“Living Off the Man” by Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet

This is the latest in Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet. To go to the column page, please click here.

So the end of October came and went and Violet had not mailed a check. No one else in the building had, either, like they had all agreed. Oglethorpe would have to leave his perch down in Florida or Bermuda or wherever he was and come up and find them.

There had been a tenants’ meeting up on the third floor where Will and Sarajean, whom Violet only knew as the couple with the matching Vespa scooters, supposedly anarchists, ladled out vegetarian chili for everyone in glazed ceramic bowls. Sarajean wore her hair in loose braids that smelled like stale ginger and had vine tattoos running up and down both arms, and shoved Violet into her chest when she entered the apartment. “Welcome, my compatriot,” she said. “Have a seat wherever you can find one.”

The apartment was filled with people known to Violet only by their faces, seen every day around the hallways and down in the laundry room, and the cars they parked outside.

The building had gone to seed. You couldn’t use the laundry now without an audience of rats watching you, and then you had to wear sandals to avoid stepping in feces. The windows leaked like sieves and there was mold in the walls where water had seeped in.

“I imagine the first thing he’ll do is send Fiona over here with her little clipboard,” said Will. There weren’t enough places to sit in the living room so Violet sat on the floor leaning against the wall with her bowl on her lap.

The young man next to her whispered, “I’m Ricky,” but Violet already knew that. She also knew that he lived right above her, in Number Six, liked Coltrane, Miles Davis and curry dishes, and that he drank wine by the bottle, and recycled.  “I’m Violet,” she said.

“You scared?”

She bit her lip and said, “No. You?”


“What we don’t know,” said Will to the group, “is whose door they’ll knock on first, or if there’ll be lawyers and cops. We need to make sure we’re cohesive in our response no matter who’s here when that happens, to show we’re serious and unified and not afraid to squat.”

“Guys, we could be talking smoke and teargas,” Sarajean said. “Smashed windows, airhorns. Anything to break us.”

“Remember, Oglethorpe has money,” Will added. “He has establishment friends. The cops will not be on our side, I don’t care what the law says.”

Violet lived on the first floor and worried she might be the one whose door they would smash. She tried not to think about what might happen, or about the blow job she gave her last landlord when she was short on the rent. She was only eighteen then and didn’t know what her rights were, even though she was used to giving blow jobs to men she never cared for. That guy ended up selling the building to a condo company and kicking everyone out anyway, then went and got himself run over by a UPS truck, which only made Violet feel sad.

She thought about coming home and finding the locks all changed, her grandmother’s hope chest left out on the front lawn for the squirrels to gnaw.

When the meeting wound up, Ricky offered to take her bowl. “What do you think?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Violet said. “What if they come tonight, when we’re asleep?”

“No way I’m sleeping tonight,” Ricky said. “I’m staying up with a flashlight and a bottle of pinot while I still have it.” He smiled at Violet. “You like jazz?”

“I do like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis,” Violet said.  She saw Ricky’s face light up.  She sort of knew it would, she had planned on it. Her mind was racing about the possibility of the landlord’s posse sneaking up on them in the night and how much she didn’t want to be the first apartment raided.

“Great. I mean, I have a bunch of Davis and Coltrane and some Parker.  Maybe, if you want, you could come to my apartment?  It might be better than waiting alone and being nervous about this whole mess.” Violet thought Ricky looked eager and dopey, sweet in a way, but definitely too browbeaten and boring for her.

“Sure…I guess I could come up for a little while. Should I bring anything?” Violet said as Ricky took the empty soup bowl from her outstretched hand.  “Naw. Wine and jazz is all we’ll need.”

Violet could hear Will talking about Olgethorpe again but in a heated tone this time. She couldn’t bring herself to concentrate on his rant and Ricky’s crooked smile simultaneously. She wasn’t quite sure why she agreed to squat in the first place. The apartments were in shambles, she could attest to that, and the sound of rats in the walls kept her up most nights worrying one would chew through the ceiling and land on her face, but would it be worth everything they would go through? Violet shuddered thinking about the rats and the raid.

The air suddenly grew quiet in Will and Sarajean’s apartment save the muffled sounds of fabric rubbing together as the rest of the tenants filed towards the door to leave. Violet pushed herself up off the floor and out of the corner and looked for Ricky as inconspicuously as she could. He was in the kitchen rinsing chili out of their bowls at the crowed sink. He looked up and flashed her that dopey smile again. She hoped she hadn’t given him an inclination that she wanted to do more than share a glass of wine and a secure space laced with the sounds of scratchy records.

Ricky gently pushed his way upstream through the mass to get to her. “So…when do you want to come over?”

“I just need to run down to my apartment real quick and get a few things in case they break my door down tonight,” she said.

“That’s cool.  I totally understand. When you’re done come on up to #6.  Knock three times.” Ricky started laughing. Violet stood there trying to figure out why this dimwit thought that was funny. The guy really was a loser.

They walked down the creaking stairs together as fast as the other people would let them. Ricky stopped at the bottom and watched Violet step past him to continue down to her apartment. She gave him a faint smile then put her head down.

She fumbled in her jeans pocket for her apartment key.  She ran her finger down the jagged edge wondering if this would be the last time she’d use it before they threw her in jail. Violet worried about what her mother would think and then laughed to herself hearing the sound of her mother’s voice in her head. It would piss her off and that made it all worthwhile.

Violet turned the key in the lock. It sounded sudden and final. The chili residue was greasy on her tongue. She looked at her reflection in the spotted and cracked bathroom mirror as she scrubbed her tongue with her purple toothbrush.

There were a few cherries left in the refrigerator. Violet had pocketed them a week ago at Whole Foods. Her only excitement, of late, had been to steal fruit and frozen dinners from the market.

Violet’s backpack was stuffed with notebooks, pens, ancient magazines she’d saved for collage material and a tattered paperback copy of Nine Stories. She took out the notebooks and magazines. She tossed them on the bedroom floor. She stuffed the backpack with six pairs of white cotton panties, a black t-shirt, a black tank top and a pair of jeans. She grabbed her Hello Kitty pajama pants on a whim and laughed at the idea of Ricky seeing her in them. And she had called him a loser? “Comfort is a goddamn luxury,” Violet muttered. She zipped the backpack and locked the apartment door behind her. She realized that locks were luxuries, too.

She made her way up the steps to Apartment #6. Ricky opened the door smiling and waved Violet in. The jazz was already whining through the apartment and she saw a bottle of wine, half empty, sitting on the coffee table. Ricky took her bag and told her to sit down, make herself at home. He poured another glass for Violet and himself and sat next to her on the couch.

“So, Violet, let’s make a toast,” he said, “to the end of financial oppression.”

They clinked glasses and he chugged his down. She thought, what the hell, and downed her’s as well. She might as well get laid tonight. At least she felt safe here.

They rambled over the usual plague of chit-chat about where they worked, whether Cheryl and Cindy, apartment #12, were more than just roommates, if Mr. Kempler, apartment #8, ever changed his clothes and how many cats, Marcus, apartment # 4, had roaming around his place. They weren’t supposed to have pets, but everyone pretty much knew when Marcus took out his garbage that smelled of cat piss and shit, not to mention the howling that ensued from behind his door at night.

After three bottles of some damn good wine, Violet was laughing and smacking Ricky on the shoulders like they’d known each other for years.

There was nothing shy standing in the way of either of them at this point. Ricky pulled her toward him, rammed his tongue in her mouth and soon they had their clothes off and were going at it on the couch. Unfortunately, the entire affair was over within ten minutes, most of the time spent fumbling with clothes. It seemed Ricky hadn’t had sex in a long time either. At least she hoped that was the reason.

“Hey,” he said as he jumped off the couch naked and got out another bottle of wine. “What did you think of the rats?”

“What?” Violet asked, sitting up. “What would anyone think of the rats? Disgusting, at the very least.” She wasn’t feeling so well.

“It works every time,” he said as he uncorked another bottle and chugged some back before handing it to her.

She just looked at him and waited.

“First, I punch a few holes in the laundry room to get the mold a flowing. Slice a few windows and pull out the caulk. That gets it all started. Then I pay my friend, Art, to bring in a load of rats one night. After that I just start bitching to the usual love-to-get-a-revolution-going kind of hippies that every building has at least two of and voila.” He slugged back some more wine and waved the bottle in the air. “It’s amazing how many apartments I’ve lived in without paying a cent. I figure we have at least six months of free rent ahead of us before they get on our case, what with the lawyers and all the crap they have to go through with the building association. That teargas bullshit was hilarious. Nobody wants to take on a slumlord building full of pissed off tenants. Believe me, I know. It’s ingenious, don’t you agree?”

Violet just stared at him in awe. She had pegged this guy for a putz. She smiled and pulled the bottle from his hand and belted down the last of it. Life wasn’t going to be so damned boring after all. She slid off the couch, on to her knees, grabbed his ass and pulled him toward her.


This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet:

Neil Serven is a writer, dictionary editor, and competitive candlepin bowler. His stories have appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, fwriction : review, A-Minor, Pure Slush, and Washington Square Review. He lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Aleathia Drehmer is the editor of the flash fiction website In Between Altered States.  Her fiction has been published online and in print over the years at Beat the Dust, Curbside Splendor, Doorknobs and Bodypaint, Eclectic Flash and Not From Here, Are You?    Aleathia adores flash fiction the best, but like the rest of the writers in the world, she has a novel in the works. She lives in upstate New York in a rural paradise with her amazing family and a slightly senile cat.

Misti Rainwater-Lites is the author of Bullshit Rodeo, forthcoming from Epic Rites Press in 2013. Misti’s poems, fiction and photographs have been published in various print and online magazines. She maintains two blogs, Roxi Xmas and Chupacabra Disco.

Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. She is the author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press and has edited and co-authored The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011, stories from her monthly column, Exquisite Quartet published in Used Furniture Review. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.

The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011 is available for purchase.

More of Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet at Used Furniture.

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