Excerpt from Goodbye To All That

It was perfect.

All right, it was small. Three rooms, the ad claimed, but Ruth would hardly call the kitchen—an L-shaped configuration of Formica counters with painted metal cabinets above and below, a stove that had cooked at least twenty years worth of meals, a stainless-steel sink that wasn’t stainless and not even enough space for a table and chairs—an actual room. A cooking alcove, maybe. A galley. An applianced hallway. She could probably jam a small, square table into the corner, with one chair. Pushed all the way in, the chair wouldn’t block the doorway into the entry, at least not much. A second chair would interfere with the refrigerator.

Ruth didn’t need a second chair.

According to the rental agent, an unnaturally perky woman in a polyester suit that struck Ruth as a little too formal for the occasion, the living room was eighteen by twenty feet. Ruth would bet the diamond earrings Richard had given her for her fiftieth birthday that the agent was exaggerating by a few feet. And the carpet—it wasn’t quite shag, but the nap was longer than it should be. It reminded Ruth of how the front yard looked in the rainy early days of summer when the lawn service skipped a week of mowing because the ground was too wet. Ruth might not have minded the carpet’s uncut-grass length if it was also uncut-grass green. But it was a dull neutral shade, somewhere between taupe and khaki.

“It matches with everything,” the rental agent boasted.

It matches with nothing, Ruth thought.

The bedroom was small, too. Like the living room, it overlooked the parking lot. Beyond a hedge of yews bordering the lot was a broad four-lane avenue, and on the other side of the avenue was a strip mall with the First-Rate convenience store where Ruth would begin working next week.

Imagine: Ruth Bendel, a college graduate who’d written her honors thesis on Arcangelo Corelli’s use of suspended seconds, running a cash register at First-Rate.

Cash registers were complicated, she reminded herself. And even without having to master the buttons and scanners and “enters” and “deletes” on the cash register, Ruth would find the job challenging. The rituals, the responsibilities, the schedule, the social environment—everything would be different. Unfamiliar. A whole new way of life.

A double bed would just about fit inside this bedroom, she thought as she surveyed the bedroom. Only one closet, but it was wide and she didn’t have to share it with anyone. The apartment also had a coat closet in the entry and a walk-in closet adjacent to the bathroom, as well as access to its own locked storage cage in the building’s basement.

That would be enough, she assured herself as she did a mental calculation of just what she was planning to bring with her and what she would leave behind. She wouldn’t need that many clothes, really. At First-Rate she’d be wearing an official red apron over her outfit to identify her as a store employee. So there was little point in filling the apartment’s closets with chic ensembles.

Not that she’d ever been particularly chic. Once Frugal Fannie’s had gone out of business, she’d cut way back on buying trendy clothes. She couldn’t see spending a fortune on a fancy garment so distinctive she might only wear it once. Good, solid, clothes, classic styles that lasted forever—that was her preference, especially when they were on sale.

So she’d pack some slacks, a few skirts, a few sweaters and move them here. With her red First-Rate apron covering everything she had on under it, why knock herself out?

The closet would do, she decided as she shut its hinged panel doors and surveyed the room once more. A double bed, a dresser, a night table . . . It would all fit in somehow. And she could buy a couple of plastic bins and stash them under the bed. They were good for storing linens and sweaters.

Better yet, she could buy a platform bed with drawers built into the frame. She’d always thought platform beds were amazing. Such a smart use of space, and they seemed so . . . Swedish. Sweden was an idyllic country, politically progressive, with excellent health care and maternity-leave policies. The word Eden was tucked inside Sweden. That had to mean something.

Richard had always been opposed to platform beds. “A bed should consist of a mattress and a box-spring,” he’d insisted. “A platform topped with foam padding doesn’t offer the proper support.” Since he was a doctor, she was supposed to accept his opinion as scientific.

But all those Swedish people didn’t seem to be hobbling around like cripples. They were too busy skiing and playing hockey to kvetch about their bad backs. Platform beds were probably as orthopedically sound as any other bed. And extra storage space never hurt anyone.

What did Richard know, anyway? He was a cardiologist. Since when was he an expert on the subject of back support?

“There’s a laundry room in the basement,” the rental agent noted, hovering near the window as if she wanted to draw Ruth’s attention back to the spectacular view of the parking lot. “Very well lit, very safe. The buildings are secure. We’ve never had a problem here.”

Well, there was always a first time. Ruth had enough Russian blood in her to expect the worst. But how much more dangerous was this apartment than the house? Richard had installed an alarm system shortly after they’d moved in, and Ruth had screwed it up so many times, pushing the wrong buttons or the right buttons in the wrong order and accidentally summoning the police, who would then bill her a hundred dollars for the false alarm, that Richard had wound up having the system removed. What a waste. Ruth had never felt safer with it.

“This particular unit,” the rental agent said, “gets a lot of sunlight. It’s really a very bright unit.”

Ruth wished she wouldn’t call the apartment a “unit.” It was a residence, a dwelling. A home.

Not a home like the house where her children had grown up and where Richard still lived. Not a spacious colonial with rhododendrons and daffodils and spirea that Ruth herself had planted, and ancient pines bordering the backyard and towering above the roofline. Not a house with a kitchen big enough to prepare a Thanksgiving feast or a Seder for the whole family and a finished-basement rec room with a ping-pong table, and a formal living room that always looked pristine because it was so rarely used. Not a house with an elegant master bedroom suite, with two walk-in closets and a sleek fiberglass tub in the bathroom.

This place—this unit—was very bright. That would be enough.

It would be perfect.

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