Mrs. Powalski was tired. The young girl in the upstairs apartment had spent sunrise to sunset pacing up and down the floorboards, blanketing Mrs. Powalski’s bedroom ceiling with merciless footsteps.
“It ain’t got nothing to do with my handy-work,” Horace grunted, bits of kolaczki crumbs tumbling from his mouth and into his beard. “If I was you, I’d talk with her and see what’s really going on. Suppose it ain’t got nothing to do with locks and doors…” Horace twirled his finger around his sweat stained Red Sox cap, whistling and crossing his eyes…”if you know what I mean.”
Mrs. Powalski sighed, picking up the cookie tray from the kitchen table. She offered to wrap up a small plate for Horace to take home with him, but he declined, stuffing one more kolaczki into his mouth and dropping another one into an empty pouch on his tool belt.
Mrs. Powalski wondered if Horace was right. Afterall, the young girl in the upstairs apartment was a stranger to Mrs. Powalski – a first time tenant who had only been in the building since the beginning of the month. It was possible that she had some mental issues unbeknownst to Mrs. Powalski -“probably a bit loopy” as Horace had put it earlier.
Mrs. Powalski walked Horace out of the building, watching him saunter up to his rusted Ford pick-up truck, throwing his tool box into the back bed. Horace waved, starting the engine to the Ford, “Let me know if you need anything else, Mrs. Powalski. I’ll be by Thursday to look at the plumbing on the second floor.”
A groaning rumble escaped from Horace’s pickup truck as it pulled down the street, leaving Mrs. Powalski alone on the front stoop, her arms crossed over her floral-print apron.
This had been the third time this week that the young girl had asked Mrs. Powalski to change the locks on her apartment. Originally, Mrs. Powalski had thought the changing of the locks was a cautious contingency on the young girl’s part. “You have nothing to worry about, my dear,” Mrs. Powalski had told the young girl , watching her as she autograph on the lease, “Everyone in the building is very kind. I only rent to good, wholesome people.”
A few days later the young girl knocked on Mrs. Powalski’s door asking that the locks be changed. When Mrs. Powalski asked why, the young girl held up her cell-phone. Mrs. Powalski squinted at the cell phone through her thick-rimmed glasses, focusing in on a picture of the young girl sleeping in bed. Mrs. Powalski shook her head, “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t understand.”
“Somebody took this picture of me last night,” the young girl said, pointing at the picture on her cell phone, “But nobody else was in my apartment last night. I was alone.”
Mrs. Powalski could see that the young girl was clearly frightened. She called up Horace to replace the locks that day.
Two days later, there was another knock on Mrs. Powalski’s door. When Mrs. Powalski opened the door, the young girl stood there once again, bags under her eyes and hair in tangles, holding up her cell-phone to Mrs. Powalski. On it was another blurry picture of the young girl sleeping in bed.
“Those were brand new locks,” Mrs. Powalski explained. “Horace installed them just the other day. Nobody else had a key to them.”
“Well somebody was in my apartment – again,” the young girl said, her hands shaking.
Mrs. Powalski watched Horace’s Ford disappear from sight down the road, her eyelids feeling increasingly heavy. Maybe the young girl was of an unsound mind. The way that she had paced around her apartment all last night like a bull? Convinced that somebody else is in the apartment and taking pictures of her while she’s sleeping?
A cab pulled up to the building. Mrs. Powalski squinted her eyes. The young girl stepped out of the back of the cab, holding a suitcase. Mrs. Powalski greeted her as she walked up to the porch.
“Have the locks been changed?” the young girl asked.
“Yes, my dear,” Mrs. Powalski replied, “Horace just finished up. You didn’t talk with him earlier today?”
The young girl shook her head. “No, I just got back from my parents. I stayed there last night – didn’t feel safe in the apartment. I’m sure you understand.”
Mrs. Powalski furrowed her brow, looking past the young girl.
“Was anyone else staying in the apartment last night?” Mrs. Powalski asked
“No,” the young girl replied, “Why?”