The old man thumbed his rosary and looked out at 8th Avenue and the river of trucks and bikes that passed. He was wearing a hooded jacket, old and grey at the edges, and his face was hidden under a soft plaid hunter’s hat. He leaned against the iron fence that protected the front door of his apartment building. It was here where the superintendent left the trash that stank all summer, forcing him to walk the three blocks to the park to the north where, until last year, he sat with his little dog. This summer she was too lame to climb down the stairs and he was to tired to walk without her so he was the only one who spent his time in this silent ministry in the stink of the garbage.
He finished his rosary and turned to climb up to his apartment. Each of the three floors had a separate smells. The first floor, where an old woman lived, stank of trash and cats. The apartment next to her was vacant, recently vacated by a family Mexicans who used to make the stairwell smell like slowly broiled pork. The second floor was nicer. Two Chinese families lived there and cooked fish and garlic and used strange sauces that filled the hall with scents like the ones he remembered when his navy ship took leave in Hong Kong. His floor smelled like wood polish because young people lived here with a new baby and they cared for their apartment. His apartment smelled like space, or at least what he imagined space smelled like.
The old man took ten minutes to climb the first set of stairs. He went to the first floor where he rested for a few minutes, catching his breath, inhaling the cooking and the polish and the cat smell. Then he took the next set with a bit more speed. His floor was the slowest going. By the time his worn sneakers hit the landing, his little dog, mostly deaf but still able to hear his key in the lock, was up and snuffling at the crack under his door.
“Just me, Little Bit,” he said. “Just me.”
The old man fished his key out of his jacket pocket. He dropped it and it clinked on the floor. He bent, slowly, to pick it up. His legs felt like lead recently and his back no better. He hoped that whatever they had planned for him would come soon.
He opened the door and it squeaked in slowly, revealing the massive hangar. The light from the hall barely touched the first dozen feet of the gigantic room. Far off in the distance faint blue lights hung from the ceiling. The sound of a train, echoing like a memory, burrowed through the quiet. Little Bit the dog shivered as the old man lifted her up to his chest.
“You’re a cold little girl, right? A little cold.”
He slept on a small bed and he had a separate room – a shack, really – that held his bathroom. He didn’t need a refrigerator because, for some reason, things could stay fresh in the steady 70 degrees of the massive hanger. He pulled off his jacket and hung it on a wooden coatrack that had belonged his his grandfather. He sat down on his single chair. A blue light far above him winked on and then turned color to a brighter white. In this way he could sit and read or listen to a battery powered radio.
He had a wooden bed that he made up tight as a drum. Now it looked inviting.
The dog fell asleep in his lap and he transferred her to the bed. He checked the time. It was only five but there were no hours here in the hangar so there was no reason he couldn’t go to sleep now. He took off his shoes, lay down in bed, and dreamt of a time when he shared this apartment – back then only two rooms with plenty of light and parquet floors – with his wife and young child. He woke in tears at midnight. The little dog gruffled and huffed in its sleep, its small paws running nowhere against the covers.
He hoped that whatever they had planned for him would come soon.
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