The Penthouse – Alex Antiuk
April 24, 2021
The first thing I noticed when Stevie J opened the door was the bars on the windows. They were large and rusted, and completely covered both windows in the living room.
I had to catch my breath before I could examine the rest of the empty room. The Penthouse was located on the top floor of an old, rickety walk-up.
Stevie J had only purchased the bare necessities.
The living room consisted of Stevie J’s raised twin-bed, a used big-box brand wooden table, a few beat-up dining room chairs and an old TV that was bulky and awkward and sat atop one of the chairs in the center of the room.
All of the furniture had a similar, tattered beige color, except for the heavy, fluorescent pink wool blanket that was sitting on top of the bed. The blanket was also too large for the bed, and I noticed Stevie J had folded it over twice so it didn’t droop onto the floor.
The next room in the apartment was the kitchen. It contained lackluster appliances, all coloured a grease-stained white. It was connected to the bathroom, which like the kitchen was forgettable and slightly downtrodden.
After placing my bag down, Stevie J asked if I was hungry. I nodded, and before I knew it I was alone, locked inside The Penthouse. Stevie J was on his way to the Chinese restaurant down the block.
Once I heard Stevie J lock the door, I took a seat on top of the blanket and began to wonder where I was going to sleep.
There was ample space on the floor, but I didn’t have any particular interest in sleeping on the scratched hardwoods. I’d grown accustomed to Stevie J sleeping on the floor beside my bed at Holly’s, and I realized he might take up the floor once again, leaving the bed to me.
I turned on the TV and began to flip through the channels. Nothing was on, but my eyes remained glued to the TV until I heard the fumbling of keys.
Stevie J entered holding a large plastic bag. It reeked of a familiar scent and he placed it onto the table. He took his arm and pushed the array of mail and bills off the table in one quick swipe, and told me to take a seat.
He pulled out two large, dripping containers and placed a plastic fork beside me.
We were having Stevie J’s favorite. It was never good, but it was never bad. It was always comforting, despite the fact that when you finished eating you were left with an unsettling rumble in your stomach and a strong desire to nap.
As we ate, I noticed Stevie J had no interest in my updates about Holly or our house. Instead, I watched Stevie J take whopping bites of deep fried chicken wings, which we smothered in the tiny packets of dyed-red hot sauce that he ripped open with his teeth. He seemed to have mastered the art of eating this particular dish. When he finished, not a morsel was left and he’d used up exactly the allotted amount of sauce – not wasting a single drop or leaving any left to pour down the drain.
I finished shortly after and began to wonder if it was almost time for bed.
But before I had the chance to ask, Stevie J cleared the table and turned the volume up on the TV. I instantly recognized the jingle of the 9 o’clock news.
I began to head towards the bed, when Stevie J told me to wait.
He’d left the room and began to scramble around the closet, leaving my eyes to once again become attached to the bars on the windows. I had never been in an apartment with them before, and I couldn’t look away – with each passing second they grew larger.
Thankfully, Stevie J returned a moment later. In his hand he held a large, unopened box. He ripped it apart and began to unpack it. I noticed it had metallic legs and a dark-green, canvas top.
It was a cheap army-cot, and Stevie J told me it was my bed for the night. It didn’t look particularly comfortable, but when I took a seat on it the lingering effects of our dinner forced my head to fall onto the fabric and my eyes began to slowly shut. But I couldn’t find a comfortable position, nor did I have a pillow or blanket.
Stevie J noticed this too, and tossed his pillow and the large, pink blanket from his bed on top of me. I began to fold the blanket over me, when my eyes landed on Stevie J.
He was curled up on his small bed, with neither a blanket or pillow of his own. It looked like despite the tense conversations I’d overheard between Holly and Stevie J, he had forgotten about himself.
This image glued to my eyes, and even when Stevie J flicked the TV remote and the room went dark, I couldn’t remove his huddled self from my periphery.
I began to toss and turn in the darkness. I wanted to return the blanket and pillow to him, but I knew he’d reject my offer. His body looked cold, as he slept in the same sweatshirt and jeans he’d worn outside to grab our dinner.
Finally, I felt my eyes beginning to shut. I had wanted to say goodnight to Stevie J, but in the darkness my eyes accidentally landed back on the bars on the windows, which had become illuminated by the streetlights.
The bars had taken on a new life in the darkness. They had grown in stature and I felt them slowly closing in on me – they were meant to keep people out, but the more I stared at them the more I began to wonder if they were also meant to lock people in.
They were holding me hostage on my cot, and I desperately wanted to shake Stevie J and ask him to take me back to Holly’s. But I knew I had to get used to nights at The Penthouse – my time with Stevie J was predetermined. Holly had also informed me it was court-ordered.
The room became smaller by the minute. The bars led the charge and forced me to hide my head beneath the thick blanket, until I heard Stevie J begin to snore.
I lifted my head out from beneath the blanket and allowed his nasally yelp to land comfortably in my ears. It was the first time in weeks I’d heard his trademark congestion, and the bars on the windows suddenly began to retreat.
The snore echoed off every inch of The Penthouse. It bounced joyously around the bare room and I soon began to bask in it. I laid my head back onto the pillow. The fear that had overtaken my eyes had dissipated, and they began to leak wondrous, joyful tears.
It was the lullaby I had grown accustomed to at Holly’s, and I suddenly realized that every other weekend I’d be able to fall asleep with it once again.