The hermit. He does not go out, except for groceries, after dark. We pretend we’re having an Elvis sighting. He is either very kind or terrified of telephones, not to complain of the noise we make, stampeding to the refrigerator or breathing - the kids playing H-bomb with their Lilliputian feet, the kids playing H-bomb with the toy box junk, the kids playing H-bomb up and down the walls the halls the stairwells, the whole goddamned atlas. I wonder if the cops will come for his corpse when enough of us complain of the stench.
The crack-smoker. We are privy to her every bowel movement and boyfriend spat. I know, for example, that she eats nothing but fast food (that all of her furniture is rent-to-own that she vacuums the carpeting obsessively that she gives head for drugs). Her eleven-month-old son is microscopic, a fat-headed fetus. She never thinks to cradle him, never thinks to coo at him, only ever squawks at him Shut Up! Dammit! Shut Up! When he gurgles and shrieks, up there in third floor heaven, I want to beat his mother dead. Every other morning, between three and four, we can hear her fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking. She rents the creakiest bed in the Occident. It lasts three hours and fourteen minutes; they give up at dawn in a steroid stupor. When it's over, her human meat mallet pisses, minutes-long over our heads as we lie inert, not sleeping, not fucking, only clocking the angry digital perpetuation of minutes it takes for him to be done with pissing. From time to time, her menthol butts settle upon our balcony, aborted embryonic doves, mute and crushed and tidy.
The obligatory born again Christian. She has a frustrated twitchy air of esprit de l'escalier about her. Someone called her Jesus Freak or Holy Roller once; now she waits for an opportunity to take it out on the rest of us. She weighs seventy-nine pounds precisely, mainly cheekbones and string-hair. She is starved. She will eat only cheese and vanilla ice cream. The Blood she says The Blood not speaking of The Blood of the Lamb but of other beef butchered on the hoof, the ones they wrap in cellophane and put on display at the supermarket. She feels safe confiding these things to me; she just knows I am a vegetarian. I want to tell her what they do to dairy cows. She has let me in once or twice to borrow quarters for laundry. She almost never answers her door. (The knocking may be bacteria or automatic weapons.) Her apartment is decorated in garlic cloves: Latin crosses, The Footprints In The Sand, a silkscreened Last Supper, doves under rainbows, a Caucasian messiah weeping in Gethsemane. Her keychain is a Gnostic fish but she does not know what "Gnostic" means only that "agnostic" means SOMETHING BAD. The dictionary is in cahoots with Beelzebub.
The married Russians. I know so little and so much about them; their behavior puzzles me. The woman leaves the building only twice a day. The man sits in his car for hours at a time. He is the old-fashioned type, with his hunchbacked wife, keeping her always to the rear of him when they go for walks in the evenings. I have heard him, more than once, rebuking her in their guttural Slavic tongue, stentorian and vehement - absolute as a despot - though he must be less than half her size, the skinny pup. She boils cabbage incessantly. It stinks up the hallways. It worries me. I do not think she knows I watch her when she goes behind the building to dispose of their garbage. It happens each afternoon, around three. I have convinced myself she is younger than she appears to be. Her cheeks swag and droop, a bulldog's. Her breasts have the ponderous, lolling mien of pachyderms and fertility totems. There is a hook in the center of the bridge of her nose. It snarls up her profile. It is the origin of her unhappiness. At sunset, the two of them sit on folding chairs in the parking lot, but they are not really sitting together; she is never allowed to drive the car. I fantasize about them, invent scenarios for anniversary gifts: He comes in from washing the car, and she sets out his supper soup. He tells her right away it is too sour too cold too hot too predictable. She will stamp her foot. That is how it begins. Arming herself with oven mitts, she will overturn their tiny table and scorch the bastard with cabbage water! Baffled and appalled, he shall topple down, a dainty husk against the china hutch, the salt cellar on the lam, the glass phallus of the merlot menstruating on the white, a surprise hermaphrodite. . .
Safe as houses.