The apartment on Pine Street was surprisingly cheap, which worked well for me, considering it was my first apartment, and I didn’t have a lot to spend on rent. My landlady, Mrs. Franklin, lived on the first floor as did little Mr. Fiedler, a nice old gentleman I seldom saw, but who wore large hearing aids and a soft gray felt hat that he always tipped politely to me. A married couple named Jon and Erin Glascott, and a twenty-something woman named Maggie Luzzi, who was never there as far as I could tell except for the occasional Sunday when she breezed in to pick up some clothes and disappeared with her boyfriend, occupied the second floor apartments, and way up on the third floor I lived in a surprisingly spacious place. True, the ceiling sloped in the bathroom, which was tiny, and I needed a window air conditioner to augment the building’s central air that didn’t seem to work above the second floor, but the ceilings were high and the window seats were deep. I lived near the grocery and a bunch of cafes. Since I usually worked from seven to seven, I wasn’t going to be home much, so what could go wrong?
Within two weeks of my arrival, the Glascotts moved out. I didn’t care much that Glascotts were leaving. After all, I had only said hello once to them in the hallway, so it wasn’t like I was loosing best friends, but two days later I came home from work to see a tall woman swathed in what looked to be red scarves and black leggings standing in front of the building directing movers, and I stopped mouth agape.
The woman wore a red satin turban that sparkled with a huge rhinestone pin. I had never seen a modern woman wearing a turban, much less one so gaudy. It matched her four inch red patent leather stilettos. From the back the woman, despite her turban, was in great shape; she had the lithe body of a dancer and long, muscled legs; from the front, she had the face of a gargoyle. Too much plastic surgery left her eyes pulled up and back and her skin stretched unnaturally tight over her skull. Her lips had been enhanced by collagen implants and bloomed around her flashing white teeth. Guessing her age was impossible; she looked like she had been dipped in formaldehyde.
I almost dropped my bag of groceries.
I tried to slip past her, but she swung around to survey me, her right hand on her hip.
“You must be the third floor girl,” she said. “Kelsey? Katie?” She extended her hand palm down as if she expected me to kiss it.
“Alana,” I said. “Alana Carver.” I shook her hand and let go as quickly as possible.
“I knew you had a K in your name. I am Rasha Zamora. I’m moving in today. I don’t like loud rock and roll or rap music,” she said. “Or negative energy. I’m very sensitive.”
“I don’t play rap music,” I said and wondered if I had an escape clause in my rental contract. I didn’t care about the security deposit. “I work.”
I walked past her straight to the landlady’s apartment and saw Mrs. Franklin hovering in the hall in her usual dark blue shift. Her white hair looked a bit disheveled and the corners of her mouth pinched in distress when she saw me.
“Who the hell is that?” I asked.
“Oh, Miss Carver. I had no idea who was moving in. She’s an old friend of Mr. Stinson, and he owns the building. He didn’t say anything.”
“Maybe she’s just eccentric.”
Mrs. Franklin seemed so discombobulated that I felt it was a bad time to say anything about my new neighbor, especially when I was so seldom home.
“She told me she wants me to cleanse the building. I don’t know what that means. It’s very clean.” She held out a bundle of what looked like straw tied together, and I smiled. White sage.
“She wants you to burn it. It’s a ritual. You burn the sage and the smoke is supposed to cleanse the bad spirits.”
Mrs. Franklin handed me the sage. “That sounds like one of those witch things. I’m no witch.” She walked back to her apartment and closed the door with a finality that left no doubt that she wasn’t dealing with the new tenant, the sage, or any witch rituals.
I figured a little sage wouldn’t hurt anything.
As I lay in bed reading that evening I heard the sound of music being played at top volume. “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” warbled the singer in the sort of high, semi-operatic voice I always hated. It seemed like the song was stuck on repeat because it played over and over again until I banged on the floor. Then it paused only to start up again.
I called Mrs. Franklin. “Get her to turn down that damn music,” I said.
Mrs. Franklin sighed loudly. “I think she’s a little deaf.”
“I want to go to sleep.”
At last the music stopped.
At six a.m. I was out the door and off to work. When I returned the damn song was playing. I could hear it as I climbed the stairs, sweating like a pig. I turned on the air conditioner, but I could still hear it. I turned on the television, but that song seeped through the walls.
It was time to take action. I walked down the stairs and knocked on Rasha Zamora’s door. After a moment she answered. The apartment smelled of burned sage, and the song blared in the background. Decorated in red and gold velvet with a big red oriental rug on the floor, the place looked like a bordello from the 1920’s. Giant red lamps trimmed in gold fringe stood on marble topped mahogany tables. It was as outrageous as Rasha Zamora who wore a black catsuit with a fuchsia chiffon skirt and jazz shoes.
“Mrs. Zamora,” I started, “That music.”
“It’s glorious, I know. My favorite song. Beyond the Blue Horizon. Only happy things to look forward to there. Jeanette McDonald sang it in Follow the Boys, you know. It’s the best version.”
“You’ve played it two days in a row.”
“It’s my good luck song,” she said and lifted her leg up in the air until it was almost horizontal. “Not too shabby, eh? Do you know I danced with Clark Gable and Cary Grant when I was younger?”
“That’s very nice for you, but I wonder if you might play the song a little quieter?”
“Quieter?” Rasha Zamora stared at me as if I’d told her the devil was coming for her soul. “I am releasing positive energy into this building,” she said. “You’ll see.”
“That may be, but I can’t sleep.”
“You should download your own copy, or whatever you young people do now. It will bring you luck. And don’t forget to burn white sage to cleanse your apartment. Listen to the lyrics, dear. They’ll make you happy.” She went to a large brass urn and pulled out a bundle of white sage then shooed me to the door. “Take this and burn it. Now I must stretch.”
“Just feel the positive energy.” She closed the door.
I went to my apartment and made brownies for dinner.
The next morning I wrapped the leftovers and on my way to work put them outside of Rasha Zamora’s door thanking her for the sage. When I came home that evening, my empty dish sat in front of my door along with a red crystal and a note of thanks. The crystal, she wrote, would help me find true love.
Our relationship continued this way. Every night I made something for Rasha Zamora, and every day when I returned from work I’d receive a little note with a stone or a healing crystal. Sometimes she would invite me to her apartment and tell me about her days as a dancer. The good days, she called them, when she danced in the movies or on Broadway.
“But eventually you get old,” she said. “You run out of energy. Sometimes when you’re young and beautiful, you’re foolish. You don’t realize how quickly it passes. Then pouf, you’re an old husk.” She smiled when I started to protest. “Oh no. I don’t regret a thing. In life you always go forward.”
After a while I .0
got used to Beyond the Blue Horizon, maybe because it didn’t sound quite as loud or maybe because it just became background noise. It got stuck in my head, and I’d find myself humming it at odd times. Mrs. Zamora would ask if I felt the positive energy. I always said yes, though I’m not sure I felt anything.
One night the apartment was quiet. It felt odd after months of Beyond the Blue Horizon. It was so odd, I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I knocked on Mrs. Zamora’s door, but there was no answer.
When I returned from work, the EMT’s were taking her away in a black plastic bag.
“Poor thing,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Did you know she was eighty-nine?”
“She danced with Gable and Cary Grant,” I said, feeling oddly nostalgic.
“She was a pip,” Mrs. Franklin said. “But I think I’ll miss her all the same. Her and that silly song.”
I watched the ambulance pull away into traffic and thought Mrs. Zamora had flown beyond the blue horizon at last.