Andrea pulled into the covered parking lot of her apartment complex. She felt guilty about borrowing the car for the third time this week, so she stopped by a carwash on the way home and drove through. She should have vacuumed the inside, too (there seemed to be bits of popcorn or cat litter or Heaven-knows-what everywhere), but she didn’t want to get out of the car to do it. There had been hooligans hanging out by the vacuum and air island of the carwash. A couple of them were there, pretending to put air in their tires, but she knew they were waiting for her. “You’ll have to wait a little longer,” she imagined saying to them as she drove past and on to the street, the car dripping with the special no-rub wax rinse for which she had paid extra.
Having access to the car was important. Andrea didn’t have enough money or good enough credit to buy her own car, and she hated riding the bus – too many weirdos that wanted to follow you home or say inappropriate things to you while you were pressed to the window. Walking was even worse. Her brother used to say she was lazy, but she wasn’t really. She just didn’t like getting all sweaty or rushing around. Plus, it didn’t feel safe walking alone outside. Of course, if it was her time to go, there’s nothing she could do, but she’d rather die in a car crash than be murdered on a street corner by some criminal.
Thus – the carwash. The trouble was, Maura would probably not even notice her car was clean. And Andrea had left the apartment anyway, not because she especially needed more bathroom tissue or plastic sandwich bags or cream cheese, but because the apartment felt too small when Maura’s friend Rebecca was over. So it was kind of Maura’s fault that Andrea had to borrow the car in the first place.
When Andrea and Maura had first decided to be roommates they had been friends. Maybe not exactly friends, but more friendly than they were now. Andrea and Maura had known each other since they were small children. Maura’s father was the pastor at the church Andrea had grown up in, they had been in the same ballet class together and had both sung in the church choir. Their families were close and Maura had seemed like a safe person to live with. Andrea was doing clerical work at a hospital and didn’t make enough money to have a place to herself. Andrea’s mother had suggested the housing arrangement to Maura’s father, and Maura had seemed okay about it. They had even hosted a young person’s bible study meeting together when they first moved into the apartment. Actually, it had been Andrea’s idea, and Maura didn’t say no, but afterwards Andrea got the strong impression that there would be no more bible study meetings in their apartment. And then there was Maura’s friend, Rebecca – she was pretty much the opposite of bible study meetings. Rebecca smoked cigarettes and swore like a sailor and her t-shirts were always stretched tight over her impressive bust line. She owned several pairs of long earrings festooned with feathers. Rebecca pretty much ignored Andrea when she was over and Andrea did the same.
Maura and Rebecca would sit around for hours talking politics. They never tired of it. They’d start off on the corporate welfare state, move on to the military industrial complex, continue with unfair prejudice against gays and minorities. It’s possible they were right, Andrea didn’t pretend to know the first thing about it, but they were so annoying. So arrogant in their righteousness. Andrea was righteous too, but not arrogant, not in anybody’s face. She didn’t go over to other people’s houses and assume that everyone agreed with her point of view. In fact, she knew that most people didn’t agree with her at all. Most of the people she worked with at the hospital didn’t go to church, didn’t believe in God, and were probably going to hell (which might be like getting stuck in a small kitchen with Maura and Rebecca talking about the latest election in some third world country). On the rare occasion that Andrea did find herself away from home, she said grace under her breath before meals and kept her thoughts to herself if someone took the Lord’s name in vain or worse. She couldn’t really save them, so it was no use trying.
Andrea eased the car into Maura’s parking space, turned off the motor, pulled her groceries from the passenger seat close to her body, and readied the keys, poking from her fist, to use as a weapon should there be any emergencies between the parking lot and the entrance to her apartment. She wished Maura would lobby for a parking space closer in. They had lived in this apartment for over a year, and surely Maura must have accrued some residential seniority that could result in a better parking space. So many steps between the car and the apartment. So many opportunities for attack, and she would feel winded in any case, by the time she lugged her spoils to the front door. Nothing for it but to get out of the car and start walking.
The journey was uneventful. The apartment manager had installed additional lighting at Andrea’s request. The request had been sent anonymously (Andrea didn’t want to seem needy or a problem tenant – particularly since she didn’t even have a car to park), and the covered parking area was exceptionally well-lit. She arrived at her front door fairly out-of-breath, however, since she rarely walked, or did any exercise, for that matter, except for her semi-weekly trek across the expanse of pavement in the carpark.
She untangled her keys from her fist and unlocked the door. She expected Maura and Rebecca to be going at it, on some political topic or another. Instead, Maura and Rebecca were going at it, but in a mouth-to-mouth kind of way. A French, over-the-top kind of way. A beyond-Andrea’s-wildest-dreams kind of way.
Andrea walked back out of the front door and shut it behind her. She didn’t really know what to do. Maura and Rebecca had been friends for quite a while, but Andrea had never imagined they were friends in that way. She stood there for a moment, clutching the bathroom tissue and the plastic sandwich bags and the cream cheese, and her brain stopped working. When her brain recommenced function, she could only think of all the rapists and murders who were probably prowling the carpark at this very moment. She opened the front door again and walked back in the apartment.
“Hiya,” Maura said. She and Rebecca were sitting side by side, no longer on top of each other, but still touching, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow. Andrea walked into the bathroom. She didn’t know why she had gone there. It was a dumb place to go. She could put the bathroom tissue in the linen close, but then what. She peed. She washed her hands. She could walk out and then straight to her bedroom. But she hadn’t eaten since noon, and the only food she had with her was the cream cheese in the plastic shopping bag. She opened the bathroom door and walked into the kitchen. She pulled a bread bag off of a shelf and put two pieces of bread in the toaster. “Either of you want some toast?” she asked randomly, in a funny voice that sounded all off to her ears.
“I’d like some,” said Rebecca, “with jam if you’ve got any.”
Andrea couldn’t remember Rebecca every speaking to her directly. She put the first batch of toast on a plate. She carried it into the living room with a jar of orange marmalade. Then she went back into the kitchen and put two more slices of bread into the toaster.
Rebecca said, “Thanks, Andrea, this is great. Really hits the spot.”
When Andrea’s toast popped up she smeared it with cream cheese and took it into her bedroom. She turned on her television while she ate. Then she turned the television off. She couldn’t hear any conversation outside her room. No heated political discussion, no “other” noises either. She opened the door slowly, giving plenty of warning, and said, “Goodnight, you two.” And then she went to bed.