Single rooms

My parents, my brother, and I had just moved into a small single-room building in the city, actually not much more than a wooden shed on short legs that held it about 30 cm off the ground. It was quite cramped for four adults as we were, but no one complained. As we walked down the city street we stopped in at yet another single-room dwelling. I had seen an advertisement for this one on television recently – mostly below ground-level, it seemed to be a converted septic tank, with concrete and rock walls coated in dark-colored paints heavily faded with age. The street-level entry stepped onto a staircase that led down along the wall to the right and into the sparse living area, the only room in the place. We walked in, followed a moment later by another family considering taking residence there. My heart sank when my mom let me know that by way of my brother’s inclination we’d be moving here instead. I felt overwhelmed; we hadn’t even gotten settled in the last place yet. Sensing my despair, my mom explained that Tyler preferred the bed here. At first I had no idea what she was talking about, knowing that my own bed would be nothing more than a board with an old, thin, cotton-filled mat and a thread-bare blanket no matter where we stayed, until she pointed to the twin-sized mattress under a jutting ledge of the wall which I hadn’t yet noticed, on which he’d of course sleep. I reminded my dad of the long list of rules we saw on the way in concerning Scotch whisky, rules I recalled from that TV commercial. They nodded resigned acceptance, and without further argument I began the preparation of putting on my sandals. This proved as difficult as ever, perhaps more so considering the weary state of my spirit. Realizing that my delay might seem rebellious, I renewed my focus and completed my task, then followed them into the party in the next room.

Not seeing them at first, I milled through the crowd, trying to present a reasonable appearance in spite of the dreary gloom hovering over my soul. I passed by a quite attractive woman who seemed to glance quickly away when she noticed me. Moments later she walked by again, shoulder-length light brown hair, 1.75 m tall, slender; and after she passed she queried, "Don’t want to talk to me anymore?"

It seemed I should know her, so I replied, "That’s not it, I’m just tired." Immediately I recognized my over-used excuse and corrected, "I’m sorry. Actually, I’m somewhat bitter about this whole thing. It’s not your fault." We stepped to a table near the railing that separated us from the raised bar and sat down with a small group of people. I noticed that the left side of her waist, from her rib-cage to her hip bone, was rotting, with greyish-white crust clinging lightly to exposed bone, and that she was in a wheel chair, though she seemed unmoved by her condition. I rose and stepped up to the bar area, where I ordered a shot of each type of whisky. Immediately the waiter produced a brown oval tray, 600 cm x 400 cm, covered with several dozen small empty bottles, each a different shape and size, and proceeded to pour one shot from each of his whisky bottles into each of the small bottles on the tray. The small bottles were stout, approximately 2.5 cm in diameter and perhaps 4 – 6 cm tall, with small necks, some of brown or black glass, others white or dark green, and all with faded labels painted or glued onto them. I carried the tray back to the table and offered shots up to the group, then began drinking them. The woman I sat down with drank at least one, but I don’t recall anyone else indulging. I also had a beer which I kept on the table behind me for lack of room on the table we sat around.

Walking outside, the city was grey. Grey walls, grey streets, grey clothes on the people. Buses passed, and a commuter train rolled by a few blocks away. People wore brimmed hats and looked at their feet as they hurried on their way.