The Green Note

Reads: 108  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 13, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 13, 2019

A A A

A A A


Waking up early had always been a problem for me. The bed was calling me, and I felt like rolling in the bed sheets and continuing to snore until the sun was high up in the sky. Regretably, I had to go to work.

I turned off the alarm clock—it was six-thirty—climbed out of bed, took a shower, and put on my work clothes.

I ate a bowl of cereal swiftly, and then left the house, got in my junky Mitsubishi, and arrived at Bleach street in exactly eight minutes. It was near downtown Binghamton, New York.

It was a poor neighborhood where many blacks and Latinos lived. I parked my car in front of the four-story building I was to work in, and then entered.

*****

The body’s warmth was ebbing away slowly in the warm summer night until it reached the temperature of the asphalt and the surrounding air. A black man had been shot to death on Bleach street. They said he was a drug dealer and other drug dealers had killed him. It had happened last week. The police left him lying on the asphalt in a pool of blood while they gathered evidence. People from the neighborhood gathered beyond the yellow tape—“Police line! Do not Cross!”— and looked on silently. There is some sort of respect given because of another’s death. Even though the person might be a drug dealer, there is something sacred in death. There is something sacred in the grief of his old mother wailing, consoled by close relatives and friends. People from the neighborhood stayed until late. They left when the weather turned bad, and the rain poured from the storm clouds in the sky. That was when they moved the murdered man’s body, too. I watched the report on the T.V.

The next day, there still was tape scattered around when I was trying to find a place to park, to go to work. Police officers were walking to and fro. The rain had washed the blood from the asphalt.

*****

That day I was working on the last, fourth floor. Usually, if someone decides to renovate all apartments in the building, he is supposed to start on the upper floors and work down. We worked piece by piece, though. It was because my boss, who bought the building, could only evict the tenants one by one—first from the lower floors. Every floor had four apartments on it that we renovated. Then my boss would rent them to a fraternity from the university in the city.

There still was a single family on the first floor of the building. They would move the same or the next week. My boss had shown humanity and given them more time to find a new place. They had three boys who activated the alarm from time to time and the firemen had to come. The father sometimes circled the first-floor landing and smoked nervously. The cigarette smoke was swirling up the stairs and slowly making its way to the other end of the corridors. The whole building stunk like cigarette smoke, which bothered me. I made a remark to the man a few times not to smoke inside, but he didn’t care. Anyway, I was glad that the family still lived in the building, because the dusty corridors and stairs, covered with rubbish, with flickering fluorescent lamps on the ceiling, made the building ghostly.

I brought my tools up to the apartment where I was to work and locked the front door—just in case. The front door led to a kitchen that was connected to a living room and then a bedroom further in.

There were cockroaches everywhere. We had used fumigating bombs in the apartments and sprinkled poison in the corridors, but it still was infested with them—in the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedroom. It was the same throughout the building. They crawled on the walls when we sprayed paint and left a trail behind them. I stepped on them and splattered them mechanically on the floor when I saw them.

I left my phone on the kitchen top and played some music. Work went faster that way. Then I started working.

First, I cut the linoleum into strips four feet wide and rolled it up, then it was the carpet’s turn and the insulation beneath. I put everything in the middle of the kitchen, disconnected the sink and removed it, then the vanity and the toilet cabinet, and at last, the toilet bowl. I would use the toilet in the other apartment if I needed to. As I was working, I thought…

*****

Who can leave a building infested with roaches like this? Isn’t it part of the landlord’s duties to take care of them? Or is it enough to collect the rent? Doesn’t getting payed rent mean that a landlord has some obligation to his residents? Or when someone comes with enough money and a plan for investment and says,

“I want to buy the building,”

will the owners agree to take the deal and leave their tenants to their fate?

*****

There was a half-inch thick piece of plywood under the linoleum in the bathroom. I played with it, cutting it with the circular saw and propping it up with the bar until I extracted it piece by piece. In that way, I could place a cement board on top and those coming after me could lay the tiles while maintaining the same level as the floor in the kitchen.

I carried everything outside that I’d demolished so far, except the toilet bowl, and threw it in the dumpster.

*****

After the owners make a deal, they take the money and leave everything behind, the whole building. The tenants have a new landlord. People live in the building without a contract—it’s common practice in poor neighborhoods, where one can get kicked out of his apartment any moment, and be left to the mercy of the new owner. One day they receive a note typed on green paper in their mailbox. It says that they have to be out by next month.

“Where do we go?” the people ask. The landlord doesn’t care to answer.

The note answers,

“To poorer neighborhoods.”

“There are drug dealers and shootings in the night.”

“The new landlord has the building now. I have the strength,” the notes lays it down…

*****

I cleaned up all the walls with the spackling knife, removing uneven places and chafing off the paint. Then I spackled over the holes using joint compound. I was working slowly, careful not to miss anything. At about one o’clock, I was done. In the meantime, I had gotten hungry.

I went downstairs to a shop nearby. I greeted the owner—an Arab—with, “A-salaam Alaikum.” He knew that I was not Muslim, but smiled at my politeness.

“Wa Alaikum a-salaam,” he responded—“The usual?”

“Yes,” I said while taking a bottle of Coca-Cola from the fridge at the back of the store.

“Are you making progress with the renovation?” he asked as he spooned fried rice into a styrofoam container. He then added chicken and sauce. He always put in more chicken then I was supposed to get; that’s how much my politeness cost him.

“The apartments will be ready soon, and we’ll start renovating the corridors. A week and a half, two, and we’ll be ready altogether.” I always talked in the plural. I didn’t want him to know that I worked alone most of the time.

“When are the guys moving in?” he asked for the umpteenth time. People moved out and moved in, but for a little store to survive, the customers needed to stay.

“Maybe some of them will take summer classes. They’ll probably start moving in at the end of May”—that was in three weeks— “We should have finished by then.”

I waved to the shop owner and climbed back up to the apartment. There, I ate fast, sitting on an overturned bucket, as far away from the roaches as I could get, washing down the rice and chicken with the Coke. I didn’t like drinking coffee for lunch, but without the caffeine I would become sleepy and lethargic. I didn’t have time to rest, though. I knew that my colleague, Omar, would come in at about six with the dolly and I had to be ready by then to move the fridge, oven, and the toilet to the basement. Later, we would load everything onto the boss’ new truck and dump it at the landfill.

I fetched up two cement boards for the bathroom from the basement, measured them, and cut them to fit the floor. Then I screwed them down with the electric drill.

We would install new locks, so I removed and threw out the old ones, although they worked fine.

I threw out everything in the cupboards in the kitchen and then washed them well with a wet sponge. We would keep them for the time being—maybe later the boss would swap them with new ones. I also cleaned out the bedroom closet.

That part of the job was enjoyable, because I sometimes found small “treasures.” In addition to coins on the floor, I almost always found some interesting trinkets. That time there weren’t many left—a shot glass, which I put aside to take later, two toy cars, which I hesitated about, but finally threw in the garbage. There were a couple of knives and some plates and a pan, but I didn’t need them either. After I checked carefully to see if there was something else that could be of use, I continued on.

*****

There were a lot of students living in my neighborhood. They paid higher rent than the people who lived there year-round. I knew that companies were buying off properties to rent to students. I had no rental contract. My landlord didn’t want to renew it last year. How would I feel if he threw me out on the street like the people from the building where I was working? At least I had only myself to take care of. The nervous father with three kids, a wife, and an old mother would find it more difficult to get an affordable apartment for his big family—even in a nasty neighborhood.

*****

I swept the floor, and then vacuumed it, the walls, in the corners, in the closet around the boiler in a nook—everywhere there was dust. Then I went over it with a damp sponge.

I worked like a machine—I knew what to do, every step of the process, and I was going through the motions while the music played.

*****

What kind of people lived here? Little was left as a reminder of them. There were pen drawings and a child’s hand smudges on the walls. That explained the toys I had thrown out.

Two crosses were tied to a string and hung on a nail in the wall. I took them in hand. Who leaves his cross behind hanging on the wall, I asked myself? Were they people who had plenty of crosses or had they stopped believing in God? Or were they leaving the cross to protect the ones who would live in the apartment next?

Whatever the case, I didn’t want to throw away crosses, so I left them on top of the kitchen cabinet.

*****

After I cleaned, I wrapped the kitchen cabinets with plastic to protect them when we spray painted the apartment the next day.

Tomorrow I had to sand where I had spackled with joint compound, prime it, and then spray it with paint. After that, when the paint dried, I would put in laminated flooring.

I went to the bathroom, scrubbed the bathtub, and then wrapped it with plastic too, then glanced at my watch. It was 5 pm. Omar was supposed to come in an hour. I went downstairs again to get something to drink from the store.

I checked if my car was still where I parked it and then went up again.

*****

I knew that most of the families living in the old building were subsidized by the government. When you receive a subsidy, sometimes you are forced to live in places in bad neighborhoods with high crime rates, and shitty hospitals and schools, places where there are no jobs, where there are drug dealers, and where a specific behavior develops just to survive in such neighborhoods. A vicious circle develops that is hard to break. What can break it are jobs, good jobs. However, people who develop businesses don’t want to start them in places like these. Take even my job as an example. My boss won’t hire people from the neighborhood to do it. He doesn’t trust them, especially if the job is related to kicking their relatives or friends out on the street. That’s why the boss hired me. That’s why people from the neighborhood hate me, too—I was only a bit better off financially than they were, but they want to get back at me. I see it in their eyes when they talk to me on the street. They hate the boss the most for kicking their friends out on the street. They want payback.

*****

After waiting half an hour, Omar appeared with the dolly. He was a black guy, twenty years or so old with lively eyes and a sharp mind, but rather small for a contractor.

He looked around and whistled appreciatively, “You did well today.”

“You can say so. Let’s start bringing stuff down; I don’t want to leave here at dusk. It’s dangerous.

Omar helped me put the oven on the dolly. We moved it downstairs carefully so we didn’t scrape the walls, and then moved the fridge in the same way; we carried the toilet bowl.

The boss arrived while we were still in the basement. He was the owner, the shark-man, although he didn’t look like one. He was just an ordinary man with an average build, a baby face and black hair, wearing glasses. He wore jeans and a cheap faux leather jacket. He didn’t look like a Dickens’ character. Why did he kick out the old tenants—he represented a company. If he didn’t buy properties and rent them at a profit, he would be fired. Someone else would come in his place. If the company went bankrupt, another would sprout up, and so forth.

The boss walked in and greeted us, “Hello, guys!”

“Hi, Chris!”

“How’s it going?” he asked me.

“It’s going well. Tomorrow we paint,” I answered professionally.

“Nice, nice,” Chris said, and started climbing the stairs to see the apartment. Omar and I followed him. Once in the apartment, the boss looked over the kitchen—whether the floor was clean and the walls spackled well, and whether the cabinets were covered with plastic. Then he turned toward us, “Hey guys, I have some money for you. Robby, come with me.” We went to the living room. “Let me see.” He took out an old notebook; he could use his phone, but he is a little old-fashioned, “I owe you for forty-eight hours. How many hours today?”

“Today was nine and a half hours,” I calculated.

“All right,” he talked to himself, “fifty-seven and a half times twelve makes six eighty-eight.”

He took a roll of money from his pocket and counted out seven one hundred-dollar bills. He gave me more than he owed me. He’s generous that way, and the company could afford it. Both of us cheated the government a few dollars. There were plenty of bills left in the roll.

“Go and tell Omar to come in here,” Chris asked. I nodded and left.

“Did you get the dough?” Omar asked me jokingly in the kitchen. Before I could answer, the front door opened and a man entered the apartment. He had a kerchief over his face.

“Nobody lives here. You are mistaken,” Omar said, but he already knew the man had not made a mistake.

He came inside and closed the door behind him. He held a gun in his left hand. He moved it to his right, not uttering a word. The weapon spoke instead.

Apparently, the man had seen the boss’ brand-new truck parked outside. That is the only way he could have known that Chris is a manager for a big company. Probably the place had been marked for a while. Whatever the case, it’s Chris’ fault, because he never locked the front door of the building. The light in the apartment had helped him find us too.

Omar looked scared—one could tell by his face. I couldn’t see mine, but I supposed it was similar to his.

“We’re only workers here. My boss is in the next room,” Omar said slowly, without taking his eyes off the gun. It was a big, black weapon with no luster.

The robber—a black man—thought for a moment and nodded for us to walk in front of him.

We started off, leading him to the living room. Chris wasn’t there. We could hear his voice from the bedroom. He was talking on the phone, but when he saw the man and his gun he interrupted his conversation.

The robber shook his gun meaningfully. It had the authority.

“Something came up. I’ll call later,” Chris said, and then he hung up. He asked the stranger, “What do you want?”

The robber smiled; we could see it under the kerchief. The gun explained what he wanted.

“I don’t have any money,” Chris said desperately.

The stranger fired into the floor. The three of us standing next to the wall jumped. I’d never known that a fired gun produces so much smoke. When I looked down, I saw a small hole in the floor that wasn’t there before.

The stranger pointed the gun at Chris’s stomach.

“Guess where I’ll shoot next?” it asked.

Chris understood the gun’s language, nodded slowly, and even more slowly, took the money out of his pocket. At the sight of it, the robber smiled again. He stepped towards Chris, reached out, and took the roll of bills.

He then put it in the inside pocket of his jacket and started stepping backward. We followed him as if hypnotized. He opened the front door and raised the barrel of the gun a little.

We froze in our tracks. The man waved the gun as if for a goodbye and closed the door behind him.

The three of us stood for a while, listening to the man walking down the corridor and descending the stairs.

“Why did you bring him to me?” Chris asked us. He looked ready to smack us.

Omar and I didn’t answer. We were still too shaken from the experience.

“Are we calling the police?” I asked in the end.

“Not calling any police,” Chris said, and gave me a murderous look. “Take the tools and move out. Lock the door downstairs.”

Then he left.

Omar and I followed him, carrying the tools. When we were leaving the apartment, I took the crosses from the top of the kitchen cabinets, where I had left them before. As I was passing by a church—I don’t know what denomination it was, there are maybe a hundred different churches in Binghamton, I left the crosses in their mailbox. They would know what to do with them.

I drove aimlessly around the city for a while to think things over and calm down. At last, I turned on my street, parked in front of my house and climbed the stairs to my porch. I checked my mailbox. There was a folded green note in it that said that I had to move out before the end of the next month.

 


© Copyright 2019 Rosko I. Tzolov. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Literary Fiction Short Stories