THREE SHORT MEMOIRS
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 15, Number 2
Copyright © 2020
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Essay by Samantha Steiner
I. Room to Grow
Make yourself at home, as long as home is a place where
you don’t walk, don’t move, don’t breathe. After two decades
of that life, I moved into a Manhattan closet, cut leaves from
paper and taped them to the walls. Boxed but free, I slept under
my homemade tree.
Mom and I went through menopause together. She was fifty-
four, newly divorced. I was sixteen, newly without a dad. Our
She begged me to sleep on the empty side of her bed. We
cried together, ate little, woke covered in bumps left by dust mites.
Two frail old sisters, one dragging herself to work, the other to
My empty bed screamed for me. I found my dad and
screamed at him. I was so happy to see him. Two years arid, my
body finally bled again. Mom hated me for it. But it wasn’t my
III. The Seventeenth Floor
I was five when Mom gave me an adult-sized jewelry box
lined with pink velveteen. Inside, broken necklaces. The box was
from a neighbor, she told me.
I was seven when she showed me her trick. We took the
elevator to the top floor of our apartment. She led the way to the
compactor room, pulled the door open just wide enough to look:
packing peanuts and discarded mail. We took the stairs one flight
down, checked the next compactor room, and so on for twenty-
something flights, all the way to the lobby.
Every so often, a surprise. New shoes, my brother’s size.
An unmarked birthday card with a fifty-dollar bill inside. She timed
her visits to maximize pickings, half an hour before the building
workers emptied the bins.
I was sixteen when Mom stopped shopping the trash. Dad
was asking to separate.
“He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” she said. “He
thinks when something isn’t perfect, you just throw it away.”
He moved out. We spent weeks on the couch together. I
held her while she cried, until the night I distracted her. “You
haven’t checked the trash in a while. Want to?”
I waited in the stairwell on each floor while she checked. On
seventeen, a bag of designer clothes, tags still on. She actually
smiled. Back in our living room, we held a fashion show.
Then I told her I was going out, be back soon. She
recognized my guilt.
“If you’re going to see him,” she said. “Don’t come back.”
I understood. We could go on forever, sweet in the pages of
some bizarre storybook, or she could juice my throat with the
stilettos she had found on the seventeenth floor.
Samantha Steiner is a Fulbright Scholar. Her 2019 essay “To the
Current Tenant” appears in the print anthology Coffin Bell 2.2, and
other works are published or forthcoming in The Emerson Review,
The Citron Review, and South Broadway Ghost Society.
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