Tiffany Shaeffer stepped back to check the picture hanging on the wall. It was perfect. 'Finally!', she thought as she set the hammer down.
Yesterday had been spent moving all her things from the house to her new apartment. Today had been spent unpacking, arranging, and organizing. But finally she was finished. Everything was put away, all the empty boxes broken down and taken out to the recycle bin, and all the pictures hung. But she was exhausted.
She went into the kitchen and opened a little individual bottle of wine that she had been saving for this occasion and poured it into a plastic drinking glass. She sat down in her recliner and looked out over her 'view'.
Roberta Peterson, the apartment manager, had said this apartment was difficult to rent because it had no view. She had told Tiffany that she kept it mainly for the leasing agents or maintenance staff to live in. The view was not what most people would call a 'panoramic view' - it looked out over the tops of the adjoining apartment complex which sat slightly lower down the hill. It was indeed a view, just not that great of a view.
But Tiffany was very grateful for the leasing agent job and the apartment that came along with it. With the job and only a token rent to pay, she might actually be able to put some money aside. For the time being, she was happy here.
Tiffany sat in her recliner and surveyed the rooftops in her view. She really could see nothing but rooftops. The adjoining apartment complex turned into another, and then another, and then more suburban sprawl, punctuated by an occasional oak or fir tree. The far horizon consisted of a ridge of suburban homes a few miles away.
It was growing dark and getting more difficult to see. Several buildings away, she noticed a black object clinging to one of the vents on the roof. It looked to be a garbage bag or wayward piece of clothing from the way it shifted around in the breeze. Other than that, the rooftops of the adjoining apartment complex were all exactly the same; the same semi-geometric pattern of chimneys, vents, and occasional satellite dishes facing south.
After a few minutes, she realized there wasn't much to see out there and turned her thoughts inward. She had never been really been on her own until now. After leaving home for college, she lived in college housing with 3 to 4 other girls - hardly living on her own. After college, her mother grew ill and required attention. Now that mother had passed away, Tiffany was really on her own.
Mother had grown to be quite the bitch in the last few years of her life. She continually threatened Tiffany. "I'm gonna get you for this!" mother would say, as though the cancer she had was somehow Tiffany's fault. Tiffany was relieved when mother finally died and now she was ready to move on. Her friend from college, Ashley, got her this job and now she could finally live her own life for a change.
Tiffany wrapped herself in her white fleece blanket and drifted off to sleep in her recliner, hoping for sweet dreams.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be there for your first day," Ashley sat on the bar stool in Tiffany's living room. "Who trained you today?"
"It was Dana," answered Tiffany.
"Oh m' god, that woman is just not right," said Ashley. "What kinds of things did you two go over?"
"Well, we went over the basics, I guess", Tiffany said. "She told me some weird stuff though - like when it comes time to renew a lease, I'm always only supposed to give the tenant the required 15 days notice. That way they don't have time to give the 30 day notice to move."
"That's garbage" Ashley exclaimed. "That's Dana's way of doing things and in her mind, she probably thinks it makes her look good because there's less overall tenant turnover. I'll insist on taking up your training when I get back tomorrow. You and I can go over what she told you and we can steer you in the right direction."
"That sounds great to me... I really didn't like her, to tell you the truth."
"Dana's got some seniority on me, but I think I can get Roberta to let me train you." Ashley looked at her watch and got up. "Meanwhile, hubby's waiting, I'd better run."
Tiffany walked her friend to the door and they said their goodbyes. Ashley also lived in the complex, in another building and Tiffany took comfort in knowing she had a friend nearby.
She went back and stood by her sliding door and surveyed the roofscape with her arms folded. It looked just as before. She saw the black garbage bag -- or whatever it was -- again. It seemed that now it had blown closer to her building, but she wasn't sure. She stared out at the otherwise empty rooftops and realized how very tired she was.
She had not slept well on the recliner last night. She had had disturbing dreams about her mother. She could not quite remember them, but she knew they were disturbing. Tonight she would make sure to sleep in her real bed.
Tiffany went to the kitchen to make a light dinner and then it would be early to bed for her.
Tiffany woke up in the middle of the night with a scream and sat straight up in bed. Her mother again. This time she remembered exactly what was going on. In her dream, her mother was trying to strangle her. It seemed so real that she instantly reached for the light and flicked it on just to make sure her mother wasn't there - in the bedroom with her. She felt her neck and realized she was soaking wet. Then she noticed that her favorite white fleece blanket was also very wet.
Tiffany had never had trouble with night sweats before. It was odd because the room was just the right temperature -- not warm enough to make her sweat and not cold enough for condensation from her body warmth. She glanced at the clock - 4:06 AM.
'I may as well get up' she thought to herself as she lifted herself off the bed. She went into the kitchen to prepare some tea. Then she noticed it was raining outside and wondered if her bedroom roof had a leak. A quick trip back into the bedroom dismissed that idea.
As she heated up her tea, she wondered why she couldn't free herself from mother's memory. She knew she had been having bad dreams about her mother, but tonight she could remember it more clearly. Her mother, partially decomposed, was saying "if I can't live any longer, neither can you!". The she wrapped her boney cold hands around Tiffany's neck and began to squeeze. That's when she woke up.
She took her tea out to the living room and looked out the sliding glass door at the roofscape. It looked strange and foreboding in the dark. Some parts were illuminated by the streetlights but other details were lost in patterns of shadows and darkness. She could plainly see the bag of trash, even in the dark. It was still sitting there, flapping in wind.
The rain was falling steady on the roofscape, with an occasional gusts of wind blowing sheets of rain against her window.
"Tiffany, I thought you said you were moving out of the house," Jim McClintock, the real estate agent was on the phone. "The house is still full of stuff!"
"Sorry Jim, I probably didn't make things very clear," Tiffany replied. "I only have a one-bedroom place and I took what I could. I'll have to do a yard sale or something for the rest of the stuff."
"When can you do that?" the realtor asked. "The sooner we can get that place cleared out, the sooner I can list it and start showing it. And course, the sooner I can start showing it, the sooner it will sell. You're not having second thoughts about selling the place, are you?"
"No! Not at all," Tiffany was quick to respond to that question. "I have Sundays and Mondays off; I can start working on sorting through the stuff then."
Jim was quiet for a moment. "Tiffany, I have a suggestion. I have two colleagues who'r in the business of taking care of exactly this kind of thing. Getting rid of a deceased person's stuff."
"That sounds interesting, what do they do with it?" Tiffany asked.
"It's kind of a consignment thing," Jim sensed he had stuck a nerve with her. "They go through the stuff. Whatever is shippable, they'll put up for auction on eBay. Whatever doesn't makes sense to ship, they'll hold an estate sale for. After those processes are done, whatever hasn't sold, they'll donate or discard. In all cases, they handle all the work and it usually takes only a couple of weeks from start to finish."
"Wow, that sounds great," Tiffany was getting excited about having someone else do the dirtywork of getting rid of all her mother's stuff. Then she wondered about the expense. "How much will I have to pay for this service?".
"In most cases -- nothing," Jim replied. "They have an established minimum amount they must make - it's usually a couple hundred dollars - and then they take a percentage of the proceeds after that minimum is met. To be honest, you won't make as much money as you would if you sold the stuff yourself, but at least you'd be offloading the work to someone else."
"Oh that sounds like just what I need," replied Tiffany. "How do I get in touch with these people?"
"I'll have them contact you," Jim said. "You can expect to hear from them in the next few days. Is there anything else today, Tiffany?"
"No thanks for your help, Jim." After they said their goodbyes, Tiffany pressed END on her cell phone, snapped it shut, and smiled.
Tiffany was relieved at how the conversation had turned out. While she certainly could use the money from the proceeds of selling her mother's stuff, she had been subconsciously dreading going back into that house and sorting through all the remaining stuff. It was well worth having someone else do that work for her.
She knew there would be money for her when the house sold - and the sooner it sold, the better. She was so very confident and decisive about cutting ties from her past -- and her mother -- during her waking hours. 'Why am I still so bothered by mother when I sleep?' she wondered.
She supposed that she was just adjusting to her new surroundings and her new life. She had had a good second day at work today. Ashley had taken over the training and Tiffany was able to relax and learn all the things she needed. Things seemed to be going well for her.
However, the past two nights of troubled sleep was continuing to weigh on her. She was still very tired. Tonight, she decided, she would try sleeping on the couch to see if that made any difference.
She had an early, light dinner and decided to go right to bed. She wrapped her favorite white fleece blanket around her and was ready to call it a night. Just as she was ready to lie down, she heard what sounded like faint knock on the door. Except it wasn't coming from the front door -- it was coming from the patio.
'Impossible' she thought. 'This apartment is four floors up - there can't be anyone out there'. Cautiously, she drew the blind open and peered out onto her patio. In the dim light, she could see that the black object she'd been seeing on the rooftops had made its way onto her patio.
'It must have bumped up against the sliding door' she said to herself. 'I'm going to get rid of that hideous looking thing once and for all'.
With that, she opened the sliding door and stepped out into the cold night.
"Is everything as you found it, Mrs. Peterson?", Sergeant Nichols asked as Roberta Peterson let the policeman into Tiffany Shaeffer's apartment.
"Yes, except for one thing," replied Roberta. "The sliding door was wide open when I came in earlier. I closed it to keep the rain out."
The Sergeant wrote something down in his notebook. "And the last time you saw Ms. Shaeffer was when?"
"It was Wednesday, her second day of work," said Roberta. "I saw her last when I left for the day around 5:30pm. When she didn't show up for work or call in for the next two days in row, I thought I should come up and have a look. After that, I called the police because things just didn't look right in here."
"What kinds of things didn't look right, Mrs. Peterson?" asked the sergeant.
"Well, aside from the patio door begin wide open, her purse, keys and cell phone are all still here." Roberta pointed them out. "If she were planning to go somewhere, she should have taken those things, don't you think?"
The Sergeant appeared to be writing down what she was saying and said, "Do you mind if I have a good look around?"
"No, of course not -- take your time," replied Roberta. The cop wandered around the room looking at various things and writing things down in his notebook.
Roberta went and peered out the sliding glass door. She had never liked this apartment mainly because she disliked the view of the rooftops. 'It's just plain ugly', she thought to herself as she looked out over the roofscape. 'Why look at that - a black trash bag wrapped around some white piece of cloth on that roof over there! Don't people have anything better to do with their trash than throw it on the roof?'
Author's Note: Story inspired by Fritz Leiber - 'Smoke Ghost'
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