The old tenements, now renovated for NYU student-housing, still have that 19th century grotto-getto feel. The narrow streets south of Washington Square Park look like scenes from pre-WW1 Paris city-scapes.
But now, the starving artists are debt-strapped-grad-students trying to save some of their hard won Pell-Grants by gang-renting small apartments and squeezing three to a room plus kitchen privledges and a loo.
These privations created a “plague on all your houses” for me, a one-semester-adjunct-lecturer “from away”…. Edinburgh, Scotland, who will teach two undergrad classes and take two classes gratis to finish my PhD in History with an emphasis on cult and black magic during The Plague years.
Interesting stuff to me, and, as of last year, coincidentally relevant. One of just a few good things for me in this time of post-Covid-19. The other, this teaching grant and gig.
There I was, just east of McDougal Street, looking for an address some budding-campus-housing-clerk had given me with that “Good luck to you” look in her eyes…
“Maybe you can catch one of them at home. Make a deal and save some money”.
I walked down the street, counting off building numbers.
There, swaggering towards me, a tall busty young woman, long black pony tail, black summer dress and sweating in that, “Yeah, I’m sexy, so what?” way. She carried a DeAgustinos shopping bag, empty.
“I’ve seen her before” I thought.
(But that’s impossible.
I’m from Scotland.
Never been to the States before.)
But I’ve seen her!
and as she passes me, her lovely, earthy scent lingers.
I turn ’round to watch her backside own the sidewalk. She looks back. Catches me staring. She smiles and winks. Then turns the corner and she’s gone.
I return to searching house numbers.
This is queer.
She reminds me of someone I can’t recall.
I have read about New York City, the wonder-land where you can walk the streets for years and never see the same person twice, but now I’m walking a NYC street I’ve never been on and I nearly collide with someone I know I knew but can’t remember…
“Ah! here’s the building. 66 6th Street.
It’s not a promising start, but, what the hell! I’ve always been a skeptic.
As I climb the stoop stairs to the door bell buzzers, a young man with a heavy red Van Dyke cuts me off on his way to the door, says, “Oh, Sorry” and shoves his key into the door.
Ah! A resident!
I steer my courage to the sticking point.
“Excuse me. My name is Malcomb MacBride. I’m trying to find an apartment to share and the people at the Student Aid Center gave me this address. Do you live in Apartment 2-B…or not?”
“Ha! Wish I did. Nah. Sorry. I’m in 2-A. But, come on in. You can knock. Sure! Take a stab at it! One of the Ladies maybe home. Shelia. She takes only night classes.
We enter the foyer. He continued. “I’m Will. You a student, or not..?”
I like this lads “nothing-to-loose cordiality”. A grand difference from the “who-gives-a-shit” attitude I got at the Administration Building when I arrived there yesterday from the airport. They rented me a room in their “by-the-hour” motel so I had a place to sleep the night. Roaches.
I started looking this morning.
And here I am talking to William. Red hair, thick goatee, old Brit name…. Surely a country-men in there somewhere.
We climb to the second floor.
2-A to the right.
2-B to the left.
Like a play, on cue, a young girl steps out of 2-B carrying a full, white plastic garbage bag in her left hand and her back-pack by its strap in her right, Both bags just about out-weigh her.
She smiles and says, “Hay, Willy! Who’s this? A new test-rat?”
He laughs and asides to me, “She’s joking! My job is feeding the animals and helping with experiments in Physi-Lab. Mice and frogs. But my major is creative-writing.
So, with a grand smile at the girl he says, “Nope. He’s lookin for a room and they gave him this address at
the Admin. I’d take him but we’re full and Duncan got the last bed. So, maybe…?”
“Oh. Well, Shelia’s home. Marge just went to the store. I gotta get to class. Late already! Tell Shelia I could move in with Large Marge…Or…”
And here she smiled at me. A lovely little wicked smile. This girl was born with a gleam in her eyes. And somehow she looked familiar… She giggled and said, “Maybe you could move in with me? BUT, I get on top! ….Bunk-beds.”
She winked and was gone.
“That’s Elizabeth! She’s a pisser!”
She certainly was….But, of course she always was a pisser… She had to get up twice a night to use the loo…
I’ve never been here…
She’s not, not my…Lady!..
“So, Ya gonna do something or just stand there like a shadow?” asked Will.
He pushed past me and knocked on 2B.
“Just a minute!” came the voice from within.
She came to the door. Shelia, I presumed.
“What! Oh. Hello, William.”
Will became my Lobbyist, on the spot. He told Shelia my life-story so far and ended with, “Well? What’d’ya think?
All through his presentation, Shelia stared at me. A quizzed look on her face, like she suddenly needed to scratch an itch on her arse but couldn’t for the shame of it.
She snapped to when Will said, “Ah… Shelia?”
Straight away, she said, “Come in. You too, William.”
Inside, the first room I saw looked so near like my college dorm, I almost said, “Ahhh! Cave sweet cave!”
Small foyer leading to a small living room. A foggy-filthy-soot-coated-window looking across at another wall and window, probably filthy as well but who could tell? Small, well abused pull-out-couch and two old recliners. In the center of the room one of those electric-wire-spools Con Ed uses and then leaves around in the alleys of New York so someone can steal it and save the company the disposal costs. This one was covered with a solid blanket of multi-colored candle wax. Some of the dry-wax drippings hanging off the edges. All sorts, shapes and colors of stones and crystals stuck in the wax, like flies and bees and butterflies on display. Off to the side, by a wall, one stuffed-with-books-bookcase, surrounded by piles of other books, neat, but precarious, the tower about to crumble.. A silk, red cloth drapped over a tall lamp, just now dark. Just off the living room, a narrow hall way into a small kitchen with a formica table and four chairs, one squeezed between the wall and the table. Frig. Gas burner stove. A large pot on the flame, water boiling, steam rising.
Shelia led us down the dimly lit, long rail-road hall to show me the three bedrooms. Her’s, the tiniest, painted black walls. The second, the largest, with room for two beds, belonged to “Large Marge”. Red walls.
“She’ll be right back with some groceries,” Shelia said.
and finally, the Elizabeth-on-top bunk-bed room, pure white.
At tours end, Shelia said, “Ya know, when I first saw you I thought you looked familiar… but I’ve never been to Scotland, so far as I know… So… What do you think? Interested? The three of us fight once a month with the moon change. But we’re friends whether the battle’s lost or won. No blood to speak of, besides…. Loser cooks!”
(Had we met before?)
“Well? Your call,” she said.
They waited in the awkward silence my hesitating caused.
“Well….” I said. “Could I sleep on the couch? I mean…. if… Until I found another place…
“No! It’s fine. We’re grown-ups. Long as Little Beth doesn’t mind. She said so, correct, William?”
“Yep! Beth said she and Mac…it’s Mac, right?’
I’d lost track. I nodded.
..that she and Mac were old friends.”
Things were getting foggy.
Shelia weighed me in the balance and found me… wanting.
I grasped at a straw.
“Maybe I should go back to the By-the-Hour-Castle. See if there’s another…”
The door opened. Little Beth. She’d cut class.
“Well, Shelia! Do I have a room-mate?”
Little Beth plopped her books on the kitchen table. She owned the whole Globe and the Globe loved her for it! Then she spied the stove and the boiling pot.
” Fuck! Marge left the water boiling? It’s almost boiled off! Damn her! She’s a danger to herself and others!! She said she’s be right back. Shit!! Can you boil water? You! Mac! Can you boil water? Can you use a knife to slice and dice?
“What ya think, Mac?” This from Shelia.
“Yes, I can boil water…”
Little Beth laughed. Like little bells, chiming.
“No, Haggis! Do you want to move in?
Then in the split second silence, she whispers, “Ya know? You look so familiar… Wait a sec.”
Beth marches across the small kitchen to me, (now “Haggis” if you’ve lost track,) reachs up around my shoulders, (it was a stretch for the little charmer), pulls me toward her and plants a sweet kiss on me.
I remembered that kiss…
Looking to Shelia, Beth said, “Aye, Lassie! He’s the One!”
(My accent has that effect on empaths I meet. And Fools. And murderous bullies.)
Shelia smiled and turned down the boiling-pot-of-water.
Will took a note-book out of his pack and jotted a few somethings.
Shelia said, “Marge has to make it unanimous. It always has to be unanimous with us. We three, you see! But I don’t think she’ll have any problems as long as she gets to keep her own room….”
Beth pulled me back down to her. She whispers in my ear, again…
“Don’t let the split throw you. It’s the only thing from my coven days I didn’t get fixed… Well, I kept the one tattoo but you’ll get used to it, I promise. I’ve always loved that , “.. this way comes…” line. It fits just across my belly.
And then she kissed me again. Deeper this time. Longer. Wetter.
A snake feels its way around with its tongue, much like Little Beth did in my mouth. With her, yes, forked…. It felt like she was counting my teeth. Examining which cavities she’d need to fill, which to leave be…
Somewhere in a distant corner of my survival skills,
I heard Williams scratching more notes.
I heard Large Marge coming up the stairs, her scraping-shuffle on the boards, so familiar. She opened the door.
Shelia sighed, content, at last! All the girls to home.
Mid-kiss, my hand wandered. Well, you see, it’d been a long time! I touched Beth’s little belly.
Felt the rises along her skin:
I felt no need to sign a lease.
William, scribbling his notes.