The Missing Brutal Honesty in the Final Walk-Through with the Soon-To-Be-Ex-Tenant by Erika Murdey


Entry Door Yes No
Damage to exterior? X
Interior? X


[The lease says “no nails,” but upon her arrival in December it was a matter of days before the hall of white, numbered doors, innocuous on first inspection, seemed to offend her. She came to the apartment one day with a beautiful green spruce wreath and a package of sticky plastic hooks. The sticky plastic hooks would adhere to the entry door for an hour, maybe two, before the whole beautiful green spruce wreath came crashing to the floor in a beautiful mess. She threw the door open every time and re-affixed the sticky strips and plastic hooks. The package said the hooks held up to ten pounds, and the beautiful green spruce wreath with the red and gold ornaments and white battery-operated lights had a definite heft to it, with all the branches and decorations and such, but she thought it could not have weighed ten pounds (it weighed fifteen). After eight wreath-crashings the nails appeared; she pounded them into the door. But the door’s all “fixed” now, nails torn out and gouges painted over with a few drops of Snowflake Shimmer nail enamel. And there are several leftover needles that the apparently-blind maintenance man’s vacuum cleaner wove into the hallway carpet (they are now more firmly fixed in the old brown carpet than most of the fibers themselves). The soon-to-be-ex-tenant (STBET) is, of course, not so permanent.]


Hallway Yes No
Damage to walls? X
Stains/damage to carpet? X


[The supposedly well-trained dog that was disclosed to the landlord and cost her (the STBET) an extra $30 a month could not handle the chills of February and more often than not pissed near the door rather than bother with that whole whine-to-go-outside business. The urine seeped through the once-new beige carpet and soaked into the padding. Visible stains were sprayed and scrubbed with extra-strength carpet cleaner that made elaborate promises about its efficacy. It did what it could. The next tenant to move in here with an actual well-trained dog will likely think said dog has a UTI, though a visit to a veterinarian would find nothing. The allure of peeing on old piss is too great for any canine.]


Bathroom Yes No
Damage to door? X
Damage to walls? X
Damage to fixtures? X
Damage to floor? X


[Real in-the-mail letters, the apartment address typed so they had a professional look, had arrived nearly every week. They lacked a return address but the nature of her tears shortened the list of possible suspects. These letters sat next to the basket kept in the short hall between the entry door and the bathroom. She tossed the car and apartment keys into this basket every evening and snatched the keys from the basket every morning. They seemed to be a test. Like Jenga. She let the letters stack and rise, let them tremble whenever keys jangled into or out of the basket. When the tower of letters finally tumbled they were opened, cried over, tossed in a metal wastepaper basket, and garnished with a match. The amount of smoke became incredible in a matter of seconds. The basket, upended over the toilet, expelled a black and yellow, smoldering, sooty ball that needed five flushes to clear. There was a black ring on the underside of the toilet seat. The STBET bought a new toilet seat. In about a week the flushed once-fiery-then-extinguished wad of five months’ worth of letters caused the entire building to experience a catastrophic plumbing crisis. The STBET would likely admit this was not handled well, but seems glad her role in the catastrophic plumbing crisis remains undiscovered. In her one-sided discussions with the disclosed dog it is evident that she blames the whole incident on the lease’s stringent policies against outdoor grills.]


Bedroom Yes No
Damage to door? X
Damage to walls? X
Damage to carpet? X
Damage to closet (interior and exterior)? X


[A cat, found abandoned in the parking lot and soaked from the April rain, had been wrapped in a towel and carried into the bedroom to keep it safe from the hallway-carpet-soiling disclosed dog. That first thundery night the terrified cat tore the wall apart with its claws. Cats are wont to do this. The feline tore the walls apart from the floor to a seemingly-impossible six feet up. The STBET really should have awoken from the ruckus. The STBET had suffered chronic insomnia and many nights paced the halls until she gave up and went into the bathroom. She had a prescription bottle in the cupboard. The STBET did not awaken to the cat’s ruckus, then, but to the aftermath. An exhausted cat curled in the corner of her closet. The textured white walls gouged to the bare plaster. The STBET imagined an affinity with this cat that she never disclosed to building management (the cat, that is, though the affinity was never mentioned either). She posed unanswered queries to the cat. Was it once the loved member of a family who had bought a new young kitten at a store and, when this cat did not get along with that new family-usurping kitten, the cat found itself wet, cold, and alone in her parking lot? Could the cat have been the beloved companion of a now-dead elderly woman? The STBET likes to verbally speculate about the former scenario. She has wondered aloud if, upon seeing the new kitten in the store, the former family became determined to abandon this (wall-destroying) cat. Or about this former family realizing how shallow and needy the new kitten was and patrolling the streets for the cat they once loved. The STBET ascribes a great amount of vicious agency to the cat’s imagined former family, refers to it (the cat) as “you poor thing” even though from its apartment entrance to its exit to whatever home the STBET will occupy, said “poor thing” gained four pounds and a preferred spot on the STBET’s bed beside the disclosed dog. The bedroom walls, however, were as neglected as this undisclosed cat may or may never have been. The STBET bought a can of spackle the week before her move and plastered the wall, smiling to herself at her ability to mimic the textured pattern of the original, and spray-painted the whole room Eggshell White, which she must have thought was the closest match. The actual color would have been Soft White (as is every painted surface in the building), but no one seems to notice the glaring discrepancy between Eggshell and Soft White.]


Kitchen Yes No
Damage to cabinets? X
Damage to walls? X
Damage to floor? X
Damage to appliances? X


[The STBET took excellent care of this room. She scrubbed the cheap, yellow stove after every meal. She swept every night and wiped the counters down with hot soapy water. Roaches came anyway. She complained. The roaches did not. They scurried with a purpose, one they never disclosed. Had the STBET embraced them with the same affection she did the undisclosed cat, the total pets in the apartment would have numbered two-hundred eighty-three. Instead, she purchased numerous plastic domes with gruesome threats printed in white and red letters on the boxes, vowing an eradication of roaches that bordered on gloating. The domes did nothing. They (the roaches) would disappear in response to the eventual pest management efforts of the landlord, which required two separate contractors and fliers mailed to all tenants underlining expectations of care and cleanliness, plus an additional hundred dollars from each tenant for the two separate contractors (a stipulation in the lease that infuriated the STBET).

After the elimination of the not-pets the STBET became visibly happier. She spent hours, days, maybe a whole month when it’s all added up, in this kitchen: baking bread, casseroles, cakes. She seared steaks in a cast iron skillet. Roasted chicken thighs, breasts (never any sense in a whole chicken for one person; she forgot to feel the lack of a whole bird, found the whole in its parts). Sautéed green beans, steamed broccoli. After the catharsis of burning the letters she found satisfaction in not burning. She got a wok. She got a panini press. She got cookbooks that were soon well-stained. She soothed herself in cooking, often while watching television in the adjoining]


Living Room Yes No
Damage to walls? X
Stains/damage to carpet? X


[The tv cabinet against one wall. The couch against the opposite. A coffee table in between. The undisclosed cat got a wood and carpet tree by the window.  All four pressed lines into the beige carpet that will not vacuum out, but will become less noticeable once the carpet has been shampooed (and the carpet really should be shampooed. Replaced ideally).  The Soft White walls had contained the kitchen/living room in a Spartan embrace. Following the camaraderie that sprang from the catastrophic plumbing crisis and griping over the roaches she found neighbors had become friends, and invited these friends to potlucks, dinners, parties. Pictures hung on the wall by forbidden nails (holes now plugged with more Snowflake Shimmer, making the walls twinkle in the right light). Smiles everywhere. A wall must be punctured with nails. The more nails the better―all of the tenants to follow will decide this.]


            Not applicable

[The STBET had this apartment marked from the beginning as a placeholder, a footnote in her life. The change-of-address forms were perfunctory. She did not order new checks when she moved here. This is not a building a person wants to die in. Few buildings hold that distinction, but this is not a building of apartments for people who want to live in them. This is a building of apartments for people who want to move on to the next thing from the previous, and have not yet figured out what that “next thing” is. This landlord will continue checking “No” beside boxes while leaning against mismatched walls that are more nail polish than wall, standing on floors that are more urine and pine needles than carpet.  Despite providing the STBET shelter from forty-two snow falls, eighty-seven rain storms, and twenty-nine thunderstorms (separate from the rainstorms but including the one that caused the undisclosed cat to experience wildly destructive panic) the STBET does not feel gratitude towards this apartment and would be shocked to think that this was something a person could feel towards an apartment. This is the inescapable reality of apartments.]



Erika Murdey holds a Master’s degree from Central Michigan University in English Language and Literature, with a focus on creative writing. Her work has been published in Brain,Child online, Literary Juice, and See Spot Run.

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