Flowers Restaurant & Bar, 42nd & the Ave , U-dist, Seattle (2)I spy it from the corner opposite and I get it…I think. Flowers…the place looks like a converted old florist shop, complete with the slightly trashed sign from what looks like the 1950s still clinging to the building. It even says “Gifts by Wire” still. Huh. Weird place, this Seattle…but I guess it’s kinda a cool idea.

I cross against the light and toss my cigarette butt in the street and walk through the door, scouting around to see if anyone looks like they might fit the description Todd gave me of Aliah. The floor is black-and-white big squares of linoleum, a mirrored ceiling, and the mismatched table and chairs give it a slightly homey feeling…despite the full bar along one wall. There, I think I see her. Table near the back by the window. I walk up to her ready to ask…

“Hi!” She beats me to it. “You Jessie? I’m Aliah” She sticks out her hand and stands up at the same time.

She’s tall, skinny, blond…with a tattoo of a red star outlined in black on right wrist. Farther up her arm there’s what looks like a continuation of a theme…a comet and a spattering of tiny multicolored stars in its wake. Well, at least she doesn’t look square, I tell myself. And she’s not too much older than me…maybe 30 at the most. I nod my head in response and sit down in the chair vacant across the table from her.

“You want something, coffee or…?” Aliah is waving over at one of the guys bussing a table. “Hey, Chad, can you get Jessie a…what do you want, a latte? Mocha?”

“Just coffee…whatever. It’s okay.”

“…two americanos, Chad, okay? Thanks!” She sits back in her chair and moves the mess on the table away: a notebook, pen and a wad that looks like it must be her tips for the day. “So.” She says to me. “You need a place, right? Todd said your friend bailed on you? How lame is that!” She arranges the newly delivered americanos, milk and sugar in front of us, then grabs her co-worker, Chad’s, arm. “Dude…spoons?” He makes a face at her and goes to grab the silverware from the service station.

“It’s not really like that.” I begin. “I talked to Shayla just last week…only a few days before I got here. It was all planned out but she didn’t’ show. I don’t know what happened to her.” I blow on my coffee, after loading it with 3 sugars and lots of milk. “I’m actually kind of worried about her.”

“Sounds kinda sketchy.” Aliah agrees. “Todd said you don’t know any of her friends up here or where she works or anything?” I can tell she’s wondering who the hell does such a thing, pack up and come to a new city with no solid plan. Well, she just didn’t know and I wasn’t going to let her in on it…yet. “Okay whatever. Let’s down these and I’ll show you the room at my place. I’ve known Todd a long time…I think I might be able to trust his instincts pretty good. He’s kind of psychic, you know.” She winks. “At least that’s what he says!” She laughs. “Come on.”

One last big gulp and the coffee’s done, Aliah’s pulling on her jacket, then we’re out the door. The rain had let up some one the ride to the U District, but it’s now doing it’s thing again, so I pull my hoody back up over my fried pink hair, musing to myself that I should just let it get wet…a wash wouldn’t hurt. I hadn’t felt comfortable enough at Todd and Chris’ to take a real shower…I just washed up at the bathroom sink…so I haven’t washed my hair since the day before getting to Seattle. Boy, I hope this room works out ‘cause I’m dying for a real honest to goodness shower!

“Thank God I drove today!” Aliah says. “I live really close, so I don’t usually drive, but today just looked like I was asking for it if I didn’t!” She opens the door of an old beat up red Subaru wagon and I climb in, moving the papers and other crap off the front seat. “Oops! Sorry about that! Just toss that in the back, okay? I usually just park this thing at my place and I forget what’s in it most of the time!” The engine starts like it has an agonizing hangover and would just as soon stay put, but it does start and Aliah flips the wipers on. The rubber scrapes and screeches against the glass as it fogs up with our breath.

We drive north on some street parallel to the Ave up to 47th and take a left. We follow the street a few blocks past a gas station, a church, a couple car dealerships and various businesses until we start to see signs of a more residential neighborhood…first apartment buildings and then older houses that look like they were built in the 1930s or 40s. Odd little islands of vegetation in the middle of each of the intersections make me wonder what they were thinking, but I guess the place used to be much more residential when the homes were first built. Now they just look like an accident waiting to happen, clinging desperately at a long lost idea of a quiet neighborhood.NE 47th & Alley, E of 7th NE, Seattle

Just past a construction site…oh yippee, more condos, I can hear the residents of the nice little bungalows sighing as we drive by…Aliah takes a right into an alley and shortly we’re parked in what was once a back yard.

“Ta-dah! 4718 7th Ave NE…rear entrance.” She’s slams her door. “Don’t worry about locking it. Nothing so steal…stereo doesn’t work, hell the car barely works!” She laughs. “Watch out for the first step…it’s a bit worse for the years of rain. Wouldn’t put too much weight on it, if I were you.”

Aliah turns her key in the lock, gives the back door a big shove with her shoulder and it gives way. Following her inside though the back enclosed porch into the kitchen I’m assaulted by the comingling of what smells of last night’s curry, wet moss and a slight whiff of cat box. Yep. Cat box definitely, I tell myself as a fluffy black creature is immediately butting its head against my legs, a low loud purr emanating from somewhere deep within.

“I hope you’re not allergic,” She says with a hopeful grimace. “Lix loves everybody…he may even sleep with you if you don’t close your door. But he’s great for when you have cramps. Hot water bottle plus…vibrating heat and massage!” She grins and bends down to pick up the gargantuan cat. He’s a big rag doll in her arms. I think I’m going to like her okay. A little too up-front maybe at first, but I think she’ll be cool. Like I said…at least she’s not square.

“So, this room…” Aliah continues as we wind through what’s obviously the living room and up some stairs. “I don’t know what you can pay…Todd says you don’t have a job yet…and I don’t even know how long you plan to be here. Shit, if I didn’t find my friend pretty close to right off the bat, I’d probably split back home.” She gives me a quizzical look. “You know I could rent the room to a college student, probably for the rest of the quarter at least…” She trails off.

I cut in before she can rethink her offer to Todd. “No, I know. But I’m not going back home, as you call it,” Isn’t one to go to, I think silently. “I’ve got to find Shayla or at least find out what happened to her. You’re right I need a job, but I have some money and can pay for a month in advance…I mean, I think I can. How much do you want for the room?”

She pushes open the door to a smallish, but cozy room…wood floor, window overlooking the back of the house. “Well…since you’re a friend of Todd’s…” She smiles mischievously. We both know I’ve only known Todd for four days! “…and I was going to use it myself for a craft room…” She opens a door to our right, showing the area under the eaves turned into a tiny walk-in closet. “…can you do $300 for the month?”

I let out a big sigh. Yep. She’s cool. “Oh sure! I was afraid you were going to ask for way more!”

“Nah…what the hell. Truthfully, the house belongs to my dad. I mean I pay him rent, but not what it would be if it belonged to anyone else! There’s one other roommate, Paul, downstairs, but he’s a grad student and almost never home. My room’s here across the hall, so we’ll share this bathroom and leave his icky boy stuff downstairs.” She smiles again. Gosh, she smiles all the time.

“Um…so…$300 a month is great, thank. So, I can pay through November up front, but how do you want to figure the rest of this month? I mean, October?”

“Oh. Yeah. Hmm.” Aliah wrinkles her brow as she thought. “Actually, there’s only a few days left so let’s just forget about it. Freebie on the house. Move-in special, okay? You don’t have anything to sleep on, do you? Like a futon or anything? We’re going to have to find you something on Craigslist or somewhere…”

She’s talking and planning, but I not listening anymore. I’m just happy to know I have a place…a whole room…all my own. I don’t care if I sleep on the hard wood in my clothes. I can stay through November…Shayla has to turn up by then, doesn’t she?
© 2008 D. Kessler

UD house 7th NE (3)