Another year and I thought maybe I should do something, commemorate it somehow. So this is it. Seems lacking, huh? I would have called, but then you’d find me and it’s better this way. Better for me at least.
Hope you are well
There’s probably nothing so annoying as waking up alone on your fortieth birthday to the sound of your twenty-five year old neighbor having sex.
And yet, there I was, listening to my twenty-five year old neighbor having sex. On my fortieth birthday. Alone.
The two-story building where we lived was old, drafty, and obviously needed quite a bit more insulation between floors since I could hear his groans and her sighs as if they might be doing it under my bed, not a floor below.
“Laurence, you are such a pain in my ass.” I opened my eyes. Enough light played in through the windows to read the book titles on my nightstand. Behind the stack I could see 6:5 on the digital clock. The last numeral hid behind a corner of Consequences. “I take one day off and you decide on a sunrise reenactment of the bounciest bits of the Kama Sutra.”
I wondered if it was the same girl as last time. The one who complained, loudly, after sex. I woke up that time too. Unlike a soldier in a war zone, I could not accustom myself to the sound and fury well enough to sleep through it.
Maybe I should have joined the military, picked up some useful skills like hand-to-hand combat and the ability to tune out the nearly continuous din from below.
My phone rang.
“Are you kidding?” I said to the ceiling.
The ceiling declined to answer, either me or the phone. I dragged the lime-green (got it on sale) quilt along with me and shuffled out of my off-white painted bedroom and into the 70’s fake-wood paneled parlor. The metronomic thuds of the bed downstairs were overcome by the syncopation of the phone. It was a grand conspiracy to keep me from sleeping-in.
I grabbed the handset, silencing the rings. Would that Laurence could be so easily dealt with. “Hello?”
No, you have the wrong number. I am someone else. “Hi, Mrs. Petit.”
“Oh, it is you Jane.”
“Yup.” I flopped on the sagging tweedy couch and dragged the quilt up over my feet, covering my mismatched socks. “Is there a problem?” I asked.
“No, why would you say that?”
Because there ought to be a huge, massive, has-its-own-gravity-well-of-a-problem for you, my landlady, to be calling me this soon after sunrise. “It’s a little early.” I pushed the speakerphone button and stood the handset on the coffee table.
“Oh, but you’re up. I just wondered if you could check to see if Laurence’s car is in the drive? I called, but he didn’t answer his phone.”
“He’s home,” I said. Too bad his home is here and not still with you and his father.
“Then why isn’t he answering his phone? He has caller ID.” Frost bloomed in her voice, as if I had insinuated her darling son might wish to avoid her.
“Maybe he’s asleep.” It was a broad hint, but she didn’t pick up on it. I’d be more pointed in my comments if I had some degree of assurance Mrs. Petit wouldn’t raise my rent in a fit of pique.
“Well, see if the car is in the drive,” she said, tacking on a belated, “please.”
Through the wooden floor I could hear a faint shrill voice raised in anger. The dear boy must have finished too soon. Again.
Part of me wondered what I had done to deserve knowing this much about my neighbor’s sex life. Surely karma could not rate my crimes as being this bad.
Laurence’s paramour continued her rant, now accompanied by the sound of winter boots clomping on his wooden floor. “He’s up now,” I said, “I can hear him moving around.”
“And the car? It is all right?”
Obsessed much? “Let me check.” The porch door slammed as I grabbed the phone and lurched from couch to window. Outside I saw a young woman, with a bad case of bed-head, storming up the semi-frozen ruts of the driveway. Her puffy white coat slumped down her arms and her pink scarf fluttered behind, as if trying to escape.
The same battered maroon compact I had seen a few days ago waited at the end of the drive. Damn it. If I had been going to work I would have been stuck behind her piss-poor parking job. And I was pretty sure that the lovebirds would have let me hang until they were finished. Or, until he finished and she flounced off in a huff.
OK, this early it wouldn’t have been an issue. But if I had been going to work, I promise you Laurence would have waited until later to disappoint his girl.
“Car’s here.” I propped the phone on the windowsill.
Laurence’s disappointed friend revved her engine and reversed onto the lawn. It was too cold for her to tear up the ground much, but she made a fair attempt, spinning her wheels and dislodging some clumps. The tires squealed like angry pigs.
“What is that noise?” Mrs. Petit said. I could almost see her thin face pruning up into disgusted-mode. A look I was reasonably familiar with. “What are you doing?”
Me? “That was someone outside.” Hint, hint, if you can hear that through the phone perhaps it is time replace the windows? “Looks like your son had company last night.”
The ass in question slammed the front door, rattling the entire structure. He marched across the lawn in jeans and a wife-beater, looking like he was on his way to a photo shoot for Red Neck Monthly. She gunned the engine again and he screamed obscenities.
Class act, that boy.
“Looks like they’re saying goodbye.” Or good riddance.
“Oh, well,” Mrs. Petit huffed, “my poor boy, he has so many social obligations.”
“Shall I tell him you called?” I said, in a pleasant secretary voice.
“No, I was,” she paused, “I heard on the radio, there was an accident near Millbridge. A green SUV, like the one Laurence drives. I just wanted to make sure he got home safely last night, and when he didn’t answer his phone… .”
He didn’t get home last night. He got home at four this morning, stormed up the stairs like a herd of wildebeest, then lulled me into a false sense of quiet for a few hours before he started banging the bed against the wall. You, on the other hand, were courteous enough to wait until (I checked the clock did some half-assed math) 6:58 to call and ask if his car was intact. “Seems fine,” I said, still channeling the pleasant secretary voice.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be keeping you. Don’t you have work today? I’ll phone Laurence later on, when he’s had his rest.”
“OK, have a good day,” I said and hung up before she decided I should go downstairs and make Laurence breakfast because her poor boy had been socially obligated to get up so early.
No one seemed to care that I was forced to be up early.
Prince Charming would have cared. If he wasn’t off caring for his wife. A wife who was not me. And there’s the rub, as Hamlet once (sort of) said. My Prince belonged to someone else. I needed to get over him and move on.
I shed the quilt and started the water boiling for chai.
Happy birthday to me.
This isn’t where I expected to be at forty. I had envisioned a home of my own, a loving husband, maybe kids. I thought my family would be there for me.
That was before I found out my husband was an evil bastard. Before the divorce and exile from home. Before Prince Charming lost a leg – before Reg died.
Instead I was living upstairs from Noise Boy (who, I was beginning to suspect, had a sex addiction), alone, no family, and working, not as in the promised position of Librarian at the J. Regina School for Boys, but as a humble library clerk. The salary even more humble than the position.
Had I been capable of performing all of my job-ly duties, I might have cause for complaint. But I still struggled to comprehend the accounting system, let along master it.
Downstairs the stereo boomed on and the windows shivered to the beat. Baump, baump, baump, ba-baump. Terrific. I could feel the music; a huge pulsating heart beneath the floorboards. Poe’s homicidal narrator would love this place.
I found my battered deck shoes, which I wore in lieu of slippers, and waited for the kettle to wail. The baump, baump, baump, ba-baump continued to thrum. The powdered chai shimmied in my insulated travel mug. “Fine, be that way. See if I care that you are a slave to the beat.” It was criminal, the way Laurence subjugated my morning beverage of choice.
If only I had a tiny bit more gumption I could rid the world of this menace to decent music. Except, if I killed Laurence, his mother would probably kick me out. Even his father, who had just last month needed to evict the raccoons let in via Laurence’s carelessness with the basement door, would probably not want to rent an apartment to me.
I poured boiling water into the mug. It too danced in reaction to the bass beat.
I stomped down the back stairs and pounded on Laurence’s kitchen door.
“Yeah?” he said, still dressed in the thin undershirt and jeans.
“The music. It’s too loud.”
He looked at me as if I had spoken some strange language he’d never encountered before.
“Turn it down, please,” I said.
“My girlfriend left me.” He showed no hint of emotion. Only a blank stare; probably caused by a hangover or lack of sleep. Or total absence of brain cells.
“So sad,” not. “But, the music is still too loud.”
“I thought you were at work.” His eyes seemed to be focused on my chin. Odd, but better than his usual chest-centered gaze.
“Too loud?” he asked, as if I had not already stated this very thing. “I’ll turn it down.”
With that he shut the door. “Bye,” I said to the wood panel a few inches from my nose. “Have a great day. Moron.”
As I headed back upstairs the noise level decreased. Why was that so hard?
Well, because it was Laurence, that’s why.
I locked my door behind me and headed to the bathroom to tend to practical needs. The face in the mirror didn’t look forty, but that may have been a by-product of the zit. The monstrous incipient zit on my chin. Which had so fascinated Laurence. No wonder he had been dumbfounded.
Damn it, I was supposed to have wrinkles, not acne. OK, to be truthful, I did have wrinkles – wrinkles that were apparently housing zits like some sort of bizarre condo of the epidermis. What next? Puberty reversed? I shuddered. No, next was menopause (pause, like the body would regain youthful fecundity after a short break) and then death.
Laurence’s music was now just above audible. A monotonous rumble almost more aggravating than full volume. I grabbed a pen and a postcard from the bunch on the counter and eased out the door.
New England March is not usually considered warm. March in Maine could be downright cold.
But it was quieter outside. And I had a Navy surplus pea coat, heavy enough to use as an anchor and warm enough, if I curled my feet up under me, to avoid frostbite. The sun had worked its way around to illuminate one corner of the long bench on my porch. I sat and let it illuminate me as well.
I didn’t go in for journals. Too risky. Secrets weren’t secret if you wrote them down. But if something happened, if Prince Charming showed up – I wanted him to know… something. I just wasn’t sure what.
You didn’t send me a card. I’d be disappointed, but if you had an address, I’d have to move. And I’m tired of moving. I want to be still.
You’d like it here, near the ocean. Lot’s of fish.
If I have candles on the cake, I’ll make a wish.
The back door slammed. The porch railing wobbled and I felt the earth move, but not in a good way. Laurence’s SUV, in need of a muffler, growled and complained as he headed down the nearly naked drive. It used to be covered in gravel, but someone had a tendency to peal out, scattering the stones in plume-like formations along the side of the house.
The ricochets could travel an impressive distance.
I heard the lurch and squeak of an abused suspension hitting the edge of the drive then the engine roar fading into the distance. He was gone. To find another bimbo. Or buy bigger speakers. Or, the long shot, go to work.
Not that ringing up movie rentals was work. He mostly sat on a stool and played video games with the few lucky students who had gotten day-passes from the J. Regina School for Boys. But, it was my day off, I did not have to think about the school or the boys. And I had been granted a respite from Laurence and his noise.
I sipped chai.
And immediately I wished I hadn’t.
The hot sweet liquid sent shock waves of pain surging through my molar and up my jaw toward my eye. I could feel my entire face as defined by shrieking nerve endings. I put the mug down and tried to master the sensation.
It defeated me.