Ruth Torje awoke in her loft above the C.W. Gallery to the sound of a garbage truck idling outside her window. From the second floor, her bedroom overlooked the six hundred block of Warren Street in Hudson, New York where almost every storefront catered to the antiquing community of Lower Manhattan. Hudson was being called the “Little SoHo of the Hudson Valley.” Every weekend bustled and shook; mascara laden metro-sexuals and their birdlike wives flocked in the narrow streets to peck at the cheap prices of oxidized brass lamps and moldy Victorian duvees. Ruth hated it all—hated cell phones, appointments and haircuts. She missed the Eighties: leather, cocaine, personalities. Freedom at this point in her life was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt and a new release from Blockbuster.
Sadly, it was Friday and she was unable to look forward to a relaxing afternoon. Maury had already called and left a message reminding her to flush the boiler located in the basement below the gallery.
With a sigh Ruth rolled out of bed put on her bathrobe and went into the kitchen to make some coffee. “Ugh,” she muttered noticing little black mouse turds on the counter, “they sort of look like bread crumbs.” Her sink was filled with cereal bowls half emptied of milk and soggy Frosted Flakes. A slightly opened window with a torn screen looked out onto the roof of the building next door. Outside it smelled of tar and pigeons. “Another sweet day in prison,” she said to herself and wondered if she would even bother taking a shower. After all, she was preparing to engage in the attempted murder of rodents.
Ruth lit up a cigarette and walked down her stairs, fliking away the match and kicking open the loud aluminum front door. She smoked half of it before heading across the street to CVS for some mouse traps. She set the smoking butt on the ledge beneath a window that was advertising discounts on shampoo.
“Mousetraps?” said Ruth. She was waiving her arms above her head in several directions at once until the fat and flustered cashier told her to walk down Aisle 2.
“Where are the mousetraps again?” Ruth asked, after she had walked all the way to where the fat pig had told her she would find some traps. “You know, the snappy kill-mice sort of traps?”
“We don’t sell those miss. All we have are the sticky ones.”
“What the hell are sticky ones?” asked Ruth.
“These are the ones we sell. And you can mind your language miss. I happen to run into miss Winestein quite often at Lane Bryant and I don’t want to have to tell her we had to have a problem.”
“Fine, whatever,” said Ruth, and she walked back down the aisle and did find some sort of sticky-pad mouse trap. She paid for it and picked up her butt on the way out; there were at least two drags left.
Back on the street she read the ceolophane directions, squinting her eyes as she lit another cigarette with the first one. Simply, they instructed her to place the trap on the floor until mouse is caught. Then dispose of it in the trash. “Easy enough,” she said to herself. She quickly ran up the stairs to her unit so as to not smoke up the hallway. She unwrapped the trap and carefully set it at the base of her fridge, near her back door. Moments later Ruth was back outside standing in front of the gallery and breathing heavily. A new cigarette stuck out of of her mouth pinched between her teeth. She listened for the jingle of keys as she dug about in her bag, a stale smoke rose into her nostrils and stung her eyes.
Someone had spit on the C.W. Gallery’s windows during the night and the stain slid down the pane as if it were congealed rain. Three blocks away the Presbyterian Church bells clanged eleven times signaling the start of her workday. The Weinsteins would be calling soon to check if she was on time. Through the glass Ruth heard the phone start to ring and had to quickly unlock the front door before the answering machine picked up. Hurrying to answer the phone, Ruth felt like she’d traded liberty for chastity: the rampant gay community in Hudson was stifling her desire to meet men and the Weinsteins wouldn’t give her any time off. Sometimes she wanted to smash the front windows, sprinkle the sidewalks with shards of ice and salt—burn it all down.
“Gallery,” she answered, holding the receiver a few inches from her ear as the nasally voice of Connie Weinstein blared through.
“Ruth? It’s Connie, how are you?”
“Fine Connie, I’m doing great. How are you and Maury?”
“Oh you know, the same—he’s going to come over later to fix the heat. I think around two.”
“I’ll just double check and let you know.”
“Fine. Bye Connie.” Ruth hung up the phone. “God, I hate that woman,” she said to herself opening a drawer and removing the small Altoids container she used as an ashtray. As Ruth smoked, she walked around turning on all the lights. Track heads awoke stark white walls sparsely adorned with paintings and photographs. She came to a massive stack of electronics, flipped a switch, and the stereo came to life. Her Fiona Apple CD, always in the rotation, began softly droning throughout the sterile space, bumping off clumps of languid smoke.
A couple more hours of work and Ruth ordered a late lunch from Hunan Dynasty: vegetable lo-mein and barbeque spare ribs. When it arrived she put a “Back in five minutes” note on the door. She was not allowed to eat in front of customers. Instead, she hid in the kitchenette. In between hurried mouthfuls of limp noodles Ruth heard the front door jingle and Maury’s voice call, “Ruth? Are you there?”
In the kitchenette, Ruth stood leaning against the refrigerator trying not to yell, “Of course I am you motherfucker. Where else would I be? China!”
“Ruth?” Maury called again from the front room.
“Yes, I’m here,” she answered, “Just in the back having lunch.” She heard him hang up the phone and walk towards the back. Fiona was singing, “You made me a shadowboxer, baby I wanna be ready for what you do.”
“I was just going to call Connie,” Maury said as he rounded the corner into the tightly packed room. “Thought you may have left us today Ruthie.” He had a sadistic grin on his face, like he was completely aware of what he was doing.
“No such luck Maury. Just a little Hunan Delight—but it’s about time I got back to the office,” Ruth tried to laugh out the last few words but couldn’t hide her impatience.
Maury went on, oblivious, “I’m here to get that heat working again. Connie says to do something and I do it. You know, she’s quite the businesswoman.”
Fiona piped through an awkward silence, “Oh, your gaze is dangerous and you fill your space so sweet”
“I’m sure she is,” Ruth finally said.
“The key is persistence,” added Maury. “You’ve got to keep at it if you want anything done right. If you get stuck, push through,” he made a suggestive motion with his hands as if he was warming them on a fire, or shoving something down someone’s throat. “That’s why I’m here fixin’ the heat. You see Ruthie-dear, I fixed her the last time she shit the bed. I put a few touches here and there but never really solved the problem. I’m not going to pay some high and mighty electrician three hundred bucks for something temporary I can get at Home Depot.”
“You sound like the ‘Patron Saint of Small Businesses’ Maury.”
“Well, you know how I am.” Maury was leaning towards Ruth with his arms about to touch the wall behind her.
“Give us a kiss, eh Ruth?”
Ruth ducked under his right arm and stood up outside the doorway of the kitchenette, “Not today Maury. I’ve been thinking about our little deal and wouldn’t want to have to tell Connie about it.” Ruth watched Maury’s smug face lose all its expression.
“Oh, you’d go and do that?” he asked.
“Well I’m not saying I would do anything or not. But just hold off it for a while huh?”
“I see,” Maury looked down. “Well I guess I’ll be going now. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay Maury. I’ll see you some other time then.”
“Would you be a dear and flush the boiler? Because I didn’t do it and I don’t think I’m going to.”
As Maury left the gallery for the side entrance to the boiler room, Ruth beamed at her small victory. Fiona’s chorus slowly fading away into silence.
“You made me a shadowboxer, baby I wanna be ready for what you do.”
For the rest of the afternoon Ruth sat at the front desk surfing the web and smoking cigarettes. The phone lay at rest. The CD player quietly shuffled amidst Hudson’s white noise.
A year earlier, when she answered the Weinstein’s ad in the paper, she was a struggling, underfed artist. In conjunction with her lack of funds, Maury had stepped forward and offered her the apartment in exchange for employment in their art gallery below. He seemed oddly skittish when she accepted, saying it was the best offer she’d ever had. That night he came to her apartment to unclog the sink and there made his desires known: she had the choice to sleep with him or move out. When she had protested and threatened to tell his wife, Maury laughed and called her bluff saying, “This apartment is a real sweet deal. And I’m not that bad that bad to look at.” But the relationship had escalated and become monotonous. Now she was suffocating.
It was Friday evening when Ruth closed the gallery and walked up the back stairs to her apartment. As she pushed open her back door she could hear a faint squeaking coming from inside: a little mouse was caught in the glue trap she had set earlier. All four of its legs were trapped in the sticky glue and its tiny shrieking head was stuck face-first into the bright and reeking chemicals. Ruth bent down to get a closer look and remembered the directions: just dispose of trap and mouse. The problem immediately apparent to Ruth was, in fact, that the mouse was alive and throwing it away might be more complicated than she initially had hoped. The rodent hadn’t meant to get caught; it had been obeying simple biological laws. Now, its fate consisted of a tin trash can and slow starvation. Considering this, Ruth picked up the tray—mouse and all—and dropped it in a plastic bag. She took the bag out back behind her apartment and, in a kind of trance, repeatedly bludgeoned it against the brick building.
The Jackson can not be reached.