Though next-door neighbors, the two men I was expecting for drinks Saturday night had never seen the second-floor apartment where I live. They were able to name earlier tenants of the two-bedroom unit and even tell stories of them, but no invitation to ring the downstairs doorbell had been extended to them before mine.
I had been their guest one evening a year earlier. The backyard that I can see from my upstairs windows looks different when you are all seated in lawn chairs, mixed drinks and appetizers on low tables beside you. I remember sitting with my two neighbors in their yard, playing with their dog and looking up at the second-floor windows of my kitchen. It was strange that the exterior wall of a room where I spend so much time each day did not look at all distinctive.
One of them had mentioned the red lamp shade that is visible in my kitchen window when the two men are sitting outside late in the evening. This past Saturday night I made sure that the small kitchen lamp was turned on when they walked in. I wanted them to say, maybe just to themselves, “Ah, there it is.”
It was an odd day to have company. Nothing odd about inviting neighbors over for drinks on a Saturday night, of course, but the invitation had been extended two weeks earlier when none of us knew about the Blizzard of 2013. None of us knew that we would be spending a significant part of that Saturday shoveling out steps and walkways and cars from underneath two feet of snow and sometimes even taller drifts.
Online exchanges between us during the days leading up to the storm insisted, however, that nothing could be that difficult about walking to a house next door. I had two pairs of heavy woolen socks waiting on the radiator near my front door. If my neighbors took off their shoes there at the door, they might welcome an extra layer of warmth as they padded through an unfamiliar apartment.
What were they going to see? I had promised a brief tour of my rooms, and at different times during that snowy Saturday I had gone room by room, scouring kitchen sink and white porcelain stove top with Soft Scrub, spraying Lemon Pledge on the dining room table and a bedroom chest of drawers, swirling blue disinfectant in the bathroom bowl. I had vacuumed and sent the cat scurrying under my bed. I had moved stacks of mail off the pub table in my kitchen. I had sorted the books on the long leather ottoman in front of my living room couch. At the last minute I had lit a single tea light in its holder on the mantle.
Surveying the living room right before their arrival, noting with satisfaction the quiet light of the three lamps, I suddenly felt the solid decade that separated me from the older of the two men ready to visit me. Briefly I fought the feeling that I was living out a stereotype. I reminded myself that I had simply done what any number of people do when guests are coming, reminding myself as well that few of us ever notice all the preparations that hosts put into making their spaces welcoming.
The two men were good company that evening. Their visit to my apartment was prelude to our all three of us returning to their house for fettuccine with homemade vodka sauce – something they had prepared especially for me. Walking down my stairs on our way out, one of the two men slowed down as we reached the bottom and pointed to something on my wall – a favorite vintage photograph that I had framed with multiple mattes and hung there at the entrance of my home.
He turned to me and said, “I really like that framing.”