Ben H. Winters
“Hey, Al. Come look at this one.”
Susan Wendt studied the screen of her MacBook while her husband, Alex, paused the DVR and walked over to the kitchen table. He read the Craigslist ad over her shoulder and delivered a quick verdict: “Bull crap.” He cracked his knuckles and scootched behind her to get to the fridge. “It’s total bull crap, baby.”
“Gotta be. You want?”
He held up a Brooklyn Lager by the neck and waggled it back and forth. Susan shook her head, scanning the Craigslist ad with a slight frown. Alex opened the beer and went to crouch beside her. “It’s one of those where the broker lures you in and then goes, ‘Oh
“But wait,” she said, pointing at the screen again. “It’s not a broker. See? ‘For rent by owner.’ ”
Alex raised his eyebrows skeptically, took a swallow of the beer, and wandered back to the TV.
Their apartment search, now two and a half months old, had been her thing more than his all along. He felt that their current place, a one-bedroom-plus-office-nook off Union Square, was perfect. Or, if not perfect, then at least perfectly fine. And the idea of moving, the logistics and the packing and the various expenditures — it all made him want to tear his own head off. Or so he rather vividly expressed it.
“Plus,” Alex had argued, “I’m not sure this is the time to jack up our rent.”
Susan had been calm but insistent: it
Alex had relented, and “just looking” rapidly escalated into a full-on search. Every evening that summer, after Emma had her bath and went to bed, while Alex settled in for his nightly dose of god-awful reality television, Susan trolled Craigslist and Rentals.com and the
They’d found places they loved for way too much, places in their price range that they hated, and, for occasional variety, places they couldn’t afford and hated anyway. Last weekend they’d schlepped all the way to Red Hook, riding the F train to Smith and Ninth and then the B61 the rest of the way. The apartment they’d seen there, a converted artists’ loft on Van Brunt Street, was Susan’s favorite so far. It was footsteps from Fairway, cater- corner from a hipster bakery famous for its salted-caramel tarts, and featured a master bedroom with a thin slice of East River view.
But the apartment was forty-five minutes from the city, and with no utilities included it was just north of their budget.
“We really can’t push it on price,” Alex said, shaking his head. “Especially with you not working right now.”
Susan had smiled tightly, hiding her deep disappointment at his veto. She’d been increasingly and painfully aware, as the apartment search continued, that she had little leverage on the question of cost. It was true — she
“Thirty-five-fifty?” Alex snorted, fast-forwarding through a commercial break. “Bull crap, baby. Guaranteed.”
When Alex, Susan, and Emma arrived on Cranberry Street a little before their scheduled appointment at 10:30 the next morning, Andrea Scharfstein was waiting for them on the top step of her front stoop, reading the Sunday
“Look at this! Right on time,” she said approvingly, glancing down at her watch. Susan unbuckled Emma and scooped her out so Alex could fold the Maclaren. “I like you people already.”
“Hi!” called Emma, climbing the tall steps with an exaggerated, marching stride, clinging to the banister. “I’m Emma.”
“Of course you are, dear! And a lovelier specimen of Emma I’ve never seen. Did you pick your name?”
“No!” Emma giggled. “My mama and dada picked it.”
“Good for them. My name is Andrea.”
Alex followed Emma, steadying her with a hand at the small of her back, while Susan lingered at the bottom, taking in the facade. The house at 56 Cranberry Street had steep concrete front steps, ascending from a little black wrought-iron gate to the oversized front door, which was painted in a rich and pleasing orangey red. Surrounding the stoop was a front garden, overgrown with azaleas, crab grass, and small flowering trees. The house itself was red brick, with wooden shutters framing neat lines of windows, three per floor. There were window boxes, growing what looked like herbs, in the windows of the first-floor apartment — Andrea’s apartment.
“You folks move quickly, I’ll give you that,” said Andrea Scharfstein, shaking their hands briskly. “You called maybe five minutes after I wrote that ad. Or what am I supposed to say? After I ‘posted’ it. Anyway, ten minutes, at the most.” Andrea’s hand in Susan’s was dry and papery. She spoke quickly, with a voice that was thin and the slightest bit gravelly, like she was on the verge of a cough. Beneath the bushy mass of hair, her face was a map of small lines and spots — from her face and body, which was slight and stooped, Susan would have put Andrea at seventy or older. But there was a sharpness and snap about her movements, a vigor that defied her physical appearance.