Noiseless Neighbours

“And then he just went ahead and let her go to this party! I mean, that boy has no gumption when it comes to his daughter. Don’t you think?”

“I don’t know Mrs. Delaney, I’ve never met your son.”

“You two would get along so well! If only he wasn’t married to that bimbo, I would give him your number. But, I’m sure a beautiful woman like you already has a boyfriend?” She looked at me with expectation. She tried not to show her interest, but I could read it in her eyes. This woman has tried, from the moment I’ve moved into the bottom floor of the triplex, to get the details of my life. I have no idea why. I really don’t think I’m that interesting to be completely honest.  She’s harmless enough though, with her countless flower pattern dresses.  This woman has accompanied me at the bus stop almost each morning for two months now, and I’ve rarely seen the same dress twice.

A silence now stretched between us. It was unusual, and I remembered that it was because she was expecting an answer from me.

“Thank you, you’re very kind.” She expressed darkened however. I could tell she was disappointed that I didn’t give away any information about myself. Again.  It was a little amusing actually, to watch her try so hard to ‘figure me out.’ I sort of liked being her mysterious neighbour. Then, Mrs. Delaney shook her head a little, causing her grey curls to bounce.

“There’s no one? Oh my dear, don’t worry, we’ll find you someone.” Another sentence thrown as bait. I sighed and rose on my tiptoes to peer over her shoulder. We were both small women but her curly, puffy hair made her seem taller.

“Ugh this bus is ten minutes late now!”

“It’s probably Harold driving, that man is such a slow driver. It’s probably because he’s got another hangover. Bill from the top floor works for city transport, you know. He told me of all the times Harold stumbled into work late and in my opinion he shouldn’t be driving a bus at all.” I tried to pay attention to her, I really did. But god, I was tired. Her storied were long’ full of run on sentences that morphed into different tales, which really couldn’t be true? Or maybe they are? I feel like I know so much about this woman that we’re complete strangers. Something in her tone perhaps? Or the way she looks to the left when giving me her ‘facts,’ makes it hard to consider her words as truth.

“That’s too bad.”

“Oh yes, quite. I believe it’s really turning into quite a problem now. He misses stops he’s rude to his customers, and he even shortchanged Agatha Harold. She’s the woman who lives across the street dear.”

“I haven’t met her yet.”

“She was actually curious about you dear, asked me about the lovely woman who moved in downstairs. She thought you were Egyptian! Can you believe such a silly mistake?” This woman owns a cat. I see it all the time, creeping along the fence behind the house, its black fur healthy and glossy.  It caught a squirrel once. I actually saw it sprint and jump, latching onto the furry creature with extended claws. I can still remember the frightened squeal. This woman gossiped about me? I wondered if she was trying to catch me too, figure out all my secrets.

I suppose I can understand that. I am currently an alien to her. I didn’t even bother to introduce myself when I first moved in. She caught me as I was lugging my old suitcase to the curb, and fired off question after question between parted blinds. I was so surprised at being shouted at froma window I answered every one. Apparently to her, I’m an ex-supermodel from Europe who moved to Canada due to personal complications. It was an accidental lie, but she’d been trying to coax details from me since.  Every morning at 8:30am, she meets me here in front our our triplex with two cookies, and her portable coffee container.

“…and the hairdryer just blew out! The sparks almost caught the toilet paper roll and it gave my poor kitty such a scare. It was so funny.” She took a breath and lifted her coffee container to her lips.  When she lowered it, a fresh stain from her lipstick was left on the rim. My eye travelled from her hand to her arm, and I did a quick double take.

So many marks. I reached out to touch her sleeve, wanting to pull it back and make sure my vision was correct. I succeeded for a fraction of a second before she violently jerked her arm away, the container flew from her hand and landed on the sidewalk with a crack. Coffee splashed on us, dotting her light floral pattern with brown spots. Mrs. Delaney stared at me with wide eyes.

“I…I’m sorry Mrs. Delaney.” I swallowed twice. My moth had gone so dry. “Are those scars?” Mrs. Delaney blinked and looked down at her arm before flashing me a wide smile.

“Oh dear that’s just from Blacky. He tends to be a little grumpy in the morning. He needs his food before he can cuddle and I learned this the hard way.” She laughed, but it was so hollow. It lacked that tinkling depth that I sometimes overhear when she’s talking with a neighbour; directly in front of my living room window.

“Are you sure?” I almost whispered. Some of those marks looked a little fresh. Then again, I only managed a quick glance. Mrs. Delaney bet a little to examine the hem of her dress and I sheepishly collected her broken container. “I’ll buy you a new one. Sorry.”

“No need to fret, dear. Besides, your bus is here.” And sure enough, I heard the loud engine rumbling as it came around the corner. I turned to wave goodbye before entering, but she was already ambling up the steps of the triplex. She seemed to stoop so low; her precious energy gone with the split coffee.

“You getting on, or not?” the gruff voice of the driver asked. It snapped me back to my busy reality as I hopped onto my bus.

***

                It was a Friday night; I had just left my basement cellar with a bottle of white wine for dinner, when I had the strange thought creep into my mind. Mrs. Delaney hadn’t met me at the bus stop that morning. I missed my daily cookie, and it was strangely quiet. When I went to open my freezer to retrieve some ice for the wine, the cold air caused shivers to run up my arms. I realized that I hadn’t seen Mrs. Delaney yesterday morning either.  Slowly my shivers turned into goose bumps and the image of her marks sparked in my head. Something felt off, and I was unexplainably anxious. I sent my date home early, and slipped on my flip flops before knocking on my elder neighbour’s door. There was no answer.

“Hello? Mrs Delaney, are you home?”  I tried the door knob, and it turned under my light touch. A lump formed in my throat and I quickly debated walking in. It would be rude, and completely out of character for me, but I just couldn’t shake away the anxiety that something could be wrong. The hollow laugh, and that smile that didn’t reach her eyes when we last saw each other, just wouldn’t leave me alone. Something was wrong; I could feel it in my bones.

So I walked inside.

“Mrs Delaney? The door was open so I’m coming in!” I shouted up the staircase that led to her midlevel apartment.  The steps creaked as I ascended. When I reached the top of the steps, my knees buckled and I fell. A few feet in front of me was my neighbour; crumpled on the floor with me, surrounded by wads of crumpled lined paper. Both of us now soaked in her blood. I felt my throat constricting; it was getting harder to breath. A knife lay loosely in her hand; blood caked in a dark line ran up the length of her arm.

I pawed at the wall, pushing myself up and away her. Then I bent over and threw up. Tears streamed down my face as I continued to dry heave. All I could think to say or feel, was why? Why wouldn’t you say something that mattered?

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