Saturday, March 3

The Relationship Between My Neighbour and I

This flat is surrounded on four sides by separate flats; this flat in which I live and four neighbours. Let me tell you: up, down and left I don’t care about, but for some reason I have a fixation with the person who lives to my right.
My first year here and there was a trumpeter next door and they would practice trumpet at seven in the morning and half-eleven at night. As they practiced the wedding march, I thought—Ah, they must be playing at someone’s wedding! You can build a picture in your head about someone’s life when things like that happen. One morning as I was fastening the buttons on my shirt, they played the Star Wars theme tune and I was elated. How silly, but I was so glad to hear it because that little melody encouraged me to make further wonderful assumptions about the human I lived six feet from.
I know they are a she.
One evening, returning from work, there was a magazine on her doorstep and, surreptitiously, I leant down and read the name. A woman’s name, a girl’s name, a name written down while she was still in her mother’s belly. So it is a she. Every time I bump into the neighbours I have had before, I am overcome with a sense of embarrassment, of timidity, and I rush away from them before anything longer than a ‘Hello’ is exchanged.
I have not seen or met this neighbour of mine. Everyone rents, everyone steams through neighbours.
She can be heard from time to time, although nothing prolonged. Something strikes the wall (walls I tested during my visit with the estate agent to judge thickness, insulation and soundproofing) and, o, there is another human there. Maybe furniture will shift. There is no sound of music or television. If she is having sex, she has it quietly. If she is making international calls, she does not talk loudly. If she is masturbating, she does so quietly. She has never so much as asked me for a spoon of sugar or thimbleful of milk.
And I am a terrible neighbour! I listen to music loudly and play guitar even louder. When I drink, I stumble a lot. When I play guitar, I wonder if she is listening in and saying to herself—‘He hit a dud note there!’ Maybe she hates the music I listen to.
There are days like today when one is disinclined to leave the flat, because of the cold and the snow, which, although slowly melting, makes everything quite grim and unsightly. She is moving around, but only between twelve and half-twelve. I listen – does she leave the flat? The solid wooden clack of a latch falling in. She does not leave. I take a walk to the cornershop to get some beer and apple juice. There are homeless people kicking the shit out of a phone-box; I am afraid, turning away; their lips are peeled back, teeth bared. I say hello to the man in the cornershop, we have not seen each other in some time. His face is gentle and welcoming.
Coming in from outside, I smell all the smells of my flat: tobacco and toiletries. The relationship between my neighbour and I is okay, we don’t talk anymore, don’t make love, but we coexist amicably enough. She could be the one for me. I listen to her silence and make a toasted sandwich.

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