Artist.

More walking. I had probably walked more in my short time in this city than many of the dwellers had ever walked on these streets. I walked west and found the apartment building. It was not a short walk, nor was it terribly long. I suppose I just didn’t think too much of it. It is easy to walk long distances when it feels like the buildings are close upon you, comforting, towering over you and deflecting your energy back to you.

I realized that though I’d been to Mel’s place before, I didn’t remember anything of what it was like. I had been there a few times when she would have the staff back to her place for drinks, when she and Mel would chatter away about some project they were dreaming and scheming on. I didn’t pay much attention. I was probably focused on tamping down the jealousy that would bubble up in my throat and spread into my lungs, attempting to poison me.

The building, I remembered. Yellow stucco on the outside, covering up the older brick beneath. Another strange thing about this city: how shamelessly people would cover up older beauty. How quickly the trends come, pave things over, paint things over, how easily things are torn apart and forgotten. A strange thing. The eagerness toward the new. I wondered what would be found beneath that layer of stucco. Brick and mortar and someone’s fingerprints. Something that was a warmer color than the pale yellow.

I walked through the glass door which only feigned being locked. I walked up the staircase toward her apartment. Apartment 2D. The door had a little knocker on it. A welcome mat sat on the floor in front of the threshold, and a knotted red cord hung on the doorknob. For good luck perhaps? I didn’t know. Perhaps it was just ornamentation.

Opening the door to Mel’s home was– it was completely unlike what it had felt like to open the door to the tiny apartment Eve and I had shared. It was lived-in. There was real furniture. There was art, framed, collected on the walls. Yet it still felt warm. It had that familiar thrown-together warmth, with the maturity of a woman who was no longer interested in pasting posters on the walls. The art had that feeling, though. The feeling of collecting, a collector of things.

How little I knew of Mel at that moment. I touched the small figurines against the walls. They were dusty. I smiled at the dust. It was a new feeling to see a place where someone had lived long enough for dust to collect.

The room that had been vacated was empty save for a small pile of trash in the center. Whoever had left that place had left the room fairly clean, except for that pile. Why that pile, I wondered, when every other surface seemed so clean? Why would the person who did such a fine job cleaning everything else leave a pile like that?

People are strange.

I went to the small kitchen where a wall was painted red and a small square dining table sat, a tea kettle on the stove. I smiled at how tidy and cozy this place was. It was strange. It had been a long time since I had been in a place that could so neatly fit the description of a home.

I noticed a small alcove and went through expecting to find the laundry machines. Instead I found easels. Canvases. Paints. Brushes sitting in glass jars. Long ones, wide ones, thin ones. Some were clean, looking new. Some looked used. Some looked like they should have been thrown out long ago. Canvases were propped against the wall.

So Mel was an artist. I was not surprised by the discovery. Of course she was an artist. How else could she cope with the madness she faced nearly every day at the diner? Where better to channel the colors of the food being dumped into garbage bins and coffee stains than a canvas, where color could be splattered and new images made, to be kept forever.

There was a fresh canvas sitting on the easel. It had been primed. It was here, waiting for her to return, waiting to be painted upon.

Everyone in this city seemed to do more than one thing. Everyone seemed to be ready to do something else, or to have some kind of side project, or to have some other passion buried deep beneath their day-to-day.

I looked at my hands. They were dry, the skin rough from washing dishes in hot water with harsh detergent. I hated using gloves. I didn’t care that my skin had become rough. I didn’t feel like I was doing quite adequate a job unless I could feel the food residue leaving the plates, feel the smoothness of the clean pots against my bare fingers. I was tactile that way.

Perhaps I would do something else, too, I thought. My hands longed to touch. Perhaps I’d become some kind of artist, too. Or learn some kind of craft. Something else to occupy me would be good. Something to make me forget that I had to think, always, about forgetting.

I left the alcove and returned to my room. Mel’s door was closed. I wondered whether she was a very private person. I wondered what it would be like living with someone who was not a lover. She was so kind. I should never have been so worried about a betrayal between her and Eve. Mel was good-hearted. And I should have learned from Eve that it was alright to trust the beautiful. That a pretty face is not always waiting with a knife behind the smile.

Sometimes people could just be kind. Sometimes people just were. There were generous people in this city, strangers who smiled, acquaintances who wanted to be friends, people who trusted you and opened their homes. So much in this city.

I set my bag down in the empty room. Threw out the small pile of trash. Wiped down the floors once again, cleaned the windows.

I realized this was the first time in a long time that I had arrived in a city and known where I would sleep that night.

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