Kevin Takes the Stairs
Not because he’s overweight, although he is.
Nor because of the disgust he would feel stepping into the elevator, looking at the panel of buttons with the whole apartment building’s germs on them. Sharing that box of air with someone who rushed through the front door waving while he looked down at the two little triangles pointing in toward each other.
He takes them not, by any means, because he finds their decrepitude charming.
(Maybe he does, a little.)
No. Kevin takes them because it’s Kevin time, a few precious last moments on his way up to floor eight, as high as it gets.
A few moments with the neutral sound of his own thoughts, the echoes of his feet, the smoothness of his breathing. The stillness of the whole stairwell column that he’s never seen so much as a jogger inside of. It’s the disregarded, out-of-the-way stairwell, down at the end of the hall toward the rear corner of the building; maybe that’s why.
As an experiment directed at the maintenance office he thinks about leaving some of his urine in the stairwell but he would hate to set a precedent for that kind of thing. What would be next? A dead ferret?
At least he would only have to smell it twice a day then.
What he certainly doesn’t think about are things like unmade bed sheets and the grease-cleaning power of America’s best-selling dish soap brand, whose website explains how to hand-wash dishes for anyone so pathetic as to not know. Also, how to hand-wash baby bottles.
Kevin thinks instead of tranquility. The third floor is the loud floor, where the doors slam most often. Even at his pace there must be some Doppler effect to the loud chunking of the doors as he approaches and passes the turnoff, happily indifferent to the steady weakening of the screws that hold their strike plates to the jamb. Kevin doesn’t know if the screaming matches of three are happening live and in person or coming in through the cable hookup. Notwithstanding the occasional gunshots and other sound effects, he has no idea.
He carries his groceries, exactly the amount he can carry up in one trip. Kevin thinks: isn’t buy-one-get-one always the offer? He used to believe expiration dates were overemphasized, but he has come around on that fact. He does not tend to think metaphorically in that way. He thinks: in sex work the marketing should be lose-one-buy-one, as people would appreciate the gallows humor in that. Kevin wonders about the holes in his grocery bags, the intentional ones with their flapping tabs left there from the way the bags were partially punctured. There would need to be so many more of them—the holes—for the bags not to obstruct an airway. There are bags for sale that have no holes in them whatsoever, bleach for sale, pizza cutters and sleeping pills for sale. There are cars, trucks, busses that hurtle down roadways.
One foot in front of the other.
Kevin keeps an eye out for old chewing gum.
The cans clink and the plastic sounds like crisp snow moving up the stairs.
Something is on television right now, something Kevin doesn’t care for. Someone is winning a new dining room set. This person claps at every last thing. They could go home empty-handed, clapping. They could come over to Kevin’s place, bid on his dusty blinds and rose-scented shampoo, what’s left of it. They would have to take the stairs, though.
It’d be good for them anyhow.
Somebody once put a Mr. Yuk sticker on the handrail near the fifth-floor landing. It started out bright green but has sickened over time into something faded and brown like bile. Kevin makes the face at it when he gets there, his tongue out and his eyes squinted. But when he relaxes back into a flat-mouthed mask he knows that Mr. Yuk, who did not even see him pass by, has won the contest.
The grocery bags tug a little on his shoulders and it’s a negotiation to keep them off his sides without tiring his arms. His armpits are warm and they smell. The idea of tennis elbow recedes back into mythology.
He thinks to himself: what if the apartment caught on fire? Straight back down he’d go, eyes forward. Eventually the refrigerator door would fall off and the jars of condiments would explode, and someone else could pick through the charred olives in the rubble or eat the glass for all he cared. In the interest of time and safety he’d let the fire alarms warn the neighbors. He’d be off the bottom stair before anyone knew.
He makes it to eight. The old woman, the one who always wears a cardigan, offers to open Kevin’s door for him when she sees that his hands are full with groceries. He silently asks the question: does she never lock her door? Is that why she thinks that I don’t? Kevin supposes it’s sweet of her, and maybe in her old-minded way she thinks the apartment is unlocked because there’s someone else currently at home, inside, whom she hasn’t seen in the hallway of late, opening a window and letting the bugs in.