Paying the Rent

Monday, 13 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

She was not about to leave early, fainting spell or no fainting spell, although it did worry her. Instead, Kate acted as though nothing had happened and kept doing her work—which anyway consisted of mostly easy stuff: filing and a couple contracts to be entered at that time of the afternoon on a Monday—but took off at five o’clock sharp to walk briskly to the ATM on State, not far from her bus stop.

Kate thinks she knows perfectly well why she felt faint: not eating properly, not sleeping well (as usual!) and, above all, stress. With the most obvious stressor being the fact that she is late with the rent—again! There may have been at least a bit of an excuse for not paying on time this month (again!!), since that would have left her with nothing at all in the bank, but now she has had her first paycheck now from the new job for almost two weeks. She has enough food in the apartment (Pasta and pop-tarts are food. It says so on the internet.) to last a couple more days, and then she will be getting her next paycheck. So there is simply no excuse anymore. At the ATM Kate withdraws nine thousand dollars—within a few hundred of her entire balance—calmly tucks it into her purse, and rides the bus home feeling as though she has a fluorescent sign floating in the air above her head that says Rob Me! Defenseless Girl Carrying Gobs of Cash!

But nobody cares, although she is pretty certain that a couple of the guys who got on at Blake could see the sign.

Walking the last couple blocks to Maiden Lane the air is getting cool—she will be lucky if she can get the temperature in the apartment to sixty by the time she goes to sleep—but Kate uses the red light of the big setting sun to convince herself that all is well. Still, she feels her throat constricting by the time she is standing in front of Mr Pogany’s door. She manages to knock, half-hoping that the little tap she manages will be too slight for him to hear.

It isn’t.

When he opens the door Kate is a shocked, but for two entirely separate reasons. Her minds tries to reject the first reason because it doesn’t make sense, but a sense of basic honesty prevents her. The second reason she is shocked is because of how Mr Pogany looks. She has never before seen Mr Pogany in any condition other than perfectly dressed and groomed. Now his hair is unkempt, his eyes bloodshot, it looks as though he has been sleeping in his clothes, and as though it was her knocking on his door just now that woke him up!

But the first reason Kate was shocked was that, before the door opened, when she just heard the sound of Mr Pogany unlocking it from the other side, Kate had an impression flash into her mind from she has no idea where, but it’s content was as clear as any thought she has ever had. The impression was: Someone here is wrong. But she has no idea what it may be.

So she stands in front of Pogany blinking like an idiot for several seconds before she can manage to clear her mind of this impression and focus on what is actually happening right now in front of her. Which is that Mr Pogany has woken up enough to start to be irritated with her.

Yes,” he says again. “What do you want?”

“I—I want,” she stammers, “I want to pay the rent. I’m sorry I’m late again, but I have the thousand I missed last month. So there’s nine altogether.” She hands him the envelope, a company letterhead envelope that she took before leaving today and then carefully counted the nine bills into. “Is that right?”

Pogany takes the envelope and looks down at it for a moment. Behind him she catches just a slice of his apartment that she has never seen before: a thin view of dark gold walls and old brown wood glimpsed between the old man’s skinny shoulder and the door frame.

“I have a better job now,” Kate blurts. “It pays better. I won’t be late anymore.”

Pogany looks up and his bleary eyes focus on her for a moment. It’s the first time Kate can remember that he has ever looked at her without irritation.

“Yes, OK. Thank you,” he says. And instead of counting the money in front of her as Kate expected—in fact, she would not have been at all surprised if he had held each bill up to the light to check for the watermarks and security threads—he closes the door in her face.

~

Kate just stands there for a few seconds, immersed in such a confusing miasma of unexpected emotions, confused feelings, and excited curiosity that she barely knows what to do.

Did she really just sense that something was wrong before Mr Pogany opened the door?

But it finally occurs to her that, whether that mysterious perception was real or not, she still needs to get upstairs to her place and get the heat turned on if she is going to be able to sleep tonight. And a little food wouldn’t hurt either.

Turning on her heel, Kate runs up the stairs toward warmth, food, and home.

~

The time is in the early morning before sunrise when no one is awake, which explains why the building is so quiet. Kate knows she is dreaming, but she also knows that she is keeping a sly little secret from herself. “I’m not really dreaming”, her dream self whispers to—to whom, exactly? Kate decides she should just concentrate on walking down the stairs before she trips and breaks her imaginary neck.

As she reaches the ground floor and approaches the Poganys’ door Kate slows down, knowing that this is going to be difficult. She looks at the key in her hand, and just the sight of that key seems like the saddest thing in the world. But there’s worse to come.

Kate opens the door and steps inside. The sight of the deserted apartment is the saddest thing she has ever seen. The pink—what do you call those flowers? She can never remember the name of those darn things. Anyway, the tall pink flowers that she brought, they are all withered and wilted now. Everything is exactly as Mr Pogany left it: the big crocheted tablecloth still on the dining table, the curtains on the sliding door still cinched back as though waiting for Mrs Pogany to get wheeled out to the patio to take the evening air, six little blue-and-white china teacups arranged in a neat circle on the side table next to the ancient TV, still waiting for unexpected guests to arrive, the big soft-looking golden-brown armchair that Mr Pogany favored, still scooched around so he would be sure to hear if she called him from the bedroom—

Kate’s dream self stands one step inside the apartment, so sorrowful she feels as though she might just implode and vanish into thin air.

“What do I do now?” she asks the room.

And wakes up in her own room in the middle of the night. Kate sits bolt upright in bed and looks around the dark apartment, making sure that she’s really in the right place. Then she gets out of bed. She will go to the bathroom and then into the apartment’s small living room to find something to read. It’s going to be a while before she can sleep again.

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