Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Fourth Floor

The woman in apartment 4A has been roasting a chicken, which is nearly done. She lowers the oven door, pulls the rack out halfway with a potholder, and lifts the glass lid of the casserole by the knob. As one hand tilts the casserole slightly the other spoons the liquid that flows to the opposite side over the golden bird. She pricks the breast with the tines of a fork, noting the color of the juices that run down the sides and sizzle into the pot below. She replaces the lid and slides the rack back in, shuts the oven door, and sets the utensils down on the counter by the sink.

Her husband is in the next room, sitting in a green armchair. He is facing the kitchen doorway but only his legs and feet and the top of his head are visible, as he's reading a newspaper held spread out in both hands. There's a cut glass ashtray on the little table at his side, next to a porcelain lamp, but it's been wiped clean. Beyond him the window is open and the shade, pulled down nearly to the sill, is fitfully rising and falling back again, making a barely perceptible sound.

In apartment 4B an older woman is sitting alone at a formica kitchen table. She is dressed to go out, except for her hat which along with her purse is close at hand on the table before her. She's reading a book, and with one hand is absently fingering the bookmark that she's moved to the back pages while she reads. There's a narrow bookcase in one corner of the room. Most of the books are cookbooks or her own notebooks of recipes that she has cut out or been given by friends. Lying on top of the bookcase are a phone book and a mail order catalog of equal size. Over the doorway hangs an ornately carved and painted wooden clock with a motto in German.

The couple in 4C have been making love. The young man remains in bed, still wearing his undershirt, half in and half out of the disheveled bed covers. He's picked up a magazine he found lying on the nightstand and is flipping through its pages indifferently. There's a dresser along the opposite wall. Above a lamp, a hairbrush, and a tray containing a jar of cold cream and a few perfume bottles is a large mirror in which the man can see only his own head on the pillow and the headboard behind him. The woman has left the room and can't be seen.

The single gentleman in 4D is sitting at the desk where he has been typing all afternoon. He's smoking steadily and keeps a glass of neat whiskey within easy reach. He taps awkwardly but steadily on the keys, rarely pausing to think, pushing back the carriage with a flick of his hand at the end of each line. There's a pile of correspondence and newspapers in one corner of the desk; the letters have been opened, roughly, but the newspapers are still as tightly folded as when they arrived. At his feet is a box of books, carelessly packed; the only one that is visible is a dictionary, thumb-indexed but missing its jacket. Behind him on the floor is a worn brown leather valise, festooned with paper tags and labels from several countries, some of them in the Far East.

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