“Well that’s what they get for moving into a black neighborhood.”
I woke up hearing talk between two men in a yard across the street. They were cleaning the front lawn of the previous tenant who had recently been evicted for “gang violence”. I thought Asheville was made up of a bunch of drum playing hippies.
I parted the blinds with my right index and middle finger (GREATER THAN. That’s what my fingers look like, if I remember correctly, although math is one of the things I’ve always failed at), as I squinted through tired eyes to get a visual.
Bryce. One of them is Bryce. I just met him a couple of days ago when I was sitting on the porch reading Bukowski. He’s from Burlington, Vermont.
“Oh, are you the artist?” Bryce asked.
“Uh, I don’t think so. I just came here from New Jersey yesterday.”
“Look at that mess over there.” He said, referring to the pile of garbage left behind by the evicted.
“It doesn’t bother me that much. I’m an easy neighbor to have around. If you need anything, let me know.” I said.
“You like to party?” Bryce said.
“Well then, if you need anything you let ME know.” Wait, what does that mean?
And that was the last time I heard his voice until now.
I watched them lift the trash for half a moment, then let both of my fingers relax against the blinds so they could get busy rubbing at my eye lids instead.
How long have I been sleeping?
It’s Friday. I slept for a whole day and a half. Shit. Maybe sleep is what I needed. A person can’t just runaway to the Smoky Mountains, fleeing from a beautiful life for no real reason without getting some sleep. Without sleep, that would make it all crazy. Insane, even. Maybe I just needed sleep.
“Well that’s what they get for moving into a black neighborhood.” I woke up to hearing after a day and a half of soundless sleep, and over a week of living at this house in Asheville, North Carolina.
And still, it wasn’t home I yearned for.
My body jerked itself upright, reaching for the water bottle beside my bed. This isn’t my bed. This is Michael Tree’s ex-girlfriend’s queen sized bed.
Before agreeing to rent the room, he said,
“I talked to her and she will sell it to you for five hundred and fifty dollars.”
“I just got here from New Jersey two days ago. That’s not a commitment I’m willing to make. Sorry,” was the only negative statement I made at first.
Which was rightfully so, because at that point I wasn’t even aware my new house was nestled between two pockets of crime neighborhoods.
My new house is the dick of the Projects. It’s a lot easier to pull a gun out of either pocket and settle an issue around here, than it is to unzip your pants and spike a piss on the matter. That’s not necessarily the whole truth. Well at least if it is, I”m not brave enough to investigate. I’m not even brave enough to be typing this with the lights on because I have no curtains. I’m on the floor in the dark, lying next to Michael Tree’s ex-girlfriend’s queen sized bed.
It was dark the first night I came here, and the neighborhood seemed inviting. My GPS got me lost, so I wound up on a stranger’s porch.
“Is this number Eleven?” I asked.
“No, but let me help you,” A raspy voice echoed from the blackness and proceeded to walk down the road to help me look for the house.
It wasn’t his voice entirely that persuaded me to keep my distance and conduct my own search. Well it may have been his voice a little, and that I remembered I’m a skinny girl alone in a southern city.
“It’s right here! Number Eleven. I found it!” I shouted to the man that was already halfway down the road.
“It was right across the street the whole time.!” I yelled in one last attempt to get his attention. He was gone. Oh well.
I rang the door bell, Number Eleven, then there stood Michael Tree.
After reading his initial e-mail, I envisioned a geriatric person still inspired by the endless youth life tends to offer. After all, he did describe the house by saying,
“I live here in one room, along with a couple that lives in another room. You would be inhabiting the third room. We all tend to keep to ourselves, but occasionally get together in the living room to listen to a good record.”
That doesn’t sound too bad for an occasional writer like myself, I thought.
Michael stood there, and he was actually taller than some trees I’ve encountered, but his spine didn’t curve with lines of old age. His head wasn’t balding either. Thick, brown, curls billowed from the top of his scalp all the way to the corner of his eyes. Some may have gone farther or in other directions, but I’m too short to inspect something like that. Especially at a time like this.
I walked into the house, which was sporadically cluttered with random objects, but it didn’t come off as filthy or unlivable. Then again, I was born without a sense of smell. How the fuck am I supposed to know if sporadic clutter is disgustingly dirty without being able to detect any sort of aroma?
“I’m Erin.” I shook Michael’s hand, and nodded hello to another male sitting at the kitchen table. And another one standing by the sliding glass door.
“So, is there anything you need to know about me?” I was curious.
“How crazy are you?” He asked.
“It depends, I guess.”
And I did that gesture with my hand, the one that almost looks like a rusty see-saw creaking in the wind at a playground that’s been abandoned , or a wide-gilled fish flopping around in preparation for a river current before noticing that there’s a shiny curve piercing its cheek with blood. And with air.
But I guess either of those comparisons depend on how fast the hand gesture is delivered. Or how italian the deliverer might be.
“That was a trick question. Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.,” said Michael Tree.
Then he showed me the room, and told me about the bed. Fuck it, I’ll buy an inflatable mattress from Wal-Mart. All I need is a room of my own. All I need is a solid place to take a deep breath and rest my head before I start running again. The mountains deserve a chance.
So I gave him the hundred dollar bill that I had in my wallet, and he gave me a house key.
“I’ll give you the rest of the money tomorrow morning.” I told him, before getting back into my car across the street and going back to the Rodeway Inn for one last night.