Ways in Which He Furnished His Apartment
The dishes had belonged to his grandparents and were given to him as a gift. Plates, saucers, tea cups and bowls, all painted by hand and trimmed in metal, which made them valuable and beautiful, but also completely worthless pieces of shit, because they could not be placed in the microwave or washed in a machine. So he boxed them and stashed them, and he used paper plates instead. Perhaps, someday, he could pass the dishes along to someone else, but that wasn’t looking good at the moment.
The dresser was his from childhood. It was sturdy and made from solid wood and was larger and weighed more than was practical. But he was sentimental. He took it with him over the years, and stuck to its drawers were decades-old stickers of all shapes and varieties. There were baseball team stickers and stickers from doctor and dentist visits and Garbage Pail Kids stickers, like Potty Scotty and Adam Bomb and Armpit Britt.
The couch was found on the street, half a block down in front of a different apartment building. It was stranded curbside along with a matching chair. He hadn’t space for the chair, so he divorced it from the couch, and the chair, too, was gone somewhere else within hours. Once he had the couch inside his apartment, he placed a sheet over it, protecting his body, his clothing, and his skin from the foreign, unclean surface, from fabric that had been owned and touched by strangers in unknowable ways for innumerable years. For weeks the sheet remained, creating the illusion that the couch had been his all along. This was until he met a woman at a bar, a woman who he invited back to his apartment and with whom he fell heavily onto the couch. They squeezed and clawed at each other’s bodies, pulled at each other’s clothing, released the tension born in awkward sobriety with the confidence and prowess now known in their drunkenness. They fucked and sweated and came, and he screamed into the free air. When they were done, as clarity and shame began to set in, he saw that the sheet had pulled free at some point, perhaps hours ago, orgasms ago, and their spent, naked bodies, covered in their fluids, lay directly on the fabric, so it was covered in their wetness, making it no longer foreign. He never again draped the old couch with a sheet, because what fucking difference did it make anymore.
The plant was aloe, and it was an abomination. It came from the home of his great-aunt, his father’s aunt, who was outliving most other members of their family, but was now doing so from a nursing home. More than a year ago he helped to move her there. He packed and sorted her necessities while she dictated and took one final, sad tour of her home of the last fifty years. On that day she gave him the aloe plant and told him it was his to care for, told him she’d had it for a decade, that it was a gift to her from her late husband, and that it was now a gift to him, and that he better not kill it. She said that, like her, it was old and ugly and strong. Those things were true. And also prickly, the thought. Despite his total lack of care or concern, despite his wish that the thing would just die on its own so that he could be rid of it without guilt, despite the fact that it could poison his cat, the twisted, brown-tipped plant continued to thrive atop his window ledge on a diet of stale half-cups of coffee and cigarette butts, living as a reminder of the woman he should probably go visit, but for whom there was never time.
The floor lamp was taken from his mom’s basement. The wood was dark-stained, and the lamp stood tall on a thick trunk with four feet splayed at the bottom and with an end table at its midsection, upon which, years ago, his father would set his bourbon on the rocks and his ashtray. There were moisture rings and burn marks in the wood, stains made decades ago by a man who used to loom so large, but who was now dead. As a child, he remembered racing Hot Wheels cars up and down the sloped feet. As an adult, he set the lamp next to the couch, using the table to hold his own drinks and his own ashtray and, whenever possible, he made it a point to set his glass down precisely inside those decades-old moisture rings, though his glass contained gin instead of bourbon. The smell of bourbon still made him sick. It made him think of war films and bruises.
The portrait on the wall was one he made of himself while in high school art class on a day when his table partner arrived with a shattered collarbone, a sling, and a bottle of Vicodin. He bought and swallowed two of the pills, then went to the back of the classroom and huffed aerosol from the sealer spray cans. He sat back down before the mirror at his desk and saw everything that was beautiful about himself, and painted those things with exaggerated and colorful strokes of watercolor. He brushed music into his eyes and painted his hair like tongues of fire. He made his cheeks angular like rock ledges, and his smile was a bleeding gash across his face. It was the only decent piece he had ever painted, and it hung now directly above the reclaimed couch, his couch. He was able to appreciate the beauty of his own art while ignoring the narcissistic ambience the self-portrait created.
The bookcase was purchased at a rummage sale for eight dollars. It was six feet tall, taller than him even, and was made from particleboard and plastic veneer, which was peeling at the edges and exposed the sawdust boards beneath. On the shelf was every book he owned: picture books from childhood, and the Chronicles of Narnia from grade school, and Michael Crichton and John Grisham from high school, and chemistry textbooks from college. But nothing recently acquired or contemporary because he didn’t read anymore. There just wasn’t time in the day. He was up at six each morning for work, and by the time he got home at six, he’d already had too many drinks to focus on the words.
The coffee maker was stolen. Not stolen directly, but unearned nonetheless. He had dated a girl years ago, before he could drive. He bussed to her house and he spent days there during the summer, moving with her from room to room away from her nosy mother, who always found reasons to be where they were. An afternoon came when the mother went outside to smoke, and they found themselves in the mother’s room, on her bed, and when they were done, and his girlfriend excused herself to the bathroom, he took the opportunity to go through the mother’s drawers. He pocketed a small diamond necklace. Recently, while packing for this move, he found the necklace and decided to sell it at a pawnshop. He used the money for a top-of-the-line Keurig. While buying the machine, he started to feel guilty for his crime, and momentarily considered leaving and buying back the jewelry and finding that girl, but he couldn’t remember her last name, and besides, she was never that attractive.
The cat was purchased by his mother shortly after his dad died. He was still young and living at home. His mother promptly discovered she was allergic to cats, but rather than return the animal to the shelter, she began what would be a decade long diet of allergy medication, a diet that, to his knowledge, she continued despite his custody of the animal because she could no longer sleep without it. And despite the cat’s constant marking of the new apartment, he kept it and loved it, because it was never as abusive as the man it was meant to replace.
The stove came with the apartment. It was gas, but the electric ignition didn’t work, so the landlord provided a book of matches and a slip of hand written instructions taped to the wall. One: strike match. Two: turn burner to high. Three: lower match to burner until gas ignites. The first time he lit the burner, the flame burst high and burned his fingers. On that day he was grateful to have his great-aunt’s plant.
The shower curtain was from Target. Thirty percent off with a coupon.
The coasters were made from construction paper. Roughly cut circles of red and blue and yellow, faces colored on them with crayon, happy, smiling faces so sincere they were damning. There were six, and he received them in the mail months ago, sent with the annual 8 × 10 glossy of his daughter. She was wearing the same happy smile. The timing suggested it was was taken around her third birthday. There was no return address.