First place

Emily Lillibridge got her first apartment in Berkeley by way of Aaron Spink, the older brother of a high school classmate. Aaron and his wife Deena lived in the modest one-bedroom a few blocks south of the UC campus while they attended seminary. When Aaron finished, they went off to the Philippines for a three-year mission project. Since the apartment was rent-controlled they held on to the lease and sublet to a series of students.

Aaron warned Emily over the phone that the place wasn't anything special. When Emily arrived after work on Friday with her first load of stuff, she found that the place was, in fact, a pit.

The counters and stovetop were deep in grease and the oven harbored the traumatic memory of some ill-conceived experiment involving curry, pickles and offal. The bathtub was several shades of tan and stank of patchouli and the toilet wore a fuzzy green boa. The only windows in the unit faced north onto a yard with a tall sequoia in it and beyond that an apartment building even taller than her own, so the amount of natural light was minimal. The upside of this was that you were less likely to notice the carpet, a low-pile number that had started off as a questionable combination of brown and green and only grown more repulsive in the unwashed decade that followed its installation.

Emily went out that evening to buy cleaning supplies and rent a carpet steamer. She spent most of the weekend on her knees or in some kind of a crouch, scrubbing, scouring, wiping and polishing. By Sunday evening her back and shoulders and thighs and calves were screaming, but the job was done and place was hers.

She was just getting out of the rickety old elevator, on the way back up from her last trip to the dumpster, she ran into Kenji and Dale from down the hall. They were going up to the roof and said she should come too. She started to protest but they laughed and pressed her back into the elevator with them and hit the button for the top floor.

It had rained off and on all afternoon, rinsing the air of its usual haze and after two days stooped over, the view from the rooftop staggered poor Emily. In the west, the setting sun reflected thousands of times, from cars on the bridges in the bay and from the windows of the towers of the city as it sank toward the sea beyond. In the east, the tree-covered hills seemed to leap toward the sky.

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