Between the two windows in my sitting room is a boxed-in radiator that provides a little shelf. One day I placed a vase of tulips there. They’re the orange-red kind that make me think specifically of this time of the year – March, and April, right before the yellows and purples and shoot greens of Lent and Passover and Easter. They were a friend’s favorite tulip color. When he died in 2007, we put a picture of him sitting at a table next to a bunch of these tulips on the cover of his memorial program.
The light on the shelf, side and backlit by the two windows, is even, but dim. I find myself using it as a sort of altar. Placing things on it that I want to contemplate and look at. Because that’s what I’m doing a lot of; looking around the interiors I occupy, the corners of my occupied apartment.
I moved here nine months ago. It has a separate room for my daughter, is walking distance to her father’s apartment. Despite getting rid of a lot of things in the move, the place is cluttered. The rent is high.
There is a wooden chair by one of the windows. I found it on the street, years ago. The south-facing window is one of two that don’t require child guards because they overlook the fire escape. I sit on this chair when I talk on the phone. From this chair I’ve laughed with my brother, argued with a lawyer, told somebody to stop calling me. From this chair I have prayed, and wept and worried. From this chair I filled two copper planters with soil I ordered online, tucked seeds and herbs into them and hung them on the fire-escape railing. Later, I found the mint and parsley plants torn up and scattered by some critter.
On a shelf in the northwest corner of my bathroom there is a pitcher and a small wooden model of the HMS Titanic. I made it for my daughter, when she became fascinated by the tragedy. While she read a children’s version of the story, I read a large illustrated volume published in 1994, after the wreck was discovered and photographed on the ocean floor. I found it at the Goodwill and bought it when I noticed that my friend’s father, a naval historian, had written the foreword. I read details I didn’t know about, that still stay with me. I didn’t know about the makeshift morgue that was set up at the Mayflower Curling Club rink on Agricola Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the 328 bodies recovered from the Atlantic. The local undertaker, John Snow, called for the help of every embalmer and undertaker in the Maritime Provinces. They came. A rabbi, Jacob Walter, identified as many Jewish passengers as he could, and separated them for internment at the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. There is a picture of the tidy rows of canvas cubicles in the rink. Each cubicle enclosed three coffins.
The walls of my bathroom are gray. They were painted that way when I moved in. The only thing I’ve hung on them is a framed still of Monica Vitti from the movie Modesty Blaise. This was a prop from one of my books that I like to see in periphery, when I’m doing anything resembling grooming. Grooming occupies less and less of my time now, so I look at Vitti instead of at the mirror, at her posture and poise. Wonder what it’s like to be an actress and have some control over how people perceive you.
On my daughter’s birthday at the end of February, I bought a bouquet from a flower-arranging school. It included roses and carnations and magnolia and pussy willows. Eventually the flowers shriveled and fell, but the pussy-willow branches have lasted. I’ve kept them in a brown vase, in the room I use as a sort of foyer but is probably meant to be a dining room, and they’ve stayed furry and glossy. The mail piles up beside them, and books I’m intending to read. There is an empty vase I haven’t put away yet, next to the branches. It has been there since the birthday party, when it held bright daffodils. The mothers of my daughter’s friends said the party had been a success. There was a lot of screaming and jumping on my bed (which is two single beds pushed together), drinking of iced tea (girls) and Lambrusco (parents), and eating of sandwiches and cakes (though one little girl ate an entire plate of celery). I included little rainbow-colored atomizers of hand sanitizer in the girls’ loot bags. Also tubs of fluffy slime. I wondered how much viral spread was conducted through and by the popularity of slime, and if hand-sanitizing slime could be invented.
There is a round table in the corner of my bedroom. A television actor and I found it on the street and carried it up four flights of stairs. It wobbles, but I made these paintings there, after stuffing some cardboard under its base. There is a chair next to the table that I never sit in. It’s wicker and very comfortable, but it’s covered in books, papers and clothes. When I wake up I like to stare at the wall behind the table. It’s blank and I plan on keeping it blank. As the light falls in the evening the shadows make the wall feel like a sand beach, smooth, from dark to almost dark.
I’ve placed a lot of things on the mantle above my non-working fireplace. But the thing I keep displayed wherever I live, and the thing I like contemplating best, is a postcard of the Loch Ness monster.