In time for Halloween.
Copyright ©William Auten
Electrical problems on floors three through five flood my phone when I clock in after sunset. Unit 417 wonders if rats are building nests in our walls after the city demoed the hotels across the street. Poison, not traps, he suggests before closing his door, because the snapping will wake his girlfriend’s newborn.
Mrs. Hix leaves a voicemail while I remove a panel to inspect wires. “I know you’re down there. Please come up. I need help in here.”
I’ve never been inside her place. All the work I’ve done for her has been exterior: paint, burned-out ceiling lights, mud and leaves tracked in her hall, especially during winter rains. I’ve never seen her enter or exit the complex. Any of her interior maintenance started and ended with my predecessor who handed the skeleton key to me on my first day. “All she’s got left are the ravens on her windows.”
Last summer I knocked to let her know I’d repair the HVAC before temps turned up. The previous heatwave hospitalized several residents. Not all of them returned. I trashed the stuff their families never came for. Of those who came back, most of them struggle walking to Social Security. “If it gets too hot, I’ll use my broomstick to get out,” Mrs. Hix told me, smiling through her cracked door. Her voice warbled then but not as much as in her second voicemail in less than ten minutes. “Hurry. Please.” She wheezes like my wife’s tío Jimmy.
I double-check the panel screws and load my tool cart. The elevator moans, screeches, stalls out. I pump the up button several times and pry open the doors. Silence relieves me after I ask if anyone is on there.
While my phone dings, I kill the elevator’s power and tape OUT OF ORDER, and fire sprinklers domino down the hall. Units creak open. Folks bulge their eyes. Some shuffle for the exits. A woman in an end unit thumbs at the stairwell. Three teen girls hide their lighter when I find them. I apologize to the residents for the false alarm, the scare, inconvenience. They tell me to tell the property manager to kiss their butts. I call off the fire department, and the sunset covers us with oranges and yellows spun from the ocean. The teen girls give me the finger after I yell at them. In another message, Mrs. Hix chants.
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