When I was home last year I’d Google Streetviewed the Billy House, thinking about Billy and the favour he’d asked of me before he’d blown his brains out. Built over a century ago, it had been more like a mansion than a house. An article I read said that poor upkeep from its owners and multiple modern renovations had destroyed any historical value. I thought it looked old and characterful. But it was in a location that was almost, but not quite, close to a trendy part of the city.
Before I’d left home, I’d viewed the progress the developers were making on the apartment, so of course I recognized it when Monster and I got there. “Oh,” I said, and that was it. Surprisingly, it didn’t trigger any deep emotions for me, except this feeling of fate coming full-circle.
Monster looked at me with a raised eyebrow. He had eyes the colour of toast. Today he was carrying a paper sack. I’d asked him what was inside when we’d met and he’d said it was dirt. “It’s amazing this stuff,” he said. “It actually isn’t dirt. It’s charcoal and lightweight expanded clay.”
“What do you do with it?”
“I’m going to grow plants in it,” he said. “It’ll help remove volatile organic compounds from the apartment. Did you know that gas from laser printers can be worse than cigarette smoke? There are a lot of poisons like that you never think of. Most furniture and paints give off carcinogens. I’m going to test samples and write a paper.”
“You are really committed,” I said. “To getting all those majors, I mean.”
“Well,” he said. “Hopefully it works out. I can be a little bit manic about my projects. Then things go the other way and I can’t be bothered with them anymore.”
A frumpy lady in an ugly turtleneck let us into the building. “I was just going home,” she said.
“I thought you said come at five,” Monster said.
“I said I go home at five.”
“It’s not five,” Monster pointed out. “It’s about five-thirty.”
“And I should be gone,” she said.
“You don’t like me,” Monster said. “I understand. I’m eccentric.”
I said, “He’s one of the best students at the university. Tell her.” I nudged him with an elbow. To her I said, “I bet he has great letters of reference.”
“You seem nice,” she said to me. I wanted to scowl. Why did people think I was nice? Nice was like being ordinary, like being a sandwich. I wanted to be interesting, maybe a little tangy, but still sweet, like fresh pineapple. Pineapple has a chemical in it called bromelain that eats away at your mouth. Pineapple harvesters sometimes lose their fingerprints because of the bromelain eating their hands. I thought a fruit that ate you when you ate it was interesting.
“Why don’t we go through them quickly,” Miss Frumpy suggested.
She led us to the stairs. “Elevator isn’t working yet,” she explained. The two apartments were both on the 2nd floor. They reminded me of shoe boxes. Don’t get me wrong, a shoe box could be a cozy place, for a hamster, or a university student, I guess. They were actually bigger than my dorm in the res building.
Things looked clean and functional. No bad vibes from the place. No off-putting smells. I wondered if there were invisible volatile organic cancer-causing compounds swirling through the air.
“I’ll take it,” Monster said to Miss Frumpy immediately.
“Great,” she said, looking as if it weren’t great at all.
“How about you, sweetheart?” She was talking to me.
I looked at Monster. He mouthed “sweetheart” at me and rolled his eyes. I smirked.
“We actually have a number of students here,” she said. “Apparently, there’s construction at one of the student residents? Anyway, the rent includes…”
She’d been through it before. It was a good deal. It was a dumb idea. I said, “Yes. I think so. I don’t know what I have to do to cancel where I am staying. If I can do that without too much fuss then yeah. I’ll take it.”
Thus, dear reader, you are doomed to the rest of this story. If I had said no, if I had grown a brain and rubbed too thoughts together, I’d have realized the stupidity of the idea.
But there was another truth. Once I’d recognized the apartment, realized this was the place that the Billy House had been torn down for, I kind of felt like I owed it to Billy to stay there. Because I hadn’t done anything to save the Billy House. I couldn’t have done, obviously—I know that. But guilt doesn’t listen to reason.
I didn’t even know why I should feel guilty. Billy had singled me out. He’d cursed me by shooting himself in front of me. I should hate his guts. But I believed he was a sick and troubled soul and I could not be angry. Only sympathetic, I guess. And with the sympathy came guilt. So that’s the deeper truth that ran through my decision like a seam of black coal.
But yeah, things got interesting after I moved in. I became interesting, even eccentric, and not just a friendly fruit that ate you while you ate it, either. Before too long, I wanted to go back to being just “nice.” I don’t think I can ever be called a nice person now. Not by anyone who knows me. Not by you, certainly, after you read this. But maybe it’ll help you understand.