By Raoul Suarez
He lay eyes closed. Not as though to prove to himself that he was asleep, but to deceive his mind into thinking he wasn’t awake. When he sat up, 10 hours had passed. He didn’t know this until he turned on his right side, tapped his phone screen and read the time aloud in an almost mystified tone. He wondered how he had slept so long, then wondered what day it was. He tapped his phone screen again and registered the day in his head. He then unplugged his phone from the charger, thought about the fact that he didn’t remember plugging in it but then disregarded the thought because he didn’t remember most things he did. He was just happy that the phone had a full charge. One less thing to worry about.
After the fog of a sedated sleep dissipated, he got up to use the bathroom. He turned the light in the bathroom on, then, after being blinded he hit the switch back off with his fist. He went back to the room in which he slept after he was done emptying his bladder. He took his phone, went back outside the room and down a hallway that was dimly lit. Eventually he made his way to the balcony door and stopped. He felt as if he was forgetting something. Often, when he got this feeling, it manifested itself. He then opened the door and stepped outside. The temperature was the least of his concern because he realized he had forgotten his pack of cigarettes that almost always lived in his pocket. He went back into his bedroom and retrieved the pack that he remembered placing next to his phone the night before. While wandering back to the door, the thought that often occurred to him was back again: no one really smokes anymore. He did.
He always forgot his balcony overlooked a semi-busy downtown street. It was like stepping out onto a stage of onlooking eyes. In his case, the crowd usually looked and then looked away faster than he could look back. He was used to this, and instead of keeping eye contact with anyone for more than a second, or returning a friendly nod, he would look past them. On days like this where the weather was particularly impartial, people usually came in rhythms. Whereas on a good day there was usually a whole bunch of people crowding the streets. He preferred days like these. Less-congested. Easy on the eyes. Laid back.
His cigarette was gone before he knew it. The warmth of the butt starting to burn against his fingers was when he looked down and decided to ash it. Once inside he decided against making food. Figured he’d wait until he was a bit hungrier. He checked his phone that was conveniently in his pocket and had one email from his ISP saying his bill was paid. He thought about how the email almost seemed to be mocking him. He didn’t use his living room much but there was a couch and a T.V. and some other commodities that usually go in living rooms. He looked at the arrangement then continued to the kitchen where he opened the fridge and drank from an already opened soda can. He didn’t keep much in his fridge. In fact, he’d often thought about unplugging it. Not because he thought it a waste of money or power but because it’s just useless. He always decided against this for the sole fact that if he had guests, they might assume that he had no money or that he was weird for not using a refrigerator. But he had no plans for guests. He usually bought and prepared his meals each day or ordered them. He could drink his drinks warm. He had nothing to preserve. He then went to the pantry cabinet to the left of his abandoned refrigerator and took out a granola bar, ate it, and felt full.
The day seemed to be dragging even though he didn’t do anything. He didn’t have work. Had no desire to. He asked himself what the hell was there to do to make the day end quicker. There was nothing in the living room to keep him occupied. If he went to sleep, he would wake up at a bad time. He heard something behind him in the hallway, turned and started at the sight of his cat creeping towards him. The cat let off another wail of consternation. How had he forgot about the cat? He usually fed it before smoking. The cat always came first. It was now at his feet massaging itself on his legs.
Once he poured the food into the bowl the cat had forgotten about him. He felt bad. He shouldn’t have forgotten about the cat. However, he had to find something to do with his time. He thought about watching a movie, videos, sleeping again. He didn’t want to go out. The cat was done with its meal and had no more complaints. He watched as it floated down the hallway and back into his bedroom. He wanted to follow the cat but knew that if he did, he would end up laying down in his bed and out of pure weariness. He then contemplated if that was such a bad idea. What could he possibly accomplish today that he couldn’t tomorrow? He thought about the cat again. How it functioned on an instinctual alarm that chimed when its stomach was empty. He then thought about how he had found himself standing outside on his balcony overlooking the bustling street for no reason at all other than his aptitude for smoking but had no cigarettes. He smiled to himself.
His heart nearly exploded when he heard the soft knocking at his door. His chest hurt now and he felt light-headed. A million thoughts and scenarios clouded his mind as he wondered why someone would be at his doorstep requesting his presence. He had no orders coming, no one he knew lived close to him or even in the area as him. Who was at his door? He then came to-realized that he had been standing there almost frozen for a minute. Fearing another rapping on his door he awkwardly made his way to the door and disengaged the three locks also knowing the person on the other side could hear him doing so. He noticed the absence of a peephole as he usually did and missed the one he had in his last apartment.
The door swung open in an unnatural fashion, and she was standing there. Skinny and healthy, skin gleaming but back bent. She told him that she was new to the place, and she needed help with her mattress. She saw the look on his face and further explained the problem with her mattress. She explained she couldn’t carry it up to the third story on which her new place of residence was located. After more silence she became uncomfortable, he could tell. He listened as she apologized for bothering him and began to retreat before he finally greeted her. She was halfway down the corridor. She turned around with a look of glee that seemed somewhat counterfeit to him, but he brushed it off. He apologized for being rude then proceeded to explain to her that he was not accustomed to visitors. Then she apologized again, but he rejected it. He then told her he could be of assistance. She looked happy.
He wondered why there was no moving truck as they trekked down the stories of stairs to her mattress that was leaning against the bottom of the first set. Often, he would be smoking on his balcony observing newcomers unloading a truck full of belongings while simultaneously wondering why anybody would move here out of choice. You could find a much better place at a much more affordable rate if you cared. The only reason he was here was out of nescience; he moved from out of state, and it was hard to gauge the location from a few images. He was never unhappy with the place, but he would have rather toured it before signing a lease. Now he was too lazy to even consider moving.
He went first and backwards up the stairs. She followed frontwards and focusing on the stairs below her. He was looking behind him for most of the trip. Once they arrived at her doorstep and placed the mattress down, she smiled thoroughly. He was out of breath but tried not to show it. She was seemingly unfazed by the physical exertion. He was eager to recede back to his place and she could tell. It was awkward, and she quickly fumbled with her keys before finally finding the right one. She stabbed it into the lock then looked back at him. She was thankful he wasn’t looking at that moment and had his back turned to her already. He half-turned around as he was walking away and told her to have a good night and she said thanks. He disappeared down the staircase to his second story abode. She wished that she had asked his name. She tiredly lugged the mattress backwards into the empty space that was her new home.
He awoke to sirens. This wasn’t unusual, but the noise was close and didn’t move. He drifted in and out of consciousness before he finally couldn’t bear it. His head was pounding, and he flinched when his cat jumped onto the bed next to him. Now he was awake. There was some light in his bedroom, but it wasn’t normal daylight. He sat up and tapped his phone. It was midday. He tapped it again to see what day it was. He then remembered the peculiar events of the day before. He thought of how pretty she had been, how he had wished that he asked her name. The sirens were an irritation. He then noticed the lights flashing through the blinds. Why were they so stagnant. His cat was hungry, so he fed it. He took a piss in the dark and went out for a smoke and saw police patrols parked on his side of the road. He looked around for the cause of the disruption but saw no officers. Before the cigarette burned to the butt, he put it out and retreated inside. He wasn’t hungry but he also had nothing to eat. The sirens didn’t stop. He wished they would. He then heard commotion outside his door and he was curious. Again, he wished he had a peephole. He heard shouting, not frantic but contained. What was going on today? Something was off and he didn’t know what. Then the sirens stopped.
A knock on the door, his heart stopped again. Then he felt a sense of happiness. His new neighbor again? He had never been so curious to answer the door. He swung it open with a force so great that he almost lost grasp. To his dissatisfaction, he didn’t find her looking back at him. He felt stupid and embarrassed when the person outside was a police officer and not her. He almost shut the door but then understood that it was probably not the smartest notion to shut the door in the face of a police officer. The officer spoke but he didn’t realize the words. The officer spoke again. A girl was dead. The officer wanted to know if he saw anything. He said no. The officer asked again if he’s sure. He said yes. The officer bid him a good day and apologized for the inconvenience. He shut the door.
He looked at his cat that was now sitting behind him. What did the cat want now? The cat turned and floated down the hallway as it did yesterday. He panicked. He ran to the front door, swung it open and bolted out. Down the stairs he went to the ambulance that was parallel parked between two patrol cars. A gurney, with something strapped to it that he didn’t have to double take to realize was a body bag, was being hoisted into the back of it by two young and fit looking paramedics. He stared. The officer who had impeded on his privacy not 3 minutes before tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and before the officer could speak, he inquired about the body on the gurney. He asked the meaning of their visit to his complex and the officer looked confused.
“I told you upstairs that a girl died,” said the officer. “A girl, just moved in. Leasing office said she was scheduled to move in yesterday – nothing but a mattress in her place. That’s where we found her, bled out. Door was wide open. No sign of forced entry. Someone walking their dog could see the mess from the hallway and that’s how we got the call. A big mystery to us at this point. Must’ve been someone she knew or a terrible coincidence.”
He turned away from the officer and began back towards the stairs to his place. He heard the officer behind him again, “I know I already asked, but if you saw anything, or there’s anything you might want to say to me, now is the time.”
He kept walking but then stopped. He turned around and asked the officer, “What was her name?” The officer asked him why. “I don’t know.” He walked off feeling offended. The officer studied him and almost demandingly asked, “Why do you want to know her name?”
The distance between them now created more tension. He turned around again, and the officer watched perplexed as he vanished into the stairwell. When he reached his floor, he could see his door was wide open. He sprinted toward the entrance and felt an overpowering feeling of relief when he saw his cat was still sitting there as if no time has passed. He closed the door behind him, locking three locks and then proceeded to his bedroom. His cat tailed him. He laid down and closed his eyes. As he drifted off into another state of consciousness, almost like clockwork, there was another knock on the door. He ignored it and slept.