When I come home and walk down my hallway, I know Norma has her apt. door propped open when I feel the breeze circulating and smell the fresh scent of starch and hear her stove CLick, CLick, CLick, the burner turned all the way up past high. She is boiling potatoes. The chicken she will fry after and then set beside the potatoes, cooled, cut in half, covered in a mixture of egg yolk, garlic, garlic, maybe a little mayo and then on top, halved red olives.
Norma is maybe 75 years old. Her short white hair and thick glasses, she calls me Merrry with her accent still thick if El Salvador even after 35 years in Queens and when she gives me a card on mother's day, she even spells my name this way: Merry.
During the winter, when I make soup, which is every day or every other day (I make it to survive the ice that remains piled up, rotten garbage underneath, dog shit laid in in every which step you take), I bring her a bowl of it boiling hot. We both love lentil and she is curious about what grain barley is. She brings back the bowl, impossibly clean, to me always when I have the kids in bed, quieting down and ready to sleep, "Thank you, Merry. Thank you." Big smile and she goes back next door.
We complain about the landlord's stingy grip on the heat. From 10:30 PM until 5:30 AM not a blast of hot steam releases from our radiators, no matter how low the thermometer drops. Within the letter of the law, but still.
When I walk past I call into her apt, "Norma, Hi!" And standing in her doorway we'll chat about this and that. Which medications she has been to buy today, which are still on order, which cost her more than $100 each. She's lonely mostly, and maybe I am too. It's comforting to have someone always next door to me. I hear her asthmatic cough when I am chopping onions in the kitchen, her window on the fire escape, my window on the fire escape. It feels safer with her there. Always watching over our floor.