Annie was the landlady, and she looked tired. Her hair was a mass of orangeish frizz barely held back by a barely-visible scrunchy and her skin was so sallow it was almost translucent. More than anything else, she looked tired. It wasn’t long before Liz started thinking of her as Little Orphan Annie gone very much to seed. “The boy who was staying here dropped out and went home,” Annie said, her voice a monotone.
The apartment was an efficiency, obviously used hard by several generations of college students. Yellow stove and refrigerator, bookshelves built into one wall over a spit of Formica posing as a desk. The linoleum was lumpy and warped, the wood paneling at least fifteen years old and cracked in places, and Liz could feel a chilly draft coming in through the window. It smelled of antiseptic, and it was a tiny little shithole, but what more was there to say? It was in Ypsilanti, which was close to the fish market Ted had her working at, and it was cheap enough that maybe, just maybe she’d be able to afford paying for it and for insurance on whatever shitbox car her father found for her.
Besides, anyplace nicer would have insisted on a reference from her previous apartment.
“There’s the bathroom back there,” Annie said, pointing toward the shadowy rear half of the single-room apartment for a brief moment before tucking her hand back into her armpit. “Round behind the bed. That curtain pulls out of the wall for privacy around the bed and stuff. You can study, or whatnot.”
Annie obviously thought Liz was a student, which wasn’t a completely absurd notion. Likely all of her neighbors were going to be students, too. Liz sighed. Her back and shoulders were killing her. Ted hadn’t been joking about working her so hard she wouldn’t want a drink. The need gnawed at her a little bit, but was kept at bay because she’d been so damned busy the past couple of days. At least she didn’t smell like fish. It was going to take a few more days before the stink got permanently into her skin. Margo had gone so far as to put a little electric air freshener in the guest room. The thing buzzed all night, making it harder than it already was to sleep on the squeaky couch-bed in there. Liz looked longingly at the bed, the only piece of furniture in the apartment. Even a dingy twin mattress looked like home right now.
“It’s got an electric heater and an electric stove. You pay for the electricity and water.”
And chairs, Liz thought. And dishes, and pots, and a breakfast table, and a sofa, and linens, and towels, and maybe, if there’s a good one at Bunky’s Pawn Shop, a goddamn television. “Fair enough,” Liz said. “I’ll take it.”
Annie showed teeth in a near approximation of a friendly smile. “Awright. I’ll go write up the lease. You can move in whenever you want.”
Wonderful. Furniture could come later. She had to get out of Ted and Margo’s house. “How does this afternoon sound?”
A security deposit was paid, a lease was signed, and Liz got the keys to her new apartment. The notion of having a drink to celebrate crossed her mind, just one private drink, nothing terrible, but therein lay a slippery slope. Just one wouldn’t be enough. She wasn’t sure how much would be enough, exactly, but it was more than one drink, and if she didn’t have quite enough it would just leave her wanting more. In fact it made more sense to go out and drink more than she could possibly want, to get so sick she’d remember why she was quitting in the first place. Overindulging seemed like a better idea. Of course then she’d have to find a way to avoid Ted’s BAC tests for a while.
Liz didn’t get a drink, but as she returned to Ted and Margo’s house she considered what the best timing might be, to get a drink between Breathalyzers. Papa wouldn’t understand, but she needed to do this, just one more.
You’re lying, she told herself, and tried to put the idea out of her head.