Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Shiny Floor

It was an apartment on the top floor of a three-story building, one apartment per floor. I never saw the other tenants. The stairwell leading up to the top had wide marble steps and smooth white walls and it curved gracefully up. Your footsteps echosed hollow as you climbed.

Our front door at the top was heavy and made of wood. once Natvar slapped me in the face there. I was coming in and he met me at the door, furious at the mistake I had made, and he hit me in the face. I didn’t say anything. I thought by then that perhaps it must be true that there was something mentally wrong with me.

I was tall and thin. I wore my hair up. I wore pressed blouses and narrow skirts and white stockings and leather pumps – all clothes that felt foreign, but what did not feel natural to me must be good. I was trying very hard, every minute, to get it right.

When you stepped inside the apartment there was a short hallway with low shelves of books on either side, just a few feet, a narrow space before you stepped into the spacious el-shaped room. You stepped into the living room, two white couches that we had made – they looked expensive because they were so white, but they had been cheap to make. The two couches were at right angles to each other, a square glass-topped coffee table in front of them. On the low table were Vogue magazines, lined up carefully like in a doctor’s office. Natvar wanted Tracy and me to look like the women in the magazines. “Why not?” he reasoned.

My job was to keep the apartment clean – the living room and the dining area with its expanse of shiny pale yellow parquet floor and Natvar-and-Mark’s bedroom. Once a week I did their bathroom and bedroom while they went out. I had to be done, relaxed and pleasant when they returned, otherwise Natvar would be very angry and lunch would turn into a tirade during which he would prove through beautiful verbal acrobatics that not only was I pathetic and inept, but I was vicious and unloving.

His bathroom had blue tiles that I must wipe carefully so no drips – pale and white – shoed. There were white shelves around the sink. I must take every item off those shelves, dust each item and wipe the shelves. Many of the items were the leftover empty boxes of expensive soaps. Natvar liked the feeling of abundance it gave him to have those shelves of attractive little boxes, even if they were empty. We could not afford expensive soaps or expensive anythings. I shoplifted whatever I could.

I did the shopping every morning, walking to the supermarket about 15 minutes away in the narrow blue skirt I wore most days, a skirt I had stolen back in New York from a well known client of Natvar’s. I had stolen a few pairs of shoes and a beautiful suit too that I wore when I needed to look especially together.

I purchased at the supermarket and stole to fill in the gaps. I had a certain amount of money, enough, Natvar said to feed an army. But I could never make it stretch. I had to buy cheese and olives, bread, yogurt, milk – everything precise – this kind of yogurt, that kind of bread – all the kinds Natvar had said were the right kind.

I walked home with heavy shopping bags in each hand. I wore foundation make-up and earrings for these daily expeditions because I was supposed to be the secretary, the assistant, to a very great man.

I had volunteered for shopping, just as I had back in New York. Mark couldn’t do it. Natvar needed his brains, talent, and love right by him almost all the time. Tracy was supposed to cook and do laundry. That left me.

Natvar is dead now. So is Mark. So is Ariadne, Natvar’s daughter, who was there too, an 8-year-old girl with blond curls and a pink terrycloth bathrobe. Just Tracy and I are left. And she doesn’t want to talk about any of it.

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