Empty pizza boxes and beer bottles littered the room. Couch cushions were in a jumble where they were moved to open the sleeper closed inside. Sheets, stained and threadbare, the corner-hugging elastic stretched beyond its means, were wadded into a rancid pile on the floor. Bodies in various stages of drunkenness or unconsciousness were draped across chairs and curled up on the floor.
Clay, the apartment’s only legal resident, stood in the bathroom with his boxers around his ankles, swaying dangerously while he attempted to hit the toilet bowl with a seemingly endless stream of urine. A bottle of warm, stale beer clutched in his free hand, Clay hummed along to the Indigo Girls’ song playing on the stereo.
“Back to the smallness of our deconstruction of love…”
He brought up the beer, singing into the bottleneck like a microphone.
Clay ended the song with a shiver and a dramatic flush.
His apartment, decorated in early Waterfront Mission and vintage Lowe’s cinder block chic, was the go-to hangout for his friends and friends of friends. There was always an extra roommate or three crashing for a day or two, or indefinitely.
Clay leaned on the door jamb between the kitchen and living room, and surveyed the aftermath of last night’s party. After tossing his empty bottle in the general vicinity of the overflowing blue, plastic recycling bin, he rearranged himself, lingering on his crotch a few awkward seconds too long.
Wending his way over and around the scattered bodies, Clay picked up discarded pieces of clothing as he went – a tee-shirt slung on a lamp shade, a pair of jeans atop the television, a pair of flip-flops dropped by the front door. He grabbed his keys off a coat hook on the wall in the foyer and quietly left the apartment.
The sky was a jaundiced shade of yellow, not quite night but not yet morning. Clay hugged the walls of the apartment buildings along General Avenue, finally ducking into a dark alley looking for the green door he knew so well.
The vibrant paint was the color of a dark forest, unmistakable against the peeling and sooty whitewashed bricks. Massive iron hinges bolted the door to a heavy wood frame, and a black ring hung to one side instead of a latch. Clay tapped out the intricate pattern he had learned long ago.
After what seemed like an eternity, Clay heard scratching coming from behind the door, then the sound of a key turning in the lock and the screech of tired metal. The door slowly began to open.
Before him stood the oldest person Clay had ever seen. So old, it was difficult to tell whether he faced a man or woman. A tangled mass of white hair framed a wizened face. Unfocused, rheumy eyes, black as beetles, seemed to search for something over Clay’s left shoulder.
One gnarled hand rested on the door frame, the other, trembling with palsy reached out toward Clay. The sentinel’s voice, like nails on a chalkboard, gave no further clues to who, or what, Clay was meeting.
“You’re late,” the sentinel said, grabbing the front of Clay’s shirt, “and you look like shit.”
“Good morning, Noor,” Clay said. “It’s good to see you too.”