One time in Cincinnati, I shared an apartment with a Vietnamese tailor. He was a nervous little man, as frail and bony as a ninety-year old. Specializing in impossibly-elaborate Vietnamese wedding gowns, he was probably one of the most industrious people I have ever met. With brittle strawberry colored hair and over-sized T-shirts and a crumpled smile-frown, he was a kind of curiosity of the apartment building, like a real-life gnome.
The smells of his cooking, a building filled with the aroma of boiled fish and cabbage, tended to push the limited tolerance of a multi-cultural society. The worst part of it was that, although the smell of the food could possibly have fumigated a urban slum, the end result was generally nothing more than a pale watery soup with a forlorn potato. Shrimp-flavored rain water.
One evening, after pulling a twelve-hour shift in the mall, I arrived home and was intercepted in the corridor by the building manager. Willard was the type of man that any mildly talented cartoonist could render with a few bold strokes. Scratching his belly, he looked at me, with a rather amused and sheepish expression. "I oughta tell you something before you go inside," he began, mysteriously.
"Your roommate came to us. He was screaming and acted like a nut. He kept saying something but we couldn't understand what the hell he was talking about. Murder, he was shouting. Blood."
I unlocked the door. "What?"
The apartment was dark but the air was moist and creepy. My dog, Sheba, emerged from the blackness, wide-eyed, jumpy and clearly relieved at my homecoming. My roommate was no where to be be seen.
"The people upstairs. She was emptying her water bed into the bath tub. With a hose. Then, she up and decides to leave. Go out shopping. The hose pops out and floods the whole place."
"Ah, geeze." I turned on the light and immediately saw a wide oval of dark red across the ceiling, where the water had evidently leaked through her rust-colored carpet. It loomed over me like some immense crimson fingerprint.
I could imagine the scene. My roommate is busily trying to fit the zipper into the back of some satin dress. He looks up and sees, to his horror, a widening scarlet circle above his head and supposes some kind of massacre has just occurred in the apartment above. Then he escapes, grabbing whatever was at hand in a blind panic, just as he had fled his home country years before.