by Adrian Van Young, recommended by Black Lawrence Press
EDITOR’S NOTE by Diane Goettel
Somehow, before we ever met, before he ever sent his manuscript to Black Lawrence Press, Adrian Van Young tapped into my psyche and wrote a collection of short stories just for me. When it comes to most things in my life, I enjoy order and high gloss. Unblemished, ripe fruit; ironed blouses; shopping lists; fresh manicures. But when it comes to fiction, give me grit and vulgarity. Give me characters who are bruised, bleeding, and broken. Show me everything that, with my combs and ball point pens, I rally to keep out of my own patch of reality. When I read The Man Who Noticed Everything, I felt like I’d been hit in the heart bone. Over and over again, page after page, Adrian Van Young delivered the kind of fiction that I crave. It’s the kind of fiction that wakes you from a deep sleep — with a slap, not a caress — and says, “Get your fucking boots on, there’s something awful outside that you need to see.”
Ruined dandies, obsessive loners, young men at loose ends and more than a few unaffiliated supernatural entities navigate with varying degrees of success the literal and figurative labyrinths of Adrian Van Young’s neo-Gothic universe. A chicken-hawk tobacco farmer in Depression-era rural Georgia welcomes a dangerous drifter into his diminished circle of trust. An amnesiac burn-victim hoping to escape his dubious past forges a series of ragged connections with the occupants of a small town after joining a crew of day laborers hired to exhume a graveyard on a rich man’s property. A lovesick son of the South pursues an unknown nemesis through Civil-War-era Virginia, attended by three grotesque spirits who prognosticate in riddles on the outcome of his quest. A man so quintessentially average-looking that he cannot be perceived by others finds himself the subject of a macabre plot that musters in the tunnels of the New York City subway system.
Adrian Van Young has the ability to win your love and break your heart all in the space of a sentence. “The Sub-Leaser,” which you are about to read, is more quietly disturbing than the rest of the collection and serves well as a gentle introduction. Begin with this, but when you purchase the book, be prepared for much thicker gnarls of despair, unsolvable dark riddles, and delicious agony.
Executive Editor, Black Lawrence Press
Adrian Van Young
It is the matter of the change that I wish to embark on.
My apartment is a standard one for the part of the city where I live. It begins at the door, which opens, like so, to show the splintered wooden hallway that I mentioned before. On the right is a bathroom, ill-sequenced of tile, with a sink built onto the wall and a bathtub, where a thin and mildewed curtain hangs, clad in a pattern of green and white plaid. To the left of the curtain, an insolent toilet, coated with a film of brown. Above the toilet is a window of thick, smeary glass that peers out on a bend in a courtyard of stone which does not correspond, I have need to observe, to the crook of the L that makes up the apartment. Continuing down the splintered hall, tandem to the bathroom on the right, is a kitchen, with a wide metal sink, and a stovetop and oven, and copious shelf-space above, where sit foodstuffs. Facing the shelving, a circular table, unmatted and scarred, with extendable leaves. Though these leaves, I should mention, have not been extended for some inhospitable months by my calendar.
Roughly tandem to the kitchen is the room in which I take my rest. My room, the north room, leased only to me, is a large and ascetic, say, scholarly space, bisected along the western wall by a naked lead pipe grown outrageously hot in what are now, as I write this, the dog days of winter. Next to the pipe sits a modest bookshelf where I have invested a paperback library — philosophical texts by dead men with spry minds in whom I have vested a tentative trust. Northeast of the shelf, in the room’s farthest corner, hunkers the whiteness of the bed, and next to the bed, a lacquered side-table, where a number of disparate items reside, including, but not always limited to, the book I happen to be reading, a flexible, prehensile lamp, a humidifier that severs the air with its shrill, unbending jet of steam, a glass of night-water with things floating in it whose molecular makeup I would rather not know, things native to here, to the pipes underneath, to the far reservoirs, kept by concrete, that do their best to keep me healthy.
There is nothing on the walls of the room where I sleep. The white of the paint there has proven acceptable.
Beyond the living room, in the back of the apartment, lies the south room, the strange room, the room not mine, and of which I prefer, on the whole, not to speak. For it marks what is clearly, in my mind at least, the origin of the greater change that I found had come over the whole of the rooms upon coming back from the series of errands. As if, like some malignancy, the change had begun in that room and spread outward. It had been occupied, the room, I mean, by the sub-leaser little known to me, who had come to inquire about said room after happening, he claimed, on an advertisement for it. That was the word he had used, the word “happen” — I happened on the ad, he’d said, while reading the paper this morning at breakfast. As if to say in truth that he’d done nothing of the sort, but had had the room in mind to sub-lease for some time, and this feigned indifference the ultimate ploy to ensure it would be his, and quick. When I returned from my day running errands he had gone, without a word in advance or a courtesy call, and the apartment without him was utterly changed, not because he had left but because he had been there.
However, he did leave a note, the sub-leaser, less a source of information than it was a kind of cipher, tamped beneath the grey saltshaker at the center of the table with extendable leaves. It was a word-processed note, as opposed to handwritten, which struck me as odd for a couple of reasons: 1. As a note, it did not merit printing, which was what had produced it, a printer, I mean, and not a typewriter, as might stand to reason, the latter machine on the whole more conducive to jotting a note on the fly, for quick viewing, and the former altogether best for composing a statement or even a missive, while the note, as you will find, was neither; 2. The sub-leaser, for whatever reason, had quit the south room with remarkable haste in the five-hour period I was gone, which was really four hours, by the sub-leaser’s clock, for he would have been wise to account for, at least, a buffering margin of one or more hours between when he had fixed for himself to be gone, and roughly the time he expected me home, which was barely enough for the moving essentials, let alone to sit down at a laptop computer, format a note and print the note out; and 3. It consisted of the following words, which were odd irrespective of their method of production:
Enclosed bills ($60) are for Tatiana, arriving 2/2/09. Thanks for the shelter, however brief. And good luck!
P.S. — Tatiana’s #: (212) 555–2398
Hank’s “enclosed bills” were indeed in the note, congruent the seam of the folded up paper. They were not meant to count towards the rent, I knew, which he had always paid by check, and which he had paid me in full the day prior by way of said check slipped under my door, perhaps, I reflected, to avoid circumstances that would have been colored, on his part at least, by the awkward foreknowledge of his imminent departure, which he planned to effect the next day, i.e., this one. But then again, I reconciled, he had long been in the habit of paying me thus by slipping the check beneath my door, and therefore had always been planning to leave, as soon as the moment presented itself. So the money was not, then, intended for me, but indeed the elusive Tatiana, set to arrive “2/2/09” — which now I considered it was tomorrow — and whose contact information, which appeared to be local, appended the word-processed note. But who was she, this Tatiana, and what had the sub-leaser hired her to do? And why, furthermore, was her number a post-script as opposed to placed beside her name? When I added the numbers, successively, I arrived at the sum of 46. What did it signify, that number? Or was it merely happenstancial? And what, furthermore, had the sub-leaser meant when he thanked me, rather glibly, I thought, for the “shelter”? Did “shelter” refer to the shared space itself, in an easy and jocular way, perhaps, or did it have a more urgent, even literal dimension, as in “shelter from harm,” i.e., persecution, which put me in mind of nefarious doings that Hank might well have taken part in — ones that had driven him here, to these rooms, to seek respite in anonymity?
For what did I know about him, really, this trespasser into and out of my life? His name was Hank. His trade was law. His hair was close-shaved. His complexion was reddened. The checks that he wrote me never bounced. He lived alone inside the room. He was early to bed and early to rise. He hardly ever cooked.
In between prior tenants, I had not leased the room, though I could have with relative ease, I am sure, as the demand among students for similar rooms is great throughout the city where I live, which is expensive. But as I began to compose my thesis, I had less and less time to eke out pocket money, and my small fellowship had been cut by a third so as to provide for the less senior students who were just then beginning their coursework that fall. All of which resulted, in my fifth year of study, in my agreeing to host, for once, a sub-leaser, who had happened across my ad, he claimed, while reading the paper one morning at breakfast. I happened on the ad, he’d said, and it made good sense to inquire, so I did. Yet this, I should mention, at last, was impossible, for I had posted no such notice in the paper or elsewhere.
But here are some facts about the change, originating, as I mentioned, in the sub-leaser’s room and extending its dominion northward. That room, the south room, was completely destroyed, so far as the word, destroyed, I mean, can be applied under proviso of a security deposit, which I should concede I had failed to draw up between the sub-leaser Hank and myself, upon move-in. There were two ragged fractures afflicting the baseboards that sit below the window-frames, one left and one right, in the room’s southern wall where the windows themselves look out on the courtyard, and along the same stretch of the L, so described, that the windows of the living room look out on as well, this vista divided, inside the apartment, by a bisecting wall with a door centered in it.
The leftmost of these holes was large, running slant from the baseboard’s northwest corner to where it met the wooden floor, while the rightmost hole, though just as dark, was smaller than the leftmost by nearly two-thirds, perpetrated one meter southeast of the first. Upon seeing the holes, I had knelt by the left one and put my eye against the void. The space within was parched and dusty, the air so still it seemed not air but a dark insulation in the walls, between the beams. A minuscule race of woodlice, maybe, crawled along the ridge of the hole, in the light. The rightmost hole, but a third of the leftmost, consisted of a corner where the plaster had buckled so as to show a gash of dark, as if a foot or a first had made it so, presumably that of the sub-leaser. I put my eye to this one, too, and a small sharp wind irritated my fluids.
I returned to the larger, leftmost hole and tested the air, which yet proved still, and then I returned to the rightmost again, where the tiny, sourceless draft still blew. Though the holes were strange and incoherent, they could have been due to some botched heavy lifting, perhaps the big desk that the sub-leaser worked at, positioned below, and between, the two windows, to enjoy what little cross-breeze had blown in from the courtyard.
Yet it was gone, the desk, I mean, along with every other article the room had contained. And the room itself an echo chamber, with a thick skirt of junk shoring in its four walls.
On the baseboards adjacent to those with the holes, beginning at the center of the room’s western wall, there was a pale pinkish wax dribbled onto the plaster that trailed to the floor where it started to pool. An island chain of suchlike pools reached clear into the center of the room before fading. The widest of them looked so hard that I would doubtless have to face it with a chisel.
As for the junk at the base of the walls, it was banal as any junk. But just the same it struck me as a foul exaggeration of the type of dorm-style living the apartment assumed. So many sweet wrappers, and beer bottle caps, and random receipts from habitual spending, and cigarette foils, and paper clips, and pennies, and nickels, and dimes, and some quarters, that it suggested that the person who had lived in the room, I had to assume the sub-leaser, had littered down along the walls in what appeared to be an even distribution.
In the northwest corner of the room, a pair of orthopedic shoes. White and with lifts, like the shoes of a nurse, or the shoes of a dead geriatric. One of the shoes lay slumped on its side, while the other of them sat upright, as if the owner had stood not a moment ago in the worn cushioning of the insole. The shoes were old and faintly dusty, with yellowed cloth tongues in place of shoelaces. It is also pertinent to note that both of the shoes were turned into the corner.
The forest-green pennant of some sports team still hung on the white of the wall, right of center.
Besides a few discolorations and dents in the wall, there was nothing else visibly changed in the room, which is not, in any way, to downplay the significance of the disparate holes, or the pools of dried wax, or the pair of orthopedic shoes, or the emptiness of the room itself, achieved in the space between two heartbeats, or what seemed, on reflection, to have been achieved thus in the five-hour period I’d been gone. Visibly changed, I specify, for I had not yet had occasion to open the closet, where I found, on a hanger tortured out of its shape, what remained of a cable-knit turtleneck sweater, stickily matted and infested with holes, as if it had been set aflame, doused with cold water, then set back to rights. On the floor of the closet, more random detritus, in what seemed to me a more or less uniform coating, and on top of which sat, in a maddening tangle, a series of plastic and copper coat-hangers.
I was just about to leave the closet when I chanced to hear a sifting sound, as of dirt being poured from some height to the floor, and I pushed aside the ruined sweater, hanging far left along the rack, to spy, in the closet’s western corner, a dark obscuration, not part of the closet, suspended in the crevice where the walls met the ceiling. I stood on my toes to get a better look at it and prodded the shape a few times with my finger, which touched a little woven object, clung about with dirt. At the risk of fiddling with a light and startling the thing, which might yet be alive, I cupped my hand around the bottom and eased it away from the walls that retained it.
I held a desiccated bird’s nest, with the mummified bits of a few dead chicks.
But barely recognizable as chicks, I should add, just as the bird’s nest had been as a bird’s nest. Shriveled knobs of black and brown, their dainty legs upcurled beneath them, flightless wings held fast and flush. There were four little avian corpses in all. I had never myself been one for pets. The bird’s nest crumbled in my hand and into the cuff of the shirt I was wearing, collecting in the elbow, at the bend in the sleeve, where it sifted when I moved my arm.
I set the dead chicks on the bed of coat hangers, but left ajar the closet door.
The rest of the apartment beyond the south room was as I have described above. Which is to say no different concerning its contents, and the condition in which these things were kept, and the atmosphere surrounding these things, their surroundings — the character of the air, let’s say — than they’d been when I left, hours ago, the apartment, to begin my daylong spate of errands. And yet they were different — were changed — were transformed — by the fact that they had been in the apartment when I hadn’t, and might have borne witness to certain events gone on in the sub-leaser’s room in my absence.
Promptly, I picked up my portable phone — the apartment does not have a landline — and dialed the local number with the sum of 46 that Hank, the sub-leaser, had included as a post-script. After several dry rings, a woman picked up, who had some sort of foreign accent, and through whom, by and by, it was revealed that the number belonged to a kind of maid service, which the woman with the accent who answered the phone assured was as professional, discreet and affordable as any I was likely to find in the city, and thusly would I find it said not only in the local papers, where the service in question had taken out ads, but in the countless testimonies of the service’s patrons that I could consult if I wished confirmation. I thanked her, but no, she had been very helpful. I thanked her, but no, I was convinced.
But had I been, convinced, I mean, by the quality of service assured by the woman? Had it not been initially Hank, and not me, who had hired the maid service to see to the rooms he had left such a mess in his hasty departure and by that logic, might I say, that Hank alone had been convinced?
But Hank was nowhere and the service was coming, bearing down on the apartment like a messenger of doom. What could I do, marooned inside, but await, with a fortified mind, its arrival?
At the end of the call, I sat down on the couch, turning over the name of the maid Tatiana — Tatiana — Tatiana — ceaselessly, in my mind, while wondering, and you will, too, why I’d secured an outside party, when I was already in financial straits, to accomplish a chore that I could have accomplished with a minimum of time and effort; and one who, in good part, resembled the sub-leaser so far as she was unknown to me — or no better known to me, really, than Hank, who himself had done little to recommend strangers. And when, to wit, this outside party, whose name was Tatiana, I must bear in mind, would possess very little to no context for the trials that I had suffered at the hands of the sub-leaser and might well think the south room mine, or at any rate exploited by me to such ends as the sub-leaser had had in mind.
Such ends, which were. Such ends, which were.
Suffice to say that they were ends.
Before dawn I was up, without much sleep, giving the apartment a cursory clean. I mopped the floors. I wiped the mirrors. I sponged across the counter-space. I even attacked the fussy toilet with a bristle-brush, a plunger and some squirts of blue slime. By the time I was done, a lemony smell overlaid the general staleness and my hands were chapped from working in the cold of the apartment, which I endured to save on gas. I walked nervously, critically, through the rooms, seeing my work through a stranger’s eyes, and decided that this was the best I could do before the hour of one arrived.
The south room, however, I had not touched or rearranged in any way, with the logic that the room, manipulated in the slightest, would be able to deceive me when and if it changed again. The shoes with the lifts were turned into their corner. The wax abided on the boards. The decomposed birds lay scattered and brown on the bed of coat hangers on the floor of the closet.
Shortly after midday, the doorbell buzzed and an undefined voice came over the speakers. It was asking, I think, to be buzzed up, or asking me to say my name, but rather than do either thing, I said, Wait, and left for the first time that day the apartment, walking down eight flights of white marble stairs surmounted by a dark green banister, the same shade of green, it occurred to me, walking, as the pennant that hung on the sub-leaser’s wall — who as early or late as yesterday had taken a similar trip down the stairs, whilst all his possessions, including the desk, had amassed in a wordless cabal at the bottom.
Yet had the sub-leaser encountered this woman, who peered, curious, through a chink in her door?
This woman who looked old enough to wear the orthopedic shoes, not old enough to die in them, but old enough to wear them, surely, with ropes of grey hair, and a thin, collapsed mouth, and a posture that stiffened when I passed, the posture of a woman in misery. This woman watched me on my way, as if she’d never seen me in the building before, when in truth, I recalled in the moment I passed her, she had been my downstairs neighbor since I’d taken the room and had many times had the occasion to greet me, and had even received deliveries for me in the hours when I was not at home, so why did she look at me now like a stranger — as I had doubtless looked at her — and look at me, moreover, as she might well have looked at the dubious figure of Hank, the sub-leaser, dragging his possessions past her bend in the stairs, possibly in the dead of night, pausing just outside her door to gasp and readjust his weight.
I hurried to the bottom where a package waited for me, at the base of the stairs where the mailboxes were. But I saw no deliveryman, whose voice, I assumed, was the one I had heard, or had struggled to hear through the warp of the speaker. Not that it was so uncommon to be greeted with a parcel that did not require a signature, but that I’d expected to find Tatiana, the maid from the affordable, discreet cleaning service, and here was a package in her place, which struck me, obliquely, as somehow obscene, and I stood for a time, staring off into space, with the package extended in front of my abdomen. Stared for so long and with so little focus, that I almost did not see my name, written above the apartment’s address, and over this central block of text a return address in smaller letters — yet clearly my return address, the same as the one written down for receiving, but missing my name, the designated recipient.
So I had been the sender and recipient both; or the sender, at least, by implication. What in the world, I tried hard to recall, could I have posted to myself?
The package was extremely light. I carried it up the flights of stairs and through the door of my apartment. When I locked, one by one, the door’s two locks, I heard the echo of it in the landing outside.
In the kitchen I studied the package some more. It was hideously light for its size, which was considerable. The handwriting, I was glad to see, was not in the least similar to my own. Beginning in the corner, I cut through the cardboard and through the tape that held it fast, until one of the package’s flaps popped loose to reveal a substratum of Styrofoam peanuts. I swept them from the frame of the box with such haste that they spilled, rudderless, to the floor of the kitchen, settling at last against the wall and beneath the slight ledge undergirding the sink. There was packaging paper beneath, several layers, with a couple orphaned bits of foam.
Under which — my hands trembled — there was nothing at all.
The package was a total void.
I set it on the countertop and sat, suddenly, on the floor of the kitchen. The window beside me admitted a draft that sent the foam peanuts wandering in all directions. I was dressed in my bathrobe and slippers, no more, and beneath the lapels of the robe, I felt clammy.
Such ends, which were. Such ends, which were. Who had sent the empty package? And whose handwriting, if not my own, had addressed it to these very rooms? The obvious answer was Hank, the sub-leaser, who had since abdicated his room, the south room, without the slightest explanation, hardly beyond the kind of prank that the self-addressed package entailed. But I had never got a look at the sub-leaser’s writing, on account of the fact there was no lease, and therefore could not say for sure that his was the same as the kind on the package. Which admission, of course, is not to say that I didn’t suspect him as the culprit, not just of addressing the package to me, but of bringing it here to the building himself, a thing he had done in record time, and then, more or less, in the following sequence: garbling his voice so as to disguise it; leaving the package by the stairs; fleeing the lobby, the block, the zip code at the risk of me making him out at his games, when even he knew, or must have known, that I would never pursue him beyond the last stair, for how many times had he passed by my room to find me so rapt at composing my thesis that I scarcely noticed him at all, much less decided to follow him?
Thus did he hold the clear advantage of knowing me better than I knew him. His name was Hank. His trade was law. He lived alone inside the room. He was early to bed and early to rise. He hardly ever cooked.
And who was the maid — this Tatiana? What did I really know of her? She sounded Eastern European, as had the woman on the phone. Which meant she might be in the country illegally, or indentured to a sex-trade racket, or else unacceptably underage, a waif of a girl in floral print dress, unless she was old, an old maid, so to speak, old enough to wear the shoes, older even than the woman on the stairs, my neighbor, who had not seemed to recognize me.
And what would she think either way, young or old?
What would be her diagnosis?
It was safe to say I knew her less than I had known the sub-leaser, for at least, with him, I’d seen his face, and could more or less predict his habits, and could venture a guess at his age, close to mine, though perhaps a couple years my junior.
And what would he think, the sub-leaser, if he entered the apartment at precisely this instant? What would he think had gone on in these rooms, the south room, the sub-leaser’s room, in particular?
What kind of impression was I likely to make, having lived for so long under such poor conditions?
I was startled by the doorbell, buzzing. How long had I been on the floor of the kitchen? It could have been a minute, or an hour, or several hours, judging by the digits of the stove-clock, which were zeroes. I went down the hall, spoke into the buzzer and was met once again by the same garbled address, as if the buzzer were taking human speech and relaying it back to me in tongues. And I asked of the voice: Tatiana, is that you, as if I had known her all my life. She of the affordable, discreet cleaning service staffed by women from the Bloc. But I knew I could not buzz her up. The situation was larger than either of us, certainly larger than a cleaning, and what could I do but speak to this in the plainest terms that I could muster. Which is to say I did not speak. Which is to say I listened closely. There in the splintered, uncarpeted hall, between the front door and the room with the pipe.
By and by, the buzzing ceased, as did the incoherent words. The apartment, my apartment, was totally silent, and I slid down the wall to the floor.
But then came a knock. I drew up my knees. Clutching them, I listened and the knock came again. My name was spoken through the door, followed by a louder rap. Who’s there, I called, and I was answered, Tatiana. Tatiana, said the voice. Clean, sir. I arrive. But what did she mean by that: I arrive, instead of, for instance, I am here, or, It is me, or, I have arrived, as would have been the proper English, her preferred choice of stating so simple a fact with such a grandiloquent verb as arrive giving her words a hint of menace, as if she were not of this world.
I pushed myself up against the wall. I peered through the circumscribed eye of the peephole. Not peering back but observing her shoes while flattening along her waist a dark and rather shapeless sweater was a short blonde woman with a paper shopping bag propped in the crook of her arm like an infant, and neither young nor old, this woman, there in the stairwell outside the apartment, or anyway not young or old in a way that was cause for concern or alarm. But not middle-aged. No, not that either. She was a woman in a sweater with a bag in her arms.
She knocked and said my name again, but still I stared and did not answer. I arrive, she repeated. You want come in? I could not think of what to say. She knocked again. You want come in? No, thank you, I managed to say in a voice that was too low to hear through the door. A look of irritation distorted her face. She gestured with her free right arm. I arrive, now I go, she said. I go. Which is exactly what I wanted her to do, so kept silent.
You pay, she said. You call. You pay. But I had no intention of paying, and I said so. I call, then, she said. I call. You pay. She seemed to be talking nonsense now. What did she mean that she would call? Was I, after all, not in the apartment, just beyond the bolted door, standing in the splintered hall not ten feet away from the room with the pipe, and the room with the pipe not twenty feet north of the sub-leaser’s room with the dismantled shrine? Was it not my apartment that needed the cleaning, as opposed to her apartment, wherever it was? What did she mean? What did anything mean? What had we come to, she and I? She set the bag between her feet, drew a phone out of her pocket and was soon engaged in dialing with her thumb on the keypad, waiting for her call to place, seeking the voice of someone, maybe, to help her navigate my treachery.
And then I watched her hang up the phone, Tatiana, squeeze it shut like a sort of castanet, as a thin fold of bills, which was really three twenties, emerged at her feet through the crack in the door.
She smiled, reached down, took the money and left.
What had possessed me to pay? With what money?
My prospects were now completely barren.
The service had been indiscreet, I decided. Not to mention unaffordable.
But had it been unprofessional? Did it deserve to be stripped of that title? Had Tatiana not been courteous, only attacking when faced with resistance? And were I her, confronting me, would I not have done the same?
But since I was not — that is, Tatiana — I could not presume to know her thoughts. I could only say what I would do, which marked the extent of our fellowship.
Such ends, which were. Alone again. I wandered down the splintered hall.
Past the bathroom, the kitchen, the room with the pipe, otherwise known as the north room, my room, and thence into the living room where no one, not even myself, had sat, and finally into the sub-leaser’s room, with the sibilant hole and the mute one beside it, and the shoes with the lifts turned into the corner as if I had rebuked them there, and the pools of pink wax, dried so long ago, and the four dead birds — what kind? — in the closet.
Both of the shades were drawn on the windows, while the windows themselves were very clean. The sub-leaser, if nothing else, had thought to take care of these windows.
Outside was the courtyard and beyond it other buildings, where people like me went to bed and woke up, and where there were probably other sub-leasers living in similar types of rooms. Official sub-leasers under written contracts, and ones where the contracts were implied, and believe it or not, less official ones still, who paid for the rooms where they lived by the week, or who slept on the living room couch, passing through, without being asked to pay at all, though likely as not these latter ones were guests of the primary tenants. They were not, that I knew of, bad people, or dangerous in any way, but there, between the courtyard of my building and the next, mounted on a ledge of concrete, was a chain-link fence about ten feet strung along with razor-wire, running to points both east and west of the dark alleyway in between the blocks of buildings. And it was this, the razor-wire, as opposed to the fence, that I had never noticed in my five years as a tenant, but that I now appreciated in a visceral way, in the way that one appreciates death and things of it.
What was the fence keeping out of the building?
Or what was the fence keeping in, on my side?
Who was Tatiana, and where the sub-leaser?
Who would I lease the room to now?