Scenes from a rooming house

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I live in an ancient Idaho Victorian whose splintering floors creak when the wind blows. A new couple moved into the apartment next door. They are using the same bed as the previous couple, Nicole and Peter, whose dramatic lovemaking I could hear when their headboard pounded my living room wall. Sometimes I could hear Nicole moaning and I felt comforted, although it was always hard to face them in the lobby just after one of their interludes.

Their replacements -- newlyweds -- moved into apartment 1 without any furniture or boxes or luggage. Both of them are smokers with loud barroom voices and heavy footsteps. The woman is blond, maybe 23; the man wears an old army jacket and his age and hair color cannot be determined. He seems affected. When he says hello he talks much too loud, as if there are other people around that only he can see.

My daughter Rose and I have lived in this house for five years. Rose falls asleep to her AM station on the clock radio I gave her for her 13th birthday. My bedroom shares a wall with apartment 1's bathroom. They have a shower. We don't. Our cold water faucet handle falls off when the bath is running, and we have an infestation of carpenter ants and ladybugs. Rose is almost six feet tall and will need a new bed soon. She likes the fan kept on in her room all night, even in the winter. I stay up until dawn making lists. And listening.

Sometimes for dinner I make popcorn laced with brewer's yeast and soy sauce, and I swear it tastes like steak.

Our neighbors always move out after about six months, seeking a better standard of living. When Nicole and Peter left I found a snotty handwritten note in my mailbox concerning my attitude toward Bunny, our calico Manx, whom I don't care for. The noted ended, 'Have fun in Chin's slum.' Mrs. Chin is our Chinese landlady; she lets me pay the rent late and rarely does any maintenance on the house or the 30 others she owns in town.

We are quite poor. We have no savings and my checking account is one big historical overdraft. Sometimes for dinner I make popcorn laced with brewer's yeast and soy sauce, and I swear it tastes like steak. I think of coffee as food. I spent my last two dollars at the new espresso cart.

I hope I don't smell the cigarette smoke from apartment 1. I hope they make love a lot and that their fights don't involve hitting each other. The new woman is quite striking. The man -- like most men -- intimidates me. Both of them stomp across the old wood floors like characters from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I ran into Nicole at the co-op. I was visibly cool. She was surprised to see me. She probably had no idea how small a Western town is, that snooty notes concerning the treatment of cats eventually come around in aisles of instant split pea soup and bins of organic menstrual sponges. I wanted to tell her that despite the ants and ladybugs I am not raising my daughter in a slum, that home is what you make it, that humility comes with age and sometimes wisdom never arrives. I wanted to tell her that their lovemaking sessions were shorter than average. Instead I said nothing, saving the soliloquy for the drive home.

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