The morning after he found the advertisement, Mikhail realized in the pale light of day that paying rent would entail obtaining a job. He only had a day or two left at his current place before the sheriff showed up.
He went downtown where shops and restaurants lined the avenue. He discovered that the places that said “Help Wanted” mysteriously no longer needed help when he inquired. His clothing or his visage seemed to remind them that the position had just been filled that morning, or that they were very sorry, but the sign had been left up by mistake.
Even the sun was giving up on him, slipping first behind what was left of the trees and then the buildings. His feet were killing him. He leaned against the wall outside a cigar shop he had just inquired at and covered his face. Tomorrow was another day, but it was sure to bring only more of the same.
He lowered his hands and wiped his nose as an interlinked couple strolled by him. He watched them and surmised that the only reason she was with him was because of his money. He watched them cross the street and enter a pizza place illuminated by the streetlight that just switched on. It too bore a “Help Wanted” sign. He quickly followed them over.
The place was small and greasy and had room only for two people to quickly eat a slice or two. He tried to ignore the couple as he inquired about the sign on the window. The woman behind the counter wiped her hands on her apron and glanced at the couple who waited next to him for their order.
Um—uh—well—yes, she admitted, they had need of a dishwasher. Was he able to wash dishes?
Why, he would be honored if given the opportunity to wash dishes. He told her he was moving into a new place and that he could start the day after.
She would see him at ten o’clock sharp in two days, or not to bother coming at all.
Could she be so kind as to allow him to use their phone? She glanced at the couple again and nodded. He leaned against the wall and, out of his jacket’s inner pocket, took the slip of paper bearing the landlord’s name and number and dialed the phone.
The man told Mikhail that his tenant was looking for a roommate and that the place was very affordable. He sounded like he was demanding ransom money. But he would meet Mikhail that night and show him the place.
He thanked the woman and headed to the building right away. He ran his hand along the chain-link fence as he walked to the gate, and then looked up. It looked like the ideal location for political prisoners. Inside the lobby, he asked at the desk to speak to the landlord.
The blobfish guard sat watching the one last functioning camera which was trained on a tractor-trailer parked in the back lot. He placed his hands on the desk and asked again to speak to the landlord.
She slowly turned one eye to look at him. “Been there since yesterday.”
“He has been where?”
“That truck. Been there since yesterday.” She turned the one eye back to the camera.
He pushed his hair out of his face and looked around. There was no sign of any life in the lobby, not even a sitting area where people might have been. He cleared his throat and asked once more, “Could you please…? I’m here to see Mr.—”
One eye and then the other turned. “The apartment? I’ll take you up.”
In the elevator, she looked simultaneously at him and the floor indicator, and said, “They ain’t here, though.”
“Landlord and your roommate.”
They entered 1B where the “roommate” had already settled himself in.
“Two bedrooms. One for you, one for him. Never see each other.”
Mikhail was certainly pleased about that, especially considering that the entirety of the tiny living area was taken up with dumbbells and a ten-in-one home gym machine. Oh, wonder of wonders: a meathead. Well, as long as the meathead left him the hell alone, it didn’t matter.
“Roommate says he’ll take anyone who’s a nice boy. You a nice boy?”
Mikhail’s eyes scrunched up. “A nice boy?”
“A nice boy.”
He could have sworn one of the guard’s eyes winked at him. “I don’t—” He shrugged. “Sure. Why not.”
She pulled the lease out from somewhere and unfolded it. “Sign. Rent’s due next week.”
After she left, he idly moved around the apartment, checking the fridge—well, at least his roommate seemed to need alcohol as much as he did—the bathroom—his roommate seemed to clean about as much as he did—and then the bedroom.
When he turned the light on, he saw a fat, shiny spider with spiky feet squatting in the corner of the ceiling. Its legs extended, and then retracted again. Of course.
Mikhail heard the front door lock rattle, and before he could turn around, the door slammed into the wall inside the apartment.