“Why don’t you start back here?” said Tina, a younger, slightly fleshier version of Boss Barbara. “Take off your coat, have a Coke. You can help with the filing, if you don’t mind. Patsy’s showing a unit right now, but I’ll get her to take you around when she gets back. Patsy’s our other assistant manager. As you’ll see, Belle View is quite a bit larger than Arborgate.
Belle View’s file room was the walk-in closet of a small bedroom with a large desk , a long worktable stacked with enough files to keep me busy for months and a large and up-to-date Xerox copy machine.
“Wow,” I said, running my hands over its solid surface. “This one collates, doesn’t it?” I flicked a few switches and saw that it was warmed up. I love office equipment and hoped I could use it.
They must have had a busy month showing units and preparing leases otherwise, I felt sure, this work would have been done. Eberhard didn’t strike me as the kind of boss to let things pile up.
“I guess you’re feeling pretty bad about your tenant dying,” said Tina.
“I’m not sure how I feel,” I said. This was true. Between the sentiments imposed on me by our residents (self pity), Judith’s emotional chiropractics that had left me feeling both heroic and slipshod, and my own natural inclination to take whatever blame was going around, I really didn’t know what I was experiencing. The word had clearly gotten out. Abigail had tried to reach the manager but the manager had not been available.
“Mr. Eberhard says we’ll get answering machines now.” She shrugged. “I guess that’s a good thing. It’s just too bad this is the reason.”
“Well, according to the girl at the answering service, Abigail wasn’t leaving critical messages anyway. Just that she’d called and to please come over. They said she wasn’t upset or frightened.”
“I heard that those kinds of blows to the head don’t feel like anything. I mean, you get an ordinary headache, pass out and die. And it can happen anytime.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“And she was drinking, too? That must have made it worse.”
“Where did you hear she was drinking?” This was something I had not told Barbara, but of course the emergency guys had assumed it. So had I.
Tina, her hands fluttering over a stack of file folders labeled “Expired Leases” shook her head. “I don’t know. Didn’t you tell Barbara all about it?”
I thought back to our conversation on Christmas Eve. Surely I had limited myself to the facts? Memory was a trickster. I may have been cultivating my professional pose, hardening the shell by pretending I was fine. Just fine. I didn’t want anyone coming over to help me. I didn’t want anyone disturbing Judith’s space. Protecting our own perfectly run domain had been my goal that day. In that case, I would have kept the details to myself. But I really didn’t remember.
“I don’t think I told her that. I didn’t know she had been drinking.”
“But wasn’t there a bottle of vodka on the kitchen counter?”
“There you are. You must have told Barbara.”
My task for the next hour could have put a fairy tale to shame. Sorting files is a lot like separating beans. I was to empty the file folders that had been labeled by unit number and store the contents in new folders labeled by leaseholder and today’s date in an archive where they would be kept for three years. The empty unit folders would be placed back in the active file drawers, ready to hold current leases and correspondence from those tenants. As I archived, I was to pull files older than three years and dump them into a trash bag.
And so I worked my way through an hour immersed in the parade of names and dates, I picked up and then dropped a particularly fat file, full of work orders or letters of complaint. It was the letters that caught my attention, or rather, the light blue stationary they were written on. I knew that paper. We had several letters in our own files from the same batch. Just to be sure, I read through the notes in my hand. They were all in Abigail’s weak and spiky handwriting. And signed with her rounded signature.