February 22, 2010

That Saturday the sky was cloudless – September 11th blue. The trees shading Spruce Street were in fine form – full leaves of wine-red trimmed with autumn yellow.

David and Emma’s white Toyota crept slowly up the street. David saw the parking space first – they had been searching for twenty minutes.

“Park there,” he said.

“I see it.”

They were both on edge, each moving out of their parents’ home for the first time. Both moving into their first apartment.

“Back up.”

“I see it. I’ve parallel parked before. How far?” said Emma, a long-legged, black-haired beauty. Her olive skin proudly proclaimed her Persian heritage.

“I’ll get out,” said David opening the door before the car came to a stop, jumping to the curb. A pigeon hopped away, keeping its distance. Motioning her back, David said “You have plenty of room.”

The car was overflowing with their things. Emma had loaded up first before driving to David’s. Their things were jammed into every open space in the small car. A short piece of clothesline kept the trunk lid closed.

“Move up a little so we can get to the trunk,” said David.

Say please, she thought, moving the car ahead, parking and walking around the back of the car. Looking up at the lovely fall sky and her apartment building, Emma said “David look,” pointing, “this is ours.” She gave him an arms-on-shoulders tip-toed hug.

Turning, David looked at the old red-brick building with its huge arched entryway and its Victorian detailing. She was right. It was a lovely building, a perfect street, in a pretty part of Philadelphia, on the most exciting day of his life. He said “We have another load – let’s get this inside.”

He walked behind the car and untied the clothesline.

“Help me unpack.”

“David, it’s OK. There’s no rush. We’re here,” said Emma swinging her arms. “Bring this in,” Emma said walking over to the car, pretending to pull the mattress off the roof.

Not completely dense, David hurried the mattress inside, almost forgetting to lock the car in his way in. Thirty minutes later they lay looking out the back bedroom window.

“David, this is wonderful.”

“Yes,” and it was - being with her.

The apartment was on the bottom floor of the building, in a part of the city built in the 1890’s when expense was seemingly no object. The windows were seven feet high – the ceilings ten. Ornate moldings surrounded the ceilings in every room, of which there were three: a kitchen, a bedroom with a small bath and a front living room.

“It’s great,” said David, but he was looking out the grimy bedroom window onto the back of the row houses facing the next street over; across a weed-filled, trash-filled cinder-block-enclosed space the landlord had called the “back yard”. The building may have been a masterpiece 130 years ago, but no longer.

“We should unpack,” he said.

“Let’s just stay a minute,” she said nuzzling. David started to get up. “David, stay.”

“I gotta get this stuff in.” Controlling, stressed. David went outside and started unloading the car.

It took the rest of the evening, two additional carloads, and into the early hours of the morning to get the remainder of their stuff into the apartment. Mislabeled boxes stacked in every room. Boxes labeled “Kitchen” containing books, boxes labeled “Bedroom” filled with second hand pots and pans, but at least everything was inside

“Stop yelling at me.”

“You stop yelling at me.”

Emma bared her teeth. David’s, tall and lanky as he was, searched for cover. They were deeply in love but they had not yet learned how to argue.

A year ago they had first met when Emma had rushed in front of David to catch an elevator, ducking beneath his outstretched arm as she entered the car. That was the first day for both of them at their first real jobs.

Emma had been heavily recruited and was expected by all of her managers to do well. David had been hired on the outside chance that he would work out, his managers would not have been surprised if he had not. To say that they were stressed that first day is to understate the issue. Emma because of her great desire to impress – David because of his great fear. They rode the elevator to the thirty-fifth floor, the anticipation burning a deep memory.

A few days later, heading down the elevator, they encountered each other again. Emma’s hint of a smile giving David permission to break the ice.

“Hello,” he said, pushing the button for the ground floor; an even smaller hint froze the budding conversation.

Outside, as they walked, David found himself four steps behind her trying not to stare. When the light at Chestnut changed he almost bumped into her when she stopped just as he rushed to beat the light.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s you. You’re following me.”

“No. I’m just–“

“No. You’re following me,” she interrupted, smiling.


The light changed and they continued walking down 17th. When they both turned at Walnut she turned and said “You work at Blumenthal and Salam.”

“I just started.”

Within two weeks, David had asked her out. Emma had said yes.

The morning after the move the went for a walk. There was always something to see in Rittenhouse Square. Guitar players at the central fountain, the famous frog statue, its ears rubbed golden by the hands of children riding its back, the tall and majestic poplar trees lining the winding slate pathways, the homeless.

David and Emma walked slowly through the park. Emma led him over to watch the guitar players. They sat for a few minutes, finding it hard to actually hear due to the excessive clatter of the skateboarders jumping over the short walls surrounding the fountain.

Later they went shopping at a small market, taking home shrimp and linguini to make a home-cooked dinner. Eating at the small table that barely fit into the corner of the kitchen. After dinner David cleared the table, stacking the dishes neatly in the sink after a rinse; here they had rested, untouched, ever since.

The fight had started, later that night, when David asked “Can you please wash those?”

To which Emma had said, “No.”

This set off an impassioned argument about whose responsibility it was to do various household chores. At one point Emma had cried, saying she wished she had never moved in to this shitty little place, a comment to which David had taken great offense.

“It’s not a shitty little place,” he had said.

After nearly an hour David had gone into the front living room. He sat heavily on the couch, a new acquisition, turning on the television with the remote. The channel was tuned to the local PBS station – a nature show about Madagascar. David sat and watched for a moment, turning as Emma came into the room.

“How dare you leave the room. I was saying something to you. Turn that off.”

“Stop,” he pleaded.

“You can’t yell at me like that.” Emma stood in the doorway looking at the TV, David sitting on the couch in front of her.

“That is so weird,” she said referring to a small, Madagascarian mammal hanging from the branch of a tree. “What is that thing?”

“I don’t know. Some sort of mammal from Africa.”

“It’s weird. Look at its eyes,” she said, coming around the end of the couch, moving a pillow and sitting down next to him.

“Yeah.” Pausing. “Do you want me to change?”

“What?” She hadn’t heard.

“Do you want me to change?”


“The channel.”

“If you want,” she said, sinking deeper into the comfortable new cushions.