When she heard how low the apartment’s rent was, Samantha Park could not believe her luck. She had been casting about for some time for a new place, and had happened to be cycling in the Heights, passing the old brick high-rises just when the caretaker had come out to put up the For Rent sign. They were too nice for her means, obviously, but she had decided that it could not hurt and spoke to the caretaker. Luck stretched so far as to see her carrying her checkbook in her little backpack, so she could make a deposit right away. At the end of the month, she moved into the fifth floor bachelor suite in The Wood Lily.
When she’d first told her friends about the new apartment, she’d been pleased to be the envy of at least some, the ones who knew the building and its mirror twin across the narrow shared parking lot as marvels of preserved woodwork and brass switch-plates. She’d also been pleased to dismiss as superstitious weaklings the ones who had recited some of the building’s dark past in portentous tones.
“You know the place is haunted,” one of them said. “I heard an old lady died there a couple of years ago, and they didn’t find her for a week.”
So what? An old building like that was going to have some history. She hadn’t noticed any untoward smells, so it didn’t really matter to her. A little research had shown the old lady in question lived in a different apartment anyway.
One of the more mystically-inclined of her friends had said something about the dark energy of the apartment, but that friend was a sort of bi-polar prophet, seeing only bleak doom or radiant glory in any change of the status quo. The only one whose back-handed complementing of the place had stuck said, after praising the apartment as a whole and by particular, “I wonder why they’re charging so little for it?” with just the right twist in her voice.
Two weeks later, when the new semester opened at school, she had very nearly dismissed the question from her mind.
It was the third day of fall, by the calendar. Dawn’s light streamed into the apartment, reflecting off the river and the suddenly golden foliage on its banks. Samantha lay looking at the window, unmoved by the wonderful view for the first time since arriving there. That view, she found, did not make up for the terrible night she’d just passed. Rolling onto her back, she looked up at the offending ceiling. Who does that on a Wednesday night? She rose, looked once more at the insufficiently breathtaking view, and went to begin her day. Thursday’s classes started early, and they started with Logic, her least favorite of the semester.
The content of that first class of the day was lost on her as she pondered the new situation in her apartment and struggled against sleep. The current neighbours had seemed all right until now. The only one she knew by name was Amanda across the hall, whose laundry schedule roughly overlapped hers. Beside her was a family of tiny people who might be from the Philippines or possibly Thailand, and whose greatest impact on her life was to sing quiet songs to the children, barely audible through the bathroom ventilator. She’d not heard a peep out of whoever was below her, and until the previous night, nothing from above. It had, in fact, been the best apartment she’d ever been in, a month of rental perfection, and would be still if not for the Wednesday night concert. She hadn’t seen anyone moving in or out, but the sudden development of this sort of problem had to mean there was a new presence upstairs.
The disturbance had not at least been the thumping and moaning of her previous apartment, a result of sharing a wall with a pair of frantic copulators. She’d take music over that any time. It wasn’t even loud as such things went. She had once visited a friend living in a duplex whose landlord-neighbour had made a god of his sub-woofers. All the windows in the house had rattled when he put on a tune, and she could not imagine how her friend had stayed there other than through economic necessity.
It was, perhaps, the unfamiliar rhythm that had kept her at the very threshold of sleep last night. All damn night. Hardly a wink from one until nearly dawn. Following that with the university’s most monotone lecturer was like a penance for an unknown sin. Drifting at the edge of a doze, she almost missed the professor’s concluding words, and was the last one out of the room. The rest of the day’s classes were only marginally better.
Samantha spent her evening in a slow burn of anticipation. She had, once she brushed her teeth, settled on going up for a direct confrontation rather than calling the landlord or the police. The latter seemed like an over-reaction, while the former would lead to direct interaction with the care-taker, which she preferred to avoid. There was nothing she could point to in the way he had acted towards her when he had shown her the apartment, but being in there alone with him had given her a small quiver of creepiness. If speaking to the owner of the music didn’t settle the problem she could always escalate, but leaving a creep out of the equation unless necessary was always better.
This resolution was running in her head as she lay down, and it came to nothing as sleep lasted through the night.
She had almost forgotten the whole matter when, shortly before two o’clock the following Thursday morning, she was shaken out of sleep by the music filtering through her ceiling.
It was only just loud enough to get through the pillow she threw over her head. It was not quite loud enough to force her out of bed for the confrontation she had plotted a week earlier. She was only semi-conscious of the sound as it played, which meant that she was only semi-sleeping when her alarm went off five hours later.
Semi-consciousness became the theme of the day, and in a relatively lucid moment she was happy she took the bus; she was in no shape to drive. The music, having dug a hole in her brain, kept recurring until she finally identified it. Big band. Swing. Whoever was listening to that must really love living in the Wood Lily. She pictured some anachronistic dork who wore a fedora everywhere and put on a tie to go for fast food.
She was still bleary when she crossed paths with Amanda in the hallway. They greeted one another, and had almost passed when it occurred to Samantha to ask, “Say, did you hear that music last night?”
This produced a quizzical look. “When?”
“God… late. Like, two in the morning.”
Amanda shook her head. “Sorry, no. Once I’m out, I’m out. I’ll probably get killed because I sleep through a fire alarm.”
“Good. No, I mean, I’m glad it didn’t keep you up too.”
“Did you talk to the super about it?” Amanda took a step toward the elevator, hiking up her laundry basket.
“Not yet.” Samantha, though groggy, took the hint. “See ya.”
There was, as the previous week, no repeat performance that night. She was a little angry the next morning at having no reason to bring the matter to a head, but it certainly hadn’t kept her from sleeping.
The subsequent Wednesday, she had not forgotten again. Much of the day, apart from that devoted to an exam, was spent in mental rehearsal for the possible confrontation. The upstairs neighbour, who imagination kept making into a sort of zoot-suited cartoon, was in these fantasies a truculent chap, yet polite enough to let her finish all her sentences. If he were really like that, she’d cut him to ribbons.
She set aside her usual nightie for sweats and a t-shirt, as a way of saving time and dignity later. She was pleased with her preparation when, a little before two o’clock, Benny Goodman and the gang started in on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” this time loud enough that the tune was easily recognized.
Barefoot, she stomped along the slightly gritty hall carpet, trying to not care if she were waking up anyone else. She took the stairs rather than the elevator up to the next floor to avoid the wait. As she went along the hall, she was slightly surprised that she heard no music here. Were the doors that much more sound-proof than the floor?
She stood for a moment in front of the offending apartment, marshalling her pronouncements. Then, as she raised her hand to knock, the door opened.
If she hadn’t been so tired and angry, she might have thought him attractive, but in the circumstance she just saw him as an ill-shaven guy in a nasty looking bathrobe. The raucous party anthem of the Greatest Generation surged behind him, Gene Krupa just getting started on his big drum solo.
“Hey,” said the man, recovering from his own surprise, “Aren’t you the one from right under me?”
“Yes,” she said, and drew breath to begin her rant.
“Jesus, lady, what’s with the music?”
The breath caught in her throat, the inversion putting her right off her rails. She wanted to point out the obvious problem, but looking past him into the darkened duplicate of her own apartment, she realized that the music she heard was, although distinct, muffled.
The source of it was definitely somewhere below the plane of their conversation.
Zach Stein started the call, a smile on his face. He looked through the side window of his car at what would be, on the first of next month, his new home.
“Hey, Zach,” said his phone.
“Mike! Are you still looking for a place to move into?”
“I sure am. I’m pretty sure Mom is sneaking some of my weed.”
“I just got a place in one of those old buildings out in the Heights, and they’ve got another one open. You won’t believe what a deal the rent is!”
“Remarkable Value, Unbeatable Location” ©2016 Dirck de Lint