Fall has arrived, a chill brushing my bones when I wake. I watch the sun crawl out from the earth on the security cameras, where I can stand its brightness through the black-and-white. The sun hunches on the horizon between storage units 8 and 9, in the space where the renters enter through the gates. Sometimes I can hear the tvs mutter and hum between their cycling, and they whisper to me of loss. They tell me about the whole world outside my storage unit that my husband and I converted into a small office and apartment, that my husband and I used to share.
I watch a professor and his new wife move their house into unit 35 for a year’s trip to France. They carry giant photographs of their dog, which they had to give up for the move, boxes of old papers, Egyptian statues, hundreds of shoes in see-through plastic bins. I’ve stopped being surprised by what people leave behind. I wonder if their storing is an act of love while the rest of the world lives, changes, dies around us, or if everything has come here to a well-organized junkyard, left to rot away to the end.
The little bell clatters in the front office. I wrench my pants up around my waist in the back apartment while whoever it is waits. It’s best to be prepared: one day, one of the storage units caught on fire; once, a roof caved in; once, a woman thought she was being followed to her unit; once, someone’s back gave out, and an ambulance had to be called. Once, my husband, Evander, disappeared, and I had to go on renting out empty spaces and signing contracts for useless junk to fill them.
I open the door to Mrs. Hendrix, her face red, wrinkles drawn in pinched hysterics, arms crossed in front of her chest like the living dead—the look she gets when my job is about to get harder. “I swear they’ve got a dead body in there this time,” she croaks.
“Really, Mrs. Hendrix?” I say. Mrs. Hendrix, my bird on her skinny, knobbed legs, my serial complainer, my old woman who [End Page 58] cried wolf. Her kids packed her out of the large house filled with all her things and stuffed her inside a retirement community. Anything that she couldn’t fit, she put inside a unit, which she now visits every day. She considers herself the watchdog of the storage complex, parked in her beach chair, the remnants of her former life behind her, binoculars glued to her roaming eyes. I say, “Is it the fraternity again? Or the pot smokers? Or the squirrels stealing your buttons?”
“I saw a coffin,” she insists. “Those boys were carrying it on their shoulders. And do you think someone as old as me hasn’t seen coffins before?” She grabs my hand. Her flesh, scaly with patches of age, rubs rough and cold underneath my fingertips like ice cracked from remnants of the last mammoth age. “Are you okay? Any news about Evander?”
Normally I would offer her coffee, but today watching the sun come up has left me trapped inside myself. “I’ll look into the coffin,” I say, having no intention of doing so. Stranger things have happened in our storage center, where love, junk, and disappointments are hidden away.
I walk my morning rounds from the office to the end of the winding lot, at unit 173. The ratcheting slide of a door slams down. Clearly something they didn’t want me to see. I try to stay out of it. Mockingbirds and thrashers mimic what’s just happened; all around me echoes the sound of doors closing from the throats of birds.
Number 17’s door looms open, which means Javier is in his unit and awake. He sprawls on his couch, a portable tv on a table near the back of the unit. I pretend I don’t know he sleeps here after his wife kicked him out and his job fell through. Javier waves and watches me walk...