Christopher S. Bell
Holly liked the place right away, complementing the bricks even before Lou led you up the front porch and unlocked the door. He kept clearing his throat, anxious for nicotine, while you both stood aloof, letting the landlord parade through each room of the duplex with a false optimism. Your fiancée saw infinite potential from the cracked blue paint in the living room to the classic avocado refrigerator. her gaze widening at the sight of two bedrooms: a studio for misconstrued creative projects, or junk found inconsistently along the way.
You’re equally displaced sitting in the leather armchair, signing the lease papers. These obligations are binding and yet easily forgotten after a week of settling. Holly sits wrapped in a towel, smoking a cigarette out the bathroom window when you stray past. “Aren’t activities of this nature strictly prohibited in these parts?” you ask.
“It’s a rule I’m bending at the moment,” she replies.
“Does that mean I can buy that bong I’ve been looking at?”
It’s not a moment before she’s flicking her drag into the toilet bowl, tongue in your mouth. You pull her into the shower, pressing those soft hips against the linoleum before she does that thing you almost forgot about. The shower head sputters, steam rising only to disperse mid-coitus as you both stop at the resonating octave of pipes, water temperature dropping to ice. Holly lets out a hushed scream that you’d expect far later in the process. She’s quickly dried off, readying for the day as you try to make sense of the circumstances. Who pulled the trigger?
Sunday morning there’s no hot water or pressure, prompting you to dial the landlord without thinking and leave him a voicemail. Lou calls back that afternoon, says to check the basement washing machine. Sure enough, the knobs needs turned off, despite a cardboard sign instructing the perpetrator to do so after each use. Holly browses articles on her screen, suggesting monthly projects while you attempt to complain. She’s far from upset, damagingly pleasant and ripe for disagreement. You let it go, preparations for the workweek leading you to exhaustion by bedtime.
Head down, eyes shut, her matching breath barely stirs your emptied head before it’s a loud thump from the wall. Bass vibrations and high-pitched Japanese attack cycles continue for ten minutes. Your fists are red from banging on the plaster, throat dry with every obscenity. The noises relent as Holly rolls over and sighs into your chest. “What are we going to do about this asshole?”
“We’ll work it out,” you reply, brain fluttering towards unsavory corners as the sleepless hours pass.
Another hectic workweek. Holly realizes she’s never seen the neighbor despite his red pick-up parked a few feet from her blue sedan. You watch the street, occasionally listening to bellowed footsteps through the walls. The next slip-up warrants either a call or knock on the opposing front door, your image of this man already unsettling and without context. Holly finally spies him stepping out early Wednesday afternoon, both of you huddled at the bedroom window glaring down at a camouflaged giant waddling from the backwoods.
Another two weeks pass incident-free before you’re taking in a front porch breeze and he pulls up. Squinting past the patchy deer hat and untrimmed blonde beard, your chest thumps with a broken fear. A few years younger, but considerably grotesque, he gargles phlegm up the rickety stairs.
“Hey, how’s it going?” you ask.
“Yeah, yeah, alright,” he replies.
His voice is recognizable, although you’re unsure of when you originally heard it. Holly suggests letting it go, that first week of distractions all but dissolved into the night. You wonder if it’ll continue this way for the next forty years, minor irritations from outside sources scratching away at what once felt sacred. Her resolve makes you weak in the knees, although a broken memory searches for some kind of adhesive as you attempt to place him in context. Where was your neighbor lurking before you moved in?
The Internet flashes answers like a lightbulb filament caught in an updraft as your scroll through feeds and finally locate the source of your reluctant scruples. It’s him all right, a little less portly, but full of generic white-male rage, insulting a gaggle of protestors with racial slurs. He perpetuates ignorance as the camera phone pans through an industrial parking lot to his truck, where a middle finger dances out his window before the fade out. You’re appalled by this display, specifically how many hits it’s gotten. The comments are all horribly justified, another catalyst for makeshift insanity and obliviousness. This guy was a blip, and now he’s unemployed, biding his time one thin wall over.
Holly is at a complete loss when you show her. An argument snowballs from dinner to bed, her reservations amplifying as you both contemplate long-term decisions. You tell her to let it go this time and fall asleep uncomfortably on the mattress, a zombie the following day at work. Uncertainty looms, until more video games clamor through the walls. Cussing, you bang your fist again until he turns down.
Next morning, it’s a silent breakfast then another message to the landlord at lunch. Lou calls back just as you’re walking through the parking lot after another dented workday. “So what’s the problem, Manny?” he asks, sand in his throat.
“The guy in the other apartment plays his TV so loud we can’t sleep most nights.”
“I’ll talk to him about it.”
“We’re a little uncomfortable living next to him.”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
You’re unsure if Lou has even heard of YouTube, so a lie comes forth. “He said some very strange things to my fiancée.”
“Like what? If he hit on her, then I’m sorry, but some men just can’t turn it off, ya know. Like father, like son.”
You’re floored by this wave of pleasantries, unfortunately aware of what it all means. “Just make sure he stays away from her, and also turns down his video games, and turns off the water in the basement, okay?”
“Cecil’s a good boy. I’ll make sure to set him straight.”
You end the call uncertain of how you’ll break the news to Holly, whether a small but poignant gift will help ease the tension. She’s always on the lookout for knickknacks to hang and gather dust. These bright distractions keep her content, as if the term fixer-upper can be directly applied to any one particularity in her life. You’ve always taken an opposite approach; the truth a bit daunting. Eleven more months before it’s time to find somewhere else worth wasting away.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun, an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and Fine Wives. Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Madison Review, Kentucky Review, Red Rock Review, Commonline Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, and Talking Book, among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.