a novel excerpt by Jeffrey Allen Walker (jallenwalker [at] netscape [dot] net)
MY APARTMENT’S MAGIC WINDOW (WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1994) Please let this be the last day. Let me get hit by a bus or shot or vaporized. Just don’t let me have to come back here again. When I was a planner in Minneapolis I wrote a couple of articles that were published in some trade magazines and had a few guest columnist pieces in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, we called it the Strib. I never complained about seeing my name in print, but I wanted more. I wanted to write a great novel that criticized the American way of life and moral system. But in order to write, I had to understand. What better way to understand than to participate? But being an active member cuts down on writing time. It’s a very mild catch-22. No bloodshed. Nobody’s feet get cold. Nobody’s guts spill out. As a result of internal debate between going out to experience and staying in to write, I did nothing except write a few guest columnist pieces for the Strib. No great novel, no critical acclaim.
I spent a lot of time in my new apartment on State Road doing nothing. Sometimes I wrote letters I never meant to send. Sometimes I began writing stories about my friends. Mostly I thought.
My apartment was quite charming for the decor I chose. I brought my guitar and milk crates which held the archaeological treasures of my college years. My parents gave me the guitar when I was seventeen. I salvaged the milk crates from the basement of my home. They were the only effects preserved from my marriage. I sold all the furniture and paintings and appliances and donated the casual clothes. I kept pictures of Dayona and our children, but I hardly looked at them anymore. I viewed their leaving as a chance for me to start over again. I kept the milk crates and the albums and books because they were points of light along the path of my life.
Everybody walks a path and when we get lost we look behind us and see those shiny rocks that glimmer like little lights along the path we walked. Sometimes we retrace our steps to a place that is familiar and comfortable and create another path. Sometimes we just turn around and keep trudging through. I wasn’t particularly happy with the course my life took my last few years of college or after I moved to Minneapolis. I felt I sold myself short on the entertainment and austere aspects of life. I devoted my prime party years to getting the good job, making the good money and having the nice stuff. So I back stepped and made a new path.
In between my graduation and marrying Dayona I forgot about the time in life that’s meant for screwing around. Just hanging out and looking at sunsets and drinking beer and maybe going to work with a hangover. I had a kick-ass stereo system hooked up to a 46″ television that I watched on my gorgeous teal, tope and mauve sectional couch which I placed under my modern Scandinavian design floor lamp which was right beside some painting by a funky up-and-coming artist I don’t remember. Everything in my first apartment in Minneapolis was smooth. Simple lines, soft, pastel colors. Like a scene from Miami Vice. All the latest and hippest CDs and albums (before albums disappeared and made a small comeback). I was ghetto-city highbrow. But I never just sat around with friends and listened to records. Everything was important.
The colonial house Dayona and I shared on Dupont South was equally impressive. Large picture windows. A bay window in the master bedroom. Lots of closet space. A skylight in the attic. Bright yellow and burnt orange walls. A big house with a front porch. Every room was big. Dayona loved it. I loved it. We loved it in every room the first week after we moved in. We made the walls sweat.
My current digs were a little more common. Two 10′ x 10′ bedrooms. A 12′ by 14′ living room. The bathroom may have been 4′ x 5′. The bathtub big enough for one. It was situated in a small complex of eight-unit apartment buildings just south of I-480 in Parma. From my living room window I saw the neon pink glow of a furniture store sign. When the noise from the street calmed down enough I could hear the attendant at the gas station tell customers their pumps were ready to use. Go ahead, pump three. Everything was the common color of the middle-class apartment. The walls were eggshell. The hollow particle board door was eggshell. The trim was eggshell. The carpet was renter-brown. I could hear the buses squeal to a stop in front of my new home. Home? This wasn’t my home. This was where I stayed. I felt more at home crashed on the couch of a stranger’s apartment after a big college party.
The few things I did buy didn’t make it feel much like home. Plates, silverware, a small floor lamp for the living room and a futon to sleep on. That was it. No fancy paintings, no expansive music collection. I was mostly devoting myself to becoming a better version of what I was before. I often sat in front of the window and watched the traffic zip by. I bought a small TV after the second week so I wouldn’t miss Homicide. But most nights I preferred to watch traffic rather than television. I became bored with the selection of comedy shows and dramas. Bullshit dramas that purported to be realistic but couldn’t say fuck or shit. Why go for reality on television? Isn’t it supposed to be an escape? I worked with a Sipowicz-like guy in Minneapolis. I dated a Roseanne-like girl in college. I wanted something to take me away. I watched Homicide because after reading the book I was fascinated by the characters and the setting. I also liked it because there weren’t any pretty-boys or supermodels in the cast. I almost moved to Baltimore because of that show.
Sometimes I found myself awake at four in the morning. On those occasions when it was impossible to return to sleep I sat by the front window and wondered where everyone was going at such late hours. I tried to imagine their lives. Were they going to work? Were they returning from a lover’s bed? Which ones were running from the law? Which ones were running from bad memories? I watched the early drivers gently swerve down the road. I watched the six-in-the-morning crowd struggle their way to soccer practices and store openings and shift changes.
In the morning darkness the street was black except where decorated by the white dashed lines and the yellow stripes that divided the center lane. It almost seemed to glow a florescent gold under the amber streetlights. On this morning I awoke early and stayed in front of the window while time crashed into itself causing the past and future to merge for what seemed like hours. With my eyes closed I watched the sky turn from its silent blue into rose into mauve into day-blue. I felt the first rays of the sun caress my face and I dreamed I was whole again. I dreamed my boys were tugging on my pant legs and wanting to do pull-ups on my arms. I felt Dayona’s breath on the back of my neck. I could smell her perfume. I could hear her describe true happiness. Jordan and Lewis spoke to me, Lewis was speaking! He told me he loved me and couldn’t wait to hold my hand and wrestle with me like Jordan could. My family danced and played with me. They comforted me against the harsh winds of reality. I could feel the light brush of Dayona’s hand on my cheek wiping away my tears.
I opened my eyes and stared into forever. In this world, I hoped one of those cars whizzing past my small, typical apartment would sound like her car. I listened, hoping that one of the people departing the bus would have her laugh. But nobody laughed when getting off the bus. The only voices were the gas station attendants’ and they didn’t laugh.
It had been over a month and I still hadn’t hung anything on the walls. No artwork whatsoever. Not even a poster of my favorite athlete. My bright orange and red milk crates were the only furniture in the living room. I sat on the floor and used them for a table when I ate and for a desk when I wrote. The television sat on another stack of crates. There was one column by the window facing the street. That was it. A stark, empty apartment lived in by a man who wanted to recreate his past. I put a small photograph of Dayona and the boys on the refrigerator.
I had hundreds of pictures of the three and four of us, but this picture, taken the first day that Lewis was home from the hospital, captured everything that was right with my life. Jordan, excited over this wrinkled creature that looked distantly familiar, held his brother’s hands in between his lips. It was very hot that day so Jordan had decided he wanted to be topless. His bone thin arms and huge head glistened with summer sweat as he stared at this new…thing…with total fascination. Dayona was wearing a loose-fitting tank top so she could easily feed Lewis. Her breasts were looking damn good. Her shoulders and arms were well defined. Her hair was cut short and framed her face with flat baby-hair curls. Lewis had finished feeding a few minutes earlier and let out a huge milk-free burp. Jordan was surprised at the volume coming from such a small toy. Dayona’s family was visiting and her brother was lucky enough to catch the four of us in a moment of pure hysteria. Dayona: mouth open wide, eyes shut tight, anybody looking at the picture can virtually hear the laughter; Lewis: happy old man face after releasing the pressure in his belly; Jordan: glistening chocolate-brown alien eating his brother’s hands with a look of disgusted wonder. Me: nibbling on Dayona’s ear. It was the first picture of my family. Of Dayona’s family. Of Jordan’s family. Of Lewis’ family.
If I had one thousand pictures before Lewis was born, and one thousand pictures after Lewis was born, none of them could compare to the first picture of the four of us in our home. To look at my place one would think I had been single all my life. No one would have thought I produced anything as wonderful as one little man or inspired a woman to dream beyond her boundaries.