“Nesting Instinct” by Scott Baker
Card picked: 5♠
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz
Tracy travels to Paris to live and study for a year with her sister Liz, who already lives there. But, when Tracy arrives, her sister has left for Nice and Liz’s apartment isn’t hers at all, but her boyfriend Marcelo’s. Tracy is sent to stay with Isobel, but Isobel is leaving for Lisbon (where she’ll meet up with Liz) to tend to Isobel’s brother’s remains. But Tracy can stay in Isobel’s apartment as long as she needs. Ownership of the place simply passes from friends to friend. As Isobel explains:
The rule is, you can use anything here but you can’t keep it, and you have to leave something of your own when you go. And you can’t leave the apartment empty, or else we’ll lose it. If you move out you have to find someone to take your place.
The apartment is a wedge shape, a slice of the top floor of a round building, and full of things left behind by the sixteen others who have lived there. Initially, Tracy is afraid to be alone. She never has spent much time alone, but after Isobel leaves, the apartment becomes cozier to Tracy. She luxuriates in long hot baths and over-sleeps the curious loft cubby-hole the serves as her bedroom. And though originally afraid of the wasps that build their nest just outside her window, she develops a kinship with them…in more ways than one.
Tracy’s being away from home for the first time reminded me of when I first moved away (but not too far away) for college. It was scary, but it was also exciting to have so much freedom. The uneasy aspect of this story for me is how easily Tracy’s sense of freedom is twisted into being its own sort of prison. If this were a Joyce Carol Oates story, it would be stiflingly claustrophobic and deeply unsettling. Luckily(?), it’s not. Instead, Scott Baker only makes it a normal amount of unsettling and therefore readable without frequent breaks for air.