The stairs wound tightly and to the left but doing so at their own tempo. The fact that they were not quite narrow enough prevented anyone from describing them properly as winding.
Regardless of whether it was day or night, there was little light to be had so that were any of the tenants asked, each would give a different answer as to what color the plaster walls were.
There was one point where the stairs, shortly before the first floor truly began their curve, happening immediately before the landing. It created an almost optical illusion, a cracked plaster wall jutting out to block any further progress.
In general I never took the stairs too fast but years of living in the same place had taught me to maintain a steady, set motion as to not feel the effects of my ascent until at my door.
Immediately in the spot after the illusion was where Nadjet had decided to sit, one step below the first of those to creak, “night out on the town” shoes in her hand.
I had almost actually almost tripped over her. She had taken her shoes off in the foyer. The hour being late, heels on the stairs informing all of her return as she passed each floor being preferably avoided.
A splinter had painfully lodged itself on the underside of her big toe. It was not that she was going to remove the wood here, the hour and alcohol mixed with the initial surprise so that she had taken a seat to momentarily catch her breath.
She started to say something, witty banter eluding her. She instead let out a gentle purr like sound. I reached down my hand to help her up.
I knew that I always looked best in bar light. Night, its’ cousin did not want to play favorites, her in the stairwell, she looked good, someone’s heart’s desire.
We both once again began our climb. I took the lead. Several times her palm found the small of my back by way of preventing herself from face-planting. I knocked my shins on a few steps and was sure that tomorrow would find a trail of my palm prints on the wall where I had righted myself.
Her door was opposite mine. Once again to save money on light bulbs the concierge had “accidentally” turned off the light on our landing so that my key could not find the door.
“C’mere, I have some matches.”
She lit one to open her door first.
“Come in for a drink?”
Our apartments were the same size but hers was in a perpetual state of disarray which made it seem smaller.
She let her dress fall to the floor. Now only in a cream colored slip so worn out that there were shiny spots marking where the once soft material had given up, she crossed the living room. Two steps and she grimaced as her big toe reminded her of its invader.
I was asked to help her. We went into the bathroom. I sat on the lip of the tub, using the sink to balance herself, she extended her barefoot towards me.
“Do you see anything?”
I did. There was a thick muted brown streak. My fingertip tickled the spot but felt nothing but skin, it had burrowed. Opening her medicine cabinet she found a safety pin. Running the hot water for a moment the pin was slowly passed back and forth under the tap before violently shaking it dry with several flicks of her wrist.
She switched positions. Now, putting the bad foot up on the sink, bending forward so that chin almost touched knee and the ghost of Degas’ ballet dancers were conjured up. I had to guide her hand to the top of the streak.
She began rooting around with the pin. Distantly, it reminded me of a childhood surgery.
“Jesus, look at you, you’re white as a sheet. Got it, let’s get those drinks.”
She let the water blast her toe for a moment and this time it was my turn to follow her.
I was handed a glass. She peered over the top of hers at me. Her lipstick was perfect for the shape of her mouth, its color the same as that of petals about to fall off a flower.
- Wayne H. W Wolfson 2016