Buried deep at the bottom of the alley, two double-wide windows called up to the sun, only to have their pleas muffled by the screech of plastic garbage cans scraping along the pavement. The underpaid baristas couldn’t be blamed. They didn’t know the part they played in the war between light and dark. They couldn’t know their regular trips to the cramped space between our buildings to throw out that morning’s trash would be the coupt d’etat, the tour de force, the big win for twilight. It wasn’t their fault the cafe they staffed sat at the base of a four-story walk-up, standing heads above its neighbor like the eldest brother in a pair, taking the best of everything for himself like one, too.
I could have left the blinds open anyway, let the glass do its work of catching the light and escorting it in. But the thought that a wayward glance by an aproned employee would land in my apartment—my tiny, dim apartment with its three plates, one mug and zero mattresses—forbid it. No one got to see inside unless I invited them to. I couldn’t be sure of what they’d know.
I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t see the borrowed camping air mattress and pile of blankets on the floor and know it was because I couldn’t afford a bed. That they wouldn’t catch me sitting atop my step ladder, laptop propped on the stove, and know it was because I didn’t have any real furniture but needed to pretend. That they wouldn’t glimpse the episode of “Always Sunny” on my computer and know it was the same episode I’d watched the last three nights in a row. That it was all I had. That it was because I was so lonely I chose repeat episodes of TV over books or sleep, so I could see familiar faces somewhere other than my imagination.
I wanted them to think I liked that I could open the fridge with one hand and graze the opposing wall with the other. They needed to believe I liked the room’s sepia glow—that I found it romantic and carefully curated it with special bulbs and pretty scarved lamps, even if the truth was that I couldn’t be choosy about either.
I tried to get them to believe I preferred scouring the racks at Goodwill, unfazed by the smell and filmy sensation it left on my hands. That it was a good look to wear your dad’s old button-downs and mom’s retired heels. That I wouldn’t buy designer even if I could—though that part may actually be true.
But I didn’t know if they’d believe it. I wasn’t sure if I even did. I couldn’t convince myself their gaze might stumble into my studio and immediately turn on its heels, totally disinterested in a stranger’s life. Or that they may even second the landlady’s smile when she saw what I’d done with the place and muse that my mouse-sized apartment was charming. So I did the only thing I could. I locked them and the sun and the moon all out, and the darkness in.