Taco hadn’t noticed anything odd about his first trip out to Betty Youngblood’s apartment, in the rapidly developing Yankee Meadows development project. He’d seen posters all over the city, showing off the luxury high rise buildings with names like the Babylon Tower or The Vine. They took a cab at three in the morning to Tidewater Garden, just off the river.
He’d noticed that she’d had to put a key in the panel near the automatic door, but she’d only said it was because they had a little extra security at night. After that he was too busy taking in the cavernous lobby, with a magenta marbled floor and a hanging installation of brightly colored, semi translucent blown glass, tied together with copper branches. A long, unmanned front desk led to an elevator bank.
She lived on the 33rd floor, and leaned her head against Taco’s shoulder, while the elevator lifted them gently enough to conceal the rising sensation of rising high above the street level.
The chocolate and peanut butter colored hallway was profoundly quiet. Taco felt buried in silence as everybody must have already gone to bed. She led him to 3318, her apartment, with a view facing the suburbs to the west side of the river, as scattered lights dotted the ground, gradually spacing out further until they reached the edge of the swamplands. They made out on her couch, and made love in her bed, then slept, unbothered by the rising sun that illuminated the sky from the other side of her building.
She asked him if he wanted breakfast, but Taco had to get back to his apartment. He put on his clothes, kissed her on the cheek and promised her that he’d call her later. He walked through the still profoundly quiet hallway, wondering if the apartments were soundproof. It was 10 in the morning, and he assumed that somebody was up watching television or taking a shower. He took a smooth elevator ride all the way to the lobby without a stop, and walked into the lobby, where a startled man behind the desk pulled himself up from whatever he’d been reading as soon as he heard his footsteps.
Taco walked to the train station, 15 minutes away. His stomach was grinding against itself. He needed a deli or a smoothie shop, and would have settled for a grocery store, or even an overpriced diner, but couldn’t found nothing on the way to the subway station.
He returned the next weekend. Empty lobby, with the same man working the front desk. Not knowing if he needed to, he walked up to the counter and wanted to tell the person he was visiting Betty, but before he could get a word out the man nodded and said “3318.” He rode the silent elevator thinking about the man behind the desk. In the moment, he had just assumed that the man had recognized him from the previous week, but realized he hadn’t seen him enter the building with Betty. Had he been picked up on a hallway camera?
Again, the walk to her apartment was stone silent. Taco stopped and listened for any other ambient sounds. He waited until his focusing ear managed to pick up the ticking of the second hand turning in his watch. He walked over to 3318 and knocked on the door.
That he heard her, only slightly muffled, coming through the door, was evidence that the apartments weren’t soundproofed.
Betty opened the door with a smile, while he looked down the hallway toward the elevator.
“Get in here.”
He grabbed her by the waist and gave her a kiss, but he kept his eyes open when she closed hers.
He walked over to the window and took a look outside. Betty had stepped into her kitchen, as he watched tiny cars driving along the road in the suburbs.
“It’s a really nice building.”
“Thanks.” Betty walked out of the kitchen holding onto a pair of wine glasses. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m not rich or anything.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
“I got a deal on the place.”
“Hey, I wanted to ask you about something. When I was downstairs, the man at the desk.”
“Okay. Ricky seemed to know I was coming up to see you.”
Betty nodded and took a sip. “Well I’m the only one living here.”
“Yeah. Just me. I think they had somebody take a look at a unit on the eighth floor a few months back, but nothing came of it.”
Taco considered the 32 empty floors beneath. The gigantic lobby. The elevators that would still rise another 15 floors above to, what she said was a completely unused penthouse suite level.
“What’s wrong with the building?”
“With the building, nothing. But we’re situated in a little bit of a desert, aren’t we? I didn’t realize it when I signed the lease, but when you think about it, there’s really nothing out there. No restaurants, not shops, nothing. I talked to Ricky who told me about how they had developed this huge plot of land. I guess it used to be factories or some industrial zone. And the idea was they’d get a load of these new luxury high rises, but nobody wanted to move in. Except me.”
Taco looked outside to the empty tennis courts below, on the lower level roof of the building. They had planned a date night at her place. She’d cook for him, and they’d watch a few horror movies. Taco relaxed and watched the sun set over the horizon. The orange glow lit her entire studio.
“There were lights on. That time that when we took the taxi. I remember that some of the windows were lit. I would have noticed a completely dark building.”
“Yeah. They stage apartments so that other people might move in. Plus, I think a few of the residents in the other buildings were getting creeped out by a dark building with only one apartment lit at night.”
Taco considered all the apartments in this building. Thousands. Completely unused. It felt as though they were miles away from anybody, even if there were a busy subway station four blocks away. They made love, with his mind on the vacancy of the building. Afterward, he laid in bed with the horror movie still playing.
“How long is your lease for?”
“Do you ever get lonely?”
“Well you’re here.”
“Yeah, but it’s just such a big building. Completely unused.”
“Look, I had a friend and they lived in a building like this. They weren’t hanging out with their neighbors. They never even saw them. So what’s the difference?”
“Well they at least had neighbors.”
“Yeah, to complain about the noise.”
“Do you ever just walk around the hall on the other floors?”
Betty lifted herself up to a seated position on the mattress so she could look at Taco. “No. Why the hell would I do something so weird?”
“I don’t know. I might.”
She laughed and the warmth of her smile gave Taco a chance to exhale. He looked up at the empty ceiling.
“Come on.” She grabbed Taco by the hand and led him off the bed. “Get dressed.”
He did as he was told, while she wrapped herself in a button down shirt and slid into a pair of jeans. She grabbed her flip flops, and led him to the elevator. They rode up to the 48th floor, and walked down an equally quiet hallway. Quieter, Taco thought at first, knowing that all of the apartments were empty instead of all but one. They reached a doorway, which led to a staircase, which led to the roof deck. Taco stood, surrounded by the spires of skyscrapers at eye level. He walked over toward the railing and looked out through the alleys between the giant buildings and listened to the sound of traffic, peacefully churning far below.
And he saw Betty at his side, her smile joining the bright lights of the buildings in the background.
“I got freaked out when I found out that I was the only person living here. Until I found this.”
Taco took in a deep breath. He walked around the building and watched a lazy boat, blinking it’s light and slowly trolling down the river. A breeze touched his hair, and broke the heat of the midsummer city.
“Yeah. Let’s go back inside.”