"Because This Is Pittsburgh" by Sharon Dilworth
The real estate agent said that before I looked at anything else I had to check out the new development on the hillside overlooking the Monongahela River.
Had they meant to spell it like the English county or did they mean to reflect the sun going down after a summer’s day?
It looked like neither. It looked like what it was -- An apartment complex built on a slag heap, across the river from what had once been a steel mill and was now a cement garden of big box stores and parking for hundreds of shoppers. They had left the smokestacks – a reminder of what had been. Tall reminders of the past – times that will never come again. Something that must remain where it was. Gone.
“I guess trees will grow,” I said. I thought of Kent, of soft hills, of dairy farms and cider mills, of sheep, and of cozy pubs where locals talked in hushed tones and told stories with happy endings.
The real estate agent was looking at her phone. She texted with two hands. I would not have put her in the age category to do that.
“But never tall enough to block the view,” she said and continued her impressive texting.
We toured the model apartment. “It’s very white,” I said.
“Super, super clean,” she said.
I’ve never gotten used to that word as an adjective, especially when repeated like that. “Very,” I suggested but she nodded as if I was agreeing with her.
“Which is exactly what I would look for in an apartment. Brand new clean.” She opened the dishwasher. It was filled with wires and leftover installation parts. She shut it and moved onto the sink. She tilted the faucet towards her and water flowed.
After that we went out front and walked the path, which she told me would be paved by the time I moved in.
“It looks efficient,” I said. It was the word that came to mind when I looked around. If one lived in this apartment you would not be late for meetings. You would not leave dirty glasses in the sink. You would mop the floor at least once a week, maybe more. You would use lilac air freshener. It looked nothing like the house in Homestead where I had grown up. The exact opposite of that place.
“Everyone loves it.” Her foundation was flawless -- her face one perfect shade of beige. She caught me staring at her and I smiled. She did not smile back but turned her phone on herself and checked herself out as if I had meant that she had some food stuck between her teeth.
“A few Penguins, some Pirates,” she said. “That’s who you’ll get to know as your neighbors.”
It took me a minute. An image of a circus coming to town. Then I remembered where I was. “You’re talking sports,” I said.
“You’ll join in the conversation soon enough,” she told me. We walked to the gazebo in the center of a manufactured town square. I thought of the Music Man. They could have filmed it right there. She continued selling her real estate.
“Lots of young people. There’s a pool.” She pointed the opposite direction of the river. “People here are very social. There’ s lot of divorce.” She smiled as if this was a positive thing.
A jogger passed.
And because we were in Pittsburgh where it is impossible to go more than a few hours without running into someone you know, I recognized the guy running down the path in front of the apartment building where I was looking to rent.
“Jackson,” I called before thinking – before considering whether or not I wanted to speak to him, whether or not I had anything to say to him.
He did not hear me and kept running.
I had been back in Pittsburgh less than a week. I had come back because it was the only place in the whole world that felt like home.
“Do you know him?” The real estate agent had put away her phone, already onto her next appointment.
He wore a tight white cap with a pom-pom at the end of it. He disappeared around the corner past the wooden sign: Summerset.
She told me I shouldn’t worry. “Just because he’s jogging here doesn’t mean he lives here. I can’t tell you how many people use this path.”
We had separated years ago after I discovered he was about to have a baby with another woman and had decided it a good idea not to tell me.
Pittsburgh gentrified --a slagheap overlooking a former steel mill – I did not want to live there.
I crossed Summerset off my list.
SHARON DILWORTH is the author of two collections of short stories, The Long White and Women Drinking Benedictine, and two novels, Year of the Ginkgo and My Riviera. Her newest book is Two Sides, Three Rivers, a collection of stories that take place in Pittsburgh. She has received an Iowa Award in Short Fiction, a Pushcart Prize in Fiction, and a Hopwood Award as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, where she is the Director of the Creative Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University.