We didn’t always live on South Second Street. We moved there from Rutledge Street, on the other side of the neighborhood. But the Hasidic Jews had moved in, so Papi said we couldn’t live there anymore, although he didn’t live with us. My mother’s friend Mojona had bought a building in the Southside, and so Mami rented a two-bedroom apartment from her for $75 a month.
Our apartment was on the second floor of a brick house on a narrow street, between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
There was just the four of us—Mami, Evie, Rafael, and me—since Papi didn’t live with us.
We had a gate, front yard made of concrete, a big stoop. Up the stairs, right at the curve of the landing where, cut into the wall was a small shelf where Mami said you were supposed to put holy statues of saints so they could see you walk up and down the stairs, maybe tell you to watch your step, be careful because the banister is rickety, tell you you going out dressed like that dress, you look like a hoowa, stuff like that, I guess, because there were never any saints on there when we lived there.
You walked into the living room. To the left was the kitchen. And right to your right was the bathroom, with a glass door you couldn’t see through and an old tub with little feet, and an old wooden tank above the toilet with this little handle on a chain. I was always afraid that tank would fall on my head. I used to watch it. It used to sweat.
And down from the bathroom was a hallway where the paint used to peel but we knew we weren’t supposed to eat that and anyway it was not as salty as potato chips so who would want to eat it anyway?
Past the hallway was the big bedroom, which was sometimes Mami’s room, or Mami’s and my room, or all the kids’ room, or the guest room. And then there was a little bedroom beyond that, with a window that was right over the front door of the building. A lot of Mami’s relatives used to come and stay with us. A lot a lot. Which was one reason Papi said he didn’t live with us. “Bunch of freeloaders,” he always said.
In the back, outside the kitchen and living room windows was the roof for the rest of the apartment downstairs. They had more rooms on the second and first floor, but up here we had blacktop. But it was like our private playground, except it sloped a little bit, and there was no fence on two sides, so we didn’t play there that much, or else we might fall off and Mami would have to sue. And back there was where Mami hung our clothes after she had hand-washed them. After she did laundry you could see all the bright clothes out there, like big paper dolls of all of us, Mami, Evie, Rafael, and me. But not Papi, since he didn’t live with us, so Mami didn’t have to do his laundry.