I heave a can of trash twice a week down the concrete steps and onto the sidewalk, sometimes muddying a part of my business suit. And once a week, I lug an overstuffed laundry basket, up and down, up and down, two flights of steep steps that sound like the crinkle and crack of a flag in the wind at half-mast.
I’ve woken up four different nights around 3 a.m. to the bip, bip, bip of one of my eight smoke detectors in this three-bedroom, two-bathroom house that’s become my bachelorette pad. One of their silly backup batteries is dead, but I can’t figure out which one. I stand at the top of the steps in the dark, trying to figure out which one it is, since the sound echoes and I have to listen closely. Half asleep still, I shuffle into slip-on shoes and haul a triangle ladder up my steps from the basement to stand on the top rung, tipsy. Barely awake, I pull the detectors off their base from the high cathedral ceilings and remove the batteries. I keep remembering and then forgetting to call the fire department to bring their boys and check them. My dog, Ivan, curls up at my feet when I return to bed these nights, huffs loudly like he’s bored and confused, and begins snoring. I hardly fall back to sleep before it’s time to wake up for work.
I buy new expensive area rugs from Ikea and wait until Ivan’s stomach flu has run its course, and begin tearing up the old carpets I bought from Ollie’s Discount Outlet, quickly realizing that the entertainment center and television that my ex-boyfriend and his brother slowly shifted into the living room when we moved in are too heavy for me to get one of the carpet slabs completely out from under it. So I take scissors and cut around the wooden empire, leaving carpet coasters under the furniture legs while drinking wine from the bottle because I feel weak without a man to help. And then Ivan and I lie on the new carpets and sigh.
Days later, I call my dad to ask how to transplant a new seat onto my bicycle, how to fix a storm door, how to stop a leak.
I find stiff brown bags of tomatoes dropped over the makeshift fence from the old and friendly minister and his wife who grow a small garden in the lot behind their concrete back yard. And sometimes he even puts my trash can on my porch after the garbage trucks have pulled away on pickup day. In the Spring, he pulls lion-headed dandelion weeds from the front of the house to save me the trouble.
When I speak to my dad, I tell him how nice Mr. Ed is, how he looks after me.
I spend nights on the back porch after tending to the dilapidated flowerbox garden that’s unhinged at one end. With dirt and grime still under my fingernails, I watch the sun set while smoking and drinking a beer.
The boy down the street comes by every Monday evening to ask me if I need my grass cut, and I say no, regretting not paying the small price as I add a new callous to my finger while cursing at the 1950s push mower that gets tangled in the gangly weed arms. Ivan settles into a flower box, watching and sunning, and tilting his head every time I say that four-letter word.
My cell phone can be silent for days, so I order every new movie from Comcast ignoring the stacked, unread books staring me down from my bookshelf. I order pizza and eat the second half when it’s cold. I keep the house at 60 degrees, sometimes cooler, and walk around the house wearing clothes like a homeless person, with layer after layer drooping over my body: T-shirt, sweatshirt, socks, pajama pants, legwarmers.
I spend an hour chipping the ice off of my car and shoveling the snow around it at least once a week in these frightful Northeast winters. I have to pop the emergency break more than once in January to prevent skidding my car into the lamppost at the bottom of my steeply inclined street, which everyone says is too dangerous to be anywhere but San Francisco. I come out to salt my steps, but find that someone else, anonymously, has already helped.
I don’t answer the door when I’m not expecting company, just like my dad taught, and when Ivan barks at the interruption, I cover myself with the blanket on the couch just in case the unannounced stranger stands on tiptoes to look through the peep window. I set my house alarm that I haven’t yet registered with the alarm monitoring company , but it still makes an awesome shrilling sound. I hope the alarm will go off if someone opens the downstairs window which I’m not sure is completely locked. I haven’t tested it because I’m paranoid someone will see me and break it, and break in. I lie awake at night and when the bars let out, and the patrons heavy-foot the hill, I hear boys fighting with girls, and girls fighting with boys, and caravans of cars with hip-hop blaring. I can’t help but think about the two guys whose faces were stabbed down the street and around the corner and I’m a movement away from calling 911 for no reason except to speak to someone other than my dog.
Who stabs someone in the face?
I wonder if I’m clinically crazy to live alone in Baltimore.
My dad tells me he’s found some nice apartments for singles.
But I lock my bedroom door and keep a rope ladder by the bed, just in case I need to escape in the nick of time. I have a duffel bag to put Ivan in so I can carry him on my back down the rungs, and out to safety.
Everything I own is in one lone bedroom because it’s where we slept when we were together here, and the other bedrooms, once broken in by two roommates, sit empty and echoey and have the better view, but the colder air. I shower with both bathroom doors open so I can step to the other side of the house briefly and see the traffic on 83 and the Pepsi sign. Ivan stays in bed until it’s time for breakfast.
I only clean when I’m bored or angry or expecting company. Other than that, there’s a lot of dog hair and sometimes I forget to take out the recycling and it piles up for weeks in cardboard boxes with the bills, with magazines never-thumbed-through, and with Baltimore Sun Plus crossword puzzles.
Sometimes, I can still smell cologne in my pillowcases.
The alcoholic across the street stayed with me after the cops came when a tractor trailer pinned my parked car up against the curb, because he knew I had no one else around. And he could speak Spanish. He was nowhere to be found when I came back from surgery a week later. My friend dropped me off, my car being a repeat-victim of a hit and run. I walked to the liquor store and scored him a six-pack of beer anyway and he gave me the name of a good local body shop around the corner to go to.
I sleep naked sometimes, and sometimes not, and sometimes in the morning I am in such a rush that I hyper-dry my pants and skirts in the dryer because I don’t have time to iron them. I still have to put makeup on and feed Ivan and let him out and make my lunch and do the dishes and set the fake alarm. Ivan sits between my legs when I’m on the lid of the toilet blow-drying my hair and looks up at me, as if waiting for something.
I have parties and invite everyone I’ve ever met and spend days cooking food for far too many people but everyone shows up hours late, and I’m already drunk from waiting. And they’re not hungry.
I drive to Target during lunch break or Rite Aid on the way home from work to buy electronic mice repellent doohickeys that buzz incessantly and keep me from falling asleep. Sometimes I try bait, in bags or loose, or traps, or more bait, or more traps. I see a mouse scurry out of my slipper and across the hardwood floors in dimmed lighting, and while Ivan hardly notices, I keep my feet on the couch for hours.
I snuggle with Ivan in the early morning hours when it’s cold, too cold to get out of bed to stomp down the steps to turn up the heat, and he licks my face until it hurts.
Weeks later, spring arrives. The ants come.
I say no to trips and invitations, because I have no one to watch the dog.
But once in a while, I have someone over and Ivan is put out into the hallway and scratches at the bedroom door until he calms down when it’s important. And it’s creepy, but he slides back onto the bed after we let him back in and he sleeps between us, like I’ve been with someone he loves too.
I get drunk alone sometimes and dance to old vinyl records, like Diana Ross, Fleetwood Mac, even Mötley Crüe, and Culture Club, and Ivan tap dances around me, his nails clicking the floor, because he thinks I’m happy.
I buy only what I will eat so I never have food when friends come over unexpectedly and sometimes I spend the weekend in the same pajamas covered in dog hair. I wear my reading glasses with the scotch tape on the side of them, and filter in and out of sleep and movies I can’t remember.
I still find relics of the man I loved and the roommates I could have lived without, and I throw them away, or sell them, as I see fit. And I still hear footsteps where none should be. And when I lay down at night, in silence, I write poetry in my head until I fall asleep.
I hear my neighbor run up and down his steps through the thin wall separating our homes and I know that he can hear me when I call Ivan handsome and carry his stuffed toy and his eight rawhide pieces up the steps and speak to him in baby voices saying, “Mr Stinkyface” and “tired tired boy” as we slink up the steps to bed.