We had just moved in, and most of our attention had been on the getting the living room, office, and bedroom set up. When I woke up I wondered that we were sharing a one-bedroom, even a spacious one carved out of a older house. The house was built as a series of rooms that opened into each other; the bedroom had no privacy in any case. My roommate Beth had gone out, and I went to explore the kitchen.
The door was set into a small closet off the kitchen we had not opened previously. A plastic plaque read "BASEMENT CHAPEL," and I tried the knob of the miniature door sure that it would not open. Our lease listed the extent of our apartment, and we would have noticed a chapel on there. But the door turned, and I hesitated, sure I was trespassing. Before crouching low and stepping in I propped the door with a pair of old rubber boots, having read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe enough times to know to never to lock myself into an unknown space, even a non-magical one.
The room I stepped into was spacious, with 12-foot ceilings and no windows in the three walls, although it was well-lit by a wall of windows in the office that stood on the fourth side. It was clearly not in a basement, not was it a chapel of the traditional sort. Floor-to-ceiling the walls were covered by black-and white photos taken and arranged by someone with a wonderful eye, many in round frames. One was of three young men sticking their heads through flanged iron collars mounted on a wall that was otherwise covered in doorknobs. Their haircuts suggested the 1940s and they had irrepressible grins. Next to it was a close-up of the flesh of a tomato scored with knotted ropes. Around the walls were what would be called knick-knacks in a lesser space; bushel baskets of some small ordinance from the world wars (the baskets each labeled "WWI" and "WWII"); an ancient relief silver figure of about six inches high, either Etruscan or Norse, of what looked like a pleasantly impish warrior.
The floor was taken up with two double-sized beds with crisp white sheets and olive wool blankets, simple and practical. They didn't catch the eye among everything else, but the sheets of one were tossed back. I assumed they had been thrown back one morning decades ago, an impression that grew stronger as I wandered into the office. It was equally busy, but clearly a working space, with the metal furniture of the 1950s, neat stacks of manila file folders and papers, and well-built pencil sharpeners and protractors.
I heard Beth in the kitchen behind me, calling my name. I didn't want her to share this space with me, but I knew she would find it.
"In here," I said.
She came in and glanced around.
"Huh. Interesting." She seemed to find it more of a curiosity than a wonderment.
The office led into another darker room, and I was about to look in when we heard the unmistakable sound of a key in a lock. We could not see a door, but it sounded as if it were coming from the very apartment we were in.
"Shit," Beth said, turning back to our own door.
I debated hiding under the bed briefly. Instead we scrambled back through the little door, shutting it behind us and in turn shutting the closet door.
Our friend Bobby was in the kitchen, starting some kind of soup at the stove, not registering our scrambling.
"Oh hi," he said. "How are you doing?"