The WallS Have Eyes

Stela Xhiku

Photo: Maureen Drennan

Photo: Maureen Drennan

Maybe it’s because I never had a pet, but these days, the private pleasure of having the apartment to myself can be ruined fast by a small fly. I did once dogsit a poodle, apologizing to it when I dropped some pans, and my neighbor gave me a beta fish that leapt to its death just as I got comfortable changing in front of it. Still, I was never socialized; I never broke that ice and now any direct, silent eye contact is supremely confronting to a young lady picking split ends on a Thursday.  

Or while on the phone with H&R Block. In comes a fly just as I'm spelling out my last name, X, as in x-ray, H as in hairtie, I as in in… grown, K as in cat, U. I can feel so ridiculous in my own home, squirming under the nonchalance of old flies that land on dirty dishes and look like crocodiles up close.

“Are flies smart” I google and then read a few message board threads on the topic. “Humans are only about a million years old - flies are over 300 million years old. They could be pretty darned smart,” someone comments. I still say they’re stupid. One of them warms its hands under the steam of my shower and I have to stand there naked, thinking on the lewdness, the insidiousness of the disturbance, before I ask him to leave.

Another one – or are they all the same? – has bad manners and watches me cry as I make my bed.

It’s a sunny day and there is a pigeon strutting across my skylight, throwing big shadows. Sometimes a plane will go by and I wonder if any of those frequent flyers give a shit that they’ve ended the dream I was having: swimming in a river, building a roller coaster with my sister, saving Priscilla Presley’s life.

Stay home long enough – alone enough – and doorknobs, throw pillows, even the horrible coatrack, an indisputable babadook when my roommate perches his fedora on it, will start to watch with human eyes.

The ceiling fan is judgmental. I face it, laying on the couch making back-to-back calls to local psychics. I’ve booked tickets to go hang gliding and need anyone to tell me I’m going to live. When none of them answer, I have to whisper the same voicemail letting them know that “it’s Stela, and hey let me know if you’re available in the next two days. It’s an emergency.” The last few messages have me breaking under the stare of the old fan. “I plan to go hang gliding and I really can’t tell if I should,” I laugh, “I have a very bad feeling. Ha ha!” (On the day of the glide, my Dunkin Donuts cashier hesitates but tells me finally that I should be OK.)  

Doors anthropomorphize, too, and take quickly to rage. So brutish and hellish and actually hysterical with just a little bit of wind. Open the right combination of windows and the bathroom door will blast and sling and finish it’s terror with a violent clap.

My roommate must have cracked his window.

I do not have an overactive imagination. I am suspicious of the furniture and of the walls because I was raised on Albanian folktales. My favorite has a pregnant woman getting buried alive into a bridge after her husband runs out of bricks. Before getting mortared into the wall, she asks her husband to leave her eyes exposed (the better to see her newborn son) and her breast exposed (the better to feed him).

This sacrificial mother has been an oppressive pair of eyes and single tit in all of my five childhood homes and fifteen adult apartments.

My parents, who so loved to tell that folktale in all of its horrific and varying detail, worship the goddess of the hearth. And she’s no Elfa-unit-pinning, garlic-pressing, pillow-fluffer. She’s a terrifying matron of the floors and ceiling who keeps us in her belly.

We all come from communist Albania, where the regime seized family homes, redistributed them, and barely granted my parents an apartment before I was born, letting them live instead in my dad’s studio for nearly two years with my infant older sister.

When the apartment was finally won, my parents couldn’t believe their luck. Nevermind that it was in a slum that cabs refused to drive into, even when my mom and I returned from the maternity ward. No, my parents didn’t know who to thank, so they gathered their superstitions and rigged up the place in amulets: garlic wreaths, white horseshoes, a pink My Little Pony that definitely had good vibes, and a white phone that came to feel like a lucky charm.

Now 25 years and nineteen homes later in 3L, the topmost apartment of a converted drug den on Halsey Street, bad luck is in the beams.

All these months, the light switches outwit my fingers on late nights, cabinet doors hit me right on the nose, mice invade, romances sour, jobs turn terrible, and a threatening leak in our tub drains into 2L. Theresa, who loves musical theater and the occult, knocks on our door and shows us a Snapchat video of the leak. This is no trickle, by the way: it’s a fall. Someone in the video background is screaming – welcome to Brooooklyn, baby!

She’s taken a seat and wants to talk about her dream readings with my roommates. Carlos retells, savors, a dream of me getting my ass beat by three blondes in the desert, and Wes had a scary dream where two men in ski masks find me alone in my room.

“You,” Theresa turns to me, “might be inviting danger into the house,” she says. And so she condemns me to many nights of anxious sleep which last for while until I can finally nail a horseshoe over the door, put a garlic in my pocket, and dust the figurines of my patron saint, Betty Boop, who is lifting her hula skirt on the shelf.