“Oh, come on! You’ve got to be kidding me!”
My new neighbor was not making a great first impression.
He’d parked a bike on our shared landing. At least, I was assuming it was a he because it was a man’s bike, and I highly doubted a woman would be quite so inconsiderate—plus he was the prime suspect since we were the only two who split the top floor of an old Victorian house.
Men in general tended to annoy me, so I’d probably be adding this one to my list. Maybe it was a result of surrounding myself with too many assholes. I had just begun doctoral studies in bioethics, a field chock-full of academic men who were pretty certain they were smarter than the other men in the program, and completely positive about the few women.
I was used to those types. Didn’t mean I liked them, but their brand of sexism was familiar. I found them to be a mild bother rather than a true obstacle.
Arms weighed down with a box of books, I growled at the bike, hoping if I sounded threatening enough, it would spontaneously move out of my way.
“Larissa, move your ass, this box is heavy as shit!”
I glanced over my shoulder at my sister, Helena. “I’m kind of trapped. There’s a huge bike blocking my path.”
“Then move the damn bike so I can put this fucking thing down! My arms are about to snap right the fuck off.”
Setting down my box on the very edge of the landing, I held it in place with my knees while attempting to shove the bike to the side. And it moved all right. The bike was apparently a lot lighter than it looked and my, well, vigorous shove sent it crashing into the opposite wall, then falling on its side.
“Oof! I moved it!”
Helena nudged me with her box. “Good, now get up there and unlock your fucking door.”
I slid the box across the landing with my feet, fished my new key out of my coat pocket, and unlocked my apartment door. Helena pushed past me and casually tossed the box she’d been carrying onto the floor. Luckily it was filled with more of my books, so chances were nothing was broken—although I started to question if she really cared.
“Oh, thank fuck. I don’t know why I agreed to help you move,” she said.
“Because you wanted me out of your house as soon as possible?”
She cackled. “Oh, right. That’s why.”
My sister was a study in contradictions. Ten years older than me, she looked like the typical suburban mom—and she was in some ways. She had three kids, lived deep in the ‘burbs of Baltimore, was president of the PTA and member of the women’s club at her Temple. She also wrote BDSM romance novels under her real name and had the filthiest dirty mouth of anyone I knew. She had absolutely no shame about any of it, and I kind of wanted to be her when I grew up.
“You know you’re gonna miss me snuggling between you and John every night while the three of us watched TV,” I said.
“Fuck no, I’m not. I love you, Riss, but you seriously cramp my style.”
Since I’d moved down from New York to start school in Baltimore, I’d been camping out in Helena and her husband’s guest room. Maybe I’d be ready for the suburban lifestyle in ten years, but I was still at the stage of my life where I needed a city to breathe life into my veins. Baltimore wasn’t quite New York, but it had its own charms. It was Charm City, after all.
“You are coming over for the first night of Hanukkah though, right?”
We walked back down the stairs to bring up another load from Helena’s minivan.
“When is that?” I asked absently.
“Riss, it’s tomorrow. John’s making latkes.”
I picked up another box—this one was full of linens—and started back up the stairs with my sister on my heels.
“You were just saying that I cramped your style, and now you’re inviting me back to your house?”
“It’s the holidays! It’s a mitzvah to invite lonely people with nowhere else to go to your home to celebrate.”
I snorted. “And I qualify as one of these lonely people?”
We set our boxes down in my otherwise empty living room and Helena turned to me with her hands on her hips. “Well, do you have anywhere else to go?”
“I don’t. But I have a menorah somewhere in these boxes. I’ll manage.” I blew an errant lock of my wild hair out of my face. “Besides, Hanukkah isn’t even a major holiday. Now, if we were talking Passover, my ass would be parked at your table, cramming my face with Grandma’s brisket.”
“All right. You’re always welcome, though.”
I snorted. “As long as I leave after dinner, right?”
“Hell fucking yes! When the kids go to bed, it’s no-pants time. Do you have any idea the sacrifice it was to wear pants all the time when you lived with me?”
“And I deeply appreciate it. I don’t think I could ever look John in the eyes again if I had to see him walking around in his tighty-whities.”
Helena gasped. “How dare you! John wears boxer briefs.”
“Oh no, that is not information I ever needed to have.”
We trekked down the stairs for another load.
“What time are the movers coming?” she asked.
“Who knows? They gave me one of those wide time frames that’ll leave me trapped in the apartment all day. And I’ll get to repeat the torture while I wait for the cable guy tomorrow.”
This time Helena was in the lead back up the stairs. “Why the fuck do you have so many books, Riss? And why do I keep picking the boxes filled with them?”
I scoffed. “You’re a writer and you’re asking me why I have so many books?”
She threw down the box on my worn oak floors. “Dude, I make my living selling ebooks. No one buys paperbacks, let alone hardbacks.”
Arching a brow, I said, “Number one, that’s not true. And number two, I’ve been in college for a decade. I’ve collected books like my peers with office jobs collect staplers...or whatever it is people with office jobs collect.”
Helena kicked the box. “Whatever. They’re too fucking heavy.”
* * *
My sister and I made several more trips up and down the stairs before she ditched me, leaving me to sit on the floor amidst my piles of books and towels. The movers finally came a few hours later with my meager furniture that had been living in storage in New York for the past few months.
Once they’d gone and I’d eaten half a pizza on my own, I had just enough energy to unpack one of the numerous boxes of books and haphazardly place them on a bookshelf.
Since reaching adulthood, Hanukkah was a holiday I mostly ignored. No one was buying me eight presents for eight nights anymore, so I just couldn’t get it up for lighting the candles. But I had to admit, I sometimes missed the tradition of it all. As a kid, I would sit and watch the candles slowly burn down until there was only a tiny flicker at the very bottom. I was always amazed how long that final flame lasted. And even now, whenever I blew out a candle, that thickly pungent scent of smoke took me back not to birthdays, but to Hanukkah.
So, maybe this year I would light the candles and say the prayers. I wasn’t a cook and couldn’t make a latke to save my life, but damn if a crisp potato pancake didn’t sound delicious right now.
As I lay in my old bed in my new home, I was a little excited about the week to come. I had writing to do for school, but didn’t have to go to class. So I could stay home, get my shit together, and have a quiet, peaceful Hanukkah for the first time in a long time.