Memoir by Alyssa Sinclair
My apartment door opens to a hallway lined with three other brown metal doors. An oversized patchwork owl hangs on my neighbor’s door, and a plastic waterfall—four tiers of fake rocks cascading down—has sat empty for weeks next to their welcome mat. Otherwise the hallway is a beige blur—cement floor, off-white walls, white light fixtures filled with dead bugs. The landing of the wide cement stairs affords a view to the outside. Standing at the railing, painted the same brown as my door, I can see the tall fence with its attenuated ribs separating the parking lot from the road, and the expanse of dusty, sparsely vegetated desert. Beyond that the highway loops around the limits of the town. The edges of the highway overpass are lined with birds nests, packed in wing to wing, like a Japanese hotel.
The stairs lead down to the lower hallway. The cement floor bleeds into the sidewalk and then the parking lot. The manager of the apartment complex refers to this whole hallway-and-staircase area together as “The Breezeway”. There is a brown film clinging to everything: the floor, the stair railing, the faux-wood paneling covering the walls, the bottoms of my shoes. I moved here in January. It is now October and the film of dirt has had four seasons in which to accumulate.
In the lower hallway there are belly-up cockroaches scattered across the cement floor. The numbers have grown since January. They are a red-brown color, their legs curled in “S” shapes, a trail of breadcrumbs to the stairs. Whenever I step on one a shiver of disgust runs from my flip-flopped feet up to my throat. Sometimes, at the base of the stairs, there will be one or two stuck between life and death for hours on end. Suspended on their rounded backs, their tiny, grasping legs pedal all day long. The movement rocks them back and forth, but it is not enough to fully flip upright. When they die it then takes a few days for them to disappear. Once, at midnight, I saw other cockroaches lingering around a dead one, and in the morning there was just a crumbly black substance left behind. More than once I have seen two ants dragging a dead cockroach down the sidewalk.
Upstairs, outside my door, spider webs dangle from the cream-colored paneling. Balls of lint and fuzz are caught in the silky threads. Occasionally I’ll spot a black spider curled in its web. It is either hibernating from the heat or dead from the heat. The bend of its legs is shiny and sharp, forming a basket around its underbelly. If I spray it with Raid it will die and fall to the ground, and I can check for the fatal red mark on its underbelly in the shape of an hourglass.
This summer the bugs began to enter the apartment. Since then I am often bitten in my sleep. I wake up to scabs pulled tight across itchy lumps on my ankles and nail marks up my thighs. For a few weeks in August there were small beetles buried in the beige carpet, and at least twenty tiny black bugs on the windowsill each morning.
The pest control man told me it’s all because I sleep by a northern facing window. “All that open land and the wind blowing in,” he said, “I’ll tell the manager to put a dimmer bulb in the light outside your window.”
The next night I walked my dog past that bulb at the corner of the building, and tried to tell if it was dimmer. Moth wings fluttered against the light and other, earth-ridden bugs twitched on the pavement. All of the movement made me jumpy. I didn’t think they had changed the bulb. A white truck, its tires lifted up high and a crane in the bed, pulled in and parked behind me. A young man got out wearing a fireproof jumpsuit. There were black smears down the fronts of his thighs. It was about ten o’clock. He was getting in from the oil field. He said hello and entered the Breezeway. The heavy knocking of his steel-toed boots echoed out into the parking lot. I could hear the gap between his steps as he climbed two at a time. I thought about taking two stairs at a time at my parent’s house, the thick runner beneath my feet. The darkness to the north suddenly seemed like a dream pulling me away from here. I heard the slam of his door come from the top floor. My dog tried to catch a giant sand-colored cricket in her mouth. It bounced away suddenly, sharply, almost as high as my hipbones. It seemed it could jump as high as my face if it really tried. I stepped away, pulling on the leash.
Alyssa Sinclair graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with an M.Litt in Creative Writing. Her thesis, a collection of short stories entitled This House of Bones, was based on stories of her father’s life. She is the recipient of the Dan Hemingway Short Story prize for her story “The Deposition.” Her nonfiction has been published in Salon.com and TheDailyBeast.com and has been short-listed for the New Writing section of Mslexia Magazine. She lives in Midland, Texas, the far-west center of the Oil and Gas industry, where she writes and teaches yoga.
Also published on Medium.