It’s that time of year again folks! The air is getting crisper, the children are getting restless as a new school year approaches. And in the Boston neighborhood of Allston-Brighton, it’s like the earth itself is holding its breath. Because it’s that time of year again. It’s September first.
Allston Christmas is here.
You’ve all heard of Allston Christmas. That beautiful, joyful day when the students return, every lease in the city of Boston turns over, and the population of Allston swells 124 percent. And piles upon piles of apartment refuse cover the street, ripe for the picking and providing the day with its festive moniker.
Now, over the past few years, Allston Christmas has become oddly commercialized. Carolers sing in the streets, it shows up on advertising, people come in to pick through and find things to sell. But despite all this, the Spirit of Allston Christmas lives on.
It lives on in that UHaul over there at the side of Storrow Drive, top sliced cleanly off by the BU Bridge. And that UHaul currently wedged under the bridge. And those three UHauls lining Storrow Drive, waiting for their turn to get stuck. A fine harvest of Storrowing this season.
It lives on in the mountains of apartment furnishing strewn throughout Comm Ave. Looking for a new cabinet! There’s a fine looking unit! How about a mattress? Good god, no. Do you want bedbugs? Take a moment to think through your decisions please. Honest to god, I don’t know what you’re thinking. Looking for a new roommate! Oh, someone tossed a perfectly good one! Here, dust him off and get on the T home.
The spirit of Allston Christmas lives on in that bookcase you managed to lug home. The one with the ornate carvings all along the sides. The one packed full of old college texts you’ll “definitely use again in the future.” It’s a beautiful piece of furniture and you can’t imagine why anyone would just toss it out on the street. Your roommate, Sarah, agrees with you, though she says something about the carvings along the side give her the creeps.
But everything gives Sarah the creeps. So honestly, you’re not that concerned.
But then the lights start to flicker every night. You chalk it up to your shitty management company, grumbling about the unreasonable amount of rent you pay to be treated like this. At midnight, every overhead light in your apartment flicks on just long enough to wake you both up, but not long enough for you to be sure it wasn’t a dream until Sarah comments on it in the morning, complaining over her breakfast smoothie. This happens every night for a week, then you just get used to it. Must just be part of city living.
The voices must be too. They’re not coming from the stoned college kids in the unit upstairs. These voices sound ancient, whispering just below your range of hearing. You hear them in the still of the hot September nights without air conditioning. You hear them over the hiss of the shower. And, perhaps most concerning, you hear them underlying Sarah’s own words as she asks if you want to go grab a coffee with her.
But, like your mom said when you moved to college, there will always be aspects of communal living that you won’t like. So you’ll take the good with the bad here. At least you’ve got easy access to the Green Line.
Then Sarah comments on the ornate carvings. They look like faces, she says as she peers at the side of the shelf, beer in hand. They didn’t look like faces when you found it, right?
You shrug from the sofa, another Allston Christmas find. You don’t think so? But it’s been so long since you’ve actually looked at the bookshelf. Like, at least a month and a half.
That’s definitely a face, she says. She traces the lines with the base of her beer bottle. See? Eyes here, mouth here. It’s laughing.
Or maybe screaming. And look, here’s another. And another. There are three faces on here.
Weird, you say. But your mind is already on your shift tomorrow and the fact that you really should have gone to bed an hour ago.
The air cools as the autumn progresses and you get promoted at work. You see less of Sarah, but you notice the changes when you do cross paths. The shadows under her eyes.The crackle in her voice as she hands you her rent money three days late.
Then she’s gone. It’s mid-February and with six months left on your lease Sarah is gone. She doesn’t tell you where she’s going. Hell, she doesn’t even say goodbye. Instead you come home, notice nothing out of the ordinary, and settle down on the couch to watch a few hours of Netflix. And do the same thing tomorrow. And the next. And the next.
It takes you a week to realize you haven’t seen her. And another week before you start to worry. After all, you aren’t in charge of her. If she wants to stay with a new boyfriend for a week without telling anyone, that’s her prerogative.
But then you start getting the phone calls. The anxious friends, the irritated student loan provider. You’re not quite sure why they have your number, but this seems to confirm your concerns.
Spring melts the winter cold and you still haven’t seen Sarah. The police eventually get involved. Your landlord sends sympathy but reminds you you’re on the hook for the full rent. You decide not to sign for another year. You’ll move on in September, find somewhere else to live.
You spend weeks cleaning and packing. Sarah’s belongings are all still in the apartment. You leave messages for her family, but never hear back. Eventually, you decide to just dump it on the sidewalk on September first. After all, you never agreed to take care of it for her.
September first dawns, humid and boiling hot. Your father is going to be here at nine to help you move out. At seven, you decide to start moving things out to the sidewalk. Sarah’s belongings go out first. You feel a pang of remorse as you see them out there. Not that there was much you could have done, but you wish there was.
Wiping sweat, you go upstairs and assess the remaining furniture. The couch is coming with you, but there’s no room for the ornate bookshelf, now just a crap collector filled with textbooks you’ll never touch again. When your dad arrives, the two of you lug it out to the sidewalk, tossing it on top of an ever-growing pile of Allston Christmas rubbish.
As you turn to follow him into the UHaul, you notice the carvings on the side. Carvings you haven’t considered in nearly a year. Looking closer, you decide Sarah was right. They do look like faces, you decide. Screaming faces all in a row.
But Sarah was wrong about one thing. As you look over the contorted faces, there are very clearly four of them.