Zach leans into the unit as far as the fascist will allow, searching for pictures. There are a few lying about, but it's difficult to see them from the hallway. The ones he can see are all square rather than rectangular, a feature of the Rolleiflex. He tilts his head and squints at a photo on the end of the table closest to him: a striking black-and-white with afternoon sunlight cutting a diagonal across the image.
A man is standing in front of an open door with an arched top; the word "Office" can be clearly read behind his head. His shoulder leans against the doorframe, one knee slightly bent. His eyes stare off into the distance. Before Zach understands what he's seeing, his stomach twists. It's a photograph of him.
Eight Months Earlier: September 2017
The first of the month is the day most of the money comes in. Direct deposit, checks in the mail, and then there's the cash, that nice hard cash. But because of the Labor Day holiday, this month the rent is due on the fifth. Rose waits in her office, which is shabby but big. Way too big. It's three storage units combined, a waste of rentable space as far as she's concerned, but she just works here, so it's Zach Davidson's problem, not hers. And she knows he couldn't care less.
She likes that she has a window facing the street and the door to the hallway has a window, so there's plenty of light, even in the winter. She gets to see who's coming in and going out of the building. It's important for her to keep tabs. She considers this part of her job, even if Zach never really said it was.
She enters the rent data into a spreadsheet and carefully double- checks her work. She's as far from a computer expert as you can get, and she doesn't want to make any mistakes. The nuns hammered this fear of mistakes into her with smacks to the knuckles and by making her spend lots of afternoons sweeping the vestry. But their lessons about honesty and virtue don't seem to have stuck so well. Or maybe they did, and that's why her stomach runs sick on rent day.
Serge steals in around nine thirty. He's a tall man, way too thin, and even though he looks like the Scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz', he moves like the Tin Man. He's probably only a couple years older than her, but he looks like he's sixty, what with his skin all pasty and white. Even stranger is that his eyes are a really light green, like no color she's ever seen before, and they don't match his red hair and beard at all.
He's a photographer but not a particularly good one. His pictures are black-and-white, and almost all of them are of ugly or sad people who never smile. Lots of them are just the backs of people and some are just shadows. Serge has no idea she knows any of this. None of the renters have any idea all she knows about them, and the thought of her secret visits to their units always gives her a jolt of forbidden pleasure.
Serge doesn't make eye contact because he never does, but instead of being annoyed Rose feels sorry for him. She can tell he's lonely. Heck, she knows he is, and she wishes she could do something to make him feel better. Even though this isn't her problem any more than Zach Davidson losing money because of her too-big office is her problem, she wants Serge to be happy. Or at least happier.
Serge sends jumpy glances around the room like he's making sure they're alone even though it's obvious they are. Then he slides an envelope across her desk, hiding it under his bony hand until she grabs its edge and puts it in the drawer.
"Thanks, Serge," Rose tells him. "A beautiful day out, don't you think?" She wants to get him to talk to her so she can find out more about him. "I'm looking forward to getting out at lunch, maybe a walk along the river," she lies. She never takes more than a few minutes out of the office and eats at her desk to make sure she doesn't miss anything. Someone is always moving in or moving out or asking about space or complaining about the space they already have. "How about you?"
She waits, and when he doesn't move or say anything, she tries again. "You know, I just can't decide. Across the river to the Esplanade or maybe down Mem Drive to the science museum?
What do you think?" Instead of answering, he shakes his head and goes out to the hallway. Soon she hears the creak of the elevator as it takes him up to the fifth floor.
Not long after Serge leaves, Liddy walks in. "Hey," Rose says.
"Hey." Liddy leans against the doorjamb and smiles, but it's not much of one.
Rose still can't figure it out, but somehow she and Liddy have become friends. Sort of.
Daytime friends anyway, like a work friend who stops by your desk a couple of times a week to say hello. It's not like Rose would ever invite Liddy to her house or anything. But still, it's quite something. What with Liddy and her Ivy League education and rich husband and kids at a fancy boarding school in Switzerland, and Rose with none of these. But Liddy doesn't seem to notice the differences between them. Or at least pretends she doesn't. She's not stuck-up at all, and even at her age she's knockout gorgeous.