We huddle against a wooden fence in Rhinebeck, clutching our paper sacks protectively. Given that the Sinterklaas parade is still twenty minutes from beginning, Amber and I begin to eat our feast of bagel sandwiches and tater tots, the quickest food we could rustle up among the frigid throng.
"You are warm. Very warm," she says, squeezing my arm as if to induce me to release more body heat to keep her toasty.
"Homeostasis," I say, then lift my Styrofoam cup to my lips. "And free hot cider. That helps."
A woman passes my current sight line who has managed to fit a size ten ass into a size five skirt, so I ask Amber, "What do you think would be the worst song to request at a wedding? I'm thinking 'Fat Bottom Girls'."
"'You're Having My Baby'?" she guesses without a pause.
"What about 'Dude Looks Like a Lady'?"
Given that I have just spent so long reading Ender's Game to Amber at her craft fair that my throat is sore, I am feeling keenly fond. I feel, perhaps without sufficient justification, that today provided a fair glimpse of what our life will be like once we move in together by the end of the month. Though I had tried to experimentally provoke panic at this significant step after having known one another less than half a year, it will not take. She feels overwhelmingly right and makes this new life I am entering into feel all the easier. I feed her a tater tot and cuddle against her more.
The next day, we carry boxes to my car. I have been purloining cardboard boxes from a liquor store to pack up those possessions I do not currently need. My living room - and there is little more to my current apartment but living room - is stacked three feet deep. I try to leave the lighter boxes for her - those full of a stuffed Cthulhu or random closet junk rather than those packed with books - but Amber is too eager to be helpful, so she hoists those that strain her. Within twenty minutes, my apartment is nearly bereft of books and my car must weight at least three hundred pounds more (and feels every ounce of it). My apartment does not look much emptier and will not for another week of packing and transporting. I do not yet feel a weight (three hundred pounds of it) lifted off my shoulders.
We drive straight to Germantown with our load. A landlady called earlier in the day and said her husband could meet us in a few hours. We have found that most of the complexes in the area are outside our likely price range thanks to the proximity to a private college and so have turned to Craigslist. We search maps to figure out how many miles there are between my new job and any potential home, as I do not have snow days.
I find it curious that everything is now fixated on a single imaginary pin: where I have been hired. In the past, I considered potential jobs based on whether they would pull me further from my partner (Melanie primarily, as Emily was a bit more flexible and autonomous). Now I have a partner who is portable, who looks to begin an adult life with me (albeit an adult life within a couple of dozen minutes from her mother) wherever works best for us. She has no job but artist and is well finished with her collegiate education.
I am briefly infatuated with this first apartment because I see it through the eyes of one who has spent the last three years in a studio apartment that fell apart (one that I am positive has a black mold problem in the walls because my former landlord refused to fix obvious water damage and gaping holes in the ceiling, deciding to leave these for the company to whom he sold out). Amber sees it through the eyes of someone who presently lives in a house and thus finds this space cramped. For $50 less than I wanted to spend only on rent, we would get a partially furnished one bedroom with all utilities taken care of. And, yes, there is a part of me that simply wants this process over as quickly as I can manage it. I had initial terror that I had to move at all, nagging worry that I would not be able to find an apartment that is close enough to my job and in our price range. It seemed so massive a task to have to perform while acclimating to a new job, but there is no other way. This apartment more than satisfies my basal needs, even if it is obvious the landlord presumes I am eighteen and in need of parental supervision.
When he shows us the view from the backyard, seventy acres of forest ending at the Hudson River with only the Catskill Mountains blocking the horizon, I do my best to keep composed and not hand him all my money. He gives us paperwork and, just as we get in the car, we receive a call about another apartment twenty minutes away.
We arrive at Apartment Two and I am startled for a moment that it is not an apartment. No, it is a cabin. A self-enclosed building with a roof and no other residents. It had not occurred to me that this would be an option, let alone for $105 less than our top rent.
A woman - not the landlord - shows us around the building. She details that the only thing included is well water, every other utility would be our responsibility. When I press her as to the presumed cost of heating this cabin, she becomes cagey and refuses to divulge. She explains that a tree recently fell on the roof and they are still cleaning up the floor, which she assures us she had just waxed and washed despite the dirt. She mentions that the lawn would be ours and therefore our responsibility for mowing, which is to say that she will do it for $20 a week. She leaves us to wander about it at our leisure while we fill out a rental application. Amber will not say whether or not she especially likes this place, but it certainly is roomy. As she writes, I begin taking pictures of the dimensions, then of the damage and flaws I see (mold, broken plaster, no doors on the top cabinets, plywood drawers on the bottom, nothing but rotten boards for the front and back porch). Though there is talk of there being a boat in the back we can use, I am reticent given how much work this place would plainly need, work the landlord had obviously felt unnecessary before having this woman show it off.
We are momentarily stymied as to our next move, which turns into going to the center of Red Hook and checking the corkboards outside any grocery store or cafe. As we do, I point out to Amber where bits of my books have taken place. "That's the gas station where Roselyn calls the police, that's the White Rabbit Cafe in the story, over there is the Red Hook Diner--"
"That vampires run," she adds.
"Yes, though possibly not really. And that is Shane's apartment."
"So, we could live in Shane's apartment?" she asks.
"Have you ever been inside of it?"
I look up at the window. "Once. My friend Sarah lived there. I think it looks vaguely as I described it. It has been a while."
The corkboards end up being dead ends, since we are not looking to replace or find pets or attend classes in vegan cookery. The wandering is not, as we pass a couple of "For Rent" signs, all of which I promptly call.
Night is drawing in and I am due at a meeting for an anthology project in a couple of hours. I buy Amber dinner at the Apple a Day Diner and try to process.
As the waitress brings us the check, she asks if she can get us anything else.
"Yes, actually," I say. "Do you live in an apartment? If so, do you like your landlord?"
She reports that she does for both and, in short order, produces the landlady's phone number. I look at it and instantly recognize it as one we had already called in our wandering. I leave a big tip for the help.
The landlady - who seems to rent out half the buildings in town - calls the next day and says she has a one bedroom in town, but can only show it when I am working. This means that she can only show it to Amber and I will have to trust my lover to judge it well enough.
Days later, the land lady leaves the apartment over for me to see with Amber. It is not too small, not too far from anything much, nor too likely to fall apart during our occupancy. I ask Amber if she likes it.
"Sure. I guess," she says.
"Not good enough," I state. "We have to live here for a while and there is no heat and hot water included. I need you to be confident."
"Yes, I like it," she clarifies.
"Say you love it."
"I like it," she maintains.
"Fine, then. That will do." I begin to plan where our things will go and make my girlfriend stand in corners that I may measure in units of Standard Ambers. We have our first apartment and I wish this meant I felt the weight lifting, but I know this is only the beginning.
Soon in Xenology: Moving.