Working Title

Working Title - student project

When the Dutch clubs close at 6 a.m., I wake to the bellows of 20-year-old students in the brick alley below the apartment. Somehow, it’s more disconcerting than the cars that used to speed by our Oakland house in the wee hours. I would clutch at the sheets, praying that my Subaru parked on the street wouldn't be totaled by a drunk driver. But there, at least, the first thing I saw when I opened by eyes was the glossy leaves of my fig plant in the bay window. A cobalt panel of stained glass inherited from my grandmother hung in the center of the triptych, casting rainbows even under the streetlight.

When I can’t fall back asleep, I amble out to the kitchen and make some coffee. Cradling the hot cup between my hands, I alight at the dining table, where my Chromebook sits, plugged into the wall. With my back against one living-room wall, I survey the scene. The aesthetic isn't mine: an oddly bulbous marigold armchair, the black leather love seat, sleek but too short to stretch out my six-foot-long frame. Most evenings, my partner and I try to curl around each other, awkwardly watching TV until I give up and drag an empty armchair closer to the couch to prop up our feet. It’s bookended by two black floor lamps, all right angles, and beside it, a dark, shiny cabinet with gliding panels that holds 31 crystalline glasses, not one of them a useful size. 

This place was one of the few furnished options my partner and I could find when we moved abroad this year. We swapped out the garish Jackson Pollock lookalikes for botanical prints from the flea market, but it doesn’t make sense to redecorate entirely. We’ll only be here for another year or so. Flanked by stately pillar candles ensconced in hurricane glasses, a tall wood-rimmed mirror on the mantle reflects the white walls.

The apartment has lovely bones, though. A bank of huge windows frames the street below, and I can see vendors erecting white awnings over cobblestone for the Friday market. My partner’s Dutch coworkers—our primary social life since moving abroad—express disbelief that we can afford such an apartment. One asked point-blank how much money we make. I get self-conscious trying to explain: Rent is expensive, but it’s actually much cheaper than what we used to pay in the Bay Area. Plus, it’s a one-year lease, which makes sense because we don’t know exactly how long we’ll be here, and we don’t have a car, either, so we want to to live centrally. 

In truth, the question makes me uncomfortable because my partner is supporting me. When I moved here in August, I dove headfirst into freelancing full time. Four months in, there’s not a ton of evidence for the hours I put in every day. Despite pitching and filing stories, almost nothing has been published. I have little to look back on and see that I did, in fact, create something. Unpaid invoices are stacking up while my partner pays rent. I feel like an impostor, padding about in my grungy grey sweatpants under twelve-foot ceilings. What am doing in someone else’s home?

The paint peeled from the walls in our old Victorian back in Oakland, and one of the front steps buckled. But it had a kind of dirty glamour. Books were stacked in every direction behind the built-in bar’s leaded glass panels. A tattered Chinese lantern bobbed on the front porch, stained yellow with smoke. Beneath a brass chandelier and coffered ceiling, friends filled the living room late into the night, sinking deep into the chocolate-colored couch. When the room’s capacity swelled, some perched on armrests, and we brought out folding chairs. After that, it didn’t matter if there were no seats; people would alight on the scarred hardwood floor next to the fireplace, content just to be together in the foggy pre-dawn hours. 

I knew, even when I declared that I would never move out of that home I loved so much, that we would one day leave. And here I am, peering out this great bank of windows onto the market blooming in the street. Maybe I’ll go have a look at the vendor who sells plants, and see if he has a fig. Home is where you make it.