Up several flights of stairs sits number 404. It's cramped but cosy, and it's all I can afford; a semi-decent rental apartment, in what's definitely not the nice part of town. My kitchen can only hold one person at a time. Even I find myself tripping over my own feet as I narrowly avoid knocking things off the counter or stove. Tonight I'm only making a coffee. Too tired to cook, I stopped and bought takeout on my walk home.
I lean against the counter, waiting for the water to boil, listening closely to the sounds of the neighbours. It sounds like there's a gathering across the hall, watching a sport of some sort. 405 are arguing, though I can't tell what about. I pour my water into a mug of instant coffee powder and make a mental note to save up for a coffee machine.
I drink so much, it may as well taste good.
Ladder rubs against my legs as I take a sip. It's an odd name for a cat, I know, but I didn't want to get attached. I heard her one night, crying by the dumpster behind the building as I took out my trash. I only ever planned to nurse her back to health and then pass her along to a shelter, or a friend. And everyone knows if you name something you'll get attached. The ladder of the fire escape was the first thing I saw as I picked her up.
Unfortunately, it stuck.
The lease said no pets, but I never intended for Ladder to stay. Despite all my efforts, she found a place in my heart and curled up there to nap. She's quiet enough that the neighbours haven't discovered her. Part of me thinks she knows she's a secret.
I scratch her chin and make my way to the desk.
I pick up a blanket from the couch as I walk past, and wrap it around myself. I've turned the heater on, but it's ancient and loud and takes forever to actually do its job. It is 9:48 and I sit at the desk with a fresh coffee, laptop on, notes open, warm light glowing from the lamp by my side. Ladder sits on the blanket's edge, which drapes over the floor below me, and falls asleep in its warmth.
My desk sits in front of the window, looking out from the fourth storey onto the streets below. From here I can see the train station, lit up at all hours. The passing trains shake my building as they rumble and screech to a stop, but I've grown used to them. It's Saturday night, which always brings the late-night party crowds. They arrive around 10, ready to hit the clubs. Sometimes I hear the last heading home, shouting and stumbling drunk, as I go to sleep. There are times I've considered joining them- there's a club a little way down the street- though my own anxieties convince me not to go. That's one of the few anxious thoughts I don't try to fight.
It's raining tonight; a forceful downpour that echoes off the glass and around the room. The cars below splash through the puddles. Occasionally the pulse of a techno beat accompanies them, blaring through the speakers. And sometimes the cursing shouts of an unfortunate pedestrian, doused by an unexpected spray, drift up to my window.
The cars never stop to apologise.
The street lights create morphed shadows, all reflected in the ripples of the water covering the asphalt and concrete. They seem almost sinister, all appearing to scuttle into the alleyway as the red and blue lights of the police sweep over the water's surface. The sirens used to scare me, though they too are now routine. Another drunk must have been pissing in the street, it's not uncommon.
My coffee grows cold with the hours as I struggle with the last of my essay. There's one more sentence before I reach the word count.
The heating shuts off with a click, as it's prone to do, exactly as I hit the final period. The noise startles Ladder, who had, until now, been peacefully asleep.
Chilled fingers of winter air reach through the windowpane and stroke at my cheek, no longer fought off by the heating
It's 11:26 and I know editing will have to wait for tomorrow.
I pour the last of my cold, bitter coffee down the sink, and scoop up the small cat as I make my way to the bedroom. It's too cold to even consider brushing my teeth- my only thoughts are of the warmth and comfort of my bed.
It's 11:32. The rain pounds against the windows The train rumbles forward. The cars continue on the road. The clubbers laugh and yell in the streets.
The city sings me to sleep, as Ladder purrs softly by my side.