The apartment numbers are polished silver, hung on the heavy mahogany door with expert care. The door opens upon a luxurious three-bedroom penthouse condominium with vaulted ceilings and a view only windows fifty-five stories above the rooftops of the city can offer. The main room is a bright, open expanse which includes a full kitchen, home bar, and spacious sunken living room accessed by two shallow stairs. The kitchen is directly left of the entryway, the two connected by a wide strip of marble tile. The kitchen appliances are all a matching brand-new stainless steel and the counter tops all a dark granite which matches the marble. Although the epitome of cutting edge in both technology and simplistic design, the kitchen is obviously rarely used and mostly serves as storage for life's essentials: coffee, bread, and a half-empty jar of jam. The far wall opposite the front door and kitchen is comprised entirely of one massive bay window, double-paned and touching both the lush white carpet and the high ceiling above. The window is supported by dark brick beams and overlooks a gorgeous and unobstructed view of the city. The brick continues along the north accent wall where a fire burns merrily in a large electric fireplace. The fireplace overlooks the sunken living room, a hexagon of pristine carpet with a coffee table and a large L-shaped black suede couch. The long side of the couch faces the window, its perpendicular side facing the fireplace. To the right of the living room is another brick accent wall. Along this wall is a mahogany home bar, suitably stocked with only the finest hard liquor. The space between the kitchen and living room is broken by a long, wide hallway along which there are five doors. The first door on the left is the main bathroom, brightly lit and decorated with the same marble tile as the kitchen. The second door on the left is a bedroom which has been converted into a large library. Mahogany bookshelves line each of the four walls and are stacked high with old books and rare antiques. Several pieces of dark leather furniture and a second, smaller bar complete the rich, comfortable ambiance of the room. The last two doors on the right of the hallway are the third bedroom, at the moment functioning only as a spare bedroom and storage, and a linen closet. The first door on the right leads to the master suite, a commodious bedroom complete with a private bathroom, walk-in closet, and French doors which open onto a small balcony. The bedroom, like the rest of the condominium, is sparsely decorated with simple, elegant furniture and a king-size bed. There is very little in the way of personal touch in this room, or anywhere in the condominium, and in all the rooms there is not one item or piece of furniture out of place. It is as if everything inside these walls is trapped within a single moment, as if the Sun neither rises nor sets. No dust appears to have collected on the shelves; no occupant seems to move or breathe or live in these rooms. This place is beautiful but it is clean and silent and painfully lonely.
The deadbolt is broken and the cheap wood panel door falls open to reveal a cubic two-hundred square foot apartment. Apartment, however, is an extremely generous term for this dingy one-room domicile located at the end of a long hallway of equally squat residences. The low ceiling is supported by four blank walls, each an off-white color stained by years of cigarette smoke. The only window is located on the wall opposite the front door and is obscured by a set of dusty blinds; sunlight is not welcome in this place, the Sun's harsh illumination too honest in its revealing of every filthy crack and blemish. Instead, a set of fluorescent bulbs provide the only source of light and cast a sickly aura over the claustrophobic room. To accommodate such limited floor space, the only furniture in the apartment is a worn black futon, a single wooden chair pushed against a much-used Formica table, and a battered steamer trunk doubling as a coffee table and bookshelf. The 'bedroom', here only the five by seven foot space occupied by the futon and adjacent closet, bleeds over into the living room, indicated by the steamer trunk littered with used coffee cups, through a trail of haphazardly discarded clothing. The kitchen, opposite the bedroom and to the left of the front door, is a likewise poorly designated corner of dirty tile and scarred counter tops. The handles on the cupboards are loose and the broken oven door is held in place with zip ties. Adjacent the whining refrigerator, empty save for a half-full can of soup and a jug of milk, is the single cramped bathroom. It is a closet-sized gathering place of roaches and bacteria lit by a single bare light bulb which flickers unsteadily, as if threatening to burn out at a moment's notice. The sputtering of the bathroom light and the hum of the refrigerator are the only sounds in the apartment, though from beyond the window the monotonous rumble of traffic can be heard as well. The racket combines with a lingering reek of old cigarettes and alcohol to at once both overwhelm and depress the senses. This is not a good place; this is not a bright place; this is not a loving or safe place. It is four walls, an uncomfortable and lonely futon, and years of resigned desperation recorded in the layers of grime.