The kitchen was exact copy of the bathrooms with forest green thick paint covering upper parts where – theoretically – the splatter of spaghetti wouldn’t reach and the lower parts all struggled under weight of bathroom tiles. Including the common tables. Someone had left two matching glasses on the edge of half-clean sink, to compliment the Mexican El Muerto mural above the tile line.
I couldn’t pass the idea that they were put there deliberately to remind us of biological hazard awaiting for us should we dare to use it.
The steaming pot was sending off stress signals instead of good appetizing scents. Whoever was owner of this tiny brave little chap was about to lose both the pot and their lunch.
Or, correction, the lunch was beyond saving. The rice it had contained had permanently disfigured its bottom together with the plastic knob on top, like cherry on the cake, which was slowly oozing away over the curve of the cover.
Despite the overwhelming heat I was greeted with, I tried to save the little buster and used the old towel to push it aside. It was too hot to transport to the sink in the other end of the kitchen, but at least the cherry would stop melting.
Somebody’s hurried steps reached the doorway and I turned in time to see a tall blond girl in training suit.
“Oh thank god!” she sighed with ease and came hurrying to the three stoves that decorated the middle of the room. They were also the only furniture in the room which wasn’t part of the walls.
I blocked her hands. “It’s still hot, let it cool a bit.”
Her shoulders slumped, but she pulled back while I kept asking myself what was wrong with them? Had something gone wrong in the gene pool after our generation was left out of the mud holes? She could see it was hot! Still steaming! Yet she came after it, ready to grab it. I checked her hands discreetly to see if this was her normal behavior.
She folded them under her tiny breasts and leaned against the wall side table. “I keep forgetting to check it! Hadn’t mom called me, I’d completely blocked it out of my mind! Thank you,” she turned to me, “I would have lost the pot as well!”
“No problem.” I felt sarcastic, but I hoped it stayed out of my voice. This must be why she looked so good – she lost most of her meals.
“At least I’m world’s best pot scrubber!” she snorted.
I watched her blond pony tale swing behind her shoulders and the bangs that complimented her high cheekbones and pointy chin. She had three earrings running up to highest point of her ears and perfect soft smile finished with blue eyes matching with the outfit.
She observed my slumped figure with same eagerness. It made me squirm to have her attention all to myself. I quickly turned back to my meager dinner.
“How often do you cook here?” she asked, watching me crumble the stock cube in the pot and pulling myself up on the counter while we waited her pot to cool and mine to take up enough temperature to cook some pasta. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you! Admins, they really don’t like us sitting here and they can be, ugh, nasty about it.”
I crooked an eyebrow, but subjected to her suggestion and slid down. There was a nice baritone coming through the floor from the cellar, probably from the men’s bathroom and responding heavy female voice counting philosophical laws, but that was about all the sounds you could hear at this hour. Had it been Wednesday, it would be strange, but for Tuesday that seemed to be normal occurrence.
She shifted from her left leg to her right.
“So…” She seemed to hate silence and for that I was grateful. “You saw our main freak show already?”
I gathered she meant the Sunday’s entertainment.
“How often do we enjoy that?”
She snorted. “You live close to it?”
“Four doors down the corridor.”
“I live near the stairs.” She paused. “Well! The easiest is to watch the rats – if they run through your room without stopping, you can bet they are running from the nuclear shit flood. But isn’t it great? You never see those toilets as clean as after they get jammed! Not more than few times in a semester. Usually they get to it before it gets that bad. It only happens if it blocks up and then someone uses another one above it.”
I breathed in harsh. “We have rats?”
She pointed on the painted bleeding sign above the two huge pins. “No feeding the pets!”
“Great.” I drawled, stomach lurching. Cockroaches I could handle – my first roommate had them for pets in a large terrarium, but rats that were not listed as officially groomed and flee free, those caused me problems.
“Don’t worry! They’re not that bad! They’re not even the regular kind around here! Mimosa said she saw several with white spotted coats! I guess the scientist guy really lost his lab rats two years ago, but I thought it was his way to ask girls out. He was the sort of quirky nerd type, but his body…” she melted lower and tossed her head back, cooling in the flow coming through the glassless window behind us. “Sorry, had a crush on him for a while, but then hit the sack and well, got over it! Fast…”
She didn’t sound as if she was over it, but I tried to keep myself interested. She was the best chance I would get to task about the footprints.
“When was the walls repainted?” I inquired, trying to change the topic.
“What – you want to hire them?”
“Heh, not exactly…” I agreed it was horrible. “There is pair of strange footprints running from the stairs to my room. I was wondering if there is a story behind it.”
The baritone in the bathrooms stopped and the quiet humming in the pipes ended with it.
“It happened two years ago, I don’t know. They finished for the evening, I heard someone running up and down, flying against the wall and next day these had dried in the varnish. Cute, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” I pushed away from the counter to deal with the boiling water, “cute…” I could see in the back of my mind an image of big wings and a painted paw to go with it and it made goose bumps appear on my hands.
“All sort of things happen here!” She sighed and walked by, took her pot and skipped away. She looked eager to share and I didn’t have the heart to stop her. “Have you heard about the fires?”
“I haven’t got around much…” I said, before realizing what she said and who they probably meant. The fighters in room 224.
“There was fire two months ago! Three different rooms flamed up in the middle of the night! They said it was an arsonist, but I don’t know. Nobody died. The rooms weren’t empty, all their belongings burnt in, but none of the guys. Apparently all five of them were on some guy’s bachelor party. All I’m saying – how did the arsonist know?”
She shrugged and looked away, my eyes wide on her indifferent face. I think I missed blinking, because I forgot to breathe.
“The only way to deal with it is to keep your room locked if you don’t want any wild parties!” Her eyes fell on my thin neck. “If you keep chewing on your curls, you’ll destroy that heavy money hairdo!”
“I-ugh…” I pulled the ends out of my mouth. “They’re my own.” I tend to chew on them, when I got nervous.
The lights in the corridors went out and cold spread over my back as if I was wearing nothing. Her lightened mood gave me more concern over the type of house I’d moved in than the conditions of the rooms. If the roof fell down on us, that would be a good day compared with other surprised my head was swarming with.
I checked the watch and had four minutes until it was done. That would give me enough time to visit the dreaded place, so I ran there to get more time alone, before coming to a halt in what seemed to be trickery of the eye.
The bathrooms had no doors.
I blinked. I tried to remember if I’d seen them here the last time I was here, but I couldn’t trust my memory anymore.
The bathrooms had no doors! Our floor was prettily clean – thanks to nuclear shit fountain as the girl in the kitchen explained – but she forgot to mention that little detail. No doors!
I ran in the front desk, where the new thin librarian was busy reading her book, forgetting completely the pasta on the stove.
“There are no doors!”
She took a deep sigh and looked up, completely bored with my question already. I felt like fish out of the water. Was this normal, too?
“Yes, they were taken away in the afternoon to dry.”
“To… dry? They looked fine yesterday.” And that was the day after the cleanup.
“Yes, to dry. Didn’t you see how much they swell yesterday?”
“I’m sorry, no…” I backed away from the front desk with her stare as my companion. She must have thought I was daft! I was beginning to think that myself now.
I remembered the macaronis. I didn’t think I was away that long, but they were all neatly mushed into one thick sludgy porridge.
“Lesson of the ages,” I let out, gritting my teeth, “don’t turn your back on the stove.”
I wished it had been less true or that they would provide us with better cooking utensils, but with clientele like her and non-stop black circles around the plates, I doubted that dream will ever see reality.