Standing in the living room, Veronica watched the moving van and donation truck through the paned glass while the downstairs neighbor’s bass thudded against the soles of her sneakers. The van snuck out onto Jackson and turned left, vanishing behind another apartment building’s brick-faced corner. The truck’s left wheels, however, hit the sidewalk’s curb, making the whole back end jolt.
She imagined the boxes tossed about inside and hoped the bubble wrapping and Styrofoam peanuts would be enough to keep the dishes intact.
Finding its balance, the truck heaved onto the street, merged right and rumbled out of sight.
“I guess that’s it,” she whispered. “Time’s up.”
No one answered this time, and her stomach tightened. At the windowsill, the spindly branches of budding trees swayed like spider’s legs. Around her the smell of aftershave and perfume underscored the disinfectant and the sweat from the movers and donation gatherers, the cleaner scents lingering like the ghosts in the emptied apartment.
A meow from the bedroom pulled her gaze from the three story view and away from a plunge into memories.
Down the hall, Max’s faded orange face poked out, ears perked, eyes cautious.
Veronica squatted, the holes in her jeans ripping wider around her knees. Waggling her fingers, she invited the cat over.
He scampered across the dented and dolly-rutted carpet and jammed his head into her palm.
“Sorry for the crazy week,” she whispered.
He purred with forgiveness, inspiring a sense of guilt for what she would have to do next. When she scooped Max into her arms, he curled and nuzzled into her sweatshirt. Creeping toward the kitchen counter, however, Veronica held her breath.
Some kind of animal instinct or feline perceptions triggered before she unlatched the carrying case door.
Max squirmed and pawed. Gripping him beneath the front legs, Veronica kept him in hand.
“Come on,” she cooed, “you had to know this was coming.”
Max mewed his innocence, flicked his tail and flattened his ears. He scrunched himself into a hissing ball, but she managed to work him into the crate where he proceeded to cower, his emerald eyes narrowing with scorn he shot through the door’s thin bars.
“I’m sorry,” said Veronica.
He mewed again, but when she passed her fingers through the gap, he thrust his forehead against her offered skin. After a brief scratch, she retracted her hand and turned to face the empty expanse.
Max’s intermittent meows letting her know his thoughts on remaining in the crate bounced off the bare walls. The holes from removed pictures dotted the graying white like scattered ants and a fresh round of savory spices from the neighbor’s kitchen wafted through the thin plaster. One of the complex’s kids shouted and the squealing brakes from the bus arriving down the street topped off the waning morning’s growing symphony.
Inhaling a deep breath, Veronica savored the last smell of a meal she’d never tasted. She set her hand on her stomach while the children started laughing together, their small footsteps trundling down the concrete stairs like dibbled basketballs. The countless times she’d wound through a similar charge and been blasted by the bus’ exhaust before stepping up into the sour interior on her way to school, rippled across her thoughts. On her way back, she recalled shopping at Mr. Henderson’s where he managed to gather the freshest groceries around while keeping the prices low. Her ears filled with the gossiped she’d eavesdropped upon within those aisles, their lives more adventurous than she’d ever thought possible.
“Maybe that’ll change,” she whispered.
The room, however, retained its quiet and its solitude.
She heard her parents’ voices in the stillness, each chiding her to study before they headed off for an early morning or night shift. They debated from their arm chairs about replacing the heavyset curtains and concaved couch, Mom pushing to redecorate while Dad countered with the solidity and comfort each piece retained. Arguments over the details of a show blaring on the television once filling the living room’s corner flowed across the carpet to where they’d never missed a Sunday dinner at the dining room table draped by the same wash-worn tablecloth. The grooves from chair and table legs remained, even when the furniture had departed like its long time residents.
“My turn,” said Veronica.
She chuckled, and then released a full-fledged laugh as a weight seemed to fly from her shoulders. She smothered the sudden burst with her hand, but couldn’t call back her voice now echoing down the hallway and against the kitchen and bathroom tiles.
The apartment regained its inner serenity, and she shook her head while the world outside churned with motion.
“Time’s up, Max.”
Veronica slung on her messenger bag and collected the cat in his crate. Fetching the key from her pocket she strode through the front door and locked it behind her. Crouching down, she slipped the key halfway through the door’s bottom gap.
“Goodbye,” she whispered, and thrust the key the rest of the way.
She set her hand on the burgundy paint with its chips and scrapes to stop her wobble. Blinking away the droplets from a fresh sheen of tears, Veronica rose and bid the apartment a last farewell. She turned, and with Max at her side, started down the hall, where a warming spring day and the start of a path they’d always hoped she’d attain, waited for her to begin.