Well past midnight several nights a week, heard from deep within my small third floor apartment, the same sequence of sounds occurred in their usual order: blaring music (assorted metal, hard rock) plays into the wee hours; two loud voices–one male, one female in an ongoing, insistent argument– overtake wailing guitars, throbbing bass, pounding drums; their voices grow loud, louder, going back and forth, round and round, rising, rising, until, at last, my neighbor (imaginatively, in my mind, lying in my bed, listening to all this), slammed her door open with a grand dame’s flourish, whereupon blasting music flooded our hallway, and she shrieked in her distinctive Jovian holler: “So you think I’m a Big Fat Ho?”
These words reverberated and ricocheted down our common hallway, bounced off starkly painted brick-and-mortar walls throughout our low-rise, four-storey building of around forty apartments. Boyfriend rushed from Girlfriend’s parting shot, one sorry human zooming through our hallway trying to outpace the speed of her inescapable timbre, apparently, as he stomp-stomp-stomped past my unit, heading for the southeast exit stairwell, clattering down three flights of stairs in our elevator-less building before finally slamming out of our phone-booth-size lobby, where there’s just enough elbow room for visitors to buzz whatever apartment they’re visiting to be let in, and no more.
Boyfriend’s departure, at least, warranted a soundtrack change in Girlfriend’s middle-of-the-night playlist from death metal to soulful. Hurtin’ tunes. The Blues. Love songs, ‘my man’s gone and I’m lonely’ and so on and so forth. This carried on until the sun rises, sometimes. Lots of times. Many, many times.
Our building’s superintendent was a soft-spoken Italian woman with perpetually disheveled twig-colored hair that hadn’t been combed since probably around 1983, I’d guesstimate. She had an age-puckered face with bright pink, rashy-looking hands in a seemingly terminal stage of dishpan and exuded lemon-pine cleaning scents like a signature fragrance.
She was a wisp of a presence: ghost-like, barely there, endlessly haunting the building’s starkly lit, asylum-inspired hallways looking like some throwback to a bygone era in her perennial 1950s house-mother frock, quilted, faded pink and in otherwise almost-pristine condition despite a bajillion machine washes-and-dries, surely, from what I knew, knowing so little about her.
You might occasionally, if you crept around silently enough, too, like her, catch Landlady unawares peering curiously into the grey dinge of her cleaning bucket as if its polluted dishwaters held some elusive secret of life where, if she looked long enough and hard enough, she’d finally understand the meaning of everything.
One day, in a proactive and decisive managerial-like departure from her usual standard default mute and bucket-staring cleaning mode, Landlady knocked on Girlfriend’s door in response to tenant complaints after several weeks of (encore! encore!) middle-of-the-night repeat performances starring Girlfriend, Boyfriend, and with frequently recurring guest stars such as the Pizza Guy and regular cameo appearances put in by the Police who were summoned occasionally to provide comic relief and little else in response to numerous noise complaints reported by outraged locals, aka unwitting marathon audience members suffering terminal cases of disrupted sleep.
This confrontation between Landlady and Girlfriend didn’t start off promisingly, I tell you that, from my peephole’s perspective. If I’d learned anything about Girlfriend from these past few months of peephole-knowing her, I’d say that most instances of anyone knocking at her door ended poorly.
Predictably, Girlfriend flung open her door to “greet” the landlady in her typical fashion: not so much the grand dame I’d firstly imagined her to be but more in the manner of an outlaw busting into an Old West saloon—her standard welcome for door-knockers including the Pizza Guy, the Police, her best friend, her worst enemy …
Although landlady’s words to Girlfriend evaded my eavesdropping ear, their conversation’s content might reliably be guessed at going by Girlfriend’s thundering clapbacks which no one within a hundred-foot radius could help but hear:
“No, I won’t keep it down. Goddamn whiners. Get some earplugs, assholes. Fuck you all. This is how I live. Fuck you! All of you!”
Girlfriend slammed the door in Landlady’s face.
An anonymous handwritten and photocopied note was slipped under my door shortly after the landlady incident, presumably penned by a fellow tenant. This missive shared our apartment building owner’s private, residential home telephone number and was torch-and-pitchfork in tone, littered with expletives and ranted about how all of us fellow residents had to band together and call our no-good slumlord every time our resident third-floor bigmouth behemoth and her pussy-whipped sucker started screaming at each other at three ayem, we should—all of us—every single one of us—call and call and flood this asshole’s line until he dealt with this crazyass #$@&%* and threw her the hell out of the building, so we could all finally have some peace! Yadda-yadda-yadda. It takes a village and all that.
I, personally, never called the building’s owner. I didn’t appreciate the deranged tone of the anonymous note I’d received and didn’t want to hitch my star to that crazy cavalry. Perhaps other tenants did.
Soon after receiving this letter, Girlfriend, during one of her middle-of-the-night broadcasts along with Boyfriend or some other Mystery Special Guest Star for the night’s episode, both evidently in high spirits, whooped about Girlfriend’s pending eviction from these premises; her celebratory script powered with such operatic bravado at full lung function that all her spoken lines might well have thundered from the night’s full and blanching moon:
“I’m getting thrown out of here! Goddamn sons of bitches! Everyone here hates me! They all hate me! Fuck them! Fuck them all! Turn up the music! Full blast, fuckers!”
A few days later, our common hallway was vandalized. Someone took a can of red spray paint and sprayed the walls surrounding Girlfriend’s doorway, apartment #303, with the words: “A FAT HO LIVES HERE”—scarlet words lettered in two-foot font, this phrase broken up around her front door with the words ‘A FAT HO’ spray-painted on the right wall beside her door and ‘LIVES HERE’ sprayed on the left. Then, there was a spray-painted arrow pointing directly to Girlfriend’s door, so there’d be absolutely no mistake about who this message was for.
Girlfriend arrived home hours later, after all the neighbors had already returned from work and maybe even triumphantly, exultantly, paraded past those screaming words and high-fived each other over Girlfriend’s humiliating comeuppance for all our lost sleep, all our disturbed peace, these past few months.
I recognized Girlfriend’s gasp of theatrical shock when she arrived home because it was, as expected to be, exponential decibels louder than the average human gasp; although after that was silence, dead silence, and nothing else. It seemed even a roaring, dragon-voiced Amazon like Girlfriend could be momentarily stymied by hateful graffiti. Thrown off her game. She’d come roaring back, no doubt about that. I waited for the moment of her coming volcanic and surely full-throated eruption. Waited, waited …
I waited, inching silently toward my peephole and peered through it cautiously, still awaiting the explosion, afraid Girlfriend would hear me, see me somehow and superhumanly detect me with her loud-voice superpowers through this yellowed-wood scratched-varnished door and denounce me with an ear-splitting, ungodly keening resounding enough to dent clouds or crater the moon as one of the vandalizing traitors in on this spray-painted treachery. And then Girlfriend would probably kick my ass.
I watched Girlfriend through my peephole, still standing alone out there, sobbing quietly to herself now. I waited patiently for a reaction other than this, waited for her usual badass self to appear and voice her well-known, curse-laden, trumpeting lines; her typical braying insults, her fallback responses; her usual kicking-ass-and-taking-names character would soon eclipse this broken, whimpering girl, weeping softly, who I certainly didn’t recognize. Any minute now.
I almost wanted to go out there and comfort her. Almost.
At first, I couldn’t clearly make out what Girlfriend said. I had to abandon my peephole and press my ear hard against the door until I could finally hear her very real, human, and hurt girl’s voice: whispering, murmuring, whimpering as she processed this hatred, “Who’d do this to me?” and “Why’d they do this to me?” she repeatedly asked of herself, of all of us, presumably, posing these questions to some higher power, or of anyone listening. And for the first time ever since first hearing her voice, I had to press my ear hard up against a door to hear every word she was saying.
Eryn Hiscock’s writing has been published in literary journals, zines and anthologies internationally. Her online articles have earned millions of views. Her most recent publications appear in It Calls From The Forest, Volume 2 (Eerie River Publishing, Canada) and Nine Cloud Journal’s inaugural issue. She’s presently hard at work on a speculative fiction novel.