The 2021 Prize Winner in Fiction selected by Kate Gale
Inspection Checklist | Koree Schueler
Kami Shultz Kami- Kameron Mason. Which name do you want?
Property Number: 618
Please fill out this form based on the condition of rental at the time of move in and return it to our office.
New condition. It smells like the deer hide rugs that my dad keeps rolled up in the closet under his stairs, but it is too new and too clean for this apartment. It clearly does not belong here. There isn’t even a drop of dust on it yet. I set the baby down on the white carpet and she crawls along the floor yanking up at it as if it were white grass. I watch my baby pull and tug at the carpet and hope – for a moment – that she will take a chunk of the freshly laid carpet up. Just a small piece. The carpet looks too perfect in this apartment with its scratched paint and haunted air. Yes, the air is haunted. You can tell by one breath with the doors shut that there is something lingering here. If you can get past the stale smell of Marijuana from the neighbors, you can feel the spirits, breathe them in and let them play around in your lungs before you expel them from your nostrils in a sharp sigh. It is haunted. But the carpet is not and for that reason I cannot trust it. It does not belong here. It can be ripped up and thrown in the garbage at the first sign of damage. It can be replaced. I do not trust the carpet.
Walls and ceiling:
Wood paneling? It’s bad enough that the ceiling is popcorn and my entry way is a staircase that leads down into a dark hobbit hole of an apartment, but now I have to spend the next two years in a prison of wood panels. Two walls in the living room are painted white but from the empty cans hidden in the crawl space, I assume you ran out of paint and decided to call that well enough. I set up my couch to face the unpainted wall so that it did not feel forgotten. If I turn my back to it for too long, I can hear it ask, “Do you not have time for me either? What did I do?” So now I face that ugly brown wall as I eat my meals and type at the computer. We keep each other company in the stillness of time.
The doors function like doors. Open and close. The doors can open but they can also close. This space was never meant to be an apartment, so the doors are too close together. If you try to open two doors at one time, they will fight each other for the space. Each thinking that it is their right to exist in that spot but both receiving damage in the impact. Chips in the wood are evidence of these domestic disputes. The bright side of this? These doors do not slam like my old ones used to. Here there is only me, the baby, and the cat. The baby is just learning how doors works, she will have a few years before the slamming begins. As for the cat, she prefers running into walls and pulling at the carpet with her claws. She doesn’t trust the carpet either.
Carbon Monoxide Alarm/ fire alarm:
They are all there. Blinking that red eye of light to remind me that they are working and checking the quality of my air every day. They do not check for ghosts though. I do not need an alarm for that. Even when I feel my throat growing tight, at least I know that it is not due to smoke or carbon monoxide poisoning. I am just “processing my failed marriage”. As I am told is healthy to do by my counselor. That’s reassuring, Thanks. The red-eye lights watch me unpack boxes; they are there to keep me safe, but they feel more like watchdogs.
I have decided to remove the alarms from my house, is this a risk? Absolutely, but at least the next time my chest swells and my breathing is short, I can consider the possibility that there is smoke somewhere in the house or invisible gasses wrapping themselves up in my lungs.
Windows and screens:
The eyes watch me from the windows. No, I have not seen these eyes, but I know they are there and I know what you are thinking. She is crazy, and yes you are also probably right, but as I sit alone on my couch, waiting to be served with divorce papers, I can feel the eyes on me. They are there, watching me care for the baby. Watching me sift through the cat’s litter like a child digging up sand. They do not trust me to function as I did before. To shield myself from them, I have taped blank paper to the glass windows creating a membrane between me and the eyes. They can still see my silhouette but not the defined details of me.
It is less of a kitchen and more of a living room extension that has been supplied with some kitchen appliances that most likely outdate the dinosaurs.
They are marked with cuts, reminders that this is a temporary engagement. I will be nothing more than a few cuts on a countertop to the next tenant.
The baby pulls on the drawers and slams them shut as I prepare sustenance for myself. She is starting to slam things earlier than I expected. The finalizing sound send her into hysterics. Laughing as she pulls the next cabinet open and prepares to close it as hard as her little body can manage.
“Dada” she screams as the door smacks into place. Her giggles cause my lungs to seize and I check to make sure the carbon monoxide alarm is still absent from its place on the wall. My cat watches from the stairs, cleaning its claws.
The baby continues to open and shut the drawers and her giggles transform into an imitated anger and she slams the next drawer.
“Sut up bith” The baby tests out these new syllables and then falls on her butt, face red and smiling as the cat watches from the stairs, ready to pounce. I place the baby back in her bed with a cookie to keep her from saying more, thankful that the eyes can’t see exactly what I handed the baby. The cat returns to cleaning between her toes.
The stove is a monster. Old and yellow, the oven’s large mouth pours smoke out if you try to cook anything in it. Before I disposed of the smoke alarms they would wail every time I preheated the old beast. Now I stick to things that can be cooked in the microwave or, better yet, pulled straight from the fridge.
The sink is invisible under the dirty dishes that have accumulated there. I let them sit, not because I don’t like washing my dishes, but because I don’t want to see my face reflected back at me.
Someone has gutted the inside of the fridge. The shelves and edges are missing, except for one shelf that is sporting a suspicious crack in the middle. I fear that it will not be able to support more than a half-gallon of milk; that will be fine, since there are only two of us now and I don’t drink milk. But I still worry about that shelf as it sags more every time that I open the door. The plastic looks to be made of rubber as it dips lower, but never breaks. I assume that it is unbreakable. I stack things on it to test this. I bought a whole ham, not because I like ham, but so that I can see if it will finally break the one shelf that is left standing. I want to watch it break in half. I will prove that even the most flexible of objects can snap. I drop the whole ham on the shelf, and it lets out a surprised squeak and bends ominously, bouncing a little as it adjusts to the weight of the new resident on its back. The satisfying sound of the shelf breaking never comes. Still, I sit in front of the open refrigerator. The only light comes from the bulb in the fridge. I sit there letting the cold hit my face as I observe the sagging shelf, taking mental notes. I sit there. Like that. The cat sits next to me. Watching. When I moved here my therapist pushed me to adopt a cat. “A clean slate”. But the cat seems to have her own baggage. We sit together on the floor, watching the shelf bounce. The only light is still the one in the refrigerator.
There is not a laundry room in this complex. You really should have a couple versions of this generic form so that those without laundry rooms are not reminded that there is something that they lack.
Seriously? There are no windows in this bathroom. Did you even look at this apartment before renting it out?
The light is fluorescent, and it flickers. A nice change from the sunlight that filters through the paper on my windows in other rooms. There are no other lights in the bathroom. I breathe in the flickering of this one that reminds me of the horror movies that we used to watch, all tangled up together on the couch. In a house that belonged to us. Not this home that I have retreated to now. I smile as the light flashes. The mirror reflects my smile between flickers of light. The baby shrieks from the bathtub.
The bathtub is blue. Not in a retro-blue kind of way. But in a stained, science experiment gone terribly wrong kind of way. My fingers are red from the scrubbing. I guess magic erasers do not work on everything. I throw out the mangled sponge and start to run a bath. Bubbles cover up the blue splotches that have infected the surface of my tub. The best I can hope for is for the color to fade over time. The blue reminds me of the time I spilled sprinkles on my dad’s deer hide rug. They looked like a rash. That night, after I went to bed, my dad threw the sprinkle rash rug in the trash. He knew I would be upset. He always said I looked like Bambi when I cried. I still can’t help to think that deer died to be discarded.
The baby is sleeping at her dad’s house, so I sip from my wine glass as the water rushes into the tub like a manmade waterfall. The eyes would not want me drinking with the baby at home. My phone appears in my hand and I appreciate the stable light that is radiating from it. I lay in the tub as my fingers flick through pictures of men. Swipe left. The cat jumps onto the side of the tub and sticks her paw into the water. Shocked by the sudden wetness, she runs to the closet and lays on top of the towels. Swipe left. No. Ew. Swipe. That’s just a picture of a rock. Swipe right.
I shut the flow of water off with my toes as I mindlessly shuffle through the “hot singles in my area” trying to distract myself from the fact that my skin is touching the blue stained bathtub. Faces blur as I swipe past eyes and shining teeth, none of the pictures seem to take full shape and I stopped reading the words after the second picture.
The cat hisses at me from the other side of the room. None of the pictures have screamed soulmate to me and the water has turned cold. I suck down the last of my glass and pour another as I wrap a yellow towel around me. Water seeps into the dry towel, creating an outline of me. I go to my own profile on the app and change my bio to: Wanna see my blue bathtub?
The sink is shaped like a shell. A seashell, like the ones you find on the beach. This seems out of place in this apartment, but it is old and worn and I can tell it is haunted too. The pipes are exposed and run down into the ground like blood vessels carrying fluids through the house. Creating circulation.
The corner of the mirror is shattered, not to the point of unuseability, but the previous resident is definitely going to have a rough seven years. As a kid, my mother told me my eyes were too big for my face, so now I peer into the mirror and highlight my “too big eyes” with eyeliner and brush yellow eyeshadow over the lids to bring all attention to this feature. Shattered in the broken part of the mirror I have fifteen eyes instead of the two that I actually possess giving me the appearance of a deer that spent her whole life drinking from a toxic water supply.
My bare skin pressed against the new carpet. I can feel it becoming more haunted with time, but I still hate it as the small fibers scratch at my skin. I roll to my side to look at the guy lying next to me on the floor, I study his face, but even now the features do not stick in my brain. They slide off of my memory like raindrops.
“You’re unforgettable” he says as he turns to look at me with his eyes. These eyes inside my house that do not belong to the cat. Or the baby. They are open windows. It feels nice to have another soul in the house; for a few moments though I wonder what the eyes in the window think of this new silhouette in the house. They would frown on my playdate.
“My house is haunted,” I say towards the ceiling. The man laughs as I watch the cat’s bright yellow eyes peer out from under my bed. I wish I could fit under there with her.
“It’s ok, I’ve dated a Goth before,” I hate the way his lips curl into a smile at this. We met two hours ago. He knows nothing.
“The ghosts are coming,” I stand up and shove his boxers towards him, the fox print looking up at me. He barely has time to get them on as I push him out into the hallway and turn the deadbolt, a barrier between me and his open-window eyes.
I curl up in the nest of my bed. The cat cautiously crawls out from under the bed, sinking her claws into the carpet where the man had lain. As I watch her, I can still feel the places on my back where the floor rubbed against me.
Yep. There are windows in this room too. You keep asking for this form back, but how can I fill it out quickly if you expect so much information?
There is a hole in my closet. I can feel the anger that caused it even though I was not here to witness the action. At night I sit in the dark. The ghosts stay away from the closets. They don’t want to be labeled as stereotypes. And I secretly think they are afraid of the hole. I cannot see anything behind it and I am convinced that it leads to a different dimension. A dimension where ghosts don’t exist. Where I am still married. And all of the bathtubs are stained white. I take my wedding ring off of my finger and drop it in the hole. Maybe one day someone in the other dimension will have a use for it.
There is a loose cable hanging from the ceiling. The baby screams every time she sees it. It is kind of unsettling as it swings back and forth by itself. I don’t know who thought it would be smart to run a cable through the ceiling, but I don’t watch TV, so I just lay in bed and watch it swing. Sometimes I wonder what the cord would feel like on my skin. Cold I imagine.
The features of this room are all the same, as if it were copy and pasted. You would know this if you actually spent time in this apartment. Do I really have to keep filling out this form?
Ok, there’s a window in here too, the eyes like this window the best.
I have put plants on the windowsill. All of them have turned brown from the lack of sunlight. The baby and the cat sit on the floor and take turns batting at the shriveled leaves. The baby is corrupting the cat with her mischief. I move the baby away from the window and place her in her crib. I shake a yellow toy shaped like a fish in front of her face. I hope the eyes notice that I can play with the baby too. Thankfully they can’t see the tears rolling down the baby’s face. The cat nudges my elbow and I scratch her between the ears, allowing the baby to self soothe.
The baby likes to roll on this carpet. I think it reminds her of grass. She ignores me when I tell her that it is haunted. Maybe when she is older, she will start to feel how scratchy the carpet really is. At least the cat understands- she is reluctant to come in this room.
The closet in here does not have a hole.
It’s a door. Like every door it has hinges that hold it in place even when gravity wants to push it down.
I lay on the floor. Waiting for the baby to fall asleep. She wants me near her, but I can’t stand her sweaty skin against mine, so I lay on the floor next to her crib and look at the ceiling. This ceiling is popcorn too, but it has bits of glitter in it so that when cars on the street drive by you can see a quick glimpse of false stars. I image this draws the ghosts in, they get to momentarily forget that they are dead and will not be able to see the stars again, so they anticipate the moment when the ceiling reflects light before the room falls dark again. I feel sandwiched between the sparkling ceiling and the not haunted carpet. The cat is standing right outside the door, waiting for me. Her eyes make me feel like I am looking into the fridge at that yellow lightbulb hovering over the shelf that won’t break.
About the Author:
Koree was born and raised in Kearney, Ne. She is currently pursuing her MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She is also working as a graduate assistant at UNK. Her previous work has been featured in her university‘s literary magazine The Carillon. She draws inspiration from the overlooked aspects of everyday life, such as a rental inspection form.