Fort Knox

Marlene Lee

Oh, God. I've just arrived in Manhattan alone and I can't unlock the door to my new apartment.

This is how I imagined my first minutes in New York. But it doesn't happen that way, because when I change trains in Chicago, from the California Zephyr to the Lakeshore, I sit beside a friendly young Australian woman traveling in the United States. From Seattle to Chicago she hasn't been able to reach the Manhattan telephone number she was given, and so I invite her to put her sleeping bag in my empty apartment once we get there. She accepts, and I have my first guest. A guest who is good with keys.

"The super turned all of them the same way, the way you expect to turn a key in a lock," I say when we're standing on the stoop of my building, "except one, which turns the opposite way. I think it's the middle one. Once you're in," I add as encouragement, "it's just as hard to get out."

I rented this apartment during a visit in October. Now in November I'm back, ahead of the moving van, desperate to get into the apartment, desperate to change my life. So desperate that I've left my mate, Vince, back in our San Francisco house. Will I ever see him again? I am sixty and he is seventy-two. He doesn't like New York. He's from New York, unlike me who's from nowhere, but he doesn't want to leave San Francisco. We're too old for divorce. In fact, we're not married so we can't get a divorce.

So here I am, and, to my surprise, I'm not banging on the door, locked out, done in, or hysterical. I'm perfectly calm as I watch my new acquaintance from Australia handle the two outer and three inner locks.

"It's a little Fort Knox, isn't it," she observes, and thus my new home has a name. Fort Knox opens. We're in. It's just as I left it. Empty. And hot. The steam radiators are going full-blast. I love the place. It's a tiny stage, three levels. You could put a string trio in the loft behind the oak railing and have a party in the living room below. You could lick the back of the kitchen and affix it to an envelope.

© Marlene Lee

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