“How was your flight?”
“Long. You’ve cut your hair.” Claudia’s hair, once long, was cropped close around her petite face.
“Yes.” She reached up to smooth it down. “What do you think?”
“I liked it long.”
Claudia lived on a six floor walk up and Michael was winded by the time they reached her door. “It takes some getting used to,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes I’ll climb all the way up and realize I forgot to buy milk or bread. I’ll go without rather than do the stairs again.”
“It’s just because I’m tired after my long flight,” he said. “You should be running up and down these stairs everyday for exercise. Then you’d be in good shape.”
Claudia’s face twitched but she held her tongue and turned to unlock the door. It’s true she wasn’t in shape anymore and wondered if he had already sized that up. She and Michael used to play tennis together; he had been a demanding coach and she was glad she did not have a racket here.
As she opened the door to let her cousin follow her in, she looked at her apartment with eyes she hadn’t worn in months. Paint was peeling off the narrow hallway walls like bark from a dying tree. The light from a single bulb seemed to drown in the dusty air. The bathroom, shared with two tenants, was basically a toilet in a closet. The half-size bath and cracked ceramic sink were tucked beside the kitchen. A skylight opened directly above the bath and she told Michael her flatmates joked that when it rained you could just open the window instead of turning on the shower. His mouth crinkled into an uneasy smile.