Saturday, February 9, 2013

Life Through the Wall

Life Through the Wall

Brendan heard her life through the thin, plastered wall that separated their apartments.
She walked quickly around.  Her feet were rarely slow.  Sometimes she paced, but
hurriedly.  Staccato.
 She set her table for four.  Plate.  Plate.  Plate.  Plate.  Silver-ilver-ilver-ilver-
ilverware.  But she ate alone.  There were no other voices but hers.  From the sizzling and whistling and clanking he could tell she sometimes made elaborate meals for herself.  The thought had crossed his mind before that she might be fat, but he had dismissed it.  She had a light step.
Sometimes she spoke to herself, but usually too low for him to hear.  Sometimes,
especially early in the morning, she scolded herself like a broken record.  “You’re late you’re late you’re late you’re late you’re late you’re late—you are late!”  The door slammed behind her.  She locked herself out with gusto.  Sometimes, especially late at night, she sighed heavily as she flopped down on her couch.  It was old and creaked when she moved.
She often hummed to herself, little snatches of eighties’ songs he did not recognize.
Her washing machine was the noisiest thing in her apartment.

She had conversations on the phone.  He tried to piece things together from the one side he heard, just her voice.
            . . .
            . . .
            “Yes, I’m sure.  Thank you.”
            . . .
            “I’m hanging up now, Ken.  I’ve already said everything I can say.  You need to talk to someone else.  I can’t deal with this anymore.  Don’t call here again, please.”
            . . .
            “I’m hanging up.  Goodbye, Ken.”
            She was rather quiet for a while after that call.

            Another call was apparently from her mother.  This one came late at night when Brendan was laying on his back in bed staring at the tiny bumps in his ceiling.
            Her voice bled soft and muffled through the wall.  He could not catch all the words.  “Hi Mom.  Why are . . . late?”
            “Mom? . . . okay?”
            . . .
            “Slow d . . . what’s going . . .?”
            . . .
            “Okay.  Alright.  I’ll be right there.  I’m leaving right now.”
            . . .
            “Yeah.  . . . hold tight Mom and . . . don’t move more . . . have to.  I’m coming right . . . .”
            He heard her striding through the house. He heard the tinkle of keys and then the slam of her front door.  She forgot to lock it.
            Brendan lay still in the quiet dark.  The unlocked door began to bother him.  What if someone was waiting for just such an opportunity to get into her apartment and take her stuff?  Or worse, wait in ambush for her?  What if a murderer got in?  Maybe she would remember.  He counted to ten.  She did not come back to the door.  He heard her car start and pull out of the driveway.  What could he do?  She had completely forgotten to lock her apartment door!  There was nothing he could do.  He always locked his door.  It wasn’t his fault—he had been a good example if she had ever noticed.  But of course she had not.  Who would notice something like that?  Who would notice someone like him?  Brendan did not make much noise. He was careful and quiet, having had long experience with how easily sounds traveled through the paper thin walls of the old apartment complex.  He had been there for years.  She had just recently moved there—what was it, two months ago?  She had not had time to learn.  And now anyone in the apartment block might know she was gone by the racket of her departure, might be ready to sneak in and take what they wanted, might already be starting to do so.
            He could not let that happen.  She did not know the danger she had exposed herself to.  It was his responsibility.
            He slid lightly and silently out of his bed, his feet landing perfectly in his slippers, which made almost no sound as he moved across his thinly carpeted floor.  He opened the small, concealed drawer of his bedside table and took out his sidearm.  He flipped the safety off.
            He walked purposefully across his apartment, eased his door open slowly and just as carefully shut it and locked it, as silent as he could make himself.
            He stepped into the hallway, and for a moment, he felt terribly vulnerable.  Anyone could see him there.  His silhouette against the dim, flickering lights in the hallway, would be stark—perfect posture but pistol all too obvious.  Anyone all down the narrow hallway could see him, would have a perfect shot at him.
            He strode to her door quickly.  He reminded himself that it was midnight, that few would be awake, that they all worked long hours and came home exhausted, that to the best of his knowledge he was the only tenant who had a gun.  He knew he shouldn’t be so concerned about such things.
            He tested her door.  It was indeed unlocked.  He began to turn the knob, but his hand froze.  What if someone had already been here?  What if they had booby-trapped the door, intending the explosion to kill her when she returned?  He gently released the door knob and looked under the door.  He could see nothing.  He straightened back up, and the shifting of his weight made the hallway floorboards creak.  There wouldn’t have been enough time to rig something like that anyway, he told himself.  Nonetheless, he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.
He took a deep breath and pushed her door open quickly.  No one was in sight.  All clear.  Maybe he had worried for nothing.  Still, better safe than sorry.  And there was no easy way to lock her door without a key.  He wondered if there was a spare somewhere.  No, that would be too dangerous.  She wasn’t that stupid.
He looked around.  He was in a small entryway, perhaps eight feet long, which led into the spare living/dining room.  He saw the table which she sat down to dinner at every evening, four chairs around it.  It was shabbier than he had imagined, covered in old, blotchy stains.  Off to the left was the bedroom, small and square, with a low doorway and a slight step down.  The layout of the apartment was exactly the same as his.  He supposed he should not be surprised.  It made sense.  But he had never been inside any of the other apartments before.  He could see the bed jammed up into the corner of the bedroom, to allow space for a small upright piano.  He stared at in incomprehension.  He had never heard music.  He had never heard her play.  And yet the piano took up most of the rest of the small bedroom.  It could not be practical.  She must be extra careful not to bump it every time she got out of bed.  What was it doing in there?  There was no chair on bench before it.  There was not even really room to comfortably stand in front of it.  It would be difficult to play.
Suddenly he heard a noise.  Someone was walking down the hallway—soft, careful, insinuating steps, approaching her door, which he had left slightly ajar.  He closed it quietly, and readied his gun.  He would have the advantage of surprise against the intruder.  They would not be expecting resistance.  He would shoot first.  He would shoot to kill.  The leader first, and the rest would scatter like flies at the swat of a hand.  But he would not let them get far.  He would keep one alive for questioning, find out their motive, what motive they had for attempting to abduct . . . her.  His love.  He did not know her name.  It didn’t matter.  They had tried to assassinate her and he had saved her.
            He heard them right behind the door now.  He could not wait any longer.  He fired three times, putting three perfect holes in the door.  The shots echoed enormously.

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