she used to lay into me was unmistakably French. “Sortez de la façon dont vous idiot! Vous bloquez la rue avec tous ces porcs!”

“Pardon,” I stammered, “je ne comprend pas Francais.” It was the only French I knew, but the phrase often inspired enough goodwill in the person I was addressing to get them to respond in English. The woman’s face relaxed a little, and I knew I’d done the right thing. She asked me in English if I needed help. I grabbed the crumpled paper with the address of the media company out of my purse and handed it to her, but I could tell by the look on her face that she had no idea where the street I was looking for was, so I took back the paper and thanked her for trying.

Courtesy: Brigette Bloom

Courtesy: Brigette Bloom

By now it was almost my appointment time, so I called the media company on my cell and sheepishly asked for directions from the street corner where I stood. The receptionist sounded irritated by my incompetence, but she also knew exactly where I was, and directed me just a few blocks north to a gleaming glass high rise where I was instructed to take the elevator up to the ninth floor.

I tried knocking on the only door in the hallway, but nobody answered. So I turned the knob, let myself in, and realized that instead of the bustling office space I had been expecting, I was instead stepping into a massive apartment with lots rooms but almost no furniture. Discreetly, I removed my pigs from the suitcase and stashed them on the bottom shelf of the empty fridge in the kitchen, then followed the sound of laughter to the back of the apartment where about eight well-dressed hipster types were gathered in a large bedroom that still had some furniture in it.


Since I didn’t know anybody, I just sat there by the window, listening to their meandering conversations about makeup brands and fantasy football and the pitfalls of political correctness for what seemed like hours while my resume and references sat untouched in my purse. 


“Hey,” I said cautiously, peeking my head into the room before stepping in with the rest of my corporate-casual-clad body. “My name is Adrienne, I had a 1 p.m. appointment. I’m so sorry I’m late, I got a little lost.”

Everyone welcomed me as if they had been expecting me, and a round girl in cat-eye glasses and a vintage dress invited me to come in and sit down in a wing chair by the window. But once I was inside the room, they all just went back to lounging and chattering on the bed, on the floor, and around a small dressing table. It was like a house party, only with no music or food or booze.

Since I didn’t know anybody, I just sat there by the window, listening to their meandering conversations about makeup brands and fantasy football and the pitfalls of political correctness for what seemed like hours while my resume and references sat untouched in my purse. As day turned to early evening, I realized they all seemed to be getting increasingly intoxicated, as if they were all taking drugs together and I just couldn’t see them doing it. This was unnerving, so finally I decided to pipe up and ask nobody in particular why the apartment was mostly empty. A handsome young Indian guy with impeccably tailored clothes turned to me and explained that the apartment belonged to his parents and they were moving away, so he’d decided to use the space for a while after they’d cleared out.

I nodded, and asked where the bathroom was. He directed me to the third door on the right, but as I made my way down the darkened hall, I was distracted by the discovery that someone had dismembered my baby pigs and had left remnants of snouts and tails and ears and hooves all along the hallway that ran the length of the apartment. I was pissed. Picking up all the pig pieces I could and swearing under my breath, I cleared the hallway of body parts and stuffed them in the freezer once I’d reached the kitchen.

I heard a noise coming from the adjoining living room and followed it. There was an older-looking Indian woman in there wearing a conservative pantsuit, and when I walked up behind her, I saw she was gazing down at a little shrine on the floor that seemed to be commemorating the well-dressed guy I had just been talking to in the bedroom. There was a photo of him smiling out of a gilded frame, and there were unlit candles and dead flowers and mala beads strewn around it on the carpet. I didn’t understand why the woman would have a shrine to someone who was just hanging out in the next room, and I wanted to know more—like, was he famous?—so I tried to strike up a conversation.


Back in the bedroom, everyone was now glowing as if under black light. The guys were talking about the new Star Wars movies on the bed, and the girls had changed into cocktail-party attire and were commiserating about skin problems.


“Isn’t it strange how apartments look so different after all the furniture has been taken away?” I asked casually. The woman turned abruptly as if she thought she’d heard something, but then her eyes looked right through me as if she didn’t see me. All at once, I felt sick and a little scared, so I headed back toward the bedroom, resolving both to assert myself about the job interview and to ask the Indian guy about the woman in the living room. But as I strode purposefully down the hall, I remembered I hadn’t yet used the bathroom. I ducked into the third doorway as previously directed, glanced into the mirror over the sink, and when I saw my face, I screamed. My features were not my own, and half of my face looked grayish, as if it were frozen, rotting, or both.

Courtesy: Ashley Sophia Clark

A preppy sort of guy in a rugby shirt and khakis came rushing in from the bedroom and asked if I was OK. Between startled gasps, I told him something was wrong with my face. He laughed and said there was nothing wrong with my face, that I was just high. I told him I didn’t remember taking any drugs, and he just laughed some more and told me to come back and join the others. The hallway leading back to the bedroom was now littered all over with dead sea creatures, like the ones they sell in buckets all over Chinatown. I had to step around spiky uni and glistening eels, giant silvery tuna and turtles with cracked-open shells. Considering the carnage, I expected the hallway to stink, but when I inhaled, all I could smell was fresh paint and carpet shampoo.

Back in the bedroom, everyone was now glowing as if under black light. The guys were talking about the new Star Wars movies on the bed, and the girls had changed into cocktail-party attire and were commiserating about skin problems. A blonde in a blue spaghetti strap dress was moaning about a condition that she didn’t know how to treat. The other girls were saying that her complexion looked great, that she looked beautiful, but under the black light, I could see distinctly that patches of her skin looked mottled and rotting.

This made me think about my own face, so I went back to the bathroom to check it out. The sea creatures in the hall were gone, but when I got to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, I saw that my hair was now completely gone, and in its place was a large squid resting on top of my skull, its tentacles hanging down around my face like hair. I thought about this as calmly as I could while I peed. And after I flushed and washed my hands in the sink, I tried arranging the suction-cupped tendrils into some kind of style, so my transformation would be a little less obvious. But when the animal started fighting back against my efforts to coil its limbs into a bun at the nape of my neck, my startled screams once again caught the attention of my hosts.


When he was finally beside me, he reached for my hand, possibly because he thought I was a friend whose name he couldn’t remember. Whatever the reason, I accepted, hoping he wouldn’t wise up to the fact that we didn’t actually know each other yet. Together, we gazed out to sea.


This time, both the preppie and the Indian guy rushed into the bathroom in response to my shrieks, but when I saw them, I didn’t want to tell them what was wrong. They both had squids on their heads, too. But instead of gray and squishy like mine, their squids were ornate works of art, made of gold, silver, and precious jewels. The squids glittered on their heads like regal headdresses from the lost city of Atlantis, and I was so surprised, all I could do was laugh. They laughed too.

They asked me once again to join them in the bedroom, but I said I needed some air, and took the elevator back down to the street. When I left the building, however, I realized I wasn’t in Chinatown anymore, but instead found myself walking along the Coney Island boardwalk. I heard footsteps on the wooden slats behind me and turned to see a ruggedly handsome man coming toward me, smiling. His face looked so familiar, at first I thought he must be an acquaintance whose name I had forgotten, so I smiled back. But as he drew closer, I realized that he looked familiar because he was famous. Like, really, really famous. Movie-star famous. When he was finally beside me, he reached for my hand, possibly because he thought I was a friend whose name he couldn’t remember. Whatever the reason, I accepted, hoping he wouldn’t wise up to the fact that we didn’t actually know each other yet. Together, we gazed out to sea.

The waves were a dark, menacing purple, heavy clouds were rolling in, and there was lots of choppy, agitated movement in the water. “Sometimes the ocean is like a drunk stepfather,” I said to the movie star. “You know it’s going to hit you, but you don’t know when.” His brow furrowed in concern. “Did you have a drunk stepfather?” he asked. “Nope,” I answered, and laughed. His face relaxed and he swept me up into his arms, just like at the end of a summer blockbuster. Then we kissed and kissed and kissed until our bodies collapsed down onto the boards beneath us.

Angry waves from the shoreline had now grown so huge they were pummeling the boardwalk, soaking us. We ripped each other’s wet clothes off and continued kissing, getting more and more turned on. “This is what it’s like to make out with a famous person!” I shouted inside my own head, giddy with excitement but also trying to stay in the moment. “We’re totally gonna do it!” I silently cheered. “We’re doing it like famous people!”


I dropped my purse with the references and the resume and the media company’s address and my phone and my wallet and my keys and my lip-gloss in it onto the carpeted floor. 


But all at once, self-consciousness rippled through me. I remembered who, what, and where I was, so I pulled away and propped myself up on one elbow to look around. “What if somebody sees us?” I asked shyly, grabbing the movie star’s wet black T-shirt from the heap of clothes beside us to cover my bare breasts. He looked confused, then concerned. He seemed about to say something to me, but then stopped himself and said instead, “Maybe we should get you back inside.”

Courtesy: Ashley Sophia Clark

We got dressed and rode the elevator back up to the apartment. But when we walked in, there was no longer laughter coming from the back bedroom. Instead, I noticed bright morning sunlight coming in through the unshaded windows, and in the living room, a realtor was explaining to a young couple that the previous tenants had left a few things around, but that basically the space was empty and ready for move-in. I walked into the living room to join them, but nobody even turned around. I walked right up to them and waved my arms around, but still, nobody noticed me there at all. I turned around and saw that the movie star was standing over by the open door, watching me, waiting for a spark of understanding.

It took a few minutes to sink in, but when I did finally grasp my situation, I wasn’t sad or scared or anything like that. I was relieved. I dropped my purse with the references and the resume and the media company’s address and my phone and my wallet and my keys and my lip-gloss in it onto the carpeted floor. Then I took the movie star’s hand and led him down the long hallway that ran the length of the apartment. But before we even made it to the back bedroom, I pulled him to the floor and we picked up where we had left off outside, removing each other’s wet clothes and exploring each other’s bodies with our hands and mouths. The realtor continued giving the young couple a tour of the apartment, and as he led them down the hall, their heavy, solid legs passed right through us. Then they were gone.