In the corridor between halves of the same building where I currently work, there are two buildings you can see over the young trees planted in plots around the ashtray and benches. One is across the street, similar to the flat green gray marble of my building, another behind it, at a perpendicular angle, in a light beige
. Both don't look so much like they pierce the sky as hold it above us, like pier planks. We are the barnacles on the sides of the boats, where air and water meet through tides.
There is a sign on a steel door to my right:
Deliveries for Corporate Catering
I think of different words trapped within the sign’s direction. Sleeve for rate ring? Deli for corp cat? Live for crop rating? The word cringe appears and I give up. I think the sign is speaking to me, but it is more of a reminder: I am ill fit to this skin; I don’t belong anywhere yet.
This is one of the places where I smoke.
The other place is the freight loading dock around the corner from the man-made park. This is where I’ve seen the pigeons do what I think is mating. The male will mount the female, spreading her back feathers with his feet. They both squat low on the top of the trash compactor, but the stiff breezes that pour in through the bay door, winds that have intensified through thin channels between office buildings, serves to throw the male off balance. He flaps his wings for a while in an attempt to steady himself; giving up, he then descends the female. Often they will fly up into the overhead beams, perhaps trying the same position, but they will always return to the dumpster. The puffed up ring of feathers around the male’s neck reminds me of the ruffled back hair on dogs that are being challenged by dog passersby, if only by their presence and not their awareness. I think for a moment wouldn’t it be great if humans had signs like that, but they do. We are that predictable at times.
It upsets my closest co-worker that in the rare moments I go downstairs to smoke during the day, I do not invite her with me, or anyone else. It is also hard for her to understand why I didn’t go to her 3 year old’s birthday last weekend, why I haven’t given her my home number or accepted any invitations to go drinking with her. I can’t say what I want to say, what I know to be true. I do not have anything in common with her and no desire to share her company. She annoys me with her complaining and her helplessness to alter office politics in her favor. I know how she feels, and perhaps I am keeping a soft distance between myself and my former self, the kind of employee I used to be. I didn’t come here to deal with my past. I came here, initially, for a decent paycheck and to be invisible.
When you have to start out at entry level, you can be congratulated for having a pulse; anything else you do, even if it’s just your job, amazes the higher-ups. No one really expects you to hustle, which is why when I start any job, they are often impressed with me. After the first week of working there, I came in on a Saturday and organized the supply room simply because the disorder annoyed me. Entry level positions usually include being in charge of ordering office supplies.
The following Monday, the head attorney for the firm took me out to lunch and congratulated me on my drive to figure things out on my own, how quickly I picked things up. I suspect she’d been told that I came in on my own time to clean up the supply room, but I doubt she even saw the end product. She says she likes that I don’t socialize with the other secretaries in the office. Throughout the meal, she tried to convince me that I had quite a good future with her firm. She wants me to become a legal secretary. She thinks we are a lot alike. She wears pink and has a frou frou dog with bows in its fur and listens to musak versions of 70’s pop hits in her office. She believes in astrology and Zodiac signs. I do not. Even though she’s paying and has two glasses of red wine during the meal, I opt for a club sandwich and ice water, which is a bad idea when you’re eating at what is called a steak house. I wanted to be tidy and dainty, but the over-toasted crusts of bread dusted everything I touched.
In essence she said, “I know you want to become a teacher, but I think you’d really do well in the legal field. I mean, you have a degree. That’s wonderful. But I’d like to try to persuade you to give up that dream for a more lucrative position."
My response was only in my head. I’ll believe what you say when I see it on my paycheck. I did tell her aloud that her husband, the firm’s in-house CEO, hired me at $2 less than what I told him I would accept, but I tried to mask my frustration with it. Two weeks after this lunch I would receive a dollar raise.
There is a ghost that turns my TV on while I’m at work. I come home and every now and then the TV is on and the volume is on way up. My downstairs neighbor is elderly, hard of hearing and, with her bedroom directly below mine, I will hear the soft speaking of her TV on late at night. She is quick to let me know what has happened while I was at work. She doesn’t work. She lives off of Social Security and has recently been approved for Section 8 housing, which means the city pays half her rent. She is always home.
I try to explain to her that I don’t watch TV, even though I’ve managed to collect 3 sets over the last year, as people have moved and left them behind. I would never leave it on. I’ve taken to unplugging it now, but I sometimes come home and find the plug sloppily stuffed into the outlet, often backwards, so that now the plastic molding is scarred.
I would be more scared if it was something other than the TV. I have never felt this presence, nothing like what we are told in movies ghosts feel like. No cold spots or wind with no source, no movement or sound. Because I have only the logic afforded to me by these same movies, I do not think the ghost belongs to the house. This house is brand new, built from the ground up; it is barely a year old, and I moved into my half of it as soon as it was completed. The abandoned house next to my place, however, looks to be housing several ghosts, in addition to numerous squatters who (at least once since my move here) have been greeted late at night with blue and red lights and the click of handcuffs. That house has no window glass or doors left and its roof is papered with a thick carpet of vines which, on a purple night during your standard storm, make you feel like you're on the edge of the world when you look out of my living room window. All you see is sky and vines.
This is why I think the ghost has simply grown bored of that house and creeps over to mine from time to time. I have electricity and things that still work. I can imagine that to materialize into physical form requires all of a ghost’s energy, to push buttons to make things make sound. I imagine that the curse of a ghost and never ending silence, a numbness that the living dispel when a limb falls asleep, something we can shake away at will. This being my theory, I can’t imagine a ghost would care how loud the TV is. Inside a TV is a window to the world that the living watch, to make them feel more alive.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve noticed two new developments of the abandoned house. The vines on the roof are now sprouting beautiful trumpet shaped yellow flowers, the first sign of some life, of spring, to grace the house since I’ve lived next to it. The other is a spray of very old photographs and letters still in their envelopes. On my way to work one morning, I noticed on the sidewalk sepia tinged pictures of smiling adults sitting around tables, children posed with department store smiles, with their names written on the back. I followed the trail to the narrow alley that divides the abandoned house from the one next to it, which is the one I often see dogs sleeping in. I had wanted to collect them all and read them, their yellow envelopes and illegible postmarks, but I feared that alley. Normally it is littered with empty bottles of Thunderbird and your standard alley trash. Anyone who hangs out there obviously takes their time and doesn’t expect to be interrupted. Instead I got in my car and went to work, and I haven’t had the ghost come over and watch TV since then.
Tonight, Ken sat on the floor by the door near his shoes, which always makes you think he’ll leave any second but he will just as easily lay on the floor and keep talking for another hour. He was home when I got back from the gym. He has a key to my place, and I like it that way.
He says, “It’s pretty clear that you will move away eventually. It’s just a question of when.” He says it like it’s something he’s always known about me, but to me it was still surprising, even though I have not worked hard to hide that I’ve never felt like I belonged here. I have been living as though I could be called away at any moment. I buy things I am willing to leave behind, and I do it with a sincere but passive purpose. It’s as though it weren’t true until someone else said it aloud. He asks, “If things with you and Jake don’t work out, how long would it take you, then, to move away, and where would you go?”
“I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead.”
And I haven’t. My imagination has already tended to packing boxes, donating any furniture my church could use to its annex, shipping boxes to PA where Jake waits to collect them, to collect me, at some point, and draw me to himself. “I don’t expect anyone who knows me to believe that I am going through with this, that I will pull this off. I don’t expect you to believe it,” I say. He nods.
When I finally started getting my hair cut at a salon (referred to me by my friend Mike), Robbie managed to hear about new guy with every follow up appointment. He asks the inevitable how did you end up in New Orleans in the first place? and I respond as I always have with my boyfriend wanted to move here, and like everyone else he shakes his head. Yes, Laura just follows men around. She is so unable to think for herself. Yes.
But still Ken’s statement echoes in my head. Everyone expects me to leave here, eventually. It really is just a matter of how and when, and even for whom. The only difference now is that I have accepted it, I have accepted that it is something I need to do, even if I don’t know why right now. I feel that I have attained as high a level of happiness as I will ever while living here, and that I want more.
It's a sin this not being ready, this not being up to it. But I have come to a conclusion that there will never be a right time. It is a time I will simply have to make out of nothing, out of ether, out of the hand of a persistent ghost, and see how far it will carry me before I am finally gone.