When the couple arrived at the open house, the landlord wrapped her arms around them. She smelled like a big warm coconut. In Slovakia, the couple had owned a pub that had burned down. Here, they wanted to start over, in a clean home with a yard for a dog to run circles in.
They followed the landlord, through the overgrown lawn, to the side door. The windows of the upstairs, where the landlord lived, were shattered. The couple smiled at each other softly, before walking down the small flight of stairs into the basement.
The apartment was winding. Tiny rooms multiplied like rabbits in front of them. The kitchen was a brown cave of small wooden shelves. The layout felt strange, but intuitive, to the couple.
The landlord continued through the rooms, becoming wildly excited each time she opened a door. The couple felt enthralled by the landlord, perhaps due to the way she held eye contact. She seemed invested in them, unlike the other Americans they'd met. There was mold in the bathroom, a dead smell in air.
The landlord spoke loudly, and the couple started to match her excitement. They found themselves looking forgivingly over a din of cobwebs and a cramped hallway. There was a broken air purifier and the couple compassionately smiled at it, too.
The landlord opened a trapdoor in the bathroom, and descended a shiny white ladder, which led to what she suggested would be the couple's bedroom. The room had soundproofed walls, two white cots, and a large poster of a redheaded woman holding a sniper weapon.
It feels very safe here, said the wife.
A corner of our own, said the husband.
I can really see you living here, said the landlord. She touched the couple's shoulders like an angel. It'll be hard to find a better deal for the area. She moved closer to the couple, touching their faces. You know, I feel homesick too.
Before the couple left, the landlord showed them pictures of her parents. She also showed the couple a home video of herself as a young girl. In it, she picked strawberries and smashed them into a sheep's coat. She told the couple about the time she vacationed at a hot springs in Hungary. The hot springs were so hot, she said. Hot hot, she said, smiling. The landlord walked the couple to the car, with an expression that looked both weepy and alive.
The couple drove away letting the shriveled lawns pass. They returned to the motel room and sat together eating pre-made macaroni, looking out the window at an empty lot. They held hands, thinking of their invitation from the very nice landlord, her home, and America.
It is a Saturday morning and the grocery store is crowded. People yell "excuse me," bumping into him. There are lots of reaching arms, reaching for things they want. He finds himself in an aisle where a woman frantically wiggles her stubby fingers towards a pickle jar on the top shelf. A tall thin man scuttles past with a cart full of canned corn. Fluorescent lights illuminate many different lumps of cheese. A group of people circle their carts around a watermelon display like a death dance, and a small girl stares at him as she crawls out from under a table, clutching a salami. He leaves within one minute without having looked for licorice.
She looks down multiple times at a folded memo, each time whispering "licorice" then slipping it back in her pocket. She can't remember where the natural foods section is; she imagines it's where the dehydrated fruits would be, next to the nuts or the flax. She somehow gets herded into the dairy section, where she nervously compares prices of yogurt. Later she is seen holding two grapefruits, weighing them with either hand, up and down, then putting them back. She smells every hand soap and stares at sudoku covers in the Magazine section. She leaves an hour later without licorice.