The Efficiency Apartment by Jessica Bonder

Having lost all faith in humanity, having dated a daisy chain of douchebags that if lined up – nuts to butts – would circle the world twicely and still wind up on her doorstep, hungover, saying some shit like they forgot their hoodies/lost their keys/can they sleep on the futon (well okay, but no touching clause in effect!), having tough-loved herself – suck it up, bitch! – into believing she was worth more than that – quitting – and that giving herself more time (even!) and another chance (yet!) was the best/most self-caring- est thing – haven’t you learned by now, silly goose? – when trying on a new man, like a squeaky pair of discounted “designer” shoes that salesperson Mango attested – attested verily! – would break-in overtime, meld to a custom-fit – like magic! – get comfy and cozy with all your ingrowns and bunions, learn to love you with all your faults, i.e. just the way you are [and btw, that wedge heel? makes your calves look sooo amazing, gurl! (can I put these in a bag for you, or are you wearing them out of here, Miss Sassy Lady?)], having repeat-cycled through all the obligatory motions of cis womanhood, the yin/yang whiplash of self-improvement credos/morning-after-walks-of-shame (rollercoaster ride a back massage in comparison), on the eve of her 37th birthday, hair grease-knotted, unshaved legs yoga-pantsed, face stuffed with cheap chuck taco – actual taco, not a euphemism, you sickos! – Beth decided, goddammit and for chrissakes, if she can’t get what she wants out of life, i.e. happiness, welp, she might as well clean this motherfucking apartment.

Where’s the Febreze?

Pine Acres, the garden apartment community where Beth rents, welcomes inmates residents with an emerald green sign out front, mock-carved out of “wood”: PINE ACRES A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE! Grammatical microaggression #1: no comma after ACRES. What a lying liar, that sign – it’s not a great place to live, not from what Beth can see, in her toaster reflection or in the immediate surround: unit after unit of unemployed beer bellies, tramp-stamped single moms, short-bused special kids, game-show-gripped cottonheads, tripedal dogs, glaucoma cats, undocumented reptilia, etc. No one’s life is great here – no one’s, Beth! – so grow some empathy/a pair of ovaries, wouldja please? Say it aloud, thricely, shiny appliance facing, like you mean it: I’m not alone. Go on – say it, Beth. Beth? Hello? Ms. Elizabeth M. Brock, hello hello, are you there? This is your therapist-embedded-conscience speaking! Fine: I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone. There. Happy now/feel better? No. Absofuckinlutely not. FWIW: rye’s burnt.

Is this it?

**crawls out from under kitchen cabinet**

**fluorescence aided, reads aerosol can**

Nope! a/o Gah!

Wasp spray.

It’s PLEEZ-NO-BEEZ, a rust-bottomed souvenir from late last August (that romantical dead zone between Josh II and spelled-with-an-h Thom), when the A/C blew out, and Rick the Dick Super’s spinning-arrow office sign pointed to Not On Premises, and Beth, problem-solving, opened a window for air – pointless! – and in exploded a colony of pent-up stingers, happy to meet Beth, face-first. Severe reaction: pink gumballs for eyes, ten days to re-open. Beth’s third reason for hospitalization, year last. The second being a broken leg, the first being a suicide attempt. The second and first things, they were a 2-for-1/same-day kinda deal, just reverse order. January 15th, MLK Day. I have a dream.

Do I, like, not own cleaning supplies?

What the literal fuck.

With an (online) Master’s in Library Science, but currently making (split) ends meet as a tip-reliant hair washer at Curl Up & Dye (out on Route 22), Beth, these days, she dreams of corrections. For starters, rage-painting a comma – the world’s fucking-est hugest comma! – after the ACRES on the PINE ACRES sign. A Costco-sized can of white matte, cartoonishly oversized brush, huge sweeping strokes, just for show, is how Beth would get ‘er done, this DIY fantasy born of adjusted expectations (see: impending 37th birthday). Not that Beth would ever vandalize, no, Beth would never. In the way Beth’s mom rejects accepts that Beth’s just not the marrying kind, is how Beth has come round to that painful self-realization: she’s just not hoodlum material.


Oh Nance! how could Nance even begin to understand Beth’s predicament? Nance grew up in a different generation, didn’t she now, a different era, altogether! An era of such a thing as going steady. Of such a thing as holding hands. Of such a thing as naming your firstborn after your great-grandmother (see: Elizabeth), and not, like celebrities tools parents these days, a piece of fruit (see: Mango).

Is that it, the problem? Her name? Does “Beth” just scream “unlovable”?


If Beth were named Mango, like Mango’s named Mango, would she be happier?


Were she a Mango/Pineapple/Kumquat, say, and not a Beth/Karen/Rachel (sad!), how could her life, like, NOT be a party, 24/7?


How could her every waking moment, like, NOT be lit AF?

Beth considers this, what’s in a name, anyways, as she hoofs it to the Curl Up, arms swinging, pits chafing, crossbody lunch tote bouncing off her butt, new “Steve Maddens” digging into her left heel/right big toe, blisters weeping anew. She overslept – crap! – Dee’s gonna be pissed! Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Passing it now, the sign she’ll never correct/vandalize, pretends she doesn’t see it, does. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Eight more months of this Court-imposed ambulation before her license un-suspends and Beth can drive again. Ho boy! Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Not that Beth owns a car, anymore, nor, with all the psychotropics and anticonvulsants trip-wiring her CNS, should Beth be anywhere near a manually-operated vehicle. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. The plastic amber bottle of Beth’s Life, its WARNING label should read: May cause dizziness, nausea, impaired thinking, depression, suicidal ideation, compulsive behavior, substance abuse, body dysmorphia, crushing loneliness, fallen arches, mommy issues. Talk to your doctor if any of these symptoms persist. Or adopt cat. Name cat Ruggles. Tell Ruggles problems. (Ha! like Ruggles care!) Filled on: 4/2/1978 Refills: 0

Wait wait, ok, here we go! What’s this?

100% Pure Ammonia.

That’s good for polishing highly porous and untreated woodwork, right?

**unscrews cap, gets whiff**

Christ on a cross, that’s harsh!

Words create your world, your best self, is a sine vino veritas of psycholinguist and addiction expert Dr. Barbara Mathers (Suite 3A in the Hamilton building, Rt. 9 Korporate Kampus). Barb’s job is convincing Beth not to kill herself. Or at least refrain from negative/unhelpful verbiage when discussing year last’s Incident, i.e. Beth’s calling it a “shit attempt” or a “fucked up jump”, characterizing her right tibia as “snapping like Britney Spears”. (See what you did just there?) Next time, goes Barb, why not say something kinder, more compassionate, i.e. “I tried my best”? or “I’ll do better next time!” Can we try for that, Beth? Can we aim for an Easy Achievable™?

I don’t know, Barb.

Please stop calling me Barb, Beth.

You said I could call you Barb, Barb.

When did I say that? And why would I?

You know, for a psycholinguist…

Small steps leading to big steps! is the beauty of the Dr. Mathers Step Chart to Doing Life™. Basically it looks like a ziggurat: Easy Achievables™ the terrace stairs gradually building, ramp-like, to the soundly supported top tier/temple of your Realistic Life Goal™. Beth’s Realistic Life Goal™, the top tier/temple of her personally customized ziggurat, being something like “Have a Life/Goal.”

Always a ziggurat, never a pyramid.

Isn’t that what the lovelorn say?

Well fuck the ziggurat! It’s Beth’s motherfucking birthday – well almost, goddammit – and if birthday girl wants to drunk-clean her efficiency apartment – hahaha, efficiency! – then birthday girl’s going to motherfucking drunk-clean her efficiency apartment! Hey Barb? Sobriety? You can shove it up your Sphinx! **swigs Wild Turkey** I mean, just what exactly, do and pray tell, is so goddamn efficient about this so-called efficiency apartment? What about, exactly, its rusty two-burner electric stove, its leaky frost-ridden half-fridge, its deafening compact dishwasher, its kitchenette is the living room is the bedroom, its murphy bed is the bed is the sofa is the ironing board, its 500 sq. ft. of everything in the openness, its you on the toilet-ness, from all points, visible? Had it made Beth more efficient, life-wise, i.e. maximally productive a/o minimally wasteful vis-a- vis effort? No. No it had not. Nay if anything, since moving into this affordable housing dump, Beth had become less efficient, life-wise, i.e. minimally productive a/o maximally wasteful vis-a- vis no effort. She had fallen behind, her life’s After shot worse than its Before, the Before being that magical ten-year-ago-time ~ Before Beth’s First DUI ~ when Elizabeth M. Brock had her shit together (see: a major-related job), and was making good decisions (ignore: an unfortunate Pepe the Frog tat), and yeah sure, things hadn’t been perfect in the past-past either (think: raped in undergrad), but for all intensive purposes, hey, at least she didn’t have a record! Sides, Elizabeth was on the good side of 30, then. Time aplenty for Nance to become a grandma!

[Pretend friends enter, laughing.]

Did you just say intensive purposes? / Isn’t it intents and purposes?

Omg, hahaha, that’s so Beth! / We’re, like, calling you that from now on.

Fucking genius hilarious! / HAHAHA! / We love you Beth!

Time: two hours later.

Efficiency Apartment: still filthy

Beth: fetal on lino

Who is Beth kidding! **sobbing into Swiffer** She’ll never be a Temple of Uruk, or, or, an Etemenanki dedicated to Marduk in Ancient Babylon! Best Beth can hope for – Elizabeth M. Block, that loser! – is putting on a bra and leaving the house, and not even a High Effort bra, either, we’re talking the having-a-fat-day kind that pulls over your head, stretches sweatshirt-style, no judgment? Remember, back in Nance’s Day, when a sports bra meant you played (lady) sports? jogged? Jazzercized? stayed active and watched your figure – 34-25-36 – because that’s how you found yourself a find, caught yourself a catch? Remember, back in Nance’s Day, when an Efficiency Apartment was called a Bachelor Pad, because that’s who lived in a place like this, a stubborn failure of a man, society’s joke, the type of Low Value XY Nance’s daughter would never date – no, never! – because your Elizabeth, she has standards, deserves the best, plus it’s not like she’s ugly? Remember when, and Nance does, if you weren’t exceedingly fat or wart-ridden, if you remembered to smile and play dumb and douche your vagina – daisy fresh! – that the opposite of a Bachelor arrived on time, just as you expected, gainfully employed and ring in hand, a ready-to-ship Husband?

Yeah no. Beth can’t either.

Times have changed.

Givens that were givens, they’re not givens, anymore.

Even Efficiency Apartments, now they’re calling them Studios.

To make it sound cool to be poor.

And maybe it’s for the best.

Because who needs things that dig at you, like ill-fitting underwires and shitty exes, when you’ve got fantastic elastic, the polymer that loves you back?

And Ruggles, can’t forget Ruggles!

Ruggles have ridges!

Who loves ya, Rugs!


**checks cell phone**

11:59 PM -> 12:00 AM

Officially Beth’s birthday.

No texts. No messages.

(Nance, she’ll call in the morning.)

Happy birthday to me.


That’s me.

I’m Beth.

Jessica Bonder is an American fiction writer and actor. She has previously published works in London-based STORGY Magazine. Her short story “Not Today” won first place in STORGY’s 2015 Short Story Contest, judged by author Paul McVeigh. She has stories forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine and Vending Machine Press (2017). She holds a BA in English and Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in New Jersey. Twitter handle: @jessbonder

Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in IcarusThe Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation