Martha leaned forward with one arm stretched out to the casement crank and one arm akimbo to grasp the seat of the bowl. Her toes were cold. Outside the air was warm and still. Inside the air was cool and fluid. Malodorous vapors circulated through the intestinal duct of her housing block and clung to the ceiling and walls of the cabinet where she sat. The vents constantly drooled, but the one window did not. A film glazed the handles that opened the sphincter outward, this way and that. Only the fixtures were made of metal alloys. The pale toilet, wash basin, and its pedestal were seamless forms of plastic. Industrial-grade plastic, so claimed the manifest mounted in a sleeve on the door facing Martha, scratch resistant, fire-proof, hunnerd percent recyclable, anti-bacterial composite material. Yet the toilet, basin and pedestal had acquired from time a dingy cast in color akin to the vapors.
The tiny window like all the windows was fitted with triple-pane glass. It was one of a lop-sided pair, carved into the corner of every floor of every housing block. A lens three times longer and twice as tall in the common room flanked it. She could not see the sky for the plain concrete walls rising behind them.
A droplet on the button-sized bolt joining the shaft and the rod that she was reaching for fell to her fingertips. She flicked it to the floor. Every day after hours she reminded herself to swab the floor, remind Bou Bou to swab the floor, or place another order with Consumer Maintenance to repair the de-humidifier. Martha indolently surveyed her water closet. Despite a decade in residence at 823 she had not located any evidence of such a device operating in the the water closet, except possibly for the hole above the basin which persons-unknown had hastily masked with a disk of Tyvek® and shreds of Gatortape®. In the beginning the Superintendent Field Marshal Dr. Gutierrez had instructed Martha not to disturb it, that he would investigate it. Then, he accepted a promotion to Fourth Vice-president of E-Wing Operations and was never heard from again.
“I have to go,” Nestor shouted through the door.
“Oh, alright,” Martha grumbled, standing up.
Nestor stepped ten paces away from the wet room, nearly jamming himself against the door knob of the entrance to their compartments. They all had silently agreed, keeping the water closet tight was one of those unexpectedly beneficial unintended consequences of civil engineering by committee, until further notice. Whenever anyone entered or exited that closet, its compressed climate exploded most unpleasantly into one’s face. This was an experience bystanders who were not in the habit of carrying packs of wipes best avoided.
“Here’s the money,” he added.
Martha swung open the door violently and scurried out. The door caught the hem of her robe and sheared sequins from it as it snapped shut. She bent to retrieve them, squinting and counting. She looked up at Nestor, pressing a fist to an arthritic knee as if to lever the important parts of her to match his grade of urgency. She took the envelope from him.
“I have to go,” he said again. He thrust his arm through a sling of his back pack and threw a glance toward the kitchen. “Bou Bou isn’t home yet,” he was asking, because that end of the apartments was quiet, and he had only awakened an hour ago. The vestibule was dim. Mist from the water closet undulated with the thin curtain of sunlight at the end of the corridor where he stored his gear, himself. Which is to say, it really didn’t do anything but evaporate into the shadows.
Nestor spent his rest hours there, one to shower and refresh the kit on his back, six to sleep. He spent four hours on reconn commuting to the forge, or only two hours commuting to the foundry. From time to time, he and Martha crossed paths in public on her way out to morning shift and his way in from evening shift. They rarely spoke in public spaces. In private he tolerated Martha’s attempted familiarities by rationing the number of his minutes he cared to allocate to the common room. He preferred the solitude in his quarters but did not begrudge Martha opportunities to demonstrate his indispensability. The room was stuffed with upholstered furniture and stacks of paper books. It was a mausoleum. Whenever he appeared in the common room before 18:00 hours, Martha observed a prescribed interlude of domestic relaxation before hesitantly suggesting chores, that typically involved Nestor arranging piles to clear a seat, between servings, for those tenants who had assembled to dine on casserole-of-the-week and rolled jamon.
He noticed then that he’d left the door to the shower stall ajar rather than fully open. So did Martha. She pushed it back, flipped the switch, and peered in.
“Bou Bou is running an errand for me,” she replied. “I’ll make dinner after I walk the rent over to the office.” Martha turned around, smoothing her robe with the hand clutching Nestor’s envelope.
“I don’t suppose you want me to leave a bowl for you.”
“No, thanks, though” Nestor said causally, as usual. He passed two fingers over his phone. It blinked 13:07, 13:07. His plan was to submit a job application, Organ Broker Assistant II, by noon tomorrow. He had still to collect several credentials to complete his app though. Two of those were personal citations to be validated by the hand, rather than electronic signature, of the applicant’s referee. That worried Nestor. He had managed one appointment tomorrow -–in principle– with his previous work supervisor at Sema Ambulatory Care Devices, LTD and one at precisely 14:00 with the Honorable Liutenant General Dr. Meridia Vista (Ret.) this day using a pretext.
Nestor turned smartly on his heel to leave just as Bou Bou opened the door.