“Come here much?” she asks, moving her baby to the other arm while she looks for a place to set her backpack down.
“Here?” I whisper. The rest of the crew is filming in the next room and I’m scribbling notes, listening through the wall.
“You know. Omaha?” She hands me her backpack, and I take it, not sure what else to do. She reaches in and fishes out some sort of toy for the baby. She touches my shoulder ostensibly to balance herself. I’m suspecting ulterior motives.
“Oh. Not really.”
I hold my finger up to my lips and she nods, apologetically. I don’t really think the microphones will pick up our whispers in the next room, but I’m hoping to dispell any future plans concocting in her head. It’s not that she’s unpretty or even unpleasant. It’s just that, looking around the apartment, I don’t want to get to close to all this.
We’re interviewing this girl’s mother, a compulsive hoarder. Shooting in her apartment is the biggest logistical challenge we’d had yet. Where, exactly, does one set up a tri-pod in a hoarder’s home? The kit that records our audio has to be balanced on an old stereo. I myself turn over a bucket to sit on and am using an old microwave as a table to set my notebook on. You see why the girl was having trouble finding a place for the backpack. I settle in what passes for my chair and knock over a broom and a stack of used coffee cans (a racket much more likely to be picked up by the microphone.)
“You should come more often,” she whispers. “If you do, you know, we could hang out.” I look up and she says, softer. “You know, if you wanted.”
She’s not nervous. Not really. Instead, there’s an eager hope that sickens me, because I’m not even close to the escape she thinks I am. I’m looking around at all this stuff, stuff, piles of it, rooms of it. It doesn’t just make it hard to set up a camera. It imprisons people too. Hearts.
Stuff, as with so many other things, reaches deeper than we dream.
I don’t say anything to her invitation, which must have looked affirming, because she handed me her baby, almost threw him at me, fished a pen and paper out of her backpack and said this was her phone number and to please call next time I’m in town and have I ever been to this bar it’s pretty nice and please don’t forget and I just say okay and take the phone number because what else am I supposed to do? But even if I were to call, what would I do? I have some stuff of my own, sweetheart, and we’re all looking for a way out.
The interview wraps up and we’re all cleaning up in the same room. The hoarder’s boyfriend, an affable vet, pulls me aside and says he’s noticed her staring and am I going to do anything about it?
“Uhm, we’ll see?” I say. I’ve never been good at this sort of thing.
“You should,” he says. “I haven’t seen her smile like this in years.”
And we pack up and are gone. Don’t imagine I’ll see her again.