the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Until the animal arrives, these are the things we know about the people who rented our apartment before us:
(1) They were two, a man and a woman, who shared a complicated last name with too many consonants. The name is spelled differently on each package that arrives (see item '2'), and so we are never able to determine the original version. Learning the names of the Cyrillic characters does nothing to ease the discomfort, but it helps to apply labels to the things we cannot understand — zhe, ef, omega.
(2) They subscribed to a number of publications, none of which we have heard of; German
journals of biology and chemistry, home aquarium catalogs, articles clipped from Russian magazines, American medical research. There are others, as well, things we cannot identify — lines and lines of genetic sequence that arrive in unmarked manila envelopes, postcards from Vienna written in what we assume to be military cipher, dog-eared biographies of James Watson and Francis Crick.
(3) They are both in massive debt. The most common item they receive are collection letters of mind-boggling stature, delinquent bills in the tens of thousands. I expect to find letters from international intelligence agencies, law-enforcement bureaus, but these never arrive.
(4) They had a poor relationship with the neighbors and the landlord. Both refuse to speak of them, other than to say they fought in the night. Explosive battles, involving a variety of languages and household items. They often ended with the woman (beautiful, the men say, when their wives are not around, bleach-blond and thin as a cattail) smoking cigarettes on the balcony in communist-red lipstick, her sad love focused on the East.
I think about her, often. I wonder if she had eyes that were bold and starling, damp teeth, and a labyrinthine mind. I picture her leaning against a windowpane, her nails pressed back against the glass. My roommate tells me that I am obsessed, but my response to this accusation is to be flattered. She was obsessed too, and my life feels barely separable from hers, here among the documents that either shaped or shattered her life.