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the place by the tracks

In the third-floor apartment, I walk around and touch the cold furnaces. I take a brilliantly hot shower that steams up the whole room and take my time getting dressed. I listen to water dripping and find where it's coming from: the roll-down shower curtain; the shower cap; the faucet after it's just been used. Every once in a while I hear the train approaching, groaning like a slow thunder roll, and I think it's the heat finally kicking on. If I close my eyes, I can feel little parts of me moving, vibrating from the speed.


At night I wear two sweaters, including one of Alpaca wool. I lie in the hosts' bed and look around at all the things that make up their life: the emptied out shelves and the big wicker baskets, the black and white elephant portrait that takes up the whole wall. I wonder how many times the couple has locked the door, or laid here in the still darkness, wanting to speak to their partner but not sure what to say, and whether it's worth waking them.

I dream that I wake up in a stranger's apartment, the one above mine, one with glorious heat and two boys that laugh that I've sleep-walked into their place. When I actually wake up, my AirBnB host messages me: "is it warm". I doze and then pull my groggy self from bed; I touch the furnaces again and feel their radiant heat. They seem to be working, I write back, relieved I don't have to lie, that I don't have to spend the next two weeks contemplating whether I should have said no--whether I should have burdened them with my luxurious American needs. "it's an old building," the host writes back, "it takes time to warm up." He tells me the neighbor will give me an iron, even though I didn't ask. I knock on the neighbor's door later, heart pounding, not sure if they'll speak Polish, German or English. They don't answer.

I walk to Bauhaus in the grey cold, meander down the aisles, and then to Kaufhaus, where I buy a vitamin C shot, pudding, water and sausage, the staples of my diet here. I walk back home feeling not quite accomplished but at least content that I moved my muscles, that despite this lingering head cold (or long COVID?), I'm still getting out.

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