Neighbors

by Tamuira Reid

I see him here every night around dusk. Which must mean I’m here every night around dusk. I’m sure I have shit to do upstairs – clean, pay bills, cry – but it’s a hell of a lot less depressing outside. I don’t want to be alone.

We’ve never talked or touched but we have a relationship. A stoop relationship. He sits across the street on his. I sit here on mine. Occasionally we make eye contact and then quickly look away. Other times we’ll hold it for a second, half-smiling. The unspoken bond between two left-behind people.

Tonight is different though. Tonight I have balls and decide to do something I’ve never done before: cross the street and talk to the guy. Out loud, not subliminally.

He sees me coming and at first I think he’s going to pick-up his beer and run inside, but he doesn’t. His eyes are soft and brown and he’s prettier close up like this.

Hi. I’m Tamuira. I live over there. I point to my building.

I’m Mike. I live here. He points behind him.

Uh, got an extra cigarette?

Sure. He gives me the last one from his pack and tries to light it for me, but his hands are shaking and he drops the matches. I pick them up, and sit down next to him.

I quit smoking, I tell him, giving him back his cigarette. Just didn’t know how to start a conversation like a normal person.

He laughs and stares up at the darkening sky. A moving van speeds by in front of us. Some kids chase it, throw rocks at it. A woman sells flavored ice from a cart, calling out the flavors in Spanish. We talk about the weather for a while – muggy, crappy, unbearable – and he eventually leaves with a quick goodbye.

I sit there for a while before going home, ignoring the magnetic pull of my life waiting for me.

****

He says it in the most matter-of-fact way. My wife died. No feeling, just fact. This doesn’t surprise me really; lonely people have no filters. I should know.

How old was she?

Thirty-four. Too young to die.

I want to tell him you’re never to young to die. That babies sometimes die. But I don’t.

This is the third night I’ve visited him on his stoop. I bring pretzels with me this time and offer him one. He takes it and holds it but doesn’t eat it. Maybe he’s saving it for later.

I hate being in the apt now, he admits.

I’m sorry. I want to hold his hand but he’s holding the pretzel. So I hold part of his leg instead.

Want to see?

See what?

My apartment, he says, standing and pulling me up in one fluid motion.

It’s all books and clothes and jackets and belts. Tipped over ashtrays. Milk crates stuffed with records coming out of their sleeves. It’s everything strewn across the floor and spilling out of closets. It’s something resembling lemons rotting in a bowl on the counter.

I notice oil paintings, some finished, some not, leaning against the walls. He notices me noticing.

She was a painter. He runs a finger over a canvas filled with blue and silver splatters.

How’d she die?

Cancer.

I don’t ask which kind because it doesn’t matter. Cancer is cancer, anyway you cut it.

Want a beer or something?

Don’t drink.

Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. He laughs. She didn’t either.

I move over to the window, the floorboards creaking. The street looks different from here. Smaller maybe.

You hungry?

He searches nearly empty cupboards and produces two packs of top ramen. A few minutes later and we’re sitting side-by-side on the sofa, slurping hot noodles from plastic cups. I think about taking my shoes off but might have a hole in my sock.

Want to see my room?

Yeah.

There’s an unmade bed and a nightstand and a fan blowing at us from the corner. The drapes billow and collapse in the air.

I walk around slowly, carefully. He stands near the bed, waiting for me.

There’s a scarf, long and silky, hanging from a chair. Without hesitating, I wrap it around my neck, press the ends to my face. Without hesitating, he yells at me to take it off.

But I smell her first. Musky and deep. The same smell that’s in every corner of this room. In every corner of his memory.

Take it off. I feel his body behind me.

I put the scarf back. Ashamed and so fucking alive.

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