Happy Monday, everyone! I’ve got the day off and I’m feeling rather under the weather, so here’s an oldie:
He reached the end of the paragraph, looked at the clock for a moment and held his breath, just waiting.
He released the breath and sucked in a fresh one, his entire body tense.
And then it began.
There was no slow crescendo, no gap between the silence and the noise.
And noise it was. Some raucous pop song blaring through the wall.
It had been going on every night this week. It was like a ritual now.
Every night, he would settle down in his apartment, in his chair, with his favorite mug, which was, of course, filled with his favorite tea. Earl grey. A common choice. He realized this. He also knew the tea was more likely to keep him up at night than some decaffeinated berry concoction or some soothing sleepy-time lemon tea, but there was something so peculiar about the flavor of Earl Grey, that he felt was worth the sacrifice.
He would sit in his favorite armchair, positioned so that the light from the lamp on the wooden table slanted perfectly across the pages. And he would sit and enjoy his book, with nothing breaking the delicate silence – nothing but the roar of the occasional car passing in the street below, and, of course, the soft whisper of the pages as they were turned.
That was why he would never replace his beloved books with an e-reader. Nothing could ever replace that beautiful whisper.
He would read until precisely 11:03. Because he always promised himself that he would go to bed by 11:00. Thus 11:03 became, even in its minute increment, a guilty pleasure. And all guilty pleasures are, nonetheless, pleasures. Thus, Simon allowed himself this small one, and he managed to slip into bed at 11:07 every night with the glimmer of a smile on his face.
That was how it had been, ever since he’d rented this apartment. For the past year, four months and seventeen days. No – not seventeen days. Ten days. For the past seven had been completely unlike the rest – as unlike the rest as a penguin is to a chimpanzee.
And at times, he could almost manage to convince himself that it was a chimpanzee that had moved into the apartment next door.
He had chosen this apartment, in this building. Chosen it from the other dozen he’d visited. Because it was perfect. In a quiet neighborhood, on a tree-lined street, with a park less than a block away. The building was filled with elderly people – quiet, serene elderly people, who didn’t play music after 8:00. Indeed, they did not play music before 8:00, but the latter would not have concerned him much.
And for one year, four months, ten days and perhaps 20 hours, it had been perfect. Until this girl with her raucous music had come bursting into his life. Or rather, bursting into his eardrums.
Simon could hear her now, singing along to the radio, as she banged the dishes around in her sink, presumably in some semblance of washing them. She was not, he thought, totally off-key. In fact, her voice might be considered pleasant, if one were the sort of person who enjoyed loud music at 10:00 at night. Simon was not that sort of person. And he noticed the slight occasions where her voice did slip off-key, noting them with an odd sort of pride.
Simon shut his book with an audible snap – a barely audible one, as it was difficult to hear over the music. But Simon knew it was there and that was enough. He set the book aside and planted his elbows on his knees, leaning forward to plant his face on the palms of his hands.
Still, the music assailed his ears.
Why didn’t he simply get up, knock on her door and ask her to turn it off?
He wasn’t sure.
It was, after all, not such a very long way. From his living room to his front door. And then perhaps ten paces from his door to hers.
No. Distance was not the problem. The problem lay deeper.
For, you see, Simon had never been the sort of person who dealt well with strangers. And, if he were perfectly honest with himself, which he was, he would be forced to admit that everyone was a stranger. Indeed, everyone is a stranger, until you speak to them and they cease to be.
And this girl, the one currently torturing his ears, was very much a stranger. More so than most.
He had passed her in the hallway a few times over the course of this week, once when she was moving boxes into her apartment, once when she was returning from getting the mail, and once when she appeared to be returning from the gym, wearing sweatpants and a hoody.
She had always seemed pleasant, golden-blond hair swinging in a high ponytail, with a smile on her pretty face and a quick hi or hello for him.
And therein lay the rub. For she was worse than a stranger – she was a pretty stranger. And pretty complicated things ever so much more than strange did.
He could, perhaps, on occasion, deal with strange. But Simon had very little experience in dealing with pretty.
Simon thought about her returning home from the gym, practically skipping down the hall. That was a problem too. Home. For this place was, now, her home as much as it was his, for as long as she chose to make it so.
He winced as she failed to hit a particularly high note.
This was intolerable.
Simon knew he couldn’t put up with this very much longer. But almost equally intolerable was the idea of walking over there and knocking on her door.
Simon very little liked the idea of disturbing someone at home. He even less liked the idea of disturbing her.
What if she was in her pajamas? He knew how little he liked being disturbed when he was in his pajamas. Worse… what if she was naked?
Gulp. He tried not to think about that.
Whatever it was he was going to do, he was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to do it tonight. Decisively, he pushed the book away from him and turned out the light. Then he walked slowly into his room, where the sound from the adjacent apartment was lessened, and both her singing and the music itself were muted.
It took him a long time to fall asleep. Simon continued trying not to think about that.
Of course, he failed.
To be continued tomorrow…..