Last days of august
FROM THE DIARY OF STELA XHIKU
The following diary entries document my fourteenth move within New York City, which I orchestrated with the elegance of a Rube Goldberg machine.
I make squid for lunch and finally defrost the canteloupe that’s been in the freezer. I take it to the backyard with a spoon. It’s very frustrating to eat this thing. I’m choking the spoon and my whole hand is sticky.
Joe, one of my two roommates, finds me back there. He’s stay-at-home because he lost his job on the day that I moved in nine months ago.
During these months, a low-hanging cloud has haunted him all over town. He can’t pick himself up. I’ve never seen anyone so unlucky! Unlucky with jobs, unlucky with girls. The first time I thought I heard him having sex, I found him wounded on the sofa with an ankle injury that had him on crutches (which he already had handy) for weeks.
When I left my full-time job to bartend, I spent a lot more time in Joe’s space, our living room, and decided things were not good. He microwaved popcorn for breakfast and watched Heat on sunny afternoons. Sometime after eleven o’clock he disappeared to his neighborhood bar and returned hours later, hiccuping low-bellied carbonation.
So this Eeyore among men has come to me as I hack into the cantaloupe. He needs a favor. He needs me to watch him screw in a lightbulb. The light fixture is wirey, structurally unsound, he says, and he’s afraid he’ll get electrocuted. He’s already got the lightbulb in one hand and pliers in the other and points them around as he explains the situation.
Joe walks me to the fixture, explaining that if he shakes or shrieks or faints, he’s not joking. When he finally climbs a small stool to meet his fixture, he is shaking and keeps saying, “I’m shaking.” I enjoy giving him small bits of encouragement like, "you're ok, don't worry." And when he finishes: “you did it!”
I go on a quick run and then start to pack, apparently inspired by nesting dolls: a backpack for Blerta’s wedding inside a weekender for five days in Montclair, New Jersey, which also means a spontaneous mini-backpack for travelling back to the city to bartend and crash on Mia’s couch. All of this inside a big duffel for my September trip to Albania.
Linens, bathroom supplies, winter clothes and everything else is smooshed in three large boxes. Those are for the Cubesmart.
All that’s left is my IKEA bed in neat pieces on the floor, ready for quick handoff to Nadia, who I found on Craigslist.
When she finally arrives with her sister, I’m cooking kielbasa and yelling – over the snap crackle of the pan – to mom on FaceTime. The place is smog-filled when they come in and I apologize, introduce them to mom, who’s full-screen smiling on my laptop, before taking them to the bed.
They walk around the frame of this bed, which Nadia asked me to take apart in our emails. Now that she sees it, though, she doesn’t understand how the four pieces fit. They make a perfect square, Nadia. It works like how a square works, I tell her. Four lines.
I don’t know how to explain it and be nice, so I keep saying “don’t worry, it’s easy!” She starts counting the drill bits and loses count a few times to ask me questions. I finally stop her to announce that I need a decision in five because my movers are coming any minute – a fat lie, considering the kielbasa.
They deliberate as I call in my second Craigslist buyer who goes by the Craigslist alias “Justin Credible.” Justin mobilizes, says he’s bringing a car and his “tough” girlfriend. The two sisters are still making sense of the bed as a concept when Justin buzzes. He and his girlfriend, who is indeed very strong and sturdy as a homesteader, start walking the parts out of my room. This is when, defeated, the sisters finally call an Uber home.
Justin and his lady are maneuvering the mattress through the staircase when the Uber finally arrives. The girls leave empty-handed. It’s not budging, this mattress, so we’re applying major force. Joe appears, emerging from some smoke break in the backyard. He’s drunk and offers to help, lifting the thing to his shoulder and directing Justin’s girlfriend to walk backwards. He’s a savant for extracting furniture from tiny stairwells, our Joe.
Justin and his girl leave, Joe disappears in his room, and all that’s left is one piece of luggage, three boxes, and a rat king of our twenty or so clothes-hangers.
Mom and I are still talking, now about my sister’s upcoming wedding, but I excuse myself to call Eric. Eris is a guy I was seeing over the summer. It wasn’t serious but it was exhausting, so I ended it in early August most abruptly: I woke up one day and was no longer interested. It was like the morning after a fever, when you look at yourself in the mirror and take your temperature and feel like something is different and of course it is!
But he lives five minutes away and always has a made bed, so I call and explain that I sold mine. He cabs over from some bar to pick me up and we drive straight to his.
There, we resume our small system. No mention of the month apart. I get water, refill the pitcher. He peels an orange and empties his gym bag. Sleeping, we try small contact. He grazes a foot on my leg, I let a slight spoon happen, but none of it works. We are each in our own orbit. Small collisions feel strange, even electric.
The movers call me at 7:00 am to announce that they’re early. I run home and put everything in their truck in under seven minutes. I always loosely time it and I always beat my previous time.
The movers aren’t really movers: their job is to drive the truck to Cubesmart and they aren’t contractually allowed to even touch my things. They’re not even supposed to drive me to the Cubesmart, but they let me hide in the back, steadying my bike. When we get close, they drop me off five blocks away so Cubesmart doesn’t get wise.
The bags are quickly deposited into their cube. I drag my rolling luggage to the Subway, make two transfers to Penn Station, then Jersey Transit to Montclair before I finally roll into my uncle Xhorxh’s house at noon.
I’m horrified to find my fourteen-year old cousin Paul hosting a fantasy football league meeting around the kitchen island. I had no idea there was football in August but there are eight little men in the house and they’re getting loud around the Tostitos. One of them is taking notes on an easel pad.
Kate and Efi, Paul’s younger twin sisters, are wasting time in their rooms before they join me on the porch. Kate has learned to make strong Greek frappes so she brings some out with straws. Efi finds her pencils and starts to draw my portrait. I can’t sit still for any of it and something in me wants to truly disturb the gentlemens’ get-together inside.
We get a baseball bat and swarm the kitchen, Kate pitching two old catalogs and Efi throwing empty cans at me. I miss most of them, but the ones I hit (some cans) really frighten these scattering boys. "Is there a reason you're doing that?" someone asks.
“No reason,” I tell him, before batting a plastic orange that knocks over an open container of coke. The kids gather to clean it.
At night, I stay behind while everyone goes out to buy this or that for the wedding. The laundry’s going and I cook up one of my white dresses in red dye. I’ve got some pants in another stock pot, drenching in yellow dye. The kids find me stirring a bloody ladle, wearing a slimy face mask.
“You look like a cartoon scientist,” my uncle Xhorxh says, struggling with the seal on a pack of cigarettes.