Sizzle lived on the third floor of my apartment building, two units away from my studio. It was a big building, with twelve floors, and five or six one-bedrooms and studios on each floor. Most of the residents were either retired or students attending the private college mere blocks from our building.
Sizzle was neither, probably. I never knew how she came by her name, but assumed it was because her hair was a crimson burst of agitated curls that erupted from her head and tore the air behind her with coarse, jagged, red peaks. She was a fixture in that building; had been there for years before I ever moved in. In the few years we shared a roof, I could never tell how old she was. Couldn’t even guess a decade. She had shiny olive skin and dark eyes and zero wrinkles. She was broad shouldered and sported a stiff, ambling, gait; her feet hurt. She wore layers, even in the height of Chicago summers. Her voice was gravel under late loafers, scuttle-rustling through sentences like thoughts were uncomfortable and maybe we should all just skip the hassle.
I met Sizzle at the giant recycling bin behind our apartment, during the first week of my freshman year. She was sorting through it, grabbing handfuls of junk mail and stuffing them into her laundry bag. I said hi, introduced myself, and was handed a crisp cascade of intangible rocks as she tossed her name at me; “Sizzle.” I smiled and asked if she needed help with her project. She shook her head, red corkscrews dancing around her head in the sun, and turned her back to me.
I saw her in the hallways, here and there over the next few years, and almost regularly at the recycling bin for the first two years. Carol, the 89 year old news reporter, I mean tenant, on the floor above me, liked to give me updates on Sizzle’s junk mail activities. I once asked Carol what other tenants had interesting updates, and then four hours later I learned why don’t ask Carol anything ever. But it was Carol who told me, standing at the top of the stairs to her floor, her pale tiny legs adamant under a bathrobe made of every curtain from all the sets used in the Brady Bunch, that Sizzle had asked her for her junk mail in the lobby the other day.
Carol’s voice was shrill, with a constant undertone of chagrin, regardless of the sentiment. She gasped that Sizzle was lingering in the lobby with her laundry bag, and when Carol grabbed her mail from her slot, Sizzle said, “Mind if I grab your extra?”
Carol wrung her hands and shrugged her shoulders and laid beseeching eyes on me.
“I gave it to her! What could I do? Why not, why couldn’t I? Why not.”
I laughed, and nodded. I was about to make my getaway, but Barry, a 70 year old man whose diet was comprised entirely of tinned sardines, whole grain toast, and the perpetual need to clean his ears with what was hopefully an oft cleaned handkerchief, emerged from his apartment near the stairwell and stated,
“Sizzle always gets the junk mail. Who cares why.”
He went back into his apartment and slammed the door before either Carol or I could respond. I waved at Carol and went to class.
Sizzle was, indeed, asking for our junk mail. Soon, she wasn’t even asking; she’d just hold her hand out and we’d hand it over, like kids with over-chewed gum. I once or twice saw her pulling pieces of junk mail through the slots, when an edge stuck out; but they would rip and she would get mad and hiss muttered pebbles at the mistake.
Weeks went by, and I realized Sizzle hadn’t asked me for my trash. Carol’s news reports had shifted to Barry and his sardines, and Barry now cleaned his nose instead of his ears. I watched for Sizzle at the recycling bin and caught myself waiting for her in the lobby a few times. Nothing.
Carol watched me sorting my junk mail one morning, in front of the mailboxes, and told me, “I think Sizzle was evicted.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, have you seen her? Where could she be? I wonder about where else she could be, really? She must have been evicted.”
“I hope not! I hope she’s ok! Should we check?”
Carol shook her head and said,
“Best to mind our business, honey.”
The police came to Sizzle’s door the next morning. They knocked, then broke in, while we all stood outside our apartments in silence. I saw Carol over the banister at the top of the stairs. The officers were in her apartment for several minutes, and then one came out to tell us to go back inside and go about our day. I took a shower, got dressed. When I left my apartment, the police were still there. Sizzle’s door was open and they were carrying her away on a stretcher. It was a zipper bag, the kind that exists in movies. The second the cops left, Carol scurried into her apartment.
I was frozen in the entrance of my door, struck with the idea that this constant in my casual comfort had slipped away so easily. Carol yelled for me to come inside, and, not myself, I did.
Sizzle’s apartment was filled with neatly stacked junk mail. They seemed to be organized according to texture: shiny, matte, thin, thick. One pile was only words. In the back room, where a bed should be, were sculptures. Papier mache figurines filled the sun addled room, streaks of light pulling pieces of the sculptures into sharp focus against the dingy floor and their crude bucket pedestals.
I stood in her room, in Sizzle’s secret fire, and straddled the boundaries between her home and mine. I thought about her in our lives, our business, somehow, with our trash. And my body, unasked in her home, her secrets, this fire she hid so well. I looked at the bits of her, molded meticulously across years and many asks. I said goodbye to Sizzle, aching in the knowledge that my need to say goodbye arose from a line she crossed, and was answered, in turn, by me crossing it, too.