Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued
Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued
“It’s $1500 a month or $750 every two weeks, if you want.”
“I see. Is it month-to-month or is it on a lease?”
“Month to month, week to week, day to day if you like, but I don’t care for leases,” said the young man behind the counter. He really hated dealing with the renters.
“Is it quiet? I mean, it’s not a lot of noisy neighbors?”
“What’s quiet? Look, lady, you’ve seen the apartment. Do you want it or not?”
Beverly had never had a place of her own and it would be a stretch to call this an apartment. It was more like a couple of furnished rooms with a very tiny kitchen.
The Golden Rose Apartments was a converted tourist motel in the Marina District of San Francisco, a few blocks from the Golden Gate Bridge. It had seen better days, better decades even. The tourists now chose to stay at the bigger, cleaner motels along Lombard Street. They liked amenities such as free breakfasts and off-street parking.
At The Golden Rose, to make it into long-term livable spaces, two of the old motel rooms were connected to make up each “apartment.”
A family of Cambodian immigrants had pooled their money to buy the place. Everyone in the family worked there in some capacity. The optional maid service was handled by the young girls, none of them over twelve. The older men did maintenance. Their wives did the laundry. The front desk was the turf of the younger men. They spoke the best English.
In Cambodia, they had been a family of professors, entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. In San Francisco they ran The Golden Rose and made an almost embarrassingly high profit margin. By the time the young maids were ready for college, they would enter Stanford with trust funds, portfolios and new cars.
Beverly had driven around some of the sunnier parts of the city pulling over whenever she saw an “Apartment to Rent” sign. Some were filthy and cramped. Others were in buildings that looked like they were left over from the gold rush of 1849. All of them were expensive, rivaling New York City rents. At least The Golden Rose was clean and, being located in the Marina District, it had good public transportation nearby and great views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Lady, do you want the apartment or not? C’mon, I got a date tonight,” insisted the young man. His clothes were several years behind the latest fashion, a little baggy on his slight form, and the gold chains around his neck made him look like his date was waiting for him at a disco in 1978. He had yet to outgrow his acne.
“Yes, please. I guess I’ll take it.” The marks on her neck had faded a bit, but the breezy weather in San Francisco made her turtleneck a wise choice.
“Rental agreement?” Alarm bells went off in her head and her stomach muscles tensed.
“Yeah, like, it’s the law. We say you can live here and you agree to pay the rent. It ain’t rocket science, lady.”
“Oh, of course.” She offered a nervous smile and took the pen from the young man’s hand. She noticed that her hand was shaking slightly. He noticed it too.
“Jesus, lady, don’t worry. We’re not going to be, like, checking your references or nothin’. I mean, I know who you are and why you’re here.”
“You do?” Her stomach clenched again.
“C’mon,” he said with a smile. “At any given time, over half the apartments here are filled with–no offense–wives hiding out from their husbands. You’ll see what I mean when you use the laundry room. You’re all pretty much interchangeable. You ’roundeyes’ all look alike to me anyway.” He laughed at his own joke.
“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say.
She had to sign the agreement, but she couldn’t use Beverly Deltino.
Driving across the country she had thought about who the “new her” should be. The answer came to her easier than she had anticipated. She had settled quickly on the name “Laura.” It was her mother’s name–the mother who had died when Beverly was sixteen. She missed her mother more deeply as she got older.
Laura Montini had also grown up inside the Family and had married Beverly’s father when she was seventeen. It had been an arranged marriage, not in the old-world tradition, but by Laura herself after she first saw and fell in love with young Giani Montini. He was the most handsome boy she had ever seen. She arranged and maneuvered chance meetings and blind dates until he fell for her and asked for her hand.
Giani and Laura were as happy as any couple in their world. Sure, they had their rough times. It was Laura’s family who had the power and they silently thought that she had married beneath herself.
Giani’s rise to ascendency was not smooth nor without some ugliness and, like many husbands, he sometimes brought work home from the office. When that happened Laura would throw him out of the house until she felt he was sufficiently sorry. “Our home is sacred and clean,” she would say. “I won’t allow anything to change that.”
Beverly was a wanted addition to their home. They doted on and protected her from the darker aspects of the larger Family. They could not protect her from having to witness her mother die in her prime from the cancer that withered her and took her away one day at a time.
From now on Beverly would be Laura, surviving and living again.
The new Laura bent over the paper and signed, with a flourish, the name Laura Smith–Laura for her mother and Smith for – whatever.
“Thank you, Ms. Smith. Incidentally, as a sort of ‘Welcome to San Francisco’ gift, you’ll be getting the Chronicle newspaper free for three months. Not a bad deal, eh? Lots of coupons you can use at Safeway.”
She handed the pen back to the young Cambodian boy with the blank, “who cares?” stare. He coughed uncomfortably and checked the agreement form to see that she had signed and initialed it in all the right places.
“Look,” he said without looking up from the agreement. “I don’t know you personally and I really don’t care all that much. I won’t ask you any questions, if you promise not to give me any answers. My own kind of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Okay?”
“Right.” She wanted to be someplace away from this kid.
“Great. That’ll be $2250 in cash to move in. I’m sure you got it on you, right? Household money tucked away over the last few years, hocked jewelry?”
His toothy grin was beginning to annoy Laura, but she said nothing.
She opened her bag to get the cash. The young clerk leaned forward over the counter to get a better look. He saw several bundles of green.
“Well, cut off my legs and call me Shorty. You done alright for yourself, lady.” His grin widened and he made a disgusting sipping noise with his thin lips.
Beverly closed the bag quickly and leaned forward until she and the young clerk were almost nose-to-nose.
“What happened to ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, Pizzaface?” He pulled back and held up his hands in a gesture that was supposed to indicate his innocence.
“Just curious, that’s all, lady. No harm, no foul, Okay?”
Laura lowered her voice to just above a whisper.
“Listen, my young friend. Have you been here long enough to learn the American saying about curiosity and the cat?” Her eyes bored in on his.
The clerk backed away another step and picked up the rental agreement from the desk. He knew the adage.
“Well, yes, Ms—Smith. Everything looks fine. I hope you enjoy your time here at The Golden Rose.”
Laura counted $2300 on the counter.
“Keep the change. Put the extra money toward getting those scars on your face fixed.”
“What scars? I don’t have any–Oh–thank you, Ms. Smith.” He blushed. “Here is your key, number twenty-four. It’s near the back, nice and quiet. You won’t be bothered.”
He watched her leave the office and cross the parking lot. His thoughts went back to his childhood in Cambodia.
“Lady, you are one badass Khmer Rouge bitch,” he said out loud, as he unconsciously massaged his pockmarked face. “Oh,yeah, Khmer Rouge alright. Badass. Big time.”