The Unraveling

by A.N. Devers, recommended by David Gates

EDITOR’S NOTE by David Gates

A.N. Devers’ story “The Unraveling” isn’t at all the sort of thing I like: a magic-realist fable (strike one) about the privileged anguish of apartment-hunting in Brooklyn (strike two) told entirely in emails (you’re out). But it’s worked its insidious way with me: what looks like a trendy exercise turns out to be a classic American story, in the tradition of Hawthorne or Poe. There’s even a whiff of the nineteenth century about the characters’ deliberately suggestive, borderline-probable names and their stilted language: “We’ve found ourselves in the unfortunate situation of needing to search for an apartment prematurely,” the desperately hemmed-in Cecilia Narrows writes to the eccentric real-estate agent Edward Askew; “I am the preeminent broker for rentals in Everly Gardens,” he replies, “and am therefore very busy.” Only Cecilia’s husband, the story’s voice of sanity, talks our language: “Hmmmm,” he emails her, as Askew begins to reveal his creepier tendencies. “Maybe this guy isn’t right for us.” Well, he is and he isn’t. No couple in their right minds would put up with an increasingly tyrannical broker who hectors and manipulates them. But Cecilia is not in her right mind: “When are you planning to come home?” her husband writes, a few days into the search. “I wish you had discussed leaving with me — I thought we’ve talked about this.” And in the angry, controlling Edward Askew, the rational, supportive husband’s shadowy counterpart — neither he nor Cecilia ever see him face-to-face — she’s found the just the man to assist in her unraveling.

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Anyone who has visited Devers’ website, writershouses.com, knows her preoccupation with interior spaces, as well as her fondness for nineteenth-century writers. (At one of the several Poe houses, she got to visit the cellar that might have been the model for the one in “The Black Cat,” in which the narrator entombs his wife.) Such spaces, of course, are ultimately psychological, not architectural: the spaces in “The Unraveling” seem to owe as much to M.C. Escher as to the gothic-Freudian tradition of dungeons and old, dark houses. Their dread, or perhaps their hope, resides not in toxic buried secrets but in emptiness and openness. In one apartment, a spiral staircase leads to a sealed door, which “would go absolutely nowhere. One would step out of it and fall quite a distance to the ground.” And the final apartment Mr. and Mrs. Narrows see — not to give away the ending — turns out to be like no brownstone in this world.

A knowing reader will refrain from deciding whether “The Unraveling” ends on a note of transcendence or delusion; Cecilia herself is left undecided. But any reader will recognize that this is a superbly put-together story, moving and disturbing beneath its ingenious surface, and — despite its evocation of literary tradition — absolutely unique.

David Gates
Author of Jernigan

The Unraveling

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 4:16 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: Meeting Request

Dear Mr. Askew,

My husband Gregory and I recently read about your real estate practice in the Borough Observatory, and we think you would be a good fit for us. We’ve found ourselves in the unfortunate situation of needing to search for an apartment prematurely. We live in a row home here in Everly Gardens and want to stay in the area.

When we rented from our landlady a year and a half ago, she led us to believe many things about her building and the apartment that are false — the most significant of which has put my health at risk. Actually, it’s not just my health; you could say that she has created chaos in our lives. I’ll spare you the details for now, as they exhaust me. We have tried to make our living situation work for a long time. (We even renewed our lease when things were momentarily looking up.) Now, the landlady has finally agreed to let us out of our lease with thirty days’ notice, and contacting you, I hope, will be the answer to our many-months-long search for a suitable and affordable living space. I hope it will be the final action we have to take in order to change our distressing situation.

We would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience. From the sound of it, you don’t take many new clients without recommendations. But I am hoping you might find room for us in your busy schedule despite our lack of referrals.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Cecelia Narrows

P.S. I read in the article that you prefer to converse by email, which suits me just fine. (I’ve never been a fan of telephonic communication anyway.)

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 5:47 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: RE: Meeting Request

Dear Ms. Narrows:

You won’t need a referral for my services, although you are correct that I am not seeking unsolicited business. The Borough Observatory is correct: I am the preeminent broker for rentals in Everly Gardens and am therefore very busy. In addition to my regular client list, I have their friends, and their friends’ friends, and on and on. I only take on a few “walk-ins” a year. Consider yourselves lucky.

You might wonder why I chose you if my time is so limited. First, I appreciate that you took the time to read the Observatory’s article about me and felt compelled to email. Secondly, I am keen on finding apartments for people who have been previously mismatched with a living space. That, from the sound of it, is your current situation. The misery of ill-fitting apartments and landlords is the fault of unqualified, ignorant brokers who don’t know their neighborhood or its people. My job, as I see it, is to provide excellent landlords with excellent tenants: I match people with people. Quality with quality. Even peculiarities with peculiarities. To preserve the neighborly character of Everly Gardens, I have taken on the role of its vigilant protector. If all brokers were as attentive, there would be less misery in the world.

I must warn you, though, that some people find my style (how shall I put it?) both untraditional and intrusive. Untraditional, I will admit to being. But those who find me intrusive misunderstand my comprehensive methodology. Some people are not open to candor, even if it comes paired with “a canny instinct.” And such people are not the clients I am looking for. But since you’ve read the article, I assume you understand my approach is different.

I was quite pleased with the quality of that article, by the way — overdue as the recognition was. But I am somewhat surprised that you hadn’t heard of me before. I assure you, I would have saved you precious time and energy in your previous apartment searches. Something the article did not mention is that I do not set up personal meetings or show apartments myself. I let the process unfold a bit more organically. I ask my clients to stay mute about the process, as it tends to provoke unfounded speculations.

After you describe your rental needs more fully, and when I have an availability that I think fits you (like a sweater, I often say), I will send you a description of the apartment, and you will decide if you want to see it. If so, we will make arrangements for you to have keys or an appointment with the landlord.

There are two requirements I make of all my clients. (These are the untidy aspects of business.) One, the broker’s fee: mine is 13.75 percent. Yes, it is expensive, but it’s nonnegotiable. Two, you must agree to see no other broker and no other apartments — this disturbs the process.

If this is satisfactory to you, please let me know immediately what you hope to find in your new apartment. And please communicate these terms clearly to your husband. It is always aggravating to find midway through what I call “the unraveling” that one person never agreed to my provisos.

Your humble shepherd,
Edward Askew

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 10:46 AM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: Dream Apartment

Good morning, Mr. Askew. Thanks so much for your quick response. I’m so relieved! I spoke with Gregory, and we agree to your terms. Having surveyed the rental climate in the borough for some time, we really feel you are our best resource. The prices are soaring, aren’t they? While reading the article, I was struck by the fact that your landlords agree to offer apartments at below market value, simply because they know you’ll deliver tenants who match their needs.

I am surprised that you prefer not to meet us, since you are considered such a careful screener: the “finder of good people,” as the reporter put it. Yet you choose not to meet them? But if it works. When in Rome!

Gregory and I are looking for a true one-bedroom. Not a junior one-bedroom, an L-shaped studio, or the like. I work from home, so having a small workspace, be it a nook, a corner, an extra-deep closet, or (in my dreams) a true office, is a necessity for me. Also, we need a nonsmoking apartment. The previous tenants must not have been smokers — the smell permeates. And the neighboring tenants must not smoke, or we must be shown that the apartment’s ventilation system isn’t affected. If we move into a brownstone or a townhouse (which we would prefer), then it has to be entirely nonsmoking. If it’s an apartment building, then it shouldn’t be situated above a bar or restaurant. Smoking triggers my asthma. Our current landlady knew this, but nevertheless chose to lie to us about her own habit.

What else? The landlord cannot be a snoop who looks into windows, through garbage and recycling, mail, etc. He or she must have respect for a tenant’s privacy. Finally, our current apartment has a w/d in the basement as well as a bit of storage space, a dishwasher in the kitchen, and three closets. We prefer a lower level apartment — garden or parlor floor. I’ve already done the fifth floor walk-up thing, and I’m done with it. Gregory and I recognize that all these things may be difficult to find again under one roof in Everly Gardens. We thought we had hit the jackpot with this apartment and are loath to move at all. But since we must, we’d like to retain as many of these amenities as possible. Oh, and I like a bathtub, not just a stand-up shower. Don’t worry, though; we will be open-minded and flexible.

I sense I have gone on a bit. And perhaps this is much too much to ask or expect.

With hope,
Cecelia Narrows

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 12:03 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: RE: Dream Apartment

Dear Ms. Narrows:

Now that I know your desires a little better, perhaps it is time we dispense with formalities. Please call me Ed. Yes, you do want an apartment with all the bells and whistles, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. However, I need to know your budget: what you pay now and what you are willing to spend.

Onward and upward,
Ed

P.S. My methods are my methods, and I’ve found it does no good to try and explain them. In the end my clients are satisfied, and that is what matters.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 7:58 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: RE: Dream Apartment

Dear Ed,

Please call me Cecelia, of course. (And Gregory, should you two ever correspond, is Gregory, not Greg.) Our current rent is $1550, but we understand the current market and would be willing to go up several hundred dollars if necessary.

Oh, I can’t believe I forgot to mention it — how did I forget? — we have a dog, Tigerlily. (She’s another reason we don’t want stairs.) So we need a place that will accommodate her. She’s a medium-sized (47 lbs.) mutt with brown and black fur. She does not bark, cry, scratch doors, carry fleas, or have habits a landlord would find problematic. She loves people and other animals and is fine with children. An apartment with any outdoor space, say a terrace or a porch, would be a wonderful treat for the three of us.

Looking forward to working with you,
Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 9:42 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: Dog

You should have told me you have a dog, Cecelia. Right off the bat. It changes things. I spent a good amount of time yesterday assembling potential rentals for you, and now I must begin again. When I ask you to provide information, please be thorough. Dogs and babies! Dogs and babies! Landlords don’t want them. They make my work infinitely more complicated. Why are clients not forthcoming about these things? The withholding of information is never productive.

Now, down to business. While Tigerlily sounds like a gem, my landlords tell me that many pet owners only see positives in their animals. So I would like you to write me a description of your dog’s two biggest flaws. I can tell you now that your budget, considering this new information and your other requirements, is unrealistic. What you want isn’t impossible, financially speaking, but it will be challenging. Please note that I may have to show you several apartments out of your range — though just beyond it, really. You will say yea or nay to these places, but at least you’ll have a sense of the landscape you are dealing with.

Unless there are further impediments, we will begin the process soon.

Laboriously yours,
Ed Askew

P.S. Let’s avoid further surprises, shall we? Out with them now.

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 10:45 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: RE: FW: Dog

Hmmmm. Maybe this guy isn’t right for us.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 11:13 AM
To: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Patience

I agree. It was a strange email. It raised flags. I don’t have the energy to do much else, do you? If the article’s correct, he monopolizes the market anyway.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 12:35 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: Dog Flaws

Dear Ed,

While I understand your frustration concerning my omission of Tigerlily, I assure you there was no motive behind it. It was only an oversight. I will endeavor to avoid such oversights in the future, if you endeavor to avoid the unnecessary gruffness I felt in your last email. Gregory and I are eager to cooperate with you. The Observatory piece about you clued us in to some details about your practices, but as you pointed out, it withheld others, and I couldn’t have known that you had a true pet peeve, as it were. I am not a mind reader.

Still, I understand your concern about Tigerlily. We are happy to report that although she has her flaws, they are not the kind that upset others. Here’s a summary:

1. She doesn’t walk well on a leash. She likes to think she’s in charge, and she’ll walk us all over town if her heart’s set on it.

2. She is afraid of thunderstorms, wind, and rain. Actually she’s skittish about almost everything — sirens and alarms, mirrors, even crossing thresholds. We joke that she sees things that we cannot. This can get annoying if we are traveling with her or trying to walk her during inclement weather, but honestly, we mostly feel bad for her when she’s scared.

If there were worse I would say it.

Again, apologies,
Cecelia

P.S. I was very careful to think about anything else we require. There’s only this (and it is quite obvious, but I will state it anyway for good measure): the landlord must be relatively sane — or at least amiable.

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 5:43 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: RE: Dog Flaws
Attachment: LOA (.10 MB)

I think we understand each other. Tigerlily sounds fine. A dog of contradictions (aren’t they always?) — a headstrong shrinking violet. I have attached a letter of agreement for you and Gregory to print and sign. It’s just a standard format document for background information: current address, professions, salaries, SS# (I need this to run your credit reports), etc. It says that you both agree to work with Last Exit exclusively and to pay my broker’s fee, and that you won’t reveal information about my fleet of brownstones and their owners.

So it begins. But please note that the unraveling may not end for some time — weeks or even a few months. The rental market is tight; in fact, it is setting records, with availability at an all-time low of .09 percent. (You can check both the Observatory and the Grey Day for that statistic.)

The forecast may be cloudy, but we stand a fighting chance.

Onward and upward,
Edward

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 6:24 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: Contract

Ceci,

It’s one thing to verbally agree not to see any other brokers, and it’s another to sign a document to that effect, don’t you think?

I’ll be home around seven. Let’s talk then.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Thursday, September 14, 2006 8:27 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: Letter of Agreement
Attachment: LOA (.10 MB)

And away we go! Please keep in mind that we are really anxious to get out of our current situation. I am almost beyond having hope that there is an answer for us in this city. I see happy people all around us making their lives work despite their challenging living situations. Why haven’t we been so lucky? It’s a relief to finally feel a modicum of hope. Still, I am aware that treacherous real estate waters lie ahead.

Thank you, Ed. It is such a relief to find a broker who does more than point to the listing posted in the window.

Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Friday, September 15, 2006 10:12 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: Apartment Visit

Cecelia,

Are you and Gregory free to view an apartment next Wednesday evening at 9:45 sharp?

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Saturday, September 16, 2006 2:35 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: RE: Apartment Visit

Dear Mr. Askew:

Cecelia says I am to call you Ed. Yes, Ed, we’re available on Wednesday. I am responding on behalf of Cecelia because she is out of town. She felt she needed to escape the apartment for a while and is visiting a friend. Anyway, it gives me an opportunity to introduce myself. I assume you saw from the paperwork that I’m an assistant economics professor at Boroughland University. If only my colleagues and I could predict the NYC housing market!

Sincerely,
Gregory Narrows

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Saturday, September 16, 2006 2:45 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: Plans?

When are you planning to come home? I wish you had discussed leaving with me — I thought we’ve talked about this. I really need you to talk to me before you “escape” like this. A note on the table is not sufficient. What if I’d had to work late? Tigerlily shouldn’t have to wait. It’s not fair to either of us. I don’t know if you’ll be checking your email, but I can’t call — you left your cell phone on the desk. I suppose you’ll want me to cancel our dinner plans for tomorrow night with Beth and Josh?

I’m trying not to be angry. But please come home. I’ve talked to Mrs. Rasp. I also emailed Ed.

Love,
G.

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Monday, September 18, 2006 9:34 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Wednesday Appointment

Please go to 535 Rumble St., between Granite and Heart. As I said, at 9:45 sharp. Ring buzzer #2. And follow these directions carefully: Remove your shoes before entering the apartment — if you can, before Mrs. Feldman has a chance to request it … She’ll love you right away for that. Bring along butterscotch or root beer barrel candy — what I mean is something old-fashioned — and offer her one casually as she shows you the place, as if it weren’t planned. And don’t ask her about the missing finger on her left hand.

Let me know what you think of Mrs. Feldman’s place. It’s available Nov 1.

Good luck,
Ed

P.S. Cecelia, I hope you are recovering. A bad living situation, as you’ve learned, can wreak havoc on the immune system. It’s a shame it took you so long to find me; you would have avoided these discomforts.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Monday, September 18, 2006 4:53 PM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Wednesday Appointment

Ed,

9:45 on the nose at Rumble St. And I’m feeling much better, thanks.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Saturday, September 23, 2006 9:17 AM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Humble Rumble

Dear Ed,

Mrs. Feldman was a dear. You were spot-on with the shoes and the hard candy. We would have no problems with her as a landlady. But we aren’t sure about the place. It’s a bit skinny, at ten (and a half) feet wide, is it not? I consider myself flexible, but I’m not Alice in Wonderland — able to grow taller and slimmer with a bite of magic cake. I wish I were! Anyway, it feels like a tight squeeze. Otherwise, the detailing was magnificent: the duck-footed bathtub, the tin ceilings, and the vintage appliances… Still, the space is so skinny — and it must be fifty square feet smaller than our current apartment. I’m just not sure we can do with so little. And the rent is on the high end, isn’t it? $1950? Without a dishwasher? And only one closet?

Who knows, maybe this is the place. Perhaps you were thinking something narrow for the Narrows! I don’t know, though. Gregory and I might need to see more places first. The last time we rented, we took the first place we saw in the neighborhood. So our lesson was, don’t jump into the pool without looking — there may be sharks. Let’s keep this one in consideration though.

With thanks,
Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Sunday, September 24, 2006 10:11 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Humble Rumble

Dear Cecelia and Gregory:

Fine. Though I believe the Rumble place is a practical apartment that fits the bulk of your requirements, foremost of which is that the landlady will take a dog. And it’s within (though at the top of) your initial budget. Still, I hear you. I believe you will know when you have seen the right apartment. It is my experience that the apartment will leave an indelible impression on you. You will feel a unifying effect.

The next viewing is scheduled for Sunday. I’ll email soon with details.

P.S. I don’t know what possessed either of you to wait three days before emailing your opinion of this apartment to me. You can’t seriously expect me to keep an apartment open to you for that long. It won’t happen again. I expect to be emailed directly after you see an apartment. I have work to do here and need to know immediately where you’re at with it, or I will begin to doubt your sincerity about this apartment search.

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 2:56 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: Last Chance to Exit?

Have you heard from Ed yet this week? I happened to mention him to a colleague this morning (I am still pissed about Sunday’s email), and his eyes got really big. He warned me that we shouldn’t work with him, that he was neurotic and controlling — which, of course, we already know. But apparently he also makes sure people he doesn’t like (e.g. former “disgruntled ex-clients”) have difficultly finding apartments in Everly Gardens. He said that the borough message boards are rife with horror stories. Speaking of horror stories… I hope everything’s going okay at home today. Just remember, we’ll work this out with or without Ed. This isn’t our only option. In fact, I think I’m through with all of this. I know you don’t want to have to move twice, but we could try to sublet something for two or three months. It’s not a desirable situation, but it might relieve some of the strain.

Love you,
G.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 3:28 PM
To: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Last Chance to Exit?

No, I haven’t heard from Ed. As soon as you mentioned it, I got onto the Boroland Lounge’s blog forum and went to the real estate section. Rants about Ed were everywhere — lots of familiar descriptions of Ed’s odd practices, his self-aggrandizing, all of his rules. There were a ton of similar stories: that he asked people to give up or even put down their pets because they wouldn’t be allowed in their dream apartments; that he called clients in the middle of the night, calling them names, threatening them, because he caught them using another broker; and that he hounds and insults clients who don’t make a decision on his schedule. Whatever you can think of, Ed’s been accused of it. There was even one post from a guy who says that he was so disturbed by Ed’s treatment that he decided to have it out with him in person. He describes all of the measures Ed took to keep his identity under wraps. And though he says he found him, he never really got close enough to get a good look. Some people think he’s just a reincarnation of this notoriously obnoxious broker who was arrested for assaulting a client and was subsequently fired from his company. There are all sorts of rumors.

Then there are Ed supporters. They say, yes he’s weird, yes his personality is defective, yes he can be unnecessarily rude and mean, but somehow, he’s got all the good, lower-priced apartments on his roster. They say that he puts his clients through the hoops to prove their mettle, and his landlords and owners appreciate him for it. So, if you want access, listen carefully, do what he says, suck it up, and it won’t be that painful. It’s crazy! Ed is the neighborhood’s favorite topic.

Speaking of crazy, I opened the door to the hallway this morning, and Mrs. Rasp was standing right outside. She said she was taking out the trash last night and heard us discussing her. Then she handed me two wine bottles and told me we should have recycled them. I asked her not to go through our garbage, that she shouldn’t eavesdrop, and she told me that we talked too loud. We have to get out of here! But I don’t want to sublet. I want to find a home, someplace calm and comfortable. Why does this elude us? What have we done to deserve this kind of torture? I’m climbing under the covers — I can’t handle this anymore. Please don’t say you’re through with this. I am trying to take on the bulk of this responsibility. I know you aren’t convinced about all of this, but I need you to stick with me. I have to believe it’s difficult for a reason — that we’ll be rewarded for our perseverance.

XOXO,
C.

From: gregory.narrows@boroland.edu
Sent: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 4:40 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
Subject: RE: Last Chance to Exit?

Oh brother. I’m going to come home early and take you to dinner. I’ll skip my office hours. I know you want this to be the answer — but I can’t help but feel that we have gotten ourselves into another bad situation. It sounds to me like Ed’s landlords appreciate him because he screens out everyone but complete pushovers who are willing to put up with anything. The desperate make perfectly complacent renters.

Love you,
G.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 4:42 PM
To: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Last Chance to Exit?

Gregory,

I might be desperate. But I am not a pushover. You know we’re not pushovers. I’ve been exceedingly firm with Ed about our requirements and desires — and he is not only welcoming of that, but it’s a requisite. I have responded to his attitude accordingly, and he seems to have some sort of respect for that. I know this isn’t our only option. But it’s our best option… and I know it’s all very unfamiliar, but there’s at least a process… something resembling a system.

Dinner would be good. Maybe you can just call for delivery? I don’t think I feel up to going out. Besides, Mrs. Rasp has been sitting on the stoop… roosting… ever since our encounter. I need to avoid her for the rest of the day — for the rest of my life.

Love,
C.

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Friday, September 29, 2006 5:50 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Apartment #2

Dear Cecelia and Gregory:

This apartment doesn’t have a live-in landlord; you’ll have to show yourselves the place. Go to 375 Angle St. on Sunday at 7:00 PM. That’s between Judge and Harris. On the right side of the building, there’s a garden gate. Enter it, and follow the brick pathway to the back of the garden (go under the cupola, past the birdbath and pond). In the far corner of the property, there should be a small concrete Buddha. Turn him upsidedown for the key to the back entrance. Once you’re inside, you’ll see a stairwell. The apartment is on the garden level and includes access to the fairyland you’ve just walked through.

Email me immediately afterward.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Sunday, October 1, 2006 8:38 PM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Emergency at the Angle Apartment

Dear Ed,

Please help. You must contact the owner of 375 Angle immediately. We decided to take Tigerlily with us, and she somehow disappeared. We’ve looked for her everywhere — for over an hour. We finally came back home. I was hoping she’d be here somehow. But I think she’s somewhere in that apartment. There was a rickety spiral staircase in the corner of the kitchen, opposite the refrigerator, and as soon as Tigerlily saw it, she ambled up it with her ears up, as if she were hunting something. (It was unlike her, really, to be so bold.) And I don’t think I took my eyes off her, but I must have because that was the last I saw of her. I climbed up the staircase, and it led nowhere. It goes up into a tall alcove that seems to be there only to hold the stairs themselves. At the end of the staircase is a door. Well, half of a door — or the door is only half visible. The ceiling cuts it in half. It’s hard to describe. In any case, the door wasn’t functional. It’s sealed shut. And Tigerlily wasn’t there anyway — even though we saw her ascend the steps and not come back down.

Ed, we’ve turned the apartment and garden upside down looking for her, to no avail. Perhaps there are nooks or hiding spots in the house that we couldn’t see.

I’m sorry, but this is urgent — please get back to me ASAP. Calling would be quicker: 718–701–2080.

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Sunday, October 1, 2006 11:10 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Emergency at the Angle Apartment

Cecelia and Gregory:

I went over to the brownstone myself and found Tigerlily in the garden watching the koi in the pond. I found some rope in the shed and tied her to a tree. Nice dog. Perhaps when you go back you can actually evaluate the apartment? I expected to know what you thought about it immediately. This foolishness has caused an unforeseen delay in my schedule. And next time I suggest you leave your dog at home. As we discussed before, phone calls are not a part of my practice.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Monday, October 2, 2006 1:38 AM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Emergency at the Angle Apartment

Ed,

First, thank you, thank you for locating Tigerlily! My deepest apologies for the bother. I wonder where she got to.

We left Tigerlily tied to the gate outside while we looked again at the apartment (although she was quite terrified when we found her — she was shivering and shaking — and more so when we left her again).

I have to say, the place is magnificent, just grand!

I think we will be ready to jump at this one — the cherub carved into the fireplace mantel was surely sending a message to us. The size of the apartment won our hearts for sure. And the other details too: the Art Deco mirror in the bathroom, the bird motif on the shelves in the kitchen, and the unusual but charming nooks and spaces — except for the staircase, which is a bit creepy.

A few questions: Where does the spiral staircase lead? The best Gregory and I could figure, the door — were it to open — would go absolutely nowhere. One would step out of it and fall for quite a distance to the ground. We tried to see if the door was visible on the outside of the building, but the side of the house is covered in ivy. Considering what happened earlier with Tigerlily, this concerns me. Can you inquire about it?

Next, the question of laundry… is there a w/d available in the basement, perhaps?

Finally, there is the issue of price. I noticed you didn’t mention it in your email, and I’m afraid this might be because the apartment is farther out of our range than we would like. Well, I hope it’s not too far out; I am starting to feel the accelerated heart rate one associates with love!

Apologies and appreciation,
Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Monday, October 2, 2006 11:10 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Emergency at the Angle Apartment

Cecelia and Gregory:

The spiral staircase is a mystery indeed. Previous tenants have reported hearing footsteps on the stairs, as well as the sound of the door opening and closing. But as you saw for yourself, it’s completely sealed shut. I have never been one for ghost stories, and none of my tenants has ever been chased away by supposed spirits. Beyond that I can only give you this tidbit: the owner of the building refuses to remove either the staircase or the door. I suspect she’s nostalgic. Maybe it involves significant family history. I can’t say for sure.

Alas, you’re right about price. It is a bit outside your budget. But I wanted you to keep an open mind and reflect on what I said about realistic expectations in the current rental market. This apartment is listed at $2450. I may be able to negotiate that down slightly.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Friday, October 6, 2006 3:55 PM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Emergency at the Angle Apartment

Hi Ed,

The apartment is just too expensive. We love it, but I almost wish I hadn’t seen it — we’d rent it in a heartbeat if we could. Please remember that we aren’t moving out of desire or whim. We’re moving because we have been put in an impossible situation, and this unexpected move is going to cost us several thousand dollars that we don’t have. We’ve already increased our budget for monthly rent by 25 percent — again, this is money we hadn’t planned on having to spend.

So that is not just a little bit out of our range, but four hundred beyond it. I’m afraid that’s not in the cards at all.

Sincerely,
Cecelia and Gregory

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Saturday, October 7, 2006 10:15 AM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Apartment Search

Cecelia and Gregory:

I sense you are frustrated with me. Do not be dismayed. Everything is happening as it has to. This is all part of the unraveling. We will find where you fit. Please stop by my office at 156 Judge St. at your first convenience. There will be an envelope waiting for you at the receptionist’s desk. In it you will find three more listings with instructions and viewing times. It is not necessary to reply to this email unless you have a conflict with one of the times I have appointed. Be in touch when you’ve seen them all.

Sincerely,
Ed

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2006 11:15 PM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: Apartments 3, 4, and 5

Ed,

I could go on about each apartment for some length, but unless you want specific details I will spare you. Here’s our assessment:

Apartment 3: No — no sink in bathroom!

Apartment 4: No — no closets!

Apartment 5: No — strange landlord and strange smell in apartment!

Thank you for all your hard work setting these up, but I must say I am feeling discouraged. Days and days are going by now. I do not think I can take another day under the constant watch of our landlady. We are beginning to regret not jumping on that first apartment, but I still believe we wouldn’t be comfortable there.

What now?

Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Friday, October 13, 2006 12:15 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: Apartments 3, 4, and 5

Cecelia:

Don’t despair. The unraveling is taking place. Please go to 453 Minnow St. between Judge and Clark this afternoon at 3:45. The rent is within your range. As always, please be prompt. The keys will be in the mouth of the marble lion that guards the door. One key opens the front door, and the other opens the door at the top of the wooden staircase. I strongly advise you to be there. This one’s a winner.

Best of luck,
Ed

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Friday, October 13, 2006 5:05 PM
To: Askew, Edward
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: A Place on Minnow

Dear Ed,

We entered the brownstone feeling far from optimistic. The sky was gray, and it was cold and lightly raining. But when we stepped in the doorway, the strangest thing happened: a small music box (which upon further investigation we realized was wired to the front door and triggered upon opening) played a sweet rendition of a theme from Swan Lake. We climbed the wonderful staircase and admired the polished banister with its authentic patina and curlicue carvings.

We stepped into an immaculate, empty room. I know a lot of people prefer to view apartments furnished, but I do not. I like to project my life — my belongings — onto an empty space. And I could tell right away that the walls are long enough for our bookshelves, with some room left over for our sofa and my desk; the bedroom will easily hold a dresser, a bed, and more shelves. The two closets are more than ample — one could be a little office, it’s so big! And the kitchen, a calm, silvery sage-green oasis with marble cabinet tops and new appliances. Finally, the bathroom is magnificent.

After breathing in the clean atmosphere of this immaculate space, we stepped onto the balcony overlooking the garden. It has room for seating and a barbecue. Tigerlily will love it; she’ll be able to commune with the birds and squirrels.

There’s only one thing that we don’t understand — where is the ceiling? The roof? When we stepped into the apartment there were four walls, yet we were… outside. The sky, which had been so dismal as we walked over, was clear and blue. It ripped open my heart. I wondered what it meant, and why you had sent us here. How was the rain staying out? Everything was dry and clean. Not so much as a leaf or a twig had made its way in.

Somehow I felt calm. But Gregory didn’t. He said he is tired of your process, that he feels toyed with. He thinks you are taking advantage of us — of me. I hope that’s not true, Ed. I reminded him about the newspaper article — that was real. These apartments that we’ve seen, however flawed, are real too. I told him there must be a logical explanation and that he shouldn’t rush to judgment. And everything else about the apartment was so perfect.

Can you please enlighten us? Are they building a new roof soon? If they are, then when can we move in?

Cecelia

From: Edward_Askew@LastExitRealty.com
Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 3:58 PM
To: Narrows, Cecelia
CC: Narrows, Gregory
Subject: RE: A Place on Minnow

My Dear Narrows:

I must say, all this apartment searching has caused you to see things that, quite literally, are not there. Perhaps the process has gone too far? Perhaps I misjudged you from the beginning, and you will never commit to a new home? I have already shown you several suitable apartments, and you have rejected them all. And despite my growing doubts about your commitment to finding a new home in Everly Gardens, I have continued to give you time and access to my significant resources. My energies should have been directed elsewhere.

I immediately inquired about the status of the ceiling and roof, and the landlord was so agitated that he cancelled his dinner plans and drove all the way over from New Jersey to inspect his apartment. He now thinks I played some sort of joke on him. He is not amused. Nor am I.

Whatever happened to you two over there wasn’t what the landlord experienced. He reported that the roof is intact, as is the ceiling. Would you both like to see the place again, perhaps after a weekend of rest? Or would you like to move forward with this apartment? The monthly rent is $1850 — right in your range. You can move in November 15, which will give you just enough time to give the thirty days’ notice to your current landlady.

Awaiting word,
Ed

P.S. This is the last place I have to show you. I have other clients waiting for my services. You have to draw or fold. I strongly suggest you draw.

From: cnarrows@sphere.com
Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 8:01 PM
To: Askew, Edward
Subject: RE: A Place on Minnow

Ed,

I don’t know what to say, except that I saw a sky. And it was blue. So, so, blue. I don’t know what will happen when it really rains, not like the drizzle the other day; will the place still be dry? In a thunderstorm? In snow? I suppose we will see. We will just have to manage.

Please draw up the paperwork. Gregory is more than skeptical — in fact, he’s aghast. But he will come around. He just wants to see me happy. He wants me to find some peace. I feel certain that this is the place where we will find respite. The air was so clean and fresh. I told Gregory, I can finally breathe.

You would tell us, wouldn’t you? You would tell us if this place wasn’t right. I am starting to suspect you had this place for us all along.

I told Gregory that you wouldn’t let us make a mistake. I assured him. It’s not a mistake, is it?

Promise me, Ed. Promise me, and I’ll take it.

About the Author

A.N. Devers’ work has appeared in many print and online publications including Lapham’s Quarterly, Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Rumpus, Salon, Slate, and Slice. Her Tin House essay, “On the Outskirts” received Notable Distinction in The Best American Essays 2011. She has edited fiction at A Public Space and Pen America: A Journal for Writers and Readers and is the founder and editor of Writers’ Houses, an online publication that provides a searchable index of visitable writers’ houses around the world. She received her MFA in Fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. This was her first published short story. Follow her on twitter @andevers.

About the Guest Editor

David Gates is the author of two novels, Jernigan and Preston Falls, and a collection of short stories, The Wonders of the Invisible World. He teaches at the University of Montana, and in the Bennington Writing Seminars.

“The Unraveling” originally appeared in Issue 12 of Slice Magazine. Copyright © Allison Devers, 2013. All rights reserved by the Author.

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